Conversations with My Brother

I went on a road trip with my brother.  I will have stories and pictures as soon as I get around to uploading them but for now, a conversation from the car:


(Leonard Cohen is playing on the iPod.)

Scott:  Leonard Cohen songs are all about sex.  Even that really popular one..what was it?

Me:     Hallelujah.

Scott:  Yeah.  Hallelujah.  It sounds all Biblical and stuff, but it’s really about sex.

Me:     No.  It’s a break up song.  I was just talking about this on Facebook.  Everyone thinks it’s about a religious experience, but I swear, it’s a break up song.

Scott:  It’s about sex.

Me:     It talks about sex and uses religious symbolism.  But it’s a break up song.

Scott:  Hang on.  “She tied you to the kitchen chair, she broke your throne and she cut your hair….”  that’s clearly Biblical.

Me:      A Biblical break up.  “And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of Song…”

Scott:   …damn.  It’s a break up song.

Me:     It is possible that I think everything is a break up song.

Scott:  No.  It’s a break up song.


(Two days later.  “A Thousand Kisses Deep” is on the iPod.)

Scott:  Damn.  They’re all break up songs.

A few months ago, Chicago lost its alternative radio station.  There aren’t very many rock stations left, and Q101 was a Gen X staple.  If I remember correctly, it launched the summer that I left for college.  I had two clues that it was fading:

  1. Each December, they would run the top 100 songs of each year they had been on the air, and listeners could vote on their favorite year.  Those 100 songs would be played again on New Years Eve.  The same year’s songs won every single time.  That would be 1994.  The #1 song was “Closer” – Nine Inch Nails.  They stopped that particular holiday event.
  2. Joy and I were talking about Q101 and she commented, “All their songs are old.”  I immediately denied it, but then I started noticing.  
Well.  Music was just better in the 90’s.  Or something.  Damn, we are old.
So.  Some conglomerate decided to kill Q101 and start an FM news radio station.  But in its final week, all the old DJs started calling in and they would talk about music and antics and I remembered how many of them I liked.  
I remembered hearing that Q101 would live on, but I hadn’t actually gone online and played the live stream.  Someone mentioned it on my twitter feed, and I clicked over.
It is Q101 music. With no DJs.  And no commercials!  Some people are trying to build its online presence and perhaps get it back on the air.  (You know what’s playing right now?  Limp Bizkit covering George Michael!  Ha!) So.  Facebook.  Twitter. Check it out.
I swear, I am listening more now than when they were on the air.  Apparently, I am not the only one:
“96,000+ listeners in September….GREW to 156,000+ in October! Thank you for listening to!!!!”

I could do without the multiple exclamation points.  

So, now I listen to whenever I am at home, online and not otherwise audio-occupied.  I listened to it when I was at the library.  I listened when I was in Washington!


I love the Internet.

Something about Music noticed something.  Back in the day, before Out of Time and definitely before Green, the only radio station in Chicago that played R.E.M. was WXRT – 93.1.  It seems that we have come full circle, because it is pretty much the only station that is playing R.E.M. now.

Not that R.E.M. is anything to get excited about these days.

WXRT, however, has introduced me to several bands.  Concrete Blonde is a memorable one – that was back in high school.  Transiberian Orchestra.  And now The National.  I heard “Sorrow” on the radio and it reminded me a bit of Leonard Cohen, so I looked it up on iTunes when I got home.  I didn’t like it enough to buy a whole album, so I paid my 99 cents for the single and went on with my happy day.  A couple of weeks later, I heard “Bloodbuzz Ohio” on WXRT.  I didn’t catch the name of the song, but I liked it a lot and was pretty sure it was the same voice so I bought the whole album.

I don’t normally buy entire albums on iTunes.  I still like CDs, mainly because I play them in the car.  (Yeah, yeah.  I should hook up the iPod to the car.  I’m having trouble with that.  Back off.)  You know how you kind of have to let a new album sort of sink in to your head?  I do that on my morning commute.  But this sucker – High Violet is the title – is sinking into my head just from randomly letting it play sometimes when I am online.  They are weird.  Lyrics like, “I was afraid I’d eat your brains.  ‘Cause I’m evil.”  So I decided they required a plug.

And thanks to WXRT.

Night Castle, by Trans-Siberian Orchestra

I believe I mentioned that I had pre-ordered – on CD, no less – the new release from Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  It is a 2-disk rock opera called Night Castle.  TSO is best known for its Christmas-themed rock operas.  You know that commercial with the house and the holiday lights that rock out to music?  That was TSO.  You know that rock version of “Carol of the Bells”?  That was actually in an earlier rock opera called Dead Winter Dead.  I believe the song was called “Sarajevo 12/24”, but anyway, that was them, too.  Although now that I am thinking about it, that might have been Savatage, Paul O’Neill’s other band. 

Whatever.  You know what I am talking about and I am too lazy to check my iTunes right now.

So.  Night Castle.  Just before I started writing, I remembered that I hadn’t finished reading the liner notes yet.  They contain the narrative of the story, in addition to the lyrics.  Then I decided that the music should stand on its own merits.  As if I really know anything about music.  A good story?  I know something about that.  Good music?  Not so much.

