Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pete's Eulogy

My uncle (and confirmation sponsor) Pete wrote and delivered this beautiful eulogy at Grandpa's funeral. I just wanted to post it here for posterity.

* * *

Good morning. Welcome to the celebration of the life of Raymond P. Mueller Sr. For those of you that don’t know me, I am Peter, the youngest of the Mueller children. Dad was born on September 1st,
1917. He was born again to eternal life on April 16th, 2012.

Dad was born and raised on a dairy farm near Sherwood, which is a small town not far from here. He wasn’t able to attend school as long as he allowed his children to, due to other obligations, but you wouldn’t know it by his ability to be successful during his lifetime. When Dad was in his early twenties, he began to court a young lady from nearby St. John, Rita Mary Kees. Dad would drive his car a couple
of miles to visit Mom. Mom’s younger siblings would see him coming up the driveway and sing a song to Mom that started with, Ray-Ray come, Ray-Ray come. The courtship lasted until May 3rd, 1944 when Mom and Dad were married at St. John the Baptist church in St. John. That is when the fun started.

Mom and Dad bought a dairy farm about 5 miles out of Chilton, where they farmed for 52 years. They have 11 children. Raymond Jr., Richard, Ann Marie, Ronald, Theresa, Glenn, Gail, Carl, Karen, Connie
and me. From those 11 children, we have 30 grandchildren, 24 great-grandchildren, and still counting. Dad was busy.

We lived on a small farm, so Dad had to work outside jobs along with farming. Dad was a hard worker.

It was during one of these jobs, driving a milk truck, when Dad came across a tractor rolling in a field with nobody in the seat. He jumped out of his truck and stopped the tractor shortly before it was about to run over the driver that had been thrown from the seat. Dad was a hero.

It wasn’t all work for Dad. He enjoyed Sheepshead, dancing, putting puzzles together and bean bagging. They played in a number of card clubs over the years and we as children, would watch and learn. I apologize in advance if some of you don’t understand the sheepshead terms I am about to use. It was just a few short weeks ago, when his grand-daughter Christine was having her baby shower that Mom attended, some of the brothers and I joined Dad for some sheepshead. Though he couldn’t see or hear that well, his mind was still as sharp as ever. He was sitting to my left, which means he was behind me when playing, and he would get a little grin on his face as he kept trumping me and taking tricks. Don’t know who won or lost money that day, don’t care. It was a great day playing cards with him. Dad was a card shark.

The other game Dad enjoyed was bean bags. He played for a number of years for Brant Inn in a local league. Growing up, we would go along and pick up the bags for the players to earn some spending money. A few years ago, some of my brothers and I thought of playing in a bean bag tournament that the Stockbridge Lions club sponsors every year. We thought it would be great if Dad would play with us and he agreed. The team name we thought of was “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Now some of you might think we used the name because of a popular TV show. However, it was more because everybody loved Dad. I mean, what’s not to love? We had some success in the tournament, but I won’t rub it in. For today, we will consider bean bag a sport. If NASCAR is a sport, we can call bean bag a sport. Dad was an athlete.

The Mueller family isn’t big on public showing of emotion. When we gather, we aren’t big on hugs like some families. But in no way does that mean the love isn’t there. I think we learned this quiet respect
and assumed love from Dad. Dad was a man of few words, but when he spoke, people generally listened. Dad was very busy when we were growing up, but he would still take the time occasionally to take a couple of swings at the softball at night after milking. But for me, the love Dad had, really came out toward the grandchildren. After he was retired, he was able to spend time with them playing games and doing whatever they wanted. He would also give them hugs and kisses when it was time for them to go home. As far as respect, Dad was well respected in the community. I was often asked by people around Chilton who my parents were. After I would tell them, they would comment what nice people they are. My brother in law summed up community respect in this way, “respect for a man in the community is sometimes based on how he treats his wife.” Dad cherished the life he had with Mom, as evidenced by the many years they spent together. On May 3rd, they will be married 68 years. What great role models they both are for us. It was also a short time ago when Mom attended a funeral for a sibling, Sr. Anacile. She returned home after their normal bed time. Dad was still waiting in his chair until Mom returned home safely. Dad was a gentleman.

So as you can see, Dad was many things during his 94 years on earth. Among those was a great husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. He often stated how he would live to be 100, close
enough Dad, we’ll round up on this one.

We have a distinct advantage with our faith. That is we believe in everlasting life. We can all rest assured that Dad is up in heaven, sitting in a chair, Ronny on one side and Timmy on the other. Dad, have fun
reuniting with them and the rest of your family. Save us a spot up there so that we may be with you again some day. We will miss you and we love you.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Remembering Grandpa Mueller in Five Senses

In my mind's eye, I'm eight or nine years old, and Grandpa Mueller is letting me follow him while he makes the rounds on the farm. I see a coop of chickens scatter as eggs are collected; a line of cows regard me with ambivalence as Grandpa hooks them up for milking. In a small room in the front of the barn, a chilled machine mixes and churns a huge tub of fresh, raw milk. On the side of the barn, piles of hay bales are stacked as farm kitties get comfortable and corn waves in the breeze in the background.

But mostly, what i see and remember is Grandpa's overalls, his determined gait, and the twinkle in his eye. What i don't remember ever seeing is Grandpa not smiling.

Back at the house, i hear laughter--not an unusual sound in the dining room, or the front yard around a volleyball net. Grandma and Grandpa had ten kids (eleven, actually, but one died long before i was born), including my mom, and it was more likely that another branch of the family was visiting at the same time we were than not. When multiple family members gathered at the house, that meant outdoor volleyball or football on the lawn, or basketball as tennis shoes and knees skidded along the gravel driveway. Inside, it meant Sheepshead, with Grandma and Grandpa passing nickels and dimes back and forth with their kids, kids-in-law, grandkids, and whoever else happened to be along and understood whatever the hell "Schneider" meant (i thought it was a dude in a white t-shirt with cigarettes rolled into his sleeve and had no idea what he had to do with cards). One night when i was three or four, i sat on Grandpa's lap, excitedly showing off my reading skills. "Q! 8! 7! J!" I wasn't on his lap for long that night. I don't actually remember that story, but my dad loves to tell it. I may have actually been on Grandma's lap, now that i think about it. Either way, i know exactly what the laughter sounded like around the dining room table. It was warm, and loud, and gregarious. It sounded like family. It sounded like the Muellers.

Elsewhere in the house, i feel the temperature drop as my cousins and i go upstairs (the heat's not on upstairs. Why would it be? When you farm for a living you don't pay to heat parts of the house that are usually empty) to play with our aunts' and uncles' old toys--darts and dolls and tic-tac-toe boards and beanbag toss. In the living room i remember feeling the smooth plastic pegs of Grandma and Grandpa's Master Mind code-breaking game as i matched wits with my cousins Jeff and Wendy with 60 Minutes on in the background. Oft times we'd break out the kids' old Monopoly set, which i loved playing because its 1960s design looked so dated and quaint compared to our version at home.

This one? I think?

If i wasn't playing games with my cousins, i was back in the living room, holding the viewmaster up to the light and reading the Snoopy and the Red Baron story through its 3D viewfinder for the 82nd time. It only ever showed the Red Baron in silhouette, which i found crazy mysterious.

