Tag Archives: Kinsella

Taboo And Alphabets Too

Last night a bunch of my friends threw a show in their house… a comedy show that is. Whereas most young towns have a thriving music scene, the comedy community in Boston is everything that most insular scenes hope they can be; diverse, thriving, widespread, intimate, creative, and a network of people who are friends first and competitors never. And funny. Man are they funny. Everything from the quick-and-fast rules of delivery to hip-hop rhymes and beats about taekwondo to odd-ball rants by folks featured on Comedy Central, it was all enhanced by the intimacy of the tiny Allston-based house.

I capped off the night with what must have been an hour dedicated to playing the wordsmith worthy game Taboo. After some quick, catch-and-release trials, a group of us decided to play “hardcore,” where you could only give one clue in order for others to get the word in question in one guess. It’s a lot more challenging than the usual method of playing the game, but it sure is fun. In retrospect, the cap-off of Taboo featuring performers from the night’s previous comedy collaboration was odder than I had imagined at the time. Well, odder in recollection than experience; as most of us were all friends, it really wasn’t all that weird. But the boundaries that individuals often place on society with labels such as “performer” would elevate members of the community above others, when really it just provided for an interesting initial introduction for everyone present in the house. The atmosphere lacked any pretension associated with elevating members of the community, the intimacy of the event, the intelligence of the performance, and the humor involved made it all seem like any other night hanging out with friends… just some of those friends had the incentive to stand up and talk to a crowd for ten minutes.

Combining a general lack of pretension with musical intelligence, creativity, communal intimacy, and a warmth of humor is Chicago’s Cap’n Jazz. Though they broke up by the mid-90s, their impact has been felt throughout the emo world, most immediately in the then-growing presence of the Mid-Western underground emo scene that was about to reach a tipping point. Their influence had immediate impact with the culmination of post-Cap’n Jazz projects, most notably with 2nd guitarist Davey Von Bohlen’s side project The Promise Ring coming to the focal point of the national emo community. However, brethren Mike and Tim Kinsella have also had their fare share of impact with acts such as Joan of Arc and Owls (as well as American Football and Owen), two highly experimental groups that aren’t as well known as The Promise Ring, but certainly have their fare share of influence. Still getting shout-outs in magazines such as Alternative Press (last month’s cover story on the 23 most influential punk bands of the last 23 years had a great spread on band), the Cap’n Jazz legacy was compacted into a singular double-album release in 1998, Analphabetapolothology (now there’s the Taboo-worthy word).

Cap\'n Jazz

Brimming from end to end with unmeasurable catharsis, Analphabetapolothology takes some getting used to before you can grab those nuggets of mid-90s emo gold. Then again, Cap’n Jazz were never shooting for pop gold, just music that challenged themselves, made the band members satisfied with their own creation, and had a particular subcultural connotation. It’s a bit of a continuation of the hardcore punk tradition (and hardcore can readily be seen as a starting point for the members of Cap’n Jazz, not to mention countless of other alternative bands that continues on to today), where the band wanted to make something profoundly different then what was being pushed out on the mainstream and have it mean something to their particular community. But, while hardcore became uniform in all senses of the word, Cap’n Jazz’s hold on emo was as angular as the guitar-work involved in it. They called in the horns, lyrics that weren’t all there (at least, upon first glance), gritty dynamic changes that recall Sunny Day Real Estate played by a garage band, pop-worthy harmonies, and song structures that subverted all forms of the norm.

The best and brightest of emo today have Cap’n Jazz to thank for the fuel of creativity that somehow manages to bubble up, as if untapped, while the rest of the world thinks of emo as simply shallow. Musically, you can hear Cap’n Jazz’s influence on a vast array of emo artists. Tim’s almost-whispered, rant-singing at the start of “Puddle Splashers” recalls a more musically ambiguous version of what Taking Back Sunday vocalist Adam Lazzara attempts to create, while “Que Suerte!” sounds like a messier, more cathartic mix of what makes Thursday’s work so captivating.

Yet beyond later influence was Cap’n Jazz’s immediate impact on the community around them. The band appeared at a time just before emo began to solidify its main aesthetic elements, and Cap’n Jazz challenged every idea of singular aesthetic until its end. The biggest acts of mid-90s, Mid-Western emo not only came from disparate places on the map, but had disparate ideas in their musical take on the sound that originally had been birthed in DC. But under the musical heretofore of bands like Cap’n Jazz, they helped open the community to anyone with any original and challenging idea of emo, not simply to those who had pretensions to how to run a scene. It was more about the people involved in the community rather than following a guidebook, and for Cap’n Jazz’s musical and personal role in the national scene, it’s much greater than the first listen of Analphabetapolothology might lead you to believe. In a world where a post-hardcore sound could share space with bands who brought hardcore, pop-punk, pop, and whatever rule-based genre to the table, it was Cap’n Jazz’s original blending of ideas that helped emo form so many different strands and creative impulses for years to come.

Cap\’n Jazz – Little League

Different Perspectives on the 4th

The Washington Post featured an odd article on the header of its website yesterday. Kevin Connolly is 22, won a silver medal at the X Games, and is a photographer who’s work is currently on display at the Kennedy Center in DC. Here’s a picture of Connolly:

Kevin Connolly

Connolly was born without legs. His work is on display under the name “The Rolling Exhibition,” and it features photos he took while traversing the globe on a skateboard. The photos are all taken at ground level and offer a completely different perspective on the realm of every day life.

