The Muffs is a rock phoenix that emerged from the ashes of legendary LA band, The Pandoras. Founded by Kim Shattuck and Melanie Vammen in the early 90s, The Muffs went through a few configurations before landing on the solid trio of Shattuck (guitar + vocals), Ronnie Barnett (bass) and Roy McDonald (drums). “Weird Boy Next Door” is the first song from their excellent 2014 album, Whoop Dee Doo.
It’s clear our narrator doesn’t like the neighbor’s kid. In a playful mashup of Tom Waits “What’s He Building In There” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” our protagonist has a lot of justified rage about this wasted weirdo. It’s annoying enough that he still lives at home, but all his yelling and petty aggressions are too much to bear. Although our protagonist fantasizes about getting rid of him, there is no easy solution. She’s instead forced to rant to anybody who will listen, warning them to keep away. But how long will it be before her patience wears thin and she’s forced to act?
Read the full lyrics for The Muffs’ “Weird Boy Next Door” right HERE.
Yesterday I wrote about The Mr. T Experience song “Sorry For Freaking Out On The Phone Last Night.” Since MTX is playing shows with Nerf Herder soon, I decided to tackle one of my favorite songs by this Santa Barbara pop punk outfit fronted by mad musical genius, Parry Gripp. I’ve watched over the years as Nerf Herder has created an impressive catalog of music that effortlessly waffles (see what I did there?) from tongue-in-cheek to heart-on-your-sleeve without missing a beat. “Mr. Spock” is a solid song with great hooks, setting the stage for the band’s transformation into nerd rock superheroes.
Our narrator knows he’ll never be enough for his girlfriend. From money to personality to style, she’s always looking for Mr. Right. So our hero does the complicated calculus, concluding that what she wants is highly illogical. With his fanboy feet firmly planted beneath him, our protagonist goes deeper into Star Trek references to make his point as the song chugs along. In the end, his frustration is so palpable that it’s hard to know if it’s him or her wearing the red shirt.
Read the full lyrics for Nerf Herder’s “Mr. Spock” right HERE.
Like Santa Barbara punk? Here I am talking books with musicians:
I saw that The Mr. T Experience is playing a few shows with my pals in Nerf Herder soon, including a stop at The Troubadour in LA. It got me thinking about this perfect piece of jangly pop confection. It’s like Stephin Merritt is fronting a country band that plays Grant Hart songs at an English pub in the 60s. The chorus is hooky and the punk psychedelia of the bridge is a brief refuge from the bouncy melody. But it’s the unique lyrics that bring it all together.
Our narrator is in a never-ending loop of overreaction and regret. The title seems tongue-in-cheek, but it encapsulates the petty spats that can potentially topple uncertain relationships. Couples get into ruts and we hurt the ones we love, so we’re left to apologize and try to figure out why we’re so quick to anger. Given all the things that can undermine something so fragile, there’s no better advice than this: “Let’s keep the freaking out to a minimum.”
Read the full lyrics for “Sorry For Freaking Out…” by MTX right HERE.
We recently had award-winning author Michael Kardos as a guest on the Writer Types crime and mystery podcast. We started out by asking Michael—who is also a drummer—about his musical influences instead of his writing influences. Michael was a good sport about it, admitting that Billy Joel and his long-time drummer, Liberty DeVitto, were two of his heroes growing up.
My co-host and I both come from mostly punk/Indie rock backgrounds, so his response gave us a (hopefully) funny bit that ran throughout our discussion. At some point we even got around to Michael’s excellent books, including BLUFF, BEFORE HE FINDS HER, and THE THREE-DAY AFFAIR.
I was stoked when I heard about The Current’s Husker Dü documentary podcast—and then totally forgot about it. Ironic considering the title of the series. Although, it might be more accurate to say that I wasn’t ready to listen.
“Dü You Remember?” includes 5 episodes that originally coincided with the release of the excellent Savage Young Dü box set from Numero Group. Unfortunately, it also served as a heart-felt farewell to talented songwriter/drummer/artist Grant Hart who died in September of last year—a month before the release. So as excited as I was about listening to the podcast, I just couldn’t get myself to dive in. That all changed when the algorithm gods gave me a much-needed kick in the ass last week. The timing was perfect.
