Well I guess this is throwing up.

I’m not particularly good at gauging the general consensus on issues since I am a loner who usually writes from personal experience because who has time to listen to the “opinions” of “friends” am I right. But a lot of you read my post about Pitchfork’s revisionist history when it comes to pop punk and I must’ve hit a nerve because I got a big heap of messages from people saying they had similar feelings, including one guy named Craig or Greg who told me so at Target last week while I was buying a 900-pack of extra strength DayQuil. It was nice meeting you Craig or Greg and I’m sorry that phlegm was pouring out of my eyes sockets while we talked.

Then this past Sunday, Pitchfork reviewed blink-182’s Enema of the State and gave it a 7.5. Unless they’d given the Vandals’ Hitler Bad, Vandals Good a perfect 10.0, I can’t think of them proving my point any more directly. I know Pitchfork probably maps out their editorial calendar weeks in advance but I can’t help but feel this review is an affront to me personally? I want to pull the first letters of each paragraph to see if it spells out DAN OZZI GO BACK TO WARPED TOUR or something. But I’m glad I stuck my flag in the sand on this issue because now every time they pull this dumb shit more people sign up for my newsletter so hooray thanks to Pitchfork I guess.

At this point I always feel compelled to mention that I’m not picking on the writer of the Blink review specifically. In fact, he (Jeremy Gordon) wrote a piece last year that I thought was informative about how music publications are so horny for access to A-listers like T*ylor Sw*ft that they will debase themselves journalistically for interviews. For what it’s worth: My solution to being denied access to high-profile artists is to have an unprofitable and uncelebrated career interviewing tiny bands that no one’s ever heard of until five years later when they blow up and then their publicist cancels your interview with them last-minute because “they have a big opportunity they couldn’t turn down, maybe next time!” and you just know it’s the fucking NPR Tiny Desk. Blast that cursed desk. Not even that tiny, really.

Aaaanyway, I didn’t come here today to complain about my flailing “career,” I came here to uh… actually I don’t have a point to this one, sorry! Sometimes I have a point and sometimes I ramble and today’s email is a rambl’r. My focus has been elsewhere lately as I woke up on January 1 and realized how far behind I am on MY BOOK and have basically had an unending panic attack for the last two weeks. I expect this dread to last for several more months. Fun! As much as I complain about it, though, this book is a true dream gig and I try to appreciate as such.

Most of my day is spent tracking down people I need to interview and emailing them. The first thing I like to do is make sure the person is alive. Dead people are not great at responding to emails, I’ve found. Once I’m relatively sure the person I’m contacting is alive, I email them to say hello can I interview you for my book? Some of them write back and say sure yes you can interview me for your book and then we set up a time to meet and I drive to them and make them say regrettable things into my recorder. But then sometimes they say no I’d prefer not to talk to you for your book sorry and I have to counter by saying hmm are you sure c’mon it might be fun. This goes back and forth for some time until one of us gets tired of emailing and it’s never me because I have all the free time in the world.

But the people I do get to talk to are often musicians whose work I’ve loved for years and it’s been such a wild ride getting to know these folks and exchange messages with them at weird times of the day. The other day the father of as very famous rock frontman called me back at 7:30 a.m. Books are funny!

Bern, Piano Island, Bern

I recently started a thread of Bernie Sanders thanking bands for their music. 

Here he is thanking Ratboys for their music:

Here he is thanking Pet Symmetry for their music:

Here is is thanking Pig Destroyer for their music:

Nah, just kidding, but that’d be tight! I hope this trend continues and by the end of the campaign Bernie has thanked the entire Fest lineup. “Let me thank AJJ for their music.” “Let me thank Jawbreaker for their music.” God, imagine Bernie saying “Jawbreaker.” [Bernie voice:] “Blake Schwarzenbach.” “Bivouac.” “All Americans should have access to 24-hour revenge therapy.” Make it happen, 2020!

You may be thinking: “Uh oh Dan, you aren’t one of those dreaded Bernard Brothers I’ve read about, are you?” Why yes I am. And I’d like to explain if you care to listen. 

