Wednesday, December 30, 2009

In 2010, I resolve to...

New Year's resolutions are usually bogus. "I'm going to lose weight." "I'm going to save money." "I'm going to not drink as much." "I'm going to volunteer." "I'm going to quit smoking."

Yeah, all those are great things. Some succeed, some fail (I've done both). You know what sucks about all those resolutions? They're no fun. Going to a gym 5 times a week is no cake walk. Staying at home to watch CW Thursdays instead of getting a beer with your friends ain't a bowl of laughs either.

You'll have a ton more fun doing something else. Try to hit up a festival this year (SXSW, Lollapalooza, etc.), go on a road trip to see a band that's skipping your town, or finally sync up "Dark Side Of the Moon" with the "Wizard of Oz."

You'll have loads more fun, you'll probably learn something and you'll definitely have some stories to tell. I assume you're reading my music blog for music-related stuff, so here's a load of musical resolutions for you and your friends to try out in the new year.

Go to a music festival. Today more than ever, there are tons of music festivals (off the top of my head, I can think of SXSW, CMJ, Outside Lands, Coachella, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Pitchfork, Summerfest, Austin City Limits, All Points West, Sasquatch, Wakarusa, and there are about a hundred more). The road trip aspect is fun in itself (so is camping, if they have it), but you're likely to see more bands in two days than you normally do in a month. I hit about 26 bands in three days at Lollapalooza and I wasn't even in front of a stage the whole time. You'll hear music that you've never heard before and you'll see one of your favorite bands perform in front of the largest crowd they've ever seen (try 40-50k for Kings of Leon).

Hang out after the show and try to meet/get autograph from/take picture with/join the afterparty of your favorite musician. It's always a fun story to tell about the time you talked to the drummer from Iron Maiden or show off that picture of you and James Hetfield from Metallica. A friend from work likes to talk about the time he and a friend met Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead and his buddy got tips from him about a learning guitar part in a Radiohead song. The strategy of waiting near the stage or by the tour bus or merch booth works for everyone from Motley Crue to Ben Kweller. (Tip: Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. So, don't get too disappointed. Stories about meeting your fave star are great, but stories about trying to get backstage are still kinda fun.) (Tip 2: Act cool. Telling them about the poster in your room and/or trying to make out with the band member is not a good strategy. Saying, "Good set," or "I've always wondered about the lyric in..." is a much better way to get the conversation started.)

Make it a goal to go to 1/2/10 show(s) a week/fortnight/month. Looking back on the last year, you could write down the shows you went to in one column and the shows that you wanted to go to but didn't in another and have some interesting reading. This year, if you make it a goal to go to a certain number of shows no matter what (make your goal more than last year's total), it will get you out of the house more, you'll see those bands that you wanted to and you'll likely get to experience something new. Bonus points: Setting a goal to go to a certain amount of local shows. (Tip: If you want to get the most bang for your buck with local shows, I recommend hitting up CD release shows. More bands, usually a genre-specific lineup and sometimes some fun shenanigans all in one place.)

Finally sit down and listen to the Clash's entire catalog. You've always wanted to do it, but never had the time or the patience or resources to collect all the albums and listen to them. All the while, you've been collecting and listening to plenty of other new bands that probably are nearly as good as Joe Strummer and Co. So, what's your excuse now? Anyway, if you're not huge on the Clash, that's totally cool. Pick another band you like and do it with them, be it Joy Division, Black Flag, ZZ Top or Sha Na freaking Na.

Pick up an instrument (and put down Guitar Hero) and learn a few songs. I don't care if it's a guitar, a piano or a kazoo. Even if you can't play it particularly well, learning an instrument will give you an appreciation for the music you listen to. And it will give you a little more authority when you go on and on about how awesome or emotive the new Avett Brothers record is. Plus when you learn a couple tunes, you'll be able to impress your friends, get the girl (or guy) and, at the very least, be able to have a story to tell at parties when you talk about how you learned the solo on Queen's "We Are the Champions."

