Kurt Cobain + Time Travel = 3 Books

April 4th, 2014

Fun fact:  Searching for Cobain time travel on Amazon yields 3 results:The Drawing of the Three

Lost in the ’90s by Frank Anthony Polito — A teenaged rocker stage-dives during a ’90s themed dance and wakes up in 1994.

Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman — An essay collection featuring unrelated sections on time travel and Kurt Cobain.

Timely Persuasion by Jacob LaCivita — A rock and roll time travel tale about a music critic trying to save his sister.

Discounting Klosterman (who I love, but isn’t directly relevant here), I was pleasantly surprised to find Lost in the ’90s. I’d never heard of it before, but immediately purchased it — and really dug it too! Not only had someone else decided to revolve a time travel story around a cultural red-letter-date, but they did so with a lot of other interesting overlaps to the way I handled things in Timely Persuasion.  Song titles as chapter titles, lyrical allusions, musician fathers, and even bowling (!!!) pop up in both books.

I reached out to the author and he agreed to do a joint interview around our mutual inspirations.  So without further adieu, here’s Frank & Jake’s timely & persuasive take on being lost in the ’90s…

FAP:  Hey, there! My name is Frank Anthony Polito. I’m a Detroit-based writer and Lost in the ’90s is my first YA novel — though you don’t have to be a Young Adult to enjoy the story. In fact, you may appreciate it even more if you actually grew up in the 1990s.

JL:  Thanks for taking the time to do this. I’m not a young adult anymore, but I did grow up in the ’90s and can say you are spot on that it does help you appreciate the book.

People on this blog likely already know me, but in case you’re coming in for the first time via this post my name is Jacob LaCivita. Timely Persuasion is a rock and roll time travel novel I released in 2008 — though the bulk of it was written back in 2003. You don’t need to be an obsessive music fan like me to get into the story, but as Frank said about his book it may give you some added appreciation.

Let’s start off with the most timely question with the 20th anniversary upon us:  Why Kurt Cobain in a time travel tale? You nicely weave this throughout on a few different levels and have the bulk of the story set during those fateful days in early April 1994; my narrator tries to save Kurt as soon as he realizes what he can do…

FAP: Well, I hope this doesn’t come as a shock, but… When I began writing Lost in the ’90s I didn’t intentionally set out to include Kurt Cobain in my story. I’m a very realistic writer in that I write fiction that is fact-based. Based on my previous publishing experience, I figured (best case scenario) LIT90s would hit bookstores sometime in 2012. That said, I counted back 18 years in order to calculate my protagonist’s birth year — which took me to 1994. When I researched what was going on in the world that spring, I was reminded of the death of Kurt Cobain on 4/5/94 and voila!

JL:  That’s interesting.  I had many similar “count back X years and research” moments while plotting Timely Persuasion, but Kurt Cobain was there from the start.My standard answer to the “If you had a time machine…” question has been “find out how Kurt Cobain died” for as long as I can remember, so I knew I had to explore that in Timely Persuasion. I was 17 when Kurt died, and it hit me pretty hard at the time.  The Tom Grant murder theory started to gain press at about the same I discovered the Internet.  I became super obsessed with it right away. I’m not really a conspiracy theorist in general, but I’ve always been fascinated with unanswered questions. The hardest part in the writing process was figuring out a way to leave the suicide/murder question unanswered while still using it to explain the rules of time travel and give deeper insight into the narrator’s character.

FAP: Again, I hope this isn’t a shocker, but… Back in the day, I was not much of a Nirvana and/or Kurt Cobain fan. I didn’t find the music (or Cobain) attractive or interesting. In fact, I kind of sort of hated it (him). I was more into the music scene that had come out of Manchester (The Sundays, The Charlatans UK, etc.) Now that I’m older (and wiser), in doing research to write LIT90s I was happily surprised to discover that I honestly didn’t get Cobain back in 1994. I didn’t realize how ironic his lyrics were or what a supporter of gay rights he was, and how often he was misunderstood by his peers — something to which I could totally relate. Now I really wish I could go back in time to the early ’90s because I would totally change my tune. 

JL:  Like many ’90s teens Nirvana was my gateway into music I could call my own, but I really dug the British music scene too. The Manchester bands you mention were great (don’t forget the Happy Mondays!), along with new britpop revolution led by Blur & Oasis. Plus my favorite band to this day is still Carter USM — and not so coincidentally they have the most lyrical references in TP.