I grew up during that post-Gen X era where disaffection was cool and the pervasive edgy thinking was that BoTh PaRtIeS aRe bAd. Which, yes, is true. We have a two-party system wherein one side is comically evil and one side is tragically ineffective. This is maybe the most cutting political joke the Simpsons ever made:

I personally would love to say “ah well, both parties are full of corrupt shitheads and we’re fucked either way so what can you do” because then I could just stay home on election day and watch Step Brothers for the 400th time and have a good laugh at the dinner scene where Brennan hogs the sauce which he calls fancy sauce. But when you start to let that way of thinking discourage you from voting at all, that directly benefits the GOP. The Republican Party wins elections when people under 40 stay home on election day to watch Step Brothers and let presidential winners be determined by senile geriatrics stuffed into Florida retirement homes. 

That said, I support Bernie Sanders because he circumvents many of the trappings I despise about our two-party system, namely that he is the only truly grassroots candidate not funded billionaires or corporations. I am a political simpleton, and you certainly don’t have to listen to me, but if you are on the fence about who to throw your vote behind this year, may I humbly suggest that you also support Bernie Motherfuckin’ Sanders.

I am not so naive as to think any candidate is perfect, so please spare me the questionable gun bill Bernie voted for 40 years ago or whatever. But as far as the tenets I wish existed in American politicians, he hits just about all of them:

  • Running a small-donation campaign funded by the working class and not the ultrawealthy.

  • Supports universal healthcare.

  • Opposes war in direct, uncompromising language and votes against defense spending bills.

  • Supports raising taxes on millionaires and grinding billionaires to a fine bouillabaisse that gets served once a year on a new holiday he has named The Feast of the Fortune 500.

  • Has proposed turning Donald Trump inside out and displaying his bones in a public park where children can play his ribcage like a xylophone. I don’t think it’ll pass the Senate but I support the plan.

Now, maybe you don’t like Bernie. The most common critique I hear of him is actually not one of him but of his supporters: “The Bernie Bros were very mean to me online once and I therefore cannot support him!” Nah, sorry. “My political beliefs are steadfast insofar as they are not challenged at all, at which point I am willing to completely abandon them” is not an argument that flies. If this is your hangup, please separate online discourse from the integrity of the candidate and reassess your priorities. 

Maybe you prefer another candidate, and that’s fine. I just happen to think all of the other candidates are operating on a belief that America is structurally good and just needs a few repairs. Bernie is the only one who recognizes that the whole system is fucked and needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. He understands that the election of Trump was not a fault in the system, it was the logical result of a power structure that was built upside-down. This is why I can’t abide by the “anyone but Trump” thinking. We may get four years of reprieve by electing any ol’ Democratic candidate, but we’re setting ourselves up for something so much worse in the future, like the election of one of Trump’s fuckface kids. I don’t just want Trump out, I want a revolution. I don’t want to say “no more,” I want to say “never again.”

Alright, there are like a gajillion email newsletters about politics and I’m sure you didn’t follow this one to hear the musings of some brain-dead idiot who writes primarily about pop punk, so let me leave you with a weird internet thing I found…

I somehow stumbled across this guy’s Youtube channel a while back and find myself coming back to his videos with alarming frequency. As far as I can tell he is some crust punk who kinda looks like Steve-O who won a Trailer Park Boys contest, which amazingly is not how I found out about him. Anyway there’s a video of him getting deloused while playing a mandolin cover of my favorite little Fugazi song (music geeks feel free to correct me if it’s not a mandolin):

From the same session he’s also got this cover of The Bloodhound Gang’s “The Bad Touch,” which I promise is weird and good:

Why is there a person sitting there and not acknowledging that anything is going on? I have no idea. I’m not here to ask questions, I’m just a guy who finds weird things online and emails them to strangers named Craig or Greg!

Have a good week! I’ll have a point next time! Uncut Gems was robbed!

Pitchfork's Pop Punk Problem

Some thoughts on why I've never read The Most Trusted Voice in Music. Also, an interview with me.

As I have regularly made clear and is sort of my whole ~*thing*~, I very much dislike the music industry as a whole. The business model is increasingly parasitic and I have little patience for the voices of its loudest figureheads. I’d be happy to never again see one of those Music Industry 40 Under 40 roundups of Spotify marketing managers.

