my experience with having a radio show precede DEER GOD RADIO and go back all the way to high school. i was lucky in that the boarding school i attended had a radio station that they fully encouraged students to participate in. for me it was a game changer because 1) even back then i was always exploring music and this provided a platform to share such with 2) a new community that i inadvertently joined in the process. the more i got involved the more i listened to other shows and learned about new music. so in essence it was an all-around great vicious cycle to be a part of that i really enjoyed.
during that period of my underclass years in high (roughly 1998-2000) i discovered 1980s HARDCORE. bands like BLACK FLAG, MINOR THREAT, THE GERMS, REAGAN YOUTH, VOID, DESCENDENTS, MDC, YOUTH BRIGADE, THE MIDDLE CLASS, DOA, THE CIRCLE JERKS, and of course, DEAD KENNEDYS. believe me, that list goes on... and on. some of those bands i learned from classmates, but the majority of them were from the shows of upperclassman at the station.
for me, DEAD KENNEDYS stood out because of their musicality and the strident, confrontational nature of their rabidly political lyrics. frontman JELLO BIAFRA was also highly charismatic and funny, something i dont think he gets credit for. i think the lyrics of FRESH FRUIT FOR ROTTING VEGETABLES (ALTERNATIVE TENTACLES, 1980) songs like "KILL THE POOR" and "LET'S LYNCH THE LANDLORD" work because they are so hyperbolic yet earnest. it felt even two decades later like he was very much playing with fire with a smirk and a sense of mischief as well as purpose. its an interesting mix. undoubtedly the reference in his name to the NIGERIAN BIAFRAN WAR also drew my attention, given that i had recently relocated to my boarding school from a middle school in LAGOS. i cant say that association wasnt an initial detail that peaked my interest at the time.
in songs like "CALIFORNIA UBER ALLES," "HOLIDAY IN CAMBODIA" and even "VIVA LAS VEGAS" there is a sense of reducing AMERICAN MIDDLE CLASS VALUES of CONSPICUOUS CONSUMERISM and POLITICAL ACQUIESENCE to their end extremes. in an era of TRUMPISM and the efforts of extreme elements with the conservative movement actively corroding democracy itself, these songs seem more of a harbinger of things to come than silly pastiche. obviously BIAFRA saw something in RONALD REAGAN's AMERICA that portended things to come.
the last thing i'll mention is the guitar work of EAST BAY RAY, which at times delves into ROCKABILLY and even SURF MUSIC. despite the aura and charms of BIAFRA, the hidden ingredient are the decidedly tasty slap-back delayed, single-not soundscapes that mark much of the songs on this record and future DEAD KENNEDY records. much as BIAFRA infused his political screeds with humor, parodies and clever wordplay, the guitar work of EAST BAY RAY and its departure from the basic power chord monotony of HARDCORE really amplified and focused the attack and bite of the band. for me those are the two main ingredients that made their debut such a remarkable achievement.
aside from being a definitive album of the period, this record likewise reminds me of the power of keeping an open ear to new music, which is something i continued in college as well as more recently with the nonprofit, streaming radio station MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC out of STATEN ISLAND of all places. like GEORGE CLINTON once said, "FREE YOUR MIND AND YOUR ASS WILL FOLLOW."
i remember my senior year of high school, a few months after relocating to SACRAMENTO from KUWAIT in the aftermath of 9/11, visiting a childhood friend in ORANGE COUNTY over winter break. i always find it interesting how music has a way of presenting itself to you at a point when you are ready to receive it. this friend had lots of opinions on music, some i agree with and many i dont, but i remember being in a car with him for that few days with a copy of DAVID BOWIE's THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS (RCA, 1972) on repeat. by the end of that trip i was a BOWIE fan by osmosis and basically sought out the rest of his discography.
i think what captured my imagination at first were the lyrics and how they utilized this premise of an otherworldly being as a rock star to showcase real emotions regarding isolation and being an other. im thinking of songs like "FIVE YEARS," "MOONAGE DAYDREAM," "IT AIN'T EASY," "STARMAN," and "ZIGGY STARDUST" specifically. you can read into that depiction a pretty powerful character study of what it must have been like to be a BOWIE or any cultural phenomenon dealing with issues regarding fame and mass adulation. on one had you are raised up and admired but that distance is cutting into your very sense of identity and personal self-worth. "ROCK N ROLL SUICIDE" and "HANG ON TO YOURSELF" really dig into that territory lyrically.
i remember during my time working abroad i was constantly aware of my own exoticness and being an other, especially when living in MYANMAR, JAPAN and ALBANIA. you had to be aware that people noticed you and that it was nearly impossible to blend in and be anonymous. i think that is probably why i gravitated to this BOWIE album in particular when living and working overseas.
i should also mention that guitarist MICK RONSON is a beast and the feedback-drenched saturated soundscapes he came up with for this record make it sonically transcend the FOLK MUSIC and acoustic foundations that obviously underpin it. this record was a gateway drug to another of my favorite artists, T. REX, and the whole back-to-basics, less-is-more mentality of 1970s GLAM ROCK in general.