Sometimes I wonder if the love of the Beatles instilled in me by my parents paved the way for that. Which leads into another interesting overlap our books have: protagonists who meet their parents back in time.  In both cases they are surprised to learn that their father is a musician and decide to teach him some tunes… 

FAP: When my father was in high school he played guitar in a band — which is actually how he met my mother. As a kid, I was always fascinated whenever he would drag out his Fender and plug in the old amp and crank out some Black Sabbath. I can’t say that I based the parental characters in LIT90s on my own parents, but I knew that I wanted my protagonist and his father to have a musical bond. I was also a big time-travel geek growing up (Back to the Future, Voyagers!, Somewhere in Time), and I always enjoyed whenever someone from the future would teach someone from the past something and they would try to take credit for it.

JL:  I was also (and still am) a big time travel geek. I knew I wanted to write a time travel novel, but I had a few options on what the main plot would be. A so-so musician going back in time and finding fame by stealing music was one of my initial ideas.  Sort of a parable about the digital music industry. But I didn’t think I had enough for a full novel and scrapped it. Then somehow this story sent the narrator into the 1960s to meet his Dad (which wasn’t in the original outline), so I revived that older idea and ran with it.

FAP:  My idea for LIT90s came from an obscure “After School Special” called My Mother was Never A Kid, based on an obscure book by Francine Pascal (Sweet Valley High) called Hangin’ Out with Cici. In the story, a teenaged girl travels back in time from the 1970s to the 1940s where she meets (and befriends) her mother, who she doesn’t get along with in present day. And of course the aforementioned Back to the Future.

JL:  At the time I was excited and surprised nobody had done a time travel story that stole music from the future. And even though I included a number of Back to the Future references, it wasn’t until years later I realized that the Marty McFly “Johnny B. Goode” bit counted. Duh… 

FAP: Yes! This is exactly what I’m talking about… That moment when Marty is playing “Johnny B. Goode” with his band and that other guy is on the phone with his cousin, Chuck Berry, and he’s like “Listen to this!”

JL:  Classic moment. And tying it back to Kurt Cobain, there’s an episode of The Simpsons where they parody it by having “Marvin Cobain” call his cousin Kurt after hearing Homer’s band play grunge at a Lollapalooza type festival…

Sticking with music, we both also seem to weave little known “real” songs into the plot. I’m guessing “Basement Ghost” is by someone you know based on a few Googles, but I might be wrong.

FAP: You are correct. “Basement Ghost” was written by a friend of mine, Gabriel Grady. I have my MFA in Dramatic Writing from Carnegie Mellon, and I knew that I would eventually adapt the novel for the screen. Because music is such a part of the story, I wanted to make sure there would be an original song for the soundtrack. I knew that Gabe — being a Class of ’94 grad and a musician himself — was totally the guy to write my movie’s theme song. Now, if I could only sell that screenplay…

JL:  I could totally see LIT90s as a movie. Or maybe even an “After School Special” if they ever revive that concept…

It was especially impressive that you managed to make “Basement Ghost” a downloadable single to go with the book.  I wanted to do something like that but wasn’t ever able to find a musician to work with. It was always my secret hope that putting “Won One” in Timely Persuasion would nudge my college roommate into re-recording it for me (I lost my old cassette copy years ago). But it’s been over 10 years and the song still only exists in my memory and in my book.  And I still dig it way more than he does.  (Chris Evjy, if you’re reading this that was a not so subtle hint :))

FAP:  Again, the credit for this goes to Gabe Grady. It also helps that Gabe was in a band at the time I published LIT90s, and he was looking for promotional opportunities for himself and his work as well. I’m a firm believer in the “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours…” theory of life, and in helping others along the way, if possible. The great thing about “Basement Ghost,” I will say, is that I told Gabe the basic gist of my story (how boy meets girl) and he ran with it. The lyrics and subsequent music are all to his credit.

JL:  Another item we share along the lines of great music-themed minds is using song titles as chapter titles. Yours are all great ’90s tunes that often aptly summarize the action.  What gave you that idea and how hard was it to pick the songs? 

FAP:  In my first two novels (Band Fags! and Drama Queers!) I did this same thing — only with ‘80s tunes. While LIT90s isn’t part of the trilogy, I wanted to continue using this technique, especially since music plays such a part in the story. In terms of choosing which songs to include, I have to say “Thank God for the Internet and Wikipedia!”

JL:  Originally Timely Persuasion didn’t have chapter titles. Then one night I woke up at 2am with this idea that every chapter was a song title that contained a number.  It would start with “One” by U2.  Just a single word so nobody realizes what’s going on yet. Then “Two of Us” by the Beatles. Then “Gimme Three Steps” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. And that’s when I jumped out of bed and made a huge list of candidate songs — first from my iTunes library, then falling back on the Internet like you did.