Snoopy never did get him, no matter how many times i read it

But mostly, when i think about Grandpa and Grandma, I remember the taste of fresh homemade bread; of the richest, creamiest, ice-cold raw milk i've ever put in my face. My god, milk has never tasted that good since. Apples have never been as sweet as the ones on the trees in the yard. No wedding cakes have ever tasted like the ones Grandma spent decades baking for her kids and her friends' kids. And of course, i remember all those farm smells. Hay and chickens and manure, all sweet and pungent and omnipresent. And at the end of the day, i'd remember a different kind of sweet smell--the sweet cherry tobacco of Grandpa's pipe as he relaxed in his favorite chair or dealt another hand to his kids at the dining room table.

My grandpa, Ray Mueller Sr., died this week after 94 years of hard work, deep faith, and tireless devotion to his family. He's the only grandpa i've ever known (my paternal grandfather got the hell out of dodge after helping conceive my dad), but he was twice the grandparent of most mortal men. He kept the same hours as the sun, milking cows, baling hay, gathering eggs, all with that same smile and twinkle in his eye that, for the life of me, i can't picture him without. As absent as my other biological grandfather was, Grandpa Mueller was even more present, through his laughter, his deeds, and through the ten children he raised and the dozens upon dozens of grandkids his children gave him.

The Muellers are a fabulously tight-knit family. For decades my parents, aunts and uncles have gathered on holidays, weddings, and summertime weekends, and adhere to family traditions of communion with a near-religious commitment, and it's all because their parents--my grandparents--raised them to treasure family before all else. I suppose it's hard to not be close-knit when ten kids are getting crammed into one station wagon to get to Church on Sunday, but hey.

This Sunday and Monday the family will convene again to remember the patriarch of this modest farming family from Chilton, Wisconsin. I know there will be plenty of tears, but i for one feel far more grateful than sad. After all, 94 years is a hell of a run. I prefer to spend my time remembering the sights, the sounds, and god, the incredible, time-stopping smells that the memories of my grandfather infuse me with. Thanks to Grandma and Grandpa Mueller, my childhood was richer and fuller than it would have been without them, and that's what i plan to focus on this weekend.

I am going to miss my grandpa, yes. But if the soul is in any way immortal, he lives on. And i'm not even talking about Heaven (although my grandparents' faith defined so much of how they lived their lives and how they raised their family). Whenever i hear an uncle or aunt or cousin of mine laugh, i hear grandpa's laugh, and i see that smile, and that twinkle in his eye.

Thanks for the memories, Ray.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Boo Hoo, Broke Writer: You May Hate Kickstarter, But You're Part of the Problem, or: Jesus, THIS Again?

True Confessions from DJ's Brain Dept.: Today I spent some time hanging out on United Record Pressing's 10" vinyl quote generator, out of a bit of masochistic curiosity. See, part of me is a little bummed that my band's most recent collection of songs, a digital-only EP that includes what i consider to be some of our best material to date, isn't going to get a physical release, because we are poor working-class schmucks who have to work day jobs and don't have moneyed parents to bankroll our foolish rock 'n' roll fantasies (which, really, for a bunch of dudes in our 30s would be more flat-out embarrassing than it is for 20-somethings). So out of curiosity, i ran the numbers:

10" Records (300): $270
Music Source (Sending a CD): $330
Plating (Standard Two-Step Plating): $225
How many (if any) do you want colored? (Eh, 300, why not?)
Which color other than black (translucent green would be pretty sweet): $120
Setup Charge: $80
Test Pressing: $95
Labels (eh, let's be frugal here--one color ink on one color paper): $110
Inner Sleeves (plain white paper dust sleeves): $0 (yay!)
Jackets (Standard Single Pocket CMYK Custom Jacket): $895 (printing costs, man, i tells ya)
Are we inserting your records into jackets? (Yes, because we're lazy and it's only an extra) $18
Offer free Downloads (We use Bandcamp, so no): $0
Are we putting download cards into jackets? (Yes, because we're using Bandcamp) $18
Shrink Wrap (Yes, because we're not savages): $36
Generic download sticker on shrink wrap? (Nah) $0
Estimated Total (excluding shipping): $2197

And man, let's not even think about the G.D. shipping.

Here's where we get to the shameful confession: looking at that figure, and thinking about the recently successful Kickstarter campaign by Zebras, that band i'm still sort of in kind of, that raised $2500 to get the new record pressed, it briefly occurred to me that maybe that wouldn't be a difficult record for us to fund...through Kickstarter! The service that i have previously questioned and criticized in this very blog! As everyone knows, once you share an opinion on the internet, that's your opinion forever, and it's set in stone, and you aren't allowed to change your mind without dozens of commenters calling you out for being a dirty hypocrite ass-bastard. So obviously we won't be doing that.

Besides, why would we want to run the risk of incurring the wrath of Michael Mann of, Vancouver's Online Source (which, wtf kind of name is that for a website? What's their sister site,

I'm assuming this isn't the Michael Mann that writes for, but i needed some sort of image for this post, dammit

Stop trying to get me to fund your fucking album with a Kickstarter campaign. Same goes for getting your merch produced, your motel rooms paid for, and your bar tab settled. It makes you and your bandmates come across as a bunch of shameless and entitled pricks. You don’t see me aggressively asking people to pony up for my summer-long, cross-country cocaine and drunken slut–boning binge. So why is it okay when musicians do this?

Oh, hey! One of those blatantly provocative internet comment-magnet share-bait columns that plays the asshole in order to make a point--one i more or less agree with! This could be fun!

Instead of panhandling online, here’s a novel idea: crowdsource a little business acumen and produce something people actually want to give you money for. At least the homeless guy on the corner has the decency to make a funny sign and do 50 one-armed pushups if I toss him a few shekels. What are you offering, some MP3s and a shout-out on Twitter? Christ, if your album’s any good I’ll be able to cop it for free off the Pirate Bay.

Oh, jeez, so this guy's making his point by casting himself as contrarian as possible and casting himself as a cheap-ass downloading prick who doesn't support bands. OK, i'm sure dude's just playing a role here, but that's fairly Part of the Problem of him, no?

You want a handout? Release some halfway decent music you recorded in your apartment and give it away for free. I’ll come check you out and pay the $10 cover. (I’m speaking as a metaphorical everyman here. I don’t actually pay cover, ever.)

Ooooo-kay. Now dude's just trollin'.

As anyone who's been paying attention to me (read: nobody) knows, i'm not a big fan of the whole Kickstarter thing. I don't hate it, per se--after all, it's a tool, like any other, and like a hammer, it can be used to build something cool or to give everyone around you a headache. I guess what i'm really not a fan of is the removal of risk from creativity. Frankly, if my band's going to go on tour, we should be mentally prepared to lose our asses, money-wise. Why? Because if you love doing something, you should be willing to risk valuable things to make that something happen. Because if a bunch of "patrons" pay for our tour before we've driven a mile or played a note, we have no incentive to actually promote and try to get people out to the shows. This is DIY punk rock, not a vanity project.

