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Prince: The Artist

Where were you when?

With Thursday’s sad news, I was in my period 4 math class, about to launch into a quadratics lesson when a student called out, “Mr. Stephen, did you hear…”

Prince

But over the last few days, I’ve been thinking about a different ‘where were you when’ question.

Q: Where were you when…you became a Prince fan?

A: Saturday, February 4, 2006. At home, watching Saturday Night Live (SNL) with my fabulous future wife.

Steve Martin was the host, the two of us were really enjoying the episode. The self-help book promo sketch, Don’t Buy Stuff You Can’t Afford, we still quote, 10 years later.

Though the skits were fun, it was the musical guest that night that left a truly unforgettable impression.

About half an hour in, Steve Martin announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Prince.”

About 4 minutes after that, I was well on my way to becoming a full-fledged Prince fan.

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What a track. What a performance. What a performer.

What a tragedy that he’s gone.

Thank you Prince for sharing your remarkable talents with the world.

Rest in Peace.

170px-Prince_logo.svg

 

Air – The Virgin Suicides (2000)

madeinfrance1001albums

Le beau logo est par Sarca @ caughtmegaming

Made in France Artist #1: Manu Chao

Made in France Artist #2: Daft Punk

Made in France Artist #3: Jean Michel Jarre

Made in France Artist #4: Jacques Brel

Made in France Artist #5: Air

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[Album 456/1001]

“It is also a nice way to re-immerse in the 1001 project…”
– me in April 2014, in my review of Air’s Moon Safari.

The Virgin Suicides.

Is there a more attention-grabbing title on the 1001?

With such provocative titles however, the challenge is maintaining listener attention.

Though he’s discussing car reservations, Seinfeld illustrates this grabbing/holding distinction splendidly:

“You know how to take the reservation, you just don’t know how to hold the reservation. And that’s really the most important part…”

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The French duo Air was able to get my attention.

But could they follow through with the most important part, the holding?

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I’ve been looking at this CD cover for the past few years at The Beat Goes On in Burlington.220px-Air_-_The_Virgin_Suicides

It always got my attention, but didn’t hold it after seeing the price tag of $7.99. Yes, it’s not outrageously priced, but if I were to spend $8 on each of the 1001 albums…!

So I streamed.

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Should I find myself in Burlington again soon, I may have to bring $8 with me.

The album (the score to the film of the same name) didn’t necessarily reel me in right away; somewhere around listen #4, it really started to click.

This film score featured recurring themes, without being repetitive.

There were Elliott Smith-ish moments, without being derivative.

The Radiohead influence was everywhere, without feeling second rate. One could argue the soundscapes & seamless sequencing here are on par with much of Radiohead’s 21st Century output.

I didn’t recognize the vocals on the opening track. Turns out, it’s the lead singer of the French band Phoenix, performing under a pseudonym.

Earlier this year, I wondered whether Phoenix would be a future favourite. Now I’m wondering where The Virgin Suicides might be placed in an inevitable Top 5 Film Scores list.

In any event, I’m glad that Air got & kept my attention.

“It is also a nice way to re-immerse in the 1001 project…”
– me in April 2016, concluding this very review of Air’s The Virgin Suicides.

Found out about Me [Part 4/4]

Picture of a photograph

Found out about Me:
My (not so) New, (not so) Miserable Gin Blossoms Experience
By Geoff Stephen

Where Are They Now/Prologue (2016)
Learning the Hard Way (2006)
Congratulations, I’m Sorry (1996)
New Miserable Experience (new-to-me in 1994)
Found out About You (pre-summer 1994)

[Part 4/4]

Without further adieu, the reason for the comically-oversized shirt.

Like the line in Competition Smile, “emulate the style,” I wanted to be like the lead singer Robin Wilson.

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I should note, in the early 90s, I seemed to think dudes with long hair named Robin &/or Wilson were the bee’s knees. Like Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood, or the Calgary Flames’ Carey Wilson. This singer has both Robin AND Wilson in his name? Bonus!

Given that, sometime pre-summer of 1994, I saw the Found out about You video and immediately thought, hey, that’s how I want to look!

Now with the strobe lights and quick edits, it’s difficult to replicate his wardrobe exactly beyond the earth-tone, turtleneck-ish, long-sleeve shirt. I can only assume he too was wearing short shorts, socks, and sneakers.

The question is (correct answer = him), who wore it better?

Robin Geoff

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Beyond informing my choice of style, hearing this song was one of those defining moments in my musical education.

It’s probably also my closest answer to the question, “what sort of music do you like?”

Appropriately, my love of Found out about You says an awful lot about me. Out of respect for reader time, I’ll list only 5:

1) I always try/never succeed at lyric accuracy

I can picture rewinding the tape over and over again, trying to scribble down the lyrics. Upon reading the printed lyrics this week, turns out I wasn’t even close!

