Friday, February 6, 2009

34 Greatest Albums: Del Amitri - 'Waking Hours'

College is cataclysmic. All parental restriction removed. All home town perception washed away. Reinvention reigns.

Unless you go to college in your hometown and live at home. Which I did. University of Rhode Island, Kingston. My parents house is about a mile off campus. My dad worked for 42 years in the library there and walked to and from work every day. So college was much less of a shock to the system for me as it was for my friends who went out into the great wide world.

I don't know how they did it frankly. Because it still blew my mind, as slight as the transition was. My freshman year I stayed in a dorm. Hated it. Sophomore year I moved back home, saving a lot of money and headache. I also didn't have to share a room with anyone anymore. Junior year, the year in which I first heard Del Amitri's 'Waking Hours' I lived in a house 'down the line' which in URI terms meant a rental house 15-20 minutes off campus near the beach.

I shared the house with Todd and Christian, both seniors. Christian I knew from the theater department and Todd was a friend of his. CD players were still quite new but all three of us were music junkies with wildly different taste. This led to many evenings playing what we called 'The DJ Game' where we would rotate song choices and whatever you chose had to somehow connect to the song before it. Beer was involved.

The fun part of this was getting to know someone elses record collection through their eyes. I gained a new appreciation for classic rock that hadn't bloomed yet due to my punk roots. Suddenly .38 Special could somehow be connected to The Dead Kennedys.

I don't know if I can adequately describe the atmosphere in the house. An 8 foot road sign that Christian had dismantled rested against the wall in the living room. We arbitrarily decided that our next door neighbors were our enemies. We saw them studying on a Saturday night once and wrote them off forever. Things came to a head one night because we could see one of them wearing a terry cloth bathrobe. Shortly thereafter a bottle rocket streamed from our elevated porch through their kitchen screen door.

The cops arrived. Our friend who'd actually set the bottle rocket off told us to hide in my bedroom. He then spent a good half hour trying to convince the cops not to take him in. Once he realized that wasn't going to work he took his sweet time getting ready. He decided he wanted to change his clothes. They said no, let's go now. He changed his clothes. He decided he wanted a glass of milk. They said no, let's go now. He drank his milk. He reverted back to his original argument. He's a lawyer now. All the while Todd and I lay in a dark room on the floor half petrified half in hysterics.

Christian's car the Wax Bean Bomber was a danger to the public at large. When taking a right turn flames would stream out of the engine. I am not kidding. He avoided right turns.

He once was kidnapped by a bachelorette party. They came into a bar he was at and picked him out. He then spent 14 hours with a group of amoral hotties who were determined to torture their friend who was getting married with the fact that she couldn't do X anymore, they could still do Y if they wanted, she'd never get to Z now that she was headed to the altar. The red plastic handcuffs used to keep him in line hung on his wall. He had pictures to prove it.

Most of the time Todd and I sat back and watched him go. Occasionally we'd get drawn into his shenanigans and then we were a true force of chaos. We called each other Skippy. 3 Skippys.

Somewhere this year I heard a song on the radio. It was called 'Kiss This Thing Good Bye' and it struck a chord with me. I bought the album. For quite a time it cancelled out the DJ Game as we only listened to this album. All 3 of us were mired in the midst of the usual college dating nightmare. This album spoke to us directly.

We went to The Living Room and saw Del Amitri in front of a crowd of maybe 40 people. They'd been on tour the better part of a year and a half and were clearly going stir crazy. They'd had a 'weird facial hair' competition. One guy had stripes shaved into one side of his beard. The other side was shaved clean. They blew the place apart.

Later over the summer, after the album had become quite a hit, we saw them open for Melissa Etheridge at Great Woods. We may have been the only people who left after they performed.

I'll forever remember standing on the roof with the 2 other Skippys, Del Amitri playing at call-the-cops levels, looking over the tops of all the houses down the line, seeing the sun reflect off the ocean, and having no idea what was going to happen next.

