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  • Writer's pictureNeil Rajala

POST #100: Milestone & Coincidence

• 100 is a notable milestone number for lot of things in life, right? If you live long enough, it’s a birthday that astonishes your family and friends, while frustrating and confounding your enemies. If you reach 100 say, porcelain elephants, in your personal collection, it’s the point where those same friends and relatives either celebrate your love of all things kitsch or start considering an intervention. If you have sex with someone 100 times, face it, no matter what you tell yourself about playing the field or being a lone wolf, you’re probably in a relationship. And if you’ve just listened to an album for the 100th time, you truly love that album and it will always be a significant part of the soundtrack of your life. Unless you’re being held somewhere, being tortured with a constant diet of Seals & Crofts or something equally frightening.

It's taken me almost exactly two years to the day to reach the milestone of a 100th post on this blog. I started Earworm City with the intention of communicating two things to two different audiences. To people in my own general age group, I wanted to let them know that inspiring, thrilling, and moving popular music didn’t stop when they graduated from high school or college (and cast off their turntables and cassette players) all those years ago. I’ve been hoping to entice some of my fellow boomers to check out the albums the musical heroes of their youth made long after they stopped listening, and/or to dip a toe into new bands of the 90s, 00s, 10s, and 20s. Great music never stopped, or even slowed down, although it did become harder to discover casually. It’s never been too late to find a new favorite band.

Conversely, I also wanted to give music fans much younger than me a gentle shove toward the music of the “classic” era I grew up with. The music industry was a lot different then; popular artists were given a level of creative freedom that rarely (never?) exists today. They were gifted with nearly unlimited studio time, producers, access to technology, drugs, and completely free reign to write, play, and record their own singular visions. No tag teams of songwriters and producers working hand-in-hand with the label’s marketing department and focus groups back then, nope. To be honest, some amazingly unfocused navel-gazing, drug-addled crap came out of that environment, but so did a ton of the most groundbreaking and exciting popular music the world has ever seen. If you’re young enough to be experiencing popular music mostly as modern electronically enhanced pop, or ultra-compressed loudness war-era rock, do yourself a favor and listen to the examples of creatively and financially unrestrained musical freedom from the 1960s and 1970s. It’s a whole different universe of fun, and there’s a reason those who lived through it with their ears, hearts, and minds open became fans who can still be deeply moved by it all these decades later.

Has Earworm City been successful? It depends on how you measure the results. My reach, by social media standards, is small. But what has developed over these last couple years is a small group of people, usually between 5 - 10 per post, who read and reach out with something thoughtful to add, suggest, or argue with. I get contacted through this site, by text, by messaging, via email, and in person by folks who want to be part of the conversation. For a life-long music obsessive like me, finding my tribe to talk about this inspiring and sometimes isolated hobby has been difficult at times. Having a consistent batch of people to regularly talk music with at this stage of life is a blessing. Yes, I'd say this endeavor has definitely been successful, and I'm most grateful.

• Another 100 - A "number 100" coincidence happened to me this week that seems worth including. I keep a list on my computer of all the bands I’ve seen live over the years, starting with Stephen Stills & Manassas way back in 1974. I count each band separately, meaning opening acts get their own spot on the list. The total number of performances, not concerts, in other words. I went to a show a few days ago, and afterward decided to dig deeper to make sure I had every act accounted for. Thanks to the internet I was able to add the names of a few never-famous opening acts whose names I'd long forgotten (anybody remember The Eyeliners or Howling Diablos?) Once I felt reasonably certain I had found everything, I noticed that the two bands I had just seen, Fontaines DC and The Arctic Monkeys, were #99 and #100 on my list. Seemed like a perfect little nugget of serendipity for this post.

So how was the show? It was a damn fine evening of adventurous rock and roll. Fontaines DC are a critic's darling post-punk band from Ireland with a tall, burly lead singer who looks like he should be on a football field or basketball court, but also looks way too geeky for team sports. His onstage manner combines an Ian Curtis-like awkwardness (what should I do with my hands?) with a strong sing-speak vocal delivery that reminded me of Lou Reed at times. The band charges along with dual guitar punky power chords, intriguing melodic ideas, and a great feel for rock music texture. I had heard two of their three albums before I saw them, and I’ve already gone back for more listens. Fascinating band, that, probably too U.K.-centric for big American success.

The Arctic Monkeys struck me as one of the last of a dying breed – loud, dynamic, electric guitar-based rock music with a real-life rockstar at the front of the stage. Alex Turner is the driving force behind the Monkeys - he's the only songwriter credited on 99% of their tracks. He plays a lot of bracing, wiry electric guitar leads, a little piano, and occasionally stands at the mike sans instrument to sing. And you can’t take your eyes off him. He’s a rock star in what’s becoming the grand old, and fading, tradition. Not through histrionics – no wild dancing or soccer stadium exhortations to the crowd – he just has the old-school charisma, compelling voice, and ability to connect with his audience, effortlessly commanding the adoring crowd. A big crowd, by the way, the venue was stuffed to the back fence with 15,000+ souls (of which I may well have been the oldest.)

I was there with my daughter - Arctic Monkeys are her hands-down favorite band. I’ll skip the part for now about what a gas, gas, gas it is to accompany one of your kids to see their favorite band, and sum up my own history with them leading up to the show. I would hazard a guess that just from hanging out with my girl I’d heard all of their albums at least once, a few of them many, many times. I’d only done a personal deep dive into three of their seven albums, so the setlist was made up of a lot of songs that sounded familiar, but I couldn’t have told you the titles or which album they were from with a gun to my head. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t sing along like the majority of the much-younger-than-me crowd, I was absolutely able to get caught up in the band’s punchy, dynamic, hard-hitting show. I’m not the first to note there’s some significant Bowie influence in Mr. Turner’s muse, and I was all in for it, start to finish. The unorthodox song arrangements that sometimes bar easy entry into their records work beautifully to add an impressive level of immersive theatricality to their live show. “Body Paint” from their most recent album The Car closed the setlist proper in spectacular arch guitar-frenzy fashion and is currently sitting at the top of my favorite songs list. As my milestone #100 show, I was thoroughly satisfied. Wonder what #200 will be?

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4 opmerkingen

05 sep. 2023

The Arctic Monkeys opened (actually co-headlined) with the Black Keys at Van Andel 9-10 years ago. I couldn't wait for them to end. Like The Strokes and many other modern rock bands I found them to be atonal and swingless, but that's just me. I admit I've never sat down to listen to their records. Earlier this summer I was visiting a lifelong friend who lives down south now. On his office wall was a framed collage of several hundred ticket stubs from shows he'd seen over the years. Many of them, especially the '70s stuff, I saw the shows with him and usually provided the tickets because I had a steady hook-up. On his collage was a ticket for RITCHIE…

Neil Rajala
Neil Rajala
08 sep. 2023
Reageren op

I can't argue about the swingless feel of some of the modern rock bands, I just find that it's not a deal-breaker for me if what they're doing is compelling in other ways (to an extent - I still find most of Radiohead's catalog unlistenable). If it hadn't been for my daughter, I'm sure the Monkeys would have passed me by. It took repeated listenings, every time I saw her, to mostly get them. The live show explained a lot more, especially how good they are at teasing the subtle theatricality of their music into bigger statements.

I read somewhere about the Black Sabbath Axiom: "If you remember _____________ back in the day, you didn't really see ______________ back in…


04 sep. 2023

what I want is a list of the top ten concert you've been to. OR, a list of concerts that moved you deeply in a personal way. Way to go on the 100th blog entry ! ! :)

Neil Rajala
Neil Rajala
08 sep. 2023
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