Skyscraper Magazine » 2011 » December
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When you talk about bastions of the Twin Cities punk scene, there are few people this side of Patrick Costello that can claim more Minnesota scene cred than Nate Gangelhoff. Coming up initially in the much loved turn of the century punk rocktet Rivethead (with Ryan and Zack of current TCSU franchise Off With Their Heads and Half-Pint from Dear Landlord), and currently bassing for Banner Pilot and The Gateway District, Gangelhoff also made two forays into the zine world with in that time, first with You Idiot and then more briefly with Whiskey Plus.

All of the early Ganglehoff writing was recently compiled in the appropriately titled You Idiot: The First Book. The consistency leaves something to be desired, but given the teen age of the author, the high points of You Idiot, like the Practice Space band reviews and He-Man message board invasion, are to be held in high praise. Crackpot religious purveyors and karaoke are not spared the lash, either. While satire always makes for an entertaining read, let us not forget that shit talking is a professional sideline for every band and the players therein. Formidable mic banterers like Paddy Costello and Bob Weston are the frosting on the beater at their respective live shows and have set the bar high, but judging by his written output, Gangelhoff is probably a pretty good time in the van.

Snarky in-jokes are a good time for the average punk fan, but recent years have fostered the interesting trend of punks writing full-on prose – novels even! The first I can remember was Dr. Frank (Portman) from MTX, who released his debut King Dork to some acclaim. Other scene folk like Jon Resh and Aimee Cooper have followed suit in more recent history, and paging through all of them I wrestle with the same issue: do I need to read books about shit I’ve already gone through? I guess if you are an aging (ex-) punk and want an avenue into basking into nostalgia, so be it. But as I grow older, this whole punk rock nostalgia fiction thing starts to look as circuitous as a dormroom Dali poster.

Hit The Ground Stumbling is our dear Mr. Gangelhoff throwing his hat into the ring with his own fictionalized account of his misbegotten youth and the friendship he shared in that time with a troubled teen he calls Rick Denton. Gangelhoff recounted tales of Rick in his zines previously, through a handful of stories that pretty safely establish the obfuscatory surname as an homage to Cyrus from the Mountain Goats tune “The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton.”  It is safe to say that everybody has had a Rick Denton in their life at one time or another. Hell, many of you probably are Rick Denton to someone. In this metaphor, Gangelhoff plays Jeff, a rebellious but ultimately better off all-around guy who spends time in Rick’s orbit.

Whether you were personally a Goofus or a Gallant, there are a number of touchstones that will be familiar to anyone 30 or older in the punk scene. Dungeons and Dragons, shoplifting, smoking weed, and of course, the punk rock are all covered herein. As such, Hit The Ground Stumbling is a touching remembrance of misbegotten youth, equal parts light and dark, with a little bit of a He-Man-esque morality play to close out the proceedings. I’m not a fiction guy, and I think I still prefer Nate on bass rather than computer keyboard. However, I still found Hit The Ground Stumbling to be an entertaining read that will appeal to lovers of punk and prose.

From the Archives: this review first appeared on the old Skyscraper Magazine site in April 2010. It is being republished here for your reading pleasure.

When Rosanne Cash began working on her 2009 country covers album, The List, she gave veteran music writer Michael Streissguth unprecedented access to her recording world and freedom for openhearted, wide ranging conversation. The result is Always Been There: Rosanne Cash, The List, and the Spirit of Southern Music. Streissguth’s remarkably detailed 222-page book uses a literate, storytelling mode to examine Cash’s relationships with her famous father, other Cash/Carter family members, her personal and career choices as well as her sometimes precarious kinship to country music. For those unfamiliar with the album, Cash’s The List (2009) is a 12-track record culled from a 100-song essential country music list Johnny Cash imparted to his then teenage daughter in 1973. Cash’s decision to produce a project based on that list wasn’t an easy one and Streissguth intimately moves readers into the step-by-step undertaking: song selection, doing demos, meticulously reworking material and a brief but revealing European tour when Cash tried out music in front of audiences. Streissguth goes deeper than most typical making-of bios and crafts a portrait signposting Cash’s personality, spirit and legacy.

