Thursday, October 29, 2009

GMVW # 95: "A Generational Divide (the 90's)"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 95:  A Generational Divide (the 90’s)
Song:  Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana
(Songwriters: Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl)
October 29, 2009

Two or three times a year, I find myself having to head to Denver, Colorado for work:  There is a 3-block Federal Center in Lakewood, just west of the city, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Other than Headquarters near Washington D.C. and possibly EROS Data Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the Denver Federal Center is the heart of U.S. Geological Survey activities. It includes training facilities, a state of the art lab, a large conference room, other meeting rooms and a book/map store for the public. There is also an enormous storage area, where you can find nationwide scientific publications; geologic, oceanographic, aerial, satellite and topographic maps; geologic core samples; and other fascinating field discoveries.  So, whether it is a significant meeting, workshop, or training, more often than not, it is held there. 

Such was the case again for me in the spring of 1999.  Although Lakewood has a reputation in the surrounding area as home of the Federal Center (a fair number of people in the vicinity are employed there), on April 20 of that year, Lakewood would be renowned worldwide for something else entirely.  It started as just another long work day on the road.  After wrapping up for the day, and before heading out for dinner with colleagues, I returned to my hotel room to call home.  Out of habit I flicked on the television.  It was then that I began taking in what happened several miles away earlier that afternoon at Columbine High School. Two kids had opened fire on their classmates, killing and injuring many. I flashed back to my lunch break earlier and recalled the sirens that were blaring near and far.  At the time, I did not pay them all that much heed.  Watching the news, however, it was suddenly and shockingly clear what had caused the commotion.

For the next three days it was as if the rest of the world did not exist in the Denver metropolitan area.  The news was all Columbine all the time.  There could have been a catastrophic earthquake in Mexico or a tsunami in Hawaii, and the report may not have made it to the area.  Columbine was that jarring. 

For whatever reason, I followed the tragedy over the subsequent weeks more so than I typically would follow a story of this type.  After honoring a mourning period for the victims, the news outlets began focusing on the perpetrators.  Why did they do it?  No one had an answer. There was discussion on the availability of firearms, the escalation of anger over the preceding years (as recounted by their friends and family), and the earlier arrests and unusual behavior that should have raised warning flags.  But still, the question ‘why’ went unanswered.  It was left up to the rest of us to speculate.

In the early 90’s, I began to feel somewhat disconnected from the incoming Rock n Roll crowd.  The upper tier music continued to evolve in a good way, but my ability to identify with the new scene was fleeting, and it was more than an age gap or the inevitable disconnect that can come with fatherhood: I found the new attitude identified with this mosh pit crowd hard to relate to on a number of levels. I ended up canceling my long standing subscription to Rolling Stone Magazine and removing longtime favorite station WBCN from my radio dial.  Both were making a break as they tried to connect with the new crowd the only way they thought possible: By abandoning the old and embracing the new.  In the process they were losing me.

There was an explanation for my feeling of disconnect, however.  The lengthy period of the Baby Boomer generation standing alone on center stage was coming to an end, giving way to a new one: Generation X (it would take some time for the Boomers to let go.  In fact I think we are still struggling to stay in the limelight).

Some time back in the mid 90’s, I was listening to local (now National) political pundit, Mike Barnacle on CNN, talking about this generation just then coming into its own.  A question was posed to him along the lines of if he had a theory why there was so much anger (or, to use the period term, ‘angst’) and apathy in the air with this new generation. He was scoffing at the notion that Generation X would have anything to complain about.  They had it all, didn’t they?: Involved, hip parents; a plethora of organized sports and other activities; comfortable homes; video games; and cable television with hundreds of channels to choose from. He also managed to throw in a slacker comment or two if I remember correctly.  His message: Stop your bitchin and get off the couch! 