BOWIE obviously had a varied career with lots of creative peaks, this just being one of them, but the world opened herein made me receptive to new sounds and ideas which to me mark any work of significance. it literally expanded my appreciation for what could be accomplished within the construct of ROCK N ROLL. it made me a more receptive listener.
in 1996 i moved to NIGERIA and basically hung out with the 8th graders as a sixth grader. i was tall for my age and looking back a lot of the kids on the compound (yes, i lived on a compound) that were my age were pretty lame. they were from places like TEXAS and LOUISIANA and to tell you the truth i am still processing stuff from that time well into my 30s. just the racist bullshit i saw from my direct peers. regardless, there were a string of bands i got into through these older friends: bands like UGLY KID JOE, ALICE IN CHAINS and FAITH NO MORE. by that period i was familiar with the COLLEGE ROCK and ALTERNATIVE ROCK played on 106.7FM KROQ in LOS ANGELES (NIRVANA, SOUNDGARDEN, PEARL JAM, THE OFFSPRING, GREEN DAY), but somehow ALICE IN CHAINS and FAITH NO MORE missed my radar, which is pretty odd in retrospect. maybe i was just clueless or not paying close enough attention in CALIFORNIA.
regardless, once i heard ANGEL DUST (SLASH/REPRISE, 1992) my pre-teen mind was blown completely blown off its hinges. production-wise that album is real mind-bender and i have heard that producers have been A/B-ing their mixes to it, along with SOUNDGARDEN's SUPERUNKNOWN (A&M, 1994), for years. ANGEL DUST sonically is strong departure from its successful predecessor THE REAL THING (SLASH/REPRISE, 1989) as well as previous records during the pre-MIKE PATTON era of singer CHUCK MOSELEY in that it intricately interlaces keyboards, found sounds and even BEAVIS & BUTTHEAD samples into a dense wall-of-sound that is absolutely massive. key songs that showcase this approach include "CAFFEINE," "EVERYTHING'S RUINED," "MALPRACTICE," "LAND OF SUNSHINE," "SMALLER AND SMALLER," "MIDLIFE CRISIS" and "KINDERGARTEN." this expressive, textured sonic landscape is the perfect palette for PATTON's operatic voice to truly take flight and enter orbit beyond the exosphere.
which is to say that PATTON is a truly fearless singer. keyboardist RODDY BOTTUM wrote the song "BE AGGRESSIVE" which lyrically an ode to homosexual oral sex and PATTON conveys it with unflinching gusto and commitment. so much so that i didnt realize what the song was about until high school. again, i was clueless. when i reread the lyrics and i learned what the song was actually about i particularly admired that someone i assumed to be heterosexual (which was a big assumption on my part) would be so unguarded and transparent in his delivery, especially when the album came out in 1992. this topic in a METAL song would be arguably still be considered bold in 2021. it is one thing to promote inclusiveness and support the right's of others, but PATTON basically inhabits another's perspective and really does it justice in this song. so yeah, my adoration of PATTON and his approach to singing really began with this song in particular.
whats interesting is that this sort of boldness was not shared in the band and guitarist JIM MARTIN left shortly thereafter. it was undoubtedly due, from what i've read over the years, to a combination of the lyrical subject matter as well as the less prominent role of the guitar in the overall sound. that is not to say that the album lacks in terms of big riffs and memorable moments surrounding distorted guitar tones, if anything this is "the" FAITH NO MORE album that guitarists dissect and analyze for such. i think he just saw the writing on the wall for what the direction was moving forward and in some ways he is not correct as later albums had a more stripped back aesthetic regarding guitar tones and a multi-layered and multi-textured electronic aesthetic.
i should also mention the boldness of closing the album with an iconic cover of "EASY" by THE COMMODORES. it is a straight take on the easy-listening piano-based ballad by LIONEL RITCHIE that really showcases PATTON's range as well as frames RITCHIE's songwriting abilities. it almost feels like a throwback to a begotten time when the likes of FRANK SINATRA and TONY BENNET would effortlessly cover songs from the GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK. its an odd choice but only in a METAL / ALTERNATIVE ROCK context where everything is formulaic. as an admirer of songwriting, i'm sure FAITH NO MORE just thought it was a great song by a gifted songwriter, their close-minded audience be damned.
so anyway, great album by a great band arguably at the peak of their powers. one of the cornerstone albums of my childhood that still crushes more than 30 years later.
while this is not the best R.E.M. album, OUT OF TIME (WARNER BROS, 1991) is very much one of those records i remember as a young kid (i was 7 when this was released) with songs like "SHINY HAPPY PEOPLE" and "LOSING MY RELIGION" became massive hits on the radio. in fact i initially took guitar lessons in first grade because i was to learn those two songs. ironically this was the mandolin-heavy record that guitarist PETER BUCK wrote when he was on sabbatical from the guitar, but that is neither here nor there. for me this record was very much the entry point into the world of making and playing music. sadly i quit shortly thereafter because my hands were not big enough to play barre and open chords, that came later in middle school. my father took up lessons instead with my guitar teacher and several continents, 3 bands and nearly 20 guitars later he's still playing and learning his way around the instrument on a daily basis.