“It’s part of a lexicon of American music, it’s a responsibility and an honor,” Cash explains during the second chapter of the book, referring to her translations of tunes by Hank Snow, Patsy Cline, Bob Dylan and others. That sense of history and heritage permeates Always Been There and the importance of bringing pieces like “I’m Movin’ On” and “Long Black Veil” to new listeners as well as fashioning a fresh framework for classics and standards.

Along the way, Streissguth contextualizes Cash’s latest offering, showing philosophical and persistent links to previous long players like Rules of Travel (2003) and Black Cadillac (2006), which touch on universal subjects like grief, loss, affection and acceptance.

“I felt like I was planting seeds for the future, and at the same time reconnecting with the past,” Cash explains after a concert  detailing the process of comprehensive correlation to Streissguth.

2009 was a boon for fans of Southern-inclined music what with Dylan’s Together Through Life, Steve Earle’s Townes Van Zandt memorial and a long player from Wilco. As Streissguth’s book makes plain, though, there’s no end to the meaningfulness of rediscovering what’s come before and creating contributions impacting coming generations.

Sampledelica – that pure craziness of giving up on linearity and letting music run as a land – is a category that has already acquired its classics. The Grey Album is capable of bringing up all the contradictions in copyright law and the brilliance of mash-ups, but as a field copyleft is perhaps better defined by those illicit shares that bring up just how crazy or monotnous jumping genres can be. Law has forbidden cut-ups from legitimate release, hence the field is truly populated by the audiophile. Any MP3 sharing program can provide hours of mash-ups. The bigger question with mash-ups is quality and not politics. Sample sources and talent become paramount to producing an album, but does Welcome Abroad still have a story to tell about the politics of sampling? Let’s take a look at those samples.

What are the sources that People Like Us borrow from? Soul, psychedlica, musicals, and soundtracks. Their use of these sources comes with the distancing of copying; despite the complete feasibility of making a band that can combine Mary Poppins and Dione Warwick, indie records have left us without such a music maker. In its place copylefters are frequently pulling on nostalgia in order to remind us of the extremity of the law. These tracks are populated by pop’s sweetest muses, most reslient soul moments, uplifting extremes of orchesration forbidden from replicating. The sweetness of pop these copyists make cries out for repition, replication, identification. It is a layer cake of overly sweet moments and invention, and terribly hummable.

It will leave a juicy pirate stain in your computer. I like the idea of an album that is being hunted, on the run from DRM patrol. You can’t even play it on your iPad because Apple won’t sell it on iTunes – run people like us! Run! How much do the fantasies they borrow from cost in seconds? Who would have ever guessed we could count music by such a speed. It’s a fun album, but it’s the fact that something as simple, enjoyable, and frankly everyday as copying contemporary culture has become an illegal act that makes it such fun. Memory, which samples play upon, is the only recording format that the major copyright holders don’t seem to feel breaks with current intellectual property right laws. Yet these products which accidentally acquired such restrictive legislation stay with us even if we don’t purchase them. The same labels fighting digital copies are working as hard as possible to ensure your brain does copy them. Welcome Abroad contains samples from songs I only remember through forced commercial repetition and others that simply are so engrained from childhood that I will always remember them. If the labels are working this hard t0 make their product stick, why aren’t they thrilled that someone is playing with this stickiness?

The problems of copyright and music-making is that music is a spiritual part of human beings. It simply cannot work in the confines provided. That the universals behind a select set of laws have impaired the ability of music to conjure and multipy its spirits, that the ghosts in sounds are imprisoned in intellectual property is a major problem. Music is as close as people get to the ephemeral currency of desire that underlies how the world really works, and that desire doesn’t care to pay pennies for each replay or device it ends up on. The spiritual machine is at odds with the legal one. People Like Us do not make these politics sonically confrontable, rather they prefer to huggle with all their cute little samples. The effect is that of an illegal My Little Pony prancing away through a landscape, innocent and loveable – it is only that we know that somewhere out there the law wants to put our pony down that makes the album a tragedy. People Like Us eleborate their politics of collaboration by makng their borrowings so lovable; as a statement it won’t move Capitol Hill, but it will charm your ear drums and make you want to make more.

Listeners can (and do) associate music with just about everything. Whether it’s on purpose or a result of random factors, many times music ends up soundtracking personal memories, seasons, moods, situations, and just about everything else in life. I’m not going out on a limb by making such statements. It’s just that, this past summer, like last summer, one album had gotten more play by me than others. Technically, this summer, that album was probably Take Care, Take Care, Take Care by Explosions In The Sky. But in terms of active listening and soundtracking my summer, it was easily Wasting Light by Foo Fighters.