And while I chuckled, I recall thinking that Barnacle was a bit off target. He, like those columnists covering Columbine a few years later, could not get at the root of the problem. Anger and apathy don’t just come out of nowhere.  There’s always a reason for it.  What was confusing at the time was that the anger did not seem to be directed at anything specific, so it was hard to diagnose.  There was no smoking gun like Vietnam, Apartheid or assassinations that were putting some of these Generation X types over the edge.  It was almost like everything was letting them down, including all that they interpreted the prior generations to represent.  The 50’s: “Bubble gum and hula hoops”.  The 60’s: “What the hell was that all about?”  The 70’s: “Ancient history”.  The 80’s: “Yeah, I know all about the 80’s, and look where that got us”.

Questions persist, but I believe much of that Generation X anger/apathy in the 90s came from a void in their lives.  I’m not sure, but I can’t help wondering if many of them were completely lacking in any type of faith guidance whatsoever.  Was there such a lack of a faith focus in their families and communities that the kids had gone astray?  When kids are left to their own devices in this regard, should it be expected that the results don’t usually turn out all that great?  Also, maybe the ‘Me Me Me’ focus of the previous decade was taking its toll.

The good thing for most of the kids at the time was that Rock and Roll remained an outlet.  Grunge music in particular, which emanated out of Seattle, was solid.  So much so, that Neil Young jumped on board for the ride and eventually established himself as a godfather figure of sorts.  The music coming out of Seattle was angry, but much of it connected with elements of truth.

I’ve always been of the belief that if a song is great, it must have an underlying element of truth, and also faith.  The connection doesn’t have to be obvious.  Rock songs like ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ and ‘Jokerman’ hold up rather well to traditional religious songs like ‘Ave Maria’, and ‘Amazing Grace’ when it comes to the depth by which I can be moved while listening.  As mentioned for an earlier Gem, Brian Wilson believed there was divine intervention in his song writing.  Although few others have made this claim/admission, I’m thinking it happens much more frequently.  After all, Brian Wilson’s songs are great, but no better than many of his contemporaries, or those from other eras/genres like Mozart, Al Jolson, and Frank Sinatra.

That would include all 94 of the Gems that have rolled out so far.  This week’s Gem, ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ by Nirvana, is no exception.  Despite the generational differences, I still know a good thing when I hear it.  Kurt Cobain may have had emotional problems, but that did not stop him from making some great music.  Admirers of the art of Van Gough could attest to the fact that tortured souls can still make vital contributions to society.  The most amazing thing to me about Cobain is his vocals: How could someone as scrawny and apathetic looking as he project his voice in that way?  I’m still dumbfounded when I listen.

On a personal level, the 90’s were unparalleled.  Two names explain this: Charlotte and Peter, both of whom were born during World Cup events: Summer ’94 and summer ’98 respectively (making Brazilian World Cup Soccer commentator, Galvao Bueno’s exclamation ‘GOOOOAAAAAALLLLL!!!!’ all the more meaningful).

Immediately below is a list of ‘Great Song Names’.  Below that is the Gem video and a number of other videos from the 90’s.  Below these are the lyrics to ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’.

Next week: The 00’s and ‘Great Lyric One Liners.  Input is welcome.

I’ll close with a reminder any committed USGS employee would deliver:

Know your watershed!

- Pete

Great Song Names
1. ‘Roll over Beethoven’ (There’s a new kid in town)
2. ‘Are You Experienced’ (Excuse me, that’s a personal question)
3. ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’, ‘Love Minus Zero/No Limit’, ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’, ‘Queen Jane Approximately’ (Four way tie: It appears Dylan’s creativity starts with the naming of his songs)
4. ‘Wah Wah’ (Today’s interpretation: What-ever!)
5. ‘Cortez the Killer’ (Stop beating around the bush, Neil)
6. ‘I Can’t Drive 55!’ (Hagar heisted this quote from one of Dave’s police blotters)
7. ‘Crashing by Design’ (You just have to be resigned)
8. ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ (A plug for this week’s Gem)
9. ‘Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey’ (And the monkey is beginning to look suspicious)
10. ‘The Village Green Preservation Society’ (No one can peg the nuances of the British quite as succinctly as Ray Davies)
11. ‘Cobwebs and Strange’ (One of only two Moon-penned Who songs as far as I know)

Gem Music Video of the Week ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’

Mazzie Star ‘Fade Into You’ (Neil Young was blown away by this song, so much so, that he made a trek into Boston to catch her at a club)

Sound Garden ‘Black Hole Sun’ (freaky video)

Pearl Jam ‘Even Flow’ (one  of my favorite Rock stories was reading about Eddie Veder hucking spit balls in the direction of Ticketmaster employees during a Rock n Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.  Ahhh, Ticketmaster: I could go off on a tangent on that subject).

