Odd Man Out

When I was a teenager I was pretty intimidated by hip hop music. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it. Some of it I liked quite a bit. But the problem for me is that I’m a pretty introverted guy for the most part. In conversation with friends and acquaintances I can hold my own, for sure. And in work situations I can be the take charge guy, but it wasn’t always like that. Growing up I preferred to not be in the limelight. I wasn’t the life of the party, nor was I the center of attention. I held court in my bedroom most of the time, either listening to countless hair metal and Rush cassettes or I was plunking on my guitar. Of course being a promising guitar slinger at 15 AND being an introvert was a scary prospect, too. Everyone wanted me to “play something, man!” No,….man. I preferred the solace of a dimly lit bedroom, headphones, and my guitar plugged into my Rockman. That’s how I rocked out.

IMG_2136So what does all this sharing and self reflection have to do with me and rap music? Well, even though I secretly craved to drop the beat and shut someone down in a rap fight that wasn’t my personality. I always felt rap and hip hop were for the extroverts. Those folks craving to be seen and heard. Those who could walk into a room full of strangers and leave that room with a room full of friends. And really, mainstream hip hop was(and maybe still is) a lot of bragging and bravado. Lots of machismo and misogynistic crap. I felt the beats and grooves weren’t enough to get me to sit at the hip hop table in the cafeteria. And really, a lot of the people at the time I was in high school listening to rap and hip hop were the douche bags that would push you from behind in the hallway going to class and say nasty things to girls that would’ve rather not heard it. These guys weren’t the best representation of the hip hop community, yet that’s all I had to go on back in 1991 in this godforsaken town. Still, I dug the Beastie Boys once Paul’s Boutique hit, and I liked Run DMC, LL Cool J, De La Soul, and Urban Dance Squad….secretly in my bedroom. Despite me being a quiet soul, I loved the beats and the grooves. Hip hop had the grooves that my pasty white, long-haired LA metal bands terribly lacked.

Well fast forward to, like, just last year when I discovered the world of instrumental hip hop. I was oblivious to the instrumental hip hop album. I guess it makes sense as these producers are trying to get performers to use their beats for their songs, so the producer makes an instrumental tape of their beats and shops it around in the hopes of a Snoop Dogg, Kanye, or Jay Z biting. Somewhere along the line guys like J Dilla, Flying Lotus, and DJ Shadow realize that these beat tapes sort of stand on their own. They can release these instrumental albums and people are gonna dig ’em, rhymes or not. Well for someone like me this is the best. I can get down to the grooves and not feel mildly embarrassed with overtly sexual or drug references while I’m picking up my son from school.

My love of the instrumental hip hop began with Flying Lotus. I quickly picked up most of his albums, with Los Angeles being the closest to a straight up instrumental hip hop album. That one concentrates on groove with a healthy dose of atmosphere throughout. Everything that came after was far more out there and, dare I say, psychedelic at times. I love all his records, but Los Angeles is my go-to for straight up groove and feel. Earlier in the year I picked up J Dilla’s Donuts. That one is killer, man. It feels like Miles Davis’ On The Corner processed through some urban time machine and spit out grittier and even groovier. It’s a testament to the soul of Detroit and J Dilla’s love of music. DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing… is yet another I find fascinating. It feels just as much like an indie record as it does a straight up instrumental hip hop album. I love the longer tracks on that one. I also think it’s DJ Shadow’s best record.

IMG_2138My newest find is Oddisee’s The Odd Tape. I first found out about Oddisee a couple of years ago when a friend recommended his album People Hear What They See. For me, that album is the perfect mix of smart lyrics, catchy wordplay, and great beats. He doesn’t do the violence, drugs, and sex thing in his lyrics. They’re socially conscious, which I appreciate. I also got into Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music that year as well…which in turn made me a huge Run The Jewels fan(a little more on the expletive side of things, so I listen to them on my headphones during workouts.

