Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Long and Winding Road of Beatles Albums

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I go through different periods of the Beatles. If you asked me 20 years ago what my favorite album was, I'd tell you something different 20 months ago, let alone 20 days ago. Keeps moving around. Like a moving target. Sometimes I just get sick of an album, other times I gravitate toward another one. It's just that there's so much material that I identify with different songs and albums the older I get.

The White Album

The first Beatles album I bought. Actual double album, er a double CD. During college, both discs were stolen at separate times. I recovered one and never recovered the other. I purchased it a second time in NYC after I graduated and ended up selling it at a used record store in Seattle near UW. It had some of my favorites like Helter Skelter that I'm not embarrassed to admit I heard about the nefarious shit involved with the album through U2's version of Helter Skelter. "Here's a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles... and we're stealing it back." Phish covered While My Guitar Gently Weeps at Madison Square Garden one night and my mind was blown. Maybe it was the mushrooms. But I came to the realization the George Harrison was the most talented musician out of the four and most underrated. He was too passive and let Paul and John butt heads.

Abbey Road

This is probably the album I listened to the most from start to finish. It was in heavy rotation many years in my 6-CD disc changer as part of continuous writing music. How many albums can you listen from start to finish without skipping a song? That's how strong this album was... which was really intended to be the last-ever album, which is why the last song was titled The End. FYI... Let It Be was recorded before Abbey Road, but released afterwards. So technically speaking, Abbey Road was the last-ever album. I dig Here Comes the Sun because of all the psychedelic imagery attached to it. Another Harrison track that he supposedly wrote after tripping balls all night and watching the sun rise.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band

Theme album that was a loosely based theme. Beatles trying to make music under the guise of this character Sgt. Pepper. Keep eating acid, guys. But it has one of my favorite hooks... from Sgt. Pepper Reprise. This album reached its peak for me in college, when we were experimenting with a shit-ton of mind altering drugs. You never forget the day when you figure out Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds is an acronym for LSD. Like I said... keep eating acid, brahs.

Magical Mystery Road

Sort of the extras that never quite made the cut for Sgt. Peppers. This is more like Junior Varsity Beatles (JVB). It included Strawberry Fields which I was familiar with growing up in New York City. The parks department named an area after the song. It was located just inside Central Park at 72nd Street, close to where John Lennon had lived and was gunned down. As a kid, I assumed Lennon was talking about Central Park but it was a real place that he passed on his way to school everyday in England.


This was one of those albums that I overlooked for many years, but gravitated toward as an adult. It was the first acid-album... or one of the first albums when you put it on and was like... holy shitballs, these guys are fried to the tits on a delicious batch of liquid sunshine. Lyrics can be interpreted thousands of ways, but it's rooted deeply in that psychedelic awakening that happens right after that frightening ROAR when you don't know what the fuck is happening to you.  This was 1966... just before the summer of love and the hippie explosion. You can say that this album encouraged many wayward teens to take the leap into the unknown. The Beatles were the first batch of mainstream musicians to furrow deep into the rabbit hole. They tried to explain those experiences on this album. The last track Tomorrow Never Knows is a glimpse into the future... and it's dark and scary. That is one of those songs that is a true litmus test. In Mad Men, Megan tries to get Don to understand her and the 60s by playing him the song, but he's way to square to get it.

Rubber Soul

The Beatles' songs from Rubber Soul heavily influenced the sonic weight and exploration of Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, which was Brian Wilson's response to Rubber Soul. In turn, the Beach Boys' vocal harmonies had heavily influenced the Beatles. Both the Byrds and Bob Dylan were also influential to Lennon/McCartney. Dylan encouraged the Beatles to take huge leaps away from their bubble gum pop hits and take some risks with deeper lyrical exploration. If anything, this is the album when the Beatles turned the corner. Maybe it was because Dylan introduced them to weed and it truly opened up some doors that they never knew existed. This album was the bridge from the early 60s innocence to late 60s drug-induced decadence.

Let It Be

The last album? Actually the penultimate album. The Beatles had gotten too fancy in the studio embracing technology and multi-track recording. They wanted to return to basics and be a live band again, and they even added Billy Preston on keyboards to help give them a funkier sound. But they were rusty and testy and tired of being the Beatles. It didn't help that Lennon insisted Yoko be in the studio with them. Even though she never said a word, that irked the rest of the band and caused serious friction. The band was in deeper trouble that everyone realized and the Let It Be sessions were the first stages of breaking up, but they still pulled it together to make a couple of remarkable songs like Get Back and Don't Let Me Down. This is the album that the band played on the roof of their offices. That infamous rooftop concert is something that will go down in history as the last time the Beatles ever performed together in a public setting.

Watch it here:

A Hard Day's Night

I'm trying to learn guitar and I got sucked into early Beatles. Some gems on there... back at a time when the Beatles were ahead of the curve. Simple, yet catchy.

I know there's some other albums I left out... but I'm out of time.

Monday, January 13, 2014

52 Books from 2013

By Pauly
New York City

Senor was looking for a book recommendation. I recommended Wolf of Wall Street last month and he quickly finished it. He wanted a couple new suggestions. I told him to pick up American Desperado (written by Evan Wright) about a former mob hitman who became one of the notorious cocaine cowboys in Miami in the 1980s.

I had a few other ideas but asked the Twitterverse what they were reading. My bud Jesse send me a an amazing list of books that Matt Matros read in 2013. Matros, a writer/poker pro from New York, wanted to read one book a week, an ambitious yet inspiring pursuit.

That list got me thinking about generating a similar list. Several books crossed my path in 2013. Most of those books come in two categories: finished or start-stop. I also re-read a few books for different reasons. Both work and pleasure.

When I tallied it up, it came out to be... 52.

Wow... one a week. Benefits of an insomniac.