But this guy named Todd Burns has a very good newsletter called Music Journalism Insider that I subscribe to as my sadistic way of keeping tabs on it. It typically includes interviews with music industry people, rounds up some articles worth reading, and highlights open job listings if you’re lookin’ to crack into The Biz. Todd recently asked me (very famous) if I’d like to be interviewed for said newsletter and I said sure why not. 

I’m unsure how I come off as a person through my writing and interviews and it’s not really my concern to be honest. I’ve been told that I seem ornery and misanthropic which I don’t understand because I’m very nice in person! Why can’t you dumb bastards see how fucking nice I am! But then I read back what I said in this interview and I’m like Ohhhhh yeah ok I get why people would think that. I didn’t mean for this to sound as grim and fatalistic as it does but oh well what can you do.

There were some questions about how I got started on my “career” path and my thoughts on the future of music journalism and I think my answers are semi-interesting or at least legible. Then I got asked about what a typical day is like for me and this was my answer, which in no way is an exaggeration:

Walk me through a typical day-to-day for you right now.

I wake up psychotically early and begin each morning by listening to Drug Church’s Cheer at full volume while lifting weights among local retirees. Then I lug a three-gallon keg of coffee to the library where I stare out the window and transcribe interviews or prepare for upcoming interviews. After that I come home and eat a chicken parm hero while spending the rest of the day tracking down and emailing strangers, shamelessly begging to let me interview them as well. At night I take a bunch of sleep candy which is what I call melatonin because I have restless sleep and/or night terrors. Before those make me pass out, I crank out a newsletter. If I have time between all that, I try to maintain relationships with friends whom I’ve convinced myself all secretly hate me.

Read the rest of the interview for more oppressively stupid gems from your old pal Dan and also follow Todd’s newsletter. It’s a great resource. 

He also asked why I write a newsletter, and I basically said because there aren’t a lot of websites that take the things I like seriously and did some shameless self-promotion:

There aren’t a lot of places online where you’d find a thoughtful 5,000-word interview with The Menzingers or Dillinger Four. Pitchfork would never cover that because it’s not cool. So I’m glad to provide an alternative for readers who don’t see their scene represented anywhere else, and I’m very grateful for those who recognize that it’s worth a few bucks. And I’m grateful to Pitchfork in a way, too. Their negligence provides me an audience.

I’d like to expand on this a bit, which brings me to today’s “point”...

Pitchfork’s Pop Punk Problem

There’s a Pitchfork review of Alkaline Trio’s Maybe I’ll Catch Fire from 2000 that bounces around certain corners of the internet every so often. It is decidedly unkind to the band, the album, and its label. 

Here’s the lede:

“Asian Man Records is one of the worst companies in the world. Sure, there are some huge chemical corporations that outdo them from an ethical standpoint, but Asian Man's got more than their fair share of despicable attributes. Here's our beef: these people have been clogging our nation's already-diseased musical arteries with high-cholesterol punk for many moons, and someone needs to stop them. When one of the few good things that can be said about one of your label's albums-- and we're talking about Maybe I'll Catch Fire, here-- is that its title reflects the general public's wishes for the band, you've got a problem.”

I was never a reader of Pitchfork, and reviews like this were why. It’s not the snarky tone I object to. I can actually appreciate that. After all, if the early internet could not be home to semi-anonymous kneejerk shit-talk, then of what use was it? I don’t even have a problem with a critic dismantling an album like this, even if it’s one I happen to like. (And even if Asian Man founder Mike Park is the genuinely nicest human in music and is an odd target to pick on.) If some Chicago writer nerd wants to make himself seem slightly cooler than some Chicago musician nerd by shitting on their art, I say go for it. 

No, the reason I didn’t read the site in the early aughts because was because reviews like this made it clear that Pitchfork thought people like me and my friends, and the music we liked, were lame. That line in the sand was drawn very clearly. Spiritualized was a band for serious indie rock connoisseurs and Alkaline Trio was for lil pop punk babies. Matador put out respectable records and No Idea was a pile of trash and if you disagreed you could march your dumb ass over to Punknews and duke it out with the dregs of online society there. 

Hey, I get it! There are goofy elements to a band like Alkaline Trio that as a fan you have to either embrace or be too ignorant to recognize. (And sometimes, let’s face it, Pitchfork called ‘em right. I’m sorry but Gas Huffer’s Just Beautiful Music deserved the 3.1 it got!) In a way, I’m grateful for Pitchfork’s near-blanket dismissal of the genre. It gave an entire scene of bands that leaned on pop punk, ska, emo, etc. a common enemy and strengthened its sense of purpose. Pitchfork doesn’t like us? Well fuck them because we don’t like Pitchfork. 

