Steve Rogers is Dead, Long Live Captain America

Though you might not know it from the dearth of posts here, I’ve been busy.

For instance, I had a few thoughts about Jon Brion’s recent show at Hideout.

And a few things popped into my head when Richard Jeni died this week.

Finally, with all due respect to Michael L. Romansky, the death of Captain America isn’t anything to get upset about. Or rather, it would be if Captain America were dead.

Steve Rogers, the man who for the last sixty odd years has embodied the ideals symbolized by Captain America, is. Leaving aside the notion that a death in comics is rarely permanent someone else could (and likely will) pick up the mantle of Captain America and settle into it just fine. He or she will find a way to uphold the ideals that Cap stands for, while still being relatable.

In the wake of the Civil War series, Rogers found he was no longer in touch with what America had become, which is – in part – why he surrendered to the police at the end of the mini-series (though it’s worth noting he said “They’re not arresting Captain America…they’re arresting Steve Rogers, that’s a very different thing.”) The reasons why he started the fight were still worth fighting for, but he found that his methods were no longer winning hearts and minds. America was still a good country, but its new reality could not be seen in Manichean terms. If only it hadn’t taken a destructive war, and the loss of good people, to make that clear to him (gosh, this sounds so familiar for some reason…).

In any case, the ideals of a country do not live and die by the actions of one person, but rather by those that find the way to live them in a way that best serves all.

Finish what ya started

I can’t believe I didn’t see this coming.

Like I said, it was pretty obvious that Eddie was hitting the bottle pretty hard again. So when they canceled the tour, I should have figured that had something to do with it. I hope the guy gets the help he needs.

But man, it is some delicious irony that Michael Anthony might be the only one who shows up at the Rock Hall of Fame ceremony.

Decisions, decisions

First, a little housekeeping…

Blogging at Time Out Chicago (you are reading that Blog aren’t you?) has been both a blessing and a curse. It’s great to have the prestige of the magazine behind the posts I’m doing over there, but it’s often difficult to know where to draw the line between something that would make a good post for TOC and something that’s better left for this site. The rule of thumb I started using was “How long and rant-y is this?” If the answer to both questions is “kinda” then I e-mail the draft I’m working on to my home account, and save it for later.

Of course, “later” sometimes becomes “way later.” And sometimes what I end up wanting to write about changes too. The Ronny’s post was originally a straight-up review for TOC’s Blog with some anecdotal color thrown in, but that changed quite a bit (incidentally, The Ettes are very good, and you really ought to catch them next time they’re here). Ergo, a few back-dated posts just to keep continuity.

Also, you’ll notice that in the move to a new template, the categories in the ol’ blogroll got farked. It’ll get fixed one of these days, when I don’t have much to do. But those of you who are hooked on phonics can probably see where they divides are between News and Services, Music Blogs, Food Blogs, and People I Like.

Now that I’m caught up, I can get back to important matters, like what the hell is going on with Van Halen.

Seriously, boys. Ya’ll need to make up your minds on this Rock Hall gig. And Velvet Revolver performing in their place? Wow. That’s like asking for a bike for Christmas and getting tube socks. The kind you buy from a guy selling them on the side of the road.

I’d say more on this, but Anthony Caroto at Associated Content echoes the sentiments of pretty much every Van Halen fan out there. He also writes what’s probably the funniest and most profound statement on the matter (“Brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen maintain seclusion in their Van Halen bubble. It’s about 4 billion miles away from reality”) and is responsible for the graphic at right, which I’m posting here until he asks me to take it down.

Finally, I think Arcade Fire tickets going for $1000 (2nd item) is going to be one of those moments that turns out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for scalpers, much like what happened with radio payola a few years back.

The Ettes – Reputation (mp3)

Same as it ever was?

If Jim DeRogatis at the Chicago Sun-Times is saying Pearl Jam is anchoring Lollapalooza, I’m inclined to believe him. He was the first to break the story, but when I heard the news this morning, it was credited to Billboard.com, which made me initially skeptical. Last year, Billboard said “Chicago media reports” indicated that a reunited Smashing Pumpkins (as opposed to the barely-there version Corgan’s working with now) were being eyed as a headliner. It was picked up all over the place, but after a little research, I discovered it turned out to be nothing more than a third-hand rumor passed on by an editor…the same editor who wrote up that Pearl Jam piece. Hence my skepticism.

But like I said, if DeRogatis is the original source for it, it’s probably true. But this leads to another question: why would the organizers of Lollapalooza want to continue booking headliners that only harken back to Lolla’s glory days, rather than acts that help the fest stake out a new identity as the barometer for the best in music?

Let’s get a couple givens out of the way first. Pearl Jam is a more interesting, challenging, and focused band now than they were when they first played Lolla back in 1992. You could easily argue that they’re as much in their prime now as they were back then. And in some instances, I have (which is funny, since I’m not a huge fan, and the only PJ album I have is the “bootleg” live album they recorded in Hamburg).

