The World by Wikitravel: Chad

If you’re like me, you spend an awful lot of time on Wikipedia, the preeminent publicly accessible online encyclopedia. I look up just about everything on it. If I watch a movie, I search for it. If I read about someone, I use Wikipedia to find out more about them. Basically, as soon as I take in new information, I’m turning to Wikipedia to discover more and to give me a base of knowledge about whatever that thing is.

A “wiki” is really just a tool that allows end users like me help create and edit a given website. The users actually input the content on the site and update it (in the case of new events relevant to the topic) and/or edit it (in case whoever wrote it was wrong, insane, or both). Once I spent enough time on Wikipedia, I realized there were all of these other Wikipedia-style offshoots that pertain to specific topics. There is a wiki page for the video game DOOM. There’s a wiki page devoted to Mystery Science Theater 3000. There’s a wiki page for the Boston Red Sox. And there’s a wiki page for travelling.

I’m sure there’s more than one wiki-style page devoted to travelling and sightseeing, but my favorite is Wikitravel. Wikipedia articles are usually reliable for general information about a given topic. They’re usually sourced, and there are generally active “talk” pages behind each Wikipedia entry that tell you the history of the edits to that entry and the debates that occurred that allowed the inclusions to that entry. Wikitravel entries read like they were all written by the same person, no matter what place you’re looking up. They often emphatically state the grave danger you’ll be in should you actually decide to go to a certain country or city, and explain in hilarious and painstaking ways the methods you should take to arrive to a country or city and to stay safe while you’re there. Instead of level-headed, well-written analysis, Wikitravel articles usually read like long-winded cautionary road signs. It’s a lot of fun!

Today’s Wikitravel journey takes us to Chad, a nation in north-central Africa.

We’re immediately greeting with a red warning box featuring a stop sign with a “hand” logo in the middle. We’re told,

“Chad is currently experiencing political turmoil and the UK and U.S. governments advise against all but essential travel to Chad. Anywhere outside the capital, N’Djamena, is highly dangerous, especially in the north—where a special travel permit is necessary.”

 

OK then. That doesn’t bode so well. Well, let’s say we want to go to Chad anyway. How can we get there? By train?

“There are no usable rail links.”

 

I see. Well, surely I could take a car over the border and get to where I need to go?

“Roads are in bad disrepair and are typically unpaved – there is only one paved road, which currently runs from Massakory in the north through N’Djamena on to Guelendeng, Bongor, Kelo and Moundou. It is the best road in the country but still has numerous potholes and runs through the center of a number of small villages and drivers should exercise caution and moderate speeds even while on the main road.

There are several border crossings with Cameroon, most notably via Kousseri near N’Djamena and near the towns of Bongor and Lere. Be very careful, drive defensively, don’t stop unless there is a very good reason. Do not drive at night, as coupeurs de route (road bandits) are common. They are a particular concern along the two roads leading out of Guelendeng, towards Ba-Illi (where ex-pats were attacked in two separate incidents in 2005, resulting in the death of one Catholic nun) and towards Bongor.”

 

So there’s one paved road in the country, described as the best road in the country, which is covered in potholes and has a speed limit of twenty miles-per-hour. I really like how the Cameroon border crossing is described so ominously: “Be very careful, drive defensively, don’t stop unless there is a very good reason”. Everything about driving in Chad sounds harrowing. The article gives me the idea that driving a car in Chad might very well lead to your death. It reminds me of Wages of Fear, except with a strong possibility of being shot by “road bandits”.

Let’s say I was to make it through Chad’s American Gladiators-esque Eliminator full of potholes and banditry and I found myself inside the country. Are there any areas I should avoid?

“Northern Chad is barren, scorching desert and guides (good luck) and meticulous planning are required.”

 

This is the best indicator to me that despite being a wiki, Wikitravel is not vetted, updated, or edited like its wiki brethren, and that the entire article on Chad was written by one person. “Good luck”? Really? The author is letting you know, in a sarcastic, dickish way, that finding a guide for northern Chad is extremely difficult. Since this is a travel tip site, how about letting me know how I might find a guide for northern Chad, or helping me cut down on the supposed difficulty of finding one? How about some tips? I guess it sounds like it sucks up there, so people probably wouldn’t want to go anyway, but I’d think useful information and not parenthesized sarcasm is the purpose for the wiki.

Each Wikitravel page contains a “Stay Healthy” segment. Readers/prospective travellers are told what types of food to eat and to not eat, information about the medical facilities in the country, diseases endemic to the country to be aware of, etc. Here’s Chad’s “Stay Healthy” report:

“Don’t accept water from any stores unless you know the brand. Eat only your own food that you buy in grocery stores. Avoid restaurants whenever possible. Stay away from people that look sick, there are many diseases in Chad to beware of. Go to a doctor once a month if you can afford it.”

