I have next to no money for the first half of the year. Instead of scooping ice cream or wiping off filthy tables at the Old Country Buffet, I opt to subsist as a full-time college student with no supplemental income--living at home, living off what’s left of my savings. I acquire new music shrewdly and thriftily, frequenting libraries, used record stores, and the buy-now-pay-later magazine record clubs. On the Saturday after Kurt Cobain kills himself, I thumb through the shelves at the CD Exchange near Southridge like an emaciated junkie, gleefully forking over the last six dollars in my wallet for a recycled copy of Kate Bush’s The Whole Story.

I do most of my used-CD shopping at 2nd Hand Tunes, a snarky East Side corner store straight out of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. I glean much pleasure spending many weekend afternoons browsing through bin after bin of plastic slipcases holding CD booklets (the discs are kept behind the store’s comically elevated counter). I have a general mental list of stuff I’d like to acquire when I’m browsing, but also enough devotion and tenacity to usually search through every last slipcase in the bin. The possibility that I could find a hidden treasure that never would’ve occurred to me to look for unless it was staring me in the face carries a little electrical charge. That feeling of discovery keeps me coming back for more; it becomes something I live for. (Click here to read more about this).

I’m listening to a lot of WARP, Milwaukee’s first alternative station. At 1340 on the AM dial, it’s low-watt and “canned”, meaning no live DJs (although a meant-to-be-hip-but-fairly-dorky guy introduces the occasional song). It was also pre-programmed to a fault: at times, you could count on hearing the same song at the exact same day and time every god damn week! Nonetheless, WARP was important because it played stuff no other radio station at the time would touch, from then-daring new artists like Green Day and Tori Amos to classics from The Clash and The Smiths--believe it or not, this was where I first heard “How Soon is Now”.

Sadly, WARP goes off the air in April (playing “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” twenty-four hours straight), leaving a void in the market until dance/Top 40 station Hot 102 morphs into New Rock 102.1 in September. You can practically hear a collective Gen-X cheer across the city when this format change suddenly occurs. It’s almost utopian at first, hearing songs from Enigma, Nine Inch Nails, Throwing Muses and the Meat Puppets in one hour of programming, but repetitive rot gradually sets in and the “New Rock” format seems rather old hat and predictable in less than a year’s time.

I get my act together and get a job that summer (shilling auto parts and supplies, no less). You can just guess where most of my newfound disposable income goes. After weeks of anticipation, I finally receive my first paycheck and make a beeline for Best Buy to buy Seal’s second album. I love it and listen to it so much that eleven years later, it seems overly, painfully familiar and I can only play it once in a blue moon. I also start getting into the brilliant British-pop combo/cult band XTC after obtaining Oranges and Lemons from the library and, unknowingly to me, a first-edition cassette of Skylarking (without “Dear God”!) from 2nd Hand Tunes. They’re my New Favorite Band by year’s end, even better to me than their spiritual heirs, The Beatles.

For the first time, I also allow another person’s taste in music to extensively influence mine. Over the summer, my friend John encourages me to listen to a lot of artists familiar to me by name only (PJ Harvey, Arlo Guthrie, Concrete Blonde, Velvet Underground), and even more that I’ve never heard of (Stan Ridgway, Steve Wynn, the Judybats). While on a road trip to Madison, he also introduces me to the art of making a mix tape, and for that alone he is more influential in this regard than all other friends I’ve ever had put together.



Home to Hollywood, sprawling metropolis Los Angeles is the most photographed city in the world. Thom Andersen’s equally sprawling, ambitious documentary uses this little factoid as a jumping off point to explore not only how filmmakers have portrayed the city over the decades (and their varying attitudes towards it), but also its distinct topography and societal and cultural climates.

Made up almost entirely of film clips and an incessant, dry voice-over narration (by Encke King, who sounds like a cross between Ross McElwee and Ben Stein), Anderson’s exceptionally personal labor of love covers a lot of ground. Like a spiderweb, the film densely strings together eras, genres and pieces of iconicity. It illustrates how architectural landmarks have reappeared in various guises, points out spatial distortions, and reveals places you won’t find anywhere else, like a stand-alone MacDonald’s used exclusively as a set, never open to the public (it looks normal enough, except for that ominous looking chain link fence surrounding it).