Also, Lolla’s identity now is different than it was during PJ’s first appearance there, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Looking back at the lineups of the old Lollapalooza is like reading notes from the underground of American rock music. I’m not here to eulogize that time, or suggest that the new Lolla should try and re-capture it. They’re clearly trying to establish themselves as the place where both the casual and hardcore music fan can find a reason to justify dropping $200 on tickets, and not have to spend days in the desert to hear lots of good music. I think that’s a good thing.

So why, if I’m not the same person I was when Lolla came to the World Music Theatre in the early 90s, does Lolla seem like it’s often content to book acts who were the soundtrack to my teenage fumblings? Maybe it’s because the arena concert industry makes the most money off of the artists who were most influential during the teenage years of those who are now in their 30s.

Look at the top 5 concert draws for 2006: The Stones, Madonna, Bon Jovi, U2, and Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. With the exception of Tim and Faith, those are all artists whose audiences are now well into adulthood, and had their most influential years in the 1980s (even the Stones were still a viable creative entity during that time).

Pitchfork and Intonation illustrate how music listening and buying patterns have become increasingly niche-oriented. They are for people who buy and listen to music regularly, and in some cases, religiously. Even Bonnaroo still operates as one really long, large-scale club show, as evidenced by the extensive camping opportunities (which is the festival version of going back to your friend’s house, drinking a few beers and passing out on his couch after a show).

But Lolla in the mid-aughts is the ultimate example of the arena concert as an adult theme park, where everyone plays Ultimate Music Fan for a weekend. You’re overcharged for everything, have to walk a lot, and stand in long lines. There’s more artifice than reality, but in the end, if you’re patient, there are still plenty of thrills to be had. Most arena tours are constructed that way, and Lolla is the 800 pound gorilla version of it. (Coachella splits the difference between Bonnaroo and Lolla, with tents available and Palm Springs a short drive away, and if you look at their lineup, that’s a pretty good description of it right there.)

So it makes sense that if Lolla wants to re-create the arena experience on a much larger scale, then they’re going to go with artists who speak to the teenager still living inside most adult music fans. A few newer, cutting-edge thrills are fine, but they have to deliver the goods, and that means tapping into what most of the attendees remember as their primo concert experience.

Or to put it another way, while people might ride Superman: Ultimate Flight when they go to Great America, they don’t leave without hitting either The Demon or The American Eagle.

In the garage

(Note: This is the second in a series of back-dated posts I’ve been working on for the last week, but have only now managed to add here, for reasons I’ll write about later. But it makes logistical sense to post these on the date I originally created them. Plus, later on it’ll make me look less lazy. Also, please bear with the crankiness. I promise there’s only one more Grumpy Old Man post after this one, and then I’ll go back to making jokes about hot girls).

A few months ago, a bar called Ronny’s started showing up on live show listings here, which I’m sure prompted some who live in the Logan Square neighborhood it resides in to wonder “Where the hell is Ronny’s?”

Turns out Ronny’s is a neighborhood bar around Armitage and California. According to the young woman working the door, the folks at MPShows.com approached the owner – the eponymous Ronny – about booking some shows into the bar’s side room, which is little more than a glorified garage, and so small, that you’d be hard pressed to fit any more than two cars in it. It’s definitely not a place that was built – or ever remodeled – for the purposes of hosting live bands.

The rectangular bar itself is probably large enough to handle the regulars who frequent the joint for cheap beer and a game of pool on weekdays, but at a show I went to last Friday, featuring The Ettes, the place was jammed up with the usual live music crowd, and a few others lured in by the multitude of press accolades the band’s received.

There’s no stage in the side room, so watching a show at Ronny’s is somewhat akin to seeing your friend’s band play in their basement, especially since the place holds less than 100 people. This, of course, encourages more heckling than usual, which meant one unnecessarily-sunglasses-adorned hipster was able to badger the opening band (a perfectly all right group of guys called The Singles) into playing “one more” by sheer force of proximity.

Ronny’s is a dive. Portions of it appear to be falling apart. There’s one bartender, and she’s both overworked and probably underpaid for the pleasure of dealing with the patrons’ demands, which is important to remember when she brings you drinks you didn’t order and confuses your change with the person next to you. The jukebox is about 90% Hispanic artists, and 10% top 40 (Gwen, Mariah, Dave Matthews), and is probably reflective of the community surrounding the place, and its music taste, though little of either was present in the bar that night.

During the show, The Ettes lead singer/guitarist/instigator – announced they were “from the road,” but later told me they’re currently based out of L.A. but keeps that piece of information quiet, since the band doesn’t identify much with the town (the drummer and bassist are from New York and the singer hails from Florida). They’re spending their pre-SXSW East Coast tour looking for a new place to call home, so roll out the red carpet Hoboken, New Jersey!

