Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Goodfellas: An IM Conversation Betwixt Eric Berlin and Duke de Mondo

The following is the result of a Grand Experiment. Well known and loved Blogcritic and Filmic Wizard Aaron (AKA The Duke de Mondo) and I recently had a lengthy conversation via Instant Messenger on the following subject:

Goodfellas: The Perfect Gangster Film?

If there’s enough enthusiasm and interest, we may go onto such topics as PCU: The Perfect Campus Comedy or Reservoir Dogs: The Perfect Hipster Dialogue?

But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. While we do get into the matter at hand, we sail off into many an exotic region of cinematic lore, from Casino to Swinger, from George Lucas to Goddard.

And Kirsten, of course.

I did a fair amount of editing, trying to make the look as clean as possible. It will be interesting to see if people not involved in an IM conversation can enjoy reading a transcript (cleaned up some) of such.

Or will it produce stark raving Madness?

I try to stave this impossible condition off by guiding through where I can.

Be warned: there is some small amount of cussing and swear word slinging ahead.



The Greetings & Salutations

Eric Berlin: Mr. McMullan (AKA The Duke)
Duke: Mr. DB (Dumpster Bust AKA himself!
Eric Berlin: I’m listening to Dylan’s Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid -- good good stuff
Duke: Brilliant. Great soundtrack
Eric Berlin: I didn't even realize I owned it! Popped up on the iTunes shuffle
Duke: Haha. Yeah, that can be dangerous
Eric Berlin: Truly
Duke: Next thing you know its GG Allen and the wife just walked in


A meandering discussion transpires – amongst other things – of podcasting, Kurt Cobain, The Libertines,, creative entrepreneurship (Duke advises the creation of a manifesto), EB warns of the onset of some “High Falutin’ Philosophy Talk), William Blake, the correlation of conversation and location…

Eric Berlin: I'm a huge talker anyway but in the car I'm a monster. The wife on the other hand likes to zone out and look out the window, which causes problems...
Duke: Yeah. You just got the point of it all, and she's just notin’ the funky cloud shapes.

…Australia’s spider problem, filmmaking in New Zealand versus Hollywood, Peter Jackson, and a terrorizing fear of mortgages.

Finally, we settle in.