I like the Foo Fighters. I guess I always have. I just haven’t listened to them very much (if at all) in recent years. That changed with the release of Wasting Light. It took this album to remind me how much I like the band. It’d be easy and cliche to write something like: “This album makes me feel young again!” It would also be lame and incorrect. But more than anything, this album feels familiar.  I was 14 when the band’s first album came out, in the summer of 1995. The release of The Colour and the Shape two years later only cemented my love of the band, as I’m sure it did for many, many other listeners.

I caught the band live on that tour. It’s no surprise to me now what a showman Dave Grohl was at that time, despite the gig only having been in support of the band’s second album. The dude had already toured the world behind the kit of another, more famous band. Live is how I first heard the band’s new album. The group played it straight through at the Ed Sullivan Theater earlier this year. Then, as if that weren’t enough, the guys followed the 50-minutes of new material with another near hour-long set of hits. To hear so many of the band’s most popular songs played back-to-back with Wasting Light was the best of all possible ways to first take in this new material. Performed together, as one long set, new songs like “Arlandria” didn’t seem out of place being followed by”Big Me” or “Learn To Fly.”

Wasting Light (thankfully) doesn’t find Foo Fighters trying to further their sound or incorporate new musical styles. The group’s not known for being genre-hopping masters. No, they do one thing and they do it decently well. Since debuting a decade-and-a-half ago, Grohl and company have become known for their driving, post-grunge radio rock sound. More than anything, Wasting Light feels like the resulting well-honed results of five guys who have been at this long enough to know what they want their music to sound like. It’s straightforward rock with that loud/quiet/loud dynamic and generic enough anthemic appeal to make it both commercially popular as well as genuinely meaningful to so many listeners.

From the first 35-seconds of guitar riff on “Burning Bridge,” which opens the album, to Grohl’s catharting-sounding chant of “I never want to die” on the song “Walk,” which closes Wasting Light, the band sounds at their best here. There’s also the band’s typical ordering of songs, which also maybe works to make it feel so familiar, with the album’s slowburner “I Should Have Known” coming second-to-last, a la “X-Static” and “Walking After You.”

Roberto Clemente is a name that pops up in almost any and every bit of baseball writing from about 1955 onward. It seems incredible now, but in 1955 there were only a handful of non-white men in Major League Baseball. The “segregated” game mentality of the dead ball era and Negro Leagues still clung to the sport. Some owners had an inkling of the wellspring of talent available in the Caribbean, Mexico, and South America, but it took time. Branch Rickie, who along with the great Jackie Robinson integrated the major leagues in 1947, was with Pittsburgh in 1950.

The Pirates drafted Clemente from the Dodger farm system in 1955. Within two years, he became the nucleus of the championship Pirate teams of the 1960s. It had been eight years since Jackie Robinson had signed with the Dodgers, and like him, Clemente had to endure taunting racial shouts from the stands. To make things worse, he spoke little English. Over time, he learned the language, but in the meantime he spoke baseball, and spoke it well. During 18 seasons in Pittsburgh, in some 2,400 games, he amassed 3,000 hits, 12 Gold Gloves, 2 Most Valuable Player awards, 12 All-Star appearances, and the list goes on. Hall of Fame stuff, without a doubt. Then his life – and career – was tragically cut short in a plane crash in 1972.

All this leads up to the biographical graphic novel 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente by Wilfred Santiago. Personally, this was my first experience with the graphic novel format, and I indeed found that a different reading style is needed. With prose (i.e. novels, essays), you form pictures in your mind; however, with the graphic novel format the pictures are already there. I found myself turning back and re-examining the pages often, digging through the many details that the words and images delivered.

The story unfolds in earth tone – sepia illustrations, not gaudy, in keeping with the artist’s respect for the story and the subject. Clemente’s early life is here and one gets a real feel for his family and friends, and not without humor. As a lifelong Yankees fan, I found myself laughing aloud at his depiction of the hated Bronx rivals in the 1960 World Series. This book should appeal to graphic novel fans, baseball fans,  anyone who likes a great “bigger then fiction” story, and many others.