All of which got me thinking about something my friend Mark Anderson wrote in a comment about dive bars, that appeared on a local blog. The whole bit is worth reading, as is a longer piece he wrote on Chicago tap rooms, but the most apropos point is this:

“…the people who might count as regulars at a “dive” bar often frequent the place because they have no other choice if they want to participate in the same social interactions we younger and more prosperous members of the community take for granted.”

The Ettes are in a position (and a field, I’d say) where crafting an image is as important as crafting a song. They can choose how they define themselves, like choosing a different city to be “from.” Similarly, the people coming to their shows are lucky enough to have the freedom to decide how they’re going to spend their leisure hours, and privileged enough to not have to care whom they’re displacing.

While I’m sure the owner appreciates the increase in business on weekends, I felt a little like I was trespassing. Not because I felt unwelcome, mind you, as both Ronny and the bartender were quite cordial. No, it was more because I felt like I was taking up a seat from a guy who didn’t have as many choices as I do about where to spend a Friday night, and was really looking forward to a little tejano music and an MGD, but decided to stay home instead. It didn’t help that the jackass next to me kept calling Ronny by his first name, which really kind of struck me as entitlement, because he gave no indication that the proprietor ever spoke the words “Call me Ronny” to him.

I played a little Freddy Fender on the juke to even the score, but it didn’t quite do the job.

God, I love that band

First, an update: Van Halen tour, possibly not off. The postponement is “not due to any internal strife among band members.” Sure.

Also, Billy Corgan’s manager on the reason why he’s not bringing James and D’Arcy back into the mix: “For the sake of a younger generation that he wants to turn on to the band’s music, he is doing it with a band that will more faithfully recreate the old songs than ever before.” Hear that? Corgan – by proxy – just said that James and D’Arcy has fallen off. Rock Beef 2007!

Anyway, I just finished the 2006 version of DaCapo’s Best Music Writing anthology. Year after year, DaCapo collects some of the most insightful, funny, and thought-provoking pieces written about music – sometimes only tangentially. Most of the pieces are more than just critical analyses of music, in that they try to say something about how music affects a particular worldview. Elizabeth Mendez Berry’s piece on domestic violence in rap and John Jeremiah Sullivan’s surprisingly thoughtful travelogue about the Christian Rock festival called Creation, in particular.

The selection that really hit me was J. Edward Keyes’ reporting on a Bloc Party show in 2005 (unfortunately, it’s not available online). The piece’s focal point is the hype that Bloc Party are set to be “the next Franz Ferdinand” (I always thought they were supposed to be the next Gang of Four, but no matter) before delving into the twin devils of mystique and hype, and the unrealistic notions of both. While Keyes might not come up with any earth-shattering conclusions, the impact comes from the way he presents his findings, letting his reporting speak for itself and avoiding any pop-psych journo speak.

At one point Keyes is speaking with a couple indie music snobs who have this to say on whether Bloc Party will indeed become the next FF:

“As long as they stay under the radar, I’ll keep listening to them,” he says. “But if they become mainstream, I’m probably going to stop.”

I’ve been a full-time music lover since, roughly, junior high, and a part-time music snob since probably college, but this is one of the most asinine statements ever made, right up there with “I’m only staying for one drink.”

People who really love music (and this guy isn’t one of them but more on that in a bit) sometimes say things like this. Not exactly this, but like this. It’s because they worry that success will spoil Rock Hunter, and the things they love about a band will change. Maybe chasing mainstream success will cause an artist to change his or her sound so much that they’ll no longer be the band you love (we’ll call this The Liz Phair Rule). Or they’ll record new material that makes it harder and harder to convince people that they were once relevant (we’ll call this The Rod Stewart Rule).

But nowadays – and I realize what an old man that phrase makes me sound like – there’s an increasingly large segment of the music-consuming population that’s reduced music to a trend, to fashion, which is why it’s more common now to see a band become wildly hyped, then torn down, often before they’ve even released a full-length (Tapes ‘n’ Tapes, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Arctic Monkeys to name a few). Other symptoms of this phenomenon include indie rock songs in commercials, girls who wear baby tees emblazoned with the names of bands whose albums they don’t own, and dudes who claim to be huge fans of a band, five minutes before they hit the exits and ten minutes before said band hits the stage.

And that brings us back to the Bloc Party fan.

I don’t worry about my favorite bands becoming mainstream or overly popular. I worry about jagoffs like this guy taking up residence in my favorite rock clubs. For this cat, being a “Bloc Party fan” is about knowing something other people don’t, not about enjoying the music. And that’s why he’s not saying he’s worried that if the band becomes mainstream, they might fall victim to The Liz Phair Rule or The Rod Stewart Rule. It’s not a qualitative decision. He’s saying he only likes the band because of what it says about him.

People who make comments like this always try to make it sound as if they’re very high-minded, as if their criticism stems from the band abandoning its initial ethos. So it’s important to remember that in these instances, it’s more about the person making the comment, than the band about whom they’re commenting.

Because what does it matter if you’re the first to know about something that’s wonderful, if you can’t appreciate the wonderfulness of it?