Vinyl Fetish: Against Me!

Even though I spent time as a very small cog in the morass that is college radio, I am often surprised at bands that I remember either being handed tapes of years ago or had their low-level indie releases wind up in my box at the station, and now, they are getting max press and a big-label push behind them. I shouldn’t be any more — the post-Napster online music marketplace has absolutely skewed the concepts of “DIY” and “indie” even more than what was already done during the 90s, when every major label was sucking up punk bands in order to see what would stick. That said, I couldn’t have been prepared for the hype machine being behind Against Me!, of all bands. Absolutely, completely incongruous with their lyrical content.

I’ve been addicted to this band ever since my sophomore year of college — a friend of mine had both Tom Gabel’s original cassette demo and the Acoustic EP (which was Gabel and bassist Dustin Fridkin), and I instantly made copies of those after getting hooked. At first, it sounded wrong — a nasally guy bleating about rock shows in the basement, anarchy as philosophy, and about how a touring van could take you further than any president.  Gabel and Fridkin added guitarist James Bowman and drummer Warren Oakes replaced Kevin Mohan for the first full album, Reinventing Axl Rose. It sounded like a band who had this one shot to prove something, and simply screamed everything they could into the ether. Needless to say, it was one of the few things I listened to constantly for about the next six months, and it made everything that band put out a must-own for me. It hits me now that “Baby, I’m An Anarchist!” should have gone on the list of fuck-off breakup songs I did for Barstoolio a few weeks back — “No, I won’t take your hand and marry the state.”

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Vinyl Fetish: The Mountain Goats.

Ever since I moved to San Luis Obispo, I’ve walked around the downtown area a bunch of times, and when I find myself on Johnson Avenue (a block away from my apartment), I always wonder which house was the one John Darnielle was in when he ran upstairs and cranked the volume knob on his record player, so as to drown out his stepfather beating up his mother in a drunken rage. Or which cheap hotel room he was staying in on La Cienega Boulevard in L.A., just trying to get away. Sometimes I wonder which part of Grinnell, or some small town around Iowa, near where I went to school, that he met his wife (if I remember the tale correctly; when he played at my college, I was fairly off it when he discussed the matter.)

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Vinyl Fetish: Morphine.

While I was still a gigging musician, in bands, dreaming of being semi-pro, I often thought that if I had to die early, I wanted to die like Mark Sandman did. I imagine it was uncomfortable having a heart attack on stage (as unpleasant as death can possibly be when it snatches you in that moment), but I could think of no more fitting place to have my last moment in front of a crowd. I romanticized it, but to an extent, that was Morphine — a band whose name completely matched its sound; languid, druggy, and in a haze of beat-style poetry.

Mark Sandman somehow decided stringing a bass guitar with two strings, playing it with a slide, and having Dana Colley’s sax and Billy Conway’s beats be the sole accompaniment was the way to go, labeling it “low rock”, when I would dare say it’s a logical extension of the Doors, only more coherent and without the pretension: capturing the space where the blues, jazz, and rock meet. Conway took the baton from original drummer Jerome Deupree, and expanded the tom-tom heavy sound. Colley had been a guitar player as a kid, but took up the sax in order to get a place on the bandstand, and in order to replicate some of the double-tracked tenor and baritone sax on the records, would do his best Rashaan Roland Kirk imitation on-stage.

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Vinyl Fetish: The Afghan Whigs.

I’m pretty sure Greg Dulli saved my life. Well, I know he contributed, that’s for damn sure.

Music will get anyone through the high school years, when you realize your individual taste is probably a bit different from the nu-metal loving meatheads and the Dave Matthews-heads who were bandwagon-jumping like no one’s business in the mid-to-late-90s, but especially if you’re digging back into your parents’ record collection and none of your fellow music addicts have the first clue about old school R&B while you’re fascinated and searching for a rock band that lives and breathes it.

I picked up the Whigs album (turned out to be the final one) 1965 in a giveaway bin at the guitar store I was frequenting and taking lessons at in suburban Denver when it came out in ’98. I got addicted right quick to Dulli’s sex and booze drenched obsessions and Catholic guilt, all put to an attempt to encapsulate the soul/R&B vibe behind distorted guitars (Rick McCollum has always been a favorite of mine as a guitarist.) Sadly, the band called it quits before I could ever see them live, and I picked up the back catalog through used bins, while following Dulli’s Twilight Singers. The Whigs was a litmus test of sorts — every band I’ve been in has had at least another Whigs addict in it, and covers of them have always been in the repertoire (I swear I have a recording of “Miles Iz Ded” in a college basement party lurking around my apartment somewhere).

(Videos and stuff after the jump — neither video is particularly safe for work.)

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Vinyl Fetish: Steely Dan.

Editors’ note: every so often, I will continue to justify my musical fixations by writing about them here. I understand this installment, like the last one, is kind of old-school — eventually, I’ll get to newer stuff.

In the song “Deacon Blues,” off 1977’s Aja, Donald Fagen sings about an average fellow looking to be a star on the jazz bandstand, romanticizing the life of a hip musician to great extent, wanting to learn to “work” the saxophone, playing just what he feels, drinking all night and dying behind the wheel, anything to escape the mundane life. This is possibly as autobiographical as Steely Dan would get, as Fagen and Walter Becker were both jazz and blues fetishists, college-educated, looking to make it as songwriters in a Brill Building era that was on its way out in the wake of the Beatles and Bob Dylan, never mind that their own songs were way too idiosyncratic for anyone else to sing. It’s that identification that probably gives Becker and Fagen their large cult of fans to this day: what amazes me is that I met a lot of 18 and 19-year old Dan fans in college (in 2000), and these were the same people listening to and playing the latest strain of indie rock, power pop, or what have you.

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Vinyl Fetish: Bill Withers.

In an effort to try and keep honest with my promises to myself, I’m gonna write some more about music here from time to time. So, either bear with me, or just skip this one over if you like. Plus, the “Vinyl Fetish” header is mostly the rediscovery of records that I’d either forgotten were in my collection, or just hadn’t been dug out lately.

This was slightly inspired by being in Deadspin threads over the weekend and reading about the karaoke that many of them did post-baseball game at a meet-up in Chicago — someone had done Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and Bill Withers is always my secret karaoke pick. I hadn’t listened to his records in a while, even though I’d inherited them from my parents and grown up with them.

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