I miss those guys.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

35 Greatest Albums: The Refreshments - 'Fizzy Fuzzy Big And Buzzy'

I first heard this album on the 7th floor of an office building directly south of Central Park. I was working for The Hub, which was a 'channel' on AOL back when you still paid by the hour to get online. The Hub was a joint venture between AOL and New Line Cinema and the fact that their business model included throwing money at me should give you an indication of just how far that internet bubble had expanded.

My journey to The Hub had been a strange one and it all started in my ex-wife's brain.

She had been temping for a conglomerate of the magazine industry. Her job was to take their content and shoe-horn it into an AOL format. During this process she had to deal with many AOL execs and she eventually heard about something called AOL's Greenhouse Project. Their mission was to find, acquire, develop and promote original AOL content.

Maria thought that the rabid world of romance novels, novelists and their fans would be a great community to bring into the online world. She used her knowledge of AOL platforms to design a sample cross section of the interactive site dedicated to bodice rippers and forbidden petticoat exploration.

AOL Greenhouse was intrigued. They ran it all the way up the corporate ladder and it looked like they were going to buy it. At the last second they declined but they liked Maria's ideas so much that they asked her if she wanted to join the team of one of the ideas they HAD picked.

This site was dedicated to the collecting and retelling and debunking of urban legends. It was to be called...Urban Legends. They hooked Maria up with the creator of this site, a woman named Wendy. They rented office space in the Village and set about building the site.

At the time I was temping and auditioning like crazy. When they asked me if I wanted to pose for pictures as the fictional host of the site I said sure, why not. I dressed a little like Indiana Jones and they took a bunch of photos. The actual host of the site then had to back out and they asked if I wouldn't mind re-writing some of the legends up from existing source material, which was pretty dry and scholarly.

This became a part time job. I was working during the day and cranking out internet size re-creations of those myths we all know. Well, as the deadline approached it became clear that they weren't going to have enough material. I came on full time as the primary writer of the legends and also embodying the character I'd only been in pictures up to that point.

Legs Urbano. Get it? Urban Legends. Legs Urbano.

For the next two years I was on deadline. The show was quite a success right out of the gate. I wrote an article a week examining the legends from an investigative journalist/private eye perspective. People responded, pouring local legends in from all over the country.

Our show lived on The Hub, the channel on AOL's front page that was aimed at the MTV crowd, 18-35 white males. We were enough of a success that The Hub wanted to buy us out, have us join their company and not just live on their website.

The creator of Urban Legends is one of the most colossally insecure and narcissistic people I've ever met. In our little 4 (by this time my sister Sheila was also working with us...) person outfit she could stand back and let us do all the work while taking credit for it. On a team of larger proportions she'd be exposed. In our discussions with the President of The Hub, I made sure to let him know that I was a working actor and that I would be pursuing acting work while working at The Hub. She saw this as a terrible betrayal. On our last day in the Greenwich office, all her fears boiled to a head and she attacked me. I didn't answer the phones, I didn't check with her about topics I'd been working on, etc. I quit.

As I gathered up my stuff, I realized that I didn't want to quit. So I walked back into her office and told her I wasn't quitting. I told her that her complaints were unfounded and that her complaints were all secondary to the contributions I'd made to the ACTUAL CONTENT OF THE SITE. My writing had struck such a cord in the ether that we were being picked up by the big fish. I didn't say this but I knew it threatened her. I'd rendered her unnecessary.

The Hub itself was very different. 20-30 people in a cliche internet boom loft like space. Pool table. Bean bag chairs. Loud music. Unconventional dress.

One of the perks was that we got sent free music by the cartload. Everyone wanted to get their music mentioned on this new thing called 'the internet'. Amazing how far we've come.

Today's album is something I'd never have heard without going to work at The Hub.

To me, 'Fizzy Fuzzy Big And Buzzy' is about that time in life when you are no longer a kid but you aren't adult yet. Very Douglas Coupland. Too much intoxication, too much meaningless sex, too much sun, too many road trips, too few destinations. When Jimmy Buffet sings about it, you long for it. When The Refreshments do, you feel like you need to dry out, straighten up, set some goals, turn things around.

