The Venues of my Youth: Tingley Coliseum

In this country, going to your first Big Show is a rite of passage. For a pair of decades at least, almost every youth in northern New Mexico passed through the gate and became Experienced at a crappy barn of an arena called Tingley Coliseum.

By John Phelan – CC BY 3.0

The building was not designed for music. It was a hollow box with a concrete floor surrounded by something like 10,000 seats not designed for comfort. In some arenas like that, the powers-that-be would hang fancy acoustic thingies that would mitigate the echoes. Other places would at least hang heavy tapestries from the rafters to catch some of the echoes. Tingley didn’t even bother to hang moth-eaten airline blankets. If you liked the note the guitarist played, you would have ample opportunity to experience it several more times, as it mixed with the following notes to create sonic quicksand.

But Tingley was (is? I have no idea) where the bands played. It was such an unquestioned truth that when the Thompson Twins played Popejoy Hall (a lovely place for music) I found it exceedingly strange.

Ah, Tingley. The Experienced among us know there are two ways to enjoy a performance in an acoustically-hellish barn: from the seats or from down on the floor. Some might say that you are not truly Experienced until you watch an act from the floor. I’m not that hardcore.

My first Big Show featured .38 Special and Jefferson Starship. It was, as the Arena Rock critic Charles Dickens said, “the best of shows, and the worst of shows.” It was loud. Oppressively, crushingly, my-ears-hurt BUT HOLY DANG I CAN FEEL IT loud. I was not particularly well-versed in .38 Special’s oeuvre, but a couple of the songs had been getting radio play and not long after this gig they were the main attraction, not the opening act.

Then Jefferson Starship played, and more than once I thought, “hey! I know this song!” Then I learned about the obligatory encore, after a suitable period of shouting.

Among my friends, opinion of the show varied. One friend said, “.38 Special was rocking so hard I didn’t know how Jefferson Starship would match it. But then they blew them away.”

Me, I think the Good ol’ Boys sounded better that night. From this distant perspective, I think their music was just better-suited for the venue. Simpler. Happier in the mud.

My next Tingley Experience was Kansas, the Point of Know Return tour – or maybe the tour after that. I was excited; but they canceled. Welcome to show biz.

In my college days, only a two-hour drive from the venue (welcome to the Land of Enchantment) I saw a variety of bands. Bands big enough to play in arenas but small enough to stop in Albuquerque. (I learned later that it’s really useful to have a connect-the-dots stop in the middle of nowhere to keep the tour generating cash.)

From the seats I saw Golden Earring (“Radar Love”) open for Rush; I saw two horrible choreographed bland-metal bands open for Aerosmith (who didn’t distance themselves from the opening acts that much) (an abbreviated version of the puking story you can find elsewhere); I saw Cindi Lauper pump her WWF connections while trying to keep those on the floor from killing each other.

But even by the hardcore definition, I am Experienced; I have been to the floor. I have been close to the stage, in the crush of sweat and anger. The funny thing is, I remember the sweat and anger much better than I remember the bands. Or it might be more correct to say, I remember the sweat and anger, and I remember the bands, but they are disconnected. I have no idea which band it was when the guy started to push his way in front of me and I resolved to make that as difficult as possible. Pretenders? Yes? Kinks?

Probably not the Kinks. That was an undersold concert.

Another show. Here’s where the sweat and anger is most disconnected from the band. I was on the floor. The crowd was rowdy. The obligatory encore was executed, including of course some Big Hits held back from the regular part of the show because the first encore is really just another short set. The band left the stage, and the shouting and chanting commenced.

Usually this is a staged drama, with each actor playing a part. The band was not inclined to do any sort of REAL encore, so the harsh stadium lights came on. The surge of anger at that moment was real, and thick; you could taste it in your mouth. People — all the people on the floor, as a single mass — shifted one way, then the other, and the noise rose. The lights went back out and the band played a couple more songs. You’d think I’d be able to remember which band that was.