At nearly three hours, the film requires patience on the viewer’s part, and some passages are more enlightening than others. For instance, the film almost drags a little when it devotes excessive time to such well-known commodities as CHINATOWN and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. But a chapter about the city’s minority-helmed neorealism movement is fascinating like a geological excavation: the section where Andersen delves into the lost neighborhood of Bunker Hill and the little-seen 1961 film THE EXILES makes for a striking contrast to the other views we’ve seen of Los Angeles up to that point.

Straightforward on the surface, LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF ends up as complex as any large city’s infrastructure, smartly revealing layer after layer regarding what we choose to see and show in a film. I felt the weight of its length, but I could’ve easily watched it for another hour.



As I go from content-at-last high school senior to scared shitless college freshman, I acquire both the entire Beatles and R.E.M. back catalogues. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Life’s Rich Pageant initially come across as strongly as Abbey Road and Automatic For the People, although those first two rarely ever make it off the shelves and into my CD player now.

I spend much of the year’s first three months practicing for and attending band competitions. In March, for a competition in Orlando, I bring along a whopping twelve discs with me to sustain a 25-hour bus trip from Milwaukee to Florida. Six of them had just arrived in the mail from Columbia House… yep, a half-dozen instant gratifications for the price of a penny, the six additional discs I have to buy AT REGULAR PRICE over the next three years a long way off. It’s quaint to think of only having 10-15 hours of music to listen to on a day-long trip when I currently have over NINE DAYS of music stored on my iPod.

During Easter break, I stumble across a marathon on WKLH, Milwaukee’s classic rock station. They’re playing format staples in chronological order (by artist) and I’m introduced to Bowie, ELO, pre-power ballad era Heart, Wings and the like; actually, re-introduced is more like it, as much of this music isn’t exactly new to me. I’ve heard most of it before, but never paid much attention to it. Given my budding interest in jazz, I’m most taken by Steely Dan. Not that they were Stan Kenton by any means, but I notice the complexities/subtleties apparent in even their most straightforward pop songs, and the subversive streak hidden beneath dollops of studio perfectionism.

Over the summer, between trudging through a hellish food service job and somewhat regretting my decision not to attend college in another city, I raid my best friend’s cassette/CD collection. At the time, her favorite artists were Guns n’ Roses and Elton John--not as ludicrous a combo as I once thought, given “November Rain”. Making my way through a handful of dubs, I end up latching on to They Might Be Giants’ Flood. I spent all of high school dismissing them as AV geek fodder... I obviously didn’t know what I was missing, as the quirky duo quickly became my favorite band--for the next year, anyway.

This was undoubtedly the first year where I felt the need to hang out with my own friends and live my own life, sans parents. That summer I attended my first ever concert, a triple bill at the Marcus Amphitheater: Screaming Trees, Soul Asylum, and a band that just painfully screams 1993, the Spin Doctors (needless to say, we all cheered when they played “Two Princes”). The concert was part of Summerfest, an annual, massive eleven day music and fried food festival on the city’s lakefront. Obviously, it was a significant rite of passage, attending it with my friends, experiencing the awesome, deafeningly loud noise of a live show (hey, I was never a fan but I can honestly say the Screaming Trees did rock), learning about the whole clap-for-an-encore ritual.

As CD longboxes (remember them?) go the way of the 8 track cassette, so does my patience and interest in top 40. Since I can't play tapes (much less CDs) in my mother's Grand Am, I’m stuck with the radio whenever I borrow it, and it’s almost always tuned to ‘KLH. As the year winds down and Alternative Nation and Beavis and Butthead are ubiquitous on MTV (and thus, youth culture), I’m increasingly switching to a canned, low-watt AM station called WARP, whose playlist more generally reflects my generation's music than yet another airing of “Reeling In the Years” or “Here Comes The Sun”.



I've been busy... taking a few yoga classes, repeatedly trying to recapture my sanity only to lose grasp of it in occasional fits of insecurity, distraction, stress, etc;

I've been reading a collection of funny, scathing, subtly drawn, interrelated short fiction about the music industry and this musical icon's first book, which isn't as pretentious as I feared, at least when it reads like an autobiography (although I haven't yet reached the inevitable passage on faeries). I've also been meaning to review her lengthy, ambitious, intermittently great new album; perhaps in another week.

