A Case For Hair Metal

My favorite bar in Baltimore is Rocket to Venus. It’s a hipster enclave smack dab in the middle of the working class neighborhood of Hamden. The people who hang out in Rocket are pretty cool. The jukebox reflects the sophisticated taste of the clientele. John Coltrane, David Bowie, The Replacements, the Descendents all share space in the box. I was there with my friend Brad for happy hour, and we were drinking and having a good time. My hipster guard was up at first, namedropping trendy bands like Los Campesinos!, The Hold Steady and the old standby of Bob Dylan. The drinks continued to flow and I was feeling rather comfortable. I was so comfortable that I forgot to be cool. Suddenly I found myself discussing Faster Pussycat.

Just mentioning Faster Pussycat in hipster circles is bad enough, but I was writing a dissertation. Here is a reenactment.

“I’m telling you Brad, Faster Pussycat’s first album is a CLASSIC! It’s sleazy from start to finish, and most of the songs are about strippers! Their second record, Wake Me When It’s Over, has its moments, but the first one rocks like a motherfucker!”

Brad has been a close associate for several years now, so he is used to my ramblings about hair metal. Most of my friends are. It comes with the territory. If you become friends with me, three things will probably happen.

1. I will ramble about hair metal at least once a week.

2. I will send you a YouTube video link at least once a month. This month’s selection is “When the Children Cry” by White Lion, because the solo is awesome.

3. I will drag you to a show, where you will pretend not to be embarrassed as I pull out old Ratt records for Stephen Pearcy to sign.

Hair metal is the red-headed stepchild of rock n’ roll. Critics hate it, most people grow out of it and today’s generation sees it as a joke. I understand why people make fun of it, because it seems silly and frivolous, especially when compared to Nirvana or Pearl Jam. As a young adult, I understand the need for people to relate to a band. It’s such an exhilarating feeling to listen to a record and say to yourself, “Wow, that guy knows exactly how I feel.” However, if you are looking at hair metal the same way you look at R.E.M., you are missing the point entirely.

I discovered hair metal a decade ago. I was fourteen. I had a crooked spine, bad hair, braces, completely and utterly uncool. I’d never been kissed, never been on a date, never been invited to a real party. I was stuck in the suburbs, a world of carefully manicured lawns and Dave Matthews records. I was pretty unhappy.
Then I bought a record by a band called Poison. My parents had gotten me a generic 80s metal compilation for Easter, and one track stood out. The song was called “Talk Dirty to Me,” and it blew my mind. The song was about the most glorious, dirty, seductive, sinful, carnal sex I could imagine….and they were doing it for fun. It was so catchy that I bought Look What the Cat Dragged In about a week later and I never looked back.

The album is a fantasy from beginning to end. There is no substance to be found. Bret Michaels and the boys party without consequence for about 45 minutes. Whenever I pressed play, the party started. Whenever the party started, I was always invited. I was a huge nerd, but Bret didn’t care. The Crüe didn’t care either, nor did Ratt. Whenever I listened to the records with a friend, they were invited too. It didn’t matter who you were, or where you came from, you were always invited to their party.

During the height of my hair metal fandom, I did not want to be told that my life sucked. I already knew that my life sucked, so why did I need Morrissey to remind me? The music took me outside of suburban normalcy and into the sleazy glamour of the Sunset Strip. I wasn’t John Nagle when I listened to these records, I was Johnny Toxic. Johnny Toxic dated five Playboy Playmates at once, because he could. David Lee Roth considered Johnny Toxic a close personal friend. Johnny Toxic had the tightest pair of leather pants money could buy, with hair that defied gravity. Johnny Toxic didn’t take any shit from bullies, and if he did…his buddies Nikki Sixx and Sebastian Bach were there to back him up. After they kicked the bullies’ ass, they drove around in a hot tub mobile with several scantily clad women, because they were rock stars.

That’s what hair metal gave me. At a time when I felt awkward and unsure of myself, these bands gave me confidence. I’ve never forgotten that.
My tastes have expanded quite a bit in ten years. Poison is no longer my favorite band. Hair metal is no longer my favorite genre. However, I will always defend it, because it played such an important role in my life. Besides, the first Faster Pussycat record still kicks ass, I don’t care what Rolling Stone says.

