Tyler’s Favorite Albums (1998): The Afghan Whigs – ‘1965’

“[Greg] Dulli’s a Catholic boy blessed with a filmmaker’s sense of story, a robust, overly industrious voice that can’t quite stay on key, sexual hang-ups for days, and the seeming conviction that he may, in fact, be black.” – Joe Gross on the Afghan Whigs in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th Ed), 2004. 

Columbia Records Promotional still from 1965 era (photo by Marina Chavez)

For a substantial portion of my twenties, I lived with venerated guitarist and session musician J. Tom Hnatow. We met because I needed a room when I moved to DC, he had a room to let, and we both loved Tom Waits. He spent a lot of time on the road, but whenever he was home, we would, predictably enough, bullshit about music. To this day, whenever I listen to the Afghan Whigs, I occasionally remember the first thing Tom said when I brought them up: “It must have been no fun at all being in that band.” I trusted Tom then, and I still trust him now, given his pedigree from years of hard-scrabble touring and babysitting various collaborators with various addictions. 

Though the Afghan Whigs emerged from Cincinnati at the height of the hair metal/scuzz-rock era, which their long-lost debut album reflects, there was always something different about their scuzz. Their first album on Sub Pop, Up In It was just as problematic as it came out in 1990 as if it had dropped last year (despite the term not having dissipated into popular discourse from the academic bubble yet). However, Greg Dulli’s blatant love and admiration for Miles Davis and Billie Holiday made listeners wonder how serious he was about the band’s whole “track-marks and rage” persona. Bob Gendron did a good job demystifying Dulli’s story in his 33 1/3 book about Gentlemen, the Afghan Whigs’ 1993 major-label debut which frequently centerpieces any listicle about “bands who actually got better when they sold out (imagine that)”. 

First of all, I think that ideology is flawed, considering how my favorite record of 1998, the Afghan Whigs’ swan song 1965, is sandwiched in between two other records by underground artists who generated their finest work using major-label machinery*. Of course, there was no rhyme or reason to how or why certain music of the Nineties has aged better than most. It feels like a lot of the most timeless shit from the 80’s went against aural and production trends (fucking saxophones…), but the timeless shit from the 90’s were about purposefully bucking whatever was popular and giving LOTS of love to your pop forebears. 1965 isn’t even the only “apart-from-indie-and-punk” album named after the authors’ birth year to top one of my favorite-albums lists this decade**. Maybe it was the sudden floodgates of cultural-text access which the internet had opened, but both Greg Dulli and Tim Wheeler both seemed like they would have had a hell of a time being able to experience their birth years as adults. I often waver on this about my own year of birth. 

Either way, the Afghan Whigs’ completing their transition to noirish R&B made 1965 a perfect title. The cover featured Ed White walking in space outside of the Gemini 4 less than one month after Dulli was born. Though it take a few glances to notice it on the cover, he was attached to the spacecraft via an umbilical cord – entirely to symbolize Dulli’s own introspection about his birth following extensive treatment for clinical depression. Granted, what the hell do I know? I’ve only met Greg Dulli once – briefly – in 2007 at a Dinosaur Jr gig in New Orleans. He told me that he and Mark Lanegan were bringing their Gutter Twins project to DC that March, welcomed me to New Orleans, then went outside to smoke. Maybe he isn’t as complicated as we imagine he is, or at least no more complicated than anybody who’s made a career out of writing songs about fucking and fucking up. 

To wit: 1965– perhaps the album that I’ve listened to more times than any record ever made. I’m unsure why that is, outside of the fact that I love it, the CD has always found its way into my car(s over the years), and it puts me where I need to be when I’m in a place I want to avoid. I did first hear it at that pivotal point in my adolescence, when “Something Hot” made it onto the radio while sounding nothing like anything else on the radio. I also took a major coming-of-age trip to New Orleans in 1998 and was still reeling from that six months later when the album came out. I remember buying my used copy of the CD, opening the booklet and seeing that they had recorded part of it in NOLA. The album definitely feels like the pulse of the Northernmost Caribbean City, dribbling in Creole voice samples and steel-pan drums over “Citi Soleil” and nodding to “some old boy who lives Uptown” in “Crazy.” There’s a moment in “Neglekted,” just short of the 3-minute mark, when a key change drops and releases the song into a gorgeous lounge, full of smoky background vocals and a suddenly ebullient protagonist, floating through it all. 