2) I struggle with tabs/sight-reading

I remember picking up a guitar magazine as a youngin’ because it had this tab. I tried the intricate picking, not happening! Or at least, nowhere close to the right speed when attempting to sight-read. And so I play by ear, aiming for close enough.

3) I listen/watch for the guitar chords

I remember being baffled that the verse pattern here wasn’t just C, D, Em, D. It was these new-to-me chords, Cadd9, Dadd2, Em7, Dadd2 (Another reason the Gin Blossoms are special: they take a few chords, and make them sound new). I’m sure if/when I finally see them live, I’ll be watching Jesse Valenzuela & Scott Johnson’s left hands, try to figure out the chords as I enjoy the show!

4) In music, I’ll take light with dark every day

The strobe lights maybe are a bit much, but the clean tones & unhappy lyrics mesh beautifully, as per usual.

5) I prefer unresolved endings

The Cadd9 closing chord is fitting for this song, leaving the listener unsure of what would happen next.

gin blossoms

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And with that, I’m back to where my love for the band began.

Perhaps fittingly, also with a somewhat unresolved ending.

Why did I keep losing track of the Gin Blossoms? Why did I not even realize there was a 2010 album? How did I not realize their significance in my life before this year? What became of that shirt?

Once again, I turn to the song, Until I Fall Away.

1) “When there are no good answers to those new questions.” Sounds about right.

2) The bad spot on my cassette copy of Until I Fall Away.

When fellow ‘Where are they Now?’ blogger Brian wrote his “Bad” Spots in Music post earlier in March, my muffled Until I Fall Away copy immediately jumped to mind. Then the ‘Where are they Now?’ collaborative post was floated, I signed up for one Gin Blossoms post, and ended up in a month-long catalogue immersion, resurfacing with this series!

If history is any indication, I may fall away from the Gin Blossoms again.

But until I do, I’ll continue to savour this reunion with an old friend.

Epilogue

Top 5 fools

I’ve relished this revisiting of my Gin Blossoms CDs (including the EP Up & Crumbling featuring the exceptional closing track Keli Richards) and reminiscing about their role in my life over the last 2+ decades.

Like the lyric in 29, I’ve gone through “good and bad and straight through indifference” in terms of how I’ve felt about their music.

I’m pleased that at age 34, I’m back to full-fledged appreciation & enjoyment. Next on my to-do list is to pick up their 2010 album No Chocolate Cake & hopefully see them in concert.

Thanks for coming along on this journey, I’ll leave the last word to the Gins:

“Only time will tell if wishing wells
Can bring us anything
Or fade like scenes from childhood dreams
Forgotten memories”

Found out about Me [part 3/4]

Picture of a photograph

Found out about Me:
My (not so) New, (not so) Miserable Gin Blossoms Experience
By Geoff Stephen

Where Are They Now/Prologue (2016)
Learning the Hard Way (2006)
Congratulations, I’m Sorry (1996)
New Miserable Experience (new-to-me in 1994)

 

[Part 3/4]

Summer of 1994. Somewhere in France.

Pre-voice change, I was a part of a Children’s Choir, partway through a 2-week tour of France.

We wore choir gowns for performances; apparently off-stage, some/at least one chorister(s) dressed like this!

1994

At some point on this tour, I found myself in a Gin Blossoms conversation.

I haven’t the foggiest idea about any of the conversation details beyond the following sequence:

a) I was raving about a Gin Blossoms song named Found Out About You

b) A fellow chorister said she had the album New Miserable Experience.

c) My eyes lit up, I (hopefully politely) asked her to make me a copy

And I am forever grateful that at some point after returning to Canada, she kindly did just that.

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tape plus pencil*spoiler alert*

I recognize with music listening statistics, I can be guilty of hyperbole (That song? I’ve heard it millions of times!).

But with that taped copy of New Miserable Experience, saying I listened to it dozens of times might actually be an understatement.

It was so heavily featured in the rotation that, in a situation completely un-relatable to 12-year-olds in 2016, my ghetto-blaster started to eat the tape.

One spot on the cassette, the second bridge from Until I Fall Away, never quite recovered its audio quality after a pencil-aided re-spooling.

Until this year, I hadn’t realized how fitting my broken & repaired tape’s inaudible lyric was:

“If it’s all rusted and faded in the spot where we fell
Where I thought I’d left behind, it’s loose now but we could try”

For maximum enjoyment, imagine the lyric at 1:45 is muffled

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In those dozens of New Miserable Experience listens, I thought the album ended after Pieces of the Night.

It was a 90-minute cassette (45 minutes per side), only the first 11 tracks fit on the first side.

I’m not sure how I heard Cheatin’ for the first time (perhaps I inadvertently put on side B instead of side A?) but I can picture my reaction. And it wasn’t pretty.