Scheduled Discussion (Finally) Begins

Eric Berlin: Dispense with whining and cheese then. Okay... let's get our head's straight. Goodfellas.... I contend it’s the perfect gangster flick. I'm gonna throw on some Cream to get in the mood for this. "Sunshine of Your Love" -- one of the few songs I can still play on bass
Duke: I just ripped today’s CD purchase onto iTunes. Perfect soundtrack for our intellectual debate
Eric Berlin: And what purchase was that ?
Duke: Kirsty MacColl - From Croydon To Cuba. A 3 CD anthology. Fuckin’ glorious
Eric Berlin: Wow -- sounds intriguing
Duke: Tragic though. Anyway, you think Goodfellas is the best gangster movie ever?
Eric Berlin: Well, I would say it's the perfect gangster flick... I think saying "best" invites all the Are-you-Nuts-What-About-The Godfather crowd
Duke: It's certainly the one that makes it look the most fun
Eric Berlin: Yeah exactly -- the story arc is magnificent. It sucks you right in. Through the eyes of Ray Liotta’s character. You see how powerful the embrace of the mafia is, at least initially.
Duke: "Ever since I can remember I wanted to be a gangster"
Eric Berlin: Particularly at that time period where it was still "Family". You see how the kids give him juice... everyone gives him juice. He's 21 and takes his girl into the clubs and gets to sit in the front row. Perfect analogy for money and power in America. Well, maybe not analogy but you get the idea. Even Ms. Karen soon to be Hill is blown off her ass by the charisma, the charm of the mob. Before Henry Hill's an adult, he's a full blown criminal
Duke: The guys you hang with are gangsters, the folks you buy things from are in thrall to the gangsters... what you wanna be, the dick or the arse
Eric Berlin: Exactly -- people who play it straight are the suckers
Duke: Understandably, he chooses the dick
Eric Berlin: Reminds me of that film by the South Park guys... World Police, the marionettes
Duke: Haha yeah, Team America
Eric Berlin: So the setup is amazing: Hill is sucked in, and the audience is sucked in
Duke: Right from that freeze-frame
Eric Berlin: And the way the whole backstory is told, leading up to the scene where they're shooting / stabbing the dude in the car and stopping off at Mom's Place. So when you "catch up" you're in the surreal moment along with Hill's coke-addled head
Eric Berlin: A head trained from birth to not be a sucker, a schnook, a schmuck-on-wheels
Duke: And he ends up a schmuck
Duke: Stylistically it’s incredible. Hard to remember how fuckin fresh that shit was. now look - Soderberg, P.T Anderson, every sonnabitch just makes Goodfellas over and over
Eric Berlin: Right -- it's a Scorsese masterpiece. I love the way Ebert put it, I believe... "He was only sorry in the end that he had no more soul to sell"
Eric Berlin: But let's talk about style a little more
Duke: I dunno that its his best flick, but its certainly the most invigorating one, fuckin adrenaline hanging from it
Eric Berlin: I'd have a tough time between Mean Streets and Goodfellas myself
Duke: Mean Streets and Goodfellas are very similar
Eric Berlin: The tone of the movie is glorious... from the scene where we meet all the gangsters.... Tommy Two Times and so forth
Duke: Yeah. its glamorous as hell
Eric Berlin: Yeah -- probably why I love it
Eric Berlin: Goodfellas is also magnificent because of how funny it is
Duke: But same stunning use of song-based soundtrack, same joy with tryin new shit
Eric Berlin: That dark/funny tone is where a lot of The Sopranos comes from
Duke: yeah, definitely
Eric Berlin: Yep -- the music is amazing -- one of the best uses of music in film
Duke: It totally defined 90's soundtracks
Eric Berlin: I've said this before: the scene in the bar with DeNiro when "Sunshine of My Love" is playing is just about my favorite scene of all time
Eric Berlin: Probably based upon Lucas' work in American Graffiti, I'm guessing? Stretching myself to get to that one
Duke: Reservoir Dogs gets the credit - Goodfellas made soundtracks "cool" again
Eric Berlin: Yeah, Reservoir Dogs wouldn't exist without Goodfellas... a film I love, by the way
Duke: Me too, although a very learned pal of mine detests it.
Duke: but that’s neither here nor there
Eric Berlin: Some people hate it, which I kind of get: it's not for everyone
Duke: How many folks wanted to write a screenplay after seeing reservoir dogs or pulp fiction?
Eric Berlin: Yeah -- those films gave a huge boost to 90s cinema
Duke: For better or worse... we have them to thank for guy Richie!
Eric Berlin: Intellectually I prefer Dogs, but emotionally Pulp has a bigger payoff, I think
Duke: Nothin’ in dogs competes with that diner-conversation in the last act
Eric Berlin: Well, Goodfellas gets the "perfect" label because it works on so many levels
Eric Berlin: It's a fun ride, but it's also tragic and moving and wrenching
Eric Berlin: It's a perfect tragedy when it comes down to it
Duke: What’s really goin’ on, though, beyond the coolness and the slickness and the violence? I mean there could be an argument for "it's just an exercise in style and stylized mayhem"
Eric Berlin: Get this... you're rooting for a criminal... and you're crushed by his demolition
Duke: That's it, I think, too. Its got a tragedy, and its about corruption. talks about the corruption of the American dream and the like much better than ScarfaceEric Berlin: It's like an analogy for the American Dream really -- massive consumerism, how empty the Dream is... or something
Duke: Ha! Great minds think alike...
Eric Berlin: Yeah -- I agree, Scarface shoots for the moon but doesn't make it
Eric Berlin: Goodfellas gets it all -- hits its mark exactly
Duke: And no student on Earth is more annoying than the one who keeps goin on about "say heelllo to my leetle friend"
Eric Berlin: All the violence, all the action is exactly targeted
Eric Berlin: I only saw that movie [Scarface] for the first time a few months ago… And I was like, so that's what this is all about?
Eric Berlin: I found the second half of that film to be flat, empty
Eric Berlin: First half was a lot of fun -- tons of promise
Duke: Yeah. Those hip-hoppers, man, they need to get some decent flick on the tour-bus
Eric Berlin: It's the perfect bullshit tough guy movie when it comes down to it, isn't it?
Duke: I know
Duke: Perfect Oliver Stone in other words
Eric Berlin: Ha -- exactly, great
Duke: That’s why Goodfellas is so much better
Eric Berlin: So, here's my take on Goodfellas vs. The Godfather
Duke: Go for it
Eric Berlin: Can we agree that Godfather would be the only serious competitor?
Duke: I guess so. It’s the only one that has the epic sweep. Obviously, though, stuff like Howard Hawks' Scarface and so on should be given a nod. But I think Goodfellas et al go a bit deeper
Eric Berlin: Not being the filmic scholar I neglected to see the original... though a friend laid some Hawks stuff on my a few months ago
Eric Berlin: The Godfather is damned fine storytelling, good action, good writing, great acting.... but it never lands the emotional punch that Goodfellas delivers
Duke: And lets be honest... Goodfellas is a hella lot more fun
Eric Berlin: Exactly -- that's the magic of it
Duke: What you want, the big old wedding scene or Pesci stabbin a fucker in the back with a ball-point
Eric Berlin: My friends and I quoted that movie for years. It became part of our own bizarre subculture
Eric Berlin: Was the stabbing with the ballpoint Goodfellas ?
Duke: I think so. wasn't it? Or was it casino?
Eric Berlin: Can't remember... think it was Casino
Duke: Casino fuckin rules incidentally
Eric Berlin: Ahh..... that's where I'm going to have to go ahead and disagree with you there (Office Space ref., by the way)
Duke: Pesci is incredible in that flick. Sinister as hell. Genuinely frightening
Eric Berlin: Yep -- amazingly original character -- funny, charming, murderous
Duke: You don’t dig casino?
Eric Berlin: I liked Casino but think it fell short in many ways
Eric Berlin: The editing was pretty bad whereas in Goodfellas it was perfect
Duke: I think it had too many "fucks". incredible, i know, but there you have it
Eric Berlin: hahahha -- that's funny
Eric Berlin: About 40 minutes could have been chopped
Duke: True, but its fun as hell in a trashy sorta soap-opera way
Eric Berlin: The second half of Casino is pretty boring
Duke: I can't get behind that, man. it has the big sweep-down! all those mafioso shittin it
Duke: Pesci gettin beat with baseball bats
Duke: And the funniest line in the flick.... "You made me pop your fuckin eyes outta your skull for that piece a shit?"
Duke: But yes, Goodfellas vs. Godfather
Duke: And I’ll add here: Godfather 2 is beyond overrated
Eric Berlin: Hmm.... yeah, it's overrated, but I like it
Eric Berlin: I could have had DeNiro / the backstory as it's own film – I really really liked that part of the story
Duke: Thats my favourite stuff in there
Eric Berlin: The “present day” part I found kind of icy, cold, distant
Duke: DeNiro is amazing in that flick
Eric Berlin: Yeah -- he's outstanding. Amazing what a shadow DeNiro's become with those Analyze My Bottom flicks and so forth
Duke: I know. Analyse This was good for thirty minutes
Eric Berlin: I'd put it about 14
Duke: Mind you, he was great in Meet the Parents and Rocky and Bullwinkle
Duke: "Fuckin greeks" thats a great line in analyse this
Eric Berlin: You're generous man, I'd say he was okay in Meet the Parents
Duke: I’m jokin about R&B – I ain’t that fucked in the mentals
Eric Berlin: hahah -- missed that
Duke: heh
Eric Berlin: He's been okay in some films, but I have to say he's been a bit downhill since about A Bronx Tale. He's got that Bruce Willis bug -- every movie he's the same kind of remote icy dude
Eric Berlin: It's like Lighten Up, Bro
Duke: I know. But with a good script a fella can work wonders
Eric Berlin: I guess everyone has that problem
Duke: Who the fuck could win with Godsend?
Eric Berlin: Yeah -- he and Pacino have had that problem
Duke: fuckin pacino – screw pacino
Eric Berlin: hahahaha -- hit a nerve there, I see?
Eric Berlin: Pacino I put in a spiral post-Scent of a Woman
Duke: Heh. I dig his shouting, and let me say his performance in Glengarry Glenn Ross is beyond anything he's ever done
Eric Berlin: Oh man -- talk about great minds
Eric Berlin: I LOVE Glengarry Glenn Ross
Eric Berlin: Best five minutes of acting EVER -- Baldwin in that flick
Duke: oh yeah, he’s brilliant
Eric Berlin: "Get them to sign on the line that is dotted"
Duke: hah yeah
Eric Berlin: Talk about how messed up the Soul of the U.S. can be – That movie says it all and a bag of chips
Duke: Even the fella out The Odd Couple is gonna end up weepin over a pint
Eric Berlin: hahahahahaha -- he's absolutely brilliant, heartbreaking in that film
Duke: for sure. brilliantly pathetic
Eric Berlin: They eat each others heart and then take the kids to McDonald's
Eric Berlin: And that's where our Mr. Hill comes in. Steal what you want -- it's easier and it's still the American Dream
Duke: Exactly – same idea casino explores, except more explicitly
Duke: In casino the gangsters become the establishment, which in its own way is just as subversive
Eric Berlin: Yeah... I think Casino goes a little bit too Big Picture... I liked the going on about gambling and Vegas but... I liked how Goodfellas focused on these people, these lives, and let the Big Picture be invoked by the audience
Duke: This is true. Goodfellas is a tad more subtle – although there aint much fuckin else subtle about it
Eric Berlin: Yeah, in the beginning of Casino the gangsters can't believe their good fortune: they can "steal" out in the open. And like Goodfellas, EVERYBODY has their hand out
Duke: exactly
Eric Berlin: Goodfellas is magnificent because it's really one of the first modern gangster films that takes you into authentic dialogue / lingo
Eric Berlin: "Did you take care of that thing?"
Eric Berlin: How Hill uses the voiceover to discuss how he's trying desperately to talk DeNiro out of whacking his friend
Duke: Yeah. and DeNiro’s shrug
Duke: "no big thing. forget about it"
Eric Berlin: And the editing -- brilliant
Duke: That scene in Casino where DeNiro explains how everyone's watchin everyone is as perfect as the steadycam Copacabana shot in goodfellas
Eric Berlin: Another interesting thought -- never thought about that
Duke: And then the fuckin heartbreakin moment when the guy comes in askin for money one too many times
Eric Berlin: By the way -- Swingers, one of my fave films ever -- love the way it self-consciously spoofs, among other things, the Copacabana scene
Duke: Swingers is fantastic. I ain’t seen Made, mind you
Eric Berlin: Oh: see Made. Actually, it gets better on second viewing, in my opinion, but it's great
Duke: Another thing - Goodfellas is so scary because its so fuckin real
Eric Berlin: YES -- thus the super dark, super funny, super reality of it
Duke: These folks aren’t nutcases in the traditional sense. They're the folks you drink with and cringe when someone says something cause its gonna start shit
Eric Berlin: Right -- I've hung out with guys like that -- maybe you're friendly with them... but the wrong word can start a riot
Eric Berlin: The Sopranos owes so much to Goodfellas and is really just about the best television series of all time, in my 'umble opinion. It’s such a oddball show, which I love -- it takes the time for truly strange asides, pauses, silences, is funny as hell, and has amazing music. David Chase is a genius
Duke: EVERYTHING owes a lot to Goodfellas. It laid the fuckin grammar for 90's American crime pictures. MTV meets Goddard
Eric Berlin: Nice -- I like that
Duke: It’s true, man. Goodfellas did for American cinema what Trainspotting did for British film
Eric Berlin: yeah -- great analogy
Eric Berlin: So I take it in closing that you agree Goodfellas is the perfect gangster flick ?
Duke: I dunno, but i certinaly think its amazing. That’s for damn sure.
Eric Berlin: Well, I was hoping for some controversy
Duke: It’s a perfect film, but the perfect "gangster" film, i dunno
Eric Berlin: But unfortunately great minds at least partially agree
Duke: Oh, and another contender should surely be Once Upon A Time In America
Duke: Which i detest
Eric Berlin: I saw a bit of that when I was a kid and hated it -- never watched it since
Eric Berlin: Just remember opium dens
Duke: It’s brilliant 90% of the time, but so horrifically misogynist i cant for a second accept it as great work. Epic and visually stunning, but truly detestable
Duke: Possibly goodfellas is the perfect gangster flick. I just dunno.
Eric Berlin: I kind of felt like Gangs of New York was about a 4 out of 10 – I was very disappointed with that one
Duke: It was abysmal
Eric Berlin: The visuals were great.... and not much else
Duke: Seems to be the longer a film rests in Scorsese’s gut, the more disappointing the result
Eric Berlin: You might be right
Eric Berlin: Give him a barebones budget and a tight schedule
Eric Berlin: And Liotta


Duke: And Kirsten
Eric Berlin: What was missing from Casino? Liotta
Eric Berlin: And Kirsten
Duke: and Kirsten
Duke: Kirsten playing Liotta would've done it
Eric Berlin: Dude -- if Kirsten plays everyone how is she going to have time for you?
Duke: I watch from the sidelines, making notes about poetry I’ll write for Her one day.

It’s A Wrap

Duke: Chicks dig computing
Eric Berlin: They totally dig experimental journalism via the IM and the Perfect Film series and so forth
Duke: Tell me bout Scorsese, they say
Eric Berlin: They want you to say, "Drinks on the house" EXACTLY like DeNiro says it at the bar
Eric Berlin: Okay man, really gotta go
Duke: laters
Eric Berlin: latest

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Review: Transplants - Haunted Cities

What is Transplants music? You probably don’t want to ask Transplant Rob Aston, who (I believe) tried to reach through the phone to crush my very soul when I asked him that question during my recent interview with him.

So, it’s hard to define. It of course sounds a little bit like the various bands that its members also play or have played for: Rancid, Operation Ivy, Blink-182, Boxcar Racer. It’s a little like Sublime in its genre-blended and sun-drenched dark vision of SoCal partying and gangsterizing. It’s a little like Gorrilaz in its side-project turned Major Act status.

