Welcome to My Nightmare
Memorial Day, 2001. Hung over. Dive-bombers unload on the insides of your skull. You are sitting on your couch appreciating little, and doing less. It is not yet noon and already a thin layer of sweat covers your body. Your face stings of bursting blood vessels. The agonizing knob on your right cheekbone feels like it's creeping toward the center of your forehead, up and over your eye. Your vision is fuzzy, making scrappy objects in your living room aesthetically acceptable.
Brown evaporative cooler swill seeps from a crack in the ceiling into a bucket placed strategically on the floor. The trickle becomes hypnotic, and for a moment, you imagine that you are sitting alone, streamside at some mountain retreat, armed with a fishing pole and an ice-cold sixer of beer. You imagine yourself to be what you've always wanted to be, just a normal guy in a cocoon of satisfaction.
Your fantasy borders on hallucination. Then it hits you.
The clamor of toppling furniture and shrill sobs shatter your dreamlike stupor. Your neighbor, a mouth-breather who wears a cut-off Pantera tee shirt, is attacking his girlfriend -- again. The physical battery and verbal condemnations create a discord that rattles your soul, a sound so horrific and ugly, so diseased, that you begin to believe that true evil has finally enveloped you.
In a civilized society, calm is a tacit understanding. Where you live, calm is the Fuck You preceding a fight.
Memorial Day. A day of remembrances.
The surprising certainty of the fray next door drones like a monsoon storm. You lift yourself out of this haze of physical sensation and try to piece together the night before.
It started sometime around noon. You hit the bar with the self-promise that you would stick only to beer.
The shots started at sunset, and by midnight, the tequila had you by the throat. You remember the deceptive faces that moved in circles, pinkish blotches like drunken blemishes.
You found yourself in some rock club. You remember lines of conversation exiting your mouth and becoming clipped-in-half insects, gliding in the air hideously, and leaving a trail of translucent sludge:
"What's your problem, mook?"
"I'll take your head and smash it!"
You told a gypsy-eyed girl -- who looked to you like the perfect union of Gene Tierney and Geri Halliwell -- that you were in love with her. She was appalled. When you asked her to marry you, she bolted.
You remember the live band committing countless Crimes Against Music in the name of rock 'n' roll. A wretched mess of Staind and Sabbath; all the hideousness of the former minus any of the latter's specious humor. The guitarist's Brillo-pad receder and fabulous beer gut had you cheering. Of course you would cheer; what else would you do? You positioned yourself on the otherwise deserted dance floor directly in front of the band. You bopped your head up and down and unzipped your pants. You took out your dick and waved it madly at the group. You jacked your free hand into the air, middle fingers down, outside fingers up, Texas Longhorn style.
The arch of piss was long and luxurious. The stage lighting gave it a lovely peach-colored sparkle.
From that point, you can barely connect the dots. The night became a collision of abstract moments, pieces of a bloody battle in a lifelong war that you have no chance of winning. There were the slow, deliberate movements of a bouncer. You decorated his hands with burns from your cigarette. You recall the words of the arresting cop. He told you of his dreams to one day attend seminary school. The words preceded the billy-club blows to your cheekbone.
They shoved you through an open steel door, which slammed in a big metallic thud behind you, punctuated by clasping latches. You remember reaching for a doorknob that wasn't there.
Laughter from multicolored faces swirled over your head. Anxiety attacks gave way to unsettled darkness. You remember coming to surrounded by 40 or so frumpy-dressed downers in a chamber the size of a tract-house bedroom. The first thing you noticed was separation; scab-chinned tweakers on the right, drunks, cutthroats and women-beaters on the left.
A line drawn, another battle set. Caught in the middle, you chose the left side.
You remember the guy next to you, his skillet-sized hands, his hair freeze-dried in blood. The domestic dispute charge written in the horrible scratches that ran the length of his cheeks. His wife's new circle of dykey friends, he explained, and the fact that she stopped wearing lingerie, were the circumstances that allowed him to beat the living crap out her. Twenty hours later a judge cuts you loose.
In your living room, the emptiness is as big and vast as space itself. A blankness that sparks a voice in your head to chirp: Hey, Bill. Dude, welcome back to yourself. It's Memorial Day.
Beyond Good and Evil (Lava/Atlantic)
Cult crooner Ian Astbury always reminded me of what would result if Jim Morrison and Wayne Newton coupled up and spawned a half-wit. That high-priest posturing and penchant for hammy stage antics, the eyeliner and ennui, the comically ominous lyrics. Hilarious as his shtick was, it was not for giggles. Astbury and the straight-faced Cult camp never were fans of humor, much less self-mockery, any more than the Lizard King was.
But all that was a long stinkin' time ago, and after a pair of flop albums and a 1996 onstage brawl in France, The Cult was purportedly gone forever.
Beyond Good and Evil catches them back together and looking old. So old, in fact, that it's easy to imagine them as westside porn shop dwellers; creepy figures with soccer-ball guts, wrinkly smirks and boxy shoes.