As I mentioned in part deux of this series, in my youth, I did not have a healthy attitude towards country music. Ending the album with this (with this!) was nothing short of ludicrous.

It was such an amazing album, why Gin Blossoms, why?

Slide1

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Surely, much like with my Memphis Time change of heart, I’ve matured and I now feel it’s an album highlight?

Alas.

I don’t dislike the song, it’s undoubtedly well-performed and well-crafted.

Unfortunately, it still disrupts an otherwise perfectly crafted running order.

Cheatin’ is not a blemish on the catalogue. It’s a decent tune. It’s just misplaced.

As a result, I still simulate my taped copy experience, I still stop my purchased CD after track 11.

Slide2.

Although I recognize the Gin Blossoms are a 90s band (they even won a recent March Madness-esque bracket declaring them the “Most ’90s Band of All Time“), it would be unfair to dismiss them as a nostalgia act.

The music is still magnificent and the lyrics are equally excellent.

Top 5

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Admittedly, before starting this series, I did know just how it was going to end.

And it comes back to that photo, what’s the deal with the knee-length shirt?

I have Robin Wilson, lead singer of the Gin Blossoms, to thank for that one.

(to be concluded)

Found out about Me [Part 2/4]

Picture of a photograph

Found out about Me:
My (not so) New, (not so) Miserable Gin Blossoms Experience
By Geoff Stephen

Where Are They Now/Prologue (2016)
Learning the Hard Way (2006)
Congratulations, I’m Sorry (1996)

[Part 2/4]

Early 1996.

I had not yet joined the world wide web (though terms like world wide web/cyberspace were gaining traction).

In such an age, finding a satisfactory answer to the ‘where are they know?’ question was difficult.

As a result, when I saw the video for Follow You Down enter the MuchMusic countdown, I was ecstatic.

The Gin Blossoms had returned!

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Lose interest

In 1996, any changes in the Gin Blossoms were not terribly noticeable to my relatively unchanged 14-year old self.

Which meant that the scenarios #1 & #2 above did not apply, but there was a chance of losing interest via scenario #3. A chance that the group could come across as treading water, I’d lose interest and move on, seeking new sounds.

If there was a chance, it was a microscopic, Dumb & Dumber-esque probability. For me, at the time, such sameness was exceptionally comforting.

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But now that I’m two decades older and marginally wiser (I’ve changed, scenario #2), will I still enjoy Congratulations I’m Sorry?

Here’s what I think in 2016:

Congratulations I'm Sorry

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What’s changed in 20 years?

Well, I knew less about ‘coolness’ than any other grade 9 student in 1996 but I was at least cognizant of 2 mandatory rules: No socks + sandals and you must not, never, not ever, profess to love country music.

In my grade 9 classes this semester, students wear socks and sandals, regardless of the weather, as they eagerly & proudly listen to country music.

Whether both changes are improvements, who am I to say!

But one sure improvement is my appreciation of the GB track, Memphis Time. It would have been a clear-cut ‘I’m sorry’ for me in ’96, thanks to the social need to distance myself from anything that could be perceived as ‘country.’

Though the recording’s unchanged, I’ve most definitely changed my tune: I’m now a proud Memphis Time fan. The pedal steel is a nice touch & the track adds some welcome variety to the proceedings.

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Competition Smile

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Thinking about all those wonderful songwriting ingredients & looking back at that (somewhat less wonderful) post-opening, guitar-holding photo of me, I’m appreciating how influential the Gin Blossoms have been in my personal songwriting.

I’m also relieved to see that I was abiding by mid-90s social norms, socks yes, no sandals in sight. Not to mention the appropriately brooding-facial expression & disheveled hair, as any self-respecting, aspiring 90s teenage musician would have done!

But why the shirt?

(to be continued)

Found out about Me [Part 1/4]

Picture of a photograph

Found out about Me:
My (not so) New, (not so) Miserable Gin Blossoms Experience
By Geoff Stephen

Where Are They Now/Prologue (2016)
Learning the Hard Way (2006)

[Part 1/4]

The summer of 2006.

Taking the bus every weekday to a ‘real’ summer job, listening to my newfangled iPod 1GB nano, wearing a tucked-in shirt (no knee-length, long-sleeve, earthy green number à la 1995-Geoff).

Living in a questionable apartment with my unquestionably gorgeous girlfriend.

During that summer, we bought a car, adopted a pet, filled out a Census together…talk about being grown-ups.

2006
Me in 2006 with aforementioned car & pet.
Regrettably, could not find any mid-Census action shots.

Though I was giddy as a school-kid when I heard there was a new Gin Blossoms album available.

I remembered reading an interview during university where the guitarist Jesse Valenzuela had said something along the lines of, “Gin Blossoms? I don’t think we’ll hear from them anytime soon.” Referring to his own band in the third person plural? A reunion looked bleak.