Not to mention a fresh and strange new musical force.

The opening track, “Not Today,” picks up where Transplants’ self-titled debut left off: it’s a party, but one in which you might want to watch your back, or at least make sure your homies are doing it for you. It’s surf punk maxed out to nihilistic plains under the careful control of musical dynamo and legend Tim Armstrong. Travis Barker, he of Blink and Boxcar and, more recently, MTV’s reality show Meet the Barkers, continues to provide nothing less than stunning drum work, making the bottom end of each track as exciting as possible. Then there’s Rob Aston, who shows more range in his shouty punk/hip hop vocals (if not in his gangsta-rific lyrics) across the album to round out the supergroup hybridized genre-blend of a trio. If that’s not enough, Sen Dog from Cypress Hill stops by on to lend a verse.

Quick hit: I like how Tim Armstrong refers to the band self-referentially a few times as “T-plants.”

“Apocalypse Now” opens with beeps and the sounds of what might be a jail cell’s door closing. We then get treated to Tim Armstrong’s wonderfully weird vocal stylings. I’ve heard Armstrong described as the Ray Charles of punk. I think he keeps getting better and better, whether he’s playing for Transplants or Rancid, and so he’s certainly worth the price of admission by himself. The rest of the song is a bit monotonous in its frenetic pleadings.

“Gangsters and Thugs” is a tune that will likely always be mentioned alongside any conversation of Transplants, and perhaps for music in general that falls anywhere near the Gangster Camp, on the strength of its chorus:

Gangsters and thugs

Criminals and hugs

Some of my friends sell records

Some of my friends sell drugs

The volume is actually dialed back to a much more relaxed level here, which helps to make this one of the more interesting tracks on the album. An almost corny-sounding blues guitar and organ combo still leave me slightly baffled after a bunch of listens. Which is a good thing, I suppose.

“What I Can’t Describe,” featuring Boo-Ya T.R.I.B.E., is a significant departure from Transplants’ already eclectic formula, and it misses its mark rather badly. A 70s-drenched R&B vibe just doesn’t mesh all that well with Rob Aston’s hardcore punk and angry white guy sensibilities.

Quick hit: I have a hard time getting into a song that announces, “Let the funky beat play.”

Thankfully, “Doomsday” follows and, to use one of my favorite descriptions, just about knocks me on my ass. By far the best track on the album, it’s a wonderful cocktail of a mixture of hep-cat swing and cooled out punk with serious street cred. It’s music you could imainge hearing in an apocalyptic lizard lounge or the Cool Ass section of town in purgatory. The production work is reminiscent of “Down in Oakland,” off Transplant’s first album. Both songs stay with you and demand repeat listens.

“Killafornia” brings driving guitars and an organ half-lifted from Beastie Boys’ “So What’cha Want?” The great Sen Dog, also of Cypress Hill, stops in here for the tensely vibed party. The song works because the Bad Times and edgy guitar matches well with the loose piano and organ hooks.

Quick hit: Every time I hear the Dog I lament the fact that he didn’t end up with Rage Against the Machine’s remaining members after Zach de la Rocha’s departure.

“American Guns” sounds as though it might have been left on the cutting room floor during the Transplants sessions. On “Madness” and throughout the remainder of the album, Aston takes over a large extent of the vocal duties, with varying levels of success. This is a passable song, lacking the inventive elements that dominate on the album’s better songs. “Hit the Fence” is much more effective because it combines the dialed back yet edgy tone with a fantastic marching beat from Barker. “Pay Any Price” has a nice drowsy hardcore feel to it, but it sounds somewhat unfinished.

“I Want It All,” with its loopy piano, is reminiscent of “California Babylon” in a good way. Armstrong’s doubled and harmonized invocation that he wants it all again compounds the theme of Transplants: get yours, watch your friends’ backs… and don’t ask too many questions about how said friends get theirs.

“Crash and Burn,” the album’s final song, is an experiment that largely works, mostly thanks to Armstrong’s great and strange lyrical weaving through a bouncy and not unspicy Latin beat.

Now that we can see the T-Plants coming, we have high expectations. Haunted Cities is a very good album, but doesn’t quite catch the excitement and freshness of Transplants.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Interview: Rob Aston of Transplants

It’s no surprise that Transplants boasts a bevy of influences and musical soundscapes. Formed by friends Rob Aston and punk legend Tim Armstrong (both Operation Ivy and Rancid rank high on my personal Top 100 albums list released over the last 20 years) in 1999, the band quickly transformed from part-time side project to musical force. Add in the relentless energy and magical timing of rock drummer extraordinaire Travis Barker (see: Blink-182, Boxcar Racer), and you get an oddly satisfying mix of punk, hip hop, surf rock, and tales of urban mayhem and decay.

I spoke with Rob Aston – who blurs the line between hip hop, punk, and hardcore vocals like no one else – who was on the road playing the Van’s Warped Tour with the band.

Haunted Cities, released in June 2005, is the follow-up to Transplants’ self-titled 2002 debut.

Editor’s Note: “You know what I’m saying” is extracted from the record a goodly number of times in the hope of easing the visual flow.


Eric Berlin: How’s it going out there on the Warped Tour?

Rob Aston: We’re a week into it right now. Today we’re in New Mexico – it’s hotter than a motherfucker! But it’s all good, you know what I’m saying? The crowds are great, the bands are great, everyone’s great, you know?

And our record came out a couple of days ago, so people are starting to learn the new material we’re playing, so it’s a good time for sure.

I’ve got to ask what you guys do backstage or when you’re out on the road. I’m sure you’ve got some crazy stories lined up by now.

Well, we’ve got two buses: a stoner bus and a sober bus. On Tim [Armstrong’s] bus, which is the sober bus, the back lounge turns into a studio, and that’s rad because he’s always creating and always writing and coming up with songs. While we’re out here we get to utilize that time we have together, because we don’t always have time to get into the studio.

He’s usually working, and I’m usually in the back lounge on my bus hot boxing it with Travis [Barker]. We just hang out, you know what I’m saying?

I heard in an interview that you recorded the song, “Hit the Fence,” on the back of the bus during a tour with the Foo Fighters.

Yeah, it was crazy – it was a couple of years ago on the Foo Fighters tour. It was the same deal – Tim had a studio in the back lounge of his bus. We set up [Travis’] drums in the hallway of the bus. I had his kick drum, his snare drum, and his high hat, and I was down on my knees holding all of that shit together while he’s beating the fucking shit out of the drums!

It was just one of those things where it happened and it came together like that, and it ended up being one of my favorite songs. That was the first song that we recorded for that record, actually.

How’d you end up meeting Tim Armstrong and eventually forming Transplants?

I used to work for a band called AFI in the Bay Area. Rancid’s also from the Bay Area. So through mutual friends, I became friends with Tim and Lars and Bret and Matt and everybody, and when I moved down to LA – which is where Tim lives… I grew up in Fresno and moved down to Los Angeles around ’99.

Tim and I were already homies and I moved about a mile away from him. And, you know, we’d just be hanging out all the time. He got a Pro Tools rig for his home studio and he learned how to use it. He’d make tracks and shit, and he’d hit me up and I could write lyrics for these songs. I’d never done that shit before but I came up on Operation Ivy and Rancid and shit, besides the fact that this was my homie, you know?

What’s the song writing process like for you guys? How do you end up getting together to come up with new stuff?

It’s usually spontaneous. There’s never an agenda or list of songs for me to write or topics, you know? A lot of the time, Tim will come up with a skeleton of some music, maybe a chorus idea or something, or I’ll come up with a chorus and we’ll go from there. Travis will come up with a drumbeat, and Tim will write off of that. And we’ll base the rhythm off the music Travis has created… all kinds of shit. Anything goes with us. All of our ideas are accepted.

How do you deal with the busy schedules of Tim Armstrong and Travis Barker? You see those guys all over the place nowadays.

Yeah, it took us about two years to make this record. It definitely wasn’t two years of studio time, you know what I’m saying? Sometimes it would just be three days in the studio, and then we wouldn’t see each other for a month. Then we’d get back in for a couple of days, and a couple of weeks would go by and we’d be in Tim’s basement for a week.

We’d get together whenever we could, because everyone is busy. You know, I’ve been doing solo shit, Tim’s been doing Rancid stuff, Travis was in Blink [182] back then.

What do you think of your man Travis doing a reality show on MTV?

Oh, it’s all good! Because that’s him, you know what I’m saying? He’s the same dude on MTV as he is in everyday life. I like it for the fact that it shows that he’s a really good father. That’s my favorite part of it. I love watching him interacting with his kids. A lot dad’s can get some pointers from that dude, you know what I’m saying?

What kinds of personalities and influences do the three of you guys bring to the band to make is a whole?

All three of us lead three different lives and come from three different places, you know what I’m saying? So I think it’s just the combination of all of us, we’re all just honest with it.

I’m for sure going to tell you some honest shit when I’m spitting. And you know, it’s not going to always be everyone’s favorite subject or topic or language used in it, but I’m just going to be honest with you and tell you how I feel and tell you how it is.

Is that what you guys do with the music? Do you just try and keep it honest and keep it real, as opposed to saying, “Hey, we’re gonna give a message on this kind of topic in a song”?