I've seen SUNSET STORY, a documentary about a Los Angeles nursing home for "radicals and free thinkers" that focuses on a friendship between two of its female residents. At first glance, I thought it might be this decade's GREY GARDENS, but only superficially... it's pretty straightforward without any shattering insights revealed, but it presents a fair, non-condescending and really touching look at old age. Try to catch it when it plays the Brattle or when it airs on PBS.

I've also seen KOI... MIL GAYA, a crazy Bollywood spectacle that borrows from ET, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, CHARLY, and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE sans any irony or self-referential acknowledgement that anything in it is second-hand. As usual with the genre, the musical numbers are sublime, the characters and performances questionable.


This Sunday is the 11th annual Chlotrudis Awards, sort of a smaller East coast equivalent to the Independent Spirit Awards. The nominations represent an eclectic assortment of films (as they should), and here's what I voted for:

Director: Andrei Zvyagintsev, THE RETURN
Actress: Isabella Rossellini, THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD
Actor: Kevin Bacon, THE WOODSMAN
Supporting Actress: Virginia Madsen, SIDEWAYS
Supporting Actor: Peter Sarsgaard, KINSEY
Original Screenplay: Lars von Trier, DOGVILLE
Adapted Screenplay: Guy Maddin and George Toles, THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD
Cinematography: Mikhail Krichman, THE RETURN
Documentary: TARNATION
Buried Treasure: NOSEY PARKER

I suspect only two or three of these has a spectacular chance of winning, but then again, I didn't vote strategically.



Whenever I write a music review, I usually end up drawing clever/lazy comparisons to other artists, but I honestly wouldn’t know where to begin with Klaus Nomi. A beguiling figure in New York’s new wave scene in the late ‘70s, most people ended up likening Nomi to an alien simply because he seemed so unlike anything else on this planet. With his robotic charisma, layers of makeup (at least ten times more than Adam Ant ever wore), outlandish outfits and eerily gorgeous operatic falsetto, Nomi made even the most extreme hangers-on in Andy Warhol’s Factory look like frumpy Midwestern housewives (and, he was a pretty accomplished pastry chef to boot).

Yet, much of the world barely remembers him. Andrew Horn’s documentary is more a loving, almost elegiac effort to reintroduce this cult figure into a post-Marilyn Manson world than an attempt to figure out the man behind the mask and explain his artistic significance. Horn charts Nomi’s progression from unassuming Bavarian immigrant to celebrated cabaret scenester to weird, wannabe Europop icon until his AIDS-related death in 1983 with obvious (but acknowledged) debts to BEHIND THE MUSIC and its ilk. The mere fact that, despite his otherness, Nomi’s career trajectory mirrored so many of his more renowned contemporaries is somewhat at odds with Horn’s explicit riffs on the alien theme (he uses scenes from the sci-fi classic IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE as a framing device). The film also meanders and focuses too much on talking head recollections, indulging in Horn’s artier tendencies while losing some of its punch.

Still, your enjoyment will obviously depend on how well you take to Nomi himself. Although I’m not ready to rush out and acquire the man’s back catalogue, I found the vintage footage Horn employed often mesmerizing: the grainy video of Nomi’s early performances at Max’s Kansas City, an unlikely profile on a local news station, a mysterious concert with an unidentified, regal symphony orchestra, and, most spectacularly, a 1979 gig singing backup for David Bowie on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE that borders on surreal, subversive overload. Even at his archest, it’s apparent that Nomi carried the merited air of an otherworldly, tragic diva, as if he somehow knew he was just too unique to last long in this world. And I’d rather hear his bonkers interpretation of “Falling in Love Again” again than Marlene Dietrich’s.



Everything changes when I acquire my first CD player: a Sony Discman. It’s easy to take the analog-to-digital transition for granted some 600+ discs later, but I still remember the first two I owned: PM Dawn’s famously, fatuously titled Of the Heart, Of The Soul, Of The Cross: The Utopian Experience and Let Them Eat Bingo by Beats International (a.k.a. Fatboy Slim back when he was merely Norman Cook). I purchased both at Camelot Music, a chain store situated in a massive retail space that used to be a Captain’s Steak Joynt (their spelling, not mine) restaurant near Southridge mall. Bingo was my first-ever cut-out bin purchase, because for only $6.99, I just couldn’t pass up a two-year-old album from a band I vaguely remembered liking. I bought a majority of my CDs from Camelot that year, primarily because they had one of those ridiculous *Buy 15, Get One Free* frequent buyer cards that I thought was a real deal.