And so, this was the established dynamic that endured for years and years and everyone seemed happy with the arrangement. Pitchfork snubbed or tore apart some of the genre’s most celebrated and/or influential albums from this era to pick up indie cred and fans of said albums only deepened their love of the music and their hatred of Pitchfork. There were plenty of examples and I don’t mean to shame the site for ancient history but ohhhhh here are a few scores they published for context (some have been scrubbed from the site or lost to HTML time):

(Credit where credit is due, though, Pitchfork generally rode for the Saddle Creek/Jade Tree/Deep Elm catalogs and also very occasionally rewarded the most random of Lookout/Epitaph/Fat albums, like for example when they inexplicably gave both the Bouncing Souls’ Hopeless Romantic and Lagwagon’s Let’s Talk About Feelings a 9.1. I don’t know how Pitchfork chooses their scores or how these albums slipped past the goalies, but I always chalked this up to psychological warfare against me personally.)

But there’s been a shift over the last few years. Pitchfork has been decidedly kinder to this corner of rock music. They’ve praised albums like Jeff Rosenstock’s WORRY., a clear modern descendant of the Asian Man Records family. They’ve also propped up bands like PUP, the Hotelier, Algernon Cadwallader, and Oso Oso, who picked up the site’s coveted title, Best New Whateverthefuck.

A lot of this has been driven by the personal taste of critic Ian Cohen who, for the record, I think does an excellent job of contextualizing these albums and comes at them from a place of genuine appreciation, even if I occasionally disagree with his opinions on specific records. (He is also very worth a follow.) And ultimately I’d rather see albums like WORRY. get praised than shit upon. But no matter who is reviewing them, it’s still always odd, for anyone whose memory goes back more than a decade anyway, to see Pitchfork heaping praise unto albums they unquestionably would have shit on ten years earlier.

The site’s newfound appreciation for modern indie-punk records is not the most confusing part to me, though. The most confusing part is this reevaluation trend they’ve been leaning into, whereby they brush off older albums and review them from a modern perspective. Lately they’ve been examining some records that, again, the site would have torn to absolute shreds upon their releases, and blowing their praise completely out of proportion. The two examples I saw recently were Taking Back Sunday’s Tell All Your Friends, which the site gave an 8.0, and My Chemical Romance’s Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, which got an 8.2. They also famously reevaluated Bright Eyes’ Fevers and Mirrors upon its reissue and upgraded it from a 5.4 to a 9.0, with Cohen writing a sort of mea culpa for the site.

(Side note to Pitchfork: These are the safe albums to play Monday morning quarterback with. Time has already proven their worth. Quit being cowards and ride for the trash of the era! Where do you stand on the D-listers that used to open for A Static Lullaby? How do you score the bottom half of the Fearless Records catalog? How does Pitchfork remember Spitalfield’s Remember Right Now right now??)

Some naysayers have chalked up the site’s recent inclusionary shift to its new corporate overlords. (Pitchfork was acquired by Condé Nast in 2015.) Hmmmm, maybe. The internet is a big place after all and from a business standpoint it makes sense for a website to cast as wide a readership net as possible and be a hub for all genres. Lord knows there’s only so far writing exclusively about pop punk bands will get you. (See for example my career.)

But as much as I love a good conspiracy theory and enjoy believing that there is an internet deep state that directs its underlings to prop up Joyce Manor albums in an effort to bolster traffic numbers and rake in that sweet, sweet advertising money, I’ve got to think it’s a lot more simple and less nefarious than that. I think it can be chalked up to a standard changing of the guard. Most, if not all, of the Pitchfork’s original writers have moved on and transitioned away from music journalism and into careers that might actually pay their bills. And its new, younger writers want to make their voices heard and don’t want to be bound to the transgressions of the site’s founders, to which I’m totally sympathetic. A 25-year-old writer would have been six years old when Pitchfork trashed Stay What You Are, for example. I understand this, and still can’t help but take new reviews with a grain of salt.

