Tag Archives: Nirvana

Origin Story

I came across this odd post entitled “The Origin of Emo” on an unusually blank WordPress blog (though the thing appears to be written by a Thom Lloyd, which is the gmail address at the bottom of the article). It’s the only post, and it’s written in a pseudo-term-paper light, with citations that don’t really say much of anything or connote to any one article/book/etc (though some of the names provided can be linked up via a quick search). It’s all very odd.

What’s even odder is Lloyd’s thesis statement on the origin of emo, which he sort of drops in at the end:

Rites of Spring and Sunny Day Real Estate did not start the emo genre.

Eh? Lloyd continues to throw out vague, inconsistencies, many of which I can agree with (genres are a culmination of the sounds that have influenced the bands), and some that are rife for contradiction. Namely the last point:

With all of these factors in place a band and or a label had to start the wheels in motion forming the emo genre.

Huh? Didn’t he just say Rites of Spring did not start emo? And Dischord doesn’t count because emo didn’t rise solely out of it?

This happens to be an ongoing problem with people seeking a solid definition for emo: the fact that the genre/sound exists as a fluid and evolving concept that many individuals ignore simply because of the condescending nature of the term makes it damn hard to tack a pin in it and call it a done day.

But, those irrelevancies aside. Rites are duly credited for starting emo: that’s where the term as a definition for a musical sound came from. Period. Not Husker Du, who Lloyd credits as an important factor. The fact is, Zen Arcade came out after Rites were a fully formed band with an entire pedigree of songs (1984 to be exact). Rites were listening to all sorts of hardcore (nothing I’ve read remotely mentions Husker Du though), and sought to challenge the trends within their own community by embracing a poppier sound. They took from many a British popper: The Buzzcocks are most credited as an influence there. But nothing about Husker Du.

And Lloyd’s idea of indie rock fusing the gap between Rites and Sunny Day is… well, a bit much. Lloyd also calls into play grunge as an important influence on emo and bridging these two bands: hardly. As far as grunge goes, the only role that played was its skyrocketing popularity behind Nirvana led to sale numbers that helped Sub Pop move out of the red zone and avoid bankruptcy so that they could go on and sign SDRE: grunge’s influence on emo is really relevant in a business capacity. Emo was a complete change from grunge, which is why Sunny Day startled so many people in Seattle: it was different. They were different. They took from hardcore, took from bands like Rites, Fugazi, Lungfish, Shudder To Think, and many of the DC bands that Lloyd overlooked. Yes, as Lloyd mentions, there are too many bands to name, and many of them he overlooked when trying to tie these two distinct bands (ROS + SDRE together). Since when do you need to fill in a time blank in terms of bands that came about that were important and led to another important band of the same sound anyway? How many of the new shitgaze (or whatever you want to call them) bands actually took other sounds and used them in their own songwriting? It’s always possible, and often an excellent appeal to change. But I can’t see Vivian Girls having taken lots of notes on IDM when they wrote their fuzzy, 60s surf garage rock sound. (It’s possible, but after the interview where they dissed bands that use a dancey drum beat, I doubt it.)

But there are plenty of bands that “filled in those years.” Just on Dischord there were a bunch (again, Embrace, Happy Go Licky, One Last Wish, Nation of Ulysses, Fugazi, Lungfish, Shudder To Think, Jawbox etc etc). And then there’s Jawbreaker’s take on the sound from DC. And then there’s Drive Like Jehu’s take on the DC sound and it’s impact on the San Diego scene: that whole arty-hardcore-meets-DC-emocore is indebted to the DC scene. Gravity Records, Heroin, Antioch Arrow, etc etc. And all of this in the years between 1984 (Rites of Spring) and 1994 (release of Diary).