Besides, Valenzuela had co-written the Corner Gas theme with one of the guys from The Odds, I’d assumed they’d all moved on to different projects.

Pleasantly surprised at the news, I promptly bought Major Lodge Victory, the first Gin Blossoms album in 10 years.

I opened the shrink wrap, played the CD and was…underwhelmed.

It started reasonably well…but then it got boring & bland.

I looked at the sleeve, the band was down to 4 members?

Apart from the late-album track Curious Thing, the CD was pretty much relegated to the shelf.

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And upon the CD shelf it sat…until the spring of 2016 (while the CD shelf may be the same, it’s now in a much less questionable living space & thankfully still with that same unquestionably gorgeous gal).

After several listens this week, it turns out, the album’s not nearly as boring as I remembered. It’s still not terribly exciting at times but it’s inevitably melodic.

In 2016, I’d classify the Major Lodge Victory tracks as follows:

Major Lodge Victory

A decade ago, the majority of the album would have been in the 3rd category.

Why the favourable review now? Unfavourable then?

I’ve come up with a trio of theories as to why I wasn’t so enamored in 2006:

1) Former drummer Phil Rhodes is (still) noticeably absent.

It’s not unlike Weezer post-Matt Sharp: subsequent bassists have played competently, but without some of the inimitable Sharp-isms.

Though his drumming was never fancy, I really liked how Rhodes would frequently open the hi-hat slightly towards the end of 2nd verses, propelling the songs into the choruses.

A minor detail perhaps, but for a 2nd verse enthusiast (that’s for another series), it makes a major difference. Without it, the 3rd category songs don’t seem to go anywhere, or they don’t seem to get there as urgently as I’d like.

Phil Rhodes Matt Sharp.pngFormer Gin Blossoms drummer Phil Rhodes (left) and former Weezer bassist Matt Sharp (right)

2) In terms of other missing contents, maybe some tracks were missing the contrast that made previous Gin Blossoms albums more interesting.

3) By 2006, I was in my mid-twenties, I wasn’t 14 anymore; I was adopting pets and tucking in shirts, who has the energy to fall in love with new albums?

14-year olds, that’s who.

14-year olds like me, when Major Lodge Victory’s predecessor was released in 1996.

(to be continued)

Gin Blossoms: Where are they now?

A collaborative post effort!

Check out these fine ‘where are they now’ posts by these fine writers:
Aaron, Brian, Deke, James, Mike

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As for Gin Blossoms?

They’re very much a going concern.

A tour is ongoing (no Canadian dates yet alas), there’s an active band twitter account & frequently updated facebook page.

gin blossoms

Although they appear to be a 4-piece in promotional photos, since 2012 the lineup has been:

Robin Wilson (vocals)
Jesse Valenzuela (guitar)
Scott Johnson (guitar)
Bill Leen (bass)
Scott Hessel (drums)

Hessel is new as of 2012; the other guys have been there since at least 1992.

Where are they now? Hopefully coming to a town near you & me!

Instead of asking where, a more interesting question is, how did Gin Blossoms get to where they are now.

Their story is much like their songs: full of contrast. A juxtaposition of major chords & sad lyrics. A band that has enjoyed success (including a Billboard #1 Modern Rock Track) & experienced tragedy (founding member Doug Hopkins completed suicide in 1993).

I am not an appropriate Gin Blossoms biographer.

Over the next few days however, I would like to share a few stories of how the band has played a recurring role in my life over the last couple of decades.

So perhaps instead of where are they now, how did they help me get here?

The story begins, or rather ends, with a photo.

Picture of a photograph
Me in 2016 (yesterday at sunset) holding a picture of me in 1995.

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If every picture tells a story, this picture (of a picture) only raises questions:

Why is 2016-me asking my daughter, right before bedtime no less, to take a photograph of 2016-me holding a photograph of 1995-me?

Why is 1995-me dressed in a not-so-form-fitting shirt?

What does any of this have to do with Gin Blossoms?

Hopefully, all will be answered over the next few posts, with a little help from (speaking of juxtapositions) two unlikely inspiration sources:

1) This Naked Gun clip, where Leslie Nielsen is walking at night, asking himself a series of questions, concluding with, “and where the hell was I?”

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220px-Memento_poster

2) The 2000 film Memento, where the story is told in reverse, the lead character relying on a photograph to make sense of his path to his present moment.

My stories won’t be as funny as The Naked Gun, or nearly as dark/well written as Memento. Nor will they have anywhere near the typical catchiness of a Gin Blossoms track, but then again, what does?

I can however promise a short series full of Gin Blossoms-related memories, packed with song lyrics & samples of the impact they’ve had on at least one fan.

So I hope you’ll join me for this week’s 4-part series:

Found out about Me: My (not so) New, (not so) Miserable Gin Blossoms Experience

 

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