The best photographers are made by their instinctive eye for what people consider aesthetically pleasing. You can lead hundreds to a beautiful landscape, but it’s the individuals who can get a sense of how to capture and retain that beauty on film (or on pixels) that are the true artists in photography. Photography is all about perspective; it’s being able to create something tangible in a fraction of a second that only you can see and being skilled enough to convince others of the beauty or importance of that perspective – that shot – simply by putting it on display. Connolly’s work is a basic expression of that intrinsic element of art in photography. Almost everyone who will view Connolly’s photos have absolutely no idea what it’s like to live without legs. And yet, with a quick, in-motion photo of passing strangers, Connolly manages to sum up book-loads of personal experience in an aesthetic light that can make anyone with a degree of imagination find resonance and the human experience in his art.

Perspective is a driving force behind emo. True, all art expresses some general form of perspective, but emo is the form of music where many artists seek to make individual perspectives a tangible reality for people who haven’t had the experiences that formulated the driving force of the music and culture. It’s not an empathetic form of art, but it’s not far off. The reason emo was such a force within the underground for over two decades was the fact that the music sought to connect individuals of different backgrounds through positive, personal music that created an omniscient perspective. It created communities, which are the foundations of the underground in America. And underground communities in America are the breeding grounds for underground cultures.

And with such a vast opportunity of perspectives that can be tossed in the heap, and with the vast amount of different perspectives across the United States, emo became a mutated force of underground culture in different parts of this vast union. It will always be tied to post-hardcore, it will always be tied to its DC roots, and it will always be tied to a sense of yearning towards a goal. And that sense of yearning is mostly where the lineages of emo differentiate. With the Revolution Summer of 1985 (otherwise known as the birth of emo) the various acts that constituted for emo wrote about a multitude of ideas in blanketed terms in order to reach out to all sorts of individuals; from the staunch politics of Beefeater, to the introverted anguish of Embrace, to the general struggle with the individual of Rites of Spring, emo at its beginnings covered the ideological bases. Let’s not forget Fugazi, who took the aesthetic elements of the Revolution Summer acts and blasted them off in profound new directions; their work made the most plight-filled perspectives seem like a reality by addressing taboo subjects with an empathetic sense of humanity. Everything from AIDS (“Give Me The Cure”) to gentrification (“Cashout”) to gun violence (“Repeater”) was addressed with a profound and omniscient voice that opened listeners to near-alien perspectives and experiences and made them as important issues as ones personally affecting the individual.

So how did emo go from there to here? How did politics diverge into puppy-love? Well, it’s not that simple; to say that politics doesn’t exist in emo anymore is a bold-faced lie. Hell, Fugazi kept churning out records well into the new millennium, and you can’t forget Billboard chart-toppers Thursday when discussing politics and emo in the same breath. And aspects of love and romance were well a part of emo from the beginning; Rites of Spring’s music, though perpetually vague in context and up to the listener to discern the meaning for themselves, did sometimes concern aspects of romantic love.

But, as far as the songs about love, or lost love, or as some would go as far to say (and in some cases, correctly) near-hatred towards the opposite sex, the answer is simple: it’s all about perspective. Love is a concept that every human being on the planet can relate to. Outside of the survival needs for shelter and sustenance, love is a concept that is basically universal. Everyone has experienced it in some capacity, be it romantically or otherwise. And it’s fair to say everyone has experienced their fare share of rejection. And it’s all about how we deal with it. The most perplexing thing about the projection of emo in recent years isn’t the obsession with love. It’s the obsession with negativity broiled in rejection. From its beginning, emo was created with the idea to make something constructive, build something new and positive after the wreckage of the hardcore community that those who became involved in the “emo” scene had experienced (their rejection, in some capacity, involved in punk).

Yet, today, so many emo acts revel in dread. Again, not a new concept or perspective; if there’s anything as old as love, it’s depression (or a mild form of it). But why the fascination with such negativity? It’s impossible to pinpoint one thing, but it is representative of something fairly circular within pop music; every so often, the mood of pop music flows from positivity to negativity. With so many sub-genres and categories of pop pushed onto consumers at any one point, its interesting to see different musics produce different emotional output at the same time. You can’t forget the brooding darkness of the 80s when post-punk and goth were all the rage and hardcore bristled with anger in the underground; then again, happy-sounding music dominated the pop-charts, with everything from Madonna to Bobby Mcferrin (“Don’t Worry Be Happy”) supported Regan’s 50s style American dream image.

Whatever the case may be, be it the fact that loss of romantic love is the only ailment and perspective that can incite anything aside from apathy in well-to-do teenagers anymore, or the fact that modern music is a circular and uncontrollable beast, it is interesting to note the vast expanse of, well, emotions that fill the map of pop music today.

And so, on our nation’s birthday, I ask to keep perspective in mind. It’s our individual perspectives that make us unique, that attract us to other like-minded souls, and that separate us along various ideological lines. But we’re all human, no matter what perspective we may have. Happy Birthday America!

Here’s a present, courtesy of one of the many emo acts to come out of the Kinsella collective:

American Football – Honestly?