Yeah, because when we record shit, we’ll go in there and depending on how we’re feeling that day, we’ll make a song about it, you know what I’m saying?

If I got into some fucked up shit the night before, I might want to talk about it. To a certain extent. I mean, I can’t talk about things and incriminate myself, but it’s a good way to get shit off my chest and it’s a good way for Tim to get shit off his chest. It’s like therapy.

Do you guys try and push punk rock to a new place, or is it more like, “This is just music – this is us.”

It’s just music, you know what I’m saying. There’s no label for it. We’ve always had trouble since the beginning when we started this band of people always asking, “How do you label you guys? What category do you fall into?” We don’t really fall into any category. It’s Transplants music. It’s not anything else because it’s everything and then some, you know what I’m saying? We do it because we love this shit.

How was it working with Paul Wall, who “chopped and screwed” your record?

That’s my homeboy right there! He chopped and screwed our whole record, and it sounds crazy. Ain’t nobody done that with a record, besides hip hop records or R&B on a mix tape or something. So a chopped and screwed record on a rock record or a punk rock record or whatever, doing it the right way and putting that shit out? That’s literally making some history right here.

But it makes sense for us to do that, you know what I’m saying? We get it, and Paul Wall gets it for sure. He killed it – I like the chopped and screwed version better than the regular version.

So are you guys going to eventually release two versions of the album?

Yeah, we’re going to release the chopped and screwed version in a couple of months, probably around September or October or something.

Let me get into a couple of the individual tracks on the new album. The first single is “Gangsters and Thugs” – is the message on that song to stay loyal to your friends and family no matter what?

Yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s no matter what, whether it’s right or wrong or good or bad. And everything I’m talking about on that song is real, too: being in the hospital, being broke, selling dope, and this and that. It’s all about what’s going on with me and my friends, and it is what it is, you know?
My friends ain’t gonna judge me for who I am or how I get my money. If they do, they ain’t my friends, you know? And I ain’t gonna judge them.

I really dig the song, “Doomsday,” and feel it has a connection to “Down in Oakland” off your last album. What was going on when that song came together?

“Doomsday”? That track is crazy! That’s one of the craziest tracks we have, I think. It’s just way out, like some weird, crazy, jazz, dark, fucking… I don’t know, you know?

It’s another one that’s hard to label, isn’t it?

Yeah, it’s super hard to label, definitely.

I’m just talking about: I’ll rob your ass, it’s doomsday, bitch!

Let me ask about your vocal style. It’s really unique. How’d you come up with it?

That’s just how it is. That’s just how I spit, you know?

You ever lose voice with that? You’ve got some scratch that you throw in there.

Yeah, I just lost my voice for a couple of days ago on this tour, but I got it back so we’re back on track now.

I also heard that you free-styled your way through the recording of “Madness.” Do you do that a lot in the studio?

On a couple songs, on a couple of versions here and there. Yeah, on “Madness,” I obviously went back and doubled it and stuff, but a lot of it was free-styled.

Sometimes I just get those headphones on, and stand in front of a mike, and I’ll just let the track go. And sometimes it’ll just work, you know? And sometimes it won’t, but on “Madness” it worked.

How do you feel about using music for advertising? The reason I ask is because the catchy hook from “Diamonds & Guns” has been used in a shampoo commercial.

Yeah, they still play that commercial everyday, all around the world, you know what I’m saying? And we’re cool with that – that’s advertising for us.

It helps sell our records, and we get paid every time that motherfucker goes on. And people get to hear our band.

People say, “Oh, you’re selling out.” Well, suck my dick, you know what I’m saying? We’ve got bills to pay like everyone else. There ain’t nothing wrong with getting your song on TV.

Speaking of paying the bills, what’s next for the Transplants?

Well, we’re on tour right now, then we’re going to head off for Reading and Leeds, and then we’re just going to fucking tour all year long. You know, get back in the studio. Like I said, Tim’s got his studio here on the back of the bus. Hopefully we’ll put a record out sooner than later.

Okay, I’m going to end with a tough question. If you put Transplants and Rancid and Blink and all your various bands to the side, what are your top five favorite bands of all time?


It’s a tough one, I know.


Pink Floyd, Pantera, UGK…

How many is that, three or four?

That’s three – you can throw you guys in there to round it out if you want.

Nah, fuck that dude!

Okay, go ahead.

Slayer… and fucking Cypress Hill.

That’s a nice mix right there. And you worked with those guys.

Yeah, Cypress Hill. Those guys are my homies, those guys are my family, you know what I’m saying? I mean, I grew up listening to those dudes. Now I get to work them? Shit…

Friday, July 22, 2005

Greg Smyth Reviews: Frank Black - Honeycomb

Our DB UK Music Correspondent, Greg Smyth, is back with a review of Frank Black's latest. Read more of Greg's reviews at Swing Batter Batter!

As for me, it's Ball Out revisions (chapters are actually beginning to circulate for review, if you can dig!), screenplay strategizing, and trying to get to a million things I've been trying to get to. It was actually a not half-bad week of catch-up overall, which means I may get to head out and see Wedding Crashers this weekend. Oh, and I'm hoping to attend a Showtime event in LA next week, which should be cool.

Anyway, enjoy...


Whether it was reforming the Pixies after years of strong denials, or churning out numerous albums of hugely variable quality since they first split, Frank Black has always been a contrary bastard.

Following Frank's twisted logic, then, the next obvious step was to up sticks, move to redneck mecca Nashville and record a country record.

Amazingly, for the most part, it works. Highlights include 'Strange Goodbye', a disturbingly chipper recount of Black's failed marriage, and a surprisingly straight cover of 'Dark End Of The Street'. Although not in the same league as Gram Parsons', it's a heartfelt and oddly poignant, if slightly plodding, reading.

Sure, we'd prefer it if he stuck to being Francis, but that was never really an option. Honeycomb shows that, when he's not wailing like a banshee on heat, Frank can croon with the best of them.

Frank Black, then, unpredictable country.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Star Trek's Scotty, James Doohan, Dies at 85

Actor James Doohan, the beloved Scotty from television's original Star Trek, died at the age of 85.

From Bloomberg:

Doohan died of pneumonia and Alzheimer's disease at his home in Redmond, Washington, this morning, the Associated Press reported, citing his agent Steve Stevens. His wife was with him, AP said. The actor also suffered from Parkinson's disease, diabetes and lung fibrosis and used a wheelchair.

Doohan played Lieutenant Commander Montgomery "Scotty" Scott, the Enterprise's chief engineer, on "Star Trek," which ran on NBC network from 1966-1969.

During an age where it was less common for pop culture phrases to enter everyday jargon, “Beam me up, Scotty,” came to take on all manner of connotations and meanings. Doohan played Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, the chief engineer on the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Unlike some other original cast members, Doohan embraced the persona he would be forever typecast as and remembered for, as this San Francisco Chronicle piece relates:

When the series ended in 1969, Doohan found himself typecast as Montgomery Scott, the canny engineer with a burr in his voice. In 1973, he complained to his dentist, who advised him: "Jimmy, you're going to be Scotty long after you're dead. If I were you, I'd go with the flow."

"I took his advice," said Doohan, "and since then everything's been just lovely."

Star Trek, which began as a modestly popular 1960s television program, exploded into an international phenomenon over the next few decades, and may have had an impact in generating interest in the next generation (so to speak) of summer blockbusters such as Star Wars.

The fame of Star Trek brought along a series of films, along with the burgeoning egos of any wildly successful ensemble. Doohan, never one to mince words, had this to stay about William Shatner, who played the iconic James T. Kirk:

He accused Shatner of hogging the camera, adding: "I like
Captain Kirk, but I sure don't like Bill. He's so insecure that all he can think about is himself."

James Doohan was born in Vancouver, Canada and always had a special affection for his Canadian fans, as this remembrance notes:

"He was always there for the fans, always with a smile on his face, even when he was ailing," says Llyr. "The last time he came up to Toronto a few years ago, he was obviously struggling but happy as can be to be there."

"He knew how much everybody loved him and he always gave back, you know, never had any regrets about Scotty."

Scotty, you’ll be missed.

Monday, July 18, 2005

John McCain and Hillary Clinton in 2008: A Foregone Conclusion?

In this early stage of presidential politics and buzz-making for the 2008 presidential election, two names currently blot out all others. Or, at the very least, they would seem to frame the debate and will have to be willfully shoved aside to create a new picture.

Therefore, I don’t think it’s too early to ask if the hypothetical presidential match-up of Sen. John McCain (R – Arizona) versus Sen. Hillary Clinton (D – New York) is a foregone conclusion.

Personally, I don’t think it’s foregone – at least not yet. But major ripples in the political waters will have to take place to enter other names into the debate. Of course, Howard Dean was hardly known by most people until he screamed (if you’ll pardon with the term) out of obscurity and into the foregone category of Democratic politics in 2003 and early 2004. Then, he slipped back into the pack before finally installing himself as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Keep an eye on McCain and Clinton, and you’ll get to see some fascinating dynamics at work. McCain is now tacking right as he knows he is wildly popular with independents and even many Democrats. After outraging some conservatives via his leadership role in the Gang of 14 compromise on filibusters and averting the “nuclear option,” John McCain is now talking tough on Supreme Court nominations. As primary season approaches, I’ve no doubt we’ll hear much about McCain’s longstanding anti-abortion position as well.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has been staking out middle ground for a number of months now. Taking a page from her husband’s political playbook, she recently spoke out against sexual and violent content in video games. She also received a great deal of publicity for softening her stance on the abortion issue. It was exactly these sorts of Small Government initiatives that assisted Bill Clinton to a two-term presidency.