Like many bands who became my favorites in high school, the Afghan Whigs split up around that time, too. Given the demons that seemed to permeate the band’s aesthetic, it wasn’t a big surprise. Within a year and change, Dulli had returned as the Twilight Singers, which at first felt like the unfinished business of a guy who had scrubbed his old garage-punk band of all grunge influence. Within a few years, Greg’s buddy Ted Demme died, he scrapped his solo album, and he poured his noirish melancholia into what would become my favorite album of 2003. After spending a decade channeling his middle-aged angst into the Twilight Signers project, he reunited the Afghan Whigs and, in the past decade, has released two very good new albums (with a third on the way). Imagine that.

*Ween in 1997 and The Dismemberment Plan in 1999; the latter had been dropped before the album came out, but they used that Interscope money-fountain to record it.

**Ash’s 1977 also earns that esteem from me for 1996.

Happy 2022: It’s the Not-by-Weezer Challenge!

Happy New Year, everyone.

I don’t have a whole lot of time to write at the moment, but with 2022 finally here, I’m going have a whole bunch of new essays and announcements in the upcoming months. December has been quite busy, to say the least.

Anyway, no sooner had I come out of retirement with the Not-by-the-Cure challenge had I already written half of the clues about Weezer. I owe a tip of the hat to the Wizard and the Bruiser, who did a great episode of their podcast recently that put me into a more positive frame of mind about Rivers Cuomo and his compatriots. Also, Jake Young referred to Matt Sharp (who I long considered the band’s secret weapon early on) as an “alpha-Chad,” and I haven’t been able to think of anything else regarding Weezer since.

Here you go! Tell a friend, make sure to hashtag it #NotByWeezer, spread some New Years’ cheer with power-chords and songs about nerd stuff, and never forget to bring home the turkey if they bring home the bacon.

Tyler’s Favorite Albums (1983): Violent Femmes

I could dedicate this essay to just praising the originality and uncompromising dark humor of the Violent Femmes’ definitive first album. I could tell you how Brian Ritchie’s bass solo in “Please Don’t Go” may be my favorite one ever recorded. I could also recount how “Kiss Off” is a sleeper for one of my favorite karaoke songs. I could also get into a one-sided argument about how, in a hardcore landscape facing the disintegration of Minor Threat and a takeover by meatheads, there was nothing more punk rock than scrapping anything electric or distorted and essentially busking for ten tracks. Instead, I’ll share a couple disparate memories related to the Violent Femmes which illustrate just how pervasive and timeless this record is, in spite of itself.

Flashpoint: 2003.
I went to the WBCN River Rave with my college girlfriend and some of her friends from the Boston area. I was already pissed because Blur cancelled, and in order to keep some seats we snagged near the pavilion, we had to sit though Saliva for 30 minutes. Now, my audience is so niche that I’m probably not off-base to write that anyone reading this already thinks that Saliva are one of the shittiest hard rock bands to ever (1) emerge from Memphis or (2) have a cross-over hit single. Because it was a radio station-sponsored music festival, a lot of the people there bopped up and down to “Click Click Boom” and cheered as Josey Scott ranted that the Dixie Chicks should have been kicked out of “our” country. After Saliva finally finished their set and got the hell offstage, we were more than ready for – “hey, who’s on next, anyway? …. JACK JOHNSON?”