 

Sounds great! Don’t drink the water, don’t eat the food, don’t go out, don’t interact with people, don’t drive, don’t explore, spend most of your time in the hospital, did I miss anything? Why doesn’t it just say “Don’t go to Chad”? You’d think a travel website about Chad would relay some positive things about the country and get you to want to go there. The most positive thing I could find in the whole article? “Meat dishes are very popular in Chad, and foreign travellers speak highly of the meat (such as lamb).” That’s it. Eat the lamb. Although you are cautioned to bring hand sanitizer and to take care not to eat with your left hand, so as not to offend the Muslim population.

Wikitravel leaves you with this nugget of information to remember as you plan your trip to Chad:

The Chadian-Libyan conflict is something to be avoided at all times; Chadians known to be living in Libya have been tortured & murdered on previous occasions.

 

And I was so looking forward to interjecting myself in the Chadian-Libyan conflict during my stay there.

- JL

Donald’s Dictionary: “Yoss”, “Munh”, “Don’t Need It”

Donald’s Dictionary: 5/14/12

Yoss:  1. An exclamation of happiness, satisfaction, or joy. 2. An affirmative, celebratory or positive expression. 3. A synonym for yes.
See Also: yaus, ah yoss, ah yaus
Antonym: noss
Origination: Mountain Lakes, NJ
Person A:  “Dude, I just got a bunch of free tickets to Bonaroo bro!”
Person B: “Yoss!”

Don’t Need It: 1. An expression intended to convey a lack of desire or want for a particular action, or set of actions, to occur.  2: A negative used to express dissent, denial, or refusal, as in response to a question or request. 3: To convey a lack of interest in a particular plan of action offered by another individual.  4: Used to introduce a negative statement.  5: Not in any degree or manner.  6. To convey the will of one to avoid a potential agitation.
See Also: DNI (acronym), Take It Easy, Calm Down, and No
Antonym: Need it, Sounds Great, Sure, Good idea.
Origination: Chicago, IL
Person A: “Hey Man, Cubs – Cardinals day game in Wrigley this Saturday.  Do you want to go?”
Person B: “There are always so many meatheads at those things.  Don’t need it.”

Munh: 1: A synonym for the colloquial sense of the word “money” 2: Extremely good, or excellent.  3: Impressive, inspiring great admiration. 4: Of an extent, amount or intensity considerably above normal or average.  5: Intended to convey agreement or excitement 6: Communicates approval.
See Also: nice, great, good, yoss
Antonym: not munh, noss, unfortunate, displeasure
Origination: Providence, RI
“I was recently promoted, which is munh…”

IAP$: Why Mustard is the Soccer of Condiments by Donald Duyskavic

It’s Actually Pretty Money (IAP$): Mustard

Mustard. When it comes to mustard, I think you’ll find that many people of various ethnicities and nationalities probably would agree with me.  Ketchup is definitely the more widely used of condiments here in the states.  Heinz alone sells 650 million bottles of ketchup annually.  But, I would attribute that to the amount of sugar that is in ketchup.  It’s essentially all sugar.  I mean, who doesn’t like sugar?  Just ask a two year old, or my friend Brendan Leonard.  Ketchup is great if you are a plain Jane or child.  But, as far as pure taste, delicacy and consistency are concerned, mustard is where it’s at.  It is healthier too: Nutrition-wise, a serving of mustard (1 teaspoon) has less than 20 calories. No sugar, no fat, and only 55mg of sodium.

Mustard comes in so many more flavors and varieties to match the occasion: yellow mustard, honey mustard, dijon mustard, spicy brown mustard, brown sugar and pecan mustard, sesame ginger mustard, sweet mustard, hot mustard, apple mustard, lemon mustard, apricot-ginger mustard, cranberry mustard, curry mustard, horse radish mustard, habenero mustard, chipotle mustard, bar-b-q mustard, English mustard, Dutch mustard, German mustard, Russian mustard, beer mustard, Jack Daniel’s mustard, etc.  What about ketchup?  It’s pretty much Heinz Ketchup or bust.  Also, what’s up with the whole catsup thing?  Catsup?  Ew, gross.  No thanks.  Way too confusing.  I don’t like to eat condiments that have multiple spellings.  It’s almost as if mustard is the Soccer of condiments.  While Americans prefer ketchup because it’s basic and sugary taste, the rest of the world (and smart people here in the U.S.) enjoy the plentiful and delicious varieties of mustard.  Do you know why?  It’s actually pretty money.

