Category Archives: Music

Punk Roots (Part Two)

(Note – I link to a bunch of videos here. Take your time. Watch them. Let me take you on a little musical trip. Enjoy!)

It’s 1978. Maybe early 1979.

I’m in college at UC Irvine. No scholarships for me, and no assistance from parents or anyone else, so I’m working full time to get through school. With classes during the day, I needed something that gave me the ability to work around that schedule. Which is why I worked for Marriott, first with swing shifts (some real shitty, entry level, minimum wage jobs, “moving up” to room service at about $3.10/hour) and then ended up on graveyard shift.

The graveyard job was night audit. This was not the computerized, automated, “babysit the front desk and check in people in the middle of the night” job that it is now. No computers at all, everything done on paper, by hand, with nothing fancier than a desk calculator. For a hotel with several hundred rooms plus lots of banquet space plus four restaurants, this meant at least three of us most nights.

It was work that taught me how to do the accounting equivalent of “M*A*S*H”‘s “meatball surgery.” I was a physics major with some computer programming (FORTRAN, LISP, assembly) thrown in, not business or accounting. (For the record, this proved invaluable after graduation and for the forty years since. I started writing computer programs for accounting, then ended up as a corporate Controller and now a Director of Finance. Physics, on the other hand – not so much.)

But it was truly drudge work. Boring. Slow. Boring. Tedious. Boring. Methodical. Boring. Routine. Detailed. And did I mention “boring?” Needless to say, “boring” is not necessarily a good thing when you’re working graveyard shift. Especially when you’ve had classes all day, crammed in a couple of hours of homework and studying, and only gotten four or five hours of sleep. (Ah, youth!) They also usually turned off the air conditioning, so it was always warm and stuffy.

Warm. Bored. Exhausted.

Anything that could help keep us from falling asleep at work was welcome.

There was some relief. They allowed us to have a radio in the office behind the front desk where we worked. But in the late 70’s, there were very limited options for late-night radio, even in Los Angeles. (Pre CDs, pre digitial, pre iPhone [hell, over ten years pre cell phone, period!] – does anyone have a cassette?) If you’re trying to stay awake, K-RTH 101 playing the Beach Boys doesn’t do much for you.

Then one night…

One night one of the guys (it was all guys except for a brief stint with a woman, which was led to a completely different nightmare) came in, very excited about a radio station he had found. It was called KROQ and we could just about pick it up on FM if conditions were right. It had a weak signal, low power, and they either kept losing their license and going off the air for a while or they were being threatened with losing it).

They were playing the most bizarre music any of us had ever heard.

Something called “punk.”

X. The B-52s. The Knack. Tonio K. (“Life In The Foodchain” is still an all-time favorite album!) Joe Jackson. The Clash. Boomtown Rats. Buzzcocks. Joy Division. Talking Heads. Public Image, Ltd. Elvis Costello. The Buggles. The Police. Blondie. Ian Drury. The Ramones. Devo. Morrisey.

Songs with titles like “Beat On The Brat,” “Hatred,” “Psycho Killer,” “I Want To Be Sedated,” “Warm Leatherette,” and “T.V.O.D.” (Go ahead, watch those last two from The Normal. Heads up – they’re anything but normal.)

THAT’s music that will keep you up at 3AM while reconciling restaurant sales in 90°F temps on four hours sleep!!

A lot of what they were playing was actually banned, which is why they kept having their license threatened. There were obscenities in it. There was sex. (Remember that I mentioned “88 Lines About 44 Women” by The Nails? They played the unedited version.) There were taboo subjects.

I’ll never forget that the Boomtown Rats had a song called “I Don’t Like Mondays” about the 1979 Cleveland Elementary School shooting in San Diego. (For those of you not familiar with ancient history, this was long ago enough so that people were actually shocked and horrified by a schoolyard being shot up and kids and teachers killed.) It had been banned everywhere – but KROQ played it.

It was glorious. I loved it.

My boss – not so much. He allowed it, but on nights I wasn’t there they listened to something else. But turnover in that job was high, it was tough getting good help, it was really tough getting anyone who wouldn’t be gone in six months (or less), so I got to listen to punk on KROQ and get his, “What is this crap you’re listening to?!” comments.

Until 1980 when he heard “The Wait” by The Pretenders. (See, you knew that eventually I would get back to this, which I got reminded of last night.) That angry, in-your-face chanting and ranting, borderline gibberish just cracked him up for some reason. It was the funniest thing he had ever heard in his life. He truly had no idea what crap he was listening to, but he liked it.