Yes, the genius programmers at WBCN decided to follow a right-wing cheez-metal band with the most obnoxiously chill singer-songwriter to emerge in the twin frat-bro shadows of Dave Matthews and Brad Nowell. I didn’t know much of Johnson’s music at the time, and none of us had any beef with him, but like Matthews and Nowell, his fans hadn’t done his reputation any favors. Johnson himself was probably flabbergasted to have to follow Josey Scott’s talentless “Love It Or Leave It” boom-boom show, but the guy deserves a LOT of credit for resetting the temperature that day. As utterly inoffensive as Johnson’s music is, he helped dial things back a bit and put us all in a better frame of mind. Maybe that programmer DID think it through, in retrospect.

Anyway, the moment when my opinion of Jack Johnson shifted, permanently, came at the beginning of his third or fourth song, when he strummed the instantly-recognizable opening chords of “Please Don’t Go,” the third track on Violent Femmes. I perked up, probably vocalizing, “Is this dude really playing a Violent Femmes song? And a deep cut??” Turned out, that dude really was playing a Violent Femmes deep cut. He sang the first verse of “Please Don’t Go,” instantly making casual fans of every beleaguered music nerd in the amphitheater. It was still early enough so that the drunks were only tipsy, too, so I had yet to make a voyage to the bathrooms in a scene not unlike when Simon Pegg darts through a crowd of zombies in Shaun of the Dead.

Fast Forward 10 Years: 2013. The California Low Desert. Coachella Festival.
My friend Laura and I met up to car-camp with a couple friends of friends. Our site was surrounded by, on one side, a group of nice folks who drove out from New Mexico, and on the other sides, about 15,000 of the worst people on the planet. However, Blur were playing, and although I finally got to see them play in Hyde Park in 2009, I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to see them on US soil for the first time*.

As the first night finally arrived, we watched the Stone Roses sleepwalk through their set before she split to go watch How to Destroy Angels, whose set conflicted with Blur’s. For those who don’t remember, How to Destroy Angels was a Nine Inch Nails side project with a relatively brief shelf life. From what she told me at our campsite later, she managed to get pretty close to the stage, where she befriended a short middle-aged man who mentioned his son was over seeing the Wu-Tang Clan. She could not get over how a person in their 50s would be that amped to see a Trent Reznor.

Gordon Gano (Violent Femmes) playing at the Coachella Festival, April 2013. (Photo by Tyler S. for Sonic Geography).

The following afternoon, our group migrated over to one of the main stages to see the Violent Femmes. As they took the stage, Laura lit up, turned to me, and said “Oh my god – that nice old guy I talked to before How to Destroy Angels?? That was the singer from this band!”

My response was hardly understated: “You hung out with Gordon Gano and didn’t tell me!?”

Laura defended herself, reminding me that she didn’t know who he was – Gano didn’t even mention being there to play at the festival! What a humble guy, considering how he wrote some of the most timeless and quintessential camp songs of the 20th century. So humble for a guy who created the best record of 1983, mostly when he was still a disgruntled teenager, forced to ride buses around Milwaukee and occasionally getting locked inside his house by his own parents.

Femmes drummer Victor DeLorenzo (who I’ve seen play with the band twice in between his stint being kicked out) opened their set on that blazing sunny afternoon announcing, “We’re going to play our first record for you, from top to bottom!” That’s the Violent Femmes for you – giving the people what they want! If only more foundational underground bands could be so thoughtful. 

Victor DeLorenzo (Violent Femmes) playing at the Coachella Festival, April 2013. (Photo by Tyler S. for Sonic Geography).
Brian Ritchie^ (Violent Femmes) playing at the Coachella Festival, April 2013. (Photo by Tyler S. for Sonic Geography).

Liner Notes

*I found out, years later, that the 2003 run supporting Think Tank was a nightmare for them, since Graham Coxon was no longer with the band, Simon Tong wasn’t a suitable replacement, and Dave Rowntree was going through coke-rage to the point where he was a tyrannical asshole to Nardwuar during their Vancouver stop. Rowntree did apologize and Nardwuar accepted, but goodness what an uncomfortable video if you find it.

