- sent to press October 8, 1998

What point was there in living if you didn't at least try to be as cool as your heroes?
- Aaron Cometbus

employee of the millennium?

The local director of Big Financial Temp Agency left a message on my machine asking me if I'd talk to a local employment publication about my temping experiences. I left a message back on his voice mail (pulled the old call-during-lunch-hour trick) and said I wasn't interested, that "I prefer to remain anonymous as possible." Left unsaid: "My identity is as a writer, dammit ... just pay me and leave me alone!"

I imagined myself in an article, talking about my great life as a temp:

"Yeah, I have to buy my own health insurance, and I don't get paid vacations, and I get paid by the hour so scheduling appointments is a hassle, and I always get an empty desk instead of my own desk, and I don't have a direct voice mail number so no one can reach me at work, and one time they had free cookies for the employees and someone said 'I know you're not a real employee, but help yourself to a cookie,' and I said 'no, I'm not a real employee, I've just worked here for six months,' but other than that it's been one great experience after another!"

The picture accompanying the article would show me wearing tan khakis, and a blue shirt (natch) and flashing a toothy grin. My picture ID badge (the one that says TEMP) would be pinned to my shirt pocket ... oh God. My staffing manager recently told me I'm the Agency's "prime example" for what temping can do for you. (?) I wonder what I'd be if I actually tried hard.

less is more

I wanna say something dramatic like "box sets are killing rock 'n' roll," but that statement isn't true, nor are box sets always a bad idea*. In fact, the number one item on my Christmas wish list is the Nuggets box set, which isn't the evil I'm talking about. The Nuggets box set is one-hundred-plus songs by a ton of mid-sixties garage bands, and I'm betting every one of those songs is more vital than any alternate take by any Major Artist you care to mention.

It's just that what worries me is the demise of the single-album ten-to-twenty song Greatest Hits or Best Of's that I grew up with. Case in point - REM's Eponymous album. Thank God REM jumped labels a decade ago, in a time before Box Sets as Norm, so I could just slap down fifteen bucks and get a twelve-song REM anthology, without B-sides, rarities, live tracks, previously unreleased tracks, alternate takes (though there's a couple on Eponymous), etc. Some of us just want a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am hour-long Best Of, thank you.

With REM, I didn't buy Murmur or Reckoning or Fables of the Reconstruction or Lifes Rich Pageant or Document when they came out. I just dug "Talk About the Passion" and "So. Central Rain" and "Can't Get There from Here" and "Fall on Me" and "The One I Love." (All out of Q98 in Fargo - I'd hear 'em it seemed like every summer there for a while.) One time in the fall of '88, me and my buddies were discussing/arguing about REM and our group was divided into two factions: 1) the REM Are Gods camp, and 2) REM Is Overrated And/Or Does Not Rock camp. I said "I never like their albums that much when I hear 'em, but love their singles - they should put out a greatest hits already." Everyone looked at me funny, I had cunningly staked out a gray area in a black-and-white argument.

The next week I was in Northern Lights and BOOM! there in the racks was Eponymous - just the singles, thank you. I loved it so much that I ended up buying Green and Out of Time when they came out (of course because of the singles "Orange Crush" and "Losing My Religion"), but those albums have mostly been gathering dust in my racks for years. So anyway, REM is a great band mostly on the basis of their great singles and dammit it's been ten years so how about another anthology?

Iron Maiden came out with a two-disc best-of set (and it'd probably be one disc if all their songs weren't like twelve minutes long) so if I get it I can hear "Two Minutes to Midnight," "Fear of the Dark" (live version), "Wasted Years," "Run to the Hills," and "Number of the Beast" all without having to buy five Maiden albums. Maiden wasn't that bad of a band from what I remember, plus they were "political" back during the Reagan/Thatcher era - it was always fun telling college-radio snobs all the lessons to be learned in metal songs. It pissed them off (always a fun thing) as it fucked with their world view.

And I'm hoping in a few years Oasis comes out with a singles anthology. Lots of people think Oasis is the Next Big Thing or the biggest band in the world - but they're merely a solid singles band. Which isn't bad, 'cept that we live in an album-oriented culture. Megadeth, REM, Aerosmith, and INXS (sadly not anymore - I dug those guys) are all singles bands, too - it's actually a pretty noble thing.

If you are a huge fan of a Major Artist, then by all means box away. But some of us just want ten-to-twenty songs by certain artists. And sometimes not even that many: a few years back I bought The Best of Badfinger and now only program three songs on my CD player - "No Matter What," "Day After Day," and "Baby Blue." But I guess anthology EP's would be asking for too much from the recording industry.