FAP:  That is an awesome idea! (I wondered where you came up with “Tram #7 to Heaven” by one of my faves, Jens Lekman.)

JL:  Jens is one of my favorites too. “Tram #7” plus “Wounded Kite at :17” by Pavement were the two titles that made me so giddy I just had to find a way to make this work. And later figuring out I could slot “Won One” in as #11 sealed the deal.  Hardest one was for 26 — it’s the only song I don’t like in the list. “Across 26 Winters” is a cool title and fits the chapter, but with apologies to Phoenix Mourning it’s not really my style.

Of your titles I especially liked “Fade Into You” & “Divine Thing.” And of course “Here’s Where The Story Ends” was the perfect ending…and it happens to be by another British group.

FAP: I’m particularly fond of “Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star myself. I really think the song sets the tone for this particular chapter. “Action” is such a big component when it comes to film and, if memory serves, this chapter is almost all inner monologue for the female character as she rides along in the car with the two other guys in the story. I look forward to seeing how the scene would play out on the big screen — like an old-fashioned MTV music video.

JL:  Along with the musical nods taking the reader back into the era, I really liked the way you sprinkled references to other time travel stories throughout Lost in the 90s — and not just Back to the Future. Time travel seems to pop up all over the place. I’d never heard of Hangin’ Out With Cici before, but I do remember that time travel episode of Family Matters and liked the Somewhere in Time reference too.

FAP: Thanks. Like I said, I was a big time travel story geek growing up. And no surprise that you’d never heard of Cici — which most would call a “girl” book. I’m actually surprised that you know Somewhere in Time which is set in Michigan where I grew up, and I’ve somehow managed to reference in almost every story I’ve ever written.

JL:  I told you I was a time travel geek too! In TP my narrator sees a movie trailer for Peggy Sue Got Married on his second trip back in time (before he realizes that’s what’s actually happening). I picked it as a hybrid music & time travel reference — though it was totally one of those “need a movie from 1986” research happy accidents along the lines of how you picked Kurt Cobain for LIT90sBTTF & Quantum Leap are where my love of time travel came from, so I felt it only fair (and polite) to tip my cap to the greats.

FAP: Kudos to you, sir! I appreciate your appreciation of the greats who came before us :-) I’ve seen Peggy Sue, but only once (years ago!) and I don’t really remember the plot. I also didn’t watch Quantum Leap for whatever reason. But, as I’ve mentioned, there was a time travel show back in the early ‘80s that I loved as a kid called Voyagers!, starring Jon-Erik Hexum, whose career was tragically cut short after he accidentally shot himself in 1984. If you haven’t seen it, you should totally check it out.

JL:  Yes, I like Voyagers! too. And the Omni is one of the coolest time machines, right up there with the DeLorean and the Tardis.

Anyways, this was pretty fun. Anything else to add in closing?

FAP: Thanks for finding me and making this happen. It’s been almost 2 years since LIT90s was released, which in book terms makes it “old news.” My goal was to do a big publicity push to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death… But having worked in the New York City publishing industry as a book publicist, I know what a pain — and how futile — it can all be. Here’s hoping we both will find some new readers.

JL:  Indeed. We write books so people can read them, right?

Anyone interested in learning more about either Lost in the ’90s or Timely Persuasion can check out both of our books below for a trip down memory lane via April 8th, 1994:

Lost In the 90s
Amazon
Apple
Website
Twitter

Amazon
Apple
Website
Twitter

6 Songs of Your Life

February 22nd, 2014

Read about this cool 6 songs of your life idea via NPR about a month ago and have been thinking about it ever since. After several drafts, here are my six…

“Taxi” by Harry Chapin
My parents are big Harry Chapin fans and would play this a lot when I was little. So much that the first sentence I ever said was the paraphrased “I go fly high stoned” lyric from this song. (Allegedly my grandmother was not amused.)

“Back In Time” by Huey Lewis & The News
The first album I ever owned was the Back to the Future soundtrack. BTTF kicked off my lifelong obsession with time travel, but the way this song loosely tied in confused my nine-year old brain. It’s a song about the movie. But they don’t actually go to 1999 so it’s wrong. Did Huey even see the movie? Maybe the movie was based on the song? I still overanalyze little things like this today.