What I didn’t know was that Oddisee makes his own beats and has released a couple instrumental albums, one of which is the new The Odd Tape. The Odd Tape is very much soul-inflected. Musically it reminds me of the 70s, with a street soul and gritty groove vibe throughout. Oddisee doesn’t seem interested being hard or tough. His instrumental tracks have an upward swing to them. You can’t help but feel good listening to them. He’s a guy that I can dig both his instrumental tracks as well as his tracks with rhymes on them.

IMG_2135So I’m still that painfully awkward pale guy, but I feel I’ve loosened up a bit. These instrumental hip hop records have opened a whole new world of groove to this guy. And also a whole slew of albums I can play in the car with my kids and not feel embarrassed over as well.

And really, I’m not nearly as pale as I used to be.

Favorite Albums of 2016 : Half Way Edition

Whether you want to admit it or not we’re half way through the year. 2016 is in its middle age. Nearly over the hill and graying at its temples. It’s wondering if its made the right choices in life. It’s considering buying a sports car and taking skydiving lessons. It’s feeling very self conscious of its receding hair line and growing pants size, too.

Okay, I guess years don’t age like me us humans do. A year doesn’t care how slow or fast it moves. It just moves. So, we lads and lassies have to make the most of those months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, and seconds that our current year provides us with. Besides family vacations, trips to the cinema, and when the school year starts and ends, album releases tend to leave their mark quite significantly on me. They singe in my memory moments and feelings that act as these points of reference I can go back to years from now. This year, so far, the album releases have been pretty phenomenal to my ears, more so that 2015(sorry 2015…you get an “A” for effort.) So without further delay, here’s my ten favorite albums of the year…so far.

sunship10. Mythic Sunship : Ouroboros

Ever since 2014 the El Paraiso record label have made quite an impression on me. With releases by Causa Sui, Psicomagia, Jakob Skott, Jonas Munk, Papir, Rasmus Rasmussen, Brian Ellis, and probably a few others I can’t remember at the moment this Danish music collective puts out solid music on the regular. This year is no different.

Mythic Sunship is a raw, noisy psych rock outfit from Denmark that like expansive, instrumental jams. Ouroboros, their debut record, is one hell of an introduction. “Year of the Serpent” and “Ophidian Rising” are guitar explorations of the highest order, mixing stoner rock stalwarts with spacier vibes, while the nearly 22 minute closer “Leviathan” is a dirge-y explosion of feedback and menace.

If you dig your musical explorations on the noisy and interplanetary side, Ouroboros is for you.

atomic9. Mogwai : Atomic

It took me a few years to find my way to Mogwai, but once I did there was no looking back. Their newest, Atomic, is a reworking of a score they wrote for a recent BBC documentary about the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Having not seen the doc I’m can’t compare what’s in that film to what’s on the new album, but I can say Atomic plays like a real deal Mogwai record. All subtle movements and cathartic explosions of noise, the album uses the band’s recent heavier use of synthesizers to their full advantage. Mogwai have always used their use of restraint and release to their advantage and this album is no different.

Another win for these Scottish noisemakers in my book.

David-Bowie-Blackstar8. David Bowie : Blackstar

As this year continues to roll along it feels the need to keep taking some of our most beloved and one-of-a-kind artists along with it. The first(and arguably) most painful loss was the death of David Bowie. Here was a guy that despite a cancer diagnosis and his own pending death looming in the shadows he continued to create. A mere 48 hours after the release of his newest album, Blackstar, the man was gone. He left this gift of an album at our feet and then disappeared into the ether.

You may not have dug every phase of his career, but each time out Bowie was innovating and reshaping the artist we thought we knew. Blackstar, along with his previous album The Next Day, feel like records where the persona David Bowie and the man David Jones finally met in the studio and collaborated beautifully, each accepting the other for who they were. Blackstar, in retrospect, feels like a goodbye album; a tip of the hat to a life led fully and without fear. It’s an album left for us fans to comfort us. “I Can’t Give Everything Away” is both heartbreaking and ominously genuine. It’s safe to say Mr. Jones that you left this earth with still much intact for safe keeping.

lennon claypool7. The Lennon Claypool Delirium : Monolith Of Phobos

If you were to have told me 10 years ago that Sean Ono Lennon and Les Claypool were going to make an album together and that I would love it I would’ve said you were crazy. Well, I would’ve been dead wrong 10 years ago because Mr. Lennon and Mr. Claypool have indeed made an album together and  I do indeed love it.

