It’s 8:15 p.m. on a Tuesday night, and my sister just sent me a text that includes the link to a Buzzfeed article (21 Inevitable Truths You Learn By Having An Older Brother) and the text:
“LOL, too true. Love you bro.”
It’s only the second time we’ve talked since late January, when I last saw her as she was driving like a bat out of hell out of Madison racing back to Oshkosh because she was getting evicted from her apartment. It was the first time in three years that she’s come to see me—I’ve seen her when I’ve gone home, but mostly in brief 10-15 minute visits my parents and I liken to tornados—and the third time in that same time frame that my sister has been evicted from an apartment. This time, it turned out her “best friend” and roommate had only paid rent for four of the nine months they lived in their apartment, and had hid the eviction notices and late rent notices from my sister. This is the second time this exact thing has played out, though last time it was her “best friend” Amanda who played the hide the eviction letters con. I seriously couldn’t make this up.
“Hahahaha. Nice.” I text back, knowing that this, like every time my sister contacts me, is not even remotely close to WHY she wants to talk.
“Did mom tell you me and D found a new apartment???” she texts next.
My stomach sinks. Doesn’t She remember what happened last time? How she woke me up from being drunk (at 6 am, still) after we had partied all over Madison, and had maybe the best 12 hours we had has as adult siblings, and how she was bawling and screaming, and yelling that she couldn’t believe that another one of her friends could do that to her? Didn’t she remember making me call my mom and dad to tell them she was being evicted and she’d have to move back in because she was too embarrassed? Didn’t she remember crying the whole way out to Matt’s house to pick up her car, and asking me “What am I going to do?” over and over again? Didn’t she remember me telling her “You need to just stay with mom and dad for a while, and save a bunch of money. Then go to culinary school like you’ve been saying, and get your fucking shit together”?
“Nope.” I text back “How much is rent?”
“We’re gonna move into a huge place. It’s only $800 a month with everything included.”
“Can D afford it?”
“Oh yeah, no problem.”
“What happens if she doesn’t pay rent again?”
“I move out.”
“You know that’s not how it works, right? You’ll still be liable to pay rent there.”
“It will be fine. Why are you worrying? I’ve got this.”
“Well, I’m pulling for you, I guess.”
Basically that’s code for, “I know you know my life is kinda fucked up, and I remember what happened last time. And I remember that you remember that this has happened before. I know you think I have poor choice in friends, but I refuse to believe that one of them is doing me harm. I am only texting you as a courtesy, because I am supposed to keep you up to date on my life because we are brother and sister. And while I am thankful for your concern, I am going to do what I want because I am 25 and you should stay the fuck out of my life.”
If only it were that easy.
1. Sometimes you buy a record because it is the “best” by an artist. Sometimes you buy a record because it has your favorite song by an artist. And sometimes you buy a record because the cover is unbelievably awesome, something you can’t believe exists. That is the case with this one. I’m trying to buy a record by every artist mentioned on “Slow Jamz” and needed a Smokey album, and I saw this and decided he’s my new style icon. Catch me at the club next November wearing this outfit.
2. Best piece of trivia about this album? It features a song co-written by David Soul, better known as Hutch from Starsky & Hutch.
3. “Let Me Be The Clock” was actually a hit song, but it feels like a lost classic. It’s such a perfect soul song. It’s inspiring that Smokey could basically be on the classic rock end of his career and crush something as effective as this. Shouts to Smokey Robinson:
2. Of all of the #musictwitter debates that drive me absolutely fucking insane, the biggest one is where people #wellactually you about liking artists with questionable personal ethics/decisions. Mostly because I think this outrage is 85% manufactured, but also I think when you become an adult you realize that art and the artist are separate. Chris Brown beat Rihanna, but he also makes insanely catchy, and sometimes even “good” music. R Kelly is very likely a sexual deviant, but “Trapped in the Closet” is a classic. These things are not mutually exclusive, even if the Steve Hydens of the world would like you to believe that they are. It is not like R. Kelly sings about having sex with underage girls, or Chris Brown about proper punching form.
And not to mention that the selection of artists it is OK to have “hangups” about is hypocritical and probably vaguely racist. John Lennon hit women and cheated on his wives consistently, and no one ever says that’s a reason to not listen to Revolver. Jimmie Page carried on a relationship with an underage groupie for years, and no one has used that as a reason that his solo on “When the Levee Breaks” “sucks.”
If you spend anytime considering any art of any kind, you need to separate the art from the artist. Which is something that comes into liking the music of Shabba Ranks, because dude spends time on wax and at live concerts denouncing homosexuality. In fact, those views probably cost him his semi-ascendant fame in the ‘90s. But still, even though I find his personal views about homosexuality abhorrent, I am able to listen to this without wilting like a flower over him maybe not being a very good guy.