That’s a lot of time, and many of these bands aren’t remembered because, in terms of folklore or the progression of a genre, only a few – those considered to be important for one reason or another – are consistently remembered and repeated to the next person, and the next person, and so on and so forth. That is an evolution of a genre, not some influential indie band that has nothing to do with these groups: no offense to The Pixies or Sonic Youth, but those bands hardly share anything with the first wave of emo. And because genres evolve, and many within different spheres and cultures (aka underground or mainstream), it may sound different at different points along the way. So, of course emo sounds different than it did before: it’s not static. Some things grew, other bands made their individual changes, and other bands made changes on other bands’ changes. Though the definition is rather fluid, a general line is fairly recognizable (one that doesn’t exactly include Sonic Youth, who were more no wave affiliated and who’s experimentation is mostly left out of many an “emo” act, or The Pixies, who tend to have a fairly basic pop sound that, as it’s well known, is more a grunge influence than an emo one) and observable.

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Downlo(d)

I’ve got an odd relationship with downloading. I’m usually outspoken against it when discussing the subject with most of my friends, but usually for a variety of reasons that you really can’t articulate when these types of conversations boil down to lots of yelling. I’ll diffuse the normal “record labels and artists” and “pirating” and blah blah blah arguments that are usually the focus of the downloading conundrum for folks.

A big frustration for me with the design downloading is a certain culture that’s been generated because of its appeal. One would assume that, with millions and millions of songs and bands at one’s fingertips that one would relish the opportunity to listen to at no cost. In theory, it’s a great benefit for the consumer.

In theory.

But really, from what I’ve witnessed, it (more often than not) creates a Consumer culture, with a big “C.” Considering the ease with which one can accumulate albums, the potential to seek out a hard-to-find gem in the same way that so many vinyl junkies can be whistfully nostalgic about is really gone. A few clicks of the mouse and it’s yours. And just about any other album you can think of.

So, instead of pouring over a piece of music, one can just accumulate a massive sonic library packed with things that they might never properly touch or listen to. The ability to say ‘I’ll download it” and not only not think twice, but not think about the album or song after the music is in your possession is increased tenfold.

How do I know this? Well, it could be from witnessing friends who ingest music without a thought (be it to the amount of time that was put into the piece of music or to the potential legal ramifications of their actions or merely stating the thought/sentence “I’ll just download it”) and, more often than not, usually let the music lay waste.

Or I could also know it from my own actions in the past. Not necessarily with illegal downloading of the sort: I maybe illegally downloaded a few dozen songs at the tail end of high school and promptly deleted most of those songs when I acquired the albums from other means. It’s more of my music acquisition in other areas. For example, I was a DJ at my college radio station for 4 years. During my shows, I’d pop a CD into the stereo system linked to the airwaves, eject it after it played, and then popped it into my computer. With literally thousands of CDs at my beckoning call, I could go on music binges, often uploading more songs than I could possibly listen to. I’d often try to, but I still come across the spare album I’ve rarely listened to (which makes for a fun listen in and of itself). (You could argue that, this action too, is just as illegal as downloading. But beyond my own arguments of merit, you have to take into account that most record companies realize that when they send music to a radio station – which are usually run by people who love music – people at radio stations are going to want what comes in the mail. Especially – gasp – college stations.)

At the same time, I also know I’m something of a music fanatic, and I take the time and energy to comb through blogs, newspapers, magazines, flyers, record stores, friends conversations, etc etc to find out about music. But my “Consumer kulture” really comes into play with a large majority of music listeners in the country. This mass is the same line of people who, decades before leading up to now (and even including the present), got their music listening “habits” from the major sources of music distribution, be it radio, television, newspapers, magazines. They listened to whatever landed on their grid, be it good, or bad (especially “or bad”). So now, today, when downloading – and illegal downloading – account for a majority of music consumption today, why is it that “bands” and “musical artists” such as, say, Nickelback (who I pick on a ton, but for good reason) continue to not only retain a large popularity of corporate radio/television while most critics and people who consider themselves to have musical taste largely detest the group? When Joel Tenenbaum‘s court case against the RIAA recently went to trial, were the illegal downloads in question the products of someone who poured through the dregs of the net in order to find these jewels? No. Nothing but Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, and other 90s alternative ephemera that, while good music, is the kind of collection that corporate radio has been surviving on since 1991 and Joel himself was reared on as a child. Most folks who are sued for illegally downloading tend to get caught for gathering some monolithic singles, which happen to be under the ownership of the big record companies in America. I would be hard pressed to see the RIAA hightailing it after some kid who illegally downloaded Black Flag’s My War and a couple of Jade Tree albums, though color me red if that indeed has happened. However, that would be the mark of someone who used downloading to seek out unfamiliar, unavailable, and unique musics and took the time and energy to do so. And that’s not the case that I see with a majority of people who download.