Now, you may be thinking: Wow Dan it’s just a website how about don’t read it and shut the fuck up already. And yes, very good, I see the merit in that argument. I guess my problem is, since Pitchfork somehow became the de facto arbiter of indie cool at the turn of the century, pretty much every music memory I have from the early aughts involves some jabroni hazily regurgitating a glowing Pitchfork review to lecture me or someone in my vicinity about how Beulah and Dizzee Rascal were the future of music, and now I’ve lived long enough to see those same jabronis get jobs at tech startups and explain that there’s currently an emo revival happening.

So I’m not particularly interested in reading a website’s reflective musings on a scene that survived in spite of its best efforts to take it down. Then again, I’m not interested in reading most of the opinions on the internet, even if Pitchfork is, as their website header describes it, “The Most Trusted Voice in Music.”

I guess ultimately my question is: Is Pitchfork ready to hire someone to finally reevaluate Maybe I’ll Catch Fire?

Hey if you have enjoyed the insane ramblings contained here, you can subscribe to REPLY ALT, a regular newsletter about music that does not have any Condé Nast funding……..yet.

Perfect progress, perfect destruction 

Some updates on MY BOOK if you care.

Hey hello hi. As I’ve mentioned, sometimes this newsletter is about music stuff and sometimes it might be updates about the progress of MY BOOK, which is also about music. So I guess it’s always about music in a way. Aaaanyway, today I’m writing a bit about MY PROCESS as a means of holding myself accountable at year’s end. So if you don’t wanna read about that I’d say just skip this one. No worries!

The question I’m most frequently asked by friends is “Why are you like this?”

The question I’m second most frequently asked by friends is “How is the book coming along?”

Whenever I talk to my mom on the phone, she poses the question with a little more Italian mother bluntness: “Are you done with the book yet or what?” And then when I say I still have a lot of work to do she will offer this sage piece of advice: “Well, hurry up then.”

At this point I’ve been working on this book for several months and I’ve not written many words, which is scary because my publisher has informed me that in order to sell the book to customers there needs to be words in it. The book should be many words long, they’ve told me. 130,000 words long, to be exact.

So, why so far from finished? Well, there’s a lot of research and interviews required for it. I often explain it like this: Say you’re painting a giant mural. You probably want to do a lot of prep work beforehand, right? Sketching it out and priming the wall and getting all of the colors you need and such. Sure, you could just start painting with what you’ve got, but if you’re lacking some of the colors, it’s going to be very spotty and you won’t be able get the full picture of the dogs playing poker or whatever and you’ll just be making more work for yourself in the future to fix it. That said, I don’t have all of my colors yet. I have some colors that I’ve gone through great lengths to collect. But some of the colors I still need are very famous and are taking more time and effort to track down. Some colors live on the other side of the world. Some colors are hesitant about being collected. One color told me to go fuck myself.

By my estimation, I need to do about 150 to 200 interviews for this book. Thus far I have done 50. If you’re a “math person,” you may have noticed that 50 is a much smaller number than 200. Welcome to my anxiety.

The 50 were hard earned, though. Each interview itself was over an hour. Plus the many hours I spent preparing. Plus the coordinating and traveling to each one. Plus the transcribing. Other writers have suggested using a transcription service to save time but I don’t believe in it. Maybe, as the grandson of Depression era immigrants, it’s my stingy refusal to pay someone to do something I could do my damn self. 

But deeper than that, I’ve come around on transcribing. It is a penance of sorts. I always see writers griping about transcribing because they hate the sound of their own voice, but I think that’s a copout. Sure, I do hate the sound of my own voice, but what annoys me most when listening back to interviews I’ve done is when I fumble a question—either I tip-toed around a topic or asked something in too indirect a manner. Or worse, I hate when I am listening back to a conversation and I can hear the question that should be asked and I’m not asking it. I’m listening back to myself and I’m watching a tremendous softball getting lobbed over the plate and I’m not swinging at it and I’m screaming at my past self swing goddamn you SWING! Usually that stems from a lack of preparation or inattentive listening or both. But each transcription helps me learn from it and try not to repeat the mistake.