* And as Ozzy once said "you can't kill rock 'n' roll." But if elected president, Al Gore and his fat censor wife will give it their best shot. Hey Tipper: what happened to the parental advisory sticker that should have been on my copy of the Starr Report - were you too busy counting your chins?

let it rock

For a while this past summer, it seemed there were TOO MANY mid-tempo-acoustic-guitar-strumming-with-electric-guitar-layered-over-the-top songs (not always a bad thing, and can be great, check out the Jayhawks Hollywood Town Hall or Van Morrison's Astral Weeks) in my life. One day at work, I listened to Cities 97 for an afternoon and I swear EVERY SONG was some mid-tempo neo-hippie shit. I don't usually advocate chemical abuse, but all these post-Hootie bands (and I can't name a single one - I've been cleansing myself of the memory) need to get fucked up so as they'll make some noise or maybe just pass out and leave us alone.

Speaking of boring midtempo songs - in this issue, I was planning on writing something approximating the following:

"It's ten o'clock - do you know where Hootie and the Blowfish are?"

Then one night when coming home from the photocopy store and trying to find a place to park, on KQ (right around ten o'clock, come to think of it ... ) I heard the NEW Hootie song. Not the whole thing, of course, I flipped it over to a hard rockin' station just in time to hear some Tesla. So now I'm going with my homemade Hootie motto:

"Hootie and the Blowfish - because fifteen million people wearing Dockers can't be wrong!"

Anyway, for a while there were too many boring mid-tempo songs in my life. Plus, I was listening to a bunch of alt.country and thinking about being "genuine." (More on that later.) Inevitably, I began to crave riff-happy, three-chord noise. This need was brought to consciousness by Steve Earle. It was during his encore at his August show at First Avenue, when he opened with the chords to what I thought was going to be "Like a Rolling Stone." At the moment, I remember thinking it was appropriate (one great songwriter acknowledging another), but then Earle switched the chords around a bit, stepped to the mike, and sang WILD THING YOU MAKE MY HEART SING.

In "James Taylor Marked for Death," Lester Bangs wrote this about the Troggs song: THE LESSON OF "WILD THING" WAS LOST ON ALL YOU STUPID FUCKERS (capital letters his.) Well, I'm admittedly Stupid Fucker #1, and I let Earle's lesson hit home: sometimes you just gotta turn it up, absorb the noise, and drink cheap locally-brewed beer underneath headphones with the next morning just a distant threat away.

a steve earle discourse

Earle opened with a version of Waylon Jennings' "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way." Coincidentally (or merely cosmically), that afternoon after talking to a buddy on the phone about "authentic" versus "fake" country and how much we like "authentic" country music, I had plopped the original Waylon song into my tape deck. And y'know: there's nothing more ridiculous than city (okay in my case "town" maybe) kids like me who mercilessly mocked country while growing up, now going around using words like "genuine" and "authentic" when describing the country music they listen to.

(And of course NO ONE goes around saying they like any "fake" music over the "authentic" thing - e.g. Girl #1: Just bought the new PJ Harvey! Girl #2: I'm waiting for the fake PJ when that new Alanis comes out! or Boy #1: Man, that Pearl Jam show was great! Boy #2: I prefer fake Pearl Jam - wanna go see Candlebox??)

I sense that Earle long ago figured out that he'll never quite fit in, that most country people find his drums and guitars too loud, and that most rock folks find his voice too twangy (in fact, I know this because he said it in an interview years ago.) Yet he remains his own man, playing both loud and soft, writing brilliantly passionate and witty songs, and being topical without being obvious. So when he opens with a "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way" it's an acknowledgment to his stubbornness. Not only that he's a true outlaw (he did time in jail a few years back); but now he's clean, better than ever, and a music outlaw just like Waylon was.


I was working on this big ol' rambling piece where I made fun of the Swing Thing. Some classic bits in that piece, too, like where I say the swing trend "seems like a big game of playing dress-up," and I call the Cherry Poppin' Daddies "the Zoot Suit Daddies." Plus, I made fun of the Brian Setzer Orchestra, which led to the Electric Light Orchestra, and how I pretty much don't like orchestras in general, and then I started poking fun at Jeff Lynne.

I'm not working on the piece anymore and hence won't be running it because 1) it'd be transparently obvious that the only reason I was writing it was because I can't dance worth shit. There's no loud, distorted guitars in swing music so I can't just stand there and nod my head. Interactive music scares me most times; and 2) "they don't give a damn / about any trumpet-playin' band / it ain't what they call rock 'n roll" - I DO NOT want to be the bad guy in a Dire Straits song, especially that one.