^Am I the only one who can’t help but think about this when they look at this picture?

Three (count ’em) Song Challenges for February (which I Inspired, but Didn’t Make)

Back at the beginning of the pandemic “lockdown” (as much it can be called that in the United States), when I put together a matrix for the #SonicGeographySongChallenge, I didn’t imagine my idea for the following month, #NotbyBillyJoel, would lead to a new challenge every remaining month in 2020. Over the New Year, I decided to take January off. I had a couple of ideas in the works for February, but before I could follow through, I got contacted by [NAME REDACTED] of a (mainly DC expats) Facebook group I’m in asking if he could use my matrix for his own idea. I gladly said yes and sent the Photoshop file over to Matt… uh, I mean [redacted].

Imagine my surprise when I logged into Facebook on Monday morning and saw not only the #NotbyAbbaChallenge, but also two others: one by Paul, a teacher down in Miami, and another by my friend Mike and his buddy challenging people to NOT post love songs all month.

I would be remiss if I didn’t post them all here. I should have done that yesterday, but the day got away from me for various reasons. Anyway, enjoy the “Not by ABBA” Challenge, the “Not a Love Song” challenge, and the “Not by Queen” challenge, all to keep your February filled with music in its 28 days.

In case anybody is wondering, my Day-1 choices for all three challenges were Refused songs. If you can guess which three, then more power to you.

It’s the #NotByTomWaits Song Challenge for December!

Grab your $29, fill your jockey full of bourbon, and clap hands while whistling through the graveyard, it’s the NOT-BY-TOM-WAITS SONG-A-DAY CHALLENGE!

Tom Waits playing a grizzled old prospector in 2018’s ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ (as much as I’m partially convinced they just set up hidden cameras and filmed what he was doing that week anyway).

As I hinted yesterday, for most Tom Waits fans, the mere mention of Little Anthony and the Imperials elicits thoughts of “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis,” one of the truly saddest and funniest and most beautiful songs ever written. It’s also not the only Minneapolis song I drew directly from for this challenge; “9th and Hennepin,” a standout track from ‘Rain Dogs,’ gave me an excuse to ask everyone for songs about intersections (the topic of one of the first episodes of The Casual Geographer). Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t shout out his songwriting (and life) partner Kathleen Brennan, since she co-wrote or inspired many of these alluded classics.

In honor of Mr. Waits’ birthday on the 7th of the final month of a year in which we all felt, at points, like the Earth was dying screaming, I couldn’t resist this. DIG IN:

Per usual, there is only one rule, and it’s self-explanatory. Be careful with this one, though; Tom is all over pop culture in places you may not expect. Download the matrix, have fun, don’t forget to tag it #NotByTomWaits, and keep asking around regarding where Mr. Knickerbocker’s at (even if nobody’s sure).

I try to refrain from using profanity on this site, but as your special treat for this unveiling, enjoy my favorite Tom Waits Letterman interview, which is probably the funniest fucking thing I’ve ever seen.

“Notice how he worked around that hinge!”

The ‘NOT-A-SHOWTUNE’ Song Challenge for November!

I’ve gone on the record, more than once, that I’m not a big fan of musicals. I especially dislike those “Oh, but you’ll like THIS musical, Tyler” musicals. The only musical I genuinely love is Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Otherwise, there are a handful I will tolerate because people close to me love them, but even then I will still periodically wince when the belting begins. God, I hate when singers belt, especially with those assembly line vocal styles that the Andrew Lloyd Webbers of the world have forced us to agree are “good.”

But, I digress. This is why, among other reasons, that this month is a collaboration! My great friend Courtney, who lives in the DC area with her husband, small son, and slightly smaller dog, happens to be a Broadway fanatic. In fact, the last time we collaborated on anything, it was in the DC theatre scene, notably the 2008 Hexagon show (for which she did plenty of the heavy vocal lifting, and I hid in the chorus with my mic turned down).