It didn’t hurt that he had seen a picture of Chrissie Hynde at some point and was deeply in lust with her. (I was a bit obsessed at the time with Debbie Harry of Blondie and would have crossed oceans and climbed mountains to be with Pat Benatar, so who am I to judge? Damn, those eyes… plus ça change…)

So that’s where my head goes when I find a new Sirius/XM channel of punk/alternative/new wave music and they smack me in the face with great music from forty years ago. I’ll be listening to my music of my early twenties to ease the stress of today in my early sixties.

At least, until the next time I go off on a “Hamilton” binge. Or Jean Michel Jarre. Or The Eagles. Or…

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Punk Roots

I’ve spoken of my pretty wide-ranging musical tastes, everything from rock to classical to musicals to country to EDM to… You get the idea. I think I’ve got stuff in my playlist from just about everything except gospel. (One must maintain certain standards!)

I’ve also mentioned Sirius/XM’s “First Wave” channel playing all of the punk and alternative music of the late 70’s and early 80’s. Ramones. X. Frank Zappa, Depeche Mode. Pet Shop Boys. Duran Duran. Eurythmics. New Order. The Cure. Blondie. The Go-gos. In particular, I’ve mentioned their “Saturday Night Safety Dance,” an eight-hour show every Saturday night where they play all of the long remix cuts from the dance clubs of the day.

I’m a huge fan.

Now Sirius/XM has added to their app and online programming a hundred or so “special channels.” These are similar to the regular, satellite broadcast channels, but without DJs and with a subset of the big channels selections. A “workout” mix of upbeat songs, an “electronic” mix, a “British” mix, etc.

There’s a “First Wave Party” channel now that’s pretty much the Saturday Night Safety Dance 24/7/365. This might have made my day!

So on go the really good headphones, up goes the volume, and let’s see what’s on…

The first song up was “88 Lines About 44 Women” by The Nails, one of my ALL. TIME. FAVORITES. I think they knew I was coming.

And next was “The Wait” by The Pretenders. Which might not be my favorite song, but has a lot of memories associated with it. It took me right back to when I first got hooked hard on punk and alternative music. At the time I was…

Wait. It’s late. Maybe I’ll tell that story tomorrow.

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Headphone Quest – I Think We Have A Winner!

I’ve blathered on a couple of times recently about my quest to find some decent earbuds or headphones. Thanks to a suggestion from my son who was visiting last weekend, I think we have a winner!

He had a really, REALLY good pair of Bluetooth, noise cancelling, over-the-ear, full sized headphones. So I grabbed a pair.

Bose QuietComfort 35 II. Not cheap. Worth. Every. Freakin’. Penny!

They’re light. I’ve been wearing them for three or four hours and except for the amazing sounds filling my head, I can barely tell they’re on. And given that they’re sitting on top of my head and completely covering my ears, they’re not constantly slipping out and changing the sound and having to be pushed back in like most of the earbuds that I’ve tried.

I can see wearing these while I run, as long as it’s not raining. I don’t think they’re built for that.

They’re supposed to last for over 20 hours on a full charge and recharge in under two hours, so that’s not going to be an issue.

They have the Google Assistant built in and a mike so I can take phone calls if I wish on them. Or I can push the button and ask for weather, news, make appointments, set reminders, and so on.

All of that’s nice. But the sound…

OH!

MY!!

GOD!!!

I’ve been at concerts where I was literally in the first dozen rows. Except for those experiences, this is the best I’ve ever heard.

I knew from trying out my son’s pair that I was going to like it. So I’ve hit the “Greatest Hits” list hard.

Hamilton. Brad Paisley. Jethro Tull. Dvorak’s New World Symphony 4th movement. Jean Michel Jarre!

It’s all of the “PLAY IT LOUD!!!” stuff. Jarre’s “Oxygene 11” or “Chronologie 2” or Supertramp’s “Child of Vision” or Paisley’s “Whiskey Lullabye” or Hamilton’s “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” With these headphones they’ll bring on tears of joy.

As I said, not cheap. (And they’re my first noise cancelling headphones, so it’s still a little odd to not hear the keyboard as I’m typing.) But if you want to listen to music while you work and you need to be wandering around, or you need some really good workout or running headphones (assuming that sweating hard doesn’t kill them – have to watch out for that), these are SPECTACULAR!

Highly recommended. Finest kind.

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Too Exhausted For Angry Music

Anger is an energy, but as Captain Christopher Pike taught us, you can only sustain anger for so long. While last night was a night for angry music, tonight I just didn’t have the energy to spare.

Annie Lennox’s “Diva” was the fare that fit the bill. Except for that one weird “Roaring 20’s style” thing on the last track, it’s a wonderful, wonderful album.

Listen to the words of “Little Bird”

For I am just a troubled soul
Who’s weighted
Weighted to the ground
Give me the strength to carry on
Till I can lay my burden down

One foot in front of another.

If you fall, get up.

No cavalry coming.

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An Angry Music Night

Time for some Linkin Park tonight.

