Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Welcome to Tea, Olivia's!

A couple of years ago, I had a lot of fun when a certain vocal minority created a media-driven uproar over the planned opening of Annabelle’s Adult Super Center. Despite the fact that this business couldn’t have picked a more obscure location, these idiots whined and whined about how this business would lead to high crimes and moral decay. They even threw in the “what about the children” defense, despite the fact that few residential homes were within blocks of the facility.
Despite the uproar, the business was not violating any local ordinances, and opened as planned. Of course, the world didn’t end. With the exception of some added chuckles at a few silly bachelorette parties, little has changed in the years since.
History is now repeating itself as a similar store, Olivia’s, recently opened a mile or so outside of Tea. Again, we’re hearing how this discretely decorated business is going to be the ruin of thousands of people who don’t live anywhere near the retailer.
According to a recent story in the daily paper, somehow this little store is going to encourage “sexual predation, (devalue) property and” (this is the one that kills me) “(encourage) drunken driving”.
What? How does a store that sells lingerie, massagers, candles, and DVD’s encourage drunk driving? Is there something in the air in that store that turns an otherwise sober person into a raging drunk? (Raging may not have been the proper word to use there – hehehe). I’m sure the idiotic explanation is that people may decide to go check out the store after indulging in a few drinks, but how does that differ from people who have the sudden urge to hit the Fryin’ Pan after a night on the town, or a quick run to a convenience store for smokes? Exactly, there is no difference, and these morons are stretching to make that connection.
It gets worse. Leave it to my friends at KELO to interview probably the dopiest person in Lincoln County. In a story aired last week, Tasha Weber had this to say about Olivia’s – “It just upsets me because then I have to explain to my kids every time we drive to town, they ask what that is, I have to explain to them and I don’t want that environment around my children”. Ugh.
Besides the fact that this woman needs to learn proper English, this is the dopiest comment I’ve ever heard. As Todd Epp comments on his S.D. Watch blog, “this prompts several questions…are your kids stupid and you have to repeat your explanation to them over and over again? Why are you driving by the store so much? What do you tell your kids when you drive by a bar? A casino? A cigarette outlet? Those are all things that aren’t good for you but, like sex toys, are legal”.
Epp’s conclusion – if they’re obeying the law, “get over it. No one is forcing you to go in. Avert your eyes when you drive by. It’s not like people are having an orgy out in the open”. Not that there would be anything wrong with that.
I really don’t understand at all why people are so fired up by the existence of this store. Annabelle’s, which is loosely affiliated with Olivia’s, is very tastefully and discretely decorated and furnished, and the majority of the products sold can be found at “regular” retailers. Even Target sells “personal massagers”. The owners of both of these stores have also purposely kept their locations far away from churches, school, and residential neighborhoods.
Plus, even the most religious family has sex. Well, the healthy ones do. There’s a reason these products are called “marital aids”. They’re primarily designed to enhance a couple’s sex life. There’s absolutely nothing depraved at spicing up what goes on when the lights are off. Not that I would know anything about that...unfortunately.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Two "Outs" For the Price of One