Of course, that is all a mass generalization, but sometimes generalizations are needed in order to gain a perspective on a certain culture…

Anyway, this brings me to a certain situation one of my downloading fiend friends was so quick to throw back in my face:

A handful of weeks ago, I discovered an excellent MediaFire folder through last.fm, and it is like discovering a holy grail of sorts. It’s officially called “Emo: 1985-1999,” though the url attachment is “emoisdead” (a query I’d argue against, but that’s another aside). Upon opening the link, I was blown away. 36 pages of 1st and 2nd wave emo acts. Many of them rarer than rare. Obscurer than the most obscure, out of print 7″ out there. For who knows how long I was so overwhelmed all I could do was click through the pages and stare in awe. There was some stuff I’d only heard whiffs of. And all on one site. And all for free.

Sort of.

As I said, I haven’t downloaded anything that hasn’t had the artists consent since the tail end of high school. I’ve got ye olde emusic account, I still buy CDs, I’ll grab stuff from blogs, and scour the net for musician-approved downloads. But, from all the huff and puff and ribbings I’d give friends who’d download a torrent without hesitation or afterthought and (sometimes) no interest in the artist, it would be an awful conundrum for me, especially when I’d discuss this. Because how could I not. This was a find!

Of course, it came back to hit me in the ass with one friend. And of course, whenever I’d provide some sort of insight into why I’d want to download some of this stuff or any claim I thought was legitimate, the potential for real discourse was closed. And I understand why, and I certainly deserved a good ribbing.

But, for me, there’s so much more than just Consumption. I’ve got an academic-strength interest in emo, and, after all, I’ve got America Is Just A Word in the works. And I believe I’ve still got them principles to back it up. There’s plenty of stuff on the mediafire site, and plenty I won’t download. There’s some stuff from Gravity Records or Dischord that I just won’t dare touch. The music is still in print, I can still purchase it. I know (and in some cases, have met and talk to) the artists and labels benefit from this, that there’s not some convoluted big-label hierarchy that most of my money would be going to, but the people who’s work I genuinely support. (Though I don’t necessarily have any qualms for/against major labels and taking money away from them… I don’t care for a lot that goes on in their system, but man, there are some great bands on major labels.)

But the other stuff on there? Some of that stuff just isn’t available anymore. And some stuff never was available.

Like Strictly Ballroom, which featured The Postal Service’s Jimmy Tamborello on bass. Their 1997 record Hide Here Forever came out on Waxploitation Records and is out of print and not even available on iTunes in the US (and only partially elsewhere). And it’s in the MediaFire emo folder.

Or Trocar, who’s Citywater album, which is apparently available on Self-Satisfied records, except for that any link to purchase the CD from the location on myspace in nearly impossible to get to without some anti-virus spyware popping up warning of various hazards, and they even say download it if you so feel like having it and give a link too (though it ain’t their preference). And it’s in the MediaFire emo folder.

Or The Promise Ring’s 3 track demo, a tape that was never meant to be created to be distributed for commercial sake. And it’s in the MediaFire emo folder.

Or Watercolour, a band I can’t track down for the life of me, and one which has no discernible song titles on their unreleased album, Stories About Old Rich White People, but it’s available on the emo-themed MediaFire site.

This is stuff for the superfans, the folks who seek out music, and it should be available for them. And because of downloading, it is. And whoever made the MediaFire emo folder isn’t the only one out there. A chunk of these hard-to-find bands are doing it themselves. Be it The Trigger Quintet posting all their songs for free download on last.fm, The Shyness Clinic letting folks download their entire discography off of Facebook, or James Joyce of Chocolate Kiss posting a link to download the band’s album Onethrutwelve on his blog with an accompanying history of the band and the story behind every song (complete with liner notes), it’s clear that these artists want their stuff out there… otherwise, why would they make and record their music in the first place?

I’m not necessarily defending myself… rather, I’m just happy I discovered this treasure, and am happy to continue to share it.

