"$$$$" is a rather old song. Part of the Read Music - Speak Spanish collection from Conor Oberst's then side project from his Bright Eyes days, Desaparecidos, one of several punk rock anthems railing against corporate greed and American consumerism, not quite reaching the heights of "The Happiest Place on Earth" or "Survival of the Fittest", but still a good song, a solid song towards the end of 10-song album (international version) that to this day still finds its way on my playlists, some 14 years after the February 2002 release, right at the height of my Bright Eyes fandom.
I’m overflowing with ambition but I got to keep in mind
That the bottom line ... is the dollar signs ... and the big bright lights
Inequality franchised, the next location is mine
Earnest, yes. Conor was never one to hide meanings in elliptical lyrics, but something about the straightforward attack with the hard rock base works on me, it always works on me, some 14 years later. I was driving home from LaGuardia the other night when I heard this song, on a weeknight, after midnight, my flight from Chicago delayed an hour or two and my return from my fourth straight week in Iowa delayed a bit, until landing at close to midnight in another state and having to drive home, go to sleep, wake up and start it all over again. At least the traffic was light.
Desaparecidos returned from a decade-long hiatus after their one and only album with a couple new blistering tracks and a small fall tour in 2012 that would extend into the new year, when I got to see them in January 2013, for three straight dates -- at Asbury Park, Philly and New York. The first night was at the famed Stone Pony in Asbury and at the time I was still living in South Brunswick, and I was suffering through the hell that had been two years of toe pain and surgeries and dozens of doctors and pills all to ease a pain that was finally going away, at that time, for reasons that had nothing to do with traditional medicine and everything to do with mental pain. On that weeknight in January at the Stone Pony, Joyce Manor opened -- I'd never heard of them and they were awesome -- and after three shows of seeing them I became a massive fan, so when Desaparecidos came on, me and the surprisingly young crowd were in full frothing excitement and the mosh pit started almost at once. I don't remember if I moshed that first night, I don't remember the state of my toe and the pain (but I know it wasn't great) and I don't remember the order of the songs that they played, but I remember "$$$$", I remember barely recognizing it -- having spent the intervening decade post Read Music - Speak Spanish focused more on the classics I loved than that track, but in the second crescendo, toward the close of the song, when Conor screams out in desperation "it's the dollar signs" the whole crowd chanted as one and I remember getting lost in the sound, lost in the moment, fully alive again and hopeful again for an excitement that had left me after two years of toe pain.
So the irony wasn't lost on me, 3 years later, when $$$$ came onto my iPhone shuffle while I was driving home from the airport after midnight on a weeknight for work instead of driving home after midnight from a concert, and I started screaming out in frustration at Conor's crescendo, for I have become the American consumerist he was decrying:
It’s the dollar signs and the big bright lights
Inequality franchised, every location is mine
You just do your part, form a line
Let's march under the golden arch
March, march, march, march
Since at least late September, my life has been an endless loop of work / fly / work / travel / write / work / pay rent / work / sick / sleep / Christmas yay! / write a little / work some more. After 2 1/2 years of joy in Hoboken that followed my move from South Brunswick, the cost of living here has caught up with my savings and coincided with a booming economy that has sent my consulting company's business booming and kept me full of work for all of 2015, more hours than I'd ever done before (and I don't think I was exactly slacking before), all in for a big bonus at the end of the year just to afford paying an expensive rent so I could live in a nice apartment right by NYC and ... never get to go to all the concerts I want to because I"m away all the time for work. I texted my friend Katie the previous week while I was Uber-ing home from LaGuardia (flight back from Iowa through Chicago to Newark got canceled so I had to fly back to LaGuardia, Uber home and then take 38 trains to get my car from Newark airport the next day, a Saturday) but anyway, I mentioned to Katie how sad it was that I was riding through Manhattan for the first time in weeks, in the back seat of an Uber. It's enough. I don't know what to do about it but it's enough. There's no point in working so hard to make more money just to afford living somewhere great but you don't have any time to enjoy it, there's never enough time, because you're working 50 and 60 hour weeks just to make more money and start it all over again. I hate capitalism right now (go Bernie!) and I realize these are fully 100% white people problems and I shouldn't be bitching that I don't get enough time to spend in my beautiful Hoboken apartment while others are working 50 and 60 hour weeks just to feed their families, but we're all on the same loop, and it's all an American capitalist dream that never ever gets fulfilled, unless you're in the top 1%. Maybe not even then. They say that the "Happiest Places on Earth" are in Sweden or other northern European socialist democracies, where people care for one another and it's not all about money but that's not here, that's not here at all. It's frustrating, and I'm frustrated, but the next day I went to lower Manhattan for a couple drinks and some food with Katie and other friend Laura and it was great, just peaceful and great, and we all bitched about our jobs and then we ate and I didn't care how much it cost, I needed a break, I was awakened with a call from a vendor the next morning at 8 am and I was back on the track working all day.
