About Ron

Rockabilly guitarist, writer, library technician, Ron fills the daylight hours with dreams of reading, well-behaved pets and the perfect dark beer. Reading interests range from humor to mystery, steampunk to travel writing, historical fiction to surrealism.

Post Punk, Dance and New Order

It’s a fundamental rule of life that all the cool kids like certain bands. Oddly enough, I often can’t generate much enthusiasm for these bands, which is strange since I am one of the cool kids. Joy Division is such a band. Everybody who is anybody worships the very particles of sweat generated by these early post-punk legends, and their song Love Will Tear Us Apart is a theme song of my generation. Although the band recorded many additional outstanding songs, I can’t say that I really dig their sound: cold, distant and uncaring music accompanying frequently somber lyrics.

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After the band was no more, some of the Division went on to form New Order. This was an exciting prospect leading fans to expect more of that frozen post-punk groove. And the band’s first album, Movement, seemed like a fulfillment of expectations. Subsequent albums, however, moved in a different direction. And their second album, Power, Corruption & Lies, kicked off this journey to a veritable new… order.

Power

What’s amazing about this album is that it came at a unique point in time with a group moving on an unusual artistic trajectory, from somewhat morbid post-punk to solid gold dance hits. And while I’m not a fan of where they came from or where they went to, New Order created a perfect gem of post-punk dance hits on Power, Corruption & Lies.

Take the album opener, Age of Consent. It starts with a catchy high-register bass hook and simple dance-oriented drums. Jangly guitar and bass-end synth fill out the sound until vocals with a bit of the requisite angst enter, completing this gorgeous melding of genres. The result is a kind of happy sorrow that leaves me near tears while I tap my foot and shake my moneymaker. Songs do not get much better than this.

The next ditty, We All Stand, moves away from danceability and straight into quirky, dark and rhythmically complex worlds. It’s the perfect song for watching people attempt to keep the beat. But just when things look decidedly non-terpsichorean, we are immediately thrust back into the dance with The Village. Bass and drums act much like they did in Age of Consent and although the tempo is a bit medium, we hear many of the elements of the synthpop that is soon to take over New Order’s oeuvre.

Now I’m not going to take you through every song on the album, so let’s move ahead to Blue Monday. Here the group hits its stride, creating synth dance music complete with non-stop drum machine and repetitive synth-bass riff for 7 minutes and 28 seconds. Vocals are not plentiful, but are dripping with, oozing with ennui when present. And, there’s not much going on musically, so ya just gotta dance!

I will leave you all with Your Silent Face, a truly beautiful, slow synthpop song featuring melodica, jangly guitar leads and a lovely synth melody. Not really a dance tune but highly introspective, hummable and heartstoppingly sad, this song cements Power, Corruption & Lies as one of the best albums from the 80s.

Stop by the library and see what there is to hear. And be sure to check out New Order in your journeys. As always, don’t forget your dancing shoes.

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Chuck

Recently, as I sat and pondered the meaning of existence, I wondered what it is that makes a particular television program one of my favorites. Writing and acting are important aspects of any good TV show, but there’s more to it than that. And so I realized that what I look for in a show, although not consciously, is a cast of characters that I like, people who I’d hang out with. Or invite into my living room.

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To this end, one of my favorite shows is Chuck, a series focusing on a nerdy computer geek who is recruited by the CIA after a virtual computer is downloaded into his head. In other words, an extremely realistic premise. (Pause). This is not so different from many other shows where an untrained person aids the police/FBI/etc., but what sets this show apart from the pack is the interaction between characters.

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Chuck Bartowski is a nice guy. He attended Stanford University but got expelled shortly before graduation for something he didn’t do. With his life-plan derailed, Chuck ends up repairing computers at the Buy More (the TV equivalent of Best Buy). He lives with his sister Ellie, perhaps the nicest person alive, and her husband Devon (AKA Captain Awesome), perhaps the most positive person alive.

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Outside of Chuck’s family, tucked away in the depths of the Buy More, we find Chuck’s co-workers, a cast of misfits, clowns and losers. These eccentric individuals provide the show’s comic relief with their scheming and meddling and general screwing up. The comedy they bring is essential to offset the drama and death-defying action of Chuck’s spy guy activities.

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This leaves us with Chuck’s spy co-workers, John Casey, a by-the-books ex-marine and Sarah Walker, Chuck’s handler and pretend girlfriend. As a nerd, Chuck is somewhat overwhelmed by the attention of this beautiful woman and he would really, really, really like to get rid of the pretend status of their relationship. As with many a TV show, this sexual tension is one of the mainstays of the program.