It is mortifying to write about how far behind I feel on this book, but I’m putting it here in this very prestigious email newsletter to hold myself accountable. I should be interviewing at least one person a day but sometimes many days go by in which I don’t talk to anyone. Not just for my book; I mean I don’t communicate with anyone from the outside world and just lock myself in my apartment with a five-day supply of microwaveable burritos and Milano cookies. 

Maybe I should use this newsletter as some sort of accountability system. If I don’t conduct at least three interviews per week, for example, I will force myself to mail five LPs from my record collection to five randomly selected readers. It would be the only email newsletter that I know of that would let readers publicly shame the author while simultaneously winning prizes.

Every afternoon when I sit at my desk and chip away at the book I look out my window and I can see the hills in the distance as the sun sets on them. Sometimes when it’s cold there is snow on the tops of them. They are full of greens and browns and once in a while the blue sky turns auburn and it’s so beautiful that it looks like someone painted it all there that way. I’m going to finish this book, goddammit. 

Even More Rambling About Books

As much as this book is very clearly melting my brain in an exciting and sort of cute way, sometimes it’s fun to look back at the last book to motivate myself to reach goalposts and remind myself that hey yeah finishing a book is totally possible and one day I’ll be done and will look back and say ha ha I really wasted my poor readers’ time blabbing about how overwhelmed I was. That said, Laura told me the other day that she signed off on a Spanish translation of TR*NNY. Unless I’m mistaken, that’ll make it available in Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Finnish, uh possibly Dutch?, and maybe some other languages that neither of us could remember. German? Here’s a photo of her Finnish copy, which I hope she had a chance to……...finnish. (Sorry!)

Hey how about some books that don’t have my dumb name on them, huh? This is my book pile I went through in December (and in some cases am still working through):


Oh! And if you’re into astrology, listen to my friend Jess’ podcast that she does with Chris Farren called Astroblasting. I was on today’s episode despite knowing nothing about astrology and it kind of freaking me out to be honest. But she asked me a bunch of questions to determine uhhh my chart(?) or some such stuff and when she wanted to know my aspirational figure I instinctively chose Fry from Futurama because I am a simpleton. So listen to that if you’d like to hear a grown man who is very uneasy about hearing talk of Scorpio rising or whatever.

Some More Things I Liked and Did Not Like from 2019

In the last edition of REPLY ALT I ran through some things I liked and didn’t like watching this year and said I’d probably forgotten some things and whoops I did. So here’s one of each I forgot last time…

Like: Craig Fixada America

This is a perfect sendup of those Pod Save America doofi who sell Resistance snakeoil to well-off white people. Comedian Craig Healy so astutely captures their shameless liberal pandering, low-hanging fruit humor, and panel discussion circle jerks. You can watch it on Vioobu, which is an elaborate fake streaming service he created. It sort of makes sense when you watch his last show Cuplicated, which is a take on all those serious drama shows about male comedians (Louie, Maron, that Pete Holmes show I don’t know the name of. Couchsurfing or whatever the fuck).

Not Like: Booksmart

Fucking abysmal. Like someone grinded every teen graduation movie into a paste and siphoned out all jokes, likable characters, and interesting premises. Oh, but in the genre of awkward-misfit-teen-girls-navigating-school, I thought PEN15 was good and the thong episode should probably win an award. Watch that instead.

Alright you lil freeks, let’s all just survive one more day and then we are 2020’s problem. Happy new year and have fun singing one of the three designated cliché new years songs. You can only pick from these three, I’m sorry. The early aughts gods deemed it so and we must forever abide.

The only exception is that you can listen to Murder By Death covering “Auld Lang Syne” at midnight.

Oh and if you want a non-NYE music rec, I’ve been into this lately. What can I say, I’m a sucker for an accent.

Lol sorry I know I said I was wrapping up but I keep thinking of one more thing. Being “a sucker for an accent” just randomly reminded me of this tweet which always makes me laugh uncontrollably:

The best shit I saw this year

My favorite and least favorite stuff of 2019.

Hello and welcome to the last REPLY ALT of 2019 but probably not.

In case you missed it I dropped my very good and possibly very perfect list of Albums of the Decade. I also sent my very generous paying subscribers a playlist that crammed ten years of music into ten hours. So if you’ve been making it your New Year’s resolution to get a paid subscription to REPLY ALT, I support your decision and would like to offer you 15% off to help you follow your dreams.