Midnight Oil ‘Blue Sky Mine’ (Australia with a conscience)

Jacob Dylan ‘One Headlight’ (Like father, like son)

Counting Crows ‘Mr. Jones’ (With the great line “I want to be Bob Dylan, Mr. Jones wishes he was someone a little funkier”)

Alanis Morissette ‘Ironic’ (A bizarre cab ride, to say the least)

Tears for Fears ‘Sowing the Seeds of Love’ (Trying to emulate a Beatles song, and succeeding)

Lyrics to ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’
Load up on guns and bring your friends
It's fun to lose and to pretend
She's over-bored and self-assured
Oh no, I know a dirty word

Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello

With the lights out, it's less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us

A mulatto, an albino
A mosquito, my libido
Yeah, hey, yay

I'm worse at what I do best
And for this gift I feel blessed
Our little group has always been
And always will until the end

Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello

With the lights out, it's less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us

A mulatto, an albino
A mosquito, my libido
Yeah, hey, yay

And I forget just why I taste
Oh yeah, I guess it makes me smile
I found it hard, it's hard to find
Oh well, whatever, nevermind

Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello

With the lights out, it's less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us

A mulatto, an albino
A mosquito, my libido

A denial, a denial
A denial, a denial
A denial, a denial
A denial, a denial
A denial

About the Video: Made for MTV-like video

Video Rating: 1

Best Feedback: Jack

Peter, I'm cc'ing all to congratulate you. This was, in my book, the most inspired write up you have created.  It stuck it's big toe in the cold water of truth, unlike the pontifications of others that continually address the symptoms without dealing with the core cause.  Our generation along with those following are by and large lacking the roadmap to a fulfilled life and understanding the true nature of the human condition...and if I may proffer an opinion to tie off a loose end, I think it was best said by a man who walked the shores of Galillee when he said, "A thief comes in to break, steal and destroy. I come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly", (That it might be full and meaningful).

Best to all!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

GMVW # 94: "A New Moral Compass (the 80's)"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 94:  A New Moral Compass (the 80’s)
Song:  What’s the Matter Here by 10,000 Maniacs
Covered Here By: Natalie Merchant (principle songwriter) 
(Songwriters: Natalie Merchant and Robert Buck)
October 22, 2009

Back in the late 80’s, Nancy and I began subscribing to a then fairly new booklet released annually by the Council on Economic Priorities, titled “Shopping for a Better World”.  This reputable booklet contained a comprehensive grading of virtually every major company and product available on the market at the time, from gasoline stations to toothpastes; beers to peanut butters. This was not your traditional consumer advocating, however:  The CEP booklet’s focus was on an entirely different set of rules.  Ratings, which ranged from ‘Outstanding’ to ‘Poor performance’, were broken up into ten categories: 1) Giving to charity; 2) Women’s Advancement; 3) Minority Advancement; 4) Animal Testing; 5) Disclosure of Information; 6) Community Outreach; 7) South Africa (with whom business dealings at the time were considered by many as a no-no); 8) Environment; 9) Family Benefits; and 10) Workplace Issues.  There was also an ‘Alert’ column for additional information.  The research was thorough and dedicated to, among other things, changing the relationship between business and the environment.  I soon found myself using it for practically everything I purchased.