So, for those interested parties, here, once again is the link to one hellofa emo library:

Emo: 1985-1999

Do whatever you will whenever you will.

Below are a handful of tracks I’ve enjoyed while combing through the massive list available. Enjoy:

The Trigger Quintet – “A Return Home”:

Strictly Ballroom – “Something That Just Is”:

Trocar – “Cathy – Little – Big – Man”:

Ordination of Aaron – “New Face”:

Roosevelts Inaugural Parade – “Darkened Sky”:

Watercolour – “Track 1”:

Chocolate Kiss – “Yellow Bear”:

Chune – “Water Sandwich”:

The Promise Ring – “12 Sweaters Red”:

A Brief Scribe on Scrunk

The behind-the-scenes (or rather, behind-my-thoughts) on the Boston Phoenix piece I did on scrunk and Warped Tour is still to come, but consider this a little preview. A lots been said online since the piece went on the net about scrunk/crunkcore and its impact on Warped Tour, which isn’t to say that my article caused these comments (that would be a tall tale), but it’s certainly part of the ripple effect since the announcement that bands like brokeNCYDE and Millionaires.

I’ll discuss a chunk of that soon, but I think the most audacious claim is that the music of kids today is worse than yesterday. To hear “punks” say something like that is more than a bit odd and even counter-intuitive, making these folks appear no better than the old rock dinosaurs and their fans that helped spawn punk in the first place. Whatever you may think of Warped Tour, put that aside for the moment. True be it, the sheer number and impact of scrunk acts on the tour this year is more than noticeable, which is the reason I wrote the article in the first place. But, these bands are not a reflection of all of “kids today and their music,” or even Warped Tour for that matter. As of now, these bands currently fill a simple niche, that being a combination of being in the limelight, riding the tipping point of a trend in mainstream, teenaged alterna-rock, and yes, “controversy,” for whatever that word means nowadays in this context (I honestly think that, at this point, these bands words may be offensive and their music rather tasteless, but their actual existence is hardly controversial). And so, because of their infamy, many of these bands are highly regarded as the epitome of why music today sucks.

And to that, I call bullshit. Since the dawn of time when humans found rhythm, there were countless individuals who followed in the paths of those who could morph these sounds into art. And a lot of the followers created stuff that is hardly up to muster. I hardly know the history of music in humanity because I wasn’t alive at the dawn of time, but simply looking at recent musical history, how many shitty bands and musicians tried ripping off everyone from Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan, James Brown, Elvis, The Beatles, Ray Charles, The Sex Pistols, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Joy Division, Talking Heads, Prince, Metallica, Public Enemy, Fugazi, Nirvana, Liz Phair, Nine Inch Nails, The Fugees,Notorious BIG, Green Day, Moby, Ani DiFranco… hell, even any big-hit internet sensation today, far be it that they extend past their net-worth 15 minutes. Because for every Nirvana, you’ve got a Creed. And for every Creed, you’ve got a Nickelback. So to say that a band like brokeNCYDE shows why the music today sucks is not fair to brokeNCYDE (their music isn’t really deserving of that kind of responsibility) nor is it fair to youth or music fans. It’s a conceit that just pleases music fans who’ve decided to tune out on what is going on with people who are making music today and not make them feel bad for missing out, all the while claiming they were alive for the best music ever.

It’s all false.

If you want to talk Warped Tour, fine, let’s go ahead and do it. I’m particularly excited about Warped Tour this year because the more “fringe” acts may easily upstage those acts on the bigger stages. For the “punk is dead folks,” there are the NOFXs and Less Than Jakes to go around: those bands will never stop playing Warped, so please stop complaining about how Warped has “totally changed for the worse,” because the older acts are some of the highly considered groups on tour. 

But look elsewhere and you’ll find some really fantastic acts. Like P.O.S., who has really grown into his skin and rhymes to craft some of the best hip-hop in the past decade and puts on one hell of a show. Or Gallows, the UK hardcore band that took that country by storm for bringing passionate performance back to punk, on record and in concert. Hell, there’s even Shooter Jennings on tap this year, and his Southern country might be the most abrasive sound to a young “punk” on Warped. Considering punk is supposed to embrace anything that challenges the usual rock norms, the inclusion of these acts brings some heft and yes, cred, to Warped. And that’s just the tip of the iceburg.