Monolith Of Phobos is the result of a three week hang and jam session between Lennon and Claypool at Claypool’s home studio located at his California ranch. The resulting record is a mix of 60s psychedelia, Crimson-esque prog, funky grooves, and Claypool’s typical gaggle of weirdos and creeps all rolled into a very palatable songbook. If you have the gene that allows you to love Primus and can get over the fact that Sean Ono Lennon sounds a HELL of a lot like his dad, then you need to treat your senses to this nugget of beautiful weirdness. “Mr. Wright”, “Oxycontin Girl”, and “Captain Lariat” await your arrival.

denim6. White Denim : Stiff

White Denim can be overly caffeinated at times. There are moments in their discography where you want to just yell at the stereo “Hey! Settle down, okay??” Of course that would be crazy because the band can’t hear you, but as good as they are as a rock and roll band that virtuosity and energy can be a little distracting. On their last album, Corsicana Lemonade, the band seemed to find a groove and stayed true to it. There were outbursts of energy for sure, but it all felt contained and honed in. Stiff continues that vibe rather well. The album is one tight groove after another with a healthy dose of soulful pondering thrown in for good measure. “Holda You(I’m Psycho)” sounds like The Allman Brothers on hyperdrive while “Ha Ha Ha Ha(Yeah)” holds court in a monarchy of absolute groove.

Drop the needle, groove, repeat.

John-Carpenter-Lost-Themes-2-Album5. John Carpenter : Lost Themes II

There’s nothing better than seeing one of your artistic heroes have a second artistic and creative wind. Five years ago John Carpenter came across in interviews as tired, a little bitter, and indifferent regarding his own cinematic achievements. He seemed all but ready to retire into a cloud of obscurity somewhere in Northern California, cashing residual checks from DVD and Blu Ray sales and whatever he made off those horrible remakes of his beloved Halloween, The Thing, and (blech…gag) The Fog. But then a couple years ago Sacred Bones announced they were releasing an album of original music by the Master Of Horror and his son. Lost Themes was played as score ideas that were never used in any films and the record was phenomenal. Darkly lit and synth-structured tracks that could’ve easily scored something from Carpenter back in the late 70s or early 80s it was the shot in the ass Carpenter needed to find that artistic spark once again.

With Lost Themes II he sounds totally in the groove. The songs are completely formed musical narratives. Carpenter, along with his son has put out a beautifully structured instrumental record that can soundtrack whatever you have playing in your head, no movie ticket or overpriced popcorn required. Just your imagination and maybe a beer.

explosions4. Explosions In The Sky : The Wilderness

I love it when a band I love can reinvent themselves without sacrificing their essence and who they are at the core. Explosions In The Sky have done that on The Wilderness. This album feels like a band revitalized and re-focused on the most vital part of making art: making art that moves the artist. I think EiTS could’ve continued to make records in their past canon over and over again and fans would’ve continued to eat it up, happily even. But that sort of thing is what turns great bands into shells of artists. The Wilderness has a sense of urgency to it that something like Take Care, Take Care, Take Care seemed to be lacking in. The mix of electronics into the EiTS fold seems to have been a shot in the arm for these Texans. Tracks like “Tangle Formations”, “Logic Of A Dream”, and “Disintegration Anxiety” build on tension and build up and give way to breathtaking codas.