4. I’ve talked a couple times on here about how I don’t listen to reggae—as a matter of practice, basically—and I’m realizing that dancehall might be the only Jamaican music I actually LOVE instead of just appreciate. X-Tra Naked is better than any Marley record to me, it’s better than any reggaeton record, it’s better than Peter Tosh. I think a lot of it has to do with Shabba being the personification of swag, of his confidence, and basically everything that Fergenstein raps about on the chorus to “Shabba.” He has basically no fucks to give on record, so much so that you could tell me he’s rapping a dictionary or giving directions to a McDonald’s in Kingston and I’d believe you.
Listening to this made me realize that Shaggy was basically the worst possible version of Shabba.
5. There are artists who yell their own name on record, and then there is Shabba Ranks. He’s the G.O.A.T. He uses it as a verb, a noun, and as an exultation. He’s the best.
“Guess I hoped to find a future in my past”
I know that the “Taylor Swift is shocked she didn’t win album of the year” gif was the most bloggable moment from the Grammys last month, but I really think there wasn’t a better moment than tiny Paul Williams standing with Pharrell and Daft Punk when they won album of the year. Williams was touring casinos around the world till this year, till Daft Punk tapped him to sing on “Touch,” which every Random Access Memories fan can tell you, is the emotional centerpiece of the album.
My favorite thing about Random Access Memories is that instead of just trying to make an album that sounds like the big, emotional albums they liked from the ‘70s, Daft Punk went out and hired Nile Rodgers and dudes who played on Thriller, and wrote a Paul Williams song with Paul Williams. Daft Punk became more human in 2013, because they showed they have has dorky musical heroes as the rest of us.
“I think you’ve charmed me, I always hoped that someone would”
One of the things that interests me about music culture is how quickly something can go from being at the center of the culture for a few years, and then suddenly become impossibly “corny.” Like, it makes me cringe to listen to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah right now, because those dudes are corny, but back in 2006, they seemed fucking incredible. And they weren’t even famous.
Paul Williams was huge in the ‘70s; he wrote “Just And Old Fashioned Love Song” he wrote “Rainbow Connection” and he wrote “We’ve Only Just Begun,” and while I am sure there were New York hipsters who wrote thinkpieces about how Paul Williams was “saccharine” or whatever, the guy had huge hit songs and he could write stuff that could be huge hits. But by like 1978, and basically since, you play his stuff at a party or wherever, and people are going to go “Oh that’s so corny” and only like it ironically, which is fucked up and weird to me.
But maybe it’s not fucked up; pop culture is an inexorable grind, and eventually you become the corny one.
“I’ll take my memories to bed, and know that I’ll be waking up alone”
A few years ago, I was covering the Wisconsin Film Festival for the A.V. Club Madison (R.I.P) when I was assigned to see Paul Williams: Still Alive, a documentary with the somewhat fucked up conceit of the filmmaker (who was in attendance) trying to find out if Paul Williams was in fact still alive. He was; he wasn’t the inexcplicably famous dude he was in the mid-‘70s—one of the funniest parts of the movie is the part that chronicles the myriad of places Paul turned up in the ‘70s, including The Love Boat—but he had found some kind of solace and happiness in his life by performing one-off shows in Winnipeg and the Philippines. He was also harshly self-critical; he mocks the fact that he took every paying job available to him, and he mocks the very idea of the documentary itself. It’s maybe the best portrait of an artist documentary I’ve ever seen.
After seeing the movie and filing my review, I downloaded Just an Old Fashioned Love Song, because I was knocked out by the music that was played in the documentary, and I wanted to see if it could hit me hard without the added context of watching Williams talk about his alcoholism. It did. For about a week, it was all I could do to not fall into a k-hole of depression, because it felt like of any songwriter of the ‘70s (or ‘80s or ‘90s) Williams hit me in the gut. This was a dude who understood what it was like to be a romantic weirdo without many love prospects, this was a dude who had cried his fair share of semi-crocodile tears over a woman into a beer. That this period dovetailed with the implosion of a mostly one-sided relationship I was carrying on with a woman who couldn’t decide if she liked me is both appropriate and predictable.
“So you must know that I was lonely”
The thing that is most unbelievable to me about Paul Williams’ ‘70s fame is how outwardly sad he clearly was the whole time, and that no one paused to consider dude was not probably chipper and ready to play nice on the Match Game or whatever. His songs are the original #sadboy anthems; he might as well be the patron saint for dudes with feelings who live inside of their heads. But he was also hilarious in stuff, so I think in that way I relate to him; he’s able to be witty and funny even though he’s clearly bummed the fuck out.