“Even In His Youth” by Nirvana
I knew I needed a Nirvana song for this list. And right when I decided I’d go with Smells Like Teen Spirit instead of a deep cut I realized this was a better choice. It was the first time I learned of the concept of a B-Side. There’s this awesome song. But it’s not on the album. And every band does this?!?!? Teenage mind blown…

“All Night Thing” by Temple of the Dog
In college we used to frequent this awesome restaurant in Syracuse called Mother’s Cupboard.  They were only open for breakfast, and the hours were (and apparently still are) 6:00am – 1pm. Being up by 1 on a weekend was tough for us college kids, so the only times we’d go to Mother’s Cupboard were when someone had the idea at 1am and we stayed up all night to arrive right when they opened. We’d always listen to this song on the way home.

“Clint Eastwood” by Gorillaz
My first “real” job after moving to California was running a call center for a startup called iNetNow. It was the era before smartphones and our business was looking stuff up on the Internet for people who called in. We had special software for searching, and an interface called “term trail” that let you see what others were searching for in realtime in case they needed help. One night I saw “damon albarn rap song” pop up on term trail and scrambled to monitor the call to learn what this was. The caller ended up being my best friend from high school calling after hearing it on the radio. Even 3000 miles away we were able to discover music together almost simultaneously.

“Farther On Down The Road (You Will Accompany Me)” by Taj Mahal
My wife and I eloped, but we still consider this to be our wedding song. We first heard the Jack Johnson cover version which caused us to seek out the original. We went to see Taj Mahal at the House of Blues and by the end of the set he hadn’t played this. My wife wanted to leave to beat traffic, but I made her stay for the encore just in case. First and only song of the encore was this, and it was magical.

Enumerating the Top Time Travel Stories

January 29th, 2014

Timely Persuasion was recently named third favorite time travel story on the Enumeration Podcast!

Enumeration - Time Travel Stories

It was an honor to be named here amongst several other great time travel tales. The three hosts came up with quite a set of stories altogether. Their complete lists are covered below – but check out the full episode for some cool discussion about each set of three:

Paul (novels):

1. Replay
2. Branch Point
3. Timely Persuasion

Honorable Mentions:

Time And Again, Time On My Hands, A Christmas Carol, The Man Who Folded Himself, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Island in the Sea of Time, The Trinity Paradox

Ben:

1. Back to the Future Trilogy
2. Groundhog Day
3. The Langoliers

Honorable Mentions:

“A Sound of Thunder”, The Time Machine, Slaughterhouse-Five, Time Bandits, Star Trek (4, 7, 8, & 11), 12 Monkeys, Donnie Darko, The Terminator, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Primer, Star Trek The Next Generation: “All Good Things”, TMNT – Turtles in Time, Time Changer

Alex:

1. Back to the Future
2. The End of Eternity
3. Chrono Trigger

Honorable Mentions:

The Lords of the Sands of Time, X-Men: Days of Future Past

Lots of excellent picks!

The only surprising omission in my mind would be Quantum Leap, though to be fair they did give have a passing “put right what once went wrong” reference during the podcast.

For me, the holy trinity of time travel will always be Replay, Back to the Future, and Quantum Leap in a three way tie for first. Breaking it out by category, my personal favorites would be:

Books:

1. Replay
2. Expiration Date
3. Up the Line

Movies:

1. Back to the Future
2. Timecrimes (Los Cronocrímenes)
3. Primer

Television:

1. Quantum Leap
2. “The Constant” (Episode of Lost)
3. Journeyman

Honorable Mentions: (excluding works already referenced)

Books: 11/22/63, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Too Many Time MachinesMan in the Empty Suit

Movies: Deja Vu, Happy Accidents, Shuffle, Always Will, Source Code, Safety Not Guaranteed, About Time

TelevisionTru CallingVoyagers!Misfits (Season 1 Episode 4), ”Back There” (Twilight Zone Episode)

Video Games: Back to the Future: The Game, Chronotron, The Silent Age, Day of the Tentacle, Mushroom Age, Braid

Of The Year – 2013

January 4th, 2014

It’s musical best of time again…

Albums:

1. We The Common — Thao & the Get Down Stay Down
This album came out in February and managed to hold the top go-to slot all year. Rockin’ and poppy, with shades of The Breeders here and there. Saw them live three times and they didn’t disappoint. Thao’s encore duet of “Be My Baby” with Sallie Ford at the Troubadour was a concert highlight.