Although Nancy and I were trying to ‘do our part’, there were many who were getting into this new outside-the-box way-of-thinking at a much deeper level.  The 1980’s were an interesting transition period for the conscience-minded in the growing number of Rock and Roll generations, who were trying to counterbalance the ultimately prevalent ‘Me, Me, Me’ stamp on the decade.  Where during the 60’s and 70’s, the emphasis was to advance causes outside the system, a shift took place around this time to work within the system.  Altruistic undertakings were popping up all over the place, often advanced by musicians and supported by fans.  There was Live Aid, Farm Aid, and Band Aid, and other events such as “No Nukes” and “Human Rights Now!” (Amnesty International). Pleas were being made incessantly by musicians like Bob Geldof to help reverse the plight of peoples in places like Africa and Bangladesh.  Terms like “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”, “Earth Day”, and “Think Globally, Act Locally” were making their way into the mainstream vernacular. 

A fair percentage of  the 60’s counter culture who ‘dropped out’ in the 70’s (discussed for the last Gem) were coming out of their shells guided by a new moral compass (they were symbolized by John Lennon, who emerged from his multi-year Dakota Apartment hibernation to produce an album and reconnect with the general public just before his murder).  Where before, there was reaction to issues that directly affected them and their families, now these hippies of yore were focusing more on what affected other people and places, including neighbors they may have never met; poor, displaced and starving people in other countries; collapsing ecosystems on the other side of the planet; and endangered species. 

A world view was beginning to take shape in North America and Europe.  People were broadening their horizons as they worked their way out of their comfort zones.  This was certainly the case for me.  Between 1980, when I graduated from high school in the (then) small town of Franklin, and 1990, when I was engaged to be married, much had transpired.  There was college, including an eye-opening 1-year exchange program to Ottawa, Canada.  There were Europe trips I and II.  There was an oddball collection of job descriptions, finally and somehow, inextricably, leading to the US Geological Survey and a professional series position in lines with my degree.  There were multiple mailing addresses in diverse locales, ending in an equally inextricable home purchase with Fred. There were back-pack mountain hikes and multi-day canoe trips.  There were concerts, weddings and parties of all shapes and sizes. There were causes to walk, jog and run for and eco-centric conference booths to man on weekends.  There were a wide variety of new friendships.

And smack dab in the middle of the 80’s, (25 years ago next week to be exact), I met Nancy, who introduced me to terminology and ways of thinking that fit in rather nicely with the big picture of the time.  Her focus was on a new health paradigm.  Some words she used, like ‘holistic’, ‘organic’, ‘homeopathic’ and ‘immune system’ were new to me.  Others like ‘nutrition’, ‘balanced diet’, and ‘juicer’ would take on new meaning (a ‘juicer’, used to grind vegetables into liquid pulp to drink as a morning breakfast, would take on yet another meaning this past decade, with the help of Jose Canseco). Nancy also showed me the meaning of exercising for your health.  I’m still logging the miles. 

Eventually, Nancy brought her health-centric approach to our family life.  When fevers have spiked and coughs have persisted, she has worked methodically with our pediatrician, often shunning the quick fix of antibiotics (bacteria strains have rarely evolved under her watch) for the patience of alternative methods and medicines, some of which have been used in other cultures over hundreds of years. And every time her approach has paid off… every time!  Nancy’s mode of operandi has always been to prevent, but she is ready on a dime for ailments and accidents: Few of our adventures are complete without arnica and calendula creams being packed as part of a first aid kit.  Often a book or two on the subject of diagnosing and treating aches, pains, burns, and bruises is packed as well (which reminds me of the time John looked at our book shelf and through astute observation, quickly distinguished all of Nancy’s books from mine).  I’m not always the most holistic of patients, at times opting for self abuse I suppose.  But I think I get a passing grade.  The kids get higher marks.

Since it has been 25 years since we met, I figured the story of our initial chance encounter was worth telling, at least for those who have not heard it (or gotten it in dribs and drabs). 