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John Nagle is a music journalist based in Baltimore, Maryland. He has written for Baltimore Metromix, B-More Live and 411Mania.com. You can also check out his blog, Rant N’ Rave With John. Mr. Nagle lives in Timonium, where he occasionally pretends to be Stephen Pearcy in the “Wanted Man” video.

Jason Anderson: The obviate media Interview

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Very few musicians can match the pure joy that emanates from Jason Anderson. If you are unfamiliar, you probably should watch this video before you read the following interview. The prolific (and incredibly gracious) singer-songwriter took some time out of his day to chat with obviate.

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obviate media: First off, how are you doing?

Jason Anderson: Feeling great right now, thanks. How is Chicago? I miss that place. The Chicago Diner and Veggie Bite are two of my favorite restaurants in the USA. Oh, also, thanks for taking the time to ask me some questions.

Chicago’s pretty good. I’ve never been to either restaurant, but I’ve heard good things. Also, No problem. Thank you! So – Jason Anderson is a fairly common name. Have you ever felt like you had a hard time because of it? Has there ever been any mix-ups?

Not so far. Oh! Once at a show I was announced as Jason Alexander aka George Costanza on Seinfeld. That was very, very awesome. People started booing when I came out because they wanted the Seinfeld dude (just joking about this last part). That also would have been very, very awesome, though.

How old are you, and what’s your day job?

31. I am a music teacher at both a pre-school and a wonderful afterschool center. To give you a sense of how amazing this afterschool center is, we are working with 4th and 5th graders on an original play called JAWS: THE MUSICAL. i am very, very lucky. The center is part of The Children’s Aid Society, which has been around since 1853 in NYC.

And Where do you currently reside?

Brooklyn, NY.

What would you consider your influences (musical or not)?

Lots of stuff. Friends, travel, politics, food, bikes.

Your website shows you recorded an extraordinary amount of material. How do you write so many songs? Where do you draw your inspiration for most of material?

I’m really not sure. Good question, though! I just love music. Also, I have no life. Kidding. Sort of.

I’m curious what the songwriting process is like for you. Are you the type of musician who I could give a person’s name and a few details to and say ‘write a song’, or just the opposite?

I am the first type. It’s funny how specific your example was, too, because check this out: Once my friend and I went to a crowded waterfront on a sunny day, and made a sign that said “Will Write a Song About You for $1.” It was great! I think we made about eighty bucks, and took our friends out to dinner. It was a great day.

You use a lot of sing-alongs in your music, and in your recordings. How did you start doing this? Who comprises the chorus in your recordings?

I just thought it would be more fun to have everyone involved, instead of the strangely skewed, standard orientation of a bunch of people (often) paying to stare at one person or group of people. My goal is connection, not disconnection. And I don’t need a bunch of people standing still looking at me, because I’m really not anything special. The point is that we’re ALL special, and when we ALL sing the music is only better for it.

I am not that good of a singer. All the voices help not only the music, but the feeling, and the sense that this night is a unique moment in our lives that will truly NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN, and if it’s our last night here–our last chance–then we better make it count.

As to recording, on the TONIGHT thing I invited whomever wanted to come to this big wooden gymnasium and we taped the group parts. It was so fun.

The ‘Ghosts and Goblins’ video implied that you used to teach music for kids. What is your background – teaching? Playing? etc…

Yes, I am a teacher. I am almost done with my second year of teaching at two wonderful places in New York City. I work every day. And before I toured for 5 years straight I was a music teacher for 2 years at a private studio. So I did have some background. I also worked at a middle school for one year with special ed kids. That was wonderful.

What have you been listening to as of late?

Phish, Sun Kil Moon, Propagandhi, My Morning Jacket.

Do you have plans to record a new album anytime soon?

Yes, I have one that needs to be mixed and then it will be done. I also have songs for a new one.