Huey Lewis did their obligatory encore, and the crowd kept chanting. He stuck his head out from behind the curtain and spun his finger around his ear: “You guys are crazy!” They came back out and did another set, very informal, just playing around. It was a treat to watch. The pop stars were being musicians! One of my favorite Tingley moments. So don’t go talking shit about Huey where I can hear you. Dude loves to play; the fame and fortune are a side effect.

It was the Yes performance, which surprisingly included no potentially-deadly rush to the stage when the doors opened, and had no opening act. When they brought the massive light bars down over the stage while the bass started that hammering riff in Starship Troopers (am I mixing up my songs? I could look this stuff up but I’m not going to), that I got my first total rock and roll overload. Fortunately breathing and heart beat happen without conscious direction or I might not be waxing so pleasantly nostalgic right now.

There were other bands — musically, The Pretenders might have been the best show I saw there — but this is about the venue. A terrible venue. A seminal venue. The sort of place every First Big Show should be Experienced in.

2

Bandamax World

I’m at a local eatery that The Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas and I have dubbed “The Office”. Mexican food and plenty of it; great quality for not much money. On the TV in front of me, inaudible, is a show called Bandamax. It is a music video show. Almost all the videos are date-night stories — heartfelt songs (judging by the facial expressions of the singers) where regular-guy men with unbelievable singing skills work out relationships with super-hot women.

They are romance stories, songs of regret, revenge, and remorse. Men with hearts on sleeve, women with bare arms and ample cleavage. And sousaphones. Sousaphones where you would never expect to see a sousaphone — on the beach, on a deserted island, at a late-night motorcycle rally. Bandamax world is a wonderful world, as long as you like sousaphones.

2

Looking for the Joke with a Microscope

I was thinking about the movie Repo Man the other day, and a song got stuck in my head. I mean, really wedged in there.

“It could be worse,” I hear you all say. “The soundtrack to Repo Man is epic.” And it is. I could have “TV Party” running circles in my brain, or “Pablo Picasso”. But no, the song that keeps popping back up in my head is not on the soundtrack, even though it is an integral part of one scene. Someone even gets beat up for singing it.

Yep, I’m Feeling 7-up.

Foreigner Live in Wendover

On one of my more recent road trips, I was a little saddened to pass a billboard proclaiming that the giant band Foreigner was playing in (I’m pretty sure) the border town of Wendover, NV. It seemed like a long way down from where they had been.

After some consideration, however, I realized that a group of guys still making a living doing what they love is in no way sad. Maybe they pulled all their retirement money up their noses, but I’d like to believe that even former superstars love their craft, and just want to play. They wouldn’t have reached the heights they did without that passion.

But then, after more consideration, I got a little sad again. When was the last time you heard a new Foreigner song? They’re out there, rockin’ the house, but creators have to create. Certainly the boys in the band have had new ideas in the last couple of decades, but nothing new has reached the masses. Have they ceased to be artists? Have they really been reduced to being a tribute band for themselves?

Open message to Foreigner’s agent (and the agents for countless other bands): Now is the time to strike. Let the showmen become artists again, and let them tell their story. I bet it’s a really good story.

1

Bowie Thoughts

Ziggy-Stardust-ziggy-stardust-8526918-497-584By now pretty much everything there is to be said about David Bowie has been, but sometimes sorrow, like wine, needs a little time to mature. David Bowie was never my favorite musician, and some of his songs don’t appeal to me much at all. Others, well…

I got Ziggy Stardust on cassette in the Safeway in Socorro, New Mexico, and while I’d heard plenty of Bowie before, and I’d even heard some of the songs on that album, I’d never immersed myself in his music the way I did as I played that tape at high volume while I drove across the desert. Big, buzzy guitars, lyrics that didn’t quite make sense in a poetic sort of way, all wrapped up in showmanship.

Many years later, I wrote a story that opens with a man in a spaceship, floating far above the world, a story I called “Tin Can.” Was I thinking of “Space Oddity” as I wrote it? Not really. But the song was there, part of my science fiction education, a story about loneliness as much as anything else. It’s a vibe that you can find in most of my favorite stories. There’s a little bit of Major Tom in all my favorite heroes.