So feel free and go ahead and bash the “music of today” for being shitty, but your scope will be fairly close-minded. True, I focused on a particularly insidious trend on Warped, but that’s because I was drawn to the “genre” and its mere existence to begin with and that inspired me to write the article. The idea to write a piece on the “non” “punk” acts would be a little odd simply because there’s a healthy dose of diverse genres and trends every year – hell, that’s what I look forward to catching if I check out Warped on a particular year. But the meteoric rise of scrunk really caught my eye/ear, and I felt it reflected a particular takeover of a chunk of Warped that hasn’t been experienced since the summer of 2004. The rest of it is merely a continuation of what Warped has excelled at: provide a mix of old and out-there acts among the trendy thing for 13-22 year olds.

Anyway, now I’m going into all sorts of odd directions and getting off the beaten path… I’ll be sure to cover some of this stuff a little more in due time.

In the meantime, below is the new video for the P.O.S. song “Purexed” (a highlight from his new album, Never Better), and a pdf of the scrunk article, which is in the Phoenix that hit newsstands a few hours ago. Enjoy.

P.O.S. – “Purexed”:

Scrunk Happens:

*Sorry it’s soo teeny, but I think you get the picture (as it were)

Just Short…

So, for folks who’ve been following along in this blog, I submitted a proposal to Continuum’s 33 1/3 series to write a book about The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good. Series editor David Barker emailed everyone who submitted a proposal today concerning those he picked to make it to the shortlist, the final compilation short of the 20 or so that Continuum will select to be turned into fully-fleshed out books (you can check out the shortlist). Unfortunately, my proposal wasn’t chosen for this list, for simple space reasons on the shortlist (I emailed David to find out specifics of why my proposal was turned down and it turns out it was one of a handful that barely missed the cut). In any case, I really enjoyed writing this proposal and speaking to those involved in creating the album about the process of writing a book on Nothing Feels Good. Rather than let it go to waste, I’ve decided to post my proposal here, below, for your enjoyment, complete with some multimedia elements that could not have been included in what was submitted to 33 1/3, but are helpful illustrators nonetheless. Enjoy it… and if anyone has any interest in further pursuing this project with me in some other forum, please feel free to contact me:

33 1/3 Book Proposal:

The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good

Guilty pleasures tend to rear their heads in an interview with music’s next big thing. So when a VBS TV correspondent was chatting it up with No Age, the uber-hip and critically acclaimed experimental punk duo from L.A., singer/drummer Dean Spunt interrupted guitarist Randy Randall’s ruminations on MC Hammer with a shocking revelation:

“I used to like The Promise Ring.”
Beat.
“Yeah, so did I,” replied the stylish interviewer.
The three guys proceeded to awkwardly chuckle and talk over each other until the interviewer brought up his stunning thought:
“Is it really at the point where MC Hammer is less embarrassing than The Promise Ring?”

Great question. And not unlike one I ask myself just about every time I crank up my stereo while playing 30 Degrees Everywhere or Wood/Water. What’s so embarrassing about The Promise Ring? It could be the band’s association with emo, the now-repugnant term for a post-hardcore genre that’s all but taken over the Billboard charts. It was the release of 1997’s Nothing Feels Good that the four “averages Joes” that made up The Promise Ring were presented with the title of poster boys of a genre once thought to be six feet under. The rest of the trials and tribulations of emo remain embedded in our international conscience thanks to numerous pop-punk acts influenced by The Promise Ring. Say what you will about your Fall Out Boys, My Chemical Romances, Dashboard Confessionals, Cute Is What We Aim Fors, Thrices, Taking Back Sundays, Panic! at the Discos, Saves the Days, Coheed & Cambrias, Alexisonfires, New Found Glorys, and Underoaths; when push comes to shove, most of these bands don’t come close to the potent passion, intelligence, and vibrancy of The Promise Ring and their sophomore effort, Nothing Feels Good.