How do you choose where you play shows? Do you have a manager or do you do it yourself? I know you played here in Chicago in January at an unlikely location and apparently invited everyone out to eat beforehand? Do you have any plans to tour soon?

I spent five years simply touring and the deal was that anyone who emailed me about playing their town, their house, etc. I would go and play there. Now I have more of a set schedule because I teach, but I still have summers off and a couple other holiday breaks throughout the year. I can also play a bunch in New York City, which is what I’ve currently been doing. I am still really excited to email back and forth with people about show ideas, especially non-traditional ones.

For example, I am talking with my friend Mike about playing a bowling alley show soon. He set up a great show last summer at an outdoor basketball court. I’m also hoping to play some more islands this summer. So far I have played Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, Star Island and Monhegan Island. Anyone can email me here: wolfcolonel@hotmail.com. I’ll write back.

Watching some of your live videos, it seems like you use the audience as an instrument, or do as much as you can to get them to participate. How important is this for your music? Do you find the audience is generally receptive to it or not? Are there any really good crowd participation stories? Or not so good ones, for that matter?

It’s important to me sort of personally and politically in terms of wanting to involve everyone and try to break down that weird dumb (to me, anyway) wall between “performer” and “audience.” The person being looked at and those doing the looking. So much of that seems like ego stuff and creating these divides, these perpetually reinforced levels of social or, maybe worse yet, “artistic importance.” That might sound too much like fancy talk, though.

Mostly I just want people to have a blast, and remember that music (I think anyway) is about singing and dancing and sweating and connecting and thinking and feeling and being ALIVE. Not just dressing up “hip” (like everyone else) and trying to be cool (which is apparently accomplished by standing still and looking bored) and then going home and blogging or twittering (is that how you say it?) about “just another indie show.”

But at the same time I don’t want to give the impression that I’m super hardline about it or anything. I totally understand that people enjoy music in different ways. If you don’t want to sing along or stand up, that is okay with me, too. There are other powerful ways to connect that are often removed from tradtional shows, like eye contact, smiles, etc. I really just want to feel like something positive is happening and that everyone in room acknowledges that we are together and we are experiencing something and it is our present tense.

And seriously, isn’t it time to remember the catharsis and release and simple JOY that can be found in a show and how this can maybe be an important catalyst in thinking about looking for beautiful, perfect, exciting moments in our day to day lives, and how they are actually everywhere, if we are open minded and open hearted???

Besides your solo work, do you play in any other bands?

I am always up for playing with my friends and helping them in any way, on drums, piano, guitar, bass, etc. I usually have just as much if not more fun playing and supporting and being a part of their awesome music. I just love it.

What’s one detail about you that a lot of people may not know?

I’m vegan.

Are there any musicians that you would like to play with that you haven’t?

My Morning Jacket is definitely one of my favorite active bands. They seem to come from such a good place; I feel like they love music, love playing music, and really do things the way they should be done, in terms of putting on an awesome show and really believing in that power, in that positive energy. It seems like they are not overly concerned with the fashion of things, but just kind of do what they love to do and I think when you do what you love to do and are sincere and earnest about it, it’s totally contagious.

But I doubt I will ever get to play with them. That would be awesome, though.

What’s next for Jason Anderson?

Well I have to go to the afterschool center in about fifteen minutes. Today I have 5 piano lessons. One of them is a group lesson with Sam and Spencer. They are really great kids.

Thanks for the questions, Brendan.

Thanks for your time, Jason!

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You can visit Jason’s website here. His albums are available on iTunes or by mail order. He also has selectr free downloads available as well.

Dinosaur Jr. at Otto’s – DeKalb, IL 4/11/09

Dinosaur Jr.’s choice to play DeKalb, Illinois, a town 65 miles west of Chicago was a weird one. Then again, Dinosaur Jr. is a weird band.

In 2005, the capricious ‘classic’ lineup of the band that fell apart shortly after the release of 1988’s Bug reunited to much fanfare. The legendary feud between singer/guitarist J Mascis and bassist Lou Barlow was finally put to bed after over a decade. Along with drummer Emmett “Murph” Murphy III, the ensuing tour was a triumph, and was followed by a successful comeback album, Beyond in 2007. img_7640

Two years later, the band is gearing up for the release of Farm, due in June, with a run of dates across the US.