My guilty pleasure: “China Girl”. I don’t hear that one mentioned in the eulogies that have sprouted up everywhere. Perhaps it just landed at the right time in my life, or perhaps I’m the only one on Earth with the taste and sophistication to appreciate it. That song’s kissin’ cousin, “Let’s Dance,” really doesn’t do much for me.

Recently, semi-accidentally, my sweetie and I watched Labyrinth. It’s… not very good. It sounds like all the dialog was re-recorded in the studio and without any regard for the environment the action was taking place in. Mr. Bowie, well, he does not succeed in rescuing the show. But I’m glad I watched. It was the last time I will experience David Bowie without the knowledge that he is gone, without wondering what he might do next.

And so we move on, flying through space, looking for something, not sure what, that was here a minute ago but doesn’t seem to be where we left it. That’s the hole we didn’t even know David Bowie was filling. He’s still here, of course, but everything he did is now tinged a little blue.

2

The Letter I Just Sent to emusic

The following is what I wrote at the end of the “why did you cancel your account?” survey at emusic:

I’ve been with emusic for a long, long time, and frankly I think things got worse as you succeeded in getting deals with major record labels. Prices kept going up, and the new pricing structure is frustrating. Necessary for getting the big labels, but then I discovered that I don’t much like the music the big labels are putting out. And when ’80’s arena rock bands show up in the ‘alternative’ section, you know that keyword pollution is starting to cause real problems.

So it has become harder to find actual good music (editorials are a huge help, so keep that up), and more expensive to experiment. I can’t take the risks I used to; downloading an album by a band I didn’t know is much more costly these days. So I’m not making as many happy discoveries as I did years ago.

emusic may still be the best online music service, but at this point the commitment to spend a set amount each month is just not justified.

Still, thanks for all the great tunes I’ve downloaded over the last decade-plus of membership.

A Message to Target

Tonight I discovered myself humming a Christmas song. ‘Tis not the season, but sometimes these songs get up in there. Notably, this was not a traditional Christmas song, but one that was on a Target ad a year ago. I’ve mentioned it before, but I really liked the album and I thought it was exploitation of artists done right. I was saddened that Target had not continued the tradition this year.

I’ve told a lot of people that, but it occurred to me that I hadn’t told Target. So tonight I set out to do that.

I’m pretty sure this message will not find the intended recipient. After a shit-ton of clicks, wading through a system that assumes that if I want to sent a message to the corporate monster it’s because I have a problem with a particular transaction, I thought I’d found the place for general observations. I left the following message (wretched capitalization preserved):

Man! Tough to get here. I just wanted to say that your 2011 Christmas album was awesome in a jar and I was bummed this year that you didn’t do it again. I sang the praises of the Target christmas on my blog last year, and when my sweetie played the songs this year I knew that the season was upon us. I’d be oh so grateful if next year you brought us another batch of fresh and clean christmas songs. I’m not blowing smoke to say that it could be part of a new christmas tradition. macy’s has the parade, Target has the christmas album.

In that context, Target wins. C’mon Santa, bring me the music!

I submitted the message and the reassuring message came back: Thank you. Your email regarding help with Store Email has been submitted successfully.

Huh.

Apparently I had not found the right department after all. So now I say it here, as loudly as I can: Target, you have a shot at a really great holiday tradition with your name all over it. Don’t be afraid. Bring us the Christmas songs that would never be written otherwise. After a couple of the bands you feature go big, people will start wondering who’s going to be on the Target album this year. Buzz like that is magical, to you and to the musicians. Put your ads on them, but cover the musical spectrum, even more fearlessly than you did the first time. And have fun. Like you did before. Fun shows.

1

In Search of Ruby Tuesday

A couple of days ago I wrote a slightly-alcohol-inspired lament that there weren’t any good covers of the Rolling Stones’ Ruby Tuesday, one of my favorites from the Stones, back before they turned into zombies and continued to shamble through the music scene for eternity. I had intended to do a little more research before that episode went live, but then I forgot about it completely, and out it came.

