Reconsidering the Strokes

Back in the day (2003), I purchased the Strokes’ second album, Room on Fire.

And I absolutely hated it. Despised it with every fiber of my being. I ranted and raved about it, ripped it to shreds to anyone who would listen, and refused to listen to their stuff for the next, oh, almost 16 years. The vocals were buried in the mix, the bass was weak, and I thought the lyrics were insipid. If this was the future of guitar rock, I reasoned, it was time for guitar rock to die.

Earlier this month, I downloaded their first album, Is This It?, on a whim. I listened to it a few times, and something has happened to me since those early days of 2003: I kinda liked it.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think the whole “saviors of rock’n’roll” nonsense is just that: nonsense. But maybe an older, wiser me recognizes what they were trying to accomplish now, and can appreciate it for what it is: damn fine garage rock. The guitars are chugging, the vocals (while definitely buried in the mix) are evocative and fitting, and the songs are tight and almost hyperactive (their first two, 11-song albums clock in at around 30 minutes each).

Are these albums going to become my go-to for rock’n’roll? No. But they’re damn fine examples of the early-aughts garage rock revival aesthetic, one that I like more now than I did at the time.

Tom Petty, “Built to Last”

I’ve been on a Tom Petty kick lately. Not that it takes much to start one of those: usually, just thinking about or listening to a single Tom Petty song leads to a reconsideration of his catalog, or at least a couple of favorite albums. This time around, I’ve been listening and relistening to Into the Great Wide Open, his Heartbreaker-backed follow up to Full Moon Fever. If I’m being honest, I think Into the Great Wide Open is the stronger of the two albums, but I’m not here for that debate today (though ask me again tomorrow, I might be up for it then).

No, today I’m here for the album closer, “Built to Last,” which I believe is one of the single greatest songs Petty ever wrote.

On the surface, “Built to Last” is a simple, simple song. It only uses, like, three chords. It’s a straightforward “I will love you forever” song.

Somewhere out my doorway

Somewhere down my block

I can feel her heartbeat

In rhythm with my clock

The song is filled, though, with everything that makes a Tom Petty song great: the soaring vocals in the bridge, the sparkling guitar work from Heartbreaker Mike Campbell (still one of the all-time greatest guitar players ever, by the way), and the heartfelt lyrics delivered so effortlessly by Petty.

We were built to last

On until forever

The world is changing fast

Oh, but our love was built to last

It’s the chorus that always gets me. Those couple of mournful guitar notes after the first line just kills me. “No matter what happens, we will continue to love each other,” Petty says. It’s put forward simply and earnestly, as only Petty can do it, and the song just leaves me a soppy puddle every time I listen to it.

Tom Petty wrote a lot of amazing songs, all with an eye for the working stiff just trying to get by to the weekend and survive. He was never as cynical as Bruce Springsteen or as esoteric as Bob Dylan. He was always just himself, and you could always just about hear his grin when he was playing and singing. “Built to Last,” with its simple rhythm and guileless lyrics, is the epitome of the Petty writing style, and one of my all-time favorite songs.

Open Mike Eagle, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream

For years, I’ve tried to listen to rap. It’s been a challenge, honestly. I want to like it, I want to get into it the way I’m into Dylan or the Beatles, but it’s been impenetrable. It felt like it wasn’t for me.

Then I found Open Mike Eagle, and something clicked.

His most recent album, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, is filled with clever wordplay, introspective ruminations, and snappy beats. The album deal with the aftermath of the project building where he spent many of his formative years being torn down. In between verses about the building itself and his years growing up there, he slips in mentions to the X-Men, the Infinity Gems, and Clearly Canadian (remember Clearly Canadian? I drank that stuff every day in middle school).

Open Mike Eagle’s rapping is slow but filled with wonderful rhymes. His flow is impeccable; he slides words and syllables right where they need to be in every bar. “My big dumb brain’s an electrical ocean/Started walking, now my legs in perpetual motion,” he raps in “Legendary iron Hood.” Eagle drops couplets like that almost casually, filling the songs with hidden gems it takes repeated listenings to unearth.

Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is a hell of an album from start to finish. It’s all killer, no filler. Open Mike Eagle is by turns clever, introspective, and thoughtful, presenting an entire album that’s perfect from the very first note.

Resolutions

Happy 2019! A new year often calls for resolutions, and I’m giving them a shot this year. Several of my resolutions have to do with writing, of course. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  1. Lose 20 Pounds
  2. Self-publish two books
  3. Sell at least five books per month
  4. Run a 5K
  5. Record five songs
  6. Learn Book Marketing

I feel most of the resolutions are pretty self-explanatory. I’m seriously overweight, and 20 pounds seems doable in a year. I’m hard at work on book 5 and have a rough outline for book 6 ready, so I should be able to self-publish two books this year. Resolutions #3 and #6 are connected: if I can market my books more effectively, I can sell more books. Running a 5K is tied up with the weight loss. And finally, I want to get back to recording songs again. I recorded a couple last year that I was very happy with, and this year I’d like to get several more in the can.

So, those are my resolutions. What are yours?

The Worst Christmas Song Ever

It’s popular across the internet to bag on Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” as the worst Christmas song ever. It sounds like it was written in ten minutes on a dare with a Casio keyboard as the only instrument allowed. And it is, objectively, a terrible song. I myself have used it on multiple occasions to torture students.

But there are worse holiday songs out there. Oh, so much worse. I’d personally like to nominate “Little Drummer Boy” as the worst of the worst. It’s got it all: ridiculous repetition of the “pa-rum-pa-pum-pum” nonsense, a kid who thinks a woman who just gave birth needs to listen to a drum solo, and a slow, plodding tempo that leaves me wanting to pa-rum-pa-pum-punt the songwriter right into the Magi.

In fact, there’s only one version of the song I can stand: one done by Jars of Clay, the Contemporary Christian band famous for the song “Flood,” did as a charity single back in 1997.

The band sped things up a bit, turned the drums into a beat loop, and added some lovely folky acoustic instrumentation to the song. It’s still crap, but it’s listenable crap.

Comic Anniversary

No, you haven’t posted here in, like, a month.

Okay, cards on the table, I fell off the radar for a bit there. It happens. I’m an introvert with social anxiety and depression who just, y’know, forgets that he has things like a website from time to time.

Anyway, I’m back! Yay! Mostly here to celebrate a milestone over at xeyeti.com, my daily webcomic website.

See, seven years ago, I posted a quick sketch I’d done with a goal for myself: draw something every day for a year. It quickly escalated into something else, and eventually into the comic that it is today. I went from hand-drawing everything to doing the sketches on an iPad to doing them on a Surface Pro. I’ve been doing this for longer than just about anything else in my life.

Next week, I’ll hit the 2000th image for the comic/sketch a day. Another big milestone. Maybe sometime next month I’ll finish up book 5? A man can dream.

Spirit in the Sky

I’ve talked before about how dumb I was as a young man (spoiler alert: real dumb). A prime example would be the following story:

In my first semester in college, I took a Biology class. It occurred right after my World History survey course and right before my Country and Line Dancing class (don’t ask). The class was pretty non-offensive, and it was taught by a lovely man named Dr. Doug Jeffries. He was short, bearded, and long-suffering, if only because he had morons like me in his classes. See, back then, I was pretty solidly Republican, with all the weird hang-ups that includes.

Including a revulsion to the Theory of Evolution.

So, Dr. Jeffries brings up evolution in class, and I immediately call him out on it. I am angry. I am feeling righteous. I’m all, “That ain’t in the Bible, yo, so it ain’t true.”

I don’t remember Dr. Jeffries’s exact words. I do remember his tone: weary and a little disappointed. He had more patience with me than I would have.

By the end of that semester, I was a very different person. I don’t think I ever got the chance to apologize for that outburst. I don’t think he would have expected or even necessarily wanted one. I do hope he didn’t spend the next few months hanging out with the other professors saying, “God, that Cottrell idiot. I have to teach him again on Monday.”

He passed over the weekend, I found out this morning. He was a good man, committed to teaching and the environment and his students. I hadn’t thought of that day in his class in years, but I remembered it this morning and cringed a bit.

God speed, Dr. Jeffries. Sorry I was an idiot.