- Donald Duyskavic

 

Hockey Interviews: Entirely Stationary, At Times Dull

Entirely Stationary, At Times Dull
By Pat Mohr

The NHL Playoffs are now and will be until June. In keeping with history, games ended in overtime, injuries were sustained and then persevered through perversely, and beards materialized. Hockey playoffs are perhaps inarguably the most exciting postseason of the four major professional sports. Knobs are turned to 11, with most players carrying wounds that require skin to be sewn together quickly so they can rejoin their team and endure further punishment. Having never had a professional hockey team allegiance, I watch the NHL playoffs as an outsider to the league, but with an appreciation for superhuman athleticism and regard for the basic structures of sport.

As a rational spectator of the NHL playoffs, I assume an equanimity of the unattached. Considering the intensity with which fans of hockey devote to their sport, perhaps equal to the play on the ice, this feels significant. (I have been tackled and then kissed on the mouth by a friend after his team scored a significant game seven goal.) Having friends who are obsessives with their respective hockey teams, I feel more informed than the average fan — i.e. I know more hockey code than some. For instance, I recently learned that it is expected that players who wear a visor on their helmet remove their helmet in anticipation of a fight so punches may be landed on their face without interference of plastic. Such a dichotomy between honor and brutality is what makes hockey compelling. A sport where aggressive, volatile action is the norm, I find the one aspect of the sport that is entirely stationery, at times dull, and common in all aspects of televisual entertainment, to be the most captivating aspect of the hockey playoffs: the player post-game interview.

Hockey player interviews are artful evasions of anything resembling gloating. They celebrate teamwork, are steeped in the technical nuances and jargon of the game, and are reverent to the opposition in what feels like mockery at times. A single post-game player interview can reduce 60 minutes of precision passing, gifted stick-handling, and unimaginable speed of both player and puck to a series of serendipitous and “aw shucks” moments that aggregated to a victory. Having spent a considerable amount of time on YouTube trolling for interviews, I have found what I believe to be the quintessential hockey interviews.

Video 1: Travis Moen with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks

Moen (currently with the Canadiens), who is introduced as a goal scorer on the night, dismisses individual achievement as a product of the system. This is very Hockey. It is also very Marxist.

Video 2: Ales Hemsky with the Edmonton Oilers

If Ales Hemsky’s labored breathing is an indicator of the effort put forth on the ice, then the video production value is an indicator of what feels like a rogue cameraman.

Video 3: Matt Carle with the San Jose Sharks

I chose this clip because of Bill Clement, Canadian-born, and his acknowledgement of Alaska to introduce Matt Carle, who now plays for the Flyers. A polite tip of the hat for a surrogate Canadian province from a commentator who no doubt loves the outdoors — see video 4.

Video 4: Bill Clement of the Woods

This piece couldn’t have come together without the help and guidance of Chris Mitchell and Jonathan Pitts. When you have two standouts like that on a group email chain, these things basically write themselves. Brendan Leonard, whose years of subtle hockey influence, was instrumental in my store of Hockey Code knowledge. What do you say about a guy like that? Also need to thank the editors who work so hard to keep this operating. I was drafted here by Nobody Would Care, it’s a great organization. I’m just glad I can contribute in any way. It’s a real honor.
- Pat Mohr

Next Stop: Boston – MBTA Red Line – Porter Square

Our last stop, Wood Island, was a station I had never been to before on a line I seldom ride. Today’s stop, Porter Square, is one I see every day but rarely spend any time in. I live in the Davis Square neighborhood of Somerville, Massachusetts, and the Davis station is one stop to the north of Porter. Though the area around Porter Square has a lot going for it, with many solid bars, restaurants, and shopping options, my friends and I usually opt to continue on to Harvard Square or beyond into downtown Boston when we go out on weekends. If I do need to go someplace in Porter, I generally walk, because the station isn’t far from my apartment. Because I don’t often get a chance to poke around inside the subway stop, on two recent consecutive weekdays I decided to hop off at Porter and take a closer look.

Porter Square serves the north Cambridge area and parts of Somerville and is one of the newest stations on the Red Line, officially opening in December 1984 (Wikipedia). During construction of the station, a poor soul named Pompeo Leone was killed. A small plaque is dedicated to his memory in the lobby area of the station.

I arrived at Porter Square on a northbound train at around 6 PM, right in the thick of the rush hour train commute. Many people drive to Alewife, the Red Line’s northern terminus, and take the train downtown from there to get to work each morning. Because of this, those people fill the train cars from five to seven every evening to go back to Alewife, retrieve their cars, and drive home. The train cars are usually packed for the whole trip from downtown all the way to Alewife, with trickles of people getting off at each successive stop (Kendall, Central, Harvard, Porter, and Davis). On the days I visited Porter, the trains were very crowded, and a lot of people got off the train there.