I started the year on a biography kick after I considered ghost-writing a book for a poker pro, so I brushed up on autobiographies and memoirs. In the last half of the year, I went on a music bender while researching a new project (screenplay that turned into a NaNo novel). In the process, I acquired several memoirs and a few books on music criticism from the 33 1/3 series.

With the exception of two e-books, which I read on my girlfriend's Kindle, everything on this list was a old-school book. Real books. I'm such an annoying Luddite, but I'll gladly accept Kindle royalties. Yes, in 2013 Kindle sales of Lost Vegas and Jack Tripper Stole My Dog crushed actual book sales.

This list of fiction and non-fiction is in chronological order. If I didn't finish a book, I made a notation...

2013 Book Consumption

The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams by Darcy Frey -- My editor, Lance, suggested this book about four budding stars from Lincoln High School in Coney Island who desperately wanted to get out of the Brooklyn projects by earning scholarships to play basketball. One of them was Stephon Marbury.

Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace by David Lipsky -- Author gets commissioned by Rolling Stone to interview DFW and follow him around while he does a press junket for Infinite Jest. Due to bad weather, the two rent a car to attend a few stops on the tour. DFW reveals some very candid moments in the author's presence. Lipsky never finished the article. DFW killed himself. Lipsky decided to assemble the majority of the interview's audio clips into book form.

Shoplifting from American Apparel by Tao Lin -- Novella by postmodern minimalist and uber-hipster Tao Lin. Shortest book I read all year. Finished it in under an hour. Couldn't tell if this was pure genius for the economy of words or utter laziness. I dig Lin's overall sparse style.

Like Life: Stories by Lorrie Moore -- Short story collection. DFW thought Lorrie Moore was one of the greatest American short story writers. I read an interview with Tao Lin, who also sung Moore's praises. I was familiar with her style, but never read this collection.

The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace -- Re-read. I first picked it up in the late 90s. Decided to check it out since it was DFW's debut novel.

Seven Seconds or Less: My Season on the Bench with the Runnin' and Gunnin' Phoenix Suns by Jack McCallum -- I got this used for a penny. Funny that the Lakers would end up firing their head coach and hiring Mike D'Antoni, the offensive guru who helped transform the landscape of the NBA with his spread offense philosophy.Legendary sportswriter Jack McCallum hung out in coaches meetings, and logged time with the team during down time, at practices, and on the road.

The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot -- Some scientists believe that reality is just a hologram and that the entire universe is nothing more than a hologram. Heavy stuff. Does not require mushrooms or other psychedelics to read, but it is heavy on the science stuff. I never finished it, but skimmed the second half.

Pain Killers: A Novel by Jerry Stahl -- Everyone knows Stahl as a former-junkie-TV writer from his memoir Permanent Midnight (in the film version he was played by Ben Stiller). One of his most recent novels is about trying to find a notorious Nazi criminal, Josef Mengele, inside of a California prison. I never finished it. I went on a trip and by time I returned I had a new pile of books to read.

A Tiny Space to Move and Breathe: Notes from the Fall, 1997 by Walter G. Holland -- Also known in music circles as Wax Banks, the author shared his thoughts about Phish's entire Fall 1997 tour when the band delved into serious funk jamming.

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain -- I reread this. Almost reads like a junkie-drunken novel. I originally read it in Barnes and Nobles spread out over a couple of weeks in the early 00s. I picked it up again because I wanted to refresh myself before I read his newer book.

Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain -- His first book read more like a novel, this read more like a collection of unrelated blog posts. Didn't dig it as much as K.C.

Damascus by Joshua Mohr -- Hipster lit. Takes place in San Francisco's Mission neighborhood. Not the best story, but I like Mohr's style.

Criminal Enterprise (A Stevens and Windermere Novel) by Owen Laukkanen -- This is the second novel by Owen. We used to work together so I'm biased. But this is a great page-turner thriller.

11/22/63 -- Via KINDLE. Stephen King's novel about a guy who stumbles upon a time warp to try to stop the JFK assassination.

Open: An Autobiography by Andre Aggasi - My colleague Brian Balsbaugh said this was one of the best books he's ever read. I concur. One of the best memoirs I've come across. I'm not into tennis at all and always thought Aggasi was a bit of a jerkoff until I read his story. Raw and honest. I hate those celeb bios that whitewash everything. But Aggasi did not pull any punches.

The Other Glass Teat by Harlan Ellison -- Surly sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison wrote about TV for a local LA newspaper in the 1960s-70s. This is a collection of some of those columns.

Nothing in This Book Is True, But It's Exactly How Things Are by Bob Frissell -- If you have never taken psychedelics, then just skip this book. If you believe in interdimensions and other hokey superstitions, then this is right up your alley.

Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001) by Don Felder -- Felder wrote one of the most popular songs in the history of rock n roll -- Hotel California. Felder was probably the best musician in the Eagles, he was eventually booted from the band because Glen Frey is a straight-up asshole. If you enjoyed the Eagles documentary, well this book is Don Felder's account of the events. Many music writers think that this book actually inspired Frey/Henley to commission a documentary so they can tell their side of the story. Even if you hate the Eagles, this is a crazy fucking ride. Just skim the first few chapters about Felder's life growing up in Florida (although he mentions how he gave a skinny little kid named Tom Petty his first guitar lesson) and cut to the best parts about cocaine and groupies and Frey douchebaggery

Sports Guy: In Search of Corkball, Warroad Hockey, Hooters Golf, Tiger Woods, and the Big, Big Game by Charles P. Pierce -- Pierce is one of America's best sports writers and he's probably the most underrated political writers. Both industries need more journalists like Pierce.

Hello, He Lied -- and Other Tales from the Hollywood Trenches by Lynda Obst -- Nicky has had this on her shelf for years. I finally picked it up. Hollywood producer dishes on how to properly survive working in Hollywood. I wish I read this before I got into the poker industry.

