Oct 4 2010

original grunge

I had a friend in college who frequently wore a t-shirt depicting Pigpen from Peanuts.  It was ironic, you see, because it was one of only four t-shirts he owned, and he rotated among those four with roughly the same frequency as did Pigpen.  The non-meta joke associated with this particular t-shirt was that it read beneath the illustrated dust cloud “Original Grunge.”  It was, after all, 1993 and these things mattered.

Few people in 1993 would have considered Neil Young to be grunge – mostly because he had just released the country-tinged Harvest Moon.  Fewer people still would have described Neil Young as grunge in the mid-to-late 70′s – mostly because nobody had yet decided that an iconoclastic personality and a flannel-dependent wardrobe could be used successfully to sell music.  But though he had been a member of the classic rock elite with Buffalo Springfield and a few guys named Nash and Stills and Crosby, only a decade later he was singing about the virtues of Johnny Rotten.  Neil Young and Crazy Horse paired the classic rock guitar sound with a punk sensibility to become the first real grunge band.  There’s a reason that Pearl Jam sought them out in a vain attempt to gain some semblance of credibility.


Jul 20 2010

i don’t think you knew you were in this song

Long-time readers (and probably those who have been around for only a short time, for that matter) know there’s little I like more than arguing about music.  The first person I “met” on Vox was Jodi, who lured me in by being a little bit right before revealing how very wrong she usually is.  And of course there’s my years-long War Over Nothing with Dabysan that predates Vox by almost a decade.  But neither of those lengthy and amorphous arguments compares to the debate over the first track on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

At some point in 1992 or 1993 Vrabel and I were in the lab and decided that we wanted to listen to David Bowie.  He put in a CD and pressed play.  I noticed immediately that “Soul Love” emanated from our shared speakers.  I was a little confused.  “Hey, why’d you skip the first song?”  His reply was as terse as it was erroneous: “It sucks.”  I could barely believe it.  “Five Years” sets a foreboding (and somewhat menacing) tone for the rest of the record that follows – a record that, I might add, ends with a track called “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide.”  Ziggy Stardust starts with the end of the world and ends with the end of Ziggy.  Skipping the first song changes everything.  It’s easily the best song on the album.

My argument was welcomed with a shrug, which caused me to up my game.  At that point, “Five Years” became not only the best song on Bowie’s best album, but the best song Bowie had ever written.  I stupidly challenged Vrabel to name five better Bowie songs – to which he replied: “The next five songs on Ziggy Stardust after ‘Five Years’.”  We had quickly reached a stalemate.

The other night at the Old 97’s show, the band mentioned they were going to play a track off of their new covers EP.  As the spare drums kicked in, I had a pretty big grin on my face.  Vrabel turned to me.  “I suppose you feel vindicated,” he offered, following that observation with, “I feel like I just lost the longest argument I’ve ever had.”  In all fairness, it was a pretty crappy cover.  Bowie is a tough act to follow.

Old 97’s – Five Years

Here’s the entire setlist:  Streets of Where I’m From / 504 / Dance With Me / Lonely Holiday / W. TX Teardrops / No Baby I / Indefinitely / new song (something something Champaign, IL) / Can’t Get a Line / Melt Show / Stoned / Question / Up the Devil’s Pay / Barrier Reef / new song (Every Night Is Friday Night) / Here’s to the Halcyon / Smokers / Doreen / Four Leaf Clover — encore — Bel Air / Five Years / Early Morning / Timebomb I know this is the first time I’ve seen “Here’s to the Halcyon” live, and I’m pretty sure I can say the same for “504.” And they changed up “Bel Air” in a way I’ve never heard before.  I always liked that one.  “I’ll stomp a mudhole in your heart” are words to live by.

Jun 21 2010

bloodbuzz ohio

This is a watershed moment here at hotrod.vox.com.  For the first time in over four years, our humble blog is sponsored by a song that is both current and relevant.  But more specifically, current.  The latest by the National – High Violet – has only been out for a little over a month.  It’s spent five weeks (and counting!) on the Billboard charts, peaking at number one.  Here’s the band performing our titular song on Letterman on the same day as our latest anti-Netflix rant.