A few weeks ago, I spent a few hours brainstorming “Get Out of Town” candidates with the help of some Windsor. One candidate came to mind that I had never complained about in the past; yet they were always an easy target. I’m speaking of our local “professional” baseball team.
The problem was always that they were too easy. Every year we’d hear about how this would be the magic time for this team. One year it was going to be due to the long ball; the next it was the short ball, or pitching. Not only did players come and go, but so did managers.
Guess what? Now that I had finally planned on giving them the boot, they did the unthinkable. They started winning games - lots of games, in fact. I would have looked foolish, especially since I was going to have a poll predicting when they’d be out of the playoff hunt.
However, that doesn’t mean the organization isn’t above criticism…although they seem to think they are, as some fans found out after they attended the first home game of the season. The main complaint overheard at the beginning of the season was concession prices; particularly the fact that a beer now costs $7.
The team certainly has every right to charge whatever they want for anything they sell. But consumers also have every right to complain…and that’s where the problems really start.
Obviously, everybody these days has a website, and most sites that crave input from their consumers also include a message board. This is where Canaries fans took their complaints, as they should.
How did the team respond to these complaints? One would think that they’d either ignore the bitching, or simply issue a statement justifying their actions. They did neither. Not only did they shut down the messageboard, but they reportedly threatened to yank the season tickets of a longtime fan known to be a part of a group that is renowned for their pregame tailgate parties.
That’s no way to treat your customers, and in my mind is one of the most annoying problems that I see in this city. Everybody believes that their very existence puts them above criticism. All the sports teams behave this way, as does the Pavilion and the local Arts community. The City and County Commission, along with the school board, also behave this way when confronted by complaints. And we all know what the local TV stations think about these very rants.
Nobody is above criticism, and that goes the same for me. I’m sure that I’ll hear some bitching about this very topic, and I happily invite people who disagree with me to email or post comments on this blog.
As long as we’re talking baseball, I suppose it’s time to quote legendary Cub infielder Ernie Banks – “let’s play two”. That’s right, today you’re getting two rants for the price of one.
This past Thursday, I opened up the Argus Leader Link section and began reading about the probable revamping of a certain club that responded to an earlier Get Out of Town just like the Canaries threatened the season ticketholder I mentioned earlier. Yes, they banned me.
Despite my problems with some of those involved with this facility, I have always wished them well. I definitely want every bar in town (well, except those that rely on karaoke as entertainment) to be profitable.
In fact, my complaint today isn’t with the establishment; it’s this idea that Robert Morast printed that put the blame completely on consumers. Here’s the line that offended me – “even if the Lava Lounge has been booking stuff you might not cross the street for, we needed to be there for support”.
Uh, no we didn’t. That’s ridiculous. I, nor anybody else, have any obligation to spend money to watch acts that I don’t care to hear. Forget about the fact that I’ve turned into a hermit in recent years (and I am trying to get out more often). I’m not going to waste my time with acts that don’t appeal to me. Hell, Nutty’s North is kicking ass with live music right now, but the majority of stuff they book is not to my taste. So I don’t go, and nobody should ever bitch at me about this decision. If you like it, have a great time without me.
Instead of whining to the paper, maybe the club should have looked at themselves. Were they making smart bookings? Were they getting the word out about the bands they did hire? It’s all about creating a buzz, and simply putting up a handful of posters around town is not enough incentive to bring people in to watch acts they’ve never heard of.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this b.s line, though. I’ve heard it during most of my adult life, and I used to even buy into it a bit. Because of that willingness to be a sucker, I’ve sat through more than my share of awful bands.
At some point I learned my lesson, but that didn’t stop people from still using it on me. The perfect example occurred while I was living in Aberdeen during the late 80’s. At some point during my time in that godforsaken city somebody booked Richard Marx. My record store sold tickets, and at one point a lovely young woman asked if I was going. When I finished laughing, she gave me the “if we support this show maybe we’ll get more” line. Well, there was no way “Little Dicky Marx” was going to get any of my not-so-hard-earned money. Even I have standards.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

What The Hell Is Going On in Harrisburg?