This morning I fired up eMusic and drifted through covers of Ruby Tuesday, and I learned a little bit; I now have a musing or two to share about music in general and covers in particular. You don’t have to thank me, it’s what I do.

It turns out there are a lot of covers of the song. It’s just that most of them suck. In my lament I asked where the guitar/folkie covers were, and I have since found the answer: “Right where they belong”. There are quite a few of these, and while some of them don’t suck, none that I found were particularly good. Overdone, overwrought, over-engineered. And while I applaud artists who change the original material to put their own identity into the music (fundamentally that’s the appeal of covers), those changes still have to make some sort of sense. Singing “When you change with every new day stillI’mgonnamissyou” with the last phrase crammed into the tightest space possible is jarring and doesn’t reflect the emotion of the song. Amazing how many times I heard this.

I suspect that one musician decided on this musical tic and then a host of others copied that cover, without referring to the original source material as well. So there was a lot of Band B covering Band A covering the Rolling Stones. It would be interesting (but not interesting enough to actually do it) to trace the family tree of the song based on mutations introduced along the way.

And thinking of songs going through generations and mutating, it would stand to reason that later mutations would be more fit to survive in the new market conditions. Darwin should totally work, here. As musical tastes and economics changes, the covers literally evolve with them, and songs diversify into different niches. Ruby Tuesday has certainly done that.

Take country music, for instance. A cat name Don Williams has put out several albums with his take on the song. It’s… OK, but it lacked a little something. Then I listened to a performance he did with Dolly Parton, and it was massively improved. It wasn’t necessarily that Parton was putting in the performance of a lifetime, but I realized at this point that vocal harmony on the chorus makes an incredible difference. You hardly notice it’s there in the original, but you would definitely notice if it wasn’t there. Without the harmony, it takes a great arrangement or a voice more versatile than any I sampled to pull off the cover of this deceptively simple song.

One of the tricky parts, and one that the Stones don’t do that well either, is handling how different the verses and the chorus are. Most of the guitar/folkies tried to manage that by adding a bunch of annoying stylisms. Yes, I’m talking to you, Jade Leonard.

On I searched. There were the inevitable elevator-jazz instrumentals and Philharmonic “do arrangements of pop songs to pay the bills” renditions. Lullaby versions so boomer parents (and grandparents) can indoctrinate further generations into “their” music. Single-synthesizer efforts programmed by some kid in his basement. Massive electronic efforts that sounded just like the one the kid in his basement did. There was one I was tempted to buy just for comedic value – I’d bet my favorite molar that it’s by the same guy who arranged William Shatner’s Mr. Tambourine Man, only on this one there’s no vocal and it’s 13 minutes long.

I heard a lot of vinyl pops while searching.

The first cover I liked enough to pay for was one of those impulse buys I’ll likely regret later. Sheena and the Rokkets is a classic bad-singer-in-front-of-reasonable-band outfit, with the added bonus that they are Japanese and Sheena has a tough time with a lot of English words. Words like, for instance, “Ruby”.

I came across a Scorpions cover that has its moments, and fits the definition of a “good cover” — there’s no doubt the Scorpions are performing, they do it their way, but they maintain the essence of the original that motivated the cover in the first place.

Momentum improved. I came across Don and Dolly as described above, and surprisingly, Twiggy, closer to the original but nicely done. Then the inevitable lounge versions started coming in, vapid and vacant. A modern-punk song called Jack Ruby Tuesday came up, and I simply could not tell if it was a cover or not, since I couldn’t make out a single word (or note, even) in the solid wall of fuzz.

After downloading the Don and Dolly version, I went back and listened to the whole thing. Ouch! Someone shoot the arranger and get the trumpets the hell out of there. Wow, what a difference between the 30-second preview and the entire song. There are times I really don’t miss the ’70’s.

Lars Brygdén did a reasonable country-ish cover on an album called “Songs I wrote”, which seems deceptive – I hope in the song data it gives proper credit to the actual writer.