The Pink Floyd and Brad Paisley just aren’t cutting it. “Hamilton” would be great, as would some Jean Michel Jarre, but they both require more active brain cells than I can spare tonight.

The raw emotions in “Hybrid Theory” and “Meteora” are just what the doctor ordered.

Maybe I’ll finish off by putting the Dixie Chicks’ “Not Ready To Make Nice” on repeat.

It might be time to cut back on the political news.

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Headphone Quest – Jan 15th Update

A while back I asked the group mind for suggestions about headphones and/or earbuds for when I’m running or just rambling around the office.

I got a number of good suggestions, most of which I haven’t had an opportunity to implement yet. I’m working on it.

One thing I have done was to buy a few pairs of wired earbuds to try, figuring that if I found something great I could follow up by buying a couple of pairs so that I would have spares for when I lose or destroy them.

My search criteria was simple – look at the pictures on Amazon and try to find some that had similar over-the-ear form factors to the ones I really, really, really liked but can’t get any more.

These guys – remember? GREAT running earbuds – no longer made.

So I went out and got these:

These green things are from a company called “Mucro” – never heard of them, but the shape was right. The fit is better than on the generic “NOT-over-the-ear” designs, but not real comfortable. This set has volume and next/back controls on the cord where the others don’t. But that’s not a benefit that offsets the fact that the sound is very tinny and marginal. In fact, the sound sucks.

The orange set is from Philips – it might be made by the “Philips” that’s the huge electronic conglomerate that has a lot of high end stuff, but for something I impulse bought on Amazon I wouldn’t bet my life on it. These are more simple than the green Musco set, lacking the in-line controls that I never use to begin with. But they fit pretty well (although not as über fantastic as the blue Sony set that is my gold standard) and the sound is much better than the Musco (although not as über fantastic as the blue Sony set that is my gold standard).

I suspect the orange set will be fine if I’m out running or exercising and sound quality isn’t critical. If I’m at mile eight of a twelve-mile run, I need distraction and entertainment, not concert-hall quality sound.

I would still love to find a few pair of those old Sonys…

The other thing I would note about both the Mucro and the Phillips – both were $19.90 including tax and shipping from Amazon, so it’s not like I was spending top dollar for premium sound. You buy something cheap, you get something cheap. On the other hand, for some applications, good enough is good enough.

Next step (sometime before the end of 2019 due to my copious free time being even more not-so-copious at the moment) is to go into a store and look at actual headphones (like Beats), wired and wireless, for that really good sound that I would like if I’m just listening at home or in the office. I might have to (and be willing to) spend a few more dollars there.

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Tonight’s Tunes

I’ve got nothing tonight, too much going on and too little time to do it and I’m feeling like Tia Lioni at the end of “Deep Impact” as she’s on the beach looking at that mile-high tidal wave coming at her at 500 mph…

But music, as it often does, has made a big difference tonight and last night. That’s a good thing, so let’s not be a buzzkill and talk about that for half a second.

Tonight it’s Dave Kendall’s “Party 360” on SiriuxXM Channel 33 First Wave. Lots of dance mixes and 80’s songs and some of the weird stuff along with the dancing stuff. It’s great to really crank it up (sorry in the next room!) when it’s time to Wang Chung, and I had completely forgotten about “Warm Leatherette.”

Yesterday was Jimmy Page’s 75th birthday, so it was “Led Zeppelin II” and “Led Zeppelin IV” for me. Tasty, tasty stuff.

What are you listening to in order to keep your head from exploding in the current shitstorm?

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STUNNING Holiday Insight!!

First, the annual Willett Family Christmas Card Deluge (WFCCD) has been consummated. 323 cards out in this morning’s mail. If you’re not on the list (did you get a card last year?) and you want to be, there are still a dozen cards left – let me know and I’ll make it happen.

This year we used the 2016 “Views Of Our Planets” stamps.

Image courtesy of USPS

 

Sweet! Sweeter was the fact that I actually was able to find them in the boxes – still sorting things out after the huge move earlier in the year.

Wait, you think that I went out and bought hundreds and hundreds of these amazing stamps from two and a half years ago? Yeah…no! They’re now only available as a collectible thing and on Amazon they’re running about $18.25 a sheet for $8.00 worth of postage. Thank you, I’m just slightly smarter than that and I am occasionally capable of thinking long term. Since I like having cool stamps for the WFCCD, when I see a cool new issue I go out and buy enough to do a whole year’s batch. Think of it as investing in Willett Christmas Cheer Futures (WCCF).

Last year was the Star Trek stamps

Image courtesy of USPS

(which are still available on the USPS Online Store, BTW), and in 2016 it was the “Pluto Explored” stamps.

Image courtesy of USPS

You should see what I already have lined up for 2019 and 2020!! (We need more holidays, I’m falling behind.)