The first things you notice about Porter Square are the shelled walls. The station looks like the inside of a zeppelin. The unique architecture is a welcome sight on the Red Line; many stations have a dingy quality to them, like the stations at Downtown Crossing, Park Street, Central, and Davis. The curved white walls and ceilings brighten up the station and give it an instantly recognizable feature.

Porter Square station has been undergoing extensive construction on its elevator systems, and the scaffolding and makeshift construction platform is a blight on its otherwise pleasing aesthetic. Luckily, it’s only temporary. The construction did provide a nice side-effect; some sort of water pipe has broken and the light sound of bubbling water added a natural touch while I was visiting.

Most of the aforementioned stations either reek of piss (Park Street), are filled with crazies (Central), or both (Downtown Crossing). Porter didn’t seem to have either of those problems. The uniqueness of the station is buoyed by various red pipes and vents (not sure if they actually do anything) and by an art installation called “Glove Cycle”, with bronzed gloves impressed on the floor and escalators of the station.

Oh yeah, the escalators. Porter Square is the deepest station on the MBTA. I stood on the escalator going up and it took a minute and a half to get to the top. A few nutcases actually chose to walk up the stairs, which would definitely provide a hell of a workout. The never-ending escalators and stairs add to the station’s distinctiveness and to its cavernous quality; you really feel like you’re underground here.

Once at the top of the escalators, there is a lobby area with a convenience store (with the ever-so-descriptive moniker “Cold and Hot”). From the signs posted outside, they appear to have excellent deals on pashminas and knock-off Boston sports apparel. A few of the neighborhood’s perennially unlucky scratched away at lotto tickets on chairs posted inside, as seen on the left of my blurry photo. Stores like this are uncommon on the T, with a similar business at Park Street and a snack shack at Downtown Crossing being the only two coming to mind right now.

Beyond the lobby, you take another escalator up to reach the outside world. Porter doubles as a commuter rail stop with service all the way out to Fitchburg, and the entrance to those tracks is down a separate flight of stairs that are not accessible via the inside of the Porter subway station. The commuter rail increases the traffic of the station and the busy aura of the area.

The Porter Square station is nestled in a nice neighborhood with a lot to see and do. It’s one of the cleaner stations on the northern end of the Red Line and it’s certainly the most interesting. If you find yourself floating through Porter as I so often did, the station itself it worth a look.

- JL

10 Years Later – A Tribute to Layne Staley

Layne Staley, Music Life, September 1993

Growing up, I was practically obsessed with Alice in Chains, but I wasn’t particularly angst-y. I hated wearing flannel shirts, I never owned a pair of Doc Martens, and I most certainly never shot anything into my veins.  Despite all this, their music always grabbed my attention.  (I even made an Alice in Chains banner using PrintShop on my Apple II GS computer in 1994. Ask John Lacey about it, he’ll remember it.)

Whether it was Sean Kinney’s innovative drum beats, Jerry Cantrell’s heavy-yet-melodic style of guitar playing, or the thunderous low-end provided by bassists Mike Starr and Mike Inez, there wasn’t a musical weak link in the group.  But the one thing that set them above any other band upon initial listens was Layne Staley.

Staley’s voice has since been imitated by every butt-rock band from Godsmack to Hinder, but he was a true one-of-a-kind talent.  His vocal interplay with Jerry Cantrell has drawn comparisons to a 90s Lennon and McCartney tandem.  The way he held notes out and sounded bigger and more powerful than the instruments was shocking, especially coming from a guy who weighed about 140 pounds, a generous estimate even in his healthiest days.

On April 5, 2002, Staley was found dead in his apartment from a drug overdose.  Any fan of Staley’s had imagined that day would come. When it did, it wasn’t the most shocking thing in the world.  My friends and I would often think, “Man, wouldn’t it be great if Layne just showed up at one of Cantrell’s solo shows, looking great, sounding great, and AIC had an awesome reunion tour?” We knew it would probably never happen, and on that day, we knew for sure.  I had been a fan of other musicians who had died before – particularly Chuck Schuldiner, lead guitarist/vocalist of death metal pioneers Death, who passed away just months prior on December 13, 2001 due to a brain tumor and no fault of his own – but Staley’s death hit me particularly hard.

Maybe it was the circumstances surrounding his death that I found disturbing.  In my mind, Staley chose to start doing heroin and he couldn’t stop himself.  By most accounts, he didn’t want to stop himself.  In the end, he was found days after his overdose; alone, frail, and barely recognizable.  This type of life (and death) was incomprehensible to a pretty well-off kid from the suburbs of Massachusetts.

While Alice in Chains were still rock radio staples at the time, MTV barely covered Staley’s passing.  To this naïve 18-year-old who remembered the music world practically stopping when Kurt Cobain, Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. all died, this was a travesty.  When TLC’s Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes died just twenty days later the story received massive mainstream press, and again I was pissed.  How could the girl who wore condoms over her eye while she rapped be taken more seriously as an artist than this gifted, tortured soul?  How could this maniac who burned down Andre Rison’s house be more of a bigger story than a rock legend?

