John McDonald

Blogging about politics, life, and the web

Survivalism – Nine Inch Nails

January 4th, 2010

Survivalism Lyrics:

I should have listened to her
So hard to keep control
We kept on eating but
Our bloated bellies still not full
She gave us all she had but
We went and took some more
Can’t seem to shut her legs
Our mother nature is a whore

I got my propaganda
I got revisionism
I got my violence
In high-def ultra-realism
All a part of this great nation
I got my fist
I got my plan
I got survivalism

Hypnotic sound of siren
Echoing through the street
The cocking of the rifles
The marching of the feet
You see your world on fire
Don’t try to act surprised
We’ll do just what you told us
Lost our faith along the way and found ourselves believing your lies

All bruised and broken, bleeding
She asked to take my hand
I turned, just kept on walking
But you’d do the same thing in this circumstance I’m sure you’ll understand

You got your pacifism – I got survivalism

Certainly, the modern western consumer has become accustomed to violent imagery on television, even images of violence committed by our police and military service men who kill and claim it on our behalf. Really though, when the door falls at 3:14, no one quite knows if they’re the one who will be hauled away this night. In fact, every one of them is guilty of some crime against the law or popular social opinion…

This complacent “pacifism” then is more about a delusional consumerism, and the band provides contrast in its own survivalist instinct. Rather than ‘quietly’ going about ones business, the band has defended itself while making noise about the problematic state of society. Having seen the conflict beforehand, they’re prepared to survive and tell their song at least one more time.

Survivalism is a strong undercurrent in American politics, and the ideal of self-sufficiency and self-security has been upheld since colonial times. In times of economic stress, international uncertainty, and caustic political conflict, these characteristics resurface and help to reset the social process.

We were lucky enough to see Nine Inch Nails in concert a few months ago before they took an indefinite hiatus, so check out my review of the show.

Heading to the Show

October 26th, 2009

Before NINJA, it had been a while since I had attended any serious concert events.  Back in high school and college, I tried to see every band I liked and I tried to show up at random shows just in case someone was playing who I might end up liking.

At some point though, I fell out of the habit.  A lot of the Gen-X bands I grew up on were breaking up, retiring, or dealing with the loss of core members.

Shortly after Dimebag was shot on stage, the bad luck kept flowing.  Two of the best guitarist I ever had the pleasure of jamming with also passed on well before their time, and those deaths had a serious impact on me at a time when I was already under the stress of extreme illness.  The magic of the concert had gotten all mixed up with death itself.

While my health and financial situations would eventually improve, the music industry continued sinking into oblivion.  When I put my ears back out in an attempt to find new and interesting acts, the new stuff just didn’t sound right.  There’s something about the music of a crisis that just isn’t as passionate as the music of other social phases.  If there’s any proof of the 80 year wave in civilizations, just consider how the music scene in 2009 is the nadir exactly 40 years removed from its peak in 1969.

But I let my friends talk me in to some stuff.  I went to go see Nine Inch Nails and Jane’s Addiction:  I remembered what’s so great about overpriced and over-iced liquor at a crowded and smokey arena.  I went to go see Summer Slaughter at Plush and got a heavy dose of more than a dozen of the most brutal bands I’d seen in a decade.

It was almost like the scene wanted to make a comeback.  It wasn’t the arena rock commodified for mass production: it was the raw emotion in a hot and dark hole in the wall that had made me love music in the first place.

Anyway, now that I’ve got a budget and a schedule that lets me drive around chasing concerts, its time to head out to the show again.  This holiday season will be all about heavy metal and Broadway.  Waddya mean you like one and not the other?  Sounds like you’re missing out.  On a Black Friday, its off to Orlando to see Megadeth play the House of Blues.  I’ve seen Ministry play there before, and its an awesome venue so I’ve got high expectations of this one.  The last time I saw Megadeth, we had to leave early so I could wake up and take the SATs the next day – this time I can stay up all night.

