Saturday, August 28, 2010

Albums: I like 'em!

There used to be a time when buying an album meant having a collection of songs from a band that defined where they were in the careers or a certain point in the evolution of music. The concept of the "album" has largely been lost on most mainstream artists these days. The emergence of the .mp3 format and the internet have destroyed what it means to make a complete album. Most "artists" now compile songs on a CD hoping that 2 or 3 of those songs are good enough to chart as singles and sell a bunch on iTunes or some other website that sells songs individually. Now, don't get me wrong.....that doesn't make the music itself bad. Nor is there anything inherently wrong with wanting to sell songs. But, it has shoved aside, what I feel to be a very important part of listening to music. Putting an album on and enjoying the entire thing because it was meant to be listened to as a whole.

I won't throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are some bands that seem to still work hard on putting together a real collection of songs that flow and lead into one another, fit a common theme, or define a sound an artist/band is working on. Bands/artists (that are currently working) like this include, but certainly are not limited to Steve Earle, Wilco, My Morning Jacket, Lucinda Williams, Metallica, Beck, Alejandro Escoveda, Counting Crows, Joe Henry, John Mellencamp, and REM.. Myself, I really do like song collections from various artists, but the album is where my heart lies. I was looking over some Top Albums Of All-Time lists and Rolling Stone included "Greatest Hits" compilations, which in my  opinion are not albums. They are collections of songs from different times in an artists career. You only have to make it to #21 before Rolling Stone had a "best of" collection (Chuck Berry, The Great Twenty Eight) nestled in ahead of such landmark albums as "Rumors"- Fleetwood Mac, "Hotel California"- The Eagles, and "Songs In The Key Of Life"- Stevie Wonder. What a travesty. By that standard, the #1 collection that was released by Apple some time ago that featured only the songs by the Beatles that reached the top, would be the greatest album EVER. But it's NOT an album. Rolling Stone has aided in watering down what an album is.

I like many different kinds of music. So much so, that I really don't consider genres unless I pretty well have to in conversation. For my money, a good Son Volt album (Trace) is no less country than a Waylon Jennings record (Honky Tonk Heroes). Nor is it any more rock n roll. We get hung up on genre and many times that keeps us away from hearing music we would probably enjoy. When I hear someone say "I don't like country music" and then they say they like Johnny Cash, it leads me to believe that the person probably is not going to have the pleasure of enjoying artists like Merle Haggard, Steve Earle, Slaid Cleaves, or Willie Nelson, simply because they are considered to be country or I used to tell people I didn't like "metal", but that really wasn't entirely true, because I (at different times and moods) can enjoy Quiet Riot, Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Def Leppard, and others. So, if I defined all those bands as metal and decided I wouldn't listen to metal, then I would miss out on some stuff I like.

Which brings me to the very point of this blog entry; My Favorite Albums! No rhyme or reason. No real order. Just a list of albums that, regardless of what genre someone may want to put them in, really do it for me as a whole and not just as small pieces. I really hope if any of these sound appealing that maybe one of the three people that read this blog will try out an album or two off my list. Put 'em on the iPod, lay back on the couch, put on  headphones and lose yourself in the sounds and songwriting. It's very relaxing to zone out for about 45 minutes or so a couple of times a week.

The Replacements "Pleased To Meet Me"-- This is a tweener album for The Replacements. They were starting to move away from punk/underground with the previous two albums (Let It Be & Tim) and moving towards pop accessibility. The music is fairly raw for its' time, but preceded the "grunge/alternative" movement by a few years. Bands such as Green Day, Gin Blossoms, Nirvana, and Goo Goo Dolls cite The Replacements as having an influence on their sound. Thanks to Brian M, this may be my favorite album, by my favorite band.  He let me borrow this cassette just before I left for college. I gave it back to him.....10 years later.

 The Beastie Boys "Paul's Boutique"--Simply one of the best hip hop albums ever by any decent standard. Within two years of its completion, it was deemed as a record that could not be made again. The Dust Brothers and The Beasties sampled no less than 105 songs on this album and layered them one on top of the other for a very distinct throw back sound to the 70's with a very late 80's rap style (utilized by greats like Run DMC and LL Cool J). If you think the Beastie Boys were all about fighting for ones right to party, you'd be wrong. Great depth of sound make this a great record, and there is an upgrade lyrically from the alcohol fueled "Licensed To Ill".  While most people were "dissing" this album at the time of release, it's now regarded as a masterpiece.

Jimmy Buffett "A-1-A"-- While I have plenty of negative things to say about Buffett's music post 1980, the decade of the 70's were stellar for him. Before he found mainstream success, Buffett didn't cater to Parrot Heads or any of that nonsense. He wrote great songs about life and how satisfying, surreal, and fun it can be. He gets points for his music because as far as I know, he's the only famous person ever to have his ass beat by the real life Buford Pusser (see Walking Tall). This is a very enjoyable listen. Especially good for deck sitting.

The Beatles "Rubber Soul"-- I probably don't need to say much of anything about this. From this album on, nobody would be able to say that the Beatles were a bubble gum band, ever again. "In My Life" may be the best song I've ever heard. The topics of the songs had evolved from holding hands and writing letters to attacking politics, and lamenting change. George Harrison really came alive on this album and showed himself to be more than capable of making the McCartney and Lennon duo to push themselves a little harder.