Looking back, it makes sense. TLC had been massive just two or three years prior, whereas Alice in Chains hadn’t released a new album since 1995.  MTV was at the height of TRL-mania, and AIC had never been on TRL.  Even though he had inspired a lot of the hard rock dreck that was on the airwaves at the time – Creed, Staind, Godsmack – Staley meant nothing to the TRL audience.

The scene they were affiliated with had long-since collapsed by the time Staley passed – Soundgarden broke up in 1997, Nirvana had been done since Cobain’s suicide in 1994, Pearl Jam were the only big “grunge” band still kicking – and AIC’s time in the spotlight had passed.  After their well-received and highly-revered Unplugged performance, the band vanished.   Jerry Cantrell had done a solo album and was about to release a second, but AIC were yesterday’s news.  A part of me was upset that a band and a singer that had meant a great deal to me were about to become a footnote in the Grunge section of the history books and not remembered as the great American rock band I knew them to be.  It felt like a personal slight to me.

Ten years later, I selfishly take comfort that Alice in Chains is still all over rock radio in America.  I heard “Rooster” on my drive to work today, and I don’t think I can go a week without hearing “Man in the Box” somewhere on the radio dial.  I couldn’t tell you the last time I heard TLC on the radio, and whenever I do hear them, it’s “Waterfalls” being played on a pop station where they cut out Left Eye’s rap part.  I feel vindicated that a band who I felt was mine were not forgotten after all.  In fact, they pulled a much-belated AC/DC move and got another vocalist to fill Staley’s shoes.  William DuVall joined the band as a singer/occasional guitarist and they released the critically-acclaimed (and Matt Steele-approved) Black Gives Way to Blue in 2009.  I’ve witnessed this incarnation of the band 3 times, having been too young to attend shows back when Staley was fronting them (plus, they stopped touring in about 1993).

Alice in Chains’ current lineup pays wonderful tribute to the legacy of Layne Staley.  It doesn’t seem like a cash grab or something that Layne wouldn’t have approved himself.  It seems like three guys who really loved him continuing on their musical journey with a new friend.  Ten years later, he’s still one of my favorite vocalists of all time, a testament to the great work he did in so little time.  I’ll end this with a link to Jerry Cantrell’s beautiful tribute to his late friend, the title track from Black Gives Way to Blue.

- Matt Steele

Guitarphiles: Richard Thompson

Author’s Note: Welcome to the first installment of Guitarphiles, where an ordinary guy and average guitarist like myself offers up a not-so-humble opinion on one of his favorite guitarists. Hope you enjoy the links as much as I did while editing this.

“Folk means different things to different people…If people say I’m a folkie, I say no, I’m a rocker. If people say I’m a rocker, I say no, I’m a folkie.” - Richard Thompson, BBC HARDtalk Interview, 2009.

’59 Sunburst Stratocaster – When you think of Richard Thompson’s guitar playing, fingerpicking and Fenders immediately come to mind. While discussing the recording of “Walking On A Wire,” in his 33 1/3 book Shoot Out The Lights (Continuum, 2008), Hayden Childs goes on to describe Thompson’s guitar tone as “all Fender guitar through Fender amp, pure and tremelous and springy.” The Fender Stratocaster, particularly the ’59 Sunburst Strat, is one of the primary guitars that this British folk star has used over his long career. This was a guitar Thompson used during the Fairport Convention days, and the one used during Richard and Linda Thompson’s 1982 release Shoot Out The Lights. On his website, richardthompson-music.com, Thompson describes his affinity for Fenders: “When I started playing Fenders in 1968, it was unfashionable because everyone in England was playing Gibsons and trying to get a big, fat sound like Eric Clapton had in Cream. I just wanted a little more bite.” Here’s Thompson using his beloved ’59 Sunburst Stratocaster during a 1980s perforamnce of “Wall Of Death.” R.E.M. fans might be particularly found of this song, which the Athens band would go on to cover. Listen for the clean, punchy sound that is common in Thompson’s guitar playing.

Lowden (Acoustic) – In Shoot Out The Lights, Hayden Childs compares Fairport Convention’s influence on British folk music to that of “The Band’s influence on American folk music, incorporating the old in a new way.” Thompson often can be seen in concert playing Lowden acoustic guitars, as the guitar maker has developed a signature Richard Thompson guitar. There are many great acoustic performances to choose from, so here are a few. Look carefully at Thompson’s acoustic guitar mastery on this performance of “Beeswing.”

From a 1975 performance with Linda Thompson, here is “A Heart Needs A Home.”