What has attracted me to TSO has been that they take old, familiar classical tunes and turn them into hard rock so that we hear it in a whole new way.  So I guess what they do is more “arranging” than “composing” but I sure don’t care.  And I don’t think Beethoven minds, either.  In fact, I am pretty sure that Beethoven would appreciate the new audience.

The instrumental arrangements were great, as usual.  I thought the vocals were rather hit-or-miss, though. 
And also, something about this piece sounded a bit…recycled.  TSO absolutely recycles its own stuff, and that’s ok.  In fact, I am pretty sure “Sarajevo 12/24” is on one of the Christmas albums.  But I still felt like I have heard it all before, particularly with some of the cheesier lyrics.  “You are the star that is wished upon” is a good example.  I clicked into the reviews at to find out if I am all jaded or insane or just plain wrong.  Instead, there was some validation.

Bottom line:  not bad.  But not Beethoven’s Last Night, either.

I should go finish reading the narrative now.

The Other MJ

I was in the car on the way to the library. I flipped radio stations and The Mix was playing Billie Jean.

Weird, but cool. So there I am with the windows down and the sun roof open in the 95 degree heat and all summertime happy playing Billie Jean in the car.

Of course, you know by now what happened next. The song ended and Brian the Whipping Boy informed me that Michael Jackson was dead.


Of course, Jackson had gotten so weird and I hadn’t listened to his music in so long. I remember buying the HIStory cds in college. I played them once and didn’t look at them again until I went on my digital storage binge a few months back.

So I parked across the street from the library and headed into the building. There was a Jeep stopped at the light. Windows down, roof open, blaring Beat It.

I had a little moment. Maybe it was just the Gen X time warp back to 1983 when MTV was MTV.

My dad asked me not long ago whether I thought Michael Jackson was a child molester. My answer was something like, “I believe that he believes he is innocent. But clearly, something is not right.”

I think of that now because before I start reading all of the Internet gossip (I admit, when I heard that he was in L.A. at the time, my first thought was a botched plastic surgery), I would like to say that I hope when the drama is over we will all just remember that the music was good, the videos were great and that Michael Jackson was once a very talented young man.

And this is how I would like to remember him (of the things online that will still embed):


I refuse to shop at Wal-Mart. Mostly it is because I have read an awful lot about the way the corporation treats employees and I do not approve. I also learned – in school – about the Wal-Mart model of vendor relationships, which are designed to keep the prices low. I remember thinking that Wal-Mart sounded to me like a big corporate bully.

(She says as she types in MS Word for publication in her Google blog).

However. I have always supported Wal-Mart’s decision not to carry certain types of entertainment that it finds graphic or offensive (or whatever). Not because I believe in censorship, but because I believe in capitalism. If Wal-Mart thinks something is dirty, and doesn’t want to sell something dirty, then Wal-Mart can choose not to sell it: just as I can choose not to shop at Wal-Mart.

What has happened, though, is that Wal-Mart will say, “OK, Eminem, we’ll sell your CD if you clean it up to our standards.” Is that ok?

Hm. I still think it’s acceptable. Lame, perhaps, but not evil. No one is making an artist change his or her work. Just saying that if you want to do business with this company, you must play by its rules. Again, it is Wal-Mart’s prerogative to distribute or not and the artist’s choice whether to comply or walk away cashless.

Green Day just told Wal-Mart where to stick it. According to the AP:

“Green Day has the most popular CD in the country, but you won’t be able to find it at your local Wal-Mart.

The band says the giant superstore chain refused to stock its latest CD, “21st Century Breakdown,” because Wal-Mart wanted the album edited for language and content, and they refused.”

Excellent. That is how it is supposed to work. Green Day can find other businesses to sell its album.

Billy Armstrong gave a “what about the little guy” quote. I considered it, but don’t agree:

“If you think about bands that are struggling or smaller than Green Day … to think that to get your record out in places like that, but they won’t carry it because of the content and you have to censor yourself,” he said. “I mean, what does that say to a young kid whose trying to speak his mind making a record for the first time? It’s like a game that you have to play. You have to refuse to play it.”

What does it say to a kid? It says this is a business. Art versus profit is a conflict older than Green Day and older than Wal-Mart. “A young kid trying to speak his mind” can speak his mind. A young kid wanting to make money and become a rock star can play by the rules.

The great thing is that no one in this conversation is talking about bans or boycotts. No one is calling names. And anyway, I thought the kids were all downloading from iTunes these days.

About Leonard Cohen

My brother and I discovered Leonard Cohen in a Christian Slater movie. Pump Up the Volume, 1990. Actually, that’s also where we discovered Concrete Blonde. Seriously, folks, that was the best soundtrack of my teen years – including everything from the Brat Pack.

Anyway, sometime last year, Scott picked up a two disk compilation from Cohen. I borrowed it and never gave it back. There are songs I am still trying to figure out.

The Chicago Tribune ran an article today about Cohen that said his masterpiece, Hallelujah, has 15 pages of verses as written (as opposed to recorded). This YouTube clip has some of the (new? alternate?) material:

Cohen is going to be in town this week. We thought for five seconds about getting tickets, but concerts aren’t my favorite thing and they started at $250.00. But seriously, 15 verses? I am going to be meditating on this guy for the rest of my life.

Now excuse me while I get on the Internet to find the entire text and try to analyze it like The Rime of the Ancient Freakin’ Mariner. (Was it Rime or Rhyme in the Ancient Mariner?)