I really want to get behind this dude's desire to own Facebook feeds across North America for an entire Thursday, because that Paper Lions band looks like douchebaggery at its most invasive and vinegar-fueled. (Seriously, i haven't heard a note, but those sweaters and pennants make them look like Vampire Weekend without the ethnic credibility.) But when he drops turds like "if your record's good, I'll just download it off Piratebay" or "I never pay cover," he's just coming off as an asshole for the sake of being an asshole. Dude, that attitude is exactly why so many musicians are tempted to pre-fund and crowdsource everything they do--because they know there are cheapskate asshats out there who don't think even good music is worth their money. Who's the "entitled prick" now? Is it really "panhandling" when you're just trying to find a way to make thieves pay a fair price for your product?

Hey, i get that this dude is likely just role-playing in print, but i didn't get this far in life without learning that role-playing is for desperate couples with atrophying sexual prowess and nerds that never had any. So, ok, let's have our fun publicly shaming Kickstarter's abusers (because holy crap, is it ever fun), but howsabout we start valuing physical music again and make the abuse less tempting? (And yes, part of the music/music consumer contract involves us musicians making music that is good enough to warrant value, but if you think good music is given a dollar value these days, i'll eat my next paycheck. [Ha! Joke's on you, jackass-it's direct deposit!])

I'll be honest--the idea of trying a campaign to see if we could get a Sexy Results physical release funded is awfully tempting. But at the end of the day, i'd rather we sell home-dubbed cassette tapes in plastic bags with download codes (which we totally did) and not annoy the piss out of everyone for a month while begging for money. Frankly, we annoy the piss out of everyone just enough as it is.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Quarters Rock 'n' Roll Palace Will Save Us!

Whenever i get a message from an out-of-town musician friend looking for help getting a Milwaukee show on a Monday or Tuesday, i break out into hives, my teeth itch and i feel a dull ache and nausea not unlike 30 seconds after a solid punch in the nuts. I've spent enough Monday and Tuesday nights apologizing for our town's generally weak showings on those nights (not that it's anyone's fault, as day jobs are, in the common parlance, a bitch) to finally be fed up with the whole endeavor. It's the same on the other side of the fence as well; if i'm booking a tour and we're not heading somewhere with solid Monday night potential (see: the old Uncle Festers' Punk Rock Nights in Bloomington, IN; New Brunswick, NJ basement shows), my instinct now is to say "screw it" and schedule a day off of chilling out in a hotel watching wrestling.

I hoped that when my friend James' band Male Bondage stopped by Quarters Rock 'n' Roll Palace on Tuesday night while on tour from Indianapolis, there would at least be fifteen or twenty stragglers wandering in to see them sandwiched between Absolutely and Lord Brain. Instead, Male Bondage completely threw down their top-volume combination of overpowering post-hardcore Jehu drive and pseudo-psych Meat Puppets licks in front of a jazzed and packed room...on a Tuesday night. What in the samhell?

Dear Milwaukee: something is brewing at Quarters, and it is exciting. Aaron Skufca's busted his damn fool hump making the humble dive on the corner of Center and Bremen a nearly sure bet for a night of drinking and punk rock, and if stuffing 40-50 people into the Rock 'n' Roll Palace's itty bitty bar on a Tuesday night is any indication, it's working. (Sure, it doesn't hurt that Absolutely is a killer band and can probably draw 50 people by themselves on a good night, but since when does heady Unwound-inspired noise consider a Tuesday a good night?)

So what's working in Quarters' favor? This is all speculation, but it feels like a perfect storm of positives:

1) It's small, but not Circle A small. Get 20 people through the door at Quarters, and it feels like a party inside already, unlike larger mid-sized venues like Stonefly and Mad Planet, where 20 people feels like a bummer. Combine this with the large bay windows in the front of the bar, and the odd stray is likely to glance in through the window, see something interesting's happening, and wander in. And that's likely to happen a lot, because of

2) Location, Location, Location. The second most important group of three words in Real Estate (behind "Indian Burial Ground"), Quarters is smack dab in the middle of Riverwest foot traffic, surrounded on all sides by Foundations and Fuels and That Hookah Bar I Still Have Never Wandered Into. Ever since Quarters re-opened after that whole unfortunate "dude getting shot outside" thing, it's seemed to evolve into a place where everyone within a four-block radius between the ages of 21 and let'ssay40becausei'mold is likely to gravitate if they want a beer after work. And if there happens to be a band playing, what the hell? May as well check it out, because

3) The shows are cheap. Because Quarters doesn't take anything out of the door for sound (which, by the way, is pretty darn good for a tiny room), it's easy to get touring bands good money while keeping the door low, which encourages people to wander in and give new bands a try. Heck, just last night my friend Zach wandering in to the Absolutely/Male Bondage/Lord Brain show because he had nothing else going on and what's five bucks for some live tunes? IfIHadAHiFi played there on Friday with Police Teeth, Strange Matter and Like Like The The The Death, and thanks to the karmic "local bands don't take any money when touring bands are playing" rule, Police Teeth managed to pocket $244 from a door that got sassy and bumped it up to $6 since it was a Friday. Are you as old as i am, and remember when $6 was seen as outrageous for a punk show? Yeah, that was 1990 dollars, gang. A movie is ten bucks these days! Seeing a show at Quarters is cheaper than going to see Wrath of the Titans, and the loud noises are less obnoxious!

Sometimes a venue manages to exist in a perfect storm of circumstance and smart planning. Sure, none of it's rocket science, but not every bar can pull it off. Quarters, having re-opened in a neighborhood that has some musical open-mindedness with a plan that focuses on cheap fun while keeping the needs of touring bands in the forefront, seems to be onto something. It's a little early to proclaim it the Savior of the Scene or anything like that, but man, am i jazzed it exists right now.

By the way, i'm totally not kidding about Male Bondage. Get on this. (Upon listening to the recordings, they have way more of a Double Dagger thing going than what i picked out live. Volume!)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The AIDS Wolf Breakup and Art vs. Validation, or: Noise Rock in the Age of Adult Contemporary: What the Fuck is the Point?

One thing i've always been honest about as i spend my time playing so-called "challenging" "noise rock" music is that, bold self-involved "artistic" statements aside, i'm a junkie for validation. I take part in playing live, recording and releasing records, and filming videos in part because i'm desperate for attention and want to be noticed. I'm not embarrassed about this at all--rather, i take pride in the fact that i'm honest about it. Look--human beings are communal by nature (despite your typical libertarian's protests to the contrary). Part of the act of creating art is its exhibition, and while writing a song, painting a picture, or writing a story is a reward in and of itself, there's not a human alive who doesn't enjoy hearing someone say "holy shit, that thing you did kicked ass." And yes, that includes those of us with a contrarian streak who bounce with glee when someone's reaction involves strong dislike. Love or hate, a reaction is validation--that someone is paying attention to you, and anyone who releases their work into the ether for the public to do with as they will wants to, at the very least, be acknowledged for existing if nothing else. Sure, some bands are more concerned with mass acceptance than others, but even the most abrasive, difficult, avant-garde no-waver wants someone to like them.

It's with this in mind that i completely relate to a recent blog post by Chloe Lum, lead singer of AIDS Wolf, exploring the mixed feelings she's experiencing upon the band's decision to break up. The post, "On the End of an Era," is worth a read--it's an honest outpouring of frustration that results from realizing that the musical landscape has changed from the heady days of the band's inception in 2003.

In the early part of the 2000′s there was a swell of noise-rock , noise and no wave influenced bands doing it seriously , some of them managing to find actual audiences.