I’m not sure why I bought this record.  Nobody has ever specifically recommended the National to me, and I didn’t – at the time – own any of their other records.  (And though I’ve since bought Boxer, I’m kind of indifferent about it.)  I would say that Pitchfork told me to, but they’ve given high marks to plenty of records with which I haven’t bothered.  At any rate, I’m glad I did.  I’ve listened to little else over the past few weeks.  The National are from Cincinnati in the same way that the Hold Steady are from Minneapolis – which is to say that they’re actually from Brooklyn.  But if they were from Queen City for real, they’d be the third best Cincinnati band after Afghan Whigs and the Newspaper Taxis.

Dec 10 2009

my thursday evening

I learned this evening that the Miami Redhawks basketball game against the nineteenth-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats is being broadcast on ESPN2.  I’ve never seen Miami play basketball on television outside of March (and those March games are rare), so it would just figure they’d be on at the same time as the Steelers.

At halftime, Miami is down by only one point.  The Steelers are losing and Ben Roethlisberger was just sacked for the fifth time.  They look fucking terrible, and they’re playing the goddamn Cleveland Browns.  So I think I’m gonna switch over to the basketball game.  I’m sure Ben will understand.

Oct 5 2009

neighborhood #3 (power out)

My senior year of college, I took a semester-long vacation here in Alexandria, Virginia.  I was ostensibly in an exchange program with the urban campus of Virginia Tech's marine biology school, but I was only taking twelve credits and all I had to do was pass.  More important things (by which I mean anything but school) were on my mind.  As you might expect, by mid-September I was out of money and needed to get a job.

One of my friends had recently found work at the coffee house across the street, and I thought that would be a good way to earn some walking around money while eliminating the sizable line item in my budget for caffeinated beverages.  (Employees, at the time, got free coffee whenever they wanted.)  I stopped by when Tine was working, and officially inquired about a job.  Per management's instructions, I was given a paper plate and a pen.  The thinking was that if I couldn't figure out on my own what to write, they didn't want me working there.  At the top of the plate, I wrote "Hotrod!"  They told me later that's the only reason they hired me.

My first training shift was during a weekday morning rush.  It didn't take me very long to master the subtleties of steaming milk for a cappuccino versus steaming milk for a latte.  I was also able to steam the milk without losing track of the time on my espresso shots.  And, obviously, I already knew how to pour drip coffee.  After a couple hours, Misha – the owner – asked me to pull him a shot of espresso.  When he asked me for a second, I knew I was doing okay.  I went back the next day for a few more hectic hours, after which I was scheduled for my first solo shift the following Saturday afternoon.  Aside from the specifics of the drinks, the only thing they told me during my orientation was that my shift officially started fifteen minutes prior to the hour and that they wouldn't tolerate tardiness.  They'd fired people for being late for work only once.  That Friday, the guys from Cal Poly threw a party.  Dedicated to achieving the noble goals I'd set for myself that semester, I attended their party and became spectacularly intoxicated.  I stumbled home in the wee hours of the morning and fell unconsciously into bed.

The next day, I awoke with a start.  I looked to the clock next to my bed and the numbers were blinking.  At some point during the night, the power had gone out.  The time had reset to midnight and the alarm was off.  I needed to be at work for my first real shift – the first shift for
which I would be paid – by quarter to two in the afternoon.  I leapt out of bed and ran across the room to collect my watch from the top of the dresser.  At a glance, I could see the hands formed a right angle.  Shit!  It was three o'clock!  I was over an hour late!  I really needed this job, mainly because it was the easiest and most convenient one I could find that paid decent money.  Getting fired would be a huge pain in my ass.  I quickly changed clothes and ran across the street.  As I approached the door, I could see Misha behind the counter at the espresso machine.  Shit!  They got the fucking owner to cover my shift because I was late!  I was SO fired.

I burst through the door and exclaimed: "THE POWER WENT OUT IN MY BUILDING!"  Misha slowly turned to me with a blank stare.  "NO!  REALLY!  THE POWER WENT OUT IN MY BUILDING!"  After a beat, Misha asked, tactfully, "What the hell are you talking about?"  I explained.  "My power went out – sometime during the night.  My alarm never went off."  Misha replied simply: "So?"  "That's why I'm late," I pleaded.  "It wasn't my fault."  Once again, Misha leveled his steely gaze upon me, and after what seemed an eternity asked: "Hotrod, what time do you think it is?"  I looked back down at my watch.  The hands formed a right angle.  It was nine o'clock in the morning.
None of this has anything to do with anything.  I've just never told this story here and didn't have anything I wanted to say about the Stiff Little Fingers.