What impressed me most about compact discs? Certainly not their superior sound or endurance over time--I scratched at least one or two by year’s end. No, what I really enjoyed was the ability to jump to whatever song I wanted, whenever I wanted to, without ever worrying about rewinding. CDs gave listeners more options, more power. You could sequence the songs to your liking, or leave it up to the automatic shuffle option. I took an article writing class that spring semester, and I believe one of my themes cogently argued, “Compact Discs or Cassettes: What Really is the Better Choice?” (Gotta love a 17-year-old’s tendency to italicize the words that really matter).

Initially, I sought to replace a few of my cassettes in the CD format. After all, I felt a little naked with this brand spanking new player in my possession and only a half-dozen discs to play in it. At this point, I can’t discern any rhyme or reason as to what I bought. James Brown's 20 All Time Greatest Hits! was surely the first pre-1980 music I ever owned, while I got U2’s Achtung Baby not so much ‘cause I didn’t think I could live without my very own copy of the song “One”, but because a popular classmate I admired owned it (or at least, wore a U2 tour T-shirt to school).

That summer, I eagerly awaited new releases by The B-52’s, Deee-lite, and INXS (Welcome To Wherever You Are, which I hated at the time but is still on my shelf; Kick is not). With a newly acquired driver's license, I began making weekly trips to neighboring libraries to borrow CDs and make cassette dubs of them (lucky me, I could hook up my Discman to my boombox). I checked out some jazz on public radio while scooping ice cream at Baskin Robbins (and one grotesquely fat female customer called me "crazy" for doing so). I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Life slowly rolled on.

Then, everything changed again when R.E.M.’s Automatic For the People came out in October and I borrowed a copy of The Beatles’ Abbey Road from the St. Francis Public Library in November. I’ve already written about the impact these two albums have had on my life (click here and here); I’m guessing it was coincidental that I discovered both of them weeks apart, since one did not directly lead me to the other. I don’t think being on the edge of seventeen had much to do with it; I doubt coming across something else as potentially influential (like The Replacements or Neil Young) at that age would’ve thrown me off on a path radically different from the one I actually took.



In mentioning this palindrome of a year, no rock critic can resist dredging up Nirvana's Nevermind and how it changed everything, knocking Michael Jackson off the top of the album chart, rendering all hair metal irrelevant, etc;. Sadly, Nevermind never meant much to me. I tired of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" quickly (although I loved that even the rap/dance heavy radio station Hot 102 played it), admired "Come As You Are" from a distance, and rather disliked "Lithium". To this date, I've never heard the Most Important Album of My Generation in its entirety.

People tend to forget Nirvana arrived at the year's end. We spent most of it reluctantly putting up with the likes of Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer, Bryan Adams and Color Me Badd. Only Was (Not Was)'s three-year-old What Up, Dog? and the indispensable compilation Monty Python Sings (part of a Python kick that began with my first viewing of Monty Python and the Holy Grail at someone's birthday party the previous December) made much of an impression on my life; as for the other stuff I was into then (Lisa Stansfield, Simply Red, Jesus Jones (!), Londonbeat, (New Power Generation and butt-hole pants-era) Prince), well, I'm sure the tapes are festering far down at the bottom of my increasingly untouched crate o' cassettes.

Really, this was an insignificant year in my musical development, especially in comparison to the next few. At sixteen, I was more focused on developing my own talents rather than seeking out others to appreciate. I'd been taking guitar lessons since 1986, and after watching my high school's guitar-less jazz ensemble perform, I knew I had to be a part of it. I switched from acoustic to electric and spent a good year practicing, practicing, practicing until auditioning for the band in early '91. I still had a lot to learn, but I passed the audition and earned a spot for my Junior year.

As I would later describe my move out to Boston, band was frightening and exhilarating. I'd never played with other musicians before, and it took me awhile to get used to doing so, not to mention staying in tune and the one thing that has sucked out the soul and will of many a budding musician, Sight Reading. In retrospect, it would've helped me immensely to actually listen to some jazz at this time. For another year, though, I faked my way through it until I improved adequately enough that I didn't have to.