In ’09 we stepped back after our guitarist Myles moved to the UK to woodshed as a trio with Alex. New rig , new songs and an goal towards greater abstraction. Alex Ross’s The Rest is Noise had been passed around in the van and as a trio, going towards more a formal and disjointed sound seemed a natural progression.

So we stayed in the jam room for a year and wrote songs complicated enough that the only way to learn them was drilling them over and over for hours. My own lyrics got more abstract as I’d use made up words , vocal imitations of Alex’s electronics and plenty of stream of consciousness & cut up. During this time we wrote and rehearsed the material for Ma vie banale avant-garde.

Then , exactly a year letter we took in on the road and to Dub Narcotic studio in Olympia to record. It was to see that the setting had radically changed in the year we were woodsheding. For one , many of our peer bands had either disbanded , or stopped/seriously slowed down on touring. “I’m in debt and can’t afford the time off work anymore” they’d tell us , or “I want to start a family / go to grad school / get an adult job”. “I can’t face another empty room , it’s futile , pointless , ridiculous , demoralizing”. Same story everywhere and no surprise , we were getting older and so were our friends and what’s marginal at 20-something becomes much more so at 30-something or 40-something. But beyond many of our cohort moving on, there where significant changes in what was deemed “underground” , what could get booked where and under what circumstances. It seemed that as a bunch of 30 somethings in an extended van full of big amps and a loud as hell P.A. had become an anachronism.

All of the sudden bands doing ads for soft drink companies or department stores were considered “underground”. So where did this leave the actual underground, the one that couldn’t sell cars/soda/computers even if if wanted to? Because it was weird/ugly/dangerous/challenging? It left it in a cave.

Anyone who's read anything i've written about the state of indie rock in recent years can imagine that hearing these words out of a like-minded artist whom i've never met is, well, validating in a lot of ways. Like Chloe, i've seen overall interest in loud, noisy, weird, adventurous music wane over the past decade in favor of stuff that used to be filed in the Adult Contemporary bins. Likewise, in our 12 years of activity, my band has seen plenty of like-minded ensembles come and go. In the first five years of our existence, we considered bands like The Sump Pumps, Replicator, Viva La Foxx, Sounds Like Braille, and The New Blind Nationals allies in our own little struggle for community, relevance, and noise; today, they're all gone (it didn't escape me that the AIDS Wolf run started three years after our own, and as they call it quits, we're still truckin').

But mostly, what resonated with me is Chloe's assertion that noise is more and more getting "left in a cave." I've been saying similar things for years now and frankly, it's nice to hear that sentiment echoed by someone i've never met or seen play. It's a bummer, though, to hear that she's not sure whether or not she's done making music altogether. To hear her say "I’m not sure yet if this is the end of me making music or just the beginning of a long break" sounds to my ears like someone who is considering throwing up her hands and conceding defeat, and i really hope that doesn't end up being the case--not that i could blame her. Yes, playing noisy music in a world that largely is indifferent to anything not easily digestible or pigeonholed is very frustrating. It's a money pit with very little return, and year after year it becomes harder to find like-minded people to connect with, be they fans or fellow musicians. It's something that bands that play alt-country or pop-punk really will never understand. One of the HiFi's oldest pals, Nato Coles, formerly of the Modern Machines and now of Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band, once compared his Replacements-y singer/songwriter-ish vibe with our "challenging, quasi-arty edge" (his words) and said to us, "playing the kind of music you do would be exceedingly frustrating, and I'm not sure I could do it if I tried." Yes, if we're gonna play abrasive, blow-you-out-the-room maximum-volume noise rock, we shouldn't be surprised if the people who want easy listening flee to the bar. Some musicians are lucky in that their muse leads them toward a brand of songcraft that matches up with the zeitgeist and leads to lots of that sweet, sweet validation from others. Those of us playing noise-related music do not match up with the zeitgeist of 2012.

These are all things, though, that are beyond our control as artists. We have no control over what people like, what blogs decide to write about (even if we have money to spend on "servicing" publications with our records). The problem with looking outside ourselves for validation, while a fundamental piece of human nature, is that it's completely out of our hands, and to hope to drag others kicking and screaming into our way of thinking is to descend into insanity.

So when it comes to validation, what do we have control over? The validation of self, of course. Being able to find the same excitement in getting the fifth record back from the pressing plant that was there with the first. To quote Justin Vernon's grammy speech, writing songs for the inherent reward of writing songs. Reading Chloe's blog, it sounds like AIDS Wolf were still excited about the music they were making, and to me, that sounds like a perfectly acceptable reason for continuing on. But if the lack of return on investment from the outside world finally beat them down, i can't say i blame them, because i've spent many a night banging my head against that wall as well.

Every year i re-evaluate why the hell i'm still in IfIHadAHiFi. The records are expensive, the gas to get to the shows even more so. Booking tours, trying to coordinate four people's schedules, going to the DMV to renew the van's registration, flyering for shows, pleading with friends to come check out our friends' touring bands only to have all of them go bowling that night's all a pain in the ass, and focusing on it all makes me want to throw my hands up too. But then we manage to finish the music for a song that's been vexing us for the past year and a half and realize that it doesn't sound anything like any song we've written before, and suddenly i'm supercharged again. I am rock and roll's captive, and there's no cure for Stockholm Syndrome when it comes to rock and roll.

I really do hope that all the members of AIDS Wolf keep making music, and i hope that if they do, it's because they love it, not because the pendulum magically swung back toward mass interest in indie rock that actually has some gonads to it. Trends are fleeting; art is forever. Hell, even now all is not lost. All those bands we used to run with? The Replicator guys are Victory & Associates and Cartographer now; last i checked, Amy from Viva La Foxx is still kickin' it in Soapland. Hell, we assimilated one of the New Blind Nationals into our lineup. And at the end of June, a couple hundred like-minded fans of loud, noisy ass-kicking, occasionally challenging rock 'n' roll will convene in Chicago for the 4th annual PRFBBQ. There's plenty of validation out there if you know where to find it. Sure, it's not gonna help any of us break even on our records, but it's something.

You had the Alliance on you... criminals and savages... half the people on the ship have been shot or wounded, including yourself... and you're harboring known fugitives.

We're still flying.

That's not much.

It's enough.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Rock vs. Cancer: Rock Wins and Fuck Cancer Forever.

“There is only one god and his name is Death. And there is only one thing we say to Death: “Not today.”
― George R.R. Martin

It's a very hard day today for those of us who were touched by the story of John Grabski III, a man who stared Death in the face and held it at bay while doing the living he needed to do, laughing the entire way.

I feel a lot different from many of my fellow musicians at shows, as well as the lot of you here. I didn't go to school for music. I didn't attend assloads of shows, or get hooked up with a scene. I was however an always-evolving music fan and for many years I was only an occasional musician, usually in small towns. I had kids early in adulthood and resigned to become a worker ant; feeling almost sure that if anything my love for playing music was going to be relegated to a hobby. In the back of my head I kept my skill growth and mental approach, I knew somehow that I would need to call upon rock & roll musicianship someday. My family separated in '05 though and my role as a father became really limited in a way that I never had much control over, depressingly so. But I used my newfound extra time to do things like convert my bedroom into a recording studio and record an album's worth of material. I did it for me; I didn't expect to be signed, I wasn't looking to start a band, no, I just wanted to make some rock music.