If you have ever watched the half-baked comedy, “What’s up Doc?” starring Barbara Streisand, Ryan O’Neil, and multiple identical briefcases, you can connect with what initially comes to my mind when recalling how Nancy and I met.  College buddy Kurt had invited me to a Halloween Party in Winchester.  I decided last minute to go, but had no idea what to go as.  Mom came up with the idea of a Mad Scientist, and helped me put together a makeshift, elaborate costume.  It was great.  I packed the costume in a bag and tossed it in the back seat of my car for the one hour drive north though Boston.  Before leaving, Mom asked me to drop Pat off at the school down the road, where he would be helping to scare little kids in a Halloween maze.  Pat’s costume (a mask, yellow wig, and a sheet) was packed in a bag and tossed in the back seat next to my identical bag (you can guess where this is going?).  I drove down the road and dropped him off, handing him the bag on his way out of the car.

After arriving at the party, and going inside for a few pops, I said to Kurt, ‘Get a load of my costume’.  We headed back to my car and I opened the bag.  I was shocked.  There was nothing in it but a yellow wig, monster mask, and ripped sheet (until then, I was unaware of what Pat had in his bag).  I was high and dry and feeling bad, knowing how much effort Mom had put into that costume (I was also wondering what Pat did when he made the bag-switch discovery on his end). 

Now, I was never the most forthcoming of guys when it came to meeting ladies, but at that moment, all inhibitions were out the window.  I put the costume on and transformed into a yellow-wigged alter ego of myself. Nancy was the innocent victim, unaware she was sitting in my seat near the dance floor.  She was dressed up as an Indian girl, looking very pretty, and sitting with one of her best friends, Madeline (who, like Kurt, remains close to us to this day).  I walked up to her and quite out of character, insisted she dance with me.  We talked and danced the rest of the evening, yellow wig and all (Nancy did not know my true hair color until our first date the following weekend).  The rest is history. 

Although 80’s music suffered to some degree from the weight of following in the footsteps of what transpired the decades beforehand, it did manage to find its own niche, fed by the moral compass of the times discussed above.  One band that stepped to the fore was 10,000 Maniacs, fronted by Natalie Merchant, who carried a fantastic stage presence about her.  I could not find a quality Maniacs version of this week’s Gem, “What’s the Matter Here?”, but I did find a very worthwhile viewing of a Merchant solo performance of the song with a backing band.   The lyrics (which are listed below) are a perfect example of the conscience that was sweeping the Rock generation of the period.  The bridge near the end is one of the best bridges Rock music has to offer.

Immediately below is a list of ‘Great Band Names’.  Below that is the Gem video and a number of other videos from the 80’s.  Below these are the lyrics to ‘What’s the Matter Here?’. 

Next week: The 90’s and ‘Great Song Names’.  Input is welcome.

I will close with a favorite 80’s exhortation of Mac’s, who shared many-a-great times with me during the decade…..


- Pete

Great Band Names
1. ‘The Butthole Surfers’ (My mind can only go so far with this image before it shuts down)
2. ‘The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’ (Only a band with a name like this could pen a song titled ‘Death Cab for Cutie’)
3. Bare Naked Ladies (Did they think of the competition when typing this in on
You Tube?)
4. ‘The Dead Milkmen’ (This is what happens when punks perform cow tipping in milking pens)
5. ‘Hot Tuna’, ‘Meatloaf’, ‘Captain Beefheart’, ‘Flock of Seagulls’, ‘Dixie Chicks’, and ‘Trout Fishing in America’ (Six way tie.  What is it about naming your band after fish, poultry, and beef?)
6. ‘Rage Against the Machine’ (And have these guys ever lived up to this name)
7. ‘Doobie Brothers’ (Gets the nod over Jethro Tull for refer reference)
8. ‘Limp Bizkit’ (inspired by a pet dog with a crooked step)
9. ‘Sly and the Family Stone’ (They put ‘cool’ back in ‘family’ during an invasion of Partridges)
10. ‘Blue Oyster Cult’ (I believe the name is half the reason why this is Stephen King’s favorite band)
11. ‘Social Distortion’ (This is what happens when amps are cranked up to ‘11’)
12. ‘Shonen Knife’ (‘Swiss Army Knife, the English equivalent, simply would not have held up)
13. ‘Big Brother and the Holding Company’ (An Orwellian double-double entendre)
14. ‘Rat Race Choir’, ‘Boomtown Rats’ and ‘Ratdog’ (3 way tie and I’m not sure why)
15. ‘Thunderclap Newman’ (There’s just ‘Something in the Air’ there)
16. ‘Psychedelic Furs’ (What the Exxon Valdez left in its wake)

Gem Video: Natalie Merchant “What’s the Matter Here?”