The Jayhawks "The Sound Of Lies"-- Top quality album. As one song ends, it seems to breed into another song that is superior than the last. It has a great flow and for anyone who likes The Byrds, Beatles, or Fleetwood Mac, you would probably dig this great record. "Bottomless Cup" and "16 Down" are great songs that deserved more people to hear them. This band has yet to make what I'd say is a disappointing album. If I had to say that one album out of this five was a flowing, wholly satisfying and immersive record, I'd have to say this one is.

Here are a few honorable mentions that I will discuss on another blog, as this entry is getting quite lengthy. So, if you actually liked this, look for me to do a follow up pretty soon!

Led Zeppelin "Houses Of The Holy"
The Eagles "The Long Run"
Michael Jackson "Thriller"
Wilco "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot"
Pink Floyd "Dark Side Of The Moon"

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The "Hell" Thing

I have quite a few Christian friends and almost friends. One of the more interesting topics to discuss with them (or you) is hell and how it relates to the overall characteristics of God and/or Jesus. Now, I fully realize that since NONE of us know what happens after we die, that some people are reluctant to even discuss it. But, in my need to understand as much as I can about people, the world, and myself, I enjoy such conversations.

Most everyone I know that is religious is a Christian, so that's the point of view I will be taking up. Not to knock Muslims, Buddhists, Mormons, Reptilians, followers of Zeus or anyone's just that Christianity is my background. 

I kind of get that if you don't express faith in God/Jesus that you must be separated from him. God made the rules, so in it's simplest form, I don't disagree with that. But, when you bring hell into the equation, I get really messed up. You see, I was told from a VERY early age that I was always being watched. All of my thoughts were being heard. Even if I thought something and didn't act on it, I was held responsible. Add to the fear that there was no way for me to ever be alone to just think, that I believed I would inevitably go to hell because the bar was so high. Then, put a heavy pile of guilt on, with a side order of being scared to death that we were gonna get nuked by the Russians at any minute. I'm firmly convince that that bullshit, along with the abuse my father heaped out on my family, is why it has taken me so long to finally be comfortable just being who I am. 

If I reject Jesus, and if Bible God is real, I'm going to hell. I sinned the ultimate sin and so I have to pay. Like prison or standing in the corner. But, forever? And burning? God really couldn't come up with anything better? Like just smiting me out of existence? What's in it for God that he needs a place to put souls, so they will burn forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever..........that's not a long's FOREVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Eternity. Again, what's in it for God/Jesus? Is that really a punishment that fits the crime? Who is he trying to persuade to be good? Those in heaven? Well, they are in heaven, so it seems like they really wouldn't need any convincing to be good. They made it. Hooray for them! Torturing someone for eternity can lead me to believe only one conclusion; that God gets some sort of pleasure in the torture of the very souls he created. God KNOWS we are unworthy. God KNOWS we are sinners. Yet, a hundred years of hell isn't enough to let you know you screwed up. Only eternity will teach you a lesson. And it's a lesson you can't come back from. Because it's forever. No rehab. Forever. I will not even mention that we are given so little proof that Bible God is THE true god, though I guess I just did mention it.  2/3 of the planet doesn't subscribe to Bible God. So, here we are with a bunch of other gods and if you are not born in a Christian nation, you will likely serve another type of god. It's tough to win. It's like a cosmic lottery. If Bible God is the way to eternal life, he sure didn't give us much to go on and really hasn't been fair with a good portion of the inhabitants of the place he created.  We are judged to get an eternity of either heaven or hell based on a small amount of time, that amounts to less than the head of a pin when looked at through eternity. 

The attributes of God read just like the attributes of man. God is jealous and full of vengeance. God is kind. God loves. God forgives. God rewards. God punishes. Apparently God is remorseful. And, from what I've learned about the human race and religious leaders, it seems that God has an awful lot in common with the emotions and actions of man. If there is a god (and I'm not sayin' there ain't) I would hope that it is way more powerful and way beyond any simple emotion or pettiness that any of us could come up with.

I obviously don't believe in hell. But I can't understand why hell isn't a stumbling block for more many  Christians. It sounds like something a person would say to a kid to get them to act right. Sort of like saying "Keep making that face and it will stay that way". There are quite a few Christians that don't believe in hell. That is confusing also. If it's interpretation, then that's just one more problem to think through.

  I don't tell my kids that God/Jesus is listening to their thoughts and watching their every move. I don't tell them that if they don't believe they will go to hell forever when they die. I don't tell them that people they know who didn't believe in God are in hell. For my money, that's child abuse. I've seen what it's done to me and some others in my family and I refuse to have my kids going down the same path, getting the same mind bang that I got. My kids are being raised Christian and I don't have a huge problem with that. But, their upbringing is going to paint religion as more personnel and local and not on the level of some sort of grand scheme of which we are all a part of. Hell scares kids, and maybe eternal torment is not something that should motivate them to love a god. I imagine that was the point when it was thought up.  Think of yourself looking at your child and saying, "Disown me and I'll toss you in the microwave......forever."

I've said my peace on it. I want to know if hell and the concept of it trouble anyone? Especially Christians. How do you feel about telling your young kids about it? Is it a good idea to try to get someone to be good out of fear or should we try to appeal to someone to do right, because it's right? 

My intent here is not to criticize believers or mock anyone. Just trying to understand life.

And, don't some people really seem way too into the theory of hell as punishment? Almost like they are glad they get to look down on sinners and remind them that they are going to hell? Check this site out....there are plenty like it and plenty worse.....