Then I got sick. Turns out it was testicular cancer. But the biopsy showed weird stuff and I had a 9 lb tumor in my abdomen. The surgery just about killed me, and I had tons of chemotherapy which was all hail-marys as not even the best minds in cancer knew how to treat what was some undocumented presentations of several types of cancer that had evolved from the original testicular cancer I had. Then more cancer was found in my chest. This was cancer type number 5, and was even rarer and harder to treat. More surgeries, more chemo, and some radiation. I almost died many times. But in November of 2008 I was in remission, and we all thought I was in the clear.

So I started working again (Creative Director at a software company and then landscaping... I needed to leave the office and get outside!), I spent a lot of time with my family, and I converted my attic into another low-fi recording studio. I never got myself to 100% physically speaking, not quite; but I tried my arse off. I never psychologically recovered from all of that stuff either, and I was thrown for a hell of a loop in spring '10 when I was told that I had a mass on my lung. The resulting major surgery ended up being unnecessary, all it was was scar tissue. But by then I had helped form Cheebahawk, and I recovered quickly and we started gigging in December of last year. We worked hard, scored some fun gigs including a great show @ Fontana's in NYC, and we kept developing newer and more complex material. So life without cancer was getting better. I even got some help from a shrink to help me better deal with all that had happened to me and my family due to my disease(s).

Then I had a scan this summer and we found out it was back. Biopsy showed that the 5th type of cancer had returned, and I had some scans that were supposed to show the surgeon an easy route to removing two small tumors, one on the front side and one on the backside of my lung. But that's not what happened. They found several other tumors and took them out, but could not totally remove the one on my heart... and the backside of my lung tumor had grown to the size of a nerf football, and has started to kinda merge with my lung which is a bad, bad thing. They can't take it out.

My body can't take any more chemo. Only certain areas of my body can stand radiation as I did get blasted in a few different areas over the years, and as I said earlier that big tumor can't be removed as it's too involved with other tissue and it's in a bad spot. Also it's clear to me and my longtime surgeon that it's likely that if I have another surgery, i'll likely shut down and pass away on the table. I have sooo much scar tissue, and I'm in a lot of pain a lot of the time. So what I'm doing now is radiation. Basically "comfort care" radiation, to try and shrink stuff so that I can be comfortable for as long as possible, especially that big tumor... when it grows back, or just continues to grow, nothing can be done about it, and it will likely be what claims me.

So after years of fighting it finally has a grip on me. I've had the best doctors in the country as well as some major cancer panels (consortiums of the best minds in the biz) looking over me, and honestly I wasn't supposed to last this long. I'm facing reality head-on, with realism, with a sense of humor, and with love for life, love for those I love, and love for rock & roll.

So I'm kinda in bucket list mode. And one thing I wanted to get done was an album, regardless of my skill as a musician. So Steve telling me on the phone that he'd like me to come down for a few days and get this done - it's a dream come true. It'll only be a five or six track album, and it won't light the world on fire, but I'm going to distribute it and promote it somehow, and will make sure a large percentage of revenues go toward cancer research.

Steve Albini donated his time and studio to this project for free, as did Chicago Mastering's Bob Weston. Melvins and Big Business drummer Coady Willis sent him a snare drum to use during the session. John and his brother Benjamin made the drive from New York state to Electrical Audio in Chicago, IL and emerged with this:

The Strain is a harrowing, exhilarating document of defiance in the face of Death and its hooded axeman, Cancer. It's classic, visceral grunge in the grandest tradition of Bleach-era Nirvana, Sabbath, Melvins, Mudhoney, with all their sardonic winks and scoffs scratched across a bed of true grit. "I'm as serious as cancer," John groans in the opening "Platinum," betraying the genuine humor and lust for life that ignited him through this entire project. It'd be worth a listen even without the "dude bucket listing in his final months" context, yet it's impossible to separate Teeth's only album from its origin story now.

John Grabski III died last night at far too young an age, after a heroic fight against our common foe. By "our" i mean "all of humanity," but anyone following my life for the last year knows that i've had my own issues with Cancer recently. Joss Whedon wrote these powerful words for Angel to speak in the final hours of his story: "If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do." We're only on this planet once, and who the hell knows what happens afterward. Maybe John's on another plane of existence, being greeted with open arms by the Cobains and Hendrixes; maybe there is nothing left of him but The Strain and the inspiration his story has implanted in the hearts of all those who have heard his tale. Either way, what matters is that John stared down the Reaper, said "hold your goddamn horses," and did more living in his final six months than many people do in 80+ years. If the measure of a person's life is how many people you touch in your limited time, then John has set a goddamn high bar for the rest of us to match.

So as John so often said/typed/hashtagged, "Rock vs. death--rock wins." Death may have gained an upper hand last night, but surely its victory is hollow, as it was preceded by blinding, thrilling, blistering LIFE. Sorry, Death, but the judges hand this one to rock. Not today, Death. Not today.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

In Which I Direct at Least 25 More Views to the New Helms Alee Video

There's a common thread among interviews with aging 80s metal dudes that revolves around how much better things were in their day, when they were young metal dudes what ruled the land of metal. No, i'm not talking about the "Nirvana took away all our fame" meme; anyone who was paying attention back then by reading issues of RIP magazine (like 17-year-old hairmetalhead me) knows that guys like Sebastian Bach were totally stoked on Nevermind and actually thought they could get Nirvana to tour with them. Little did they know that Kurt Cobain thought their lifestyle was a joke and that Skid Row would have to settle for taking Soundgarden--a band less averse to the mainstream spotlight and mainstream shirtlessness--out as an opening act.

No, what i'm talking about is the old "MTV used to actually play music" canard. Yes, this still bothers some people, apparently. I'm not sure what their deal is--maybe during late night bouts of insomniac alzheimer's-induced dementia (ha! Old people jokes from a guy nearing 40!) they turn on MTV expecting to see Riki Rachtman introducing an Alice in Chains video and are all, "why is this 16-year-old bitching about the BMW her daddy bought her? What's going on? Why isn't Layne Staley in a pool making fun of Dave Mustaine?" And then they realize that Layne Staley is dead, Dave Mustaine supports Rick Santorum for President, and OH MY GOD MTV DOESN'T PLAY VIDEOS ANYMORE FUCKING SHIT NOW WHO ARE WE GOING TO YELL AT FOR NOT PLAYING ENOUGH METAL.

Of course, like those goofballs who turn to mainstream entertainment outlets and yell "what happened to rock music" while Dave Grohl gets drowned out by LMFAO at the Grammys, what Old Metal Dudes don't realize is that, like rock 'n' roll, music videos aren't gone--ya just have to find them in a different place, and that place is the Internet. Don't blame the Old Metal Dudes for not realizing this--after all, they are old, and old people don't like to spend any energy looking for new things. But God invented the Internet because she realized that eventually MTV would replace music videos with True Life: I Can't Stop Frenching Opossums or whatever, and she knew music videos would need a new home.

