Heads On Sticks & Ventriloquists

The prodigious writings of a tortured genius.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Shows I Wish I Was At

You can never see every band you want to. Sometimes it's because of the unfortunate timing of your birth. Other times it's because you didn't get into the band until it was too late to see them in a live setting [during their prime].

Here's a pointless, self-indulgent list of shows I wish I had seen in my life. Some were possible, I just missed the boat, others took place in a far away time.

The Impossibles - (Never) Say Goodbye

This footage is from their last show ever in their hometown of Austin, TX. I got into this band in high school, which is right at the same time that they broke up. They're one of the few pop-punk bands that I've tolerated for more that a couple years.

The Dismemberment Plan - The Ice of Boston

Again, I got into these guys during high school, so they probably got word and decided to break up. I love that the idiot yelling things in the crowd has to add "Yeah, I'm from Philly!". I swear Philadelphia is home to the worst audiences in America. God bless 'em.

Cap'n Jazz - Que Suerte

Broke up while I was still but a lad. This is my favorite Kinsella band.

Pixies - Hey

I would love to go back to "Doolittle" era Pixies and see one of their shows. How sweet would that be?

I would also like to see Lifetime live right before they broke up in the 90s. Although I could always see them live now, because they're back together. So, maybe I will.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Dear Girl That Works at Blockbuster...

Dear girl that works at Blockbuster,

I understand that you have a profound pride in your position at Blockbuster video, but perhaps I may offer some helpful tidbits of advice. The force with which you open my returned DVD rentals is particularly startling. With a feral swipe, you crack open the click-seal case, ferociously seeking the disc inside. Aha! But perhaps I, the customer that stands before you, have attempted to pull off some light-hearted shenanigans, by replacing the DVD inside with another one! So, of course, with impeccable sleuthing skills, you investigate the cover of the disc, to make sure that no foul play is afoot. Aloud, you switch back and forth from the case to the disc, matching each line: "Arrested... Development... Season Two... Disc Three...". Surely any other -- less important -- Blockbuster employee would have stopped at the show title, seeing that the individualized graphic is the same on both the cover and the disc. But that's what separates you from those other clowns, isn't it? And thank you, miss, because without your reading aloud of this action, I may never have known your true intentions as you repeatedly flipped the case. Perhaps this next part is not an attempt at intimidation -- but if it is, you have scored a deadly blow to my nerves! Instead of turning the case to see the disc right side up -- as I have clumsily placed the disc in at a 165-degree angle in relation to the southern portion of the case -- you slam your fingers upon its shiny metalic face, and swipe the disc towards you as a DJ would scratch a record. Scratch being an operative word in this case. Fortunately, I've come up clean... this time. It's because of employees like you that I have never attempted the fabled DVD switch-out. Best of luck in your shining future at Blockbuster!

-Bill Benz

P.S. I may have dodged your wiley attempt to get me to sign up for the "great deal" at Blockbuster Online, but don't leave thinking that was an entirely unsuccessful encounter; it remained on my mind the rest of the day.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Words and Melody

I wish that I didn't constantly talk about music in this blog, but it's usually what I'm thinking about, so let's just go with it.

I've often asked myself what is more important in music: the instrumentation or the lyrics. I mean obviously you need both to have a good song, but which weighs more? Really, it's sooo subjective that it's almost pointless to debate it, but it's late and I don't start work for like a week, so I need to fill this absence of sprightliness in my life.

First let me say how wonderful melody, tone, and overall sound are. Without words, music can still be overwhelmingly moving and affecting. This is especially true of classical music. I enjoy many modern bands that take the instrumental route, such as Pelican (whom I was able to see live recently and they were fantastic) and Explosions in the Sky. Hell, to me, even a band like Sigur Ros is instrumental because I don't speak Icelandic (or Hopelandic) and his voice seems more like an instrument than a pedestal for meaning to sprout from. I once heard someone say that they thought the human voice was the most beautiful instrument. I think I would agree with that.

So, even the sound of the voice must be considered an instrument, not placed in the lyrics section of the argument. Oftentimes I can't hear or don't pay close enough attention to the lyrics. And while a good song can really floor me, a good lyric added to that is what really crushes me. I was listening to this Canadian pop-punk group, Moneen, the other day, not really paying attention to the words. However, in the last song on their album, the clearest line is "...and kill yourself, surprise your friends" and it really had an impact on me. It's such a devastating line, especially since I wasn't expecting it. It's moments like this, where it's almost undeniable that my connection point with music is through the lyrics.

The problem is, I most likely won't listen to an artist with good lyrics when I don't like the music. Here's how lyrics are effective: the music must be the main focus to get people to listen, once that is accomplished, good lyrics are vital. Oftentimes, when people list guilty pleasures in music -- or pop culture in general -- it is because the words or subtext of it are less than thrilling. For me, this vice is the band Hellogoodbye. I think they have the catchiest damn songs, but their lyrics are just ridiculous. But I don't fault them because I don't think they're out there to do anything but have fun.