The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers, and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever by Alan Sepinwall -- Via KINDLE. This guy writes some of the best recaps of TV shows. Loved his take on The Wire, Sopranos, and even Breaking Bad.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography by Rob Lowe --  Your typical whitewashed Hollywood auto-bio. But you get some great and funny stories about the making of The Outsiders along with The West Wing.

Born to Lose: Memoirs of a Compulsive Gambler by Bill Lee -- Another gambling memoir. Bill Lee grew up in the mean streets of Chinatown and was a degen gambler from an early age before he lost his fortune several times over. Amazing rollercoaster story. He also wrote a book about the gangs of SF's Chinatown and one of the mob bosses put a contract out on his life. Crazy shit, eh?

Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis -- Autobiography by lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It ended up being a good primer on the LA punk scene in the late70s and early 80s. Kiedis is an admitted junkie and he had plenty of low moments during the peak of his addiction.

You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto by Jaron Lanier -- Tech guru dishes on how digital society is altering our future, whether we like it or not.

Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock-and-Roll's Legendary Neighborhood by Michael Walker -- Well-written, but made me want to read more stories about some of the bands and musicians he mentioned. This book only touched the surface. Trippy as fuck cover art.

Ball Four by Jim Bouton -- I re-read this. Reads like a daily blog and going back in time to the late 60s. Former NY Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton got traded to an expansion team Seattle Mariners. This is essentially his daily diary from that season. This book got Bouton in trouble with MLB suits because he mentions rampant use of greenies (speed).

I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined) by Chuck Klosterman -- The newly anticipated book by Klosterman who delves into our fascination with bad guys.

Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free by Charles P. Pierce -- Great read about the dumbification of America.

You Don't Know Me but You Don't Like Me: Phish, Insane Clown Posse, and My Misadventures with Two of Music's Most Maligned Tribes by Nathan Rabin -- The author decides to immerse himself in two diverse (yet somewhat similar) music communities -- Phisheads and Juggalos. The Phish stuff was meh, but the Juggalo stuff was fascinating.

Dynomite!: Good Times, Bad Times, Our Times--A Memoir by Jimmie Walker -- You all know comedian Jimmie Walker, most known as JJ from Good Times. He pulls no punches in this memoir about breaking into the entertainment industry and has crazy stories about coming up through LA's comedy circuit.

Taipei by Tao Lin -- Minimalist hipster writer penned a long-form novel. Hit a little too close to home as the Adderall-chomping author eats mushrooms in Vegas.

Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke -- Javier and Josh told me that this was one of their all-time favorite books. I know it had inspired other sci-fi films (like V) but I had never read it before. Arthur C. Clarke is most known as the guy who wrote the book 2001, that inspired the controversial Stanley Kubrick films.

Hotel California: The True-Life Adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Mitchell, Taylor, Browne, Ronstadt, Geffen, the Eagles, and Their Many Friends by Barney Hoskyns -- Long ass title. I originally had this a few years ago but never finished it. I'm a time of my life when I appreciate that era much more so it was a fun read on that account.

The True Adventures of the "Rolling Stones" by Stanley Booth -- Took almost two decades to write, but this is one of the best books ever written about the Stones and one of the best "on tour with the band" books ever published.

Chronicles: Volume One by Bob Dylan -- Always a great re-read. Dylan gives you the straight dope on some of the earliest parts of his career. Reminded me of Llewlyn Davis.

Eminent Hipsters by Donald Fagen -- Anticipated memoir by co-founder of Steely Dan. Half of the book is a collection of essays on art/music and the other half is a tour journal (but not in Steely Dan, but a side project with Micheal McDonald and Boz Skaggs). Fagen is an exquisite writer with a knack for storytelling. Short book. Wanted to hear more road stories and hijinks.

Candy by Luke Davies -- Johnnie W sent me this book from an Aussie writer. More junkie lit. This one is a love story.

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman -- I re-read this because I wanted to get familiar with Klosterman's original book before I participated in a Klosterman email exchange about his new book with my friend Jess (that we still have yet to do!).

Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon -- One of my favorite authors with a new book that takes place around 9/11. My brother gave me this book for my birthday.

The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main St. (33 1/3) by Bill Janovitz -- This was one of the first books from the 33 1/3 series that I read. Basically authors write about their favorite albums. Janovitz gave a little background behind the Stones double album Exile on Main Street.

They Live! (Deep Focus) by Jonathan Lethem -- Brooklyn novelist Lethem sheds some insight into the cult film They Live! by John Carpenter.

Drinking With Strangers by Butch Walker -- I re-read this one. Former musician turned producer turned songwriter shared this fun memoir about the music industry. He tried to make it big in the 80s with hair metal bands, reinvented himself as a pop-punk band, then eventually became a bona fide hitmaker as a song writer.

The Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique (33 1/3) by Dan LeRoy -- Great tales about the making of the Beastie Boys second album, which they produced in LA. One of my favorites from the 33 1/3 series.

Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile by Nate Jackson -- Former journeyman NFL player gives you a hard-hitting behind the scenes look into the modern game. And painkillers. Lots of painkillers, that he often had to get on the street because team doctors would only dispatch enough pain meds for one day.

Attempting Normal by Marc Maron -- Comedia and podcaster Marc Maron lets you inside his twisted mind in this cantankerous memoir of sorts.

Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields by Charles Bowden -- Haunting book on rampant violence in Mexican border town Juarez. Long-time journalist Chuck Bowden digs deep into the rash of murders that plague the city across the border from El Paso, TX. This book inspired part of a screenplay I'm developing with Joe Dubs.