(brian setzer / jeff lynne outtakes)

... any time I see Brian Setzer make an appearance, I seize the opportunity to gleefully mock. Hey Brian: you were part of what we call a "one-hit wonder" - the Stray Cats. "Rock This Town" was cute, as was your bands' haircuts, but you were supposed to disappear. Besides, you got your rockabilly asses kicked by the likes of the Blasters, who were not only greasier, they were smarter and rocked harder, too.

Now Brian has an orchestra, and any time I see the word "orchestra," I cringe. Makes me think of Paul Shaffer's orchestra on Letterman, which pales when compared to his NBC-era four-piece World's Most Dangerous Band. Also, orchestras make me think of the Electric Light Orchestra, which actually had some early cool songs until Jeff Lynne became too ELO-like (sorry, I couldn't think of another word) and not only bloated ELO, he grafted his bloated sound onto artists like:

· Dave Edmunds - used to sound rockabilly, then in the early-eighties ends up sounding like ELO. · The Traveling Wilburys - lessee: Dylan, Petty, Orbison, the third-best Beatle ... and they end up sounding like ELO. · Tom Petty - spent the first decade of his recording career making sometimes-brilliant Byrds/Stones hybrids, then on side two of Full Moon Fever ends up sounding like ELO.

In fact, did Jeff Lynne produce that morbid "Beatles" John-Is-Dead song "Real Love?" Because it sure sounded like fuckin' ELO to me. (What would Steve Albini Recorded By Jeff Lynne sound like??) Anyway, Brian Setzer: you move pretty good for being older than me, especially considering you have that big-ass guitar to carry around. But you're looking kinda bloated, your hair isn't that cute anymore, and someday soon your tattoos will morph into unrecognizable shapes. So please jump, jive, and wail yourself onto that late-night-eighties-music anthology infomercial that is your destiny.

sinatra sings the standells?

After Sinatra's death, I read lots of articles about Frank. In one of them, somebody - I don't remember who - said that Frank was "punk before there was punk."

I would have dared anyone to tell the alive Sinatra: "hey Frank, you're a punk." Either he woulda had his "alleged" friends take care of you, or he himself woulda smacked you one, creep.

the british are coming ... no, they're just breathing hard

Hate to sound so jingoistic - but if we're gonna be in a global economy, can't we please put a quota on crummy bands that get imported to our country? Better yet, can't we send magazine writers back to school and have them read "The Emperor's New Clothes?"

Every year or so, some Britpop band gets splattered into a bunch of magazine stories and we're told how said band is going to "conquer America" or "invade America," and then they disappear. (Unless they're Bush, who get dismissed; or Oasis, who makes great singles but get hailed - mostly by themselves - as the next Beatles.)

I remember a story in Musician a few years back - in fact I think it was a cover story - about these Brit bands who were great and couldn't catch a break here in America. Of course, it was our fault - apparently we weren't sophisticated enough to understand their music. As usual, the story didn't posit the fact that Americans invented rock 'n' roll, it's part of our blood, and when we don't dig something it's because sometimes it has no oomph. Robyn Hitchcock went so far as to blame the likes of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, who allegedly hijacked alternative music, moved it closer to heavy metal, and hit big - especially in the Midwest with teen headbangers. I got tears in my eye, not because I felt sorry for Hitchcock, but I was so proud of my little brothers and sisters here in the heartland.

Because well duh, Robyn. They may dig your fop fluff on the coasts of our country when they're hopped up on goofballs and hanging out in their hip 'n' trendy clubs, but here in the Midwest we just want some riff-happy guitars, thumping bass 'n' drums, and some singer pouring his/her guts out! Sounds great when driving around in summer or winter; looking to score some beer or action or kicks - this music is a tradition going back to Guns 'n' Roses to Van Halen to Aerosmith to Grand Funk and like all traditions we're pretty enamored of it and aren't going to give it up easily. And not to a guy named Robyn, that is fer sure.

kv answers my mail


It was with great interest that I read your letter and your thoughts about being a "contradiction." My advice is to not worry about being a contradiction. I'm one all the time. In fact, you could say that I'm a walking contradiction.

For instance, years ago in college I gave my friend Kevin all kinds of crap for being an accounting major. I was an economics major and accordingly read a bunch of theories by long-gone theorists like Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes. Meanwhile, Kev dealt in cold, hard, bottom-line capitalism. Once out of school with my solid "B" average, I proceeded to get an accounting job, just like my friend Kevin.