All of my favorite songs begin with good tunes, but then get matched with the right lyrics, pushing them so much further. Case in point: the Modest Mouse song, "Trailer Trash". The instrumentation is very loose and flowing -- by itself nothing very special. However, singer Issac Brock begins spitting gems of lines over the jangly pseudo-ballad: "Short love with a long divorce / And a couple of kids of course / They don't mean anything" and "Taking heartache with hard work / Goddamn I am such a jerk, I can't do anything / And I shout that you're all fakes / And you should have seen the look on your face". It just propels the song to a whole new place, plus it gives it a literal meaning. While adding a literal meaning to songs through lyrics can alienate people that would relate to the instrumental mood, it creates an even more powerful mood for people that can relate to the lyrics. Another example of this sensation is the final track to Radiohead's album "Kid A". It is very sparse, with just a haunting organ and harp. Thom Yorke's final words before the song dissolves into an ambient haze are "It's not like the movies / They fed us on little white lies / I think you're crazy, maybe / I think you're crazy, maybe / I will see you in the next life".

Plus I think most Modest Mouse lyrics are really great. Other bands that I feel have far better than average lyrics are the Pixies (watch their Letterman performance here, it's fantastic), Bjork (her lyrics are generally simple, but very cinematic, especially when coupled with the backing music), Bright Eyes (his lyrics far outweigh his musical abilities in my opinion), Every Time I Die (sarcastic, hilarious, and generally scathing), The Flaming Lips (dare I say, prophetic? ...), The Microphones, and Wilco.

I'll close this post with the full lyrics to a song by one of my all time favorite bands, The Dismemberment Plan -- a band who I think has some of the best lyrics out there. The song is called "Back and Forth". I'll divide it into sections to make it easier to digest, but seriously read them because they are wonderful.

There’s a kind of music that reminds me of you
It’s all clear expensive drinks and shiny shirts
And the click of heels as they descend from the taxi
Like the first foot on the moon, oh, and it glows with ache
And if it hits me right it’s almost too much to take
And it’s got right angle razor thin lines
That turn and swerve like perfect sines

As we dress to the nines in an

Attempt to leave it all behind

In a search of the moment between the seconds where

Everything is just fine
That silver thread imbedded deep within our spines

And I used to be kind of weird about this
A fear of dependence on a guilty gilt-edged
Hedged transcendence that makes us liars

And tense when we look down and realize

That nothing really suspends us
But it was never just another
Saturday night

Not with you in attendance

So throw your hands in the air
And wave them like you just don’t care

It’s on a whim; it’s on a dare

To shrug away what we can’t bear
And we’re going back and forth
And back and forth and back and forth and back

We’re going back and forth

And back and forth and back and forth and back

And it’s a deep blue see-through membrane that protects us

It connects us, a pulsing cellophane

Party-train skein that helps us and

Envelopes and keeps us locked inside

Forever and ever along for the ride

And we’re moving through a phosphorescent gel

A semi-solid self-lit ocean and it’s a funny notion, isn’t it?

Yeah, but I’m kinda digging it
And it’s rigged and isn’t nearly so big
And it speaks only of its own
Perpetual near miss
Like the uncertain memory

Of a stranger’s mistaken kiss

And faces slide by in glowing shadows
Like snowbound ghosts that go up and down

In epileptic shivers and negative radioactive slivers

In a landscape of endless dull glitter

And a taste in my mouth so sweet, yet so bitter
And we exhaust ourselves trying to get there

Somebody scream—all right

We’ll try to fill the echoless night

So fasten up and hold tight

We can’t give up without a fight

And we’re going back and forth

And back and forth and back and forth and back

We’re going back and forth

And back and forth and back and forth and back

So in the end, whatever, we die, we dissolve

Equations unbalanced, riddles unsolved

And we were never connected or involved

Except for the intersections and crazy mathematics

With no time and no space and no schedule and no place

And we pass right through it without a trace

And sometimes that music drifts through my car

On a spring night when anything is possible
And I close my eyes and I nod my head
And I wonder how you been and I count to a hundred and ten
Because you’ll always be my hero
Even if I never see you again

By the way, I'm still doing guest week over at Marmaduke Can Vote and CTRL-ALT-DELETE has a new format.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

A Reminder -- like that Radiohead song

Hey, just a reminder.

All this week I am guest-blogging over at Marmaduke Can Vote. So check in each and every day!

Love, Bill

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Marmaduke Will Continue To Vote

Hey kids and kids. Sorry I haven't updated in so long. Who do I think I am -- Mitch Clem?

Anyway, this isn't a real update, because I haven't thought of anything inspired in the last week or so. Buuuut, here's some news tidbits. My friend Jon runs a curious blog about the very first topic I ever blogged about: a continuing look at the comic strip, Marmaduke.

Wait, who's that at the door? Oh, it's Jon. Yeah, here's Jon now. Hi, Jon.

Jon here will be away for the next week, so I'll be taking over his blog, Marmaduke Can Vote, in his absence. So if you want to see anything updated by me, head over to that blog starting Saturday.