Chuck

So, why is this show better than countless others? The answer is simple: relationships. Due to their undercover status Chuck and Sarah’s relationship is quite complex. Chuck makes it no secret that he’s head-over-heels for this smart, funny, attractive pretend girlfriend, but Sarah is all business. Mostly. She obviously likes Chuck but knows it would be dangerous for a spy to become emotionally entangled with anyone else, let alone her spy partner. She will suggest that they kiss as part of their cover, or even spend the night together (doing absolutely nothing), but she won’t let any real emotions show. And after time, this wears on Chuck. He wants a real girlfriend, specifically Sarah. The subtle nuances that Zach Levi and Yvonne Strahovski bring to their rolls is impressive.

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So what we have in the end is an action-packed spy show, a comedy, and a romance all wrapped into one. Of course I’ve just touched on the tip of the spy iceberg (spyceberg), so to speak, so you’ll have to watch to find out how everything unfolds. In the immortal words of the Earl of Sandwich, “I highly recommend that you check this one out. And fetch me some bread and bologna!”

Unhappy Comedies

I’ve noticed a recent trend in sitcoms. Perhaps it’s nothing new, but an extra twist of lime has been added to the mix, metaphorically speaking. Here’s the 411 on the down low: Most of the characters in these comedies are not likable and the overall feeling generated by the shows is discomfort. Please, come with me to THE LAND OF UNHAPPY COMEDIES.

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Our first stop is Bakersfield, CA. After flunking out of a prestigious French clown college, Chip Baskets is determined to fulfill his clowning dream. So, Baskets moves in with his less-than-supportive mother (played somewhat disturbingly by Louie Anderson) and takes a job as a rodeo clown. Chip’s only friend is Martha, an insurance agent who tolerates the poor treatment he heaps on her liberally. His twin brother Dale (mom’s favorite) is another source of irritation in Chip’s demoralizing life. And it’s a comedy! Don’t get me wrong, Baskets is a crazy good television program. It’s just not a happy viewing experience. Did I mention that it’s a comedy?

GettingOn

Moving approximately 135 miles to Long Beach, CA, we come to the Mount Palms Memorial Hospital where the dysfunctional denizens of Getting On help people who are ready to move on to their final reward. Meet head nurse Dawn Forchette, a woman who freely mixes her love life and job, failing miserably at both; nurse Didi Ortley, a compassionate and humane caregiver; Dr. Jenna James, who cares about nothing but her research, often at the patients’ cost; and supervising nurse Patsy De La Serda, a sexually ambiguous emotional wreck who puts a face on unhappiness. What better premise for a comedy? These characters frequently act with disregard for those around them, driven only by their own needs and desires. In Didi we have a reasonable person that most of us can relate to but the others are all toxic. The result is an uncomfortable but hilarious viewing experience.

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Our journey concludes in Tuscon and other ports of call. Humanity has been wiped out by a virus and Phil Miller is The Last Man On Earth. He travels the North American continent for two years looking for others but finds no one. As he sits in Tuscon contemplating ending it all, other survivors begin to arrive and we soon find out that Phil (who goes by his middle name, Tandy) is a real jerk with few redeeming qualities. After finding out that Carol will not have sex with him unless they get married, he (wait for it) marries her. But the bonds of wedlock do not keep him from flagrantly lusting after Melissa, who gradually falls in love with Todd, a shy and husky man who Tandy tries to kill in order to be with Melissa. Did I mention that it’s a comedy? The format of the show makes it simple for adventures to occur, with other survivors occasionally finding the group, some with evil intent, others not. As the show progresses, the group moves hither and yon, allowing for more variety in the storylines. No question, this is a great show, but the overall vibe is one of discomfort and shuddering. And it’s a comedy!

I enjoy all of these shows, but they leave me feeling a little bit dirty, a little disillusioned with humankind. Still, if you want to see superior writing, most excellent acting and clever plot twists, you could do worse than these unhappy comedies. Come on down to Everett Public Library and take one for a test drive. Mileage may vary.

Best Music of 2019 So Far

Many people come to me and say, “Kurt, what are some of the best albums of the year?” To which I reply, “My name is not Kurt and please don’t call me late for dinner.” This rather cryptic response is typically unsatisfying, but to soothe the masses of music seekers I give you a few great albums that dropped in 2019 so far.

StrayCats

You might remember the Stray Cats as the rockabilly revival band that rose to fame during my final years of high school. Forty years ago. Although the band has essentially been broken up forever, each of the members has continued in the music business, often in the greater rockabilly genre pool. On 40, their first new album in 26 years, Stray Cats return to the maniacal gut-thumping sweet rockabilly sounds that they first explored in their self-titled 1981 release. In fact, one might hear the occasional extremely familiar riff or chord progression. But, considering that rockabilly has a fairly limited musical vocabulary (which is not a bad thing; many genres are the same way), this is not really surprising or disappointing.