The Wilderness is a masterpiece and the best from Explosions In The Sky(so far.)

dust3. Jakob Skott : All The Colours Of The Dust

Man, nobody is making drum and synth records quite like Jakob Skott. You’ve got bands like Zombi and Pinkish Black that make some great, great albums in that area of musical expertise, but there’s more prog than groove with those cats. Skott on the other hand is a master drummer by trade, so bringing the groove is first and foremost. He makes these noisy, skronky worlds with analog synths and then carries them atop these muscular, jazz-inflected rhythms that take them to another level. In 2014 he released two of these drum/synth cosmic battle records that I feel created a whole new genre of instrumental music. With this year’s All The Colours Of The Dust he continues to build upon his mountain of music momentum and created yet another cosmically funky world where the machines have taken over and the only thing standing in the way between human extinction and total robot domination is a man and his drums. “Age of Isotopes”, “Iron Nebula”, and “The Variable” swiftly kick you in the teeth and launch your psyche into hyperdrive.

Sheer musical glee.

radiohead2. Radiohead : A Moon Shaped Pool

My brain is still reckoning with this album, honestly. There’s much to say but I’m not ready to say it yet. I will. I can say these songs haunt my skull and this album feels and sounds like the most earnest thing this band has made in years. It breathes like In Rainbows, it complicates and computes like an analog Kid A, and has the dust, wear, and wrinkles of a well-aged book.

This one opens up a little more with each listen. Stay tuned.

black mountainAnd No. 1, Black Mountain : IV

At the beginning of the year if I had been told that out of all the albums released this year the one I’d get the most out of was the new Black Mountain I’d a said you were nuts. Nuts, I say! Well, I stand corrected to the imaginary Greek chorus that spoke of my Black Mountain love. IV is just an absolutely outstanding and brilliant LP that covers all the bases. Proggy, epic jams, shots of punk-ish rock and roll, folksy acoutic numbers, heavily atmospheric synths, and as of at this moment my favorite song of the year, “Crucify Me”. As I said in my initial review, this song reminds me a lot of Wilco’s “Poor Places” off of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. There’s something timeless about this song and for me it encapsulates everything that is great about this Canadian band.

It took me years to come around to them, but consider me a super fan Black Mountain.


Okay, so this is it. It’s been an interesting year for me personally. Lots of quietly significant moments, and this list of albums have been a huge part in soundtracking those moments. This is one of those years that seems to be producing some absolutely incredible music. I haven’t been disappointed yet(well, except for maybe that horrible vinyl copy of A Moon Shaped Pool I received) and hopefully that trend will continue. I’m sure this list will change a bit by year’s end, but for now these records are rocking my world.

How about you? How’s your musical year been?

 

Dream Baby Dream

Alan Vega of Suicide died on Saturday July 16th, 2016 in his sleep. He was 78.

I didn’t find myself getting into Suicide until just a few years ago. Before that I’d only heard “Ghost Rider” a few times and always found myself drawn to the dark vibes and propulsive synth, as well as the whispered wheezes that came through the mix that turned out to be Vega’s narrative about his favorite Marvel character. Once I picked up Suicide’s debut record just three years ago I got to hear just how forward-thinking Vega and Martin Rev really were. They created this simplistic kind of future punk that was part beatnik poetry and part steampunk nihilism. Their songs were moved along by rickety drum machines and what sounded like pump organs covered in bloodied leather. Suicide was a musical creation at the freaky and filthy crossroads of doo wop, industrial, gothic, electronic, and punk rock. There was nothing like them before or after.

Alan Vega seemed to be the tortured soul at the heart of Suicide and Rev seemed to be the guy creating the dark and pulsating incantations that freed that soul. Vega sang songs that ran the gamut between teen love, street life, and murder ballads, with the latter coming in the form of “Frankie Teardrop”. That song in-particular is one of those songs that elicits such violent and dark visions it’s hard to get through the whole of it. Vega’s pained outbursts throughout the song only go to solidify the narrative of murder and remorse. Then in the next breath Alan Vega is singing “Dream Baby Dream”, a overly optimistic track about following your dream(was it tongue-in-cheek? I don’t know.) Even Bruce Springsteen covered this song several times on one of his recent tours.

