Music Monday: Riot Nrrrd by 2 Skinnee J’s

Music is a huge part of my life. I spend at least half of my day listening to tunes on Spotify, and I’m constantly finding myself slipping song lyrics into conversation. I’m that person who can’t help but start singing the song you just inadvertently quoted, completely destroying whatever serious point you were just trying to make. Heaven help you if you say anything that even remotely sounds like a lyric from an oldies song – I just cannot help myself. Hope you like to sing along, because it will be the only way you can make it out of this relationship with sanity intact. In fact, I knew my boyfriend was absolutely perfect when I started unconsciously humming a song to myself during a stressful moment at a card party and he joined in automatically (well, that, and the night he purposely sang a dorky Peter Cetera song for karaoke night in front of all of his friends just because he knew how much I love Chicago).

I thought it would be fun to start a Monday tradition of talking about songs that are important to me in some way, whether it’s because of a great lyric, an important memory, or just because it happens to be something I’m obsessed with that minute. I’m calling it Music Monday, because I’m not trendy enough to come up with something more clever. Or clever enough to come up with something more trendy? Meh, whatever. Today we’re going to talk about “Riot Nrrrd” by an American band called 2 Skinnee J’s.

My favorite 2SJ’s song at the moment is “Girl With The World In Her Eyes“, but “Riot Nrrrd” will always hold a special place in my heart. I was listening to it again for the millionth time the other day, and instead of using it as comforting background noise, I found myself really falling into the lyrics. One part always got me when I was a teenager, and it still gets me today:

I’m lookin’ for intelligent life.
I’m lookin’ for a blip on the screen.
So I can reach out and touch somebody –
Anybody!
Everybody!

If that doesn’t sound profound to you, imagine being the only geek/goth/pagan in a town of 2,000 born again Christians, just biding your time to GTFO and meet other people who want to talk to you about Star Wars and The Egyptian Book of the Dead. Congrats, you’ve just met me at 17. I’m slightly less intense now. Thank goodness for New Orleans.

If you’ve never heard of 2 Skinnee J’s, don’t worry. They’re a tad obscure, it turns out. Not obscure in that “gee, I’m so cool for knowing this” way, though. (Though I am, because they’re amazing.) More like “shit, I wish they hadn’t gotten screwed by record companies and fallen off the map” way. I first heard them in 1998, as a junior in high school, when “Riot Nrrrd” started getting steady play on my local alt-rock station, 99x. I have this very specific memory of being in my car at a stoplight in Washington, NC, about 30 minutes down the road from my tiny hometown of Belhaven, and hearing a commercial for an upcoming concert come on the radio. They were playing in Virginia. I had a single moment of elation, followed by a 30 minute ride back home of complete depression, since I knew that my parents would never let me drive all the way to another state just to hear some rock band play. Maybe missing that concert is why I now find it completely acceptable to drive to Austin or Atlanta (or fly to Chicago) to hear a band play whenever the mood strikes. Hmmm…

Note: I just took a 10 minute break to go and play around on the band’s Facebook page, and found this gem in their “About” section:

Underground New-Wave/Hip-Hop icons with a zealous cult following, 2SJ has more friends than fans – the divide between band and audience is destroyed on the stage at the the most fundamental level. Grassroots following combined with road-dog work ethic has carved out a niche in the annals of rock iconography as Selfless Leaders of the Peoples Movement of Rock! Organic social messages that make Occupy Wall Street/99%ers blush, combined with Party Rock over-the-top extravagance make 2SJ THE FUNNEST BAND OF ALL TIME!

I fucking love them.

Anyway, so I missed the concert my junior year, but wonder of wonders, I moved to New Orleans after graduating from high school in 1999, and not long after that, they came here to play a concert! Finally, my chance had come. What’s even better is that I was working for my college newspaper at the time, and the editor tapped me to interview the band via phone and do a writeup on their album and the concert. (It wasn’t the only “celebrity” interview I was to do that year; I also ended up interviewing one of the members of Joydrop, who hit it big in the States with a song called “Beautiful”.)