2. We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic — Foxygen
Heard “No Destruction” from this album for the first time on December 28th when my iPod died in the car on the way home from dinner. Then I listened to the whole thing 7 times in the next 24 hours. Love love love love this record and how it feels like an oldie in a Local Boyish sort of way. Only reason I’m not calling it #1 is the late discovery and acknowledging I’m still in the honeymoon phase, but I reserve the right to retcon later (like I did with the XX in 2009).

3. The Ghost of Escondido — Escondido
For once I managed to discover a new band in the actual year of their debut. Little bit of a Mazzy Star feel. I read somewhere that David Lynch really likes these guys. They’d fit in very well on one of his soundtracks. (Bonus: I always dig eponymous albums that are more than just plain self-titled.)

4. Roadcase 018 (Solid Sound Covers Set) — Wilco
Though not really an album per se, you can buy it from Wilco’s site so I’m counting it. An unexpected all request covers set at the third edition of the Solid Sound Festival, and one heck of a diverse setlist. I always smile the whole way through “And Your Bird Can Sing” — both times they play it.

5. The Ballad of Boogie Christ — Joseph Arthur
Benji Hughes once sang “I haven’t heard an original heartfelt song about Jesus in awhile.” Here are a bunch of them — in a non-religious musical concept that plays like a modern alt-rock Jesus Christ Superstar.

6. Charge — David Ford
I really liked David Ford’s 2005 debut album, but somehow forgot about him a little bit. (Shame on me.) Went to see him play on a whim (great show; see below) and the new songs were really really good. I also read his memoir this year. In part of it he talks about how the first and last songs on an album deserve to be something special. He nails that here with opener “Pour A Little Poison” and closer “Every Time.” Plus it has one of my favorite goofy/awesome lyrics of the year in the line “If all you need is some distraction girl, hey – what’s that over there?”

7. Fade — Yo La Tengo
Solid album by a band I like more and more every time I hear them and/or start dabbling in their back catalog. Album opener “Ohm” is now the opening track of my “Red Sox Lose” playlist. I didn’t have to break it out too many times this year, but hearing “Sometimes the bad guys come out on top, some times the good guys lose…” always takes the sting away and makes me smile.

8.  Wise Up Ghost — Elvis Costello & The Roots
A seemingly odd pairing that isn’t all that odd once you hear the first few bars and take a minute to think it through.

Concerts:

1.  Paul McCartney @ Outside Lands — August 9
I already covered the recap of Outside Lands before so not too much more to say. But I’ll repeat this part: after you see Sir Paul, if you say your favorite band is anyone other than the Beatles you’re a liar.

2. Jeff Tweedy Residency @ Largo — December 15, 16, 18, 19
Much like Benji Hughes back in 2010, my 2nd favorite show of the year is actually a set of four. Tweedy outdid himself in his four shows in five days by nearly pulling off no repeats. 86 total songs — 81 unique!  He seemed to accidentally break the streak after 72 songs with “Radio Cure” as the 11th song of night four — later apologizing with “I think I might have played a couple of repeats. Sorry!” Don’t worry Jeff, we forgive you. Please do this again next year…

3. David Ford @ The Bootleg Bar — June 26
After a momentary memory lapse about what night the show was, rush-hour crosstown traffic, and a foreclosed restaurant nearly caused us to skip seeing him we did eventually make it to the show with moments to spare. And I’m so glad we did. Funnest moment: He broke a guitar string, asked someone in the audience to fix it for him, then played a medley of piano covers to stall for time during the re-stringing. And a bonus lyrical moment in the live version of “Pour a Little Poison” that isn’t on the album: “I’ve got nobody but the voices on my radio.  They sing ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ they sing ‘Born to Run,’ they sing ’99 Problems But A Bitch Ain’t One’…”

4. The Felice Brothers @ Pappy & Harriets — October 10
If you ever get the chance to go to Pappy & Harriets, do it. Little honky tonk in the middle of nowhere. First time we ever went was to see Conor Oberst back in 2010 with the Felice Brothers as his backing band. The Felices opened that show too; that was the night my wife adopted them as her favorite band. Three years later they did it all again. The new songs are so great, anticipation for their new album this year is running very high.

5.  Mike Doughty @ The Fonda — November 8
It’s not a big secret that I’m a huge Doughty fan. I think I’ve seen every show he’s done in LA in the last 15 years, so going to watch him reclaim his back catalog out of retirement was a no brainer. I thought it would be “Mike Doughty’s Band plays Soul Coughing in a small rock style” — but in reality it was “Doughty does Soul Coughing Dubious Luxury style.” The show opened with the Ruby Vroom triplet of “Is Chicago” / “Sugar Free Jazz” / “Bus To Beelzebub” that briefly had me thinking he was literally going to play the whole Cough catalog in order. (Though the fact the “Beelzebub” is track five on the album should have tipped me off.)  Regardless, my sister and I were giddy the whole way through. (To be honest I did kinda miss hearing some solo Doughty too. But I’m psyched that next time around he’s more likely to drop “Janine” in mid-set without it being a big deal.)