So, can a politician in either party knock one of these potential and likely candidates off before momentum (see: Big Mo and John Kerry’s whirlwind 2004 primary campaign) sweeps them right into the ’08 conventions?

For McCain, the challenge will likely come from the right. The only moderate candidate with the name recognition and firepower to take the Vietnam War hero on is former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. The Achilles heel may well be Rudy’s pro-choice position on abortion, which could well kill him among the social conservatives who vote heavily in the GOP primaries. That said, McCain is no favorite of the far-right as well. That’s why a strong social conservative and/or neo-con is the best bet to overtake John McCain.

Bill Frist, the Senate Majority leader, likely flamed out during his failure to flip the nuclear option switch, leaving a number of potential candidates who will try to tackle Mountain McCain. Frist has also recently been exposed as a political opportunist because of his support for President Bush’s controversial ban on stem cell research. Look for a conservative governor without an enormous record to defend – such Mitt Romney of Massachusetts or Bill Owens of Colorado – to potentially do the most damage.

For Hillary Clinton, the challengers will come from all sides. However, the famous former First Lady is already amassing a campaign war chest to match her overwhelming name recognition. As big name challengers to her reelection bid in the Senate in ’06 are skittering away, a high-percentage victory (which could be in the offing due to Senator Clinton’s dogged pursuit of upstate Republican regions) could well get that big ball of Big Mo going.

However, because of steady Democratic losses since the end of the Clinton years, there are a number of blue-colored heavyweights ready to test presidential waters. Chief among them, of course, are John Kerry and John Edwards, the losing ticket during the 2004 presidential campaign.

While Al Gore went into hiding following his heartbreaking (and controversial) loss to George W. Bush in 2000, John Kerry has acted like his presidential quest never ceased. Likewise, John Edwards has also been retooling his message throughout 2005. Edwards likely has the best shot among this tandem as he remains sunny, fresh-faced, (importantly) Southern, and has really drummed home his unique vision of Two Americas and the need to pull poverty-stricken members of society out of that plight.

As Clinton continues to try and stake out the center-left coalition that was Bill’s stock-in-trade, a challenge from the moderate wing of the Democratic Party becomes less likely.

At this early stage, it would appear that Hillary Clinton has the best shot to win a major party nomination. While McCain looks like a very strong contender in a national election, the likelihood is strong that the religious right could well sabotage his candidacy, which is what happened after a strong early showing in 2000. The key may be the backing of the Republican Establishment, which anointed George W. Bush as far back as 1999 and launched him to victory.

If Hillary Clinton can get an early lock on the Democratic nomination while the GOP devolves into bloody in-fighting, it might portend Democratic success. Another way that she could bolster her odds is by picking a Clinton-friendly, intelligent Southerner with leadership experience and military credentials.

As in: Hillary Clinton-Wes Clark ‘08

Many, including some on the left, are fearful of a Clinton presidency because of fears of a return to the circus-tent media frenzy of the 90s. To that, I say: look around. The media frenzy is here to stay, no matter if a robot faces off against a bar stool in the next presidential election. Hillary Clinton will inspire a lot of controversy, and some hatred. But her detractors would likely never vote for a Democrat anyway.

The mere fact of a woman running for President on a major party ticket will cause an explosion of enthusiasm among women and minority voters, many of whom remember good old Bill with fondness and even reverence (a fondness and reverence chilly John Kerry was never able to garner). Hillary Clinton has a chance to make history, and that might even give John McCain a run for his money.

I’m looking forward to 2008. Fire up the DVR. Make ready the waffles for primaries night, a new tradition in my household. Let’s go!

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Sorest Loser: Our Military Culture

Yes compadres, The Sorest Loser is back. Check his home site thang right here.

Meanwhile, I'm continuing my summer swoon, which accounts for the relative lack of blog postage of late. The biggest thing stressing me is my Transplants interview and album review, which I'll try to bang out this week. Meanwhile, I'm finally (finally finally...) in the final stages of finishing up Ball Out.


There are many reasons to be worried about our country‘s future, but here is one that is rarely discussed -- our gradual descent into a military state.

America used to be light years ahead of every other country on most important measures, but the gap has narrowed. Our economic might is not what it once was. We have gone from being the world’s largest creditor to its largest debtor. China and the European Union have emerged as near equal players, and India‘s star is rising. The brightest people in the world once clamored to study and work here. But today the incentive to do so is no longer as great, and our immigration policies make it very difficult for foreigners to obtain visas (even student visas). And globalization has leveled the playing field. As Tom Friedman notes in his new book, unlike twenty years ago, a genius in Bangalore now has about as many opportunities there as he would here. We have lost our manufacturing base to countries where labor is cheaper. An offer by a Chinese company to buy an American one sends Congress into a tizzy.

Still, we are eons ahead of the rest of the world in one important category: military might. Nobody has the weapons capabilities that we do. Our military budget is as large as the rest of the world’s combined. If you include all of the additional appropriations for Iraq and Afghanistan, our military budget significantly exceeds the rest of the world’s. And yet we have no significant enemies. Sure, there’s the threat of terror and the occasional rogue state, but these are like fleas on a St. Bernard. Under these conditions, maintaining this huge military budget is madness.

Until recently I couldn’t understand why we would spend so much on our military. But perhaps it’s precisely because it is our last remaining advantage. Without our military, we we would be no more important on the global stage than England, France, or Germany. Without our military nothing would set us apart from the rest of the world. Perhaps, then, part of what’s driving our obsession with the military is our understanding that, without it, America would lose its hegemony.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Emmy Awards Nominations Are In, But Are They Desperately Lost?

ABC continues to see signs of its resurgence as two of its breakout hits, Lost and Desperate Housewives, swallowed up a combined 27 nominations for the 57th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards.

Nominations for the 57th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards were announced in an early morning ceremony at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre.

In the comedy department, longtime stalwarts Will & Grace and Everybody Loves Raymond grabbed the lion’s share of nominations.

The strongest category this year looks to be best drama, which fields Lost, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, 24 and The West Wing. The tragedy here is that two brilliant FX dramas, Rescue Me and The Shield, were shut out from the big table this year. However, The Shield’s Glenn Close did nab a nomination for best lead actress in a drama. That said, it could easily be argued that Close’s stature as an actress, and not her screen time, elevated her from the supporting actress to leading actress category.

I think Lost was the best show on television in the last year and deserves to win based upon an innovative premise, a strong cast, great writing, and perhaps best of all: superior character development. Deadwood is also a strong contender in the fine HBO tradition of producing high quality and uncompromising dramas. Six Feet Under, 24, and The West Wing all have the feeling of still strong programs that have seen more glorious days.

Lost’s ensemble nature produced supporting actor nods for Naveen Andrews and Terry O’Quinn, both highly deserving of recognition.

The best comedy category shows signs that the sitcom format has also seen brighter days. Will & Grace and Everybody Loves Raymond joins Desperate Housewives, Scrubs, and Arrested Development as nominees. It’s interesting to note that Will and Raymond are the only “traditional” sitcoms here. Scrubs and Arrested Development stand out for their innovative use of voiceovers, flashbacks, high production values, and most important: both are consistently funny.

Arrested Development at times rivaled Lost for best show on television this year, and demands an award if only to further stave off what would be a truly cruel cancellation by Fox.

As the reality television format matures in America, it’s interesting to note that the only new show to break into the nominations for best reality show this year is the seldom talked about but truly great Project Runway on Bravo.

Television's most-watched show, the talent contest "American Idol," was recognized with a nomination in the reality competition program category. Other nominees were "The Amazing Race," "Survivor," "Project Runway" and Donald Trump's "The Apprentice."

I must gauge my Complaint of the Year here: Project Greenlight is a captivating, moving, funny, and fascinating look into the movie-making process. It astounds me that it has garnered neither an audience nor widespread recognition.

HBO, even without The Sopranos this year, still sets the bar for quality television by yielding 93 Emmy nominations.

HBO was the leading network with 93 nominations, even though it lacked the firepower of its hit mob series "The Sopranos," which took a break last season. CBS was second with 59 nominations, followed by NBC with 54, ABC with 51 and Fox with 49.

With basic cable stations like Bravo, FX, and USA (The Dead Zone, Monk) pumping out better shows, on average, than the Big Four, will the broadcast networks be able to compete?

Prognosis: not so good.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Best 100 Albums (1985-2005) According to the Likely Demented Mind of Me

The madness began when Spin magazine published its list of the 100 Greatest Albums produced between 1985 and 2005. The escalation of said madness occurred when Blogcritic and former Libertarian Senate candidate from Indiana Al Barger then published his own list.

But what got me off my proverbial ass and into my literal Captain’s Chair was Mr. Barger’s dismissal of bands like Rage Against the Machine and Pixies as “tuneless.”