Here’s Richard performing “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” for a BBC performance in 2006. “A simple boy meets girl love story, complicated by a motorcycle.” Here we see Thompson’s thumb-picking prowess, as he’s able to fingerpick with precision, while also emphasizing certain phrases and melodies.

Lastly, here’s him covering the popular folk song  “Shenandoah.” This one’s worth it for the banter alone. His range has limited slightly with age, but it’s clear that Thompson’s voice has aged well, as has his guitar playing.

Ferrington Custom Guitar – I was first introduced to the music of Richard Thompson after attending one of the British singer-songwriter’s 1999 concerts at the Kewsick Theater, in Glenside, PA. Thompson was then touring in support of his 1999 release Mock Tudor, regarded by many critics as his best solo work. During much of the set, Thompson played from his teal Ferrington guitar, which is likely my favorite of this group. On his site, Richard states “I like my blue Ferringtoncater best,” and I think fans may agree. A beefier sound than the Strat, I’ve seen Richard use his Ferrington at several performances, and it never disappoints. Here’s a clip of Richard performing “Hard On Me,” from Mock Tudor.

Fender Telecaster – While Thompson prefers his Strat to a Tele, he’s often seen using a Telecaster on stage. Here’s Thompson performing “Shoot Out The Lights” with Elvis Costello during a 2009 performance. While known more for its twangy punch, Thompson isn’t afraid to add some gain to his tone, and push this performance over the edge.

Thanks for reading.

- JP

The United States of Rock – Alaska

UNITED STATES OF ROCK – Alaska

Spotify Playlist for these artists available at USOR – Alaska

The Alaska Postcard Artist – Jewel

Jewel is a lot like her home state. Both are naturally beautiful, but something sinister lurks beneath. In Jewel’s case, it’s her lack of orthodontia, and in Alaska’s case it’s their collective alcoholism and former Governor. But unless Mrs. Palin comes out with a “Sarah Sings Nugent” tribute album, Jewel is Alaska’s most famous songstress. She broke when VH1 was still dedicated to the Lilith Fair crowd and sold millions upon millions of albums to women (and men who wear a lot of moisturizer). It was a great time to be a female singer/songwriter; Jewel and other coffee house crooners like Joan Osborne, Natalie Imbruglia, and Lisa Loeb dominated the adult/contemporary airwaves. Though I can’t say I was ever a fan of Jewel’s music, I respect her story. She actually sings and actually plays guitar (a novel concept in today’s pop music world). She also lived in a van before she “made it,” so that’s pretty bad ass. Today, Jewel works various TV hosting gigs and is married to a Rodeo cowboy, who, presumably, saved her soul.

My Favorite Alaska Artist – John Roderick (The Long Winters)

Forget favorite Alaskan artist: John Roderick and his band The Long Winters are one of my favorite bands in the world. Despite their lack of recent musical output*, they have made three records that I will listen to, often, for the rest of my life. Roderick was born in Washington State and now lives in Seattle, but he grew up a world away in Alaska. Perhaps that’s where his frank and introspective lyrical style took root. Maybe that’s where he learned to craft music that manages to have weight and leave space. As vague as those last two sentences seem to be, it’s hard to articulate what makes The Long Winters great, and it’s even harder to understand why more people don’t know about this band. My only suggestion: start anywhere, listen to everything, and for christsakes follow that man on twitter.

*musical stagnancy aside, Roderick is an award winning tweeter, a brilliant podcaster, and a champion of eating submarine sandwiches in the bathtub.

The Seedy Underbelly – Portugal. The Man 

I don’t know much about this band other than they moved from Wasilla, Alaska (I’ve already talked enough about Palin) to Portland, Oregon and that I’ve heard a couple of their songs on the radio. The songs I’ve heard are fun and poppy, but that’s all I can really say about the band. However, I can make an educated guess about their fan base! I would bet that the same people who like Portugal. The Man also like Foster the People, Cage the Elephant, and Young the Giant. “____ the _____” seems to be the new “______ (animal).”

Didn’t make the cut

The Builders and The Butchers - Literally the only other decent sounding band I could find from Alaska. That is all.

- Brendan Leonard

When We Had Our Own MTV: The Early Days of Comedy Central

I just recently finished reading I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, a book chronicling the formation, early years, and explosion in popularity of the MTV cable television network. The book is written as an oral history, with quotes from hundreds of musicians, executives, talent managers, on-air personalities, and hangers-on about their experience working for MTV or about what MTV meant to them. One of the pervading themes of the book, apart from the never-ending glad-handing, name-dropping, and self-congratulations of the MTV executives, is the feeling of awe and amazement people experienced when they first saw MTV. MTV was this radically new thing to these people. No one had ever seen anything like it before, viewers finally got to actually see their favorite artists (something that could only be done in concert before), and MTV brought different types of music to areas of the country that had no access to that music before.