Whenever I think of Alan Vega and Suicide I think of the dark New York. The wet, grimy, and dangerous New York of the 1970s. Taxi Driver New York. That’s the New York that influenced Vega. That’s what fueled his storytelling. The sordid, Abel Ferrara, sweat drenched Big Apple that was rotting from the inside out and that filth influenced a whole generation of artists. Alan Vega and Suicide were one of the first to cover their canvas in blood, sweat, fuel, and cigarette ash, all with an earnest and equal love of 50s pop and 60s avante art at the heart of their music.

Keep those dreams burnin’ forever
Keep those dreams burnin
Forever…
And ever..

 

Summer’s Almost Gone

As usual the summer seems to be slipping through my fingers like sand. It promised me back in June that it wouldn’t be in a hurry to leave. “Yeah J, I’m sticking around for a bit. I know I blew through last year but this time it’s different”, Summer distinctly told me back at the beginning of June when the kids left the 2015-2016 school season behind them. But of course -like always- I’m sitting here typing with the faint smell of gunpowder barely making a dent in my nostrils as the charred, plastic carcasses of Independence are slowly not decomposing at various points in my front yard. That mid point summer holiday, the Fourth of July, is but a distant and unseasonably cool memory for us now. The kids are on their final countdown to going back to those hallowed halls of higher education and I’m left wondering where the f**k did the time go?

The swift shell game that time plays with me on a daily basis seems to sting a little more with each passing year. Looking for that elusive “one more minute” is a feeble attempt, albeit on a much smaller scale, to steal away just a few more precious memories before the man in the bright nightgown comes a-knocking I suppose. I’m not worried about death. I just long for the softer moments to linger around a bit longer, that’s all. Maybe it’s that I’m getting(and feeling)older, or having semi-serious surgery back in March that’s put me in a such a melancholy state. I want to savor the moments, but when savoring the moments as they’re happening you pull yourself out of the game, so to speak. You’re concentrating on how you’re feeling, and not just going with it. I guess when I’m looking back nostalgically on holidays, family trips, an afternoon at the cinema, laughing hysterically with the kids for no particular reason at all, a fantastic 20th anniversary meal with the wife, or an evening stroll along the beach then I should be happy. Happy I was in it. Happy that in those moments I wasn’t taking anything for granted. Happy that despite how quickly summer arrives and then leaves, that the time spent was not wasted.

We lit the fuse. We watched it burn down and ignite the colors, explosions, and controlled chaos high above our heads. It was glorious while it lasted.

35 days until summer leaves and school begins. We still have time to blow some more s**t up.

The Spice of Life

It was nearly two years ago that I happened upon an article about Visions of Dune,dune front an album by a mysterious artist named simply Z that was getting the reissue treatment. Now what caught my eye was that this album was a heavy synth concept album based on Frank Herbert’s Dune. The idea of a concept record based on Dune was intriguing enough, but after listening to some bits online I knew I needed to preorder this album as quickly as I could.

Turns out Z is the alias for musician and electronic composer Bernard Szajner. He’s of Polish Jewish descent, but spent a good portion of his life in France. Szajner was a pioneer of both electronic music and the visual arts. He created the laser harp(not sure what it is but pics of it are pretty cool.) He made 5 albums before retiring from music, but his first and to my ears his best is Visions of Dune.

I didn’t grow up a fan of Dune, to be honest. The book was a little too heady for me in school(I preferred my science fiction a little more ironic and humanistic…so Kurt Vonnegut was my guy.) I did watch the Lynch film and was even more confused by it, but I appreciated the scope Herbert had given his world. I still plan on giving that book another shot at some point, just not today. Thankfully I have Visions of Dune to give me the Cliff Notes version.

Visions of Dune came at just the right time for me. The summer of 2014 was spent walking and jogging outdoors in the high Midwest heat and this heavy synth record was a great soundtrack for sweating and heat exhaustion. As much as I love heavy synth, even I have to admit that a good portion of the music out there is equal parts cool and cheesy. It’s a fine line with synth music. One misstep with a filter or arpeggiated note and you go from dark and foreboding to something you’d hear on a Saturday morning cartoon from the 1970s. What’s so good about Szajner’s album is that the entire record brings a moody and hefty vibe. He seems to commit to the aural journey he’s promised to take us on. I think a big plus here is the mix of synth with drums and guitar. The drums add a real street-driven, urban groove to the songs they pop up on. The guitar isn’t schmaltzy or dated, either. It’s used sparingly enough that it feels more like it’s there to back the Z vision beautifully. Production-wise the record is tight and feels like a continuous, wavering movement. On the vinyl the tracks seem to bleed into one another, giving the album a constantly flowing vibe, like scenes in a film. Bernard Szajner, or Z, seems to have built these pieces in a very cinematic way.