The interview went…well, it went. I don’t remember what questions I asked, only that I was extremely unprepared. Luckily, I spoke to Special J, and he was really kind to me despite my idiocy. I was 18, and the internet was still pretty new back then, so it hadn’t occurred to me to try to find out more about the band via the web. Not sure that it would have helped, either, now that I’m thinking about it. I remember him identifying himself to me as “the white rapper” (useful for me, since I knew almost nothing about them), and telling me that their costumes for the upcoming concert were going to be amazing. He invited me to the concert and told me he’d put aside a couple of tickets for me at will call. I told him I’d be there in my velvet flame pants and white go-go boots (yes, these were both things that I wore on a semi-regular basis, without irony). I hung up the phone with this feeling that I had a date with destiny.

So exciting, right?

Here’s a spoiler for you: I didn’t go. No one wanted to go with me, and I’d never left the campus before. In the end I was too chickenshit to go by myself, and I missed out on what would have been one of the most epic concerts of my life. Then they broke up in 2003. I’m still kicking myself.

Fast forward to today, 15 years later, and 2 Skinnee J’s still sees steady rotation in my playlist. Luckily, they haven’t dropped off the map entirely, so there’s still a chance for me to see them live at some point, if I’m lucky. They’ve done a few reunion shows over the years, typically in NYC (at least once it was on a party boat in the Hudson River), and they did a tour in the southern and mid-Atlantic states back in 2012. I’ve yet to have the resources to go see them, but if they do it again, and if I have enough time to save up, I’ll definitely be there. Who knows, maybe I’m the last major fan who’s never made it to one of their concerts.

What do you think my chances are that those two tickets are still waiting at will call?

The Sound Of Rebellion

People always remember Chicago as a 1980's soundtrack band, but there's more to the story.

People I meet always seem to think of Chicago as a 1980’s soundtrack band, but there’s more to the story.

Dear Chicago,

I still remember the first time I heard you guys play. I was 15, and my father and I were on a mission to avoid my grandmother for as long as possible. When I was growing up, on the day after Christmas, the whole family – Mum and Daddy and I – would drive the two and a half hours from Belhaven to Newport to visit with Mum’s parents. They didn’t like my father, and at the time they didn’t seem to be that keen on me, either, so generally Daddy and I would leave at some point in the visit to go make our rounds of the local thrift stores and pawn shops. We’ve always bonded over bargain shopping opportunities.

At the first pawn shop, I bought two CDs – two compilations of 60’s & 70’s pop hits that get light radio play. We hopped back into Daddy’s truck to drive to the next shop, and I gleefully examined the CDs, imagining what the songs would sound like. I still have both compilations today – songs include Green Tambourine (The Lemon Pipers), Laugh Laugh (The Beau Brummels), Hello Hello (Sopwith Camel), Stoned Soul Picnic (The Fifth Dimension), Do You Believe in Magic (The Lovin’ Spoonful), Brandy (Looking Glass), Mama Told Me Not to Come (Three Dog Night), and a lot more. It was a great day for me, musically.

As I gloated over my excellent purchases, my father popped a cassette into the truck’s tape deck. The first notes hit. I was confused. I’d never heard anything like it before. Rich background vocals, soulful lyrics, great horn section, and a tune that I wanted to immediately sing along to. We stopped in at a few more pawn shops that afternoon, but between each, the tape continued. By the time we got back to my grandparents’ house, I was hooked. My dad never got to keep that tape – I took it home to my stereo, and played it on repeat until I found the vinyl version.

That cassette was Chicago 19, and it opened up a new world to me. Sure, it’s a world that no one my age seems to understand. Yes, I tend to get confused stares when I tell people I really like Chicago, and go on to explain that it’s not an ironic infatuation. I genuinely like music that features a big brass section (even though 19 is notorious for having a much lighter horn section than their other albums), and I love a lot of your lyrics. Most people only know the overplayed radio greats, but there are other great tunes that never get radio play. My favorite off of Chicago 19 is Victorious, and I’ve never heard it on FM. It’s one of my favorite romantic songs; for a long time, I had this silly thought that I’d know my future husband because he’d play me Victorious without ever knowing I liked it. I guess maybe my level of optimism is just about perfect to be a diehard Chicago fan in today’s cynical age.