For some reason, all forms of government these days absolutely detest the idea of open government. They want to do as much of their work as possible behind closed doors, with absolutely no public oversight besides ghost-written soundbites designed primarily for future campaign ads or TV news programs.
Our federal government is as secretive as it has ever been. Our executive branch has had a “just trust us” attitude since the moment they arrived in office, and have fought all demands for information regarding meetings with other lawmakers, lobbyists, and even their own staff. Just a few days ago, they issued an order barring the Secret Service from making visitor logs public.
Congress is no better. Much of their work is done in secret, closed-door sessions that until the last election didn’t include any input from the minority party. Quite often bills were completely re-written in the middle of the night by the Rules Committee, or are handed to representatives just minutes before vote. That’s one of the methods that allowed many controversial provisions of the Patriot Act to become law.
If secrecy is good enough for national politics, it must be just fine for the locals. The Governor’s office has battled with the state’s media ever since Janklow was in office, and our dim-witted Mayor’s term has been embroiled in many controversies regarding secret meetings and fund-raisers.
One would think that the supposed non-partisan nature of school boards would ensure that openness was a necessity. School systems generally thrive on the input of both parents and students. Yet the Harrisburg School Board has been embroiled in controversy for the last couple of years, and the primary issue is the lack of communication between certain school board members and the populace that elected him.
I’ve tried my hardest to understand exactly what is happening in that growing community, and nobody seems to know…or at least is willing to tell the whole story. I’ve heard a few allegations of family members and friends of school board members getting preferential treatment in acquiring school system jobs. I’ve heard a few tales of an overbearing school board micro-managing every move of the high school principal and staff. Yet it’s impossible to get real details to support these allegations.
What we do know is that over the last two years a number of teachers have left the district in response to the school board’s actions. We also know that it took a pep rally-ish demonstration last year to convince two administrators to remain on the job for another year. Most importantly, we now know that an extremely well-liked principal will not be returning to the school district that he has been a part of for 27 years.
This decision went down Monday night despite a standing-room only crowd that had gathered to attempt to sway the school board’s decision. They simply didn’t matter, as they were not allowed to speak. Even those listed on the night’s agenda as speakers did not get their turn.
Instead, the school board voted to go into a secret “executive session” to discuss the future of Keith Huber. After an hour of deliberation, they returned to vote 4-1 against Huber and immediately adjourned. No further discussion or explanation occurred. Obviously, the crowd was not happy, and they let their feelings heard as these chicken-shits sneaked away into the night.
Yet there may be future repercussions from the school board’s actions. The state’s open-meetings law allows “executive sessions” to occur only if there is “pending litigation”. When asked by a TV station immediately after the meeting if there were any legal issues discussed, Board Chairman John Loos admitted there was none. Attorney Todd Epp has already filed paperwork with Lincoln County States Attorney Thomas Wollman and SD Attorney General Larry Long asking for an investigation.
Knowing the way our state operates, it’s unlikely that Wollman or Long will do anything beyond holding a press conference. But it’s time that the people of Harrisburg take matters into their own hands. Why not recall these ass-clowns? There’s got to be some way for the people to reclaim power. One way to fix this mess is information – can we finally get some detailed data on exactly what Jon Loos, Dan Hensch, and Ron Albers are doing to create such bad blood?

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Rock and Roll Literature

Petal Pusher: A Rock and Roll Cinderella Story
By Laurie Lindeen

Ok, I have to admit that I was excited by the prospect of this book for one main reason. Former Zuzu’s Petals’ leader Laurie Lindeen is married to Paul Westerberg, and like many “Wester-nerds” around the world I devour anything remotely associated with the former Replacement.
Paul is certainly a part of Lindeen’s story, and she ultimately reveals unexpected tidbits of his private life (including a few stories of us creepy fans), but he’s definitely not the hook that sold her story to her publishing company. Instead, this is the story of an insecure female rocker (who also suffers from multiple sclerosis) whom moves from Madison, Wisconsin to Minneapolis to form a band with her two best friends.
The chapter that tells of Lindeen’s entrance into the Minneapolis music scene may be one of the best descriptions of the city I’ve ever read. She accurately captures the quirks of both the layout and the people that inhabit the city. Well-known musicians are obviously a big part of her life, but this is not a tabloid-ish tale of her encounters with those that are at the very least semi-famous. Those noted (most notably members of the Jayhawks and Soul Asylum) are present simply because they are part of Lindeen’s story.
Despite some disastrous early gigs, Zuzu’s Petals begin to gain some notoriety in the city and are eventually signed (after months of begging) to Twin Tone Records. The English rock mags first take note of the band, which leads to an English tour noted mainly for a promoter who is clearly ripping off the band.
As the band gains notoriety across the country, Lindeen quietly start dating Westerberg, whom she had initially met years earlier at a ‘mats show in Madison. As the tours begin to physically, mentally, and personally wear down the trio (along with a realization that the major labels have zero interest in the band), Lindeen eventually discovers that domesticity is more desirable than being a rock star.
Similar indie rock stories have been written in recent years, most notably by Semisonic’s Jacob Schlicter and singer/songwriter Jennifer Trynin, but those are tales of musicians who at the very least flirted with success. Lindeen’s story is the story of the vast majority of artists whom work for years and years with little to show for it outside of good and bad memories.

Love Is a Mix Tape
By Rob Sheffield

Best known for his somewhat snarky takes on pop culture for Rolling Stone, Sheffield’s memoir of life with his beloved “real cool hell-raising Appalachian punk rock girl” who suddenly collapsed and died in their home in 1997 should strike a chord with anybody who has ever created a mix tapes for the objects of their affections .
What brought the pair together in the late 80’s was their love of mix tapes, and each chapter opens with the track listing from the tape that was their soundtrack of that chapter’s timeframe. Some of these tapes are full of typical hipster indie-rock; others consist mainly of cheesy Top 40 dance music.
No matter what you think of the pair’s taste in music, one cannot help but be touched by how this couple inspired each other throughout their time together, and how even a decade later her memory haunts Sheffield. This could have easily been a cheesy chickflick-ish story, but Sheffield’s wit and quirky writing style makes this a real-life High Fidelity.