The music ranges from atmospheric soundscapes to more groove-oriented songs that have a real rhythmic flow to them. Tracks like “Dune”, “Bashar”, and “Thufir Hawat” are these exploratory set pieces that pull you into Herbert’s world(as well as Szajner’s interpretation of it.) “Bene Gesserit” is some seriously moody synthesizer. It sounds like an underwater doppler radar with some theremin thrown in for good measure. “Fremen” sounds more like traveling through a wormhole than overlooking the expanse of some alien desert, but I’m not complaining here. There’s also some seriously groovy drums and synth interplay that pop up halfway through. Tracks like this are what separate Z from the rest of the heavy synth guys and gals at the time. The digital version of Visions of Dune comes with two bonus tracks, “The Duke” and “Spice”, both I wish could’ve made it onto the vinyl as they truly help to push the album along. “Spice” especially is a tasty morsel for the ears.

dune backSince I procured this lost masterpiece I dug into Szajner’s other records and while they were interesting none of them had the flow and, for lack of a better word, vision that Visions of Dune had. Maybe the fact that Bernard Szajner was so inspired by the story that his own artistic drive was pushed to greater heights on this album than on his later work. What do I know? I could completely wrong(psst…I’m not.)Bernard Szajner is up there with guys like Jarre, Schulze, Froese, and(insert your favorite synth wizard here), and yet I’d never even heard of the guy until two years ago. I found the German synth composer/builder Rudiger Lorenz that same summer and felt very much the same way about him. Underrated and criminally overlooked.

2014 was the summer of synth.

Visions of Dune is going to be one of those albums that I will probably cherish and fetishize for years and years to come. It’s the perfect mix of spacey expanse and intimate, buzzing electronics. I listen to this album and it takes me on a journey. I may not be that knowledgeable regarding Frank Herbert’s Dune, but I’m quite fond of Bernard Szajner’s Dune.

Editor’s Note: After doing some research in regards to Frank Herbert, I realize I need to look into his work. Seems to be a very interesting character to say the least. 

 

 

Summer Vacation Part Two : Rock And Roll Hall of Fame

July 9th:

So last night, after 30 minutes of driving around searching for a decent pizza place to eat in the general area of Vermilion, OH we came across Olde Towne Pizza House in nearby Amherst. It was worth the road trip as the place was perfect. Located in a beautiful old brick building right in the quaint downtown of Amherst, the atmosphere was super chill and it was perfect place to wind down after the 4 hour drive of the day. I had two amazing beers, a pilsner and some sort of hoppy, fruity beauty at 7.2%. The wife and my son and I split a pizza while the girls each got sandwiches. Everyone left full.

IMG_2064Before we headed back to the hotel we stopped down at the beach and watched a storm roll in over Lake Erie as the last bit of sun dropped into the horizon. It was great way to end the day. Despite the sun dropping out of sight the enormity of Lake Erie still sunk in. There was a storm off into the distance and a pretty amazing lightning storm would occasionally light up the Ohio sky. It was pretty awe-inspiring.

After our complimentary breakfast we hit the road for the Hall of Fame. We were maybe 40 minutes away, so the ride went quickly. Once we could see the Cleveland Indians stadium we knew we were getting close.