Then there’s Melanie. She’s taken more than one crack at this tune, and one of them isn’t bad. Toward the bottom of the search list is the album “Pan Pipes Play Rod Stewart” in which we have the inevitable Peruvian interpretation, and the [email protected] Chorus wheeze out a version in which the lead singer sounds like she has loose dentures. (Yes, that is mean to say, but it’s also true.)

No Hip-Hop. No Riot Grrl. A few that were labeled ‘alternative’ but really weren’t — this seems like excellent emo/shoegazer material, but none was represented. I despaired of finding a punk cover until Thee S.T.P. cranked out a definitive version that is two minutes of pure fun. We have a winner!

Ultimately, I have to conclude that maybe this is a tough song to cover, despite its surface simplicity (or because of it?). Bands with more instruments and voices seemed to do better, along with bands who are able to turn their amps up (and then turn them back down).

Genius Loves Beatles

My fruit-flavored music-playing device has a not-quite-as-intuitive-as-it-should-be feature called “genius”. The theory is simple. When you’re listening to a song you like, you touch a little fifties-era atom symbol and the machine will find twenty-four more songs that the genius inside believes are similar, so you can keep the mood going.

My first attempts with the genuis mix button were frustrating. I had the FFMPD set to play random music while I worked out. A song came on that helped fuel a second wind, so I hit the genius button. It glowed under my finger and returned to normal when I released my touch. The song ended and another came on, not dissimilar. But I couldn’t tell – was it geniusing? Another song came on, also similar, and I concluded that there was a decent chance that my music player was indeed genuising, but there was nothing in the interface presented to me to indicate that fact.

Then the player went from Blink 182 to a Beatles song. “Elanor Rigby”, if memory serves. Nope, I concluded, my music player was NOT geniusing; there’s nothing that song had in common with the one I had asked it to base the list on.

I went back to a particularly racous, up-tempo tune that had gone by (unsteady hands poking at the screen as I chugged along), and tried the Genuis button again. Three songs later I was treated to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

Don’t get me wrong, I really like that song. Good for listening to in the dark, illuminated only by the glow of the stereo while sipping whiskey and wondering what the point of it all is, on those nights of doubt where inertia is your only guide. Not so good for working out, though.

“Fine,” I thougt, poking at the screen. “I’ll go through the interface and choose a particular song, while not on random play, and see if it geniuses for me.” Stabbing at an iPad while working on an elliptical trainer is not ideal; if you move your finger while touching the surface the machine assumes you mean to drag something. Which under any other circumstance is correct. I jabbed and poked until I came upon a tune (if I recall correctly, which honestly isn’t that likely) by Mudhoney, and pushed the little atom. “Not enough information to make a genius list,” I was told. Same story with Drill (whose eponymous and only album I once picked up used and remains one of my faves of all time). Maybe I should have started with L7.

My workout ended before I got a satisfactory answer to the genius problem.

Of course, I could have fiddled with the device while not working out, and possibly have found the answer sooner, but that’s not how I roll. After a little frustration at the start of the next workout I decided to turn to a playlist I’d already defined. There right next to it, was a Genius list based on “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” by Nirvana. “Sweet,” thought I, the genuis button had worked after all. I fired up that mix and started my toil.

And… after a few tunes had been pumped into my ears, a Beatles song came on. It was “Come Together,” which, yeah, I can see working with Nirvana. Nice work, Genius! I wouldn’t have gone looking for that one. A little Queens of the Stone Age, then Black Sabbath, followed by “Blackbird” by the Beatles.

What the hell? That is nothing like Nirvana.

I viewed the songs in the genius-created playlist. Three were by the Beatles. Out of curiosity, I geniused the Ravonettes. Three Beatles songs. Green Day? Three Beatles songs. I tried some other bands, sticking to what I thought the mainstream might be. Three Beatles songs each time. When I genuised ‘Holiday in the Sun” by the Sex Pistols, there were only two Beatles songs.

So it turns out the genius feature was working all along. It just wasn’t telling me it was, and it has a boner for the Beatles. It should be noted here that the Genius ex Machina has more than 10,000 tunes to choose from.* I promise you that fewer than 10% of those are by the Beatles.