Action had to be taken, and here you have it.

This is an insanely subjective list of my 100 favorite albums of the last 20 years, derived from my own personal experiences and tastes and biases. There are annotations for the first 50 with personal anecdotes and thoughts placed in italics from time-to-time.

I spent some time pondering inclusion of some bands, like Pavement, that I should be really into (as in, I thought, “I’m the type of person who should be into Pavement)… and I like Pavement, the stuff I’ve heard from them. But I just never, at some point, crossed over into becoming a person who happened to be a huge Pavement fan.

Then there’re bands that I’ve only been turned onto recently, like the brilliant Libertines. There’s that part of me that would like to rush a record or two onto the list to seem cutting edge… but who the hell would I really be kidding?

So I suppose what I’m saying is that I’m trying to be honest. Trying to keep it real. I honestly dig the hell out of bands like Rancid and Nirvana and REM, so you’ll see a good smattering of their respective albums on the list.

It turned out, for me at least, that it’s difficult to select an album simply on the basis of a good song or two. Mudhoney is a good example: I’m a fan of the band and even saw them live in San Francisco several years ago. But I just couldn’t find a Mudhoney album that was worthy of inclusion on this list (sorry fellas).

I’m personally surprised to see how many of these albums came out in the late 80s or early 90s, though I suppose I shouldn’t be – those were my high school years, a time when one's musical indoctrination takes root.

Finally, there’s an obvious bias on the list toward alternative rock, ska, and punk bands. My only defense is to say, “Hey baby, that’s where I live.”

Enjoy and please feel free to comment away on my mini-life’s work…


1. Nevermind - Nirvana
For a certain generation, Nirvana was the bloody Beatles. My Ed Sullivan moment happened one day in 1991 when I arrived home from high school and flipped on MTV. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” blew my mind: an angst-ridden, almost vicious assault on what was then considered pop music, it literally wiped the remnants of hair spray-afflicted bands off the musical map. Nevermind reminds us that music matters, even when it hurts.

And it rocks.

I’ll also never forget the day I was lounging about a college dorm room in the spring of 1994. Someone raced in and told us the news. To paraphrase the liner notes from the soundtrack to Hype, the definitive documentary on the discovery and subsequent exploitation of the “grunge” movement:

We still miss you, Kurt.

2. Mellow Gold - Beck
Like many others, I dismissed Beck as the “Loser” guy… but not for very long. This is an astonishingly varied, inventive, and ironical listen. “Loser” actually falls far away from being the reason to check out Mellow Gold (I often skip it in favor of the rest of the album, in fact). What’s great about Beck – especially here – is that his music can be a definitive statement of some sort while alluding definition. Country, folk, rock, hip hop, electronica – all with tongue-in-cheek posturing and an eye toward keeping things loose. A perfect party album, a perfect road album.

Throw this on whilst hurtling down California’s Central Valley in the middle of the night, particularly “Fuckin’ With My Head (Mountain Dew Rock),” “Truckdrivin’ Neighbors Downstairs (Yellow Sweat),” and “Beercan.”

3. Life's Rich Pageant - REM
A beautiful and compelling and hypnotic album, through and through. Some of the best lyrics to come out of rock music also lie on this masterpiece. “Fall on Me” resonates these years later (a song I actually list as my favorite of all time), while “Superman” comforted me during my (mostly) dateless teen years. Speaking of resonance: “Underneath the Bunker” may well be a soundtrack for our troubled times.

4. Rage Against the Machine - Rage Against the Machine
At a time when rap-metal fusion was thought a novelty, Rage unleashed a fury of snarling guitar mixed with exquisitely fine-tuned and heated rap from the diminutive mouth of Zach de la Rocha. There was method to the madness, too: an intensely political message matched the crunch-and-fire musical assault. Rage’s self-titled debut is a masterpiece of focused anger, a call-to-arms for the oppressed masses. It’s Led Zeppelin meets Run DMC meets Che Guevara-brand Marxism.

This is revolution music, 1990s style. And it’s revelatory.

5. Live From the Middle East - The Mighty Mighty Boss Tones
The Boss Tones finally and perfectly captured their chaotically hybrid “ska-core” sound on this live album from the Middle East, a small Boston-area club that the lads play for close friends and superfans every year. If you’ve never seen the Boss Tones live, this album will give you a glimpse of what all the fuss is about: energy, Energy, ENERGY!

Another mind-blowing event, if you’ll indulge me: Seeing the Boss Tones live in Albany, New York in early 1993. It was as though a wave of manic music had crashed over me. I didn’t know what “ska” was at the time and had only a vague notion of punk, but I was soon to delve headlong into both.

6. Surfer Rosa - Pixies
The Pixies put on a clinic – one that many bands learned from and learned well – of alternative rock perfection: quiet-loud dynamics (yes, kids, you can utilize dynamics in rock music!), harmonies range over discordant guitar riffs, oddball and cryptic lyrics make manic sense with repeat listens. Frank Black and Kim Deal mesh wonderfully throughout.

The older I get, the more I realize what a groundbreaking entity the Pixies were (are?).

7. Let's Go! - Rancid
A greater blast of pure and ebullient punk energy you will not find (post-1985 at least!). “Salvation” is a compulsive, churning, and hopped up power pop anthem, and the rest of the album isn’t very far behind. Its 23 tracks fly by and there’s not a second of wasted time.

If there’s a person more perfectly suited to belting, dribbling, drawling, and howling punk rock pleas than Tim Armstrong, I certainly have never heard him. Or her. His ex-wife, Brody Dalle, might be close. But that’s a different story.

I used to listen to this album during many an early morning jog in the small town of Rochester, about an hour outside of London. One icy day, just after dawn, I zipped around a corner onto my block and the home stretch. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a teenage girl walking toward the bus stop. As I whizzed by her, she screamed, “You fucking asshole!” So much for being the Non-Ugly American…

8. Energy - Operation Ivy
Speaking of Tim Armstrong, he was part of the granddaddy of the punk-ska movement, along with Matt Freeman and Jesse Michaels. It’s all showcased here, a compulsive yet raw blast of, well, Energy. Songs like “Knowledge” and “Sound System” were built to keep angst-ridden young punks from flying off the rails. “One of These Days” is just about as much fun as you can have with a cover song.

9. Paul’s Boutique - Beastie Boys
In certain ways the most inaccessible of the Boys’ albums, it’s an undeniable and funk-ridden masterpiece of hip hop, sampling, and overall goofy giddiness. Every inch of the Beastie Boys screams New York, and nowhere more so than on the second or third movement(?) of the twelve-minute plus “B-Boy Bouillabaisse,” which blasts out a masterful sonic representation of late ‘80s New York from the trenches.

10. Kid A - Radiohead
Speaking of inaccessible, some people are going to “get” Radiohead, and some never will. I didn’t listen to Kid A for nearly two years after I bought it, but every since I gave it a chance, it’s been a mainstay of my musical sanity, or lack there of. Kid A is the peak of Himalayas, a heady trip, an aural rambling of the senses. It will take you to the otherworld… if you let it seep under your neural-core.

11. Battle Hymns - Suicide Machines
The perfect mix of ska and punk, anger and fun, message and goof. There are no edgy dance grooves that can match the likes of “High Society” and “Confused.” Suicide Machines take the formula of Operation Ivy and The Mighty Mighty Boss Tones and launch it into orbit.

12. Who Is, This Is? - Voodoo Glow Skulls
“Insubordination,” the opening track, kicks off with Cheech & Chong and evolves into a manic tribute to Ozzy Osbourne. The best way to describe the album is exquisitely controlled anarchy. A faster-paced, higher octane barrio ska-core masterpiece you will not mind.

13. Zucker - Fastbacks
If there was an entry in the dictionary for “power pop gem,” there’d be a picture of Zucker’s album cover next to it. And that’s what those crazy kids from Seattle pump out: album after album of power pop gems. And there’s nothing like the blissful pulsating breeze of Zucker. Sit back and count your riches.

14. Smell the Magic - L7
These ladies don’t mess around. Pure and unadulterated kick ass rock and roll is what L7 delivers, and never better than on Smell the Magic. “Get out of my way or I might shove!” I believe it.

15. Diesel and Dust - Midnight Oil
Great rock, great message from the politically conscious band from Down Under. That bald and tall lead singer Peter Garrett looks a lot like the creepy dude on the motorcycle in Weird Science only helps. But seriously, songs like “The Dead Heart” and “Sometimes” are those rarities that stick with you in the good way.

16. Downset - Downset
An intelligent, surgical hardcore-rap barrage that begins with the explanation of “Anger” (hostility toward the opposition) and hurtles forward into examinations into violence against women (“Ritual”) and the ineptitude of government. Downset saves most of its wad, however, for race relations in tense early 90s Los Angeles.

17. New Adventures in Hi-Fi - REM
An eclectic and moving masterpiece by a band at the top and possibly the peak of its game. Check out much more here.

18. Second Hand Smoke - Sublime
A loose collection of songs left over from the Sublime sessions, this album actually surpasses the famous self-titled LP in its range and musical muscle. The Uptown Dub mix of “Doin’ Time” introduces a reggae, hardcore, and sun-drenched SoCal party scene that ain’t always a happy place to be. “Badfish” might be Sublime’s definitive statement.