The band took the stage in pieces for Saturday’s’ set. Murph and Barlow were first – Barlow, a legend in his own right for his work with Sebadoh and Folk Implosion, was especially well received. Minutes later (or so it seemed), a sedate Mascis wandered on stage and picked up his guitar, standing in front of his giant wall of amplifiers. The band then launched into bouncy “In A Jar” off of 1987’s You’re Living All Over Me. The thirteen-song set was heavy on cuts from the band’s most recent disc, as well as their 1985 debut, Dinosaur. Highlights came in the form of “I Don’t Wanna Go There”; a track off of their forthcoming disc (and being handed out as 7-inch or digital download with every concert ticket purchase) as well as the gorgeous Barlow sung “Back To Your Heart”.

The band is not only a formidable live act, but also a fascinating character study. It’s as if none of them would have anything to do with each other if they weren’t in a band. Then again, they probably don’t. It should be noted that Dinosaur Jr. are an incredibly loud band – to the point where earplugs were not only recommended, but also sold at the merch table.

On stage, Mascis a bit of an artifact – silver haired, stoic and reserved. His guitar playing was sinewy – alternately invigorating and demanding of the concertgoer’s attention. On occasion, he rocks from side to side. Barlow, on the other hand, was the complete opposite. He was energetic, hardly able to stay in one place and conversational with the crowd, to the point where it’s fair to suspect that he may have been indulging a little too much. Murph, seated between the two, was the perfect conduit, providing the steady beat and acting as the glue keeping the two personalities working together.

It seems to work well for Dinosaur Jr. As the band’s original lineup celebrates the twenty-fifth year since it’s inception, they seemed to do something in DeKalb that not many bands that have reunited after a long wait can claim. They picked up exactly where they left off and showed no signs of losing a thing in the process.

See more photos from the show on our Flickr page.

In Defense of “Hot Legs” (sort of): Kelsey Pierson Reports

While Rod Stewart is completely washed up and has been reduced to recording the tenth-thousandth installment of “The Great Amercan Songbook,” his early recordings are damn good.

What I love about is the fact that it seems like he just sat down in his living room with a bunch of people who played instruments and said “I’m going to sing this Bob Dylan song, you play like this, and I’ll sing like that.” It’s all very organic for being an album that was wheeled out like a Kelly Clarkson album is today. It’s intimate, while being poppy enough to sell a lot of copies.

The guitars are always very open. Whoever is playing allows the instrument do it’s own thing and allows for the chords to ring out and carry while Stewart’s voice is almost restrained by his signature rasp. Both create a beautiful soft and hard blend. Here are a few essential and somewhat popular Rod Stewart tracks and why I love them so:

1. “Every Picture Tells A Story” (1970) – One of the feelings I get from this song is the idea of a beginning. Sure, the young man in the song is recounting his travels around the world, but the overall feel of the song reminds me of a guy who sloppily rolled out of bed and decided to change his life. The drums sound like a little kid haphazardly jumping into puddles after a hot summer rain while the steam rises from the sidewalk. The song is epic like the best Hollywood box office busters, and it’s really all because of the drums. It almost sounds like the guy doesn’t really know how to play, and the whole song sounds like at any second it could just stop working. It teeters on a slippery slope. Listen to for Stewart to come in too early at 3:47.

2. “Gasoline Alley” (1969) – This is a driving song. Although pretty much any song with the word “ride” or certainly “gasoline” would be an essential track on any driving mix, “Gasoline Alley” is a bit of a different animal. It’s not just a song about the journey like most great driving songs are, but about the longing for the destination. Stewart and the guitarist melt together into a song about wayfaring. Plus there’s a mandolin part, which sort of adds to the troubadour effect to the song, and the vocals kind of fade out during the last minute of the song, creating the effect that he made it back to Gasoline Alley and is walking away from the song.