That's all. Love, Bill.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

I Get It

I was thinking the other day about the joke, "why did the chicken cross the road". I think I finally "got" it and I'm going to try to put it into words. "Why did the chicken cross the road" is easily one of the funniest jokes ever.

Everyone uses it as the quintessential joke, so it's actual funniness has drastically depreciated. Perhaps the oddest part about the joke is that it is not actually a joke at all, but a statement. The joke of this joke is that it is not joke. It's a fairly complex use of humor, perhaps the first ironic joke ever. It's weird that the chicken joke is "the joke". The first joke that anyone hears is not a joke, which in turn actually is a joke.

But why is the chicken joke the joke? It can't be the first joke ever, as some would purport, because a background of real jokes are needed before a joke can exist that pokes fun at the structure of conventional jokes. It's also certainly not funny; more of a joke for the teller than the listener. In fact, it is a trick. The trick is that the listener is so prepared for the convention of the joke process that they don't think about the non-jokingness of the chicken joke.

All of this has been lost since the chicken joke is now itself a convention that can be played with. But in its heyday, it was a very clever play on joke form, I'm sure of it. The chicken joke is the anti-joke, except eventually everyone was "in on" the joke, sucking the fun out of it. It was once a bold and daring joke that stood against all the other jokes in the whole melage of jokes. Today, however, it has fallen from grace, becoming itself a commodity that can never return to being cool again. Kinda like emo music. I wonder if there will be a day that dead baby jokes will be like that.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Explosive Bear - A Eulogy

Explosive Bear was just a comedy rap group. It was fun and dandy. We made lots of friends and played lots of shows and made lots of enemies and didn't play that many shows really. Explosive Bear was pronounced dead sometime around noon today, in the Temple University cafeteria where the quesadillas are served.

Why EXB lasted for so long is beyond me. Well, not really, I honestly had a huge amount of fun doing this -- being a rapper -- over the past 2 years. But it was just supposed to be a joke for open mic nights at the Owl Cove. Every step further we took with the band, we said to ourselves, "Okay, we stop here," but we kept going. And it was fun, absolutely one of the best things I ended up doing during college. Out of everyone in Explosive Bear, I assume that I was the one that enjoyed it the most. Of course, I didn't want to seem too into it, so I tried to not seem like I cared a whole lot. But still, I would find myself trying to not bring it up when we weren't doing anything related to it, because, hey, we could discuss if it's funnier to rap about juice boxes or Burger King Kid's Club at another time.

I liked being in Explosive Bear for several reasons. Firstly, I love music and always wanted badly to create it, but I can't play an instrument. The various sequencers and music programs I came across allowed me to write full orchestrations at my own pace and didn't require me to play them in real-time. Secondly, I hate being serious (which makes this post semi-ironic, thus making me still funny, right?). Well not hate, but I want to make people laugh, and it's hard to do that in a serious band. Plus I would be too embarrassed to be poetic and serious in a live setting. Sorry, Bono. Thirdly, sometimes I want attention (which might explain why I sometimes smash dining ware or play with the fire extinguisher in my apartment). I think it's a genetic thing, because everyone else in my family is ... not cocky ... but definetly highly self-confident. Okay, maybe cocky.

These three criteria ended up being the basis for my excitement about being in Explosive Bear. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm -- at least the last few months -- was not entirely reciprocated. Each week, recently, the signs became more and more obvious that we had taken the joke too seriously. Sure, our arguments were always funny and half-joking, they still resounded. Explosive Bear was no longer funny. At our last show in Reading, at The Silo, we stood in the empty lot behind the venue. We discussed the future of the bear, how we could still go on. Joe made a joke about how he was young Michael Jackson and I was his father forcing him to continue doing something that he didn't enjoy. So that's when I knew it was really over.

The night before that show, having performed two other times that week, Mike and I watched the Refused DVD, "Refused Are Fucking Dead". It chronicled the collapse of the band from the inside, how their guitarist hated it. He did not want to be in it anymore. Their bassist (I think it was the bassist, let's call him that to make it easier) wanted to compromise and cancel the tour, put the band on hiatus and head home to Sweden. Their vocalist, pumped on having released a new album and touring it, did not want it to end. He wanted to continue on, no matter what, even if it was fairly selfish. I thought it was interesting how similar EXB and Refused collapsed, but I bet every band break up is like that. Joe is the guitarist, Mike is the bassist, and I'm Dennis Lyxen, the enthusiastic dude who wants it to keep going.

We aren't going to finish recording "Roy G. Biv" what would be our third album. I'm pretty bummed, but also glad that it's over. In some ways, EXB had become a burden -- kinda like a job that was fun, but you didn't feel obligated to go to. So, my plan is to work on some other music projects. My friend Brendan and I are going to work on a dance-rock group this summer (we might call it Sexplosion ... suggestions/comments being taken), so that should be fun. Also I'll be living with my dawg Paul next year, maybe we can play around with my sequencers and his guitars. So, I'll still have a hobby.

This is also why I don't write journal serious stuff like this. I'll go back to the regular format as soon as I think of some college-student-meets-Larry-David thing to complain or muse about.

R.I.P. 2004-2006