so yeah, thats what this record represents to me: my childhood and getting excited about guitar-playing in general. i know for some die-hard INDIE ROCK fans "SHINY HAPPY PEOPLE" is kind of a black-eye in their discography as it marks a point of seemingly unadulterated commercialism, but i disagree. there is nothing inauthentic about celebrating life and being content with oneself. to me it is very much in keeping with what i interpret as the persona surrounding MICHAEL STIPE and his willingness to be vulnerable and see the good in people. in a sense i view it as a song about FAITH, you are searching out for the good in people despite the fact that such leaves you susceptible to pain. for me that song in particular is almost a the flip-side to that of the deep introspection and seemingly painful process of SELF-DISCOVERY and SELF-ACCEPTANCE at heart in "LOSING MY RELIGION." its almost as if that sense of openness only comes from a sense of acceptance of ones own shortcomings.
i think this album often gets overlooked because of it singles but it is well-worth revisiting. for me i hold onto it for sentimental meanings as it reminds me of my bonds with my father, which encompasses the better parts of my childhood.
for me LITTLE CREATURES (SIRE, 1985) by TALKING HEADS is the soundtrack to my early childhood. i distinctly remember being small enough to still be held as a kindergartener (around 1989-90) and hearing songs like "STAY UP LATE" and "CREATURES OF LOVE" from my parents speaker system in our old living room in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. given that i was born within year of its release, it makes sense that an album about coming to terms with the adult responsibilities of REPRODUCTION and the raising of children (very ROCK N ROLL topics i may sarcastically add) still resonates with me. not that i have children, i dont, but in essence i very much was the "little creature" in question to my parents. in that its an interesting portal into how that BOOMER generation came to terms in the 1980s with ADULTHOOD.
which included death. i still think "ROAD TO NOWHERE" is one of the great songs on the subject. it really gets at the big picture of the greater point of living and all the RESPONSIBILITY and eventual suffering that inevitably comes with recognizing ones own MORTALITY. i love how it treats the subject as a ride, one that "we know where we're goin', but we don't know where we've been." there is a sense that what ultimately matters is the experience itself and the ability to be aware and cognizant of the moment and is transitions, such as in the lyrics "I'm feelin' okay this mornin', and you know, we're on a road to paradise, here we go, here we go." musically its incredibly uplifting with what sounds like a prominent accordion in the mix, giving it a rolling forward momentum. i just love the counterpoint of it. its a song celebrating our eventual COLLECTIVE DEMISE. i just find it to be quite a profound and honest statement on a subject that is often reduced to tired melancholic cliches or pedaling false bravado.
as ive gotten older and seen my peers raise children and my parents grow older this TALKING HEADS record in particular only becomes more relevant with each passing day. i expect that will continue as i experience the seasons of my life down the line. my hope is that my eyes are open to the experience in the present moment as well.
how BUDDHIST indeed.
it was either christmas or my birthday (both are around the same time) back in the mid 1990s when i first got two albums at the same time, SOUNDGARDEN's SUPERUNKNOWN (A&M, 1994) and PEARL JAM's VITALOGY (EPIC, 1993). both were huge records for me understandably. i cant remember if i got these before LIVING COLOUR's VIVID (EPIC, 1988), but essentially those three are the first records i ever got.
without doubt "TREMOR CHRIST" to date is my favorite PEARL JAM song ever. it has a haunting quality that really struck me as a child. there is a definite vibe to this record that probably comes from the odd instrumentation and experimentation with textures and song structures that separates it from the the previous two releases. obviously i didnt know this at the time. for me this record brings back memories of summers spent with friends at KNOTT'S BERRY FARM and sports camps and this sense of a future adult world and existence. of experiences yet to come. i remember listening to this record and being confounded by what was being said, especially songs like "CORDUROY," "BETTER MAN" and "NOTHING MAN," but enjoying everything on a purely melodic level. it wasnt until the onset of puberty that the record resonated on less of a visceral and more of an intellectual level.
after moving to NIGERIA my family took a trip during a school break to SPAIN, the country of my birth. we stayed with friends on the outskirts of MADRID and i have vivid memories of listening to VITALOGY as well as NIRVANA's IN UTERO (DGC, 1993) while driving through the countryside to places like SEGOVIA and AVILA. especially the longer and less traditionally structured cuts like "IMMORTALITY," "BUGS" and "AYE DAVANITA." listening to this record is always a trip back to that time in the 1990s when the world opened up and the world was different. listening to music now is different, where a listener is over-encumbered by information and historical context. i dont normally get nostalgic but for me early PEARL JAM and especially VITALOGY is a purely sentimental listening experience and a reminder of the power and grace of music.