Get 15% off for 1 year

Anyway so here are a few things I liked and didn’t like in 2019 that I can remember at least, as well as some thoughts about writing that you can just skip past if you’re not interested or you’ve had enough of me.

The Best Live Music I Saw

I got to see a lot of my favorite bands this year, many of whom were playing material from new albums that I really liked. I got to see AVAIL perform again which is not something I thought I’d ever say. I got to see my favorite album of the decade played in full, twice. I even got to see Green Day and Weezer in a tiny lil club. But whenever I think of the best live music I saw this year, my brain keeps going back to one very specific set.

This summer, noted TV personality Jonah Ray asked me personally (not bragging, just what happened) if I would DJ the record release show for his album of punk Weird Al covers and I said sure why not. One of the openers was Thomas Lennon from The State which sort of blew my mind because that show was incredibly influential on my comedy brain in my formative years. Another opener was Tim Kasher, who was not influential on my comedy brain but whose music I still like nonetheless.

So Tim gets up there with nothing but his acoustic guitar, plays one song, and then says to the crowd, “Thank you, that was a Cyndi Lauper song.” Then he plays another song and says, “That was also a Cyndi Lauper song.” Then he prefaces his next song by saying, “OK, this is a song by Celine Dion… originally made famous by Cyndi Lauper.” That ended up being “I Drove All Night.” He did the same thing with Cyndi Lauper’s cover of Prince’s “When You Were Mine.” Slowly it started to hit everyone in the room: This motherfucker right here is doing an all-Cyndi Lauper covers set. Not one original song in the bunch. Tim Kasher, man. What a legend.

The Best TV I Saw

I Think You Should Leave

I wrote a bit about how this show hit me at a time when it was very much needed. I can barely remember my life before jokes from this show were part of my everyday vernacular. I think of it every time I pull a door that was meant to be pushed. I think of it when I see someone flip a water bottle. I think of it when I’m looking up a funny Youtube video to show someone. I think of it when I adjust my t-shirt. I think of it when Santa brought something early. I think of it when I go to my friend’s house, which she purchased—fully furnished—from Garfield creator Jim Davis. I kept telling myself I was gonna take a crack at ranking all the sketches because every website I saw that made an attempt at it was fucking dogshit. I don’t feel like going through all 29, but here are my top 5 (excluding Tim Robinson’s episode of The Characters) and holy LORD this was some real Sophie’s Choice shit:

5. “Game Night”

4. “Choking”

3. “Brooks Brothers”

2. “Focus Group”

1. “The Day Robert Palins Murdered Me”

The Righteous Gemstones

I watched a bunch of HBO shows that I really liked this year. Succession was good although I’m sure I’ll lose the desire to continue when it comes back. I am a real stickler for series finales and am almost never satisfied with them, but I thought Silicon Valley did a decent job of wrapping things up. And Barry of course is dark and funny and gave the world Noho Hank (I thought this was a nice little profile of the actor who plays him). But godDAMN did I love The Righteous Gemstones above all. I think part of this show’s appeal is that since it’s about a family of megachurch pastors, the sets look so opulent and it’s so lush and visually stimulating. It also manages to combine a dark storyline about blackmail with some truly bonkers humor. Judy’s monologue at Outback Steakhouse is one of the most deranged things I’ve seen on TV this year. The show is funny in a myriad of deeper ways, but I absolutely lose my shit every time one of the characters says “car pranks.” Also, if “Misbehavin’” wasn’t on your Songs of the Year list, you dun goofed.

The Best Movies I Saw

Uncut Gems

I don’t follow film as closely as music, and typically wait until December to binge on all the movies I missed over the year. But I was counting down the days until Uncut Gems came out. Good Time was my favorite movie of 2017 so I was onboard with pretty much anything the Safdie brothers had planned from there. Then I heard they’d cast Adam Sandler and released photos of him in character where he looks, as the internet described it, like he sells blow at the bowling alley. And that was all I needed to hear. I absolutely love Serious Sandler. I love when he spends a decade charging up his acting meter by doing half-assed comedies with Rob Schneider and then unloads it all on something amazing like Punch Drunk Love. So this was a pretty guaranteed can’t-fail pairing for ol’ Dan.