Nirvana's in Utero (33 1/3) by Gillian G. Gaar -- Nirvana's last album was recorded in seclusion in Minnesota in order to keep away the parasites and Courtney Love. Some Nirvana fans will say this is their best album (of three). I'm indifferent about the album but fascinated to hear the stories behind its production.

The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort -- Hookers and blow. Better than the movie (in which he's played by Leo). The crimes admitted in this book occurred just before I headed to Wall Street. Crazy shit. Lots of cocaine and high-priced hookers. Did  I mention hookers and blow?

Killing Yourself to Live: 85% A True Story by Chuck Klosterman -- I re-read this over Christmas when I couldn't sleep. I didn't like it at the time because it was more about Klosterman's previous relationships than about the death of rock stars.

The Tools: 5 Tools to Help You Find Courage, Creativity, and Willpower--and Inspire You to Live Life in Forward Motion by Phil Stutz -- Christmas gift. I'm not one to read self-help books, but this one had some interesting advice on breaking out of creative ruts.

AJA (33 1/3) by Don Breithaupt -- One of the more complex books in the 33 1/3 series, mainly because the music of Steely Dan is rather complex. Read this twice because it was short but very challenging because I'm not a musician.

That's it for now. I read a bunch of fun books in 2013. Already began a new pile thus far.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Almost Big Star

By Pauly
New York City

Over the last week, I watched a pair of documentaries about two bands that never quite hit it big, yet they inspired numerous other bands. The other night I penned something about Color Me Obsessed, a documentary about The Replacements. Today, the focus is on a band with a highly ironic name -- Big Star.

You know at least one Big Star song. Seriously. In the Street.

Familiar? It is most known as the theme song from That 70s Show. I think the first few seasons used a cover version by Cheap Trick before the original by Big Star finally aired. Guess what? People bitched and moaned about it. They didn't like the original! What a bunch of fucktards.

Big Star is the best band you never heard of. Well, that's not exactly true. But they're one of those tragic bands that had so much potential that was never fully realized due to some circumstances beyond their control. Suits and liquor and self-doubt. That did them in. They had problems with their label and shuffled around different members before the original guitarist Chris Bell died in a car accident at the age of 27.

The scene... Memphis in the late 60s and early 70s. Alex Chilton had gained some notoriety for being the lead singer of a one-hit wonder band The Box Tops back in August 1967. They sold over 4 million singles with their hit song The Letter. Chilton was still in high school when he joined The Box Tops and rumors suggest he was even younger than he let on. Chilton had a dynamic yet eerie voice, both melodic and haunting.

Here's what made Chilton initially famous:

Flash forward a few years to 1971. Chilton bailed from the Box Tops and linked up with guitarist Chris Bell. They formed a group and had a highly hysterical sense of humor because they called themselves Big Star. They were in the right place at the right time. Stax Records was looking to build a stable of rock n roll acts on a subsidiary label -- Ardent Records. Big Star was right up their alley and they got a deal.

Big Star was one of those bands that sounded awesome in a live setting. They were also very adept inside the studio. Chris Bell knew his way around a mixing board, especially the state of the art equipment that Ardent's recording studios had at the time. He became a quick master at manipulating different sounds and he was the sole reason why Big Star's first album had some unique sonic textures.

Chilton and Bell had a twisted sense of humor which spilled over into the title of their first album #1 Record. Although the songs on their debut album were worthy of a potential big hit, the band got screwed by Stax's poor marketing and advertising concepts. Long story short, the band had a few great songs but the label screwed the pooch and did a shitty job at promoting and distributing the album to key markets. Alas, Big Star's first album went virtually unnoticed outside of Memphis.

Big Star hoped their luck would change when Atlantic Records acquired Stax (and its subsidiaries like Ardent). However, Atlantic Records had zero interest in the Ardent label and they cockblocked any distributions of Ardent records, including Big Star's first or second albums.

Talk about a wicked bad beat. Big Star got caught up in the gears of the music industry. Big Star got swallowed up and spit out by greedy fat cats running major record labels. It's difficult enough to make good music. It's gotta be frustrating to have that music get ignored due to corporate bullshit.

Big Star was also having problems internally. Chris Bell and Alex Chilton were being dubbed as Memphis' Lennon and McCartney. However, most of the press fawned over Chilton, which left Bell bitter and jealous. The rest of the limited reviews were not very good, which send Bell into a morbid depression. He started drinking heavily to cope and his remaining days in the band were numbered.

Chris Bell is often mentioned as a lesser known member of the 27 Club... a group of legendary musicians who died when they were 27. Bell was a few weeks shy of his 28th birthday, but he did not die of an overdose. Bell died in a car crash when he hit a telephone pole. He wasn't drunk/on drugs, but he supposedly was day dreaming and thinking about a song when he spaced out and crashed.

Chilton continued on and finished the second album with limited contributions. By the time the third album rolled around, Chilton was the only original member remaining.

The first album, #1 Hit, is sort of like taking a time machine back to 1973. Half of the album is filled with balls-to-the-wall classic rock songs... the kind of songs that you love to hear in your car while on a road trip, or cranked up while ripping a few bong hits in your buddy's basement. The other half is very mellow -- acoustic guitars and floating vocals -- extremely reflective of the singer/songwriter scene that was exploding in the early 70s. Yeah, Big Star was the best of both worlds. It was a band that equally drew in both male and female fans.

When art meets commerce, those crossroads usually suck the entire lifeforce out of creative people. They create things that need to be created, rather than creating things for a specific reason of mass consumption. Big Star got caught up in those massive gears. They might have been too good for their own good, but they were also downright unlucky.

Alex Chilton went on to form other bands -- mostly punk or art bands in the early 80s. Chilton had a compelling career from 60s one-hit wonder to 70s rocker to 80s punk/art freak.

Despite Big Star's lack of commercial success, the band inspired several other bands. Peter Buck, the guitarist of R.E.M. adored Big Star not to mention the guys in The Posies, Teenage Fanclub and of course The Replacements, which named a song in honor of Alex Chilton.