It's been a while. Two years actually since I posted a year-end list on this blog. Admittedly this blog was dormant for the past two years but it's definitely something I miss. Even if the readers may not. This has been a good year of music -- brilliant new albums from some of my favorite artists (Frog Eyes, Destroyer, Mountain Goats, Sufjan Stevens) and some brilliant releases from artists much newer to me (The World Is, Day Wave, San Fermin, Courtney Barnett). All in all, the top 10 is probably as strong as any year in recent memory and I would only say that perhaps the "depth" isn't as strong as it used to be... I only go 50 deep on this list, whereas in the past I used to go 100 deep, but perhaps that's due to my lack of time to pay enough attention to all the great indie music still out there in 2015. Anyway, here's the list:
Here's some non-holiday themed San Fermin at Bowery Ballroom from last week that I meant to post. Enjoy and have a happy holiday!
"The Woods" (actually much more a Halloween song)
"Sonsick" (off their first album)
My boyfriend is quite a bit younger than me, so he grew up on the prequels of Star Wars, not the original films as I did. As such, he doesn't have the warm, fuzzy, nostalgic love that I feel for the Star Wars franchise, mostly because those films are not, in the traditional sense, "good." But while I was a huge massive all-encompassing Star Wars fan as a child -- particularly the toys that came out of the films -- at some point in my adulthood, that fandom waned and I did not become a "Star Wars geek" like so many others my age. I can't even remember the last time I revisited the original films before these past few weeks, other than maybe "decades ago". Films I watched as a teenager rather than as a child -- the Indiana Jones movies, Terminators 1 & 2, Aliens, Jurassic Park, Ferris Bueller, these are the movies that I watched over and over in my teen / college / young adult years and recall fondly as my "favorites", more than Star Wars. For my boyfriend, it is literally an afterthought in a world of Avengers and X-Men and other comic book franchises that dominated his teen years. Not Star Wars.
So we watched A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back in recent weeks (or I did and he kind of played on his phone while half-watching and remarking on the bad special effects) and each film was as good as I remembered. I didn't think they would have aged well (and yes, some of the effects didn't) but largely, both movies brought up so much nostalgic joy, and Han Solo is such an amazing character, that I could forgive the long stretches of people walking on Tatooine in A New Hope or the horrible claymation snow monster in Empire because the plot and the story and the characters, my god what great characters, make these movies great. I didn't get to Return of the Jedi yet, but I plan to. And I'm glad I own the box DVD set of the original Star Wars, although I don't really know when I got it or if I ever even watched them because, like I said, it's been "decades" since...