The question, of course is, “Is this a conspiracy? Does the Genius get a kickback on Beatles albums sold?” Or are Beatles tunes the automatic fallback filler when the database that guides the genius is confronted with too much unknown?

You know where this is going, of course. I’m going to be hitting the genius button a lot, looking for The Tune That Has No Beatles Matches. I’ll keep you posted.

———–
* I miss the unlimited legal downloads back when eMusic was young, which was when they hadn’t cut deals with major record labels yet. That might be part of the problem; my library is skewed strongly toward indie labels and obscure bands that I discovered by spending an afternoon sampling the used CD bins at Wherehouse. I contend that the only difference between a popular band and an obscure one is the marketing budget.

That is how I found Drill, sitting on a stool, headphones on, operating a CD player in a suburban music store. I had a system. I’d listen to the first track, and if it seemed to be going well, I’d skip to maybe the third or fourth. Also good? Sweet. Vocal power is absolutely required to get past this stage. Skip forward in the song. Does anything change through the song? Good musicians know how to find strength in softness as well as noise. The final test: skip around through several songs. If there’s not variety, then that sound they do every time better be awesome.

My original copy of Drill was badly damaged when I loaned it to a friend, and it took a couple of years on the waiting list at Spun.com for me to find a replacement. Should I become president, I will track down the members of that band and have them play at my inauguration.

How many other Drills are out there? The chances of me stumbling on that band were remote, which suggests that there are many more waiting for me to discover them.

But the point of this giant footnote is that the genius don’t know Drill. Can we teach the genius? Broaden its horizons past RIAA-sanctioned muzic? I aim to find out.

Speaking of Flash…

Long ago, as a follow-up to my giant hit “Duck!” I undertook a much more elaborate project. Once more, Jose provided some of the key images (William Shatner, mainly), and I did the rest.

I never finished. I got close, and I put a lot of time into it (lip-syncing is time-consuming, to say the least), but it’s not quite there yet. There are flat spots. I haven’t got the easter eggs in yet. No credits, and no preloading. It looks like the audio has been shifted a frame. Still, there’s a lot to like about it, too. It’s Shatner, after all, at his psychedelic best.

I’d finish the thing, but I don’t even own a version of Flash that will run on my current hardware, and Flash is expensive. Hard to justify shelling out that kind of cash just to put the final touches on this monster. Still… It would be cool.

Note that this animation is interactive — don’t take your hand off that mouse just yet! Your final score will be displayed at the end. Also, there are a couple of things that happen differently each time, and a lot of things going on you won’t notice the first time through. Not as many as I planned, but the project is stalled.

If someone who has Flash would be interested in helping me get across the finish line, let me know!


Notes: It may look like it’s running, but you need to right-click the animation and select ‘Play” to make it go. (Controls are obviously something that didn’t get put in before the project stalled.) I optimized this animation for slightly larger display; if I could figure out why there’s no full-screen option when you right-click I’d fix that, too.

Enjoy!

2

New Album Out!

I haven’t seen the cover for the Foo Fighters’ new album, but if the song I heard today is any indication, it’s pretty easy to imagine what it looks like. Here is my humble rendition:

The cover to the newest Foo Fighters album

1

Memo to Bay Area Radio Stations

Apparently at some time Monday afternoon a rumor began that it was no longer acceptable for a radio station to rock. (I suspect the Chinese and that Internet they have are somehow to blame.) Since that time there has been little but Enya and Yanni in slightly more electrified renditions. There has been no rocking of the airwaves.

Rest assured, Radio World, it is still acceptable to rock. Any assertion that rocking is unacceptable is the work of terrorists or at the very least individuals who wish ill for our nation.

Give me something to listen to on my commute this morning. DO IT FOR AMERICA!

Sticky Music

My sweetie and I both woke up with Christmas songs stuck in our heads. For me, the song was “Toy Jackpot” by Blackalicious, with its super-catchy chorus “Is it time yet? Is it time? I can’t wait” in a smooth hip-hoppish vibe. My sweetie emerged from slumber with “10,000 Watts” by Crystal Antlers, a high-energy song about Christmas lights, made to be turned up loud.