Babylon’s Burning
By Clinton Heylin

There have been plenty of books that attempt to document the history of punk rock, but acclaimed journalist Heylin, best known for biographies of Bob Dylan and Van Morrison, may have eclipsed everything that came before.
The majority of the book details the late 70’s heyday of the original punk movement, exhaustively documenting the scenes in Australia, England, New York, Cleveland, and L.A. What makes this book stand out from previous attempts is Heylin’s willingness to strip away the many myths that had gradually became accepted facts. He’s also not afraid to throw out his opinion on the garden-variety punk bands that rode the coattails of the success of the Pistols and Clash.
When the initial wave of punk virtually collapsed in 1978, Heylin continues the story with what is now known as postpunk. After examining the stories of acts such as Gang of Four, P.I.L., and Joy Division, Heylin should have probably concluded his book, but he crams the entire 80’s into less than 100 pages to conclude the book with the rise of grunge. Yet even in those few pages, Heylin’s effective story-telling makes one forget about the many artists that should have been included.

Rip It Up and Start Again
By Simon Reynolds

Simon Reynolds absolutely despises punk rock, which he makes clear in the opening chapter of this postpunk history. To his ears, the Pistols, Clash, and others were just recycling rock ‘n’ roll’s past, albeit with louder guitars and faster tempos.
In his opinion, it was the bands that emerged after the Pistols disastrous final performance in San Francisco that actually created sounds and formats that owed no allegiance to prior movements, fads, and genres. The only problem with this thesis is that many of the bands documented in this exhaustive book ARE generally considered part of the original punk rock scene (P.I.L., Pere Ubu, Wire, Fall, Talking Heads, New York’s No Wave movement). In fact, in the Heylin book reviewed above he derisively calls Reynolds’ definition of postpunk as “All the Music I Liked When I Was Young”.
Despite this petty disagreement over labels, one cannot argue that Reynolds has missed anybody. This is the real beginning of what we now know as indie rock, and I have yet to find anybody who can pick out a band that’s missing from these pages. It’s more likely that you’re going to discover a dozen or so bands that even the best college stations missed in those days. Even better, there are plenty of surprises. Who knew that mid-80’s synth-fluff bands such as the Human League and Scritti Politti started their careers as noisy experimentalists? Who knew there was more to Dexy’s Midnight Runners than “Come On Eileen”?
It should also be noted that Reynolds makes no attempt to link these acts with today’s music. Although current bands such as Interpol, Kasabian, and Arctic Monkeys certainly owe much to the bands on these pages, Reynolds concludes his book in the mid-80’s when the original movement died. Indie rock certainly carried on, and is arguably more popular than ever today, and the next era is hopefully Reynolds’ next project.

The Hudson Guide to Wilco

When Uncle Tupelo broke up in May, 1994, few people predicted that it would be bassist Jeff Tweedy who would ultimately become a platinum-selling artist. After all, Uncle Tupelo was formed by guitarist Jay Farrar, who wrote the majority of the material on the band’s four groundbreaking albums.
For the first year or so, it was Farrar who capitalized on the critical success of Uncle Tupelo’s swan song, Anodyne. Fronting his new band, Son Volt, Farrar released Trace, generally considered one of the greatest albums of the mid-90’s alt-country mini-phenomenon.
Since their debut, however, Farrar has struggled to stay above the fringes of rock ‘n’ roll. While he has never released a truly bad album (and his latest disc, The Search, is pretty damned good), critics contend that he’s primarily released the same album over and over.
Nobody could ever say that Jeff Tweedy has made the same album twice. While Wilco, the band he formed shortly after Farrar created Son Volt, has seen it’s share of drama, almost every record they’ve released can best be described as a reaction to their previous album.
Not that Tweedy’s career has been all roses and acclaim. Years of migraines eventually led to an addiction to prescription drugs, and personnel have floated in and out of the band since its inception. Most famously, Wilco’s biggest selling album was initially turned down by their record company, a dilemma captured in the award-winning documentary, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.
With a new album, Sky Blue Sky, set to hit stores on May 15, Prime thought it was time to take a look at the catalog of this band that some have called the “American Radiohead”.