I became absolutely obsessed with this album. This doesn't happen to me often. I am in the middle of it right now with 'Chinese Democracy' and that is how I know when an album will be with me forever. I can sing the guitar solos on 'Fizzy Fuzzy Big And Buzzy'.

Which brings me to the primary reason that this album is on here. The guitar playing is DELICIOUS. The tone of the leads is just a hare heightened from the rhythm, leaving them linked and potent. The singer has what I consider to be the best straight rock voice from the '90's, more Vedder than Cobain but with none of the self-conscious bad acting that mars much of Pearl Jam's work.

These guys go to Mexico. They pay for hookers and regret it. They fish. They beg their girlfriends to just kill them already and get it the fuck over with. They start fights when they are called 'faggots'. In other words, they drink and face the consequences.

A few songs in you start to feel the sun brow-beating your hangover, trying to convince you just to have a beer to cut the edge. And while you're at it, why don't you just call that chick and straighten things out with her? She'll see your point of view. Sure she threw your photo album into the pool but she was pretty fucked up too.

The scariest part is that you are enjoying your descent. So you can't see any reason to stop it.

And that is why it resonated with me so much. I was not where I was supposed to be. I was not doing what I was supposed to be doing. I was not with who I was supposed to be with. Times like that drunk seems like the best idea there is.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Uncollected Works of Umero Nuno

As many of you know I have had the wonderful pleasure, honor, and imposition to be named the executor and gatekeeper of the estate of Umero Nuno, thought by many to be the finest satyrist ever to come out of the region that spans the mountains of Portugal and the valleys of Peru.

To say this task is Herculean is to risk offending every bodybuilder who ever daydreamed themselves into a movie about his exploits, imagining this Grecian turn to be the fulcrum upon which their meteoric ascendancy to the highest ranks of state government ever hinges.

When the order from Mr. Nuno's lawyers came to my door they were accompanied by bootstraps and jackdaws, flowers and incense, kicks and kisses. They were leaving nothing to chance. If I happened to be a masochist they'd convince me. A pansy? Even better. Thankfully I was both and needed very little convincing.

In all honesty it was a dream come true of sorts. Not in any literary sense for I'd never heard of Umero Nuno before that fateful day. No, this dream coming true had deeper roots than any simple recollection or appreciation of any single man's identity. The plopping on my desk of the comprehensive list that I was entrusted with against my will showed me in some final way that I was not in charge. Never would be. My career was over. I was now the Keeper of the Flame. Or at least the guy who had the list of everything he ever wrote and how to get your hands on it. Which can be an equivalent to Keeper of the Flame in some deep jungle dialects which Mr. Nuno was very likely familiar with. And thus the mystery begins...

Who was Umero Nuno? Where did he come from? Why did he come from there? Why didn't he just stay where he was? If he'd stayed where he was, would I still be in the place I'm in now? Would I have been given the Keys to the Kingdom had he refused to budge? Would any of his writing been more palatable in any sense, either in comprehension or enjoyment? Hard to say. But know this...he did come from where he was, he was who he was, and what fell to me and ultimately beyond me and to you dear reader, is something that poses questions far more troubling than these, and most likely harder to answer.

Controversy surrounds his birth certificate, which has defied analysis ever since it fell into the hands of the Carballatran regime in Lower Yeltsa. Nuno had angered a minor bureaucrat by mounting a puppet opera that presented the Department of Licenses and Practices as a crucible of ultimatums and recrimination. No texts survive, only the small notice in the paper which recounted a terrible buggy accident that resulted in the fire which mangled the left hand of a semi-well-known puppeteer of the region.

The bureaucrat decided that the very existence of a document legitimizing this sort of craven idolatry and rabble rousing needed to be at the very least altered. Therefore the date and locus of Umero Nuno's birth is either July 12, 1917 in Hamburg, Germany or October 27, 1933 somewhere on the Ivory Coast.

After fleeing the uproar which attended 'Pupperetta Gargantua: File # 237', Umero Nuno dropped from sight. But thanks to papers which I accidentally fell asleep under my third night living in the storage space he'd rented in Oaxaca, Mexico, I was able to trace his movements to a certain degree. Allegedly.