Take a ride with Big Star...

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Color Me Obsessed

By Pauly
New York City

I watched a good doc -- The Replacements - Color Me Obsessed -- which included interviews with a few guys from Husker Du (except Bob Mould). However, no one from the actual Replacements were interviewed and the producers never got permission to use The Replacements' music. Despite those two big drawbacks, the doc was essentially an oral history of the band as told by their friends/family/peers/music journalists.

The Replacements were spawned from the mean streets of Minneapolis in 1979. Bob Stinson was worried that his kid brother, Tommy, was going to end up in jail unless the wayward teenager found some direction. Tommy was only 11 when Bob (himself a high school dropout who was a budding musician and guitar player) handed his kid brother a bass guitar and the two started jamming. Music kept Tommy off the streets and the two brothers formed a garage band. Literally. They called themselves DOGBREATH and jammed in their garage every day. As legend has it, Paul Westerberg  heard random music while walking home from work. All these twisted and disturbing noises were coming out of the Stinson's house, but Westerberg hung outside to listen. He loved the weirdness so much he returned day after day. Just to listen. Eventually Westerberg joined the band and the rest is history.

In 1980, the group changed their name to THE IMPEDIMENTS and eventually settled on THE REPLACEMENTS. Due to an error on one of their gig posters, among their faithful and ever growing fan base, they were often referred to as THE MATS.

The Replacements were a unique post-punk band. They were accomplished musicians for someone in the punk scene (it was less about virtuosity and more about sheer, raw, energy and explosions of FUCK EVERYTHING), yet they always emphasized a 'who gives a fuck attitude.' They never cared what anyone thought about them or their music. They were in it for the fun. That philosophy doesn't always mean you're going to get the best possible music, because most of the time, the actual music suffered when the band had tons of fun and consumed redonk amounts of liquor. Majority of the time, the music was an afterthought and the hijinks on stage were the focal point.

Someone described The Replacements as the "best live band and the worst live band." That was generally the consensus of most punk bands of the era. For example, The Germs had become notorious in the LA punk scene for their epic shows because riots always broke out, and you never knew what was going to happen or if the lead singer was going to break a beer bottle and carve out chunks of his own flesh. But the Replacements were not the types of guys who were up on stage for shock value. They were in it for the fun. No human grenades like GG Allin, who'd be covered in blood and feces by the end of the show (most of it was his own). But then again, the MATS would get so blistering drunk that they'd beat the shit out of each other onstage, which sometimes spilled into the crowd.

One music writer put it best, "The Mats were like a drunken art project or performance art on some level."

The emphasis was fun. The songs were catchy and lathered in angst. The Replacements bass player, Tommy, was still an angry teen when he joined the band. Tommy's peers were the target audience -- disaffected youths -- so the crowd latched onto The Replacements because it was a band that had 'one of them' in it.

I loved their attitude: "We don't really care what you think... we're having fun."

That's a bare-bones philosophy for both art and life. It's something I try to employ as much as possible. It falls in line with the Luis Guzman line from Boogie Nights... "If you dig it, it's cool."

Lesson from The Replacements: If something is fun... then keep doing it.

Seriously, who gives a fuck if others don't dig it? I'm not really one to hide a guilty pleasure. Why feel guilty about something that brings you happiness? That's why if you get worried about what the masses think, they'll sneer at your fun because 1) they're not having fun, or 2) incapable of fun, or 3) simply outright jealous, or 4) miserable fucks that want you to sink to their level so they rain on your parade in hopes you give up on having fun.

Good rule of thumb... if it's not fun, then try to find some fun in it. But if something is not inherently fun, or you can't squeeze the fun out if it, then it's probably best you skip it.

Anyway, those guys in The Replacements didn't really care about hitting it big. They had plenty of opportunities to go mainstream. They had the talent, but they lacked the ambition. Best example of that attitude is their first and only music video. They had a huge shot with MTV, but instead of shooting an edgy video, all they did was have a camera film a stereo speaker while the song played. It's kinda funny. It's definitely punk rock (FUCK THE MAN!), but it's also incredibly stupid. If you don't want to make a video... then don't make videos. But if you get a shot, you should make it count. But that's the beauty behind the twisted genius of The Replacements.... they didn't give a fuck.

The Replacements were one of a handful of performers banned from Saturday Night Live. The MATS' drunken hijinks did not bode well with SNL suits. They totally trashed their dressing room and went berserk backstage. Bob supposedly took a dump in an ice bucket and sent the bucket down to the lobby in the elevator. The Replacments joined the ranks of other bands banned from SNL like Elvis Costello (The infamous Radio, Radio stunt), Cypress Hill (smoking weed onstage), Fear (trashed the set), and Sinead O'Connnor (ripping up picture of The Pope). Elvis eventually got un-banned, but the rest of those musicians are persona non grata at 30 Rock.

G-Money gave me a bunch of Replacements albums. He was a big fan, especially Westerbeg's contributions. "Amazing melodies, good lyrics and brilliant but unbelievable ballads like Answering Machine."

I stumbled upon Westerberg in the early 90s when he emerged as a singer/songwriter. I knew he was from this crazy Minnesota punk band in the 80s called The Replacements, but I had never heard of any of their stuff until I finally dabbled in punk when I moved to Seattle in the late 90s.

The funny thing about The Replacements is how they never really got too big, yet they inspired many bands in the 80s-90s. I guess they were Minnesota's Velvet Underground in that regard... a band that inspired multiple generations of bands.