Closer to Christmas, we’ve got some great tickets to go see Stomp at the Jacksonville Theater.  Their creative use of random objects as percussion instruments reminds me a whole lot of our first jam sessions as kids in the garage.

Reviews are coming, but if you want to really feel the music you’ll have to go experience it for youself, when and where its being made.  There’s just nothing quite like it and that’s why I’m heading to the show.  Hope to see you there!

In Defense of Music and Standards

July 9th, 2009

In response to:

Michael Jackson’s Death Was Tragic, But He Was Little More Than an Icon of Mediocrity

By Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez’s Blog. Posted July 9, 2009.

He was not a musical genius; didn’t break down racial barriers; wasn’t a great dancer; didn’t change American culture…

Alisa Valdes-Rodrigues is saying something a few of us have thought by now.  It seems a lot of people leaving comments don’t agree – But let’s face it:  Musicians are music snobs… and so what if it sounds pretentious?  Writers are book snobs and engineers frown on half-assed constructs.

Until you’ve picked up an instrument or three and put the required time toward learning how to play, you’ve got no relative concept of the effort & emotion that goes into creating that music.  Without those insights, there’s still a musical product fit for mass consumption – but its value is ultimately calculated by the ability to generate revenue.

I get where the negative comments are coming from – really.  If you haven’t been playing guitar for 2+ years you probably don’t appreciate death metal solos.  If you’ve never sat in a symphonic arrangement, you’re somewhat detached from the performance.  If you’ve never written a song, how could you appreciate what goes into performing your own originals or how it differs from covering someone else’s composition?

The “greatest” and “best” pieces of art can not be enjoyed passively.  They are way too deep and they require too much of the audience’s active engagement.  They are designed to make you think, contemplate, over-analyze – and they assume you’ve grown up from the introductory fare to face the bigger and tougher questions.

This may be why musicians tell you that the music in your iPods sucks: Because it does.  Popular music is missing elements and potential that its fans may not be aware of.  If MTV says it was groundbreaking, you can safely bet that someone did it generations earlier.  That doesn’t mean one can’t or shouldn’t enjoy “popular” music:  Not everyone is drawn to spend so much effort for music just as not everyone becomes an author or an engineer.  There is still some sort of combination of skill and luck that goes into creating global popularity, even if it isn’t enough on its own to impress dedicated connoisseurs.

Many will dismiss Alisa’s call for cultural quality as sour grapes or stereotypical Gen-X cynicism, but there’s a valid point amid the gloom.  The reward for mediocrity seems to be fame and millions – the reward for art appears to be an existence on the margins of culture: a cramped stage in an underground bar or a yawning audience in a half-empty hall. If there’s anything I really disagree with in this article, its the claim that Michael Jackson was himself a member or a symbol of Generation-X.  Most definitions of Gen-x start with births in the mid 1960s, and Gen-x music is more definitive of modern rock music than Michael Jackson will ever be.

In related news, the music industry faces record-breaking losses (again).  Apparently, they really believe that this is the best American music has to offer and can’t imagine something better.

NINJA 2009

May 11th, 2009

Just got back from Tampa – got to see my mom for Mother’s day and we also got to see an epic concert that I won’t be forgetting any time soon.  I’m talking about the NINJA 2009 tour – Nine Inch Nails and Jane’s Addiction.  With $55 tickets and $13 whiskey drinks, its by far the most expensive show I’ve been to – yet it oddly seems worth the price in retrospect.

Street Sweeper Social Club opened up… No, I hadn’t heard of them either and they don’t even have an album out yet.  Tom Morello (of Rage Against the Machine fame) shredded the guitar while the bass stayed in funk mode.  The vocalist was solid but the rythm guitarist’s dissonant noise didn’t seem to fit in quite right.  He seemed almost constrained and stuck in Tom’s shadow, like he wanted to break out into a wicked solo of his own but never got the chance.  I always appreciate a rock band with a social message, so I have to add points for anyone who spends their precious on-stage time to rally support for their various anti-poverty (and anti-authoritarian) political cause.