3. “Mama, You Been on My Mind” (1971) – I can’t figure out if the woman he’s speaking to in this song is his mother, his girlfriend, or even a short-term lover. A rare Bob Dylan gem, the lyrics are sort of adorable, and whatever the relationship was, the overall message of “Mama, You Been on My Mind” simply spells out that no matter what kind of relationship this elusive mama had with the narrator, he’s thinking about her and seems apologetic that it didn’t work out. As friends often say to me “it is what it is,” and that is the note that Stewart’s performance leaves with me.

The Greatest Spectacle In Sports Entertainment and A Dream Come True

If you were a guy growing up in the 1990’s, there’s a pretty good chance you were a fan of professional wrestling.

Admit it. There’s something in all our DNA that attracted us to this flashy, ridiculous form of entertainment that mixes athleticism with soap opera and violence. No matter how book smart you are, or how much of a pretentious indie fuck you act like when it comes to the music you listen to, there was still something strangely appealing to this ‘sport’ a level above barbarianism.

My brother and I were no different. I suppose it makes more sense for him, because he’s the athletic type, always interested in any type of sporting event to come on. The Olympics are like Christmas morning for two straight weeks for him. Don’t even get me started with basketball.

Me? Not so much. I always liked to read and watch movies. Sports were boring. Professional wrestling was for idiots.

However, on a boring June night in 1998, I found myself watching an episode of WWF RAW IS WAR (now WWE RAW) with my brother. It was some segment featuring WWF Champion ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and Kane hyping their First Blood match at the upcoming Pay-Per-View. It ended with Austin getting dumped with fake blood and Kane vowing to set himself on fire if he didn’t win.

With that, I was hooked.

Kane ended up winning the title that weekend, but he lost it back the next night to Austin. As the summer wore on, my brother and I educated ourselves in wrestling history with viewing countless hours of tapes (this was before DVD’s, children).

Out of all of these tapes, we tended to enjoy the annual WrestleManias the most. WrestleMania was a pay per view started in 1985 by the WWE that would feature the best of the best wrestlers. It’s where feuds culminate and grudges are settled. It’s also chock full of celebrities and features some of not only the best wrestling ever put to tape, but also some of the finest dramatic moments, if you understand the history. It’s widely considered to be the ‘Super Bowl’ of wrestling. Just like the Super Bowl, it’s held somewhere different each year. We vowed that if it were ever to return to Chicago, we’d be there, hands down.

Drew and I gradually burnt out of watching wrestling on a regular basis somewhere around 2000. This was after forming our own backyard wrestling federation where we defended title belts that I designed and we had a hand in writing our own feuds. I went as Dude Love one Halloween and Cactus Jack the next. Drew went as Sting the first year and Spike Dudley the next. A friend of ours even went as ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin the first year.
It’s all hilarious to think about now, but it really showed how much we loved something so stupid.

Anyways, even though our fandom eventually dwindled, one thing we always did each year was rent WrestleMania on pay-per-view. Since 1999, we hadn’t yet missed one. Even if we didn’t exactly know what was going on with some of the feuds, it became somewhat of a tradition that we refused to break with.

Last year, when we rented Wrestlemania 21 on pay-per-view, it came time to announce the location of next year’s WrestleMania. Immediately when we saw the promotional video featuring the Chicago skyline, we freaked out.

It was coming back to Chicago! Only two times in the 21 year history of the event had it even taken place in Chicago – parts of WrestleMania II were held at the Rosemont Horizon in 1986, and the entire WrestleMania XIII event was held at the same arena. We vowed at that very moment to get tickets.

We kept enough attention to know that they were going on sale in mid November. Then, out of nowhere… WE FORGOT.

Tickets literally sold out in two minutes, as reported by Ticketmaster.

The feelings of shock and disappointment were quickly stifled with “Oh well, I guess we’ll just watch it on pay per view again this year.” It was an okay consolation, but we were still bitter at the fact that we totally slipped up and missed our chance to go to our favorite event when it FINALLY came back to our town.

We largely forgot about it for the next couple of months, until somewhere around mid-March where we realized we’d better start paying attention so we know what the hell was going on leading up to the big event when we’d get it on pay-per-view.