November 22nd

November 22nd, 2013

Impromptu playlist for 11/22:

Remember Remember the 5th of November

November 5th, 2013

November 5th continues to be one of my favorite pseudo-holidays for obvious time travel geekery reasons.

In honor of that great red-letter date, here are a few BTTF tidbits found in Timely Persuasion.

Chapter 3:

After a year of constantly playing the Back to the Future soundtrack, my uncle took me to see Huey Lewis and the News.

Chapter 9:

I didn’t even need or want a DeLorean. Just a time bicycle would have made me a happy camper.

Chapter 17:

That was it. He confirmed that the future mother of his children actually existed, gave Nelson’s Mom the Heisman, renamed the album Quits, played one final show, and abruptly left the music business behind to seek out his density—I mean destiny—with my real mother.

Chapter 17: 

Still groggy, aching, and starving, I woke up on the couch with a figure hovering above me.

“Mom? Mom is that you?”

Acknowledgments:

Jeff Winston, Pamela Phillips, Henry DeTamble, Jud Elliott, Billy Pilgrim, Sam Deed, James Cole, John Titor, Dan Vasser, Livia Beale, Tru Davies, Daniel Eakins, Sam Beckett, Al Calavicci, Marty McFly, Emmett Brown, Bill S. Preston, Ted “Theodore” Logan, Hiro Nakamura, Eckels, Aaron, Abe, Will, Sherman, Mr. Peabody, and anyone else who has walked in their shoes.

It’s been so long there are probably a few more I can’t remember or readily find.  Check them out for yourself via Amazon, Apple, and/or online.

Re-imagined, Reissued, Remixed, Recovered

October 5th, 2013

My original plan wasn’t to review these two albums together, but when the synergy hit me I couldn’t pass it up.

Nirvana & Mike Doughty somehow managed to intertwine themselves with my musical DNA years ago and haven’t ever let go. Nevermind was my first favorite album and the one that pretty much made me who I am today. Doughty’s Skittish solo record dethroned it when I’d tell everyone I knew that “the guy from Soul Coughing has this amazing acoustic solo album!” Both artists left a heavy stamp on Timely Persuasion. By my unofficial count Nirvana got 14 allusions and a subplot about a time traveler trying to stop Kurt’s death, while Doughty got 21 allusions (10 solo & 11 SC) and his handwriting font used on Local Boy’s setlists and retirement letters. (Yeah, I’m not fanatical…)

And now they both put out records a week apart that let me revisit my misspent youth in new and interesting ways. Nirvana’s In Utero gets the 20th anniversary deluxe treatment highlighted by a new nifty alternate-history style Steve Albini mix. Doughty hits the reset button on his past band by re-imagining 13 songs from the Soul Coughing back catalogue in solo form on the greatly titled Circles Super Bon Bon Sleepless How Many Cans? True Dreams Of Wichita Monster Man Mr. Bitterness Maybe I’ll Come Down St. Louise Is Listening I Miss the Girl Unmarked Helicopters The Idiot Kings So Far I Have Not Found the Science (which are the names of all the songs included, but not the actual running order…).  Re-issues and re-covers in general tend to be a mixed bag with a touch of a bad name, but these manage to pull it off in differing ways.

When I heard about the In Utero deluxe edition I was more excited about spending some 20th anniversary time with the record than actually buying it again. I’d already bought it thrice in my life (on the day of original release, then again 6 months later when I found an import copy, noticed something was off about the back cover tracklist and excitedly realized it had a bonus track!, and finally about a year later when I found a bootlegged version billed as the Pachyderm Sessions with Albini’s mixes), already had all of the B-Sides (pre-box set from singles and compilations — I confess I bought The Beavis & Butt-head Experience the day it came out so I could hear Nirvana’s “I Hate Myself and Want to Die” song…), and never really found remastered or remixed versions of anything all that compelling. But when details of the mysterious “2013 Mix” started to emerge I was pretty intrigued.