Music video is still a powerful buzz-creating medium thanks to social media, and unlike the old days, you don't have to suffer through some Republican named Kennedy (irony! Or something!) acting all "wacky" while introducing them. Hell, there are bands that spend more time coming up with awesome videos than they do writing memorable songs:

Of course, running into shit with a car was cooler (if not as musically...something) when Red Fang did it in the "Wires" video, proving that you can actually still put a good song in your kickass video and still gain nearly 500,000 views (yeah, OK Go has had over 13 million since the Super Bowl, but those classists were also sponsored by Chevrolet. YOUR BAILOUT DOLLARS AT WORK):

Which brings us to the whole point of this entire blog post. Helms Alee, one of my favorite current heavy bands, have finally completed the video for the schizophrenically brilliant "8/16," from one of last year's best albums, Weatherhead. The video takes us back to that more innocent time that the headbangers of yore still yearn for; when Temple of the Dog rocked in a field, Riki Rachtman went through a cake at Axl's wedding, and Anthony Kiedis' titties bounced in slow motion...all on Beavis & Butthead, a show that, ironically enough, is now airing new episodes on MTV--only along with the occasional video, they make fun of clips from Snooki Fucks Oompa Loompas or whatever that show's called. Don't worry; you don't need to watch MTV to see the show. I'm sure you can find clips on YouTube.

Anyway. Watch this video and develop the same crush on this band that i've had for a year and a half now. As of this posting, they have 2,166 views, thanks to the Kickstarters who donated to get the video made. Who needs Obama's bailout money, anyway? Wait, did Chevy even get bailout money? And don't i hate Kickstarter? Why is Hozi pooping in the grass? I'm so confused. AGING, AMIRITE?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hurry Up Shotgun and the beauty of The Hook

I could be alone in this assertion--and i don't think i am--but writing a good vocal has to be the most difficult part of being in a band and writing music. Aside from the simple reality that writing catchy and unique pop melodies is goddamn hard, there's a level of vulnerability that comes with sharing your voice and words with the world that is far more daunting than the simple execution of riffs and rhythms. Getting up in front of an audience and singing words you have crafted yourself while under the judging gaze of the drunken, heckling masses isn't just an act of skill or technique--it's an act of bravery, of emotional nudity. It's even worse when having vocal-only band practices to add the lyrics to the music, knowing you're about to sing words you're unsure of in front of the three guys most likely to tell you how much they suck.

To me, this is a large part of why so many bands--mostly on the less-than-national level, but some big dogs too--seem to treat their vocals, maybe not as an afterthought, but not as important as the music. Vocals get buried, processed in effects, and the hummable bits--the hooks--get lost. And of course, in many genres the idea of actually singing the lyrics is shelved in favor of full-throated screams, yelps, barks, and other non-musical vocalizings. And sure, these choices all have their place and their purpose (I can't really picture the Jesus Lizard with three-part harmonies, and Six Finger Satellite wouldn't be the same without J. Ryan creepily croaking all over everything), but there's just something about having the balls to make sure everyone knows just what the hell you're saying up there (and letting everyone know that you actually thought "my lifestyle determines my deathstyle" was a good lyric, right Jaymz?), and presenting it with a melody that commands memorization, that it begs the question--what's everyone else hiding?

Of course, I could be projecting. And after all, not every earworm is necessarily a good thing.

"And once the creature wraps itself around your cerebral cortex, Chekov, you will hear 'Surfin' Bird' on a loop, leaving you susceptible to...suggestion"

This is why the vocals that encase Hurry Up Shotgun's self-titled late-2011 disc in a gauzy, blissful three-part harmony wrapper should be recognized as the tremendous achievement they are.

They sneak up on ya, it's true: the opening "Reason" isn't necessarily peppered with multiple vocal tracks or backing vocals; it's simply a well-crafted Hot Snakes-ey slice of downstroke guitar, pulsing drums, and good ol'-fashioned full-throated rock-n-roll belting, with plenty of upper-register "YEAHs" to keep you listening. It's not until halfway through "Watermelon Sugar," the jam that rests in the tried and true track 2 "hit single" pocket, that the listener is informed that--guess what?--this serviceable post-punk trio can FUCKING SING, and are about to take what you thought was going to be a pretty above-average collection of driving, if unmemorable tunes and push them waaaaaay into the stratosphere and deeeeeep into your thinkmeats. Relax, Chekov. This won't hurt.

That's not meant as a dig on Hurry Up Shotgun's instrumentation, by the way--their riffs and chord progressions and drumming are great--but let's be honest: there are plenty of indie-rockers banging out the Wipers and Superchunk riffs these days, and "great" doesn't necessarily lead to "memorable." Fortunately, Hurry Up Shotgun as an album is anything but forgettable, thanks to brilliant sequencing. Each song delivers just a little bit more sugar; the heavy petting in "Watermelon Sugar" leads to some "ok, just the tip" in "Paths," and pretty soon the first truly grandiose moment of the album is exploding in your brain (yeah, that's where) as the second half of "Swim" is having its way with you--completely consensually, of course, as these guys are lovers, not fighters. But seriously, "Swim's" final two minutes are a revelation on par with any of the best moments of Menthol's 2002 indie-synth-rock power-pop ode to the Cars, Danger: Rock Science! (a lost new wave power-pop classic of the early millennium, and if you've heard it you understand the huge compliment i have just bestowed).

It doesn't let up from there. "The Birds of Islam" add a degree of Hum-inspired heaviness to the proceedings, while "Little Pieces" lays down keyboard lines lifted from some mid-80s post-apocalyptic d-movie Thunderdome ripoff, all while delivering the check-cashing goods: The Hooks. For all the work that was put into the music--and it's obvious these guys put in the work--they put even more into The Hooks. And boy howdy does that work pay off in "Girl From CA," an album-closer so thoroughly catchy and memorable that it single-handedly makes me mad that i listened to this album too late to put it into my top 5 of 2011. I haven't heard harmonies this honey-thick drizzled over rock this hard since the Galactic Cowboys (another band you could stand to revisit if that name-drop just triggered an "oh SHIT, i forgot about them!" moment).

And i think that's something that loud, driving, occasionally noisy rock and roll has to reclaim from the overly-precious, NPR-approved twee indie "rockers" that dominate the venues these days. Look, y'all know me--i loves it loud, and i loves it noisy, but dammit, i also loves it pretty. And i really loves it when it's all three at once. Why should the beardos get all the pretty melodies?* If more bands followed Hurry Up Shotgun's lead, maybe--just maybe--we could take indie rock band from the wimps, or at least carve out our own little piece of Fantasy Island paradise on Ceti Alpha V. Save us, Hurry Up Shotgun! command us with your mind-control earworms, your purple literary references, your rich Corinthian accent, and your heaving, prosthetic chest! It is very spaaaaaaaaace...

Yeah, i just metaphored Hurry Up Shotgun into Khan Noonien Singh. What of it? How else was i gonna tie the end of this post in with those Chekov references from early on?

*This is not to say that all wussy, twee beardo folksters have the market cornered on catchy pop hooks--if i ever leave a Bon Iver song able to remember a single goddamn melody line mumbled outta that affected falsetto, i'll eat Justin Vernon's knit hat.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Rockometry 101 with Elusive Nonagons

Now that i'm once again in possession of a computer that doesn't want to shut down every 10 minutes as it gets used, maybe i'll be motivated once again to start updating regularly. I still haven't quite worked out a regular routine of motivating myself to sit and write after my 9 PM dinner, which, after a long 8-hour second shift, leaves me more inclined to zonk out on the couch as i continue to plow through Parks and Recreation on Netflix. Still, i have to make this work somehow, so let's get back into it with some geometry-themed bands that have just put out some baller new tunes in the last week or so.