Embarrassment aside, Spunt should have nothing to be ashamed of for name-dropping The Promise Ring as a band that’s clearly influenced the critically-lauded musician. The Promise Ring’s back catalog is filled with nugget and gems of post-hardcore-meets-pop bliss, and much like when No Age’s current work combining elements of pop with hardcore, the results are fantastic. Nothing Feels Good is The Promise Ring’s best and most succinct work, an anthemic, passionate burst of homegrown pop-punk, filtered through tales of existential crises, cross-country road trips, and references to modern Americana. The hooks are sharp, the lyrics poignant, and the performance still as unbelievably urgent as the day the original tapes were mastered over a decade ago.

Part of what’s so phenomenal about The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good is the impact the album had when it hit record stores in the fall of 1997. Neatly-packaged emo-pop amalgams are a dime a dozen these days, but there was nothing “neat” about Nothing Feels Good when it was released. Although the album’s music has the sugary-sweet taste of bubblegum pop that numerous artists today no doubt want to tap into, the band’s sound subverts the pretenses of slick pop on Nothing Feels Good with quick bursts of hardcore-influenced instrumentation that seem intent on spilling out of each track marking and into the life of the listener. To mis-quote The Promise Ring, it displays a sense that the band had of having no defined sense or absolute understanding of the world around them, but simply enjoying the view. Life’s peculiarities, ambiguities, and “big questions” aren’t shunned, but brought to the surface with keen observation. In frontman Davey von Bohlen’s hands and sweetly contorted lisp – a performance factor that only makes the music on Nothing Feels Good sound an umpteenth more sincere – The Promise Ring made an album of daring proportions and a musical document to the banalities, every day norms, and even celebrations of human existence not heard since Nirvana’s Nevermind.

Nothing Feels Good cover

Nothing Feels Good cover

Part of the story behind Nothing Feels Good is known, but little of it has a concentrated focus on the actual album or the band behind it. Beyond the musical content, Nothing Feels Good was a smashing success. For Jade Tree – The Promise Ring’s label – it meant financial stability, as the album surpassed their modest predictions and allowed the company to flourish, something of a miracle in the years following the alternative music buyout which had left many independent record labels for dead. For the national emo scene – a ragtag, ambiguous assemblage of independent artists around the U.S. – it legitimized their work in the face of the post-grunge milieu that ruled the radio waves and crippled mainstream creativity. For the members of The Promise Ring, it meant video premiers on MTV, critical acclamation, a position as one of the most creative bands operating in America’s underground music scene, and, much later, a place in cult-music lore for having inspired countless musicians to take emo (or whatever genre they called their own) in new and distinctly personal directions.

Although we’re still feeling the impact of Nothing Feels Good today, the known-narrative of the album’s creation is bare. What inspired the dozen songs on the album, and what transpired in their evolution from muddled creative concept into full-blown pop gold? What about the practices that hammered out the hooks, high-hats, and lo-fi hits in The Promise Ring’s oeuvre? What about the guys behind the instruments, their day-to-day existences and thoughts that no doubt burrowed their way into the band’s sophomore album? What were the moments before, during, and after 1997 that made Nothing Feels Good stand out from a mass of other bands and recordings that make up emo’s so-called second wave? What about each member’s upbringing, their lives in the Milwaukee area, relationships with friends, family, and significant-others? What made four young men band together to form The Promise Ring and create such a phenomenal release as heard in Nothing Feels Good?

These are the pivotal questions I’m seeking to answer with my book on The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good for Continuum’s 33 1/3 book series. Here is an album and a band who’s impact on music today in innumerable. Part of the unknown quality of The Promise Ring’s importance is due to the fact that these deep-seated questions have never been asked – or rather, published – on such a large-scale forum. Considering the fans that the band amassed since forming in 1995, a list that no doubt has been growing with every article, band, or cultural critic name-checking the quartet as one of indie rock’s great cult bands, The Promise Ring are more than due for their proper place in the rock narrative limelight. And the 33 1/3 series is the place I would like to bring the tale of The Promise Ring’s best album.

