Friday, January 16, 2009

36 Greatest Albums: Eminem - 'The Eminem Show'

By the time this album came out I was already a full blown Eminem fan. But in order to truly describe the arc of my appreciation, it is important to return to a time when I was most definitely not a member of the Eminem Appreciation Society.

When Cousin Tim moved to Brooklyn in 2000 he brought a home-recording career that was almost the exact inverse of mine. Same amount of output but entirely different genre. He was a hip-hop fanatic and had been since the early 1980's. He'd been recording rap almost as long.

At this time I would have classified myself as an appreciator but not an aficionado of the genre. I had a few Public Enemy albums but their politics made them acceptable to a dyed-in-the-wool punk rocker like myself. When Eminem hit the scene I might has well have been a member of the Moral Majority.

All I knew was that he used the word 'faggot' with extreme regularity. I took umbrage and set about writing a song that was in essence a come-on. I wanted to shame Eminem by calling him on his homophobia. Of course, this was before I ever actually LISTENED to him. I only listened to what people SAID about him.

My Eminem flirt song never got off the ground mostly because Timothy insisted that I listen to him. After about 20 minutes I realized that he was more punk rock than anything I'd been listening to for years. The beats, the musical tracks, the WORDS. It is no surprise that Seamus Heaney is quoted on the dust cover of the new Eminem autobiography. Forget Kurt Cobain. Forget Paul Westerberg. (And if you know me you know how HUGE that is). Forget Maya Frickin' Angelou.

The voice of this generation, the one that stretches from the late '70's to 4 minutes from now, the True Poet Laureate of America is a dirtbag from Detroit who just happened to be born with two M's in front of his two names.

And 'The Eminem Show' is his 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'.

He ranges from the broad scope of modern society and hypocrisy ('White America') to the deepest darkest details of his own harrowing life ('Cleaning Out My Closet').

If you are converted already and I'm preaching to you then I am glad to be in your company. If you've discounted him because of the genre he performs in or his penchant for violent hyperbole you need to take a closer look. Put aside your own prejudices and let the beat take you away.

After all, you don't want to be the Dylan fan booing at the Newport Jazz Festival because he plugged his guitar into an amplifier. Or do you?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

37 Greatest Albums: They Might Be Giants - 'No!'

This is my favorite They Might Be Giants album and not just because John Linnell was working on it while renting out my ex-wife's basement in the condo I barely lived in but bought with her.

Late '90's Brooklyn. Prospect Park is quickly becoming Baby Central and I am helping it along. My son is almost two and the light of my life. Which is dark otherwise.

We'd signed the papers on the condo simultaneously discussing divorce. When we were getting ready to move in, I packed my things separately and almost got my own place. After a few fitful unhappy months in the condo, I got a basement apartment right around the corner and started the new deal.

Her family are notorious for buying property and then completely redoing it. This first floor brownstone had a gigantic unfinished basement which her brother, father, and mother transformed into a nicely lit railroad apartment, only with no kitchen or shower. Bathroom.

She put out a hand written cardboard sign on her front stoop advertising a studio for rent for an artist. I was skeptical. When I am skeptical of her she is usually right. And vice-versa. Which is why we are much better off divorced. A mere 15 minutes later a nice guy stopped by and inquired after the space. It was John Linnell.

He lived in the building next door and needed a work space. He was installed within a week and the lovely sounds of They Might Be Giants and John Linnell would often waft up into the kitchen as I made my son a PBJ while waiting for his mom to get back from work. Then I'd trudge over to my own basement and record some strange concoction of my own.

The songs on 'No!' are right for kids because they seem as if they were written by kids. Most kids music is heinous, almost like religious music that is only intended for the choir. The makers of most kid music seem to think that if they sing really slow and over-enunciate then kids will fall all over themselves with enjoyment. I've rarely found this to be the case.

'No!' is scary at times. It is angry. It is confused. It is hilarious. It is sad. In other words, 'No!' sounds like what it FEELS like to be a kid.

At that time in my life I needed a kids album to make me feel like I might be okay in the end. And like most kids, I wasn't really a kid.

I was a person.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

38 Greatest Albums: The Replacements - 'Let It Be'

I have written at great length about The Replacements on this blog. I will continue to do so. I write about them in my head ALL THE TIME. I never thought of this list as being numerically accurate and this album proves it. Because if there was one album I had to have on that deserted island everyone is hoping to be banished to it would be this. It is my favorite album of all time, bar none. It may say 38 in front of the post but this is the 1.

I've written about the context in which I first heard this album on my sister's blog.


I've written about seeing The Replacements in concert.

1. I Will Dare

I've written about seeing Westerberg solo and almost turning my back on him.

2. Favorite Thing

I've written about the flip side of that almost treason and how his solo work has become just as important to me.

3. We're Comin' Out

So what am I going to write today?

I'm not. You are going to write this review. To do this, you are going to travel back in time to a night in your life when everything came together. You are probably a teenager, but closer to 20 than 12. You've probably also just realized that you aren't immortal and that realization has led you to embrace absurdity and intoxication.

4. Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out

On the night in question you go to a party somewhere with some people you just met. The unfamiliar nature of these people leaves the night with a quality of danger, as if everything could go wrong at any moment. You still live at home and you've lied to your parents about where you are so if anything does go wrong you are on your own.

5. Androgynous

The party is over crowded and over loud. Feeling untethered doesn't impede your confidence, it merely spurs over-compensation. You are broader than usual, funnier than usual, drunker than usual, angrier than usual, more entertaining than usual, more dangerous than usual, more everything.

6. Black Diamond

Your extremity attracts someone at the party and before you can drop your act and admit that you are young and far from home you are in a dark room doing things you've never done before, or at least doing them in different ways. Still in the dark, things start to go a bit haywire and the tenuous connection you have with this stranger starts to seem ominous and oppressive, not youthful and free.


You extricate yourself with a little bit of drama.


The party hasn't noticed but you approach it all differently now. After all, you've just been through the death of a romance.

1. Unsatisfied

Your absence was not noted by your new acquaintances and this leaves you feeling like a balloon without a string. Why don't you just float on out of here? You do. The streets are dark and shiny from the rain and your breath is visible. You only know that your childhood home is east of here. You begin to walk.

2. Seen Your Video

Cellphones do not exist yet.

3. Gary's Got A Boner

After an hour of wandering, things start to look vaguely familiar, residential/business giving way to business/residential. Your buzz is wearing off and the combination of the cold and the cigarettes is edifying. Fuck that whole scene. You won't be hanging out with those morons anymore. And what the hell was up with that slut in the bedroom? Lucky you cut that shit off when you did or you might have woken up with more than just a hangover tomorrow.

4. Sixteen Blue

Quarter for a cup of coffee. Why do you feel so much older than you are? Aren't you supposed to be a teenager? Why are you huddling against the cold and feeling the weight of the world? Why couldn't you Star Trek right back into your bed?

5. Answering Machine

You throw a rock at a sign and hit a parked car.

It hurts to run but you don't feel quite safely far enough away from the scene of the crime. How dumb was that. What is your deal? You just don't give a fuck about a shit or a shit about a fuck. Fuck a luck a duck.

Should have gotten that other girls number, not the slut. Maybe next time. Almost home. Fuck home...quarter for another cup. Wait for your real friends to wake up and save you from this nightmare. Which was actually fun. So what the fuck do you know?

Let it be.

If it was good enough for The Beatles, it's good enough for you.