19. Definitely Maybe - Oasis
Whiny, arrogant, coke-fueled, and snotty? Yep. World-class, catchy, and muscular hooks matched by rousing melodies that dance in your head for weeks? You betcha. “Supersonic” alone makes the album worth a listen or three.

20. The Carnival - Wyclef Jean
A wonderfully inventive and eclectic foray into melodic hip hop, compulsive dance tracks, and Haitian rhythms. A hilariously bizarre storyline holds the album together nicely. There are at least half a dozen outstanding singles here, including “Apocalypse,” “Sang Fezi,” and a magical cover of “Staying Alive.” It’s too bad that Jean has not yet come close to replicating this effort.

21. Vivid - Living Colour
A great blast of rock, funk, metal, soul, and a myriad of other influences. “What’s Your Favorite Color” baby? That’s what I’m trying to say.

I still remember being a high school freshman, hearing “Cult of Personality” for the first time. My older sister’s boyfriend – now a professional musician – played bass with me in orchestra. He handed one ear bud that connected to a walkman and said, “Now, you’ve got to hear this. He was right.

22. MTV Unplugged in New York - Nirvana
As fine an acoustic live record as you’re likely ever to hear. Every track aches and soars and soothes. Beautiful and artful and sad and wonderful stuff. Great covers in here, too, by the likes of Meat Puppets and David Bowie. “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” still haunts me.

23. @ The Horizontal Boogie Bar - Brother Meat
They brought the Monster Sound from Ithaca, New York to Rochester that night, and boy did they bring it. Songs like “House” and “You Got It” jam and swing like bar rockers should. And when The Brother gets out from behind his big old drum kick to belt out such covers as “Hot Rod Guy” and “Heartbreaker”? Then it’s really time to get it on.

24. Traveling Without Moving - Jamiroquai
Space-age jams and futuristic groove. Ethereal syncopation permeates this popping pop record.

This album was a mainstay on the portable CD player when I lived in the UK during 1996-1997. Britain is one phenomenal place to pub and club it up.

25. The Chronic - Dr. Dre
Whenever Dr. Dre announces that the “Ace is back,” you better believe him. There’s not a better hip hop producer out there, as this seminal gangster-funked out and cuss-laced explosion of a record proves. And when the good doc takes the mike, look out. Interestingly, Dr. Dre is at his very best when he teams up on tracks with his protégé, a young fellow by the unusual name of Snoop Dogg.

26. Tyrannosaurus Hives - The Hives
A glorious collection of catchy and up beat power pop insanity. Check out much more about it here.

27. Get Behind Me Satan - The White Stripes
I’m getting really really close to believing that Jack White and his ex-wife not-sister are putting together music that’s a perfect conjunction of the legacies of Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, and a wide-ranging array of gospel, folk, and blues legends. Is that too bold for you? Just listen to “The Nurse” and “The Denial Twist” and “Blue Orchid” and then come back. Oh, you’ll be back.

28. Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia - The Dandy Warhols
Nobody does slacker cool better. ‘Nuff said.

29. American Idiot - Green Day
Green Day keeps getting better and better, making major strides over each previous record. Which is a pretty great thing, isn’t it? American Idiot delivers, rewarding repeat listens with layers of rock poetry, gliding harmonies, and complex orchestrations of musical storytelling.

30. Original Pirate Material - The Streets
An extraordinary and oddball collage of garage, hip hop, dancehall, and Brit pop stylings. It’s lifestyles of the poor and potheaded and un-girlfriended UK (“…’round here we call them birds, not bitches), and it’s an insanely addictive listen.

31. The Mighty Mighty Boss Tones - Devil's Night Out
This is where all the madness began, a rough and tumble yet hyper and explosive feast of raging guitars and skanked up horns. “The band was so hot, the beer got warm.” For rock music, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

32. Weezer - Pinkerton
One of the first thoughts I had when I listened to Pinkerton was that it was a ballsy album. My opinion hasn’t changed: it’s an open and raw and emotional listen. And it manages to kick not just a little bit of ass.

33. Tenacious D - Tenacious D
They call themselves the “greatest band on Earth.” And they are so right on. If I were to ever up and leave my life to join a band on the road, this would be one of them. (Look for #2 below). There’s an acoustic-metal-comedy concoction here at work here that just rocks itself to its molten core. Did I mention that Jack Black is my write-in for Galactic Commandant?

My on-again, off-again spoken word/jazz/funk novelty act, The Nick Trampani Trio, paid unknowing homage to Rage Kage and Jables for many a year.

34. Blur - Blur
Damon Albarn and Co. get it just right on an alternative rock album that cherry picks perfectly from both UK and US influences. “Song 2” may have turned into a sports stadium cliché, but there’s a rich tapestry of song stylings at work here, worth many a repeat listen.

35. Odelay - Beck
There are many reasons to fall in love with this album. Like most Beck albums, it operates on several levels, opening new doors when you come back for more. While most casual listeners will applaud politely for the shuffle-rap of “Where It’s At,” electronica, blues, and hard rock slip through the album like what you want to have happen at the best party you’ve ever been to.

Odelay single-handedly turned me on to country music – Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, and the like – through the sheer ironic-yet-sincere force of “Lord Only Knows” and “Sissyneck.”

36. Raising Hell - Run DMC
In my mostly white and Asian junior high school, every kid worth his salt in the schoolyard knew the words to this blistering and groundbreaking mesh of old school rap (which was kind of new school at the time, come to think of it) and good old fashioned rock and roll.

Raising Hell still sounds fresh as hell (1986 slang-wise and always-wise).

Somewhat embarrassing aside: I recall listening to Raising Hell on my duel-decked, orange Fisher Price tape deck on road trips with my parents way back in the day.

37. Sing Sing Death House - The Distillers
Lead singer Brody Dalle has the vocal and musical chops that leave Courtney Love awake at night, sweating. Sing Sing Death House lauches itself off the planet with its opening number, “Sick of It All,” as hard and manic yet compulsively listenable song as is possible to create. There are slower moments too, such as on “City of Angels,” where Brody dials it back and we get to revel in the croaky passion.

38. The Fury of the Aquabats! - Aquabats
If you let it, this album can change your life. For reals. A ska band that is actually a stalwart legion of undercover superheroes who, when not rocking their asses off whilst spreading pop-ska bliss, do battle with those who would set an army of two-headed cats upon the Earth? Sign me up. Literally. Dial this band as my #2 choice for bailing out on my life for Stardom (see: Tenacious D above).

39. Quality Control - Jurassic Five
This quintet has so much collective chops and flow and firepower, it’s nearly unfair. Lucky us, however, for having this masterpiece of chilled-out, LA-styled and funk-fueled hip hop prowess.

40. ...And Out Come the Wolves - Rancid
This album may be the quintessential moment when The Clash’s legacy (jealously guarded by Tim Armstrong) met 90s punk and ska-revival for a joyous and at times harrowing journey through the lives of young punks on the streets. The first five songs are as addictive a quintet of songs as I’ve ever heard.

41. Truth and Soul - Fishbone
Is there a better oddball rock band in the history of time than Fishbone? Musical influences and styles seem to pour out of them at such a rate that it at times doesn’t seem to make much sense. Truth and Soul puts it all together, though, on a mostly sun-shiny joyride through ska, rock, and funk.

It’s fun to play the “Freddy’s Dead” trilogy in a block: the original Curtis Mayfield version, Fishbone’s, and finally Master P’s somewhat brilliant and loopy version, “Kenny’s Dead,” which is on a South Park album.

”Ma and Pa” is one of my favorite all time addictive multiple listen songs, but I still like the cover version by my favorite college band, Soul Patch, out of Binghamton University.

42. If I Should Fall From Grace... - Pogues
When I get in a Pogues mood, this is often the album I’ll go for… and leave it on for days. “Bottle of Smoke” is a whipped up masterpiece of punk meeting a traditional Irish folk arrangement. Like all great bands, the Pogues always bring an astonishing versatility and range to bare.

43. Turn the Radio Off - Reel Big Fish
About as much fun you can have on a party album. However, there’s lots going on underneath the hood: highly polished licks, a simply fabulous horn section, and just about the perfect voice in Aaron Barrett for a ska band. There’s the now trademark snarky sense of humor and play here, such as on “Alternative Baby,” which simply tears apart the groupie chick who likes to act as though she knows what’s up.

44. Fear of a Black Planet - Public Enemy
When Public Enemy is on (and my lawd they are on here) they will raise the hair on the back of your head. A mix of styles and rhythms constantly keep you off balance but wanting more. Chuck D should run the You’ll Never Ever (Ever) Be Anywhere Near As Good As My Ass School of MC Arts.

I still want one of them Flavor Flav clock-necklaces.

45. The Three EPs - Beta Band
Just about the coolest, sweetest, most moving, and complexly layered record you’ll find (on this list, at any rate). As eclectic and transcendent a set of songs as exists. And it plays a role in High Fidelity, so that’s high praise indeed.

If you play “Dry the Rain” 600 times in a row as you sit in front of a computer, you will become a more productive worker bee.