For this project, I plan on writing the kind of book that exemplifies the credence imbued in Nothing Feels Good. My model for this manuscript isn’t confined to the band-nostalgically-reminiscing-on-a-piece-of-the-past-type writing you may see in a lot of oral histories or straightforward music books out there. Certainly my work will represent the mold that previous 33 1/3 books have upheld, but I’m also inspired by the writing styles of the great new journalists and literary non-fiction pieces. In essence, I’m looking to produce a book that lives, breathes, eats, speaks, and plays music the way that the members of The Promise Ring did when they made Nothing Feels Good. I want to make someone who’s never heard the album feel as though they’ve been following the band since Day One, that they’re back in 1997 and sprinting to the record store in order to merely touch an album by a band that has touched them. Essentially, I want to write a book about The Promise Ring in the same way the band created their music.

My main informants for this project will be the members of The Promise Ring; as I want to get into their heads and extract information about their environment, attitudes, and memories, they will be my go-to source for the book. I’ve been in touch with Promise Ring singer/guitarist Davey von Bohlen for well over a year, having recruited his current band (Maritime) for a concert and Davey himself for a previous writing project. I have been corresponding with von Bohlen about this proposal for well over a month, and he has given this project his supportive and enthusiastic seal of approval, and has gotten me in touch with the other members of The Promise Ring. At the moment that I’ve submitted this proposal, I’ve been in touch with two other Promise Ring members, Jason Gnewikow (guitar) and Dan Didier (drums), and both are quite enthusiastic about the project. I plan on having extensive interviews with these three members, as well as the two bass players who played in The Promise Ring during their Nothing Feels Good era, Scott Schoenbeck and Scott Beschta.

Although interviews with the members of The Promise Ring will constitute a large portion of my research, I plan on culling information from as many sources as possible in order to make the narrative more vibrant and colorful. I plan on soliciting interviews with not only those closely associated to the band, but also their detractors and adoring fans. Alongside a list that includes friends and family, I plan on speaking to Tim Owen and Darren Walters (Jade Tree owners), J. Robbins (Nothing Feels Good producer), Stuart Sikes (Nothing Feels Good engineer), Jessica Hopper (former publicist), Tim Edwards (former booking agent), Josh Modell (creator of Milk Magazine and close friend), along with musicians who’ve worked with, influenced, or been influenced by The Promise Ring, including Tim and Mike Kinsella (Cap’n Jazz), Jim Adkins (Jimmy Eat World), Bob Nanna (Braid), Jeremy Enigk (Sunny Day Real Estate), Matthew Pryor (The Get Up Kids), Eric Richter (Christie Front Drive), Eric Axelson (The Dismemberment Plan/Maritime), Chris Carrabba (Dashboard Confessional), Pete Wentz (Fall Out Boy), Chris Simpson (Mineral), Chris Conley (Saves the Day), Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters/Sun Kil Moon), Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat/Fugazi), and countless others for their involvement in this project. Although not everyone listed is guaranteed to be involved, with my personal connections to some of the people previously listed and with the help from the former Promise Ring members, I will have an enormous number of people contributing to the book’s dialog.

Interviews aside, I plan on digging through swaths of information to aide in the creation of the book. Included will be the usual sources of information; articles on the band, reviews of their albums, zines, blogs, and any other published work that would enhance the narrative. But, I plan to go beyond those musings as well. I will approach the band members to see if I could use personal paraphernalia to help me spin a more personal yarn. This would include anything from old photographs, letters, journal entries, lyric sheets, music sheets, and even doodles scratched into scraps of paper they’ve kept through the years. I will also approach the narrative from the direction of an informed anthropologist by researching the socio-economic background of The Promise Ring’s hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Through census information, background information on area high school and college education systems, and the resources for youth in Wisconsin that was available at the same time Nothing Feels Good was in the making, I hope to gain a better sense of The Promise Ring’s background. I’ll also dig up information on American society’s views of Wisconsin and the Mid West and how that was reflected in the actions of those who lived there. It may seem onerous, but the brief scene in Wayne’s World that takes place in Milwaukee speaks volumes about the international perception of the place where The Promise Ring was formed. Throughout all of this, I hope to get a sense of why The Promise Ring did what they did, but from an entirely different perspective than the usual interview could warrant.