The idea was pretty cool. This remix would be more about “exploring the roads not taken” by subbing in different guitar solos, vocal takes, and backing parts recorded originally but not used. Sort of an alternate history, second chance at mixing the album with 20 years of hindsight. The changes are relatively minor in the scheme of things, but I still smile when I catch one of them. “Serve the Servants” has a different guitar solo. “Dumb” no longer has a cello. “Heart-Shaped Box” has an extra harmony on the verse. “Very Ape” adds some more guitar feedback to the intro. But my favorite part of all are Kurt’s screams on “Scentless Apprentice.” I’ve always said that “Spank Thru” had my favorite studio version of a Cobain howl, but now there’s a new winner.

While the In Utero 2013 mix is about small differences, Mike Doughty went for some bigger changes with his album of re-imagined Soul Coughing songs. Soul Coughing covers used to be a big part of his solo shows, but they slowly dwindled as he had more of his own material until they evaporated altogether. Doughty later started discussing more openly how much he really hated his time in Soul Coughing and how the old songs brought back that pain, culminating with the release of his memoir, The Book of Drugs.

After reading the book I felt guilty about often referring to Doughty as “the guy from Soul Coughing” (as I did at the start of this post), but later realized that wasn’t really such a sin. I wasn’t calling him “one of the guys” from an old band, but specifically “THE GUY” — as in the one and only. In the eyes of my younger self it was his band, they were his songs, and he can and should take them with him to do whatever the heck he wants with him. So I was especially excited to learn he was taking them back in an attempt to reclaim them for himself and purge the demon of a dark time in his life.

The differences in the new Doughty versions vs. the old Soul Coughing versions vary a bit, but all in all I’m really digging the re-done versions. “Sleepless” loses the lo-fi intro I never really liked and gender swaps the personified sleep character to make the lyrics work better. I have a vague recollection of sitting in a car outside a party listening to the original “How Many Cans?” when a friend said “this song would be awesome if the music part was better.” Seems he was right. “True Dreams of Wichita” has always been one of my favorite songs by any artist, and the new version further cements it for me — even improving on it by nicely retconning the awkward “stand on the corner and bellow for mush” lyric with the far better “stand in the branches of a juniper bush.”  (Plus I love the inclusion of “I Miss The Girl” since the line “going down to Baltimore, going in an off-white Honda” is among the top utterances to slip out in my lifelong battle with lyrical tourette’s.)

Of course playing the comparison game sometimes exposes some questionable calls on the new takes. Does “Dumb” really benefit by taking away the cello? Was “Monster Man” really worth redoing when most of the lyrics were skipped? How would Kurt Cobain have felt about the whole reissue/anniversary type thing?  That’s a loaded question that’s pretty much impossible to answer. Doughty’s change of heart around revisiting his past illustrates that anyone’s perspective can shift — and that’s a good thing.

A Wiki Edit That Makes Me Sad

September 11th, 2013

This isn’t the kind of time travel I like :(

Benji Hughes – Wikipedia

February 2013 Edit:

2013-09-11 09.49.03 pm

August 2013 Edit:

2013-09-11 09.46.53 pm

Guess Thao & The Get Down Stay Down won’t have the competition for album(s) of the year I was hoping they would.

(Then again, Mike Doughty has this thing coming up…)

Outside Lands Recap

August 18th, 2013

In the spirit of my 2010 Coachella recap, here are some thoughts on last weekend’s Fester-esque trip to Outside Lands in San Francisco.