It's also interesting to note that Westerberg had a huge solo career while Tommy Stinson ended up playing bass in Guns N Roses (touring band) for 17 years. Sadly, Tommy's older brother Bob became a cautionary tale. He was a bad alkie, so bad that he got kicked out of the band that was notorious for being a band of drunks. Bob never really had post-MATS success akin to Tommy or Westerberg. He struggled with the bottle for many years and lived a sad existence in Minneapolis in a tiny apartment above a bowling alley or liquor store. Chuck Klosterman wrote something about how his friends in Minneapolis would get drunk then drive over to where they thought Bob lived and they sat outside in a parked car hoping to catch a glimpse of the former guitarist from The Replacements.

One last note.... The Replacements were fans of Big Star. So much so, they wrote a song called Alex Chilton. Ah, it all comes full circle.

Check out this week's writing music: The Replacements.

And here's there underground hit Fuck School:

Thursday, January 09, 2014

DOA Blogs

By Pauly
New York City

Kottke wrote an obit for blogs. Check out R.I.P. The Blog, 1997-2013.

I first saw the link on Tony Pierce's post The End of Blogging.

To quickly sum up... blogging is no longer kitschy and like Tony said, it lost its buzz. But, there's some hope.... long-form writers will always stick with the format because it caters to lengthy, rambling content. Plus blogs are best suited to provide coverage of breaking news stories. So it won't go away completely, but there's been a significant shift away from long-form content over the last few years. Trends and short attention spans are a bitch.

I admired Tony's dedication to his old-school blog. When I first started out, I found inspiration in several of his posts, especially on How to Leave a Comment. That was just before online trolling became a national pasttime. To this day, it's one of the best blog posts I've read.

Timing is everything. I started a blog at the right time too. My college roommate Skippy, who wrote for a major newspaper at the time, told me about Blogger in 2002 and I signed up. The rest is history. I guess I was one of those early adopters. The blog was an amazing resume to attract potential clients. That was the perfect storm too because I had spent the previous decade struggling to break into the writing biz in any capacity. Funny how I snuck in the backdoor through blogs, particularly poker blogs. I nearly parlayed a rinky dink deen gambling poker blog into a book deal. That deal fell apart but most of the Vegas-centric content of the blog became the bulk of the first draft of Lost Vegas.

There was a time in the middle 00s when everyone and their grandmother had a blog and blogs became the new tattoos. That's when I knew it was time to migrate elsewhere (even though by then I had started at least 20-30 different blogs either for myself or for work). But other social media platforms became a lot more appealing becase let's face it... blogs are word centric and we're an image-based culture that hates to read. Facebook and Twitter were much more appealing to a broader audience.

And then Tumblr came along and was mobile-format friendly which appealed to many folks in the middle of the road between old-school blogs and micro-blogging (FB/Twitter). I guess Tumblr is like medium-blogging. Then again, if you're on Tumblr, it's because you're a teenage girl, or you're addicted to oodles of free (and virus-free) porn. There's a huge crossover in the middle there. I'll let you draw your own naughty conclusions.

And yes, I'm on Tumblr. I'm an early adopter and I dig porn. I liked using it as a middle-of-road platform when 140 characters on Twitter was not enough. But these days, Medium is overtaking Tumblr in that department, which is why it's doomed to be a site for teenage emo girls and porn addicts. I won't dabble much in Tumblr this year. I had two Tumblrs that I tried to maintain, but made a decision to consolidate shit. Tumblr got left out of the mix when I sketched out 2014 Projects. Alas, I migrated 'Writing Music' to this blog and I moved Daily Sports Betting Picks from Ocelot's Tumblr over to its main website.

Iggy once told me that this corner of the web was going to be the biggest blog of mine someday. I thought he was smoking PCP because it's impossible to trump the traffic that Tao of Poker had reached at the height of its popularity every summer, nor could it come close to a post on Coventry smack in the middle of Phish tour. I hope Iggy is right someday. Until that happens... I'll keep plugging away. But consolidating stuff is a wise plan. It's putting more eyeballs back here... the source and launching pad for everything else.

Social media becomes a reflection of my current interests and ever-changing philosophy. I'm in the middle of a consolidation phase. I got stretched thin and want to focus on fewer of those projects. I'm going for a less is more approach, but hoping the less means much stronger or more focused content... whatever that is.

Management of social media is a pain-in-the-ass task and sucks up chunks of time sifting through the static. It's much easier to water a couple of house plants then have to service multiple greenhouses. I got too ambitious and bit off more than I could chew. With other creative things on my plate, I learned the hard way that if I shovel too much shit into my mouth, then I'm going to puke everything up an potentially choke on my own vomit.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Boxed Memories

By Pauly
New York City

Memories in a box. Boxes of memories.

I have lots of boxes in storage in NYC. I used to think those boxes were filled with decades of memories -- childhood, high school, college, post-college, years on the road, poker schwag, and more books and CDs than I know what to do with -- which is why I was hesitant to throw them out. But I finally realized that the boxes are merely filled with stuff. Not actual memories. Because memories are intangible flashes of film clips that run intermittently inside your head.

Sometimes memories are not even accurate and you have someone else editing or playing clips of your own revisionist history without even realizing it. Some of the worst memories appear like the Zapruder film moments as JFK gets his head blown off.

Back, and to the left.

Back, and to the left.

Back, and to the left.

I have plenty of bad memories ruminating inside the hallways of my mind. I guess I'm still haunted from a car accident 2.5 years ago because I get jumpy whenever I see a stupid car insurance commercial that includes footage of an accident. I can suspend disbelief when I see car crashes on TV shows and films, but commercials are powerful because they pop up when you least expect them. I usually don't watch TV in real time unless it's sports and you can't watch any sporting event without seeing one of those terrible insurance commercials with cars smacking into each other. Fear mongering at its finest. That's when my own personal hell of a Zapruder film gets played on an endless loop and I can feel shards of glass spraying everywhere.