Now I have “10,000 Watts” in my head, too.

While very different in sound, these songs have two things in common: They are both really cool, and they both came from Target. In fact, you’ve probably heard parts of the songs already, along with a bunch of others, in Target ads. It was after watching an ad with a song called “You’ll Never Find My Christmas” that the light of my life encouraged me to go in search of the original music to download.

Well, what do you know? There’s a whole Christmas album for download for free at Target.com, and there’s not a dud in the bunch. Target found a bunch of different up-and-coming bands and gave them a great opportunity, and got themselves some fun advertisements built around the music at the same time. To me, this seems like exploitation done right.

For the Ebenezer Scrooges among you: Yes, Target is a big, giant retail corporation, and I’ve just become a shill for them. Lighten up, would you? It’s Christmas! These are good songs you wouldn’t get to hear otherwise!

So hop on over and give a listen — you just might find your new holiday favorite.

3

Ground Control to Lincoln Marketing Team

I’ve noticed a couple of new ads for Lincoln automobiles lately. They’re pretty standard fare; cameras sweep over the body of the car, revealing design details that are somehow supposed to make this car better than Lexus or a Cadillac. Then there is the music. I’ve seen two different ads, with covers of two different songs. The first is Cat Power’s rendition of David Bowie’s classic “Major Tom”, the second is Shiny Toy Guns covering Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom (Coming Home)”.

While both songs have their uplifting moments, you have to wonder about associating your car with songs about a man being killed when his vehicle fails.

2

Career Advice for a Wayward Pop Star

I was driving up highway 17 the other day, top down despite the threatening weather, ZZ Top playing slightly louder than strictly necessary. Inexorably, inevitably, sure as night follows day and a pilot for a terrible television series follows the Super Bowl, my mind turned from Tres Hombres to Britney Spears.

To call me a fan of Ms. Spears would not be terribly accurate. Her music and schoolgirl-slut image is interchangeable in my mind with that of several other forgettable young women. Presented with a song by one of them, I expect I’d guess the correct singer at a rate only slightly higher than random chance. I’m pretty sure she did one called “Not That Innocent” or something like that.

Recently I learned that she was a Mouseketeer, along with another of the interchangeable popsters, and Justin Timberlake. I didn’t even know they still had Mouseketeers. Maybe now they’ll reconsider. If memory serves Britney and Justin were together for a while, but I might be thinking of some other guy.

I’m not a fan, but I think about Britney every once in a while. Somehow she came to define the whole pop-bimbo image, the platonic ideal of sweaty teenage jizz-bait. Then something went wrong, and I heard even less about her than I had before. A year or two ago she tried to stage a ‘comeback’ (it says something about us that someone in their twenties can come back), and I read that it was a disaster. Recently I saw her face on a perfume commercial, so I’m pretty sure she’s not dead.

The things I read about her comeback meltdown were almost giddy in their celebration of the crash of one of the most famous people of the previous decade. While I was never a fan, I also took no pleasure in her downfall. I could have told her that her comeback was ill-concieved, however, had she taken the time to ask me. Britney the schoolgirl cock-tease won’t work anymore. There’s too much history. Under my sage guidance Britney could come back, however — just not as a recapitulation of what she was before.

This is what occurred to me while listening to crunching electric guitars while driving a curvy road. Britney is now in a position to make an album I would buy, and I suspect a lot of other people would too. The title would be Mea Culpa and it would be about her real experiences, the mistakes she made, her lessons learned and her hope for the future. She would tell us of the fear and insecurity and the agents and handlers and the drugs and all the other stuff that can make anyone’s life go haywire. It would be her taking responsibility for her life, and showing the strength to rise up and move on. That would be a cool album.

It would be Britney evolving from a singer into an artist. Does she have what it takes to make an album like that? The artistic power and the courage to open her soul? I doubt we will ever know. Her people would never stand for it.