Nine Inch Nails stormed the stage early – while the sun was still up.  I think people were expecting Jane’s Addiction to go on first – yet all of a sudden, Trent was on stage halfway into his first song without any sort of warning or announcement.  The stage lights were blinding strobes behind the band – so the audience could rarely see more than silouhettes of the musicians.  The realization was surreal – it was hard to believe what we were hearing.

While the performance was true to the feeling of the recorded songs, there was also a bit more depth to the guitar, bass, and drum parts.  Robin Finck, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, and Ilan Rubin didn’t just capture the essence of Trent’s songs, they added their own levels of depth and interpretation.  As a guitar & bass junkie, I really appreciated the variations and departures from the studio version.

The set seemed to go on for a long time – and in a good way.  Nine Inch Nails stayed on stage all throughout sundown and into the early hours of night.  There was an instrumental rendition of Hurt about half way through the performance, and after another half dozen tracks they finally got around to playing & singing the entire song for their finale.  Someone nearby complained that they didn’t play Closer, but I don’t pay big bucks to hear something the radio has overplayed for fifteen years.

There was no real visual spectacle – it was just good hard rock, crazy electronic sounds, and soulful singing.

By the time Jane’s Addiction came up, the full moon was rising and the crowd was anxiously wondering if anything could top the epic hours of performance NIN has just pulled off under a hot Florida sun.

Perry Farrell led the crowd into something out of this world.  One doesn’t normally imagine thousands of people dancing together to a raucus punk sound, but the rythm was strong and the vocals seemed to transcend simple human singing.  Jane’s Addiction’s studio albums never particularly capitvated me, but now I realize they are that rare 1 in 10,000 band that actually sounds better live.  The set was short, but it was epic.  I don’t know if it was the bittersweet energy of a reunion / farewell tour, the lunar radiation, or just an incredible mix of vocal proficiency and fat bass beats.  The latter explanation may be technically correct, but it seems too simple to fully explain the feeling…

Generation X Still Rules Rock ‘n Roll

December 29th, 2008

Obviously, this isn’t to insult any individuals, heck I’m even kind of a millennial and kind of a musician depending on how I feel on a given day.

Anyway, I’ve been driving around Florida on the holiday rounds, listening to various radio stations as they fade in and out of reception range. I couldn’t help but notice that “New Rock” stations haven’t changed in the last 10 years. Generation X still rocks.

I wish I were exaggerating but here’s the bands I hear over and over again on “New Rock” radio:

  • Nirvana
  • Alice in Chains
  • Smashing Pumpkins
  • Soundgarden
  • Metallica
  • CandleBox
  • Rage Against the Machine
  • Tool
  • Pearl Jam
  • Blur
  • Radio Head

Again, I have nothing against it. I grew up on Gen X rock & metal and I love it. But they are not even playing new albums: A lot of these guys are already: dead; middle aged; and/or retired. They’re just replaying the old radio-friendly hits from the 90’s. (What confused me even more was hearing Soundgarden on the “Classic Rock” station hours after hearing it on so many “New Rock” stations.)

But hasn’t anything else been written in the last 10 years? I tried to think of fresh rock but there’s a blank. Either I’m already too old to “get it” at 26 or millie musicians need to start coming up with excuses. I’ve thought of a few:

5. Talented Civic musicians don’t make it to 27  (don’t worry, I’m not that good)
4. We can blame the old folk running the industry and writing the songs (I’m looking at you Lincoln Park)
3. We realized the country is so screwed up that screaming about it won’t help. Aka sidetracked by a poli-sci or econ degree (this is my excuse)
2. Too broke to afford gear at the pawn shop
1. Since we’ll be running the world soon, we wanted to leave something for the coming Artists to do