Then, like a godsend, we saw it.

Two weeks ago, in the Daily Herald, I spotted an advertisement in the form of a WrestleMania trivia quiz. It said that the winners of the quiz would get two free tickets to WrestleMania 22 on April 2!

Then I looked at the questions. I knew almost all of them off the top of my head – and what I didn’t know, Drew did.

“What do we have to lose?” I said.

“Nothing,” he replied.

So we sat up in my room and filled it out. After clicking send, I said “We’re going to WrestleMania.”

“No we’re not,” Drew said, walking out of my room. I insisted we were. For the next few days, I talked as if we were going. He was getting angrier and angrier with every mention of it, stating “DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY PEOPLE PROBABLY DID THAT THING?” I just laughed.

Anyways, two Wednesdays ago I got out of my Copy Editing class early and sat at the computers in the Journalism Department. I checked my e-mail. It was from some woman from the promotions department at the Daily Herald. Right at the top, it said.

“CONGRATULATIONS! You have been selected as one of the winners of our WWE WrestleMania 22 trivia contest!”

I nearly jumped out of my seat. Confident after filling out the quiz that we had them all right, I never really thought we’d win. But we did. I tried to hold back my excitement to prevent the risk of embarassing myself in the middle of a lobby full of people.

Needless to say, I’ve never heard Drew more excited about something in my life.

We finally were accomplishing the goal we’d set so many years before.

He convinced it was a joke. It wasn’t until we picked up our tickets did it finally become a reality.

WE WERE GOING TO WRESTLEMANIA!!

Anyways, we left at around noon Sunday to get to the event. It didn’t start until five thirty, but I knew that there was going to be some stuff to do in the parking lot. The lines were incredibly long, so we decided to line up to get into the arena. We talked to two guys who worked at a Wal-Mart somewhere in the suburbs most of the time. They were total wrestling geeks, just as we were.

I have never seen so many grown men dressed up as their favorite wrestlers, and so many people carrying around $300 plus dollar replica title belts. Even we weren’t that bad, and trust me, we were bad.

Anyways, after several hours of waiting in line, we finally got inside. It really hadn’t hit either of us that we were at WrestleMania. Something we’d been watching for years. Something that’s first fourteen installments got us through an extremely long car ride to Virginia. Finally, we were a part of the big event.

The set was incredible. It was constructed to look like the Chicago skyline, with each individual section being part of a giant TV screen. Yes, there were a lot of lights. Yes, there were a lot of fireworks. Yes, there was a lot of FIRE.

I could run down the entire card, but it won’t make much sense to the non-fans. However, I will I will say, I never will forget how the crowd was cheering for the bad guys and booing the good guys.

I will never forget the night I saw Edge spear Mick Foley through a flaming table.

I will never forget the night Shelton Benjamin did a springboard from the outside apron onto a ladder.

I will never forget Shawn Michaels (my favorite wrestler as a kid) doing a sixteen foot elbow drop off a ladder, onto 60-year-old WWE owner Vince McMahon, who was layed out on a table with a trashcan on his head.

I will never forget the Undertaker’s dive over the top rope, clearing a casket, and colliding with a 400 pound man.

I will never forget the 5’3, 165 pound Rey Mysterio winning the World Heavyweight Championship from guys a half foot taller than him.

I will never, ever forget Triple H, the company’s top ‘bad guy’ tapping out to the WWE Champion John Cena’s submission hold to end the show.

I’ll never forget being one of the 17,155 in attendance that night.

Yes, it’s fake, the outcomes predetermined, but the athleticism is not. To see the stories told in front of you is a lot of fun.

My brother and I always don’t get along. We’re pretty much exact opposites. But wrestling is something we’ve always had in common. I’m glad I got to experience this with him, as opposed to someone else who really wouldn’t care. It was nice to spend a couple of hours with him even though we are on very different paths in life.

As corny as it sounds, it was a dream come true for the both of us. Even though we’re pretty far removed from the extreme fandom we immersed ourselves in nearly ten years ago, it was pretty awesome to be able to just sit back, forget about all the complications of everyday life, and just be a kid again.