First off, my boys in Chicago's obtuse-angled, math-addled post-punk dynamo Nonagon have unleashed People Live Everywhere, a sort of obviously-titled 5-song blur of rhythmic 90-degree turns, occasionally jerky grooves, and always hard-driving, serrated tunage. A "Mission of Burma moves 8 hours down the coast to DC and recruits the Jawbox rhythm section" fanfic of a band, Nonagon is anchored by drummer Tony Aimone, formerly of Chicago ska-punks The Blue Meanies, who i once saw cover Operation Ivy in front of a packed and pulsing throng of Concert Cafe kids in Green Bay, only to follow it up by saying "ok, now never listen to that band again; listen to this instead" and launching into "Ace of Spades." Aimone sends Nonagon's abrasive riffs through time signatures even and odd, while bassist Robert Gomez and guitarist (and infectiously energetic superfan of all things rockin') John Hastie sweat, churn, and scream. People Live Everywhere is complex and intelligent, but not exhaustingly so; it doesn't take an accounting degree to latch onto the lurching and occasionally downright funky guitar play happening in songs like "The Swifts," with its tense competing dual vocal lines that converge in a "it's still not easy!" release of balls-out energy.

As with so many of the bands i love, Nonagon fits squarely in the "why don't more people know about this band?" category, but if you're in Chicago this Friday, February 10th, you can rectify it by attending their record release show for People Live Everywhere at the best bar in Chicago, Quenchers Saloon on the corner of Western and Fullerton. Wereworm and Radiant Republic of Texas are playing too, which officially makes the lineup unfuckwithable.

Speaking of amazing record release shows, i spent this past Friday night losing my goddamn mind thanks to a downright transcendant set by Milwaukee's own Elusive Parallelograms--obviously the second-place finisher in tonight's geometry-band-name throwdown, but never mind that. Friday night's Cactus Club show saw the release of their own new EP, the six-song Habits, a deliriously trippy sixteen minutes of psychedelic Built to Spill-flavored indie rock that easily cements the Parallelograms as one of Milwaukee's most crucially underrated bands (despite a surprisingly healthy turnout for the release show).

The not-so-secret weapon of the EP sound is their interweaving triple-guitar attack--seemingly competing lead lines that, much like Nonagon's vocals, seem like they should logically clash but fit together like the weave of a gauzy, enveloping blanket of blissed-out fuzz, occasionally locking into unison for glorious riffs like the BtS-biting "Collapse" (which i swear is actually lifted from a Built to Spill song, but i can't for the life of me track it down, and it is driving me insane. Comment if you can clue me in).

I've been seeing Elusive Parallelograms do their thing in the Borg Wards and Cactus Clubs of Milwaukee for several years now, and, real talk: i've seen them be excellent, and i've seen them at their shambolic, trainwreck worst, their fate generally decided by the inebriation level of their now-former drummer. The band that took the stage on Friday with now-exiting second drummer Eric Reiter was an assured, confident force of screaming slide guitar, airy vocals, and a solidly locked-in rhythm section (despite a misbehaving bass drum that at one point turned so far to one side that Reiter was sitting on his floor tom in order to keep the beat going). It may have been the fact that i had two Spotted Cows on an empty stomach, but it took a lot of restraint on my part to not hug guitarist Stefan Dostanic and go completely fanboy on him. Seeing a Milwaukee band grow from a shaky cauldron of occasional brilliance and occasional disaster to a fully-functional and tightly-wound machine of still-loose, pure room-filling vibe is a thrilling thing to behold, and i'm damn proud of these guys and the killer set of tunes they just unleashed.

Both releases from Elusive Parallelograms and Nonagon can be streamed at Bandcamp, so stop reading my purple prose and make your own judgment call.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A 2011 year-end meme, about a week late.

I'm a week and a half into a new job in customer service/sales at a music store, and my new second-ish shift schedule has seriously discombobulated my writing schedule. It's my sincere intention to keep this blog going, and in fact, to contribute even more to places like AV Club Milwaukee and Tiny Mix Tapes this year, but i have to work out this whole "get home at 8:30 PM and start cooking dinner" thing.

One piece of annual writing that was a casualty of my first-week-at-the-new-job scatterbrainedness was the usual year-end stock-taking that most of us journaling types do (especially those still holding onto their Livejournals). So in an attempt to get myself back into the swing of things, here's the annual year-end meme that always floats around the ol' LJ. When you get out of a writing habit, it's ok to use a crutch until you can walk on your own again, after all.


01. What did you do in 2011 that you'd never done before?

Let's establish some common themes right off the bat - 2011 for me was inexorably defined by two awful life events and one excellent one. One thing i've never done before was spend seven months on unemployment...and i hope to never have to do that again. This was compounded by something else i'd never done before in 2011--answer a doctor that asked my mother and me, "if something happens and your father is on life support, do you want us to keep him plugged in?"

However, on the plus side of the ledger, this year i went on a tour where i played two sets a night with two bands, and outside a three-day weekend in 2003, i had never done that before. I visited Fermilab and the Tevatron as part of the first public tour that was allowed in to the Tevatron's collision detector. This was the first year i ever actively partook in a campaign to recall a sitting state governor. And this was the first year that i ever moved in with Liz and jointly adopted a baby kitten with her. Big win.

02. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I didn't really make any New Year's resolutions last year. This year i resolve to contribute more to local media and (hopefully) finally get a fucking book started.

03. Did anyone close to you give birth?

I'm a terrible person. I'm sure someone i know had a kid this year, and frankly, i can't think of a single one of them. So no one close to me, i suppose.

04. Did anyone close to you die?

Elliott Turton died on stage in Austin with Waxeater before being revived a minute or so later by Ashlee Litkey. I feel very fortunate that i'm in the rare position of being able to answer this question in the affirmative without actually having lost someone.

Of course, in October my family very nearly lost my father when he fell asleep in a hospital waiting room in Madison and didn't wake up. But he's still here, laughing in Death's face, if not audibly, thanks to the trach tube in his neck. Keep laughing, Dad; i'm not ready to see you go yet.

05. What countries did you visit?

Um...we drove through the countryside in Pennsylvania?

06. What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011?

I already have the most important thing that i lacked in 2011--a new job. I also will have the new record that IfIHadAHiFi was supposed to have released last year--the Nada Surf +3 EP. Aside from that, a governor who actually gives a shit about working class Wisconsinites would be nice.

07. What date from 2011 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

Let's take a break from Dad's health and focus on something awesome: On July 9, IfIHadAHiFi played a show with ARCHERS OF LOAF, and it was one of the happiest, most triumphant days of my musical life.

Another date that i will always remember: March 12 -- 100,000 people and about 100,000 tons of farm machinery descended on the Madison capitol to protest Scott Walker's attack on working-class union employees in Wisconsin. I have never before been so proud to be involved in the democratic process, and in a year after one where Russ Feingold was voted out of office in favor of a cranky, privileged "businessman" who married into his fortune, and a year where Mr. "Hope and Change" signed a bill that allows American citizens to be held by the military indefinitely without a trial, I need the memory of 100,000 pissed off Badger Staters to keep the hope alive that in America, people are actually fundamentally decent and care about their neighbors and understand that no man is an island.

08. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Getting through it.

Aside from that, I'm pretty proud of this:

"Imperial Walker" raised over $400 for Russ Feingold's Progressives United PAC, and it got us a snarky "review" in the largest Republican propaganda rag in the nation, the National Review. Robert Verbruggen is apparently one of those doudes that likes to run photos of himself looking "thoughtful" in order to establish an image as a "intellectual" mind. He's a Republican who likes metal, which probably means that he's a huge Rush and Dream Theater fan. But briefly in early March, he got all condescending in a hilariously misguided attempt to knock a bunch of snotty noise-punks down a peg, while raising our national profile a little bit. WE WIN.

Look at this lame tuxedo-shirt asshole. $10 says he's drinking schnapps

09. What was your biggest failure?

The release of Nada Surf +3 was delayed because we had a brainfart and used a sample that we forgot we'd have to clear. With everything that i had to deal with in 2011, i have to say, getting through it makes me feel like a fucking WINNER, so this little hiccup isn't really such big shakes. Although i do feel pretty bad that we cost Dan money for a CD repress.

Oh! Also, i failed to complete the article i wanted to write about Ashley and Maria's totally legal Wisconsin marriage. I WILL DO THIS.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

I did not!

11. What was the best thing you bought?

The new litter box, cat toys, and shots for Thackery Binx!

Get the earring, Binx! get it!

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Matt Gentling, who let my band open for his simply because i sent him a message and asked nicely. Dude, seriously?!?

Ashlee Litkey, who didn't let Elliott die.

The doctors in Madison who didn't let my dad die.

Ashley and Maria got married!

Also, i can't express enough how much i appreciate the understanding and support of my friends during everything that happened to me this year. Everyone who ever asked me "how's your dad?" at Cactus Club--that meant so much, you guys. My old roommate Andrew was incredibly understanding of my financial situation, and i'm very happy that soon i'll be able to repay him the several hundred dollars in utility and cable bills that i owe him as a result of his understanding. And Liz--i hope that she knows how much i treasured her company, her understanding, and her love and support this year. I hope i show her that often enough.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Easy: Scott Walker.

Here's the thing--at the beginning of 2011, i was totally over the 2010 election, and willing to move forward and deal with the fact that, hey, a Republican won. Fine. It's how elections work--sometimes the person you don't like wins. But his subsequent overreach and naked power-and-wealth grabbing on behalf of campaign contributors, corporations, and Rich Assholes in general was enough to enrage a lot of conservatives in Wisconsin, so you can imagine how appalled I was.

14. Where did most of your money go?

The most basic bare essentials.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

IFIHADAHIFI - Bottom Lounge - Chicago : July 2011 from GONZO CHICAGO on Vimeo.

16. What song will always remind you of 2011?

"Mary Jane's Last Dance" by NAP JUSTICE!

17. Compared to this time last year, you are:
hotter of colder? The apartment with Andrew was a big of a sauna, so colder.
Fatter or thinner? Static.
more active or lazier? I don't think there's much change here, either.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?

Every year, i wish i wrote more. But i really wish i had read more.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?

Nothing (literally--as in, i wish there were fewer times where i did nothing).

20. How will you be spending/did you spend Christmas?

Spent the day with my family, as i always do. Spent the night with Liz's family watching Aaron Rodgers throw 5 touchdown passes against the Chicago Lolbears.

22. Did you fall in love in 2011?

Fuck yeah i did.

23. How many one-night stands?

This really is kind of a dumb question. Who would be really proud of, like, hooking up one-time-only with, like, a dozen random dudes or chicks in a calendar year?

24. What was your favorite TV program?

I don't watch a lot of first-run TV, but my favorite show via DVR and Netflix this year was Louie, by a country mile. The way Louis CK confronts the uncomfortable absurdities of life is thought-provoking, boundary-pushing, and piss-your-pants funny.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

I really didn't hate Scott Walker at this time last year, i swear to god. But now...

26. What was the best book you read?

I finally finished Leon Lederman's The God Particle, a history of particle physics focusing on the Higgs Boson. Sexy Results, y'all. See ya on Feb. 18.

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?

HiFi band pal Russian Mike came to town with his new alt-country-flavored indie-freakout Memory Map, and i was unable to shut up about them all year. If you haven't listened to them by now, well, i've given up hope on you.

28. What did you want and get?

A new job!

29. What did you want and not get?

A new job in the writing biz! Ah well. No one wants to hear from someone who doesn't like popular things.

30. What was your favorite film of this year?

Another year of criminal under-attendance in movie theaters. But X-Men: First Class was a wholly unexpected and welcome return to the time when X-Men films kicked piles of ass. Yeah, yeah, purists got all pissy that the first class wasn't the real first class of Cyclops, Angel, Marvel Girl, Beast and Iceman, but quite frankly, it was the most engaging and character-driven of all the X-films, and i'm pretty sure that includes X2. Also, a mainstream movie that features so many allegories for so many facets of the LGBT struggle with societal acceptance merits years and years of revisiting, and hopefully worthy sequels (since they're inevitable anyway).

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

You know...i honestly don't remember. Karaoke?

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

You know, it's weird--had i not lost my job this year, and had my family not had to endure what it had to endure, it would have, in many ways, been Just Another Year (albeit one with a much-welcomed upswing in the personal life). But having endured the challenges of 2011, and done so in a position to make the subsequent years more fulfilling in the long term, has made the ending of 2011 intensely satisfying. I couldn't be prouder of my survival this year.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2011?

Mondo Lucha hoodie.

34. What kept you sane?

Liz, the kitties, and rock and roll. And they really did keep me sane this year. True stuff.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Liz has this thing that she calls her "list," a list of five(?) celebrities that, should she be in a position to sleep with them, she is given a free pass by whomever she is dating at the time. She gives me a lot of grief for my weak attempt at a "list," because whenever i mention potential candidates, it's always people i fancy for their brains and sense of humor, not purely based on their looks.

But if there was one famous person this year that i would add to that list, based purely on raw, unadulterated HOT, it would be Dr. Who's Amy Pond, Karen Gillan. I know she's like 23 in real life, but whatever, that's legal.

I mean, in her first episode, she's dressed up like Sexy Cop. NOT FUCKING FAIR.

35. What was your favorite video game of the year?

The original Legend of Zelda for the NES.

36. Who has made the most cameos in your dreams this year?

See #34

37. Who did you miss?

I got to see a lot of people this year despite my financial constraints! Some Oakland/SF pals, Police Teeth, Waxeater, and several other band pals, even Kory made it to town. I guess i'll say Jeff and Maija in Los Angeles, because i didn't see them in calendar year 2011, which was the first time since like 2007 or 2008 that i didn't see them.

38. Who was the best new person you met?

(4-way runners-up: all four members of Archers of Loaf)

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2011:

For years i've considered my friends part of my family, but there's something to be said for the real deal, and i love my fucking family.

Last weekend i took Liz up to the large Mueller family Christmas gathering on my mom's side, where my great-aunts, the nuns who are my grandma's sisters, told me it was great to see me and talked to me about everything my family's been through this year. While we talked about my parents, one of the Sisters said to me, "you know she's an amazing woman." I nearly started crying, but i nodded and smiled instead.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

All of this.