Brian Setzer is now age 60, which is strangely old for someone playing youth-oriented music, but his voice and guitar have never been better. This guy is about as good as it gets. Give the album a spin or two, maybe put on some pegged jeans, throw back a PBR and indulge in a little delinquency. You won’t regret it. Unless you get caught and imprisoned.

MeatPuppets

Meat Puppets, perhaps one of the best bands you’ve never heard of, started playing in 1980, and, other than a couple of shortish breaks, they’ve been together ever since. Originally known as a punk band, their music rapidly expanded to include a bit of the country and psych vibes. Cowpunk, as the mix of country and punk came to be called, was one of the more exciting subgenres to emerge in that era. It’s never attracted too many practitioners but has definitely influenced current bands including The Goddamn Gallows and Stoned Evergreen Travelers.

If you are a person who likes older Meat Puppets albums, you will probably enjoy their latest, Dusty Notes. There’s no groundbreaking genre-expanding mind-blowing quantum leaps here, just a solid punk rock foundation covered with sweet country crooning and psychedelic sensibilities. Songs tend towards the mellow with guitars a bit more in the background than the front. And the electric harpsichord in Unfrozen Memory? Well worth the wait.

L7

L7 came to prominence in the 90s, broke up in 2001 and returned to the rock and roll limelight in 2014. Although their music resonates with a distinct punk/metal feel, the group is often associated with grunge and its big-name acts. At a time when rock and punk rock were largely male-dominated, the women of L7 went against the norms and created heavy, sleazy punk that made listeners forget all about gender and stereotypes.

2019 saw the release of a brand spanking new album, Scatter the Rats, that picks up right where the band left off. Heavy metal guitar riffage, a pervasive Joan Jett vibe, gritty rock and roll, heavy pop… Lots of variety within the punk genre. But always, that hard metallic edge picks away at your brain brain brain driving you… Well, you’ll just have to listen.

The year is barely half over and there will undoubtedly be many other great albums to hear. But for now, unless you’re a time traveler, check out these and other recently-released albums at Everett Public Library. And always remember the compelling words of Captain Beefheart:

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The Best Albums From The PNW 2019

It’s that time of year once again, time for the annual semi-half-year best albums of the Pacific Northwest take-a-looksee. 2019 has presented us with a surprising number of spectacular albums in our soggy corner of the U.S. and here are just a few you might want to check out for yourself.

TACOCATtacocat-thismessisaplace-cover-

Tacocat is one of the more nationally-recognized Seattle bands these days. Their sound is somewhere in the pop-punk/mainstream-pop quadrant of the genre spectrum. Rich harmonies, a touch of 60s girl pop and sugary gooey goodness all color their latest release, This Mess Is a Place. If you enjoyed their previous release, Lost Time, you’re sure to love this followup.

THE BLACK TONESblack tones

One of the most talked about bands in Seattle, The Black Tones, finally delivered their debut album, Cobain & Cornbread, in 2019. And it is fabulous. The music takes me right back to 1969, but not to my 6-year-old self, more of a me-as-an-adult kinda thing… Anyhow, ferocious use of wah wah, a palpable Hendrix guitar vibe and wide open song structures all hearken back to a day when a bunch of kids squatted in a muddy field in upstate New York. Perhaps most notable is that here we have a band that does not sound like other bands of today. Heavy, fuzzy, riff-driven, filled with lengthy instrumental interludes and then BAM! A traditional old-timey gospel tune. This album has not been released on CD yet, but look for it out in the digital world.

THE HEAD AND THE HEARThead_and_heart_mirage

The Head and the Heart is one of the more popular and active bands currently in Seattle. Classified as indie pop or indie folk, the group spits out catchy hooks that make you sing along on their latest release, Living Mirage. This album, as well as the group’s other recent albums, is heavily produced, resulting in a huge sound that markedly contrasts with the intimacy of their first album. You can hear a variety of their releases, both in CD format and streaming, from Everett Public Library. Just click on the band’s name at the beginning of this paragraph.

ANNIE FORD BANDannie ford

If it’s country you’re looking for, try out At Night by Seattle’s Annie Ford Band. A dash of blues, a smidgen of swing and a veritable dollop of honky tonk combine with an amazing voice (look out Eillen Jewel!) to make a most hearty country stew. Those listeners expecting to hear the contemporary country/pop that tops the charts these days might find themselves disappointed. Old-timey country is Annie Ford’s oeuvre, and you just might come to expect Patsy Cline herself to lasso you a cold tall one while you enjoy these tunes.

