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A compendium of all my online content in one handy bloated site! You're welcome!

Lunch tonight was: Carnitas, carnne asada and pollo tacos from the place by the Harley Davidson store. Washed down with a half litre Mexican coke!

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Alex V. Cook is an author, journalist and music critic living Baton Rouge, LA. His work has appeared in The Believer, The Oxford American, DownBeat, Paste Magazine, Hails and Horns and The Wire, and his first collection of essays Darkness, Racket and Twang: Essential Listening from the Fringes of Popular and Unpopular Culture was published by Side Cartel in 2006.

He is the music editor for, editor for Sweet Tooth, and a frequent contributor to 225 Magazine, OffBeat and Country Roads.

He is a founding contributor to the Badasses of Contemporary Composition blog.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Monkey in my Soul, part 3

part 3 of my ongoing exporation of the nagging persistence of Steely Dan

As I’ve been working through the Steely Dan catalog, I’ve been collecting the experiences of those who have either struggled against this sworn enemy or who defy the ravages of lactose intolerance with a diet enriched in milquetoast and cheese, but none match my boy Jimmy, who consistently has the best reasons for hating something:

Yikes, I hate Steely Dan.

I have a weird reason why though. I had to do a bunch of computer work for a guy who only listened to Steely Dan an always brought his dog with himand he only wore Tommy Hilfiger windsuits, at least after 5:00, likeat 5:00, he changed into a windsuit, and was ultra proud of them...and would say, "Did you know that this is 'Tommy'?"

Anyway...he would play this one Steely Dan album over and overand every once in a while, I would look up from my work (installing RAM or whatever) and see the poodle kinda half-heartedly humping the arm of the couch and Steve would be just enjoying the Steely Dan in his Tommy windsuit.

That album would be 1972’s “Can’t Buy a Thrill” the opening salvo in Becker and Fagen’s decade spanning assault on us all. The thing that struck me first about this album is how divergent the styles are here, and how I previously though a number of the big hits were by other artists for whom I had an equal distaste. I had always thought Steve Miller the culprit for “Do It Again” and held some late permutation of Crosby, Stills and Nash responsible for “Dirty Work,” threatening me with the possibility that I might actually like The Steve Miller Band and CSN were I to give them a chance. And I am not ready for that.

Now looking at it with fresh eyes, I like the lava flow opening of “Do I Again” the sub bossa-nova bobbing in a deluge of molten electric piano with wafts of Spanish guitar blowing around. It captures the drug-hazy carpet-bombing that was post-hippy pre-Reagan America. The album comes three years after Altamont where mellow was forever harshed, and I see it fitting in with a couple of stellar apocalyptic numbers of the era: Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain” and Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” all finding a way to make some sort of cultural statement from the detritus that surrounded.

And come to find that despite the cornola SNL band sax lines (which were also being invented at the time, partly due to “walk on the Wild Side”) “Dirty Work” is a nice dagger in a bouquet, upsetting the Hallmark sentimentality of concurrent groups like America and Bread with disdain. “I’m a fool to do your dirty work” strikes me somewhere between apology and irony, much like on Kings where its stated “We’ve seen the last of Good King Richard” (I’m guessing this is Nixon) when they knew well and good that we would only see more Good King Richards to come in perpetuity.

The song that would set Jimmy into a tailspin, though was the only Steely Dan song I’d ever fess up to liking “Reelin in the Years,” another that for the longest time I assumed was also by a cooler band. It is impossible to shun the allure of the overdriven solo that opens that song, and the vitriol with which Fagen dresses down his partner. This song rocks too to be Steely Dan, and it makes me wonder what would have become of the group had they held on to the more raw sound in this song than further delving into abject pasteurization. I think its inclusion on this record, and island of jaggedness jutting from calm waters, shows that the band might also have at one time borne the same sentiment, that despite the mission statement they go through, holding up finely crafted funhouse mirror to distort the weakened masses even further, there are times when you have to rock.

The rest of the album seem to struggle with the need to rock and the propensity to roll downhill like the rest of the shit miring 1972. The line opening “Midnite Cruiser”

Felonius my old friend
Step on in and let me shake your hand
So glad that you're here again
For one more time
Let your madness run with mine
Streets still unseen we'll find somehow
No time is better than now

The brio of implying that two corny white guys, in a mission from God to ruin both rock and roll and jazz simultaneously, comparing themselves to the maddest of hipsters Thelonius Monk, is telling of the irony people always talk about with them. Thelonius was a destroyer as well, he was a Don Quixote jousting the windmills of jazz uprooting each spinning grist mill from its foundation with each blow to the piano, but he was a dismantler from within. Felonius is right.