A.M. (1995). While Farrar assembled a whole new band under the Son Volt moniker, Tweedy kept the rest of the expanded Uncle Tupelo lineup. Their debut release carried on with the country-rock that latter day Tupelo was known for, with an emphasis on the CCR-ish rock side. “Boxful of Letters” dealt with the band’s breakup, and “Passenger Side” was a humorous look at the dilemma of surviving without a driver’s license. There was nothing groundbreaking on this release, but many fans who don’t appreciate Tweedy’s later experiments in feedback and sound effects consider this their greatest moment as a band. Grade: B+

Being There (1996). Never known before as a prolific songwriter, Tweedy surprised everybody with this double-disc set that many have described as a concept album revolving around the life of a touring band. Listening to it ten years later, this album emerges as a bridge of sorts between Tweedy’s past and future. Many songs carried on the country-rock traditions of his past, while a handful of songs (particularly “Misunderstood” and “Sunken Treasure”) point to the sonic experiments of the future. The only real downfall of this release is four or five songs that can best be described as filler. Grade: B

Mermaid Avenue, Vol.1 (1998) and Vol. 2 (2000). Woody Guthrie’s daughter Nora surprised the folk community by handing over notebooks of unrecorded Guthrie originals to Wilco and Billy Bragg (with cameos by Natalie Merchant and others). For the most part, Wilco provides the backing to vocals by Tweedy and Bragg, and despite a rumored feud between the two artists both albums attain standards that match anything they’ve ever recorded. Grades: A (Vol. 1)/A- (Vol. 2)

Summerteeth (1999). It’s not an understatement to say that nobody expected this turn in Wilco’s career. For the most part, there’s little country-rock roots in this collection of power pop tunes that owe more to the Beach Boys, E.L.O., and the Replacements than Gram Parsons and Neil Young. Many consider this to be the most underrated release in the band’s career. Grade: A-

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002). The multiple behind the scenes stories involving this album could fill a whole book (and will soon in an upcoming edition of the 33 1/3 series). To summarize, the band lost two members during the recording of this album (including chief collaborator/multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett), recorded hours and hours of music that Tweedy struggled to complete, and ultimately the band had to shop for a new label after Reprise Records refused to release the finished product. Adding to the band’s misfortunes, the contents of the album was leaked to the internet a full year before it’s official release. (This is where one must include a plug for I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, the documentary that fully explains this real-life soap opera.)
Yet Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is ultimately Tweedy’s masterpiece, described by many as “Hillbilly OK Computer” Epic sound collages mix with pure pop melodies, challenging and enthralling listeners at the same time. Although recorded well before 9/11, the album eerily captures the conflicting moods of the country in those months immediately after the tragic attacks. Grade: A+

A Ghost is Born (2004). Even the greatest bands struggle to follow up their biggest albums, and Wilco was no exception. The sonic experiments that marked YHF are still present on this album, and while at times more extreme (particularly the ten minutes of white noise that makes “Less Than You Think” almost impossible to sit through) they’re less prevalent. The overall vibe is more laid-back than on previous albums, although Jeff Tweedy’s blistering lead guitar work separates the album from the likes of Jack Johnson. Grade: B+

Kicking Television (2005). Few bands release live albums these days, and even fewer put out double disc concert sets. While the revamped lineup (now including acclaimed guitarist Nels Cline) performs impeccably, at times even improving on the original studio versions of the songs, the tracklisting doesn’t really flow like a true live performance. Fans would be better suited to track down any of the dozens of soundboard recordings that are floating on the web. Grade: B

Sky Blue Sky (2007). Leaked to the internet in mid-March, Wilco’s latest album is shaping up to be one of the most noteworthy albums of the first half of the year. It’s certainly their “warmest” record today; primarily acoustic with flashes of the dueling guitars of Tweedy and Cline. Unlike the last few albums, the studio setting does not act as an extra musician. Instead, songs like “Impossible Germany” and “What Light” brings visions of an unlikely afternoon jam session between members of Village Green-era Kinks, Poco, and Television. Grade: A