Anyway, ye grande lockdown(e) of 2020 gave us an excuse to collaborate once again. Her sister Marissa (also a DC friend, with whom I bonded over Sunny Day Real Estate and the Dismemberment Plan) started a Facebook group in which these song-a-day challenges have assumed a whole new life. It only made sense that Courtney draw from her musical theatre past and create a 30-day-challenge. Also, it was her birthday this past Thursday, so…

Download this, share it with your friends, make sure to hashtag #NotAShowtune, and wish Courtney a Happy Belated Birthday! Her Instagram handle is next to mine under the title.

The only rule is… just as obvious in the past few months. And yes, musicals that became more famous as movies count, too. You theatre nerds should know!

My October #NotbyU2 Song Challenge Results

Happy Halloween to everyone, and Happy Birthday to Larry Mullen, Jr.

Here are my Hashtag-Not-By-U2 Song Challenge installments, which varied (per usual) depending on the curious (and often highly unfortunate) omissions from Instagram’s music catalog. Here is the matrix:

  1. The Lawrence Arms – “October Blood”
  2. Kendrick Lamar – “Backseat Freestyle”
  3. The Gregory Brothers feat. Antoine Dodson – “Bed Intruder Song”
  4. Blur – “Sunday Sunday”
  5. Lou Reed – “Perfect Day”
  6. Avail – “Nameless”
  7. Mineral – “Gloria”
  8. Oppenheimer – “Fireworks are Illegal in the State of New Jersey” (Northern Ireland got a ton of love across social media on this one)
  9. Blur – “Look Inside America”
  10. The Dismemberment Plan – “You are Invited”
  11. Rammstein – “Der Meister” (The same six guys for 25 years, which is more impressive than ZZ Top being the same 3 for 50. And I love ZZ Top).
  12. Black Flag – “Spray Paint”
  13. Eric B. and Rakim – “Follow the Leader”
  14. The Lillingtons – “I Don’t Think She Cares”
  15. Clinic – “Walking with Thee”
  16. 100 Gecs – “Stupid Horse”
  17. Ella Fitzgerald – “Drop Me off in Harlem”
  18. Camera Obscura – “Happy New Year”
  19. The Dead Milkmen – “Going to Graceland”
  20. Roy Orbison – “Crying”
  21. Jimmy Eat World – “23”
  22. Aphex Twin – “Flim”
  23. The Magnetic Fields – “Strange Powers”
  24. The Replacements – “Kiss Me on the Bus”
  25. Girls Against Boys – “Super-fire”
  26. Yazoo – “Don’t Go”
  27. Rancid – “Up to No Good”
  28. David Lee Roth – “Yankee Rose (Spanish Version)” (never forget there is a whole album of this)
  29. The Dollyrots – “Jackie Chan”
  30. Goo Goo Dolls – “On Your Side” (It’s so easy to forget these guys were so good, they were worthy of the title “poor man’s Replacements”).

If you participated, thanks for participating! If you just stopped by to read this and see what songs I picked while half-asleep each day, thanks for stopping by. Watch a great spooky movie tonight, and come back TOMORROW AT 9AM for your November song-a-day challenge.

Even Better than the Real Thing: The October “NOT BY U2” Song Challenge!

October. And kingdoms rise, and kingdoms fall. But you go on and on…

Especially if, convinced that people are still demanding these song-a-day challenges, you keep on going and draw up an admittedly semi-obvious choice for October. But as Bono sang in 1981, “The trees are stripped bare, of all they wear [and] what do I care?”

This month’s challenge goes out to everyone’s favorite member of U2, Larry Mullen Jr, who was born in Dublin on Halloween 1961. Did Bono write “October” as a partial tribute to his bandmate? No, it was actually just a metaphor, if Niall Stokes’ book is to be trusted.

Anyway, download, re-post, like, and share this image, and have a great time. Apologies to any fans of U2’s more recent work, but and I don’t feel bad about the way I feel about “Songs of Innocence,” and they have billions of dollars.