Not long after discovering the band, I raided my dad’s record collection and found out that he had a few earlier records from the late 60s and early 70s. That’s how I found out that most of your albums are branded, almost like magazine covers. Not that you need to see it, but Album Cover Gallery has a great post that compares images of all of the albums. For instance, Chicago II, which is my favorite (and the first created after you changed your name from Chicago Transit Authority to Chicago), looks like brushed sheet metal, maybe meant to be the close up of a high hat cymbal, I’ve never been completely sure. Other album covers are wood grain, or an unwrapped bar of chocolate. I fell in love with the branding, and started to collect them for the covers, as well.

chicagoII

Chicago II was one of my teenage rebellion albums. When I’d get supremely pissed at my parents, I’d run to my room, throw the record on, and blast it. My parents never told me to turn my music down, but it’s probably because from the other end of the house, they were probably enjoying listening to the same tunes. I wasn’t very good at being rebellious, I guess, but to this day, the album helps me blow off steam when I’m angry. I used to sing along to the horn parts, which in retrospect was probably great preparation for singing a cappella in college.

Anyway, Chicago, I know I’m probably boring you, but I just wanted to let you know that you’re important to me. I’m keeping the love alive. I’ve always wanted to see you in concert, and hopefully one day I’ll get the opportunity. Back in college, you once played in New Orleans on my birthday. It would have been the perfect time to go, but I didn’t have money for the ticket. Last year, you played Gretna Fest, a music festival just 20 minutes down the road, and I didn’t find out that you were in town until the day after the event; I was heartbroken. But one day I’ll be in the crowd, singing along (even when there aren’t lyrics). In the mean time, thanks for nurturing my inner sap, and for rocking the hell out of those horns all these years.

Yours truly,

Anna

Alarms In The Heart

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Last week, I went to one of the best concerts of my life. As far as stage presence and sound quality go, I’m putting it in my personal Top 5, along with Neutral Milk Hotel (NOLA – Feb 2014), The Flaming Lips (NOLA – Oct 2009), Gogol Bordello (NOLA – Apr 2011), and Ben Folds (NOLA – Oct 2002). Garbage, Ween, No Doubt, Tears for Fears, and Mouse On Mars (at the Chelsea, in Vienna – talk about great acoustics) get honorable mention.

This new addition to my “holy shit, that concert blew my mind” is a band called Dry The River, out of London. I was introduced to them back in March, and fell in love within a few lines of the first song (if you’re interested, it’s called “No Rest”). So when I heard they were going to be playing in Chicago on the US leg of their tour, I immediately snagged a couple of tickets.

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The show was in a small venue called Schuba’s. They’re known for having intimate shows and great sound quality. Nothing about the space is too fancy – it’s just a solid little theater, perfect for getting to watch your favorite performers on stage. For certain songs, the sound was so on-point that it felt like standing inside of a record, somehow. I’m still impressed that I got to see what’s turning out to be my favorite band in such a tiny music club, because it feels like they’re going to get huge. So glad that this time I got to chat with them at the merch table after hearing/singing along to an incredibly emotional set.

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Ever since the show, the title track off of their new album, “Alarms In The Heart,” keeps going through my mind. When I was stuck in the airport the next night – Halloween – for about 8 hours longer than I should have been, the song kept me from losing my mind completely. The lyrics in the chorus are particularly catchy:

“Half the town is underground,
and half are halfway there,
and we’re the only good ones left.

If there’s a tremor in earth, love
a ripple in the water,
come back to haunt you,
keeping you awake,
I heard it before now,
that we don’t listen very much,
to alarms in the heart, love.”

Give them a listen. They’ll haunt you (in a good way).

She’s So…Busy?