Gem Video 94B (in case this weeks Gem Video cannot perform all its duties throughout the course of the week *although I doubt it*)
The Talking Heads ‘Wild, Wild Life’

The Pretenders ‘My City was Gone’ (the ultimate anti-suburbia-sprawl song)

Tom Petty ‘Jammin’ Me’ (I’ve always wondered if one of the names mentioned in the lyrics lead to Petty’s house going up in flames not long after the song’s release)

Smithereens ‘Blood and Roses’ (A Nancy fav band)

R.E.M ‘Orange Crush’

UB40 ‘Red Red Wine’

Dire Straits ‘Industrial Disease’

Blondie ‘Heart of Glass’

Lyrics to ‘What’s the Matter Here?’

That young boy without a name I'd know his face.
In this city the kid's my favorite.
I've seen him. I see him every day.
Seen him run outside looking for a place to hide from his father,
the kid half naked and said to myself "O, what's the matter here?"
I'm tired of the excuses everybody uses, he's their kid I stay out of it,
but who gave you the right to do this?

We live on
Morgan Street
just ten feet between and his mother, I never see her,
but her screams and cussing, I hear them every day.
Threats like: "If you don't mind I will beat on your behind,"
"Slap you, slap you silly."
made me say, "O, what's the matter here?"
I'm tired of the excuses everybody uses, he's your kid, do as you see fit,
but get this through that I don't approve of what you did to you own flesh and

"If you don't sit on this chair straight
I'll take this belt from around my waist and don't think that I won't use it!"

Answer me and take your time,
what could be the awful crime he could do at such young an age?
If I'm the only witness to your madness offer me some words to balance out what
I see and what I hear.
All these cold and rude things that you do I suppose you do because he belongs
to you
and instead of love, the feel of warmth you've given him these cuts and sores
won't heal with time or age.

I want to say "What's the Matter here?"
But I don't dare say.

About the Video: Natalie Merchant with a 5 or 6 piece band playing in an ‘unplugged’ like environment, perhaps around the mid 00’s.  A red-hair woman is playing the upright double bass (with rod) behind her.

Video Rating: 1

Best Feedback: Joe

Pete - great grabbing lunch today....I am still sweating from the sauce...I did a quick search on great band names...could not make it past A -

A Cat Born In An Oven Isn't A Cake
Above Average Weight Band
Abstract Penis Brigade
Admiral Poopy Pants and His Dancing Teeth
The Advil Monkey
Afghanistan Banana Stand
Aha, the Attack of the Green Slime Beast
The Al Roker Death Cult Wind Ensemble
Albino Toilet Boys
Alien Nymphos from Uranus
The Alien Puppets
Almighty Lumberjacks of Death
Amish Meth Lab
The Anally Devoted Husbands
An Emotional Fish
Angry Amputees
Are These My Pants?
Armed and Hammered
The Arrogant Worms
Arthur Loves Plastic
Ashtray Boy
The Atomic Bitchwax
Avenging Lawnmowers of Justice
And Madeline: Pete,

Thanks for reminding me of one of the best Halloween parties ever! Congrats to you and Nancy on the 25th anniversary of your meeting.  That flew by!
And Jen:

Fun recounting your chance meeting with Nanc. Funny story. And I really liked 10,000 then Natalie Merchant, back in her day. Have some of hers on my playlist, heard Festival just yesterday, running.
And Bob:

Hi Pete,

You have done an excellent job over the years in providing the glue to keep us all in touch.  The Gem Video was a great idea and I enjoyed reading your weekly mails.  Your writing skills as well improved to such an extent that I am really amazed at how well you articulate your thoughts.  You definitely have a lot of talent.......I think the perfect job for you to be writing free lance for the Rolling Stones mag.