It may seem that four magnificent albums are all we’re allotted in a year, but we’ve only seen a scant sliver of 2019’s offerings. Stay tuned for info on more local albums and be sure to check out EPL’s Local Music section. As my grandparents always said, if you don’t keep up with the Joneses the Joneses will keep up with you. Of course, my grandparents never met anyone named Jones. And please do remember, you can pick your friend’s music… but something something something.

Auntie Em, It’s Six Sharknadoes!

Come a little closer.

Can we talk about something… embarrassing?

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I really really like the Sharknado movies. Ever since I was a young lad working in the smallest shafts of the coal mines where full-grown adults could not fit, I’ve loved movies that are intentionally stupid, that make fun of themselves. In formative days, these included Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and The Toxic Avenger. Later I  grew to love bad movies that didn’t know how bad they were, such as Dante’s Peak and Galaxina.

But today we live in a golden age, a time when movies about shark tornadoes are made by the half-dozen! Their premise, as I recall, is that strange weather patterns over the ocean result in, wait for it, tornadoes that are filled with sharks. Tornadoes. In the air. Filled with sharks. Reflect on that for a moment.

The basic plot of each movie is that people are being killed by flying sharks and everything appears to be hopeless. Our hero, Fin Shepard, tries to reunite his family, save kids trapped on a school bus and generally preserve the future of humankind. Meanwhile, flying sharks eat people. On the fly. In the air.

A dumb idea, but one that knows it’s dumb! In one of the later movies a character says something like, “How can these sharks breathe in the air?” And therein lies the beauty of this series. Nothing is remotely believable or possible, yet people continue to get eaten by sharks.

But it’s the sheer ridiculousness of, well, everything that makes this movie dynasty so entertaining. Take for example one moment from the third entry in the series. A minor character loses one arm, two arms, one leg, two legs via shark attacks. In a last ditch effort to save everyone else, he pushes a self-destruct button with his head (remember, no limbs), thereby destroying many sharks, as well as himself. Our savior Fin comments, “It’s too late. We can’t save him.” C’est magnifique!

Moments like this are plentiful. It’s kind of like Mystery Science Theater, except the commentators are in the movie rather than watching it. These shark movies just might fill the void in your chest that sucks you dry each and every night after work. (Note: Sharknado is not guaranteed to fill the void in your chest that sucks you dry each and every night after work.)

Titles in this educational series include Sharknado (2013), Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014), Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! (2015), Sharknado: The 4th Awakens (2016), Sharknado 5: (Global Swarming) and The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time! (2018).

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So take a little chance, if you’re feeling lucky, and check out this series. And remember, wait 60 minutes after eating before watching Sharknado.

LA To Vegas

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It’s no secret that I’m always on the lookout for an entertaining new comedy. Thankfully, the quality of new television programs is higher than ever before. However, the flip side of this is that many sitcoms now have a mere 10-16 episodes per season rather than the classic 26. So if you’re a binge watcher, it doesn’t take too long to get through an entire season. Which creates a need for more high quality programs.

Fortunately, funny people are indeed filling this need. My discovery this week is LA to Vegas, a Fox sitcom that ran only for a single season. It’s not the best or the brightest of shining stars, but the premise is familiar yet unusual.

Each episode begins with the statement that many people fly regularly from LA to Vegas over the weekend. This leads us to Jackpot Airlines, a low-budget outfit that is based in Vegas and to a sitcom standby, the workplace comedy. The workplace in this case is a small aircraft with a crew of four. Rounding out the cast are three regulars on the flight: a gambler, a stripper and a long-distance dad. Additional plot material is drawn from other passengers who are not recurring characters.

In a way, this premise is not much different from your typical workplace sitcom. There are the staff members who we see each episode and there are customers who appear only in a single episode. But the feel is unique, moving from LA to Vegas, sometimes being in an airport, sometimes in a strip club for a children’s birthday party. The revolving cast of characters creates a wide variety of comedic situations and the fact that Vegas is the destination means, well, anything goes.

In the greater scheme of things, I would probably not rate LA to Vegas in the top tier of comedies. However, the jokes are clever, the actors are talented and the situations are amusing. All in all, not a bad way to spend a binge day.

Sadly, the show ran for a mere 15 episodes, as has been the case with many recent highly-entertaining comedies. So the crew and passengers will remain trapped in this small yet amusing world until time immemorial…

But I digress.

With the wide array of platforms currently creating programming it’s hard to keep up with what’s out there, so keep your eyes peeled for new TV shows at Everett Public Library. And please, remember to return your seats to an upright position.