  • Arrived a little late on Friday, mostly getting the lay of the land while gearing up for Paul McCartney’s highly anticipated headlining set and fulfillment of my lifelong dream to see a Beatle live.  (Yes, I realize that in some regards this might be me.)
  • Band of Horses were ok, but not exactly what I expected. The National were more impressive and quite solid. But Sir Paul exceeded all expectations and then some.
  • I could go on and on but I’ll try not to, consolidating down to two points: If the reason I went to shows was to seek the perfect performance, I could stop now. (Don’t worry, I won’t.) And if you say your favorite band is anyone other than the Beatles, you are a liar.
  • Ok, a little bit more. Singing along to “Paperback Writer” was a transcendental life moment. As was “We Can Work It Out” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and “Hey Jude.”  Unexpected surprises included “Magical Mystery Tour,” “Your Mother Should Know,” “All Together Now,” “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” and “Day Tripper.” And my neck still hurts from banging my head to “Helter Skelter.”  Wow…
  • The Beer Lands & Wine Lands concepts were pretty cool, though I was most impressed with the special beers at the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp tent. Shawn Smith from Fester would have been in heaven — assuming he could get a wristband and some scrips…
  • I liked the location in Golden Gate Park better than the Empire Polo Field where they hold Coachella. Cool wooded walkways, a nice hillside view of the second stage, a fun old-timey side stage (complete with 3 card monte for a buck!) — plus it’s not 3 gajillion degrees out in the middle of the desert.
  • Day two highlights included Thao & the Get Down Stay Down (still holding the lead for my album of the year), Tallest Man on Earth, and the Head and The Heart.
  • The most fun of the whole weekend (outside of Paul) was the Bring the Rock show in the Barbary comedy tent at noon on Sunday. Quoting the perfect description: “Comics and Musicians tell funny stories about music and then…they rock.” The rocking was all cover songs (Replacements, Lucinda Williams, Stone Temple Pilots, Motörhead, Social Distortion) that loosely tied to the previous story. If this was a recurring thing in LA I’d go see it every month.
  • Day three became the inevitable festival lightning round day due to setlist conflicts. Got to see Camper Van Beethoven play “Take the Skinheads Bowling,” Fishbone cover “Date Rape” by Sublime, some kick-ass rocking from Deap Vally, and the first half of a fun set by Trombone Shorty.
  • Hall & Oates were a neat nostalgic trip, though I still can’t fathom how they could NOT play “Private Eyes” or “Kiss on My List.”
  • Rounding out the night Dawes were impressive and warrant a further listen, Willie Nelson made for nice hillside viewing, and I think I re-aggravated my “Helter Skelter” neck injury with some guilty pleasure rocking out to “Give It Away” at the end of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Next up on the belated Fester festival tour will be Way Over Yonder in October. See you there!

A Parallelogram

July 28th, 2013

“Purple parallelogram I got in Amsterdam, made me dream a dream I didn’t understand.” — The Lemonheads

Checked out time-travel play A Parallelogram this weekend and really dug it. Warning: Spoilers Below…

The play focuses on Bee, a thirty-something woman who recently met her time traveler future self that — ala Quantum Leap and/or Timely Persuasion — only she can see or hear. The first act intersperses an argument with Bee’s boyfriend Jay between musings by the two Bees on the future and why it can’t be changed, sprinkling in some fun replaying of the Bee & Jay scenes via a time travel inducing remote control. Older Bee eventually lets it slip that Jay is going to leave Bee because he thinks she’s crazy.

That leads us into the second act, where Jay visits Bee in the hospital. Older Bee is also here. To Jay she’s the doctor, but to young Bee she’s still older Bee and converses as such in a brilliantly clever bit of three-way dialogue. The big reveal here is that Bee may have a brain tumor, which calls into question whether or not the future Bee is real or a hallucination. This becomes the central idea for the rest of the play.

Some random thoughts, observations and ponderings:

(Again — heavy on the spoilers, so stop here if you don’t want anything else given away.)

  • The time travel bits during act one were a lot of fun and handled very well in a live setting.  Loved it every time Jay would walk into the bathroom and re-enter through the bedroom door replaying his previous scene.
  • At one point Bee reveals a tattoo of a blue jay on her arm for Jay, and future Bee simultaneously reveals the same tattoo to the audience.  Since Bee later ends up dating J.J., it would have been cool if future Bee had two blue jays tattooed on her arm. (It’s possible she did and I missed it, but that’s what I would have done.)
  • Older Bee’s monologue to the audience about the bird virus epidemic comes shortly after J.J.’s theory that birds evolved from dinosaurs and will one day regain their slot at the top of the food chain. Under the hallucination scenario, the timing works out that young Bee is making up the epidemic as older Bee is addressing the audience. This could be further supported by the way she tells the story, especially the “you’ll think I’m making this part up…” in the middle.
  • Related: At one point when older Bee is giving her monologue she talks with her hands a lot — and in the background young Bee is on the bed having a muted conversation mirroring the hand motions exactly. Brilliantly done.
  • Under the time travel scenario, you could argue that the presence of older Bee caused the chain of events that plays out in acts two and three in either classic “whatever happened, happened” style or the equally common “your solution was actually the cause…”
  • The bit with the missing TV remote control that young Bee later mistakes for the time travel remote was a nice touch that feeds both sides of the debate.

Though I always get giddy over time travel, I’m equally a fan of a well done mindf**k so this play delighted me from both angles.

Tying it back to my opening song lyric quote, ”Purple Parallelogram” was a song allegedly co-written by Evan Dando of the Lemonheads and Noel Gallagher of Oasis. It was slated to appear on the Lemonheads Car Button Cloth album, but was dropped at the last minute due to a request by Noel Gallagher.

Did it really happen, or did Evan Dando hallucinate the whole thing? Hmmm…