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Apr 10 2009

tom's our goalie

Last week, I wrote about my alma mater making it to the Frozen Four, which began tonight right here in our nation's capital.  In that post, I speculated that Miami University's opponent – the Bemidji State Beavers – might be fictional, but it has come to my attention in the interim that Bemidji State is, in fact, a real school.  It turns out that Bemidji State University is located in Bemidji, Minnesota.  Bemidji is in the part of Minnesota where nobody has any business living [So what's the difference from the rest of Minnesota? -Ed.] and it turns out the hockey team is something of a Cinderella story.  They used to be a Division II powerhouse but have struggled since making the leap to Division I.  They barely made the tournament this year after a rocky start to their season, and they're the first ever sixteen seed to advance to the Frozen Four.  Theirs is a heartwarming story.

And I am pleased to report that earlier this evening my Redhawks beat the tar out of the Beavers four to one.  So Miami will play the winner of Vermont/Boston University (currently BU) for the National Championship.  I do love to root against everything about Boston.  Maybe a hundred dollars isn't too much for a ticket to the game….

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Apr 3 2009

be true to your school

I am a bad alumnus.  I have never bothered to look up the local chapter of my alumni association.  I've been back to visit only twice in the past fourteen years.  Every solicitation for additional money I receive goes straight into the trash.  I know a few people who went to Ohio University and I don't actively hate them.   And yet, despite all that indifference, once every few years I manage to pay attention for a week or two when one of the sports teams is having a good season.  It has recently come to my attention that this is one of the years I should, um, pay attention.

I learned this morning that the Miami Redhawks are in the Frozen Four, which is taking place right here in Washington next week.  They're playing Bemidji State.  (I am pretty sure that's a made-up school.)  I considered getting tickets, but they are over a hundred dollars.  That's a little steep for college hockey, even if it is the championship.  So I'm not going.  I just hope I don't forget between now and next Thursday that it will be on TV, because there's a good chance I might.

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Oct 25 2008

at this moment

I once fell in love under circumstances that are a total cliché.  If I told you the story, you’d probably think I was making it up (or more likely that I was stealing it from the third season of Family Ties), that’s how clichéd it is.  It’s such a cliché that stuff like this never actually happens in real life.  Or so it would seem.

Back in my senior year of college, six of my classmates and I participated in an exchange program with a branch campus of Virginia Tech located in Alexandria.  The idea was that marine biology students at rural schools could come to study in an urban environment for a year.  Or in our case, a semester.  We secured housing in a renovated church that was owned by the university, and the apartments were a bit unusual in that there were three students to a unit.  Coop and I were paired up with a guy named Damon from Florida who later assaulted me.  (That’s a story for another time.)  Coop’s girlfriend Molly and her friend Tine were paired with a Tech student from Blacksburg.  (The other three Ohioans – Wes, Nick, and Kray – aren’t relevant to this story either.)

One day very early in the semester, I dropped in on Molly and Tine.  Their roommate – Jessica, who I had not yet met – answered the door.  She was wearing demin overalls over a gray t-shirt in a willfully un-hip manner and her curly brown hair was either pulled up into a crude bun or wildly out of control.  I inquired after Molly and Tine and she told me that they weren’t home, which surprised me because – though I don’t remember now exactly for what reason I went to their apartment – I know I expected them to be there.  I thanked Jessica for her time and walked away.  Only later did I learn that I’d made an impression.

The word that Molly and Tine used was “rude.”  We were eating dinner and they had just informed me of Jessica’s reaction to our brief encounter.  “Your friend is rude,” they said she said.  Apparently, I’d been quite surprised by my friends’ absence and asked where they might be.  I (may have) said in response to being told they weren’t around: “Are you sure?”  At which point, Jessica (may have) turned into the apartment and called for my friends, to no avail.  I will deny for the rest of my life that that exchange actually happened, but I know at least one person who thinks it did and she reported as much to Molly and Tine.  Also, my never officially introducing myself was, let’s just say…. not well received.