As a matter of fact, I still do accounting to pay my bills, which brings up the fact that as much as I claim to despise Corporate America, it is Corporate America that ultimately feeds and houses me. Not to mention it's monoliths like Sony and Warners that bring me most of the music I buy and tell you unsuspecting readers is great. Sure, you may see me on the bus reading Marx's Das Kapital, but what you don't see is that while the book cover says Das Kapital, the actual book inside is Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom.

So you have two choices: sell out now and grab the money, or be a walking contradiction and wrap yourself in mental pretzels trying to explain it to your friends, not to mention yourself while you sleep at night.

Thanks for writing, Wyman

p.s. "Wyman" is my favorite nickname, given to me by the same Kevin who I mocked while in school. Go figure.

do you remember rock 'n' roll radio?

Z-Rock was the Greatest Station in the Nation (self-proclaimed and also true) for a time in the late eighties and early nineties. It mixed speed metal, past metal classics (MC5, Sabbath), and new metal pioneers (Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Helmet) into a viable format. Most importantly, the station was FUN without being stupid, sexist, or condescending. The deejays were old-school crazy without being idiots.

Like the time the nighttime deejay tapped into the New York Rangers audio feed so that we could listen to another Z-Rocker deejay, who was doing the play-by-play. There he is! Hear him? I remember the deejay whispering as I cracked up while driving down 394 headed downtown. (And I shoulda turned around and went home as the night turned out to be kind of a drag - I ended up in the Entry and got repeatedly big-time frowned at by some girl in an Indigo Girls shirt. And then walking to my car afterwards these fat guys in Zubaz were yelling hey-baby crap at the alternachicks walking in front of me.)

Z-Rock would also would play "Cop or No Cop?" The deejay would call a random doughnut shop somewhere in America, and a caller would guess if there was a cop car or not in the parking lot. The doughnut-shop clerk would then reveal if there was a cop car or not present, and the caller would win a prize accordingly. (And of course, the best bet was to guess "cop." They say the rise of alternative rock killed Z-Rock, I wonder if maybe The Man shut it down for just being too damn subversive.)

Right around the time grunge hit big, one deejay mentioned Seattle and the other deejay deadpanned "they need more heroin there," and then refused to play a Seattle band for the rest of his shift.

Then they had their morning motto, which was spoken by this Clint Eastwood-sounding dude: "Alright you mangy malnourished metalhead punk, it's time to peel your face off the pavement and get going with Z-Rock!" I had that one taped to my bathroom mirror for a while.

And of course, the best thing about Z-Rock was "Mandatory Metallica," which I think meant that anytime they played The Mighty Met (as they proclaimed, and also true), they went ahead and played two songs. One time my brother was driving around on his lunch hour and they decided to play the entire side one of Master of Puppets (i.e. in some thrash circles The Greatest Album Ever Made, unless it's Ride the Lightning.) The Mandatory Metallica phrase has now been appropriated by hard rock stations everywhere, and now they usually play five Met tunes in a row at some point in the evening. But the stations these days don't have the flair or the fun of Z-Rock, and Mandatory Met usually gets regulated to late-night so they can play eighties nerf metal during the evening. (We-won-the-battles-but-they-won-the-war historic footnote: James Hetfield used to have KILL BON JOVI written in magic marker on one of his guitars.)

Is it too soon for early-nineties nostalgia?

i'm a cowboy, on a steel horse i ride

A cool thing lately is this alt.country stuff going on. Steel guitars, twangy voices, good songwriting, real Americana! I had been waiting for this movement to blow up, to hit it big, to get watered down and end up on MTV. Then a bunch of fake Country Cool bands would jump in sounding and looking (irony, sweet irony) like Garth Black and Clint Tritt and Travis Brooks (yeah, I know there's a difference between those three, but I'm taking the old waste-'em-all-and-let-God-sort-'em-out approach here.) Then cool kids everywhere would be wearing cowboy hats and bolo ties and vests and it'd be Urban Cowboy all over again, which means kids these days would be taking yet another bad seventies fashion and flaunting it. But what do I know?

A potential problem with alt.country is that these bands get too damn reverent and genuine and authentic. Take, for instance, Son Volt, whose debut album Trace I loved and played to death, yet their Straightaways followup was one big plodding bore, except for the first song, which actually had a beat, and "Been Set Free," which sounded a hundred years old in a spooky good way.

The saddest thing about Son Volt is that they're a drag live. Yes, they sound good, and yes they play good, and yes they pull out amazing stuff like Big Star's "Holocaust"; but they don't move around much and unlike Trace - which in retrospect suspiciously alternates slow and fast songs - they'll play a bunch of slow plodding songs in a row. Meanwhile, the crowd stands there all zombie-like, apparently equally obsessed with being reverent and genuine and authentic. Me, I want some flash and maybe a nod and a wink. Hell, if I lay my money down, I want to see these rock stars take a chance at making themselves look like complete idiots and maybe (maybe) come off as inspiring while pulling out the stops. I'm not asking for much, am I?