I guess I’m saying I started listening to Paul Williams because of a movie, and then I listened to it and it knocked me out in a way I am repetitively trying to express here. I just listened to it while I was washing dishes, and I found myself just standing in my kitchen zoning out. Part of it is thinking about how all my friends are gone this weekend and I’m staring down a 4-day weekend spent alone with my records. Like basically every other weekend of my life, I guess. I need to go get some beer.
“I think it was because he was so unique. There’s never been anyone like him, before or since. It was the emotions. The romance. He wasn’t like that guy with the deep voice who just kind of moaned. Who was that? Yeah, Barry White. Luther was great on the slow stuff, but he was also great on the uptempo stuff. He was just so great. Luuuuuthar. I loved him.”
That was my mom, 20 minutes ago, when I asked her about why she loved Luther Vandross. I ostensibly bought this record because Luther is mentioned on “Slow Jamz” but I also bought this to have a conversation with my mom about Luther Vandross, because as a kid, I think I was the only kindergartner in Oshkosh, WI, who could sing along to Luther Vandross when it came on in the day care van. And I owe that all to my mom, who had an eclectic music taste—and still does—that included Taylor Dayne, Wilson Phillips, Andy Kim, Lyle Lovett and Luther Vandross.
I guess I’m saying shout out to my mom.
It is 1999, and I am in gym class, and I am in the seventh grade. It is towards the end of the semester, and instead of having one of our typical days of disinterested volleyball playing, our teacher lets us goof off in the gym. The guys throw half court basketball shots, and the girls commandeer the boombox that is playing over the gym’s PA. One of them runs to her locker to grab a CD. Suddenly a song hits the PA and all of the gym class’ 25 girls go apeshit. The guys all look at each other, and one of them asks his girlfriend what song is playing. She yells “Thong Song.”
Little did I know that that song would become the staple of the school dance a few weeks later—the DJ played it three times because of overwhelming demand—and or that I would watch that video 700 times in the next three months, or that me and Jessie Schmidt would awkwardly rub on each other while it played at our last middle school dance a year later, or that I would pay $2 for a remix version of it close to 15 years later and listen to it in my living room and think about school dances and when life was simple enough that you could make memories to a song about thongs.
This is a story that sort of pertains to Juelz, but mostly it pertains to how fucking hard it was to hear music on a computer legally in 2005.
One day in the summer of 2005, I heard “Whistle Song” on MTV 2, and I was like, “Holy shit. That rules. I need to listen to that 700 more times.” But I was a broke 19-year-old pizza deliveryman who wouldn’t have an iPod for another six months, and buying the song off iTunes wasn’t an option. I didn’t know YouTube existed, and being that my parents’ internet was still through a phone modem, there would have been no way to stream the video anyway. So I went to a new site I had heard of that worked reasonably well on dial-up and played free music on the internet. It was called Pandora.
And if you’ve ever tried to listen to a specific song on Pandora, you know what happened next: I thumbed down five straight songs and spent 3 hours tying up the phone line on a Wednesday afternoon trying to hear “Whistle Song.” It never played.
Now, part of me feels like this was forever ago, like it was something that happened dozens of years ago; you had to actually buy new music to hear it. But this was only eight years ago. I am currently listening to N.E.R.D’s In Search Of… on Spotify for free, mostly because I can. I’m not sure I even want to listen to it. But it’s available. I think we’re blessed to live right now.
1. Consider for a moment, the legacy of Rockwell. He’s a one hit wonder for a mega-paranoid earworm called “Somebody’s Watching Me,” a song about how he was worried the government, or someone else, was constantly watching him. That it ended up being a prescient song—everyone is being watched all the time—didn’t prevent the song from being something of a joke; no one is watching Rockwell now.
2. The thing that’s striking about listening to the full length album though, is how paranoid and angry and convinced of conspiracy Rockwell is. He was only 20 when he made this album, and he spends multiple tracks—including a dirge-like cover of “Tax Man”—to rail against the IRS and the government. I don’t know if it’s really authentically possible to be angry at the IRS before you are even old enough to file income taxes, but Rockwell said fuck it. I think it was a weird position to take, and for that reason, it makes this album at times grating and at times bold. Rockwell fucking hates government interference. He’s probably the first Pop Libertarian.
3. But then you remember that Rockwell is the son of Berry “I Made Motown, Bitches” Gordy, and he probably never had to wipe his own ass—or if he did, he made Randy Jackson do it—and then this album takes a darker resonance. This is a guy railing against the government and being paranoid despite a near lack of discomfort in his life. Why was Rockwell so angry and worried? What was it like growing up in the Gordy household? Is Rockwell a paranoid schizophrenic?
4. When I was about 13 I started singing the chorus to “Somebody’s Watching Me” as “Somebody’s watching me pee” and now I can’t unhear that every time I hear the song. This doesn’t mean anything, except that sometimes I will write stuff on here that I am not sure matters but maybe it does?