That was the moment I decided that Jessica was a total bitch and that the less I had to interact with her the better.  And what was the deal with the overalls and the hair in a loose bun (or wildly out of control)?  She obviously wanted people to think she was some sort of artist (or something equally pretentious).  To hell with her.  And that attitude carried me through the next week, until the seating assignments in the lab were finally posted.  I was placed at a desk right next to…. yep, you guessed it.  Again over dinner, I was lamenting my bad luck.  Tine joked, “You’ll probably end up dating!”  I replied, “That’s not very fucking funny.  Besides, that shit only happens on television.”

School started and I promptly began occupying myself trying to impress a different girl from Virginia Tech whose name I now don’t remember.  (She was a Dave Matthews fan and this was right before they broke nationally, in the fall of 1994.  This fact isn’t relevant either, but it explains a couple DMB CD’s that still sit on my shelf.)  The fall passed mostly uneventfully, if not overly cordially, between Jessica and me.  She moved out of Molly and Tine’s apartment, so I saw less of her.  But we both got jobs working at Misha’s (then kôf’ i hous’) so I saw more of her again.  Then just about this time of the year – late Rocktober – the ice thawed.  She had become friends with a kôf’ i hous’ regular named Stacy and I had become friends with a kôf’ i hous’ regular named Dennis.  And Dennis and Stacy were friends.  At the annual Halloween party thrown by school – and with the aid of our mutual friends in Stacy and Dennis (to say nothing of a keg of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale) – we finally struck up a real conversation and somehow hit it off.

I remember spending most of the next month and a half with her more or less inseparably, but I know that’s an exaggeration.  We did hang out an awful lot, though.  We even – in another scene straight out of a sitcom – prepared a Thanksgiving dinner for ten or twelve of our friends, with all the comic mishaps and small triumphs one would expect.  And yes, we went on a few dates, but there was always the unfortunate knowledge that time was short.  I was going back to Ohio in December to finish school where I’d spent most of it.

I made the right choice.  As fondly as I remember that autumn and reflect on what might have been, I know I would still regret spending my final semester of college away from Ohio.  If this particular chapter of my life were a movie rather than a situation comedy, I would have come back to Virginia, and she would still have been here and we would have lived happily ever after until the credits ended.  As it happened, I just moved back.  That worked out pretty well, too.

By now you’re probably wondering (if you’ve bothered to read this far) what any of this has to do with Rocktober.  Well, Jessica introduced me to some pretty cool music.  And though Liz Phair doesn’t always remind me of this story, this story does always remind me of Liz Phair.

Oct 22 2008

a series of tubes

I had planned to tell today the story of the time in college that Vrabel and I (and others) were in downtown Cincinnati for a field trip (of sorts) and a homeless man who asked Vrabel for some change or a cigarette (or possibly both) told us all about the honkey tubes.  But I didn't write this one ahead of time and now…. well, I'm just not getting anywhere.  Or, at least, I'm not getting anywhere that makes a whole lot of sense.  And I'm not some rookie, willing to keep putting up a bunch of junk.  I recognize when I start throwing wild pitches.  So I'm not going to force this one.  I need to chill out, relax, walk this guy (and maybe the next), and generally get my head back in the game….

Besides, the "Fountain and Fairfax" reference I was going to make was always intended to be a tenuous segue to a better song anyway, so I may as well just cut to the chase.

And now, as I re-read and prepare to click on that save button, I realize that this goddamn post still doesn't make any sort of sense.  Nicely done, Hotrod.  Jackass.

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Oct 10 2008

pony express record

If you're a fan of music, the chances are pretty good that there are a few bands that you like more than you actually should.  I know you know what I mean.  These bands certainly are not essential by anybody's judgment.  Hell, they may not even be that good.  But you still listen all the same, and chances are you still listen because they remind you of a specific time and place.

It's ironic that some of the bands that remind me the most of college are bands from DC.  This city hasn't always been a festering hole where music comes to die.  It's only been that way since I moved here.  I can only imagine what it must have been like around here in the early nineties when bands like Shudder to Think (who I will be seeing at the 9:30 Club this evening) and Jawbox and Velocity Girl were on the scene.  Because when I hear them, I think of southwest Ohio.

There was a rumor back in college that a drunken Mighty Roy grabbed singer Sarah Shannon's boob after a show at Sudsy Malone's.  That story is almost certainly not true.  Most stories about Roy aren't.

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