There was definitely a “cool factor” to MTV that a number of people spoke of in the book. MTV was brand new, it was hip, it was aimed to kids, teenagers, and young adults, and that made it cool. I actually have a first-hand recollection of this: my sister, ten years my senior, would be glued to MTV all day in the 80s and early 90s. MTV is what kids watched. Aside from playing their favorite music or showing the latest fashion trends, it made them feel like they were a part of something just from tuning in.

In November 1989, Time Warner launched the Comedy Channel, the first channel that focused exclusively on comedy programming. A few months later, Viacom (perhaps not surprisingly the owners of the aforementioned MTV) launched their competing Ha! Network, and for a brief period of time the two stations battled for comedy-centric programming dominance at the high end of the dial. The pickings on both stations were slim, with each filling their broadcast days primarily with films, stand-up comedy from the 70s and 80s, and sitcom reruns. On April 1 of 1991, the two channels merged and formed CTV: The Comedy Network, with that name being streamlined to Comedy Central by June of that year (Wikipedia). In North Andover, Massachusetts, we didn’t have any idea this was going on. We got about 37 channels on our cable box until 1996, and Comedy Central wasn’t one of them.

We discovered Comedy Central in the early 90s, probably in 1992 or 1993, in the unlikeliest of places: vacation spot Wells, Maine. My cousins had a beach house in Wells and I’d go up to visit and stay a week with them a couple of times every summer. Most beach houses then, and many still, lack the creature comforts of home, like video games, stereo systems, or cable television. The feature attraction for a beach house is supposed to be the beach, but my cousins had an ultra-modern beach home right on the Atlantic, which gave us kids the best of both worlds. We loved the beach and the whole beach community, but we wanted our TV too!

As mentioned before, we didn’t get Comedy Central in North Andover (my cousins lived in the same town as well), and I didn’t know anyone else that had it. So we watched it. All the time. The television in the basement of the Wells beach house was tuned to either Comedy Central or MTV morning, noon, and night. We’d watch despite the low level of programming, despite the never-ending reruns, and despite the fact that there was quite a bit of Comedy Central programming that we really didn’t even like. We’d be bombarded by the same Saturday Night Live rerun three times a day, and we’d subject ourselves to T&A Theater, when the station would show an early 80s teen sex romp like the rightfully forgotten Tom Cruise film Losin’ It. We even watched The Real Deal, a show in which Kevin Pollak and Robert Wuhl played poker. The gem of the early years of Comedy Central is unquestionably Mystery Science Theater 3000, a genuine delight at the time and still today and one of my favorite television programs ever. MST3K really was something we’d never seen before. It was so smart, so sarcastic and so funny that we immediately became huge fans. We watched the channel so much that I’d reckon that the knowledge my cousins and I have on early Comedy Central is second only to the executives who worked at the station at the time.

Perhaps the major attraction to Comedy Central for us, aside from Mystery Science Theater and the sporadic quality television program, was the exclusivity factor. Much like I’m sure kids felt when they got MTV in the early 1980s and their friends didn’t, we felt the same way about Comedy Central. I could come home from a week in Maine and tell all of my unenlightened friends about this magical, mystical new channel that’s only available in Maine. And how we watched it all day because it was so awesome. And how there was this show with robots making fun of crappy movies and “Oh my God, you need to see this show because it’s the funniest thing ever!” Just like when a new Super Nintendo game came out and that first kid who got it would be talking about how great it was all day, we did the same regarding Comedy Central. We have access to this cool new thing and you don’t.

Of course, the wild west days of Comedy Central couldn’t last forever. Either the channel died out completely and went off air, or it expanded and became more popular. The latter happened. Comedy Central is now a major cable television network with several high profile and high quality shows and personalities. It came to North Andover in summer 1996, during the last vestiges of the “old days”: South Park and The Daily Show were about to break the network into the mainstream. And just like that, it became just another network. The days of sitting in that dark beach house basement, fixated on the television, all of us a member of our own cool little club, those days were over. The throw-shit-at-the-wall days of Comedy Central, where the haphazard programming schedule meant you could stumble across just about anything, those days were over too. And though I still watch a few Comedy Central shows, I still view it through the prism of the channel in the early 1990s and I still feel a strange nostalgic warmth when I tune into it, like the channel is mine, somehow.

- JL

The United States of Rock – Alabama

THE UNITED STATES OF ROCK

The Premise: A while back, an American guy from the south was hanging around a dusty intersection and met a morally corrupt dude who provided the most efficient guitar lesson in the history of mankind… or something like that. Regardless of how and where rock and roll was invented, it has since spread through the United States (via Great Britain and back) like a wildfire started by the fiery touch of Beelzebub himself. I plan on discussing each state’s contribution to our American rock landscape through the prism of three categories.