So when I saw scheduled at First Avenue in mid-October an acoustic night with Son Volt, I shuddered. Their favorite moment of mine is the start-and-stop electric-guitar riff that kicks off "Route," and ain't no Martin or mandolin or banjo gonna top that. I'll be skipping this show, thank you, unless Jay Farrar promises to lose the Fogerty-circa-1969 haircut and play while drunk off his ass, doing nothing but Ricky Nelson covers.

two testaments

1) The last time we heard from PJ Harvey was on her 1995 To Bring You My Love album. Her previous Rid of Me had out-and-out won the war of the sexes. She haunted former lovers - cutting off the legs of one - and told men that size does matter and that hers is bigger anyway.

Somewhere in between Rid of Me and To Bring You My Love, PJ descended to hell, did the Devil, and decided he wasn't that great. To Bring You My Love opened upon her return to Earth, ready for the world - whether we were ready for her or not. On the final song, "The Dancer," she was dreaming of rolling around with an angel delivered from above to answer her desperate prayers. Somehow it seemed to be a song that ended with a beginning, āla "All Along the Watchtower."

Is This Desire? then, is another chapter in PJ's quest. The album title is a question, and the answers don't come easily. PJ doesn't pull out her usual imagery - as in "Snake," "Long Snake Moan," "50 Ft Queenie," "Man-Size" - that would make Beavis and Butt-head snicker. (Said imagery only rivals AC/DC, who had "Night of the Long Knives," "Let's Get It Up," "Inject the Venom," "Heatseeker," etc.) Nor does she engage in her past Zep-like histrionics. Instead, she drops bits and pieces of sounds (like hip-hop, trip-hop, and a bunch of other stuff I'd be able to name if I wasn't such a meat 'n' taters meathead) into her songs. Seemingly simple names (Angeline, Elise) and places (the river, the garden, the coast) drift down, mix in with the music via PJ's powerful prescence of a voice, and haunt you.

In PJ Harvey's case, the journey is more important than the destination, and this album fittingly ends on a question. Is This Desire? is three a.m. music and worth staying up for.

2) Courtney Love is Everybody's Gal We Love to Hate. I, for one, dig Courtney. And I dig her band, Hole - their 1994 album Live Through This is one of my favorite of the decade.

A funny thing for me with Angry Women Who Rock (for lack of a better term) is the way guys get upset about the songs. "She hates men," is a usual retort of any of a number of my beer-swilling buddies who only listen to Janis and maybe Chrissie Hynde. The truly funny thing is when guys say "if a man sang that song, he wouldn't get away with it."

No shit: of course PJ Harvey can get away with singing "I might as well be dead, but I could kill you instead" and a man can't. No matter what the henpecked husbands of the world may say, we still live in a society dominated - sometimes brutally - by males. If a woman with a guitar and microphone can pull of revenge fantasies that totally turn the table on the "hey baby let's fuck"-isms (although "I'm a sensitive thinking guy"-isms are probably worse, but that is another subject) of male rock, I say it's about time.

Sure, Courtney's annoying. She has a big mouth, punches people, dogs Madonna, has her body altered to look like another plastic model, and wears Versace. (To be honest, I had NEVER EVEN HEARD of Versace pre-Cunanan.) (And I know I can't be alone on that one.) So she's annoying, big deal. She doesn't annoy like collaborator Billy Corgan, who releases a box set of discs every couple of years to prove how prolific he is.

Courtney and Hole are arrogant, and they back up their arrogance - their new album Celebrity Skin has some great crunching songs. You get lost looking for Kurt references ("Reasons to Be Beautiful" is beautiful, "Use Once and Destroy" is chilling, "Playing Your Song" pulls off the most obvious Kurt stuff convincingly), and Courtney even goes as far as commenting on her glamorous makeover move ("Reasons to Be Beautiful" again, and the title track.) Shameless? Maybe. Admirable? Definitely.

Some of the songs are pleasant, almost too-catchy pop that even yours truly likes. Most importantly, the band knows that crunching riffs, pounding bass 'n' drums, and ass-saving choruses make for great rock 'n' roll.


Everything written by me, except where noted.

Thank you to Aaron Cometbus, from who the idea for "kv answers my mail" came from. Issue #42 of his zine Cometbus is an epic, issue-length novel, and is recommended. ($2.50 to BBT; PO Box 4279; Berkeley, CA 94704.)

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