I recently played on two songs for a friend’s new album, the first recordings I’ve done in a few years. It got me thinking about my long relationship with drumming and the people who inspired me along the way. The long list includes everybody from John Bonham, Charlie Watts and Keith Moon to Bun E. Carlos, D.J. Bonebrake and Alan Myers. And, of course, Grant Hart. I’ve long found it hard to describe Hart’s drumming, but I’ve never heard another drummer play with the same combination of intensity, style and outright musicality. He was also one of the most gifted songwriters of his generation, right up there with his bandmate Bob Mould.
I started playing drums in my early teens and pretty much didn’t stop for twenty-five years. Picking up that first pair of sticks radically changed the course of my life. Not only did I make great friends, but I got to record and tour a little along the way.
Once drumming took a back seat, I was fortunate to find another passion in writing crime and mystery fiction. It’s been a real thrill getting to know that community as well, which—as luck would have it—includes several musicians. A few of us even tried to launch an ill-fated band featuring five crime authors. That project, like countless bands before it, was sunk by infighting over REO Speedwagon.
These days I still get the occasional chance to play. Most recently it’s with my good friend and former band mate, Jeff Whalen, who just announced his first solo record, 10 More Rock Super Hits. I was stoked to play drums for two songs on this stellar collection (pen name, S.W. Lauden; drum name, Steve Coulter). Having made two albums and a couple E.P.’s with him in the rock group Tsar, I can honestly say that the songs on 10 More Rock Super Hits are among Jeff’s best—but don’t take my word for it:
Ever notice that certain words pop up more often in songs than in real life? I’ve long thought of “creep” as one of those words.
I first encountered it with Social Distortion’s “The Creeps” (1982). On the surface it’s like the soundtrack to a low budget horror film, but underneath is the fundamental punk rock need to make the mainstream feel uncomfortable. In this case, “creeps” is a physical sensation akin to spine-tingling fear or revulsion. The word was used in a similar way at the dawn of Seattle’s grunge scene with Nirvana’s “Negative Creep” (1989). Of course, other bands used the word “creep” in the 80s. One of my favorites is That Petrol Emotions’ “Creeping To The Cross” (1987). And Luther Vandross got in on the action with “Creepin'” (1985). In both instances, the word “creep” is used as a physical act similar to skulking, prowling or sneaking.
But it wasn’t until the 90s that we reached peak “creep” with Radiohead’s 1992 classic. Although the word “creep” is used in a similar way to their punk and grunge predecessors, Thom Yorke’s professed “creepiness” is delivered as more of a lament about loneliness and isolation. Stone Temple Pilots followed a year later with their song “Creep,” and pop trio TLC released a song with the same title in 1994. But it wasn’t just mainstream acts that waved a “creep” flag in the 90s. Guided By Voices got in on the movement with their lo-fi “Fantasy Creeps,” while Blue Meanies gave “creep” the ska-core treatment with “Creepy.” White Zombie even used the word in their 1995 album title, Astro-Creep 2000.
I’m a writer and a music fan, so I often think of the lyrics to my favorite songs as short stories. A couple of the best elements are usually there—from isolation, desperation and validation to heartbreak, betrayal and revenge. Some songwriters create easy to follow narratives, while others make you tease the story out. Great songs can make us imagine exactly what the songwriter envisioned, but it’s more fun to create our own version of the story as we listen.
Lately I’ve been digging deeper with daily posts that re-imagine lyrics through the lens of short fiction. I can’t promise that I’ll keep up this pace, but I’m having fun for now. I call the series “Short Story in a Song:”
Discovering Pixies was like finding out that ghosts are real. Their music felt brand new and familiar at the same time—like it had been steadily playing in the background of all my favorite songs. I still remember the moment when a friend handed me a copy of Surfer Rosa. Songs like “Bone Machine,” “Broken Face” and “Gigantic” were a revelation. I’d played it to death by the time I got my hands on the band’s commercial breakthrough, Doolittle. From the opening bass line of “Debaser” and all the way through the anthemic ending of “Gouge Away,” Doolittle remains one of the most influential alternative rock albums ever. Interestingly, it was a mid-tempo song about drifters that gave Pixies their first hit. “Here Comes Your Man” would make a great short story.
The setting is a desolate rail yard. Box cars sit idle while desperate men stand around an open fire to fight the numbing cold. It’s a familiar scene for our narrator, the pointless monotony feeding his desire for the end to come. Despite it all, he waits patiently for death to arrive and take him away from his tired existence. And when it finally does arrive, it isn’t the shaking of a box car that rousts him from his daydreams but an earthquake. It’s not the ending he he’d hope for, but it answers his prayers all the same.
Read the full lyrics for “Here Comes Your Man” by Pixies right HERE.