To me it seems Steely Dan was really investigating the flipside of Miles Davis’ destruction of society that started in 1969 with “Bitches Brew” and culminated with the gauntlet that was “On The Corner” in 1972. How dare the greatest jazz musician stop making jazz altogether, as Miles did on this testament to dissent? Maybe when society has failed you, you are free to fail society – you give us Vietnam, we’ll give you fusion. And unlike your success on selling us on the War, we can make you like this.

Now, I still like “On the Corner” now that the badge-of-honour for knowing the album sits on in my nightstand instead of on my uniform. It’s a rude, disarming, careening record. You will test positive for heroin residue just by having it blare through your headphones. Punk’s dismantling of the status quo four years later has nothing on the spit-in-the-mirror that is “On the Corner” but I think it was all part of the intellectual dissent of the time. And despite their later participation in the Great Erosion of Rock and Roll, Steely Dan was also an agent of subversion. Like a mangy poodle humping the arm of the couch shamelessly in front of you, it’s a reminder that all is not well in the great order.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Everyone will be famous for 15 posts

This guy recreated the Andy Warhol Diaries as a blog.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

x-post facto: originally posted at

I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness
Fear is on Our Side (Secretly Canadian)

There is a tendency toward obtuseness and loquaciousness in indie band names, something I will blame on emo along with mosquitoes, gas prices and the public persistence of Morgan Spurlock, but no one on my radar can touch Austin’s I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness in the awesome name department*. Match that gigantic name with a sound mission statement (or perhaps Mission UK statement) of phoenixing the shoegazing majesty of my youth, coming up with a splendid logo I’m tempted to scrawl on my Chuck Taylors, ILYBICD has proven to be more than the sum of their syllables.

Fear on Your Side is a mix of the big three shoegazer factions: the cold bombast of The Mighty Lemon Drops, where the hope is swapped for ennui at any given moment; The Chameleons, whom to me, were the real shoegazer poets, mixing intricate guitar lines and sad powerful exultations extracted inbetween wedgies and toilet-dippings; and finally, Black Celebration era Depeche Mode where a landscape of sonic texture is slowly filled with ink, blotting and obscuring everything the longer you sit.

I’m not saying this is THE MOST DEPRESSING THING EVER, especially since I have outed myself as a Black Metal listener in these pages, but none of that pesky Red Hot Chili Peppers idiot positivity is bobbing to the surface to ruin the mood here. The songs flow into each other like blackbirds skittering from tree to tree at twilight. My favorites on here are the opener ‘The Ghost” whose slight guitar strums and encroaching synthetic strings bring on the dark in under 10 seconds, “According to Plan” which has all the retro hooks, the quasi funk bass line, the robot beat, the swoon under the singer’s whisper, “The Last Ride Together” which is like an out-take from my album of the year last year by The National and the perfectly untitled slab of despondency at track 10. It’s got just enough of everything to it without going overboard, and that going overboard killed the great shoegazer bands back in the day.

And maybe this is all a little too retro for me to look at it objectively, but I want to be transported momentarily back to 1988, listening to this on my trusty busted walkman held together with duct tape, wearing the baggy grey sweater my senior year girlfriend’s mother made for me, sitting in the quad as a college freshman pretending I am a real smoker, and spitting disdain at all the “popular people” who I feared most becoming.

I Love You But I haven't Chosen a Title for the Darkness

*unless …And You Will Know Us By the Trail Of Dead is still in operation

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Hey Kool Thing, what you gonna do for us girls?

Why, appear in the season finale of Gilmore Girls and drag their instence on being pop-culture relevant some more, that what Sonic Youth is doing. Recent live stuff and their appearance at Bonnaroo later this year lend one to think they have a bit of jam band in them, which would actually be a "kool" direction for them to go in. It did great things for Ween.

But to me, the Yoot was at there most pop-infused-tastic with The Whitey Album, performed under the moniker Ciccone Youth, and the dance-floor-warper linked below ushered in the at-the-time-harmless pattern of the Ironic Cover Tune, and really, this one is hard to beat.

Ciccone Youth - Into the Groove(y)

Hi-de-yi-de-yi-de-yi, Hi-de-yo-de-yo-de-yo!