What I hope to accomplish after 15 months of research and writing is a work that can live up to how I felt after first popping Nothing Feels Good on the stereo, and something that will be as powerful as each subsequent listen to that album. My work may lack the aural quality of the album, but I hope it will be able to bring an entirely new sense of being to Nothing Feels Good, and one that will only boost the listening experience of longtime Promise Ring enthusiasts and bring some new fans to the album as well.

And The Winner For Best Song Is…

My friend Scott writes the blog for Oscar predictions and film, And The Winner Is… Scott’s spot on when it comes to guessing who will walk away with what statue, so I was surprised to see that he didn’t have a listing for Best Original Song among the categories he lists on the site. So, I’ve devised my own prediction for this field (sadly, no emo acts), which is listed below:

1. “O… Saya” – A.R. Rahman & M.I.A. (Slumdog Millionaire)

2. “The Wrestler” – Bruce Springsteen (The Wrestler)

3. “Down To Earth” – Peter Gabriel (Wall-E)

4. “Once In A Lifetime” – Beyonce et al (Cadillac Records)

5. “Gran Torino” – Clint Eastwood, Jamie Cullum, et al (Gran Torino)

 

I realize that “O… Saya” wasn’t nominated for a Golden Globe, for which I cannot explain. A.R. Rahman won the Globe for Best Original Score, for which “O… Saya” is a fundamental (and therefore, original) component. But, “O… Saya” stands apart from the rest of the Slumdog score, a blistering song in its own right and an excellent three-minute representation of the film it’s a part of. As many of the celebrations and criticisms of Slumdog revolve around the (in some arguments “morality”) aspects of the Western fairy tale, coupled with technology and influence and the collision with a modernizing India, “O… Saya” meshes this into one beautiful framework. Take one part Indian-influenced electronica with Bollywood-esq singing and one part M.I.A. (the proverbial representation for third world politics and Westernized taste-making) tossing out skittish rap-prose and you just can’t stop listening.

Consider the following…

 

1) Slumdog Millionaire‘s popularity among all types of moviegoers and critics (the steal as this year’s Little Miss Sunshine or Juno)

2) The real-life socio-political implications that the impact of this film has had, one not seen since City of God (giving it a little more heft than the atypical indie darling)

3) The popularity of A.R. Rahman in the Bollywood industry, coupled with the Oscars’ notable lack of Bollywood contention (this could be because of rules for films being eligible, but Bollywood arguably has as much impact on the global scale as Hollywood, and some would argue more)

4) M.I.A.’s seat as the biggest underground-to-mainstream sensation and success since… well, yes, probably since Nirvana bewildered everyone with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (there’s another argument in and of itself, but no one expected Nirvana to become such a mainstream success, and damn near every critic and fan of M.I.A. before “Paper Planes” went to the top of Billboard might have thought the same thing)

5) The Academy’s recent taste for awarding the Best Original Song Oscar to daring, deserving, and unexpected artists (be it Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” in 2002, Three 6 Mafia’s “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp” in 2005, or Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s “Falling Slowly” from just last year)

 

… and you’ve got yourself a good shot that this song (which, in my humble opinion, was easily the best original song from any film this year) will take the Oscar… unless, for some odd reason, it doesn’t get a nod. And that would be odd.

 

And, in the spirit of these awards, I’d like to throw what little weight this fair blog has behind Mickey Rourke for Best Actor in The Wrestler and Anne Hathaway for Best Actress in Rachel Getting Married. And, in the spirit of this blog, I’ll connect it all to emo. If the term “emo” is some vague notion of displaying one’s emotions, both these roles and films managed to do so in a deft manner that was eloquent, honest, and unrelenting. These two films and roles remain seared into my retinas; both were filmed in a cinéma vérité, where the cameras seemed to follow the real actions of these characters in a stunning manner, the flow was natural, and even the most morbid detail both important and heartbreaking. Whereas Sean Penn’s title character Harvey Milk felt like an over-the-top caricature (and that’s putting it lightly, unlike some other criticisms) and wasn’t nearly as stunning as his previous work (there’s one scene in Mystic River that gets me every time), watching Rourke play Super NES with a local tween or Hathaway gaze out at the wedding party from the sidelines felt eerily like peering into someone’s life. And isn’t that what art is supposed to do?

 

 

A.R. Rahman & M.I.A. – “O… Saya” (video):