IMG_2052I wasn’t aware as to how old of a city Cleveland was. It was founded in 1796, which makes it a pretty old f*****g city. As we drove through some of the neighborhoods it felt like a city with history. Lots of beautiful, old brick homes and gorgeously ornamented churches, the town in some spots seemed to have been frozen in time from nearly 50 years ago. I told my wife as we drove through these storied, Midwest streets I couldn’t help but think of the movie Major League. Growing up in the 80s we had a copy of that movie on VHS and it was watched many, many times. It was a great baseball flick, but it was also a pretty great portrait of Cleveland as well. I wasn’t a sports kid, but that movie made me nostalgic for ballparks, homeruns, hot dogs, peanuts, and Cracker Jacks.

IMG_2085But anyways, on with the show.

As we arrived at the R&R Hall of Fame I was blown away by how different the area was. When my wife and I were there in 1997 it seemed as if the Hall of Fame was the only thing in the area. I didn’t remember the Science Center next door, and I certainly didn’t remember the Cleveland Browns stadium that was located just across the street. I guess things change a bit in nearly 20 years, but I digress. One thing that hadn’t changed was the building itself. It still looked like a glass pyramid sitting just off the lake. It’s still an impressive construct, and once you get inside it’s even more so.

IMG_2088So the Hall of Fame has 7 levels. Each one has its own theme. The lower level is kind of the history of Rock and Roll. Presley, Beatles, and Stones exhibits are showcased down here, with an impressive display of artifacts and films playing in each of the areas. There’s also a Hendrix display, Music of the Midwest, Sub Pop, punk, and heavy metal exhibits. For me, this was the most extensive and intriguing area of the Hall of Fame. There was still so much I wasn’t able to take in down there. The main level is where you enter, then the second floor has some interactive kiosks with some one hit wonder info, a Les Paul exhibit(sooo cool), as well as a ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ music video montage(my son said it felt like subliminal brain washing…he’s not far off.) I believe the Beastie Boys exhibit was on this floor as well. The third level is the Hall of Fame section, complete with a movie theater highlighting past inductions and a darkened hallways that has a wall of signatures of past inductees. The last two floors are for temporary exhibits. Inside these floors were exhibits that dealt with political strife in music, artists writing about political issues in their music, ranging from Dylan, and The Clash to Green Day to Kendrick Lamar. Both activism and patriotism were represented here, which I liked. I side more on activism, but I appreciate having both sides represented.

IMG_2095So what were highlights for me you ask? Well, a section talking about the misappropriation of rock songs used in political campaigns was pretty interesting. Reagan using Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”, or Paul Ryan saying Rage Against The Machine was his favorite band truly showed that politicians pay little to know attention to the world around them. I loved seeing the Midwest exhibit and having bands like Wilco, Husker Du, The Replacements, Liz Phair, and Afghan Whigs represented. Seeing the Strat that Jimi Hendrix played “The Star Spangled Banner” on at Woodstock was pretty awe-inspiring. Getting to gawk at one of Angus Young’s schoolboy uniforms, or a crazy double neck Flying V(whose it was I can’t recall at the moment.) There was this incredibly gorgeous bass of John Paul Jones’ that was there, too. It looked like it was outer space. Really, there were so many incredible instruments there it’s hard to remember them all(John Lennon’s Mellotron and his famous Epiphone Casino he played on the recording of “Revolution” and the rooftop concert.)

IMG_2093I guess the biggest thing for me was sharing this place with my kids. I know my son was pretty bored a half hour in, but I think there are things he’ll take away from this trip. He thought Bo Diddley’s guitar was pretty cool, and the Beastie Boys exhibit, too. He also thought the Wilco guitar was pretty excellent. My oldest seemed to get the most out of this trip. I guess being 16 years old she’s soaked up the most music out of the three of them. She was super thrilled to see some of Beyonce’s dresses(she’s a fan…wanna make something of it??) She also seemed really interested in the more political exhibits, which made me a proud papa. My 13-year old didn’t complain and went along with it, which I greatly appreciated. Overall, my wife and I were extremely impressed with the Hall of Fame and with what our kids got out of everything. We definitely want to come back again without the brood so we can take our time and let it all soak in a little better.