My #Notfromthe80s Song Challenge Results

Another month, another set of 30 song challenges, some clearly better thought-out than others. I admit this one was perhaps my most challenging and definitely the easiest to mess up, given what a wide berth of songs (many of which are boiled into our collective pop subconscious) were prohibited. On several occasions, I caught myself being that guy – commenting the year of an 80’s song’s release under someone’s submission – but I don’t feel quite so bad, since I saw people jumping in to sound that buzzer before I even could. To me, that just means that these challenges have been building followings of people who feel an increasing sense of ownership, which is flattering as much as anything. Or, many people still have too much time on their hands. A little from Column A, a little from Column B.

Alright; to the tape!

  1. The Wailers – “Simmer Down” (1963)
  2. The Slackers – “Keep Him Away” (1998)
  3. The Donna’s – “Let’s Go Mano” (1997)
  4. The Steinways – “I Wanna Kiss You on the Lips” (2007)
  5. Blackalicious – “Sky is Falling” (2003)
  6. McLusky – “Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues” (2002)
  7. Deftones – “Tempest” (2012)
  8. Belle & Sebastian – “The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner” (2000)
  9. Chuck Ragan – “Do You Pray?” (2007)
  10. The Bouncing Souls – “Kate is Great” (1998)
  11. The Chats – “Smoko” (2016)
  12. The Afghan Whigs – “What Jail is Like” (1993)
  13. Kacey Musgraves – “Love is a Wild Thing” (2018)
  14. Yo La Tengo – “Sugarcube” (1997)
  15. Run Maggie Run – “Lion Tamer” (2015)
  16. The Leftovers – “Dance with Me” (2007)
  17. Supergrass – “Going Out” (1997)
  18. Massive Attack – “Safe from Harm” (1991)
  19. Airbag – “Prefiero la Playa” (2001)
  20. Sly & the Family Stone – “Hot Fun in the Summertime” (1969)
  21. Masked Intruder – “Crime Spree” (2014)
  22. The Kinks – “David Watts” (1967)
  23. Rancid – “Time Bomb” (1995)
  24. Mustard Plug – “Beer (Song)” (1997)
  25. The Buzzcocks – “Orgasm Addict” (1977)
  26. Dropkick Murphy’s – “Going Out in Style” (2010)
  27. Reel Big Fish – “I Want Your Girlfriend to be my Girlfriend” (1998)
  28. Big Star – “Thirteen” (1972)
  29. Roxy Music – “Do the Strand” (1973)
  30. Aesop Rock – “One Brick” (2001)

Thanks to everyone who participated on multiple platforms this month. Tune in tomorrow at 8am ET for your October Song Challenge. That’s right…this train is still chuggin’ along and only stops at zoo station!

Presenting the “Not from the 80’s” Song Challenge!

Happy almost-September, everyone. I had a whole bunch of folks guessing where I was going to go with the September song challenge, so I’ve decided to throw a curve-ball and raise the stakes. I give you:

THE “NOT FROM THE 80’s” SONG-A-DAY CHALLENGE.

Will this one be more difficult? Probably. For a lot of folks playing along, the 80’s was a unifying time of (some would say obnoxious) monoculture, and honestly, a few of these clues apply to more than one song released during that decade. It was a funny revelation coming over drinks from a former colleague who came of age in the 80’s just how overplayed so many currently-beloved songs were. I mentioned how I had rediscovered Tears for Fears, and she said, because she was a teenager in the 80’s and forced to hear “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” 11 times per day, she can’t listen to them anymore.

The only rule for this month is somewhat straightforward: Your song cannot be released between January 1, 1980 and December 31, 1989. Everything else is fair game. Granted, covers released in a later decade are technically cheating, but I can’t tell you how to live. Save it, share it, and don’t forget to hashtag it #NotFromthe80s. Have fun! Special thanks to Lisa LaDuca for her numerous assists with this one.