Then we saw The Force Awakens, which I'll get to. But the following night, as a favor to him, we revisited Episode I: The Phantom Menace for my boyfriend. It was bad. Like really, really bad. Like one of my worst movie experiences in recent months and we see pretty much every movie that comes out these days -- including The Last Witch Hunter starring Vin Diesel, which you probably didn't even realize was a thing that existed but it is and it does and it was better than Episode I. I mean the movie starts with this extended sequence in which the "Viceroys" from the Trade Federation (and just uttering those phrases sends chills up the spine of any diehard Star Wars fan) attempt to kill two Jedis (Obi-Wan and Liam Neeson) with droids who are about as difficult to kill as ants, all while talking with a racist version of an Asian accent. The action isn't good, or interesting, the dialects are super-offensive, and the "plot" revolving around the Trade Federation taking over Naboo for "some reason" makes no sense. And this is the opening to the first Star Wars film made in 15 years (at the time). Boy it was bad. And frighteningly, the next sequence is worse... when they meet Jar Jar (cringe) and he actually says "Ex-squeeze me" (yes that's dialog in a Star Wars movie) and makes more bad jokes in his horribly racist accent (cringe even more) which is all followed by an underwater chase sequence that is so full of CGI it's almost embarrassingly obvious that Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson are just sitting on chairs in a Green Screen environment trying to "act" around nothing. It actually looks like a cartoon, but a badly animated Saturday morning cartoon from the '90s, and it has not aged well. I fell asleep sometime after we meet the worst child actor on the planet playing a baby Darth Vader on Tattooine.
Which brings us to The Force Awakens. (I know, sorry for the long buildup). It was great. No spoilers here so feel free to keep reading but it was great. The new cast sparkles. The old cast is a welcome addition. The action sequences are as strong as ever and it's beautiful on screen -- even from the third row in an IMAX 3D theater where the edges of the frames were blurry because I was too close, but it was beautiful. We got there early for a 10:30 pm show, but not remotely early enough, and the line wound through the theater and then outside along the building all the way around the corner. There were showings every half hour or so but the IMAX screenings were only a few (there was only one screen) so yeah, Friday night IMAX showing when I had to wait outside in the freezing cold was not a wise idea (it's been unseasonably warm all December here in NJ so this was bitter cold and I wasn't dressed for it). But it was all worth it. Fuck it I need to tell some spoilers, or at least some plot details so stop reading here and I'll put the rest below the jump.
Back in college at Syracuse (yes, that's where I went, ask anyone, except those who attended Rutgers College of Engineering in the early 90s), one of the many joys I experienced was my nascent discovery of what was then called "alternative rock" and probably used to be called new wave or punk and is now called indie rock if anything. That music and its antecedents (is that an appropriate word, wait I'm an author so I should know the answer to that, but let's move on) has given me unknown joy over the past 25+ years, and Dinosaur Jr. were right in that initial wave of college discovery -- well not the first wave, the first wave were mostly new wave acts from the UK who peaked in the 80s but I didn't discover until college in the 90s (The Smiths, New Order, The Cure) but that second wave, bands that were actually putting out amazing new albums but also reached back into 80s for their start, these bands were really the bulk of my college memories, or later college memories, my sophomore and junior and senior years (there were less memories during senior year after I fully discovered a separate joy of punishing my liver for its years of sobriety) but anyway these bands and those albums and that music is to me inseparable from my memory of college -- The Jesus & Mary Chain, Pixies, R.E.M., The Replacements, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Husker Du, Buffalo Tom, Pearl Jam, and on and on. I remember sitting in my room for hours between classes "studying" while listening to a copy of Automatic for the 38th straight time, or prepping for a night out of drinking with my roommate Dan's copy of Pearl Jam's Ten cranking throughout our tiny upstairs apartment on Robinson Street (I'm sure there's a Robinson Street in Syracuse, NY -- don't Google it...). And it was there, in college, that one band stood above all the others, right up top, with the double shot of early 90s releases Green Mind and Where You Been. No song to me says college to me more than "Out There."
"I feel OK
This blog belongs to Bill Elenbark.
Lover of songs. Writer of wrongs.