Sunday, February 26, 2023

Aerosmith, "Back in the Saddle" (8 Track Camaro Classics)

I was born in the mid-70s, around the time of Aerosmith's first popular high point. By the time I was listening to pop music circa 1982, they had fallen off the map. American wanted its MTV and all the frothy British New Wave acts that actually had good videos. Aerosmith was drowning in a sea of drugs and their brand of AOR was no longer au courrant. 

Inexplicably, they managed to mount a comeback with 1986's Permanent Vacation, and their pairing with Run DMC (who I adored) put them on my radar. As far as I was concerned, they were just a more experienced version of Poison and all the other lame hair metal bands of the time. I had no clue of their earlier incarnation until I started listening to classic rock radio circa 1991. All of a sudden, I was exposed to a very different and far more vital band. 

This band rocked savagely, the edges not worn down by 80s production techniques. My favorite of that era then and now is "Back in the Saddle Again." ("Sweet Emotion" is a strong second.) It has a momentous buildup, sounding like the soundtrack of an old horror movie during a scene when the monster is secretly creeping behind the hero. 

Then, all of a sudden, BLAM!

Steven Tyler gives his best scream of "I'M BAAAAACK!" and Joe Perry and Tom Hamilton unleash a truly monster riff, smashing through the speaker like Bigfoot crushing cars. Joey Kramer lays down a swaggering, swinging beat made for strutting down the street with this on your headphones. Brad Whitford jumps in with spashes of screeching guitar, like paint splattering against a canvas. The energy is just completely off the charts, but somehow it manages to keep building across the song to the point that it almost overheats and explodes until it settles into a groovy coda.

Put this in your Camaro and you'll blow the bloody doors off. 

Saturday, February 18, 2023

The Crisis We See But Don't Name

The CDC released a report this week about depression and anxiety among teenagers that showed some alarming increases in suicidal thoughts, primarily among girls. As a high school teacher I'm well aware of of this phenomenon, which I feel powerless to stop.

It's notable that the spike in anxiety and depression did not start with the pandemic, and was already shooting way up around 2017. The tendency to blame all this on pandemic disruption is a bit too pat, and the data does not seem to bear that out. I was especially alarmed to see an increase in the number of girls reporting sexual assault. It's especially alarming when the percentage of teens who have had sex is decreasing. 

The terrible data about teenage depression and suicide tracks with general mental health trends. Researchers have pointed to the jump in so-called "deaths of despair" in the past 25 years from suicide, drug overdoses, and alcoholism. This jump in deaths of despair has been especially acute among middle-aged whites, whose life expectancy is dropping and dragging down the average life expectancy overall

Something is truly wrong with the way we live today in the United States. I would think that all of these suicides and overdoses, especially among society's youngest members with so many years to live, would prompt political action. Neither political party seems willing to talk about this much. Relatedly, there's no massive grass roots campaign to push them to care. We seem to take all of this death and misery as a given.

In a way, that very attitude is a driving force behind this crisis with no name. Put yourself in the shoes of a teenager. You know climate change threatens untold suffering on your generation and live in fear one of your classmates shooting up your school, and that your elders don't care enough to do anything about it. Think about all of the teenaged girls who have witnessed an outright misogynist who bragged about harassing women elected to the presidency and the judges he appointed taking away their reproductive freedom. The youth look to this bleak future knowing that the college education they need will put them in debt and a home will be too expensive to buy. 

Now go put yourself in the shoes of a middle-aged working class person doing a job that pays little money with no security or satisfaction to offer, your body broken down and tired from it. You don't make enough to retire, so what's the point of living to old age anyway? 

Picture the same teenagers and middle-aged folk living immersed day-in and day-out in social media with its implicit message that everyone else is happier than you, and that anyone who isn't doing well has something wrong with them. Think about this especially from the point of view of teenaged girls, constantly judged by unreachable standards. 

Now put all of these people in a society where community ties and state assistance have been shredded by the onslaught of neoliberalism, where in times of turmoil you are told this nation's true creed: "you're on your own." Our national ideology tells us that individualism is liberating, but it is practiced in such an extreme way that it leaves so many suffering in isolation with no larger structures to give their lives meaning. 

As I have rediscovered philosophy in the past three years I have noticed a big improvement in my mental health. I have a much firmer grasp on the meaning of my existence, an understanding that helps me weather life's storms. So many people are drowning in those storms now, stripped of the resources to survive and left for dead. That is the unnamed crisis that this country must finally confront. 

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Humble Pie, "I Don't Need No Doctor" (8 Track Camaro Classics)

Some bands have the hits but get tagged with "I heard they suck live." Others can't seem to buy a slot on the charts, but draw massive audiences for their live shows. Back in the 70s, Humble Pie was one of the latter. Part of the armada of dirtbag boogie rock bands of the era, they were distinguished by their super group status, drawing together Peter Frampton and the Small Faces' Steve Marriott. 

Appropriately, their double live album Performance: Rockin' the Fillmore was their only gold record. Their studio songs missed a certain intensity that comes out loud and clear on the live album. The album ends with a true boogie rock apotheosis, "I Don't Need No Doctor." The song starts with Marriott telling the crowd that "it's been a gas" before launching into an absolutely killer riff that the bass player doubles up on. It sounds like a runaway semi truck and Marriott gives it some of his most spine-tingling screams. Did I forget to mention that there's cowbell?

That cowbell clangs hard in the middle section, the crowd energetically clapping along, before the reprise of the riff hits harder than a baseball bat spiked with nails. It's nine minutes of absolute 8 track Camaro rock mayhem. It was the band's biggest hit in the US to date, going all the way to...73. Liked I said, some bands couldn't buy a hit, which is a damn shame in this case. 

The Nefarious Silicon Valley Ideology Behind ChatGPT

There's been a lot of discourse around ChatGPT. I am less worried about the technology itself that the ideology it is being used to uphold. Read about it on my Substack. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

"Rock and Roll All Nite" (8 Track Camaro Classics)

A few weeks ago someone on Twitter asked if there was a band you despised with one song that you loved. My answer was immediate: "Rock and Roll All Nite" by KISS.

Let's be clear from the start: KISS sucks. They were a marketing campaign in search of a band. They could generate riffs but were incapable of building full songs around them. Ace Frehley's solo "Back in the New York Groove" is better than any of the band's songs. Gene Simmons is the poster-boy for Boomer self-regard in all of its nasty sociopathy. Paul Stanley's stage banter is Spinal Tap-level self-parody. Their biggest hit, "Beth," came from their drummer and is embarrassingly clunky. It also does not rock. 

However, out of this smelly turd grew the gorgeous rose of "Rock and Roll All Nite," one of the ultimate 8 track Camaro tracks. The riff is an up-tempo monster and the rhythm swings behind it. Unlike other KISS songs, the riff actually goes somewhere, right into the truly anthemic sing-along chorus. It proclaims the creed of 8 track Camaro rock to have a great time at all costs, to rock and roll all night and party every day. I dare you to try to resist singing along. 

Beyond the words, it embodies the true willfully stupid spirit of 8 track Camaro rock. The whole point is to lose yourself in the noise and fun. In the middle of a hard week full of hard work, it feels good.  

The Forgotten Veterans of the COVID Teaching Trenches

Against my better judgment, I wrote a Substack about how I feel like I've come home from a war that everyone pretends never happened. Like Vera Brittain after World War I, teachers can't let go of what they saw at the front, but everyone else is tired of hearing about it.