IMG_2099It’s easy to be cynical about a place like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and at times I’ve been cynical about it(Green Day over NIN? Madonna??), but for the most part I still have great respect for the institution and for what the original intent of the Hall of Fame was(and possibly still is.) There’s plenty of blues and R&B artists that never got even a pinch of respect until the Hall of Fame put there names up on that wall. With every questionable inductee, there’s three or four obscure artists that you may have never heard of but should have. It’s gone from a museum to a business, for sure, but I think the original intent and spirit of the place lives on. It was a trek I’m glad the wife and I took the kids on. Indoor pool, hot tub, pizza, and bookstore perusing helped round out the trip quite nicely, but at the heart of it all was rock and roll.

Always, rock and roll.

Editor’s Note : My camera battery died so I was only able to take a handful of photos when we first arrived. I have more on my wife’s camera. I will post those later in the week. 

IMG_2061

Pizza, Beer, ‘n Rock and Roll : How I Spent My Summer Vacation

July 8th(Part One)

Sitting poolside at the Vermilion, OH Holiday Inn Express and the chlorine is burning my nostrils. All the kids are happily dropping into the 5′ deep water like anvils in a tub of jell-o and they seem to be quite content to do this for the remainder of the day. I’m opting out of the pool. I’m not really much of a swimmer. In fact I don’t swim. As a kid with perpetual ear infections/problems(I had ear surgery a total of 6 times from the age of 5 to 11) I was never allowed to get water in my ears. I even had to put cotton balls in my them with Silly Putty over that to completely seal my ear canal when I’d take a bath. Yeah, I was a freak. So given my medical freakness I never learned to swim. Thankfully I never developed sea legs, or a taste for the butterfly stroke.

So, I keep to myself poolside, typing on my Chromebook like some dorky dad in Birkenstocks, un-chlorinated swim trunks, and a ratty t-shirt while the kids(and now my wife) get their Atlantian on. The reason for this overnight stay is a short-but-sweet getaway for the Hubner clan to the Buckeye state to visit the one and only rock and roll mecca, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame located in that dirty city located along the Cuyahoga River, Cleveland, Ohio. This is the first time we’ve taken the kids to the Hall of Fame, and the first time the wife and I have been here since 1997. When we visited as still newlyweds we got to see the John Lennon exhibit, which included guitars, his Bentley, hand-written lyrics, and his famous wire-rimmed glasses. There was also a Grateful Dead exhibit, complete with a psychedelic VW van, probably tie-dyed items and several bad acid trips bottled in mason jars from 30 years of Grateful Dead shows. There was also a 12-string Rickenbacker owned by Roger McGuinn that the guitar neck would light up.

It was a pretty cool experience to see 40+years of rock and roll history under one roof. I was still pretty young and naive to the politics and bullshit that went into the nomination process, the “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” mystery of how someone gets the nod, and sadly how the artists are treated throughout the whole process. I guess what I’m saying is that this isn’t quite the magical experience it was for me nearly 20 years ago. Still, I’ll never not love rock and roll and the effect it’s had on me. So I want my children to experience the Hall of Fame just once in their lives. See the artifacts that resonated with millions and pushed a greasy Midwest kid like me to beg my mom and dad for a guitar and lessons. I want them to see Rob Halford’s leather hat and Nikki Six’ studded dog collar. Maybe some bits from the British Invasion, which informed so many bands in the 70s and beyond. If we could even just lay our eyes upon Jeff Lynne’s magical beard from 1978, maybe my son’s blindness would be cured(my son’s not blind really, but you’d think he was by how filthy his bedroom gets.) I guess I’m just hoping that hitting up the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will spark something in my younglings. Maybe they’ll want to pick up one of my guitars when we get home. Or maybe sit at the keyboard and play the opening chords to “Smoke On The Water”. Maybe one of them will have the urge to slam out a sloppy Neil Peart-esque drum fill on my lousy Ludwig 5-pc Rocker set. Hell, maybe that Beyonce exhibit will bring out the inner Diva in one of my girls. Who knows?

All I know is sitting poolside, dreaming of the Hubner Family Rock Experience beats the hell out of walking around Cedar Point in 85 degree heat with 110% humidity.