Start a band. This is an extension of the previous one (and obviously a little more complicated), but why not try? You'll be able to put those funny band names you and your friends come up with to some good use, you'll be able to tell your kids "I was in a band once" and it's probably a better use of your time than playing Xbox. And it doesn't matter if you can't play an instrument yet. Silversun Pickups could barely play a few years ago and now they have a Grammy nomination. No one in U2 knew what the hell they were doing and look where they are. Hell, punk rock (an entire movement of music and culture) was started around guys who couldn't play their instruments. What do you have to lose?

Road trip to see a band that is skipping your town. Everyone knows the wave of disappointment that washes over you when you look at a tour schedule and notice that the Rolling Stones or Pete Yorn or Tech N9ne or whoever is going everywhere else in North America but decided to skip one of the five perfectly good music venues in your own town. So, why miss out on the fun? Grab a few buddies, pick the closes city and get your ass on the road. The road trip (and the skeezy hotel you'll end up staying in) will be most of the fun, but at the end of the day, it will be capped off by seeing the band kick out the hard jams. Bonus Points: Follow a band for a few dates on their tour. Start in your own town or in a nearby city and check them out for a few nights in a row (or 10 if you can afford it). Works for everyone from Pearl Jam to The Samples.

Try something new. Your staple is acoustic singer-songwriters. Or it's pop-punk. Or it's 17th-century Baroque concertos. Whatever it is, find one of your friends that likes something that you don't and ask her for recommendations on metal or nerdcore or classic rock. You'll impress your friend by wanting to expand your horizons and you might find something you actually like. And even if you don't like it, at least you'll have ammo when you get into that metal sucks/punk is awesome argument with the aforementioned friend.

Listen to an album. I mean actually listen to it, not put it on your iPod while you work out or clean the house. Digest it like you would a book: Put in on your computer or stereo, sit down on the couch (preferably with lyric sheet in hand) and just listen. Even if it's your favorite album and you've listened to it more times than you can count, without all those distractions you'll hear instruments, words and emotions that you never have before. Bonus Points: If it's on vinyl and you get to flip it half way through, which is always a special experience.

Read a book about music. Music is about listening, I know, but you'll learn a lot by reading some. And if it's about a band or genre that you particularly like, you'll probably gain a new appreciation for something that you thought you already knew everything about. If you're not a big reader, try something that's more magazine style (short articles instead of long chapters and lots of pictures instead of text-heavy) such as "Punk: The Whole Story," "Michael: From the Editors of Rolling Stone," "1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die" or "Rock And Roll Hall of Fame: The First 25 Years." Diary-style books are always interesting, two of my favorites being Nikki Sixx's "The Heroin Diaries" and Henry Rollins' "Get In The Van: On The Road With Black Flag." Other recent books that I've enjoyed are "Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age," "The Pitchfork 500," "The Band Name Book" and "Wish You Were Here: An Essential Guide to Music Scenes."

Send a fan letter. With message boards and live chats and e-mails and everything else, the days of the fan letter are likely dead. But just for fun, try it out. Pour your heart into it. Write as if it was the teenage you, telling the guy that he's your favorite guitarist or asking what that one lyric is really about. Ask for an autograph. Include some fan art. If the person reads it, great. If not, it doesn't really matter. If they respond, jackpot! Bonus Points: Type-written is OK, but it's much better if it's hand-written on a piece of blank notebook paper.

Experience "The Dark Side of the Rainbow" - sync up Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon" with "The Wizard of Oz." Yeah, it seems stupid and sounds like something only really bored stoners would do, but I have to attest that it's pretty awesome. (Side note: I've never been high in my life, so I assure you that one need not be drugged out to enjoy it.) Floyd almost certainly didn't do it intentionally, but the synchronities between the music and film are astonishing. (My personal favorite is when the "cha-ching" at the start of "Money" comes at the exact moment Dorothy opens the door to the house and the movie switches to color. So cool.)

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