  • Each state’s Postcard Band
    • The band that clearly embodies their home state’s aesthetic, defining characteristics, political reputation, or legacy.
    • Example: The Beach Boys are California’s Postcard Band
  • My favorite band from the state.
    • Highly subjective, fatally flawed, and argument-inciting
  • The Seedy/Awesome Music Underbelly of each state
    • The bands/artists that may not be household names nationally, but are nonetheless relevant in some way. Or…
    • Bands from the state that I want to rant and rave about.

I know these “rules” are rather vague, well so is the term “rock.” Whenever possible I will avoid talking about Hip Hop/Rap/Bluegrass/Country/Jazz/R&B/Blues not because I don’t like those genres, but because I don’t know enough about them to be able to discuss them (somewhat) intelligently. I will avoid Dubstep because, seriously, fuck dubstep, it’s the “Saw” franchise of music.

Believe or not, there are some states in this fine union that haven’t contributed much to our rock landscape, so I warn in advance that there will be a few reaches. In some circumstances, I may rely on the birth state or place of temporary residence for certain rockers. For example, the Decemberists are a certainly an Oregon band, but I may discuss them in the context of Montana, the birth state of Colin Meloy. Just wait until I get to Delaware.

I will discuss the states in alphabetical order, and hold out hope that this doesn’t fizzle out before I get to Wyoming.

Come rock with me.

UNITED STATES OF ROCK – Alabama

The Alabama Postcard Band – Lynyrd Skynyrd

This is a rather dubious start for the UNITED STATES OF ROCK series; I already broke one of my “rules.” Yet there’s no denying that despite the fact that they are from Florida, Lynyrd Skynyrd is the postcard band for Alabama. No other rock band is as intertwined with the Cotton State (even more so than the rock/country band “Alabama” who is actually from Alabama). This is, of course, because of their ubiquitous and never-dying hit “Sweet Home Alabama”. Aside from inspiring the title of an unfortunate movie, sound tracking several KFC advertising campaigns, and helping Kid Rock create arguably the worst song in recorded history, Lynyrd Skynyrd gave the state of Alabama a song that will be shrilly sung-along to on a daily basis by drunk coeds for the rest of eternity.

My Favorite Alabama Band – Drive-By Truckers

If you couldn’t tell by the above paragraph, I was never a big fan of Lynyrd Skynyrd, but my stance on them has soften considerably in recent years thanks in large part to the Drive-By Truckers. Their 2001 album Southern Rock Opera (the follow up to a live album called Alabama Ass Whuppin’) is a two-disc concept album based loosely around the story of Lynyrd Skynyrd. The cleverly crafted songs humanize the rock giants. They are so effective that I can’t help but get a tad emotional listening to the album’s last track “Angels and Fuselage,” a gorgeous ballad about the plane crash that killed four of Skynyrd’s band and crew members, most notably lead singer Ronnie Van Zant.

Southern Rock Opera was the first Truckers album I listened to so I suppose that’s a good place to start. Decoration Day (2003) is also excellent. Despite the departure of their Alabamian, Jason Isbell (the rest of the band’s core is from Georgia), the Truckers are still recording new material. They also put on a dynamic live show, and in fact Craig Finn has said that seeing The Truckers on the Southern Rock Opera tour inspired him to start The Hold Steady. That must have been a positive (three guitar) jam.

The Seedy (Awesome) Underbelly – Man or Astro-man?

Call me narrow minded, but I was shocked when I found out that Man or Astro-man? was from Auburn, Alabama. I just didn’t think the state would produce a band this… weird. As a self-described surf-punk band from outer space, founding members Star Crunch, Birdstuff and Coco the Electronic Monkey Wizard established themselves as one of the strangest underground bands of the 90s. Schtick aside, they wrote awesome songs and put on a live show that was so ambitious and with such elaborate stage set pieces (space suits, vintage computer equipment, dozens of TV monitors streaming forgotten Sci-fi D Movies, a giant Tesla coil, etc.) that I am not sure how they possibly made a profit touring. They probably didn’t, but who cares; our earthly currency means nothing in space.

Didn’t make the cut

Jimmy Buffett – Though he was born in Alabama, the only location Buffett’s music conjures up in my mind is Boca Raton, or the nearest hardware store, where I can purchase an ice pick to thrust into my temple to forever free me from listening to his Trustafarian Tommy Bahama Boogie dirge.

Alabama Shakes – They seem to be pretty good but still too green to crack one of the three categories. Also, as a rule, I dismiss bands that are younger than me.

 

NEXT TIME – ALASKA

- Brendan Leonard

http://open.spotify.com/user/brendanleonard/playlist/3WZD3OZRxkN2AtTiXzrNhh