The new OutKast single has been dropped off by the mothership! On the first listen, it strikes me as kinda sparse by OutKast standards but its still all good. Subsequent listens makes me realize it IS kinda sparse, and better for it, since to me, most of Andre's The love Below was a little Prince for its own good, whereas Big Boi's portion had better beats but not the personality to carry it. here it sounds like them working together ala Stankonia "Sorry Ms Jackson" era with a big of that lazy stoner buggy soul like Erikha Badu.

Outkast - The Mighty O

Thursday, May 04, 2006

In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream Over the Nickel Slots

Dig this trip-tastic NASA footage (via MetaFilter )

The explanatory page is here or go straight to the movie

It seems there is probably a greater message in the fact that the sound generated by the data in this depiction of the Cassini descent on Titan sounds an awful lot like a bank of slot machines going in and out of phase with each other, but fuck it. It's hard to hate the most reliably psychedelic arm of the government when they convert untold billions in cool things like this.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Monkey in My Soul, part 2

I think the biggest culprit in Steely Dan's crimes against culture was "Hey Nineteen," the queen bee of what I considered their defining honeycomb of shit - Gaucho from 1980. The guitar jerk at the beginning, the cheeziest of blues hammer-on's acted for me in exactly the opposite of the opening drum crack of Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" (described by Greil Marcus as sounding like a gunshot) or the opening guitar riff of Iggy and the Stooges' "Search and Destroy" which is what I suspect Gabriel's trumpet would sound like if I believed in such things. No, that but of guitar wank hit me like the click of a hotel room door, where you knew once the lock engaged, humliating and levelling things were going to occurr. The old fart telling the 19-year old to skate lower and chuckling how she doesn't know 'Retha Franklin when she hears her. When I was 19, this song still skulked around FM radio, and it epitomized the creepiness of adulthood into which I was poised to plunge. Cuervo Gold, some fine Columbian, and skeezing on barely legals - it all looked horribly unglamorous from the precipice.

So it was here I started my trek into the catalog. Now with nearly two decades of hindsight, I can see what Becker and Fagen were getting at. It is almost a default position we take on in our decrepitude. We think, I was just there! I still know what's cool! I'm hipper than my peers! whereas the reality is that our intersection with cultural currency can only be spoken of in dusty past tense, and at best, we can be daring observers, willing to sheild derision with our accepted shame of not growing up. Willing to possibly adopt a little patina of creepiness just so we can stay in the game and not be ensconsed in the forts we build with age. The embarassment I feel for them when Fagen proclaims

Way back when
In Sixty-seven
I was the dandy
Of Gamma Chi

is the same cringiness I feel radiating off some kid at the club that notes my trying-too-hard-for-compliments t-shirt and endures the similar history lesson about when I was a college DJ or saw the Cramps in '88. or whatever.

I'd heard over the years that the secret to Steely Dan is that its all ironic: the slickness, the ambience of creepiness that embodies most of their later catalog - its all ironic, but that didn't sell me on it. To me, irony is the trickiest form of humor because at its root, its not funny. Its only in adopting the distance on which it stakes its claim can it tickle your funny bone, and farnkly I was on the ground floor for the beginning and end of Seinfeld, and that killed the potency of irony for me. That scene in the last episode where they were all jailed for being assholes was a wet blanket. I get it, we are all assholes. Thanks Jerry. Thanks Larry David. I had forgotten that everyone is a piece of shit at their core since I stopped watching Woody Allen movies after Mighty Aphrodite.

"Hey Nineteen" still hits me in much the same way it always did. Everything about it rubs me the wrong way, like when you brush against something wet and sticky, and you cannot physically or psychologically shake it off you. Its the kind of song that people that can't dance are summoned to the floor for. Its the soundtrack of a bad time from the get-go, where your credit card is declined after buying a couple rounds of embarrassing rum drinks. Its like trying to anchor your ageing ship in a sea teeming with life, hoping that if you stay in one spot long enough, you will stop sinking. The difference now is: I get it. Much as I don't want to admit it, I am that narrator to some degree, even if my ever-increasing creepiness is unvoiced and not acted upon, its still there. And to completely deny its existence is deny oneself. The trick lies in how its titrated and channeled off so it doesn't swell up and explode in a popped boil of Corvettes, hookers and hairpieces. Which is precisely the terrain Steely Dan treads.

So either I am so desperate to have a blinking light against the skyline of opinion and will adpot anything to myself (which is at least 50% true) or this stuff against which I've defined a lot of my parameters of taste is speaking to me not in an ironic way, but directly, sending a flare up saying: You know who you are. Either way, please take me along when you slide on down.