46. Appetite For Destruction - Guns ‘n Roses
About as great and interesting a rock debut as they come. It’s amazing to look back and recall that (not so long ago) the Guns were the biggest and baddest band on the planet off the strength of “Paradise City” and “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Sweet Child ‘o Mine.”

I shied away from this record in high school largely due to the fact that many people I deemed losers (we called ‘em dirtbags back in the day) were into them. It was some number of years before I discovered how great Appetite was, and is.

47. Kiss the Mammoth and Run - Perfect Thyroid
Skunk music at its finest: a massively wonderful combination of ska, latin, rock, and funk grooves.

True story: After a show in the summer of 1995, I returned to my dorm only to hear whispers that I perhaps had a “thyroid problem.” Indeed, I was so sweaty from skanking it at the show that people thought I had a medical condition…

47. The Best of Times - Murphy's Law
Insane tempo, tongue-in-cheek lyrics, and a full blast of hardcore firepower. “Tight” sums it all up, while a hilariously drunken cover of “Ebony and Ivory” highlights their lighter side.

48. Sex Packets - Digital Underground
Beck once stated that he wished there were more bands out there like the Digital Underground. If you’re wondering why, this album will tell you.

49. Last Splash - Breeders
Quirky, bouncy, alternative rock dealt up super fine by Kim Deal and Co. “Cannonball,” anyone?

50. Bouncing Souls - Bouncing Souls
Once you begin to bounce with the Bouncing Souls, they stay with you for always. “Cracked” and “Say Anything” are fast paced punk gems while “The Toilet Song” is a delightfully melancholy anthem dedicated to the question, “Who’s gonna throw the toilet off the roof?”

51. Blind Melon - Blind Melon
52. Black Sunday - Cypress Hill
53. Check Your Head - Beastie Boys
54. I Heard They Suck Live - NOFX
55. Lock Jaw - Dance Hall Crashers
56. Red Hot Chili Peppers - Blood Sugar Sex Magic
57. Losing Streak - Less Than Jake
58. The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion - The Black Crowes
59. Wildflowers - Tom Petty
60. The Eminem Show - Eminem
61. Foo Fighters - Foo Fighters
62. Rattle and Hum - U2
63. Pawn Shop Heart - The Von Bondies
64. Celebrity Skin - Hole
65. Time’s Up - Living Colour
66. Document - REM
67. Siamese Dream - Smashing Pumpkins
68. Highly Evolved - The Vines
69. Caution: Social Prescriptions May Cause Side Effects - Yolk
70. Against the Grain - Bad Religion
71. Are You Gonna Go My Way - Lenny Kravitz
72. Gorrilaz - Gorrilaz
73. La Mano Cornuda - Supersuckers
74. Super Natural - Bennett
75. Evil Empire - Rage Against the Machine
76. Whitey Ford Sings the Blues - Everlast
77. Mutations - Beck
78. White Blood Cells - The White Stripes
79. The Scofflaws - The Scofflaws
80. Nimrod - Green Day
81. Blue Sky Mining - Midnight Oil
82. In Utero - Nirvana
83. OK Computer - Radiohead
84. Life Won’t Wait - Rancid
85. Hungry For Stink - L7
86. Baile de los Locos - Voodoo Glow Skulls
87. Transplants - Transplants
88. 28 Teeth - Buck-o-Nine
89. Get Some Go Again - Rollins Band
90. American Thighs - Veruca Salt
91. Elastica - Elastica
92. Slippery When Wet - Bon Jovi
93. The Return of El Santo - King Chango
94. Dirt Track Date - Southern Culture on the Skids
95. Proxima Estacion: Esperanza - Manu Chao
96. Superunknown - Soundgarden
97. The Downward Spiral - Nine Inch Nails
98. Beautiful Freak - Eels
99. Four - Blues Traveler
100. Saturation - Urge Overkill

Friday, July 08, 2005

Halliburton Wins $5 Billion Contract: So What Else Is New?

Conservative critics will tell you that Halliburton just happens to be positioned just so in the defense and security contracting game as to win contract after contract from the United States government for the continuing reconstruction and, well, war effort in Iraq.

Whatever the case may be, Uncle Sam certainly seems to think that Halliburton is doing one hell of a job.

The U.S. military has signed on Halliburton to do nearly $5 billion in new work in Iraq under a giant logistics contract that has so far earned the Texas-based firm $9.1 billion, the Army said on Wednesday.

You’d think that a new, one-year, $5 billion contract to the famous (Halliburton counts Vice President Dick Cheney as its former CEO) company would garner some kind of press conference, or at least an announcement. These days, when a middle reliever for the Houston Astros signs a three-month extension, it usually garners some kind of minor frenzy on the voracious and omnipresent media hamster wheel.

But $5 billion for Halliburton? Not so much.

The new deal, worth $4.97 billion over the next year, was not made public when it was signed because the Army did not consider such an announcement necessary, she said.

"We did not announce this task order as this is really not something we ever really thought about doing," said Theis.

Well, at least Halliburton is squeaky clean and would never think about defrauding or overcharging the American people during a time or global terror and war, right?


Halliburton, which was run by Vice President Dick Cheney from 1995-2000, has been under scrutiny for its contracts in Iraq and several U.S. government agencies are looking into whether it overcharged for some work.

A Halliburton spokeswoman said the new spending package was approved by the Army after the company submitted estimated costs for the year based on services requested.

Is the Halliburton-Bush-Cheney connection all on the up and up, or is there even more to all of this than meets the eye?

I honestly have no idea, but isn’t it almost easier to not even think about it?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Terrorist Attacks in London

Horrific news poured in this morning. London's burning, and not in The Clash kind of way.

I'm following the story, as I often do with breaking news, over at our sister station,

Be well, all.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Contender's Location: An Update

I know some of y'all were interested in finding out exactly where The Contender gym is located, the place that is the center of the action on NBC's boxing reality show, The Contender.

I had a fairly good idea of the location, but hearing an April broadcast of radio's Love Line provided further clues.

The guest on the show was boxer Ishe Smith, who defeated the trash talking "Baby Face" Ahmed only to lose to eventual winner and $1 million prize-taker Sergio "The Latin Snake" Mora. Ishe stated that the gym is located on Del Mar. Other indications (and establishing shots from the program) placed the gym on or near Raymond, so we can now be sure that the gym is located four or five blocks south of Old Town.

This information, of course, may only interest Pasadena and Los Angeles folk and/or Contender freaks and groupies. In any event, The Contender gym is about a 20-minute walk away from my pad (the Southern Fortress) so there's absolutely no reason for me not to check it out at some point.

Ishe turned out to be a surprisingly good addition to the Love Line broadcast. While he was at times taciturn on The Contender (which may be due to the fact that the rest of the house clearly placed a bull's eye on the talented boxer's back) or seen praying with Brent "The Disciple" Cooper, Ishe was fun and loose whilst bantering with Adam Carolla and Dr. Drew Pinsky.

Dr. Drew is also said to live in the Pasadena area. Maybe I'll bump into him in the supermarket sometime.

True story: I bumped into the dude who plays Bubbles (the junkie / informant guy, played by Andre Royo) on The Wire (one of my absolute favorite shows) a few weeks ago at a supermarket on Lake St. Friendly guy, adorable daughter. He seemed enthusiastic about my offer to interview him, but I've yet to hear back from him as yet.

Maybe he thought I was a freak or a groupie.

Monday, July 04, 2005

July 4th in North Korea Means It's Time to Go Pink

For most, July 4th in the United States means barbeques and children running around with sparklers and fireworks and beer and sitting out on lawn chairs and asking how the traffic was and talking about how great it is to not have to work for a day.

Of course, it’s also a celebration of the declaration of independence, the moment when, in theory, a new nation was born in which its citizens have the full right to chase after that much lauded Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

For those of us who were born free and will likely never know a day of real oppression or persecution, it’s difficult to imagine what it’s like to live in a more dimly lit corner of the world.

Take North Korea, for example. Recent economic reforms have had the effect of throwing the same old-same old fashion scene into chaos.

Three years after North Korea introduced reforms to breathe life into its crippled economy, individuals who have made it big there are spending their new-found wealth on the few consumer options that allow them to flaunt their money, the Dong-a Ilbo daily reported from the North Korean capital.

The fashion accessories of choice for people who have been able to acquire capital in the communist state are no longer just red portrait badges of the late founder Kim Il-sung. The well-off women of North Korea prefer pink dresses and umbrellas, it said.

The women and a few men also opt for bright red rubber rain boots and men have shed the jump-suit style clothes favoured by current leader Kim Jong-il, for colourful shirts.

So color is now spreading through the afflicted and oppressed North Korean countryside. Well, more likely a few selected city streets of Pyongyang, but the point is that freedom has the ability to take marvelous and unexpected and random and chaotic forms.

It’s a little bit like that scene in Pleasantville, when a slight crack in the staid status quo forever and irrevocably added color to a previously black-and-white world.

It’s a pretty great thing, actually.

So, whether everyone out there comes from the liberal or conservative or libertarian or progressive or I-could-give-a-good-god-damned side of the political spectrum, the 4th of July is a time to take a step back, crack a brew (or a soda, if that’s your wont) and wish freedom and peace and individual expression for the rest of the planet.

Happy 4th, everyone!