If you’re as weird as I am, hopefully you read that title to the tune of “She’s So Heavy” by the Beatles. But you’re probably not that weird. Good for you, you cute little normal person! Nah, just kidding – seriously, go get some Beatles in this morning. It’ll help ease those Monday blues a bit.

So it’s Monday, and I’m behind on blog posts, but I’m not going to get caught up any time soon at the rate everything is happening with work. I’m not going to blab about stuff that’s going on in the office, but let it suffice to say that there are tons of tasks, and I’m feeling a little overwhelmed, but it’s getting better all the time. (Ha, see what I did there? Earworm!)

What I will go ahead and do is tell you a little about how Iron Tribe Fitness has been working out for me so far. Right now I’m still in a 101 class that meets three times a week. Each class, we go over two or three new (to me) exercises, and practice correct form, then do a WOD (Workout of the Day) that incorporates several rounds of reps of each exercise. We’ve learned how to do air squats, situps (a different kind than I’d ever done before), dead lifts, strict presses, kettle bell swings, pushups, front squats, ring dips (using those rings that gymnasts use), and double ups, which is a new way to jump rope that I’m still getting figured out. The workouts are broken up in such a way that each day feels challenging, and I’m worn out just enough from the effort, without overexerting myself.

Best of all, if I literally am not able to perform a certain movement, the coaches give options, like reduced weight for lifting, or using a modified movement that still works the muscles but doesn’t require quite as much effort. That’s great for me, since my arms are really weak. I’m able to do about 20 regular pushups before my arms give out completely and won’t push me back up, but if I move on to using a bench to modify the angle of the pushup, I can do a few more. Today during ring dips, I was pretty certain that I wasn’t going to be able to do any, but I got in about 10 before my arms refused to push me back up. Then I moved on to a modified triceps push up, using a bench. Same muscles, slightly less difficult, more reps accomplished in the end. Yay me!

Each day begins with a warmup, then instruction on how to do each exercise, and moves into a WOD, followed by a little lecture on nutrition or health/fitness subjects. The entire class is only an hour, but it feels like I get a lot for my money. Besides arms, the hardest effort thus far has been squatting. My hips and lower back are really out of whack, and have been for years. I can tell that squatting is helping get my glutes and hamstrings back in shape, and my back is benefitting from it, but it’s been years (maybe four or five) since I’ve been able to do a genuine squatting movement, and my hips are so tight that it’s a physical impossibility for me right now. There’s a lot of squatting happening in class (it’s tied in to most of the weight lifting stuff), so I’m constantly getting told to try for a little lower, just a little lower. It’s slow going, though. It almost feels like I’ve got rocks at the tops of my quads, making it impossible to get my hips any lower. But I’ll get there. And it feels good to have faith that that’s a real possibility.

I haven’t lost any weight yet, but it’s only been a week, and I also haven’t been a faithful adherent to the Paleo diet yet. I’m trying not to feel guilty and be mean to myself – that’s how all of my diet plans fail, and I’m tired of beating myself up. I deserve better. I deserve to be nicer to myself. So that’s what I’m doing. Every day I try my best to avoid grain, beans, sugars, sodas, and processed crap as much as possible, and in general I’ve been pretty good compared to before starting to try. Each week I’ll just try a little harder, and we’ll go from there. Eventually I’ll be doing it correctly.

Right now, even when I do mess up, I’m just concentrating on reminding myself that it’s not permanent, and it doesn’t mean I should just give up. It’s a cue to be kind to myself and try a little harder when the next meal rolls around. It really helps that I’ve been trying to note how I feel after meals, and without fail, if there’s any carby or sugary thing involved, I feel pretty bloated, slow, and icky afterwards. Trying to keep that correlation in mind at the beginning of a meal for optimum success.

The coolest thing to me is that there are so many great before and after stories at the gym. Iron Tribe doesn’t make a big deal out of how awesome their transformations tend to be, but I keep meeting people who’re really excited about being members, and have great stories about weight loss, increased stamina, and overall improvement in quality of life. I’m really eager to be one of those people one day. Hopefully before I’m 64. Hehehe…