Yes, I get tremendous amounts of Geek Cred Points for this nonsense. At least in my own head I do, and that’s the only place that counts.

Secondly, being in a household where the Hallmark Channel Christmas movies (HCCMs) are on about 24/7 from mid-November onward, I’m getting a great deal of pleasure from the @MallHarkXmas account on Twitter. It’s a bot that kicks out a new HCCM synopsis every six hours. For example:

or

Some of these sound better than the actual HCCMs.

Finally, while putting the cards together there were Christmas songs to listen to, including my all-time favorite:

Listening to this story I had a STUNNING Holiday Insight! (Thus today’s article’s title – took long enough to get here, huh?)

This song is basically an 80’s pop-synth punk version of a Hallmark Channel Christmas Movie!!

“And. They. Fell. In. Love!”

(I might also be easily stunned. Or maybe it was Christmas card envelope glue poisoning. We all know how deadly that can be.)

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Headphone Quest

I’m on a mission from God.

I need some good headphones or earbuds.

Years ago Sony made a really, REALLY good set that I just loved. This was before Bluetooth really worked well so they were corded, but that was fine. They had the BEST little hooks to go over my ears, they wouldn’t fall out or jiggle loose if I was running or exercising, they were comfortable, and they had great sound.

Of course, Sony stopped making them. No doubt just to spite me and piss me off. Well played, Sony…

I still have a pair, but they don’t work with my current iPhone since Apple in their utterly finite wisdom decided to get rid of the headphone jack on the iPhone 8.

Since I upgraded to the iPhone 8 a couple years ago it’s been one thing after the other, none of which is particularly satisfying.

The corded funky-shaped fancy ones that come with the iPhone give the best sound – but they don’t stay in very well.

I’ve got people at the office who sing the praises of the Apple Bluetooth ear buds, which are basically the same as the corded funky-shaped fancy ones but without the cord. They don’t stay in very well and then when they fall out they’re lost (and expensive to replace) because they’re not on a cord. Bounce, bounce, bounce, away they go, into traffic, into the gutter, into the bushes, into oblivion.

I researched ear buds for runners, corded and cordless, and got a pair of the best reviewed set.  The best thing about them is that they’re at least are connected together by a cord that hangs on the back of your neck. I’m not sure who reviewed them and said they were the best, but I have some strong disagreements on their assessment. They’re fine (mostly) if I’m sitting at my desk, but even walking around the house has them falling out.

So, falling out’s a problem! #1 on the hit parade when it comes to being useless. Screw that design!

I went on Amazon a couple of weeks ago and found a couple of different “cheap” (i.e., less than $30) corded “over the ear” ear bud sets. They stay on better than the ones without the “over the ear” plastic bits, but they’re nowhere near as good as the old, beloved Sonys. And while they stay on my ears, they’re not very good at staying IN my ears. They’re constantly creeping loose and wiggling out, so that while I can still hear the music, it’s tinny and a lot of outside sound gets in.

They’re better, but only because the bar wasn’t very stinking high.

Looking online it seems that possibly the best bet is to go to a full set of headphones rather than ear buds. I was sticking with ear buds because I want to run and exercise with them and I’m assuming that it’s awkward to do that with a full set of Beats (or whatever) on and that they would be heavy. But maybe that’s an assumption to be tested.

Of course, if I get a nice pair of wireless Beats (or whatever) and the sound is great and they’re lightweight for running and all of those wonderful things, then they probably cost $300 or more. And they may or may not be waterproof or water resistant, which is an issue since I tend to sweat when running long distances and sometimes do it in inclement weather.

Which, to be clear, at this point, I would pay if I could just solve the damn problem. I just don’t want to spend it and then find out that I simply have yet another set that are so-so at best and tend not to get used because they piss me off.

Any suggestions? Does anyone have anything that they’ve found wonderful for running and exercising that gives good sound but also is light and comfortable?

Alternately, if anyone sees that photo and says, “Oh, those are Sony XYZ87’s – I’ve got a whole box of them here we’re trying to get rid of, do you want four dozen pairs or five,” please let me know. I’ll worship at your feet.

As soon as I figure out how to plug the things into my iPhone 8. Or downgrade back to an iPhone 6.

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Music For “Breaking Strain Redeux”

Last night I waxed poetic about a favorite Kipling poem.

I realized after I posted that I’ve never pointed out that it’s been done very well as a song as well, by the legendary Leslie Fish.

And having implored you to “stand up and build anew,” how could I not also pass on this treasure from Stan Rogers?

Because the second most important lesson to be learned is that it’s not just one time that we have to get up, pull ourselves together, put our failures and defeats behind us, and try again.

While we can hope it’s not EVERY day, in times like these it might be a whole lot of days.

Do it anyway, if for no other reason than to piss off those evil bastards.

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