But all those painful memories are inside my head. They are not real. That's why all those boxes I have in storage do not actually contain memories. Everything in those boxes are triggers, but not actual memories. I have boxes of triggers. Thousands and thousands of them. Physical items are mementos because they can jog the memory, but it's not an actual memory.

So do I keep the triggers? Or do I throw them out?

Every single memory is inside your head, or perhaps even stored in a collective cloud of consciousness where all memories from every human is stored. If you believe in God, then the omnipotent one has access to the memory cloud. He knows if you've been naughty or nice.

Will you have access to that memory cloud in the afterlife (if there is an afterlife)? Is heaven merely just you floating in space for eternity with your life's greatest memories playing on an endless loop? Is hell being stuck traumatized by an endless loop of every single horrible incident in your life?

I was hesitant to throw out certain boxes because I did not want to throw out memories. But like I said, the memories are internal. I keep going back and forth over the importance or vapidness of logging (on the intertubes) almost everything that happens to me. For a while (like seven plus years), I was vigilant about getting as much stuff down as possible. But then I got paranoid and was convinced someone or some government entity was going to use those words against me in a court of law. So I got gunshy and then had a period when I recorded stuff privately. But then last year I said fuck it... if you expose all your secrets, then you have nothing to hide and you can't get blackmailed. Then again, I wanted to have access to memory triggers (like blog posts or photos) because your memory is not reliable and often fuzzy sometimes, so I'm lucky to have a personal journal (private) and a blog (public) to help fill in the blanks.

Some things I'll never throw out like ticket stubs for some reason. I guess I like having them and seeing how much a concert cost in 1996. Shit was much cheaper then and the ticket price was the actual price... no hidden costs. These days there's so many surcharge fees that the actual ticket price feels like it was half of the final price.... of course, that does not include shipping or printing costs.

I feel like Willie Nelson in Half-Baked. "I remember when a dime bag cost a dime."

My friend Boogie once called me a minimalist. I think she meant as a compliment. I didn't need extra things to make myself feel happy or didn't need material items to validate my existence or use them to make myself seem more superior to others whom use material items as a means to judge you. I don't give a shit about those fuckers. Never did. Guess that's why there's always some friction between me the minimalist vs. the materialists.

It's like being a golfer that does not keep score. I'm a bad golfer so I never kept score because it would only depress me and ruin a nice fun time on the links with friends. All I wanted to do was hit one really good shot per round. I guess that's not a bad way to live life... do at least one thing well every day. But what's the point of keeping score? Just be in the moment and enjoy stuff. But some assholes have the incessant need to keep score because they constantly need to be validated.

Guess that's why I don't fit in in LA because everyone obsesses over image while I don't care about what kind of car I drive. I actually don't own a car. The last car I had... got totaled in Vegas. Nicky won't let me drive her new car and I don't blame her.

For many years I traveled so much for work that I really had to embrace minimalism and take what I could carry on my back. And if you travel much on airplanes, you never want to check your bags so you have to take as much as you can fit in a carry-on bag. You'd be surprised how far you can get on very little. I've done a month in Europe with a tiny bookbag and logged up to five weeks on Phish tour with a similar size bag. When you have those experiences, it makes you question whether or not why you need all that extra stuff in the first place. Then you see how much money people waste on unnecessary things.

Reminds me of that George Carlin line about a house is just something to put your stuff.... and if you didn't have so much stuff, you wouldn't need a house.

My mother is a hoarder and compulsive shopper. She came from humble beginnings so I get the psychological aspect of wanting to be able to buy things now that she never could have as a child. I also understand that the hoarding is also a byproduct of 'empty nest syndrome.' She no longer has two children running amok so she fills her space with stuff. But it's something that makes me incredibly sad to see because there's nothing I can do to stop it. Whenever I visit, I'm surrounded by boxes of stuff... some things that have never been opened and maybe never will.

I'm the opposite. I'm always looking for an excuse not to buy something or I'm constantly looking to throw something out. I'm from the 'less is more' school of thought. Afterall, you can't take it with you into the afterlife, right?

I'm also an avid pacer and need space to walk back and forth. The walking helps me think. I loved our long-ass hallways in San Francisco in Halli's apartment. I could pace back and forth for hours just thinking. I missed that. That's why I can't be in confined spaces because I lack space to think and pace and let my mind wander. I don't like being jam packed into small spaces surrounded by stuff, because it feels suffocating and makes me sick knowing how much money Americans waste on trying to look cool or feel better about themselves.

I tossed out a bunch of storage stuff the last few days. I had extra time in NYC so I used that time to look through old boxes of what I thought were memories... but it turned out it was just old, dusty stuff that is just taking up space.

Memories are supposed to live on forever. But if a memory dies, did it ever exist in the first place?

Friday, January 03, 2014

Snowed In

By Pauly
New York City

I'm supposed to be in Los Angeles right now.

Sunny Los Angeles. In the warm confines of my office, where the sun pokes in through the window and I can see palm trees and ubiquitous sunshine. But that's not the case. I'm stuck in freezing NYC for a few extra days because of a so-called blizzard. It's a storm named Hercules and it failed to live up to its billing. At first I assumed there was some promotional tie-in with Hollywood because you don't name anything these days without a corporation's evil hooks in it. But no, it was just a name that was trying to intimidate the masses.

Hercules wasn't even a huge storm. Felt like an average snowfall, which meant that the Hercules tag was sort of lame.

The tri-state area was skiddish after last year's Frankenstorm, so it's hard to blame everyone for being so skiddish. But most of the time, the fear-mongering media hypes up everything so you cannot separate fact from speculation and hyperbole.

A full day before the storm hit, JetBlue cancelled my flight (which was scheduled couple hours before the storm hit) and re-booked me on the next flight (which was just as the storm was supposed to hit), which ended up getting cancelled. I didn't trust them to re-book me a third time, so I re-booked myself. In order to not get hit with a redonkulous surplus charge, the next available flight was... Monday... or four days after my original departure date.