Beyond Good and Evil sounds younger, though. More like a circle of pud-pullers whose musical orbs rise and fall in direct proportion to convention employed. For an '80s band produced by Bob Rock (Ratt, Mötley Crüe), the songs successfully deconstruct even the flimsiest of '90s rawk styles including Soundgarden riffs, latter-day Gn'R poses and industrial ya-ya. The soaring linear thud of the band's mid-'80s semi-hits, "She Sells Sanctuary" and "Revolution," is as dead as the hair follicles on guitarist Billy Duffy's head.
The disc's only mildly melodic moment comes in "Nico," the band's nod to a dead Lower East Side goddess. (Who could forget the Cult's clumsy homage to Edie Sedgwick, "Ciao Baby"?) "I watched your spirit fly/Across the velvet sky," rhapsodizes a teary-toned Astbury, as the band strokes his ego with sustain and soaring open chords.
The remaining racket teams patented my-ax-is-my-cock rifflex with Astbury's audacious lyrical dexterity on songs with titles like "American Gothic" and "My Bridges Burn." Beyond Good and Evil seems destined to hold the interest of the dozen Cult fans the world over who, like a handful of Lava/Atlantic shills, will feign excitement for the next month or so until the record tanks.
Deep Blue Something
Deep Blue Something (Orpheus/Aezra)
Remember "Breakfast at Tiffany's," that Prozac-tainted Up With People-ish hurler that blanketed pop radio a few years back? Well, this is Deep Blue Something's follow-up album, one set in the same corporate-blather-posing-as-power-pop mold as its debut. The sound of pudgy white suburban guys who want to rock but are pussies so instead decide to mine Rhino's Poptopia series to such feeble extent that even Dwight Twilley would gasp. Suggested retail price? 49 cents. Availability? A cutout bin near you.
One Wild Night: Live 1985-2001 (Island)
Because the recording for Bon Jovi's new career-spanning live album took more than 15 years, I decipher its title as prophecy. It suggests that the rock 'n' roll value of Bon Jovi is based upon an accumulation of recordings from more than a decade of performances whose total worth equals that of a single lame night out. A history reduced to the resurrection of '80s mall anthems.
Glorious images of fright-wigged perms, snakeskin boots and leather jackets with fire-colored fringes come alive, best on "Runaway" and "Livin' on a Prayer." Fat reverb fortifies final chorus key changes just like in the old days, and whatever rough edges were once there are lost in the glossy parade of hooks for housewives.
Two recordings best illustrate Bon Jovi's ill-informed commitment to be taken seriously as songwriters. Done in a low-key club setting as if the songs bear close inspection, "Wanted Dead or Alive" and "Keep the Faith" do little to alter the idea of Jovi as an antiquated but skilled rock band going through its antediluvian steps. Jon Bon recently explained that those particular songs were "chosen for anyone who ever thought Bon Jovi is just an arena band." The group may fancy itself worthy of Tom Waits-like immediacy, but gut the band of its entertainment value -- the eyeliner-wearing-streetwise-badass-with-a heart-of-gold shtick -- and nothing's left but the sound of boringly safe corporate millionaires out for a round of golf.
Cred-goading covers of Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World" and the Boomtown Rats' "I Don't Like Mondays" come off in a way that suggests Eddie and the Cruisers. Who would have guessed that we'd live long enough to see the day when a poodle bar band would drag the Boomtown Rats down the Jersey turnpike and toss them to the scrap heap with all the Desmond Child clunkers?
Still, Bon Jovi managed to transcend the hairy-chest-and-mascara set to somehow sustain a fan base and define with precision the Golden Era of Rock Cheese. "You Give Love a Bad Name" is a song we've all heard a million times in the horrible dawns of desert kegger parties. That ditty encapsulates the dreaded moment in time when the need for a heavy, life-changing shift suddenly becomes clear. If you had the balls, you bailed. Bon Jovi, it seems, never did.
The key to understanding teen dance-pop these days is to understand that it is a medium created by youth culture geneticists for the express purpose of shifting shitloads of records. These folks pen the tunes, manufacture the image and seek out the bright young things to shimmy their pubescent booty. The genesis for said manipulation was the bubblegum and disco eras.
Eden's Crush is five lovely, mostly Latino babes in their early 20s who would be better served modeling pouts in Prada ads than on record covers. A collective nonentity sired nine months ago on the make-me-famous WB reality show Popstars, Eden's Crush has already landed its first No. 1 single, "Get Over Yourself." Spiritless, boring and vapid as the unmoving summer air, Popstars is the aural equivalent of a yellow legal pad. Milky R&B lightly peppered with Latino pop and that squishy soul-cum-disco popularized by bootyploitative hussies Destiny's Child. It's not surprising, then, that it took a laundry list of writers and producers to construct something so lacking in life.
What is it that the girls of EC actually do, you ask? Mostly parade butt cheek on TV, but sometimes they sing and dance, too. Popstars shows us that to land on the pedestal of celebrity, the only requirement is genetic good fortune.
When James Brown and Ray Charles made the R&B sound popular, I don't think they ever envisioned that it would one day yield this type of porno elevator music for the schoolyard.