JetBlue is one of my favorite airlines but even then they've gotten less passenger-friendly and more corporate-bottom-line-conscious. On Wednesday night, they cancelled most flights for Thursday night and everything on Friday. They got too scared about Thursday and could have let flights leave before snowfall, but I got screwed because they were overly cautious.

I should have listened to my brother and opted for refund then bought a flight to somewhere in the south first thing on Thursday and then flew to LA from Charlotte or Atlanta.

After the second flight got cancelled, JetBlue claimed they could get me out on the first flight out on Saturday, but I'd have to pay extra because it was a premium seat... and a middle seat at that. My tall frame and bad back can't handle a middle seat on a six-hour cross-country flight and no one wants to get stuck in between a crying baby and one of those overly religious people wearing all black and reeking of mothballs. I already dropped a pretty penny on the flight and couldn't believe they had the balls to try to fleece me for another $100. Plus, there was no guarantee that the flight would leave on time, so I passed. Unfortunately it was the last seat on the only available flight on Saturday. Sunday's availability was slim (two options... both would have cost me extra dough) and the best I could do without having to pay extra was to re-book for Monday.

Luckily I could stay with family in NYC, otherwise I'd be really screwed and would have to sleep at the airport with all of the other unlucky souls.

At least one good thing came out of it... I could watch a couple of Knicks games with my brother and catch all four NFL Wild Card games with him. But that was about the only positive thing that came out of this mess. Sure, I dearly missed NYC, but I had spent at least two weeks here and I had my fill, especially dealing with crazy family members. Christmas holidays are always a chore and this year was no different.

I was ready to go back to California and wake up in my own bed next to my girlfriend and gaze out at the palm trees across the alley that shoot up out of the ground like the palm tree is on its tiptoes and trying to touch the sun. I had a ton of freelance work that was burning a hole in my desk and I was eager to start the re-write on Fried Peaches. Oh, and how could I forget about the new guitar?

Nicky gifted me an acoustic guitar for Christmas. Something I had waned to buy for years, but never did it because I didn't have spare time to dick around with it because whatever surplus time I had was devoted to writing. But she got me the perfect gift because I'm at a point in my life in which I'm actively trying to set aside to do the things I love and do things I've never done. We exchanged gifts a couple of days before I left for NYC because we spend Christmas with our own families. In a short time before I left for NYC, I played with the new guitar nonstop, so much so, that part of one fingertip was ready to fall off. I finally understood that Ryan Adams lyric, "played it til my fingers bled."

Anyway, stuck in NYC where it's cold and miserable. I miss waking up next to my girlfriend. I mis sitting at my desk and cranking shit out. I miss playing my guitar until my fingers got numb. I even miss the fucking hipsters next door with the ukulele. Hate to say it, but I miss the warmth of LA.

Stuck in NYC thanks to Hercules. Meh.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Happy 2014 and Back to Driving the Bus

By Pauly
New York City

Illustration by Mattias Adolfsson

Last year at this time, I didn't really have a gameplan. I penciled a loose sketch about what I wanted to do but tackled the year with a flexible attitude. I had fun, like always, but I ran into some rough patches because of the lack of a specific gameplan. As the year came to a close, I had a more detailed outline about the future, specifically 2014. I have a general idea what I'm doing and what I want to work on.

I have three or four new things ready to roll in the upcoming months. Those newer projects coincide with a consolidation of websites/blogs/tumblrs, etc. I guess there's far worse things in life than being over-ambitious, but I often bite off more than I can chew and then I get in a weird spot because I've overextended myself and have too much pride to either 1) ask for help, or 2) cut my losses and walk away. Until I can clone myself and put them to work on various projects, I had to be honest with time limitations and make some sacrifices. There's only so much I can do without blowing a gasket. The worst stress is the stress you unfairly create for yourself.

I enjoy creating things because I want to create them. Most of the time, I have no choice... I'm drawn to something. I guess that's the universe taking over, or me feeding the curiosity beast. Nothing can be more impure than being forced to do something for the sole (unpaid) entertainment of others. Whenever someone says "When are you going to write this..." that's a surefire indication that I shouldn't be doing that and you can bet your ass I won't do it. It's that eternal battle between keeping yourself happy and trying to keep others happy. It's a constant struggle -- doing things you enjoy versus doing things you're supposed to do. Conflict arises when you have less time to do the things you're itching to do, and stuck trying to keep others happy doing what they want you to do. It nearly killed me once in Vegas, and I'm not keen on letting that happen again. Took me nearly two years to bounce back from the accident, but even then I held myself back too many times to count because I felt obligated to do other things. Then a bitter resentment builds up because I'm making tremendous sacrifices to make other people happy... only to find out most of them will never be satisfied.

I've never been someone who did things that was expected of me, so why the hell did I get myself into a creative rut? All it did was rot my insides. I lost control of my own creative controls which were hijacked by different parties -- commercial interests and mob mentality. The sad part is that I let that happen. I wallowed in my own misery for a bit before I said 'Fuck it!' I launched a counter-coup and now I regained the controls. Again. I foolishly let the inmates run the asylum. Yeah, I'm back to driving the bus and running the loony bin.

I know where I want to go and not afraid to make that journey. Let's have some fun with it before I lose control because the herd always catches up eventually.

By the way... in the sports betting department, we got some kick-ass content over at Ocelot Sports. Our pal, Buffalo66, is creating daily handicapping videos to give a glimpse into his system and how he makes picks based on several different models. With the NFL playoffs coming up, he's going to share a ton of free advice. Don't miss out. Follow @OcelotSports on Twitter and visit the website (OcelotSports.com) for daily picks and handicapping videos.

Happy 2014. I hope it's a productive one for the both of us.