Fortunately, I got to attend an early screening of the movie due to my incredibly popular and influential email newsletter (Maggie Gyllenhaal was on line for water in front of me no big deal), and while Good Time was a claustrophobic viewing experience with tight shots and obnoxious fluorescent lighting, Uncut Gems was just STRESSFUL. For two hours, it attaches you to a slimeball gambling addict who cannot make a good decision to save his life and you’re just begrudgingly along for the dark ride through areas of New York that never get depicted in movies because they’re so gross and gaudy and unremarkable. I’ve since rewatched it twice and I’m not gonna lie—I’ll probably watch it once more before the year ends.

After the screening I met The Sandman briefly and told him he was great in the movie and he said thanks and that he was a big fan of REPLY ALT, music’s only email newsletter, and I said that was very kind of him to say. If you don’t believe me, here’s a photo of us together which should corroborate everything:

December 4, 2019

Dolemite Is My Name

One of the many, many ways the internet has corroded my brain is that I’ll see people talking something up online and I’ll just disregard it because there are people out there who will talk any dumb shit up and as a result I end up watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel for two seasons before I stop and ask myself what the fuck I’m doing. I knew Dolemite Is My Name was one of those things the internet had deemed worthy of watching, so I pressed play with a grain of salt. But midway through, the realization hit me: Wait, this is actually good—it’s actually very good. Eddie Murphy has also got the aforementioned Sandleritis where he’ll fart out 18 movies about him in a fat suit called shit like Mr. Plunkenbutter and then drop a truly great film like this. It also made me realize how much I’d missed watching Wesley Snipes in movies. His physical posturing and comedic timing in Dolemite is UNREAL good. Mr. Snipes, please continue to pay your taxes so that you don’t have to go to jail and can star in more movies, thank you.

The Irishman

What can I say. I love watching Scorsese play with his guido action figures for three hours. (Please note: I am 100% Italian and don’t cancel me for dropping the above G word thank you.)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Every day for weeks this summer I walked past a movie theater near Hollywood where Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was playing and thought, “I should see that here. That’d be appropriate.” But I didn’t, and instead saw whatever the fuck Marvel movie where they do laser fights over space jewelry and ended up watching Once Upon months later on a plane, exactly how Tarantino intended it. But I still enjoyed it because it’s about, as my friend Luke O’Neil put it, two dumb idiots who love each other. Amen, brother.

The Best Thing I Read

All 29 REPLY ALT emails, each one perfect in its own way.

The Shit I Hated

That Netflix show where there are two Paul Rudds

I can’t remember the name of the show and refuse to look it up but as far as I know Netflix only made one show about there being two Paul Rudds so that’s the one I’m talking about. Despite the fact that Paul Rudd has pretty decent comedic chops, this show didn’t make much of an attempt at being funny, which is totally fine, except that the show offers nothing else. It’s not otherwise interesting or engaging so it just feels like you’re watching nothing. It takes a halfway decent premise that could’ve filled a 90-minute movie and stretches it out across an entire season. Also, it is painfully obvious that no one who worked on this show has ever had an actual job before. Most of the storyline is Paul Rudd trying to land The Big Client which is some sort of internet provider with his big important work pitch meeting that he prepares for with documents and presentations and says things like, “I gotta prepare tonight so I can land the big account!” The whole thing comes off, ironically, like that episode of Stella where the guys work at Paul Rudd’s office and steal The Big Account from him. I realize that’s a very niche reference and I can’t find it online but here’s the Stella skit where they find Paul Rudd in the woods and he throws a baby like a football

The Dead Don’t Die

Completely useless. Nothing added to an already overdone genre, an underwhelming misuse of Bill Murray, confusing attempts at being meta, and heavy handed morality lessons forced in at the end. But Tilda Swinton chopped a bunch of motherfuckers up with a samurai sword and some fake-as-hell CGI black blood came out so that’s cool I guess? 

That movie where the guy is the only person alive who has heard of The Beatles

I don’t think there’s a more direct way for a movie to frustrate me than to take a reasonably interesting hypothetical premise—what if a guy invented lying, what if a guy was the only person who’d heard of The Beatles, what if there were two Paul Rudds, etc.—and then build an entire world around it until I’ve invested almost an hour of my time into it and then blow it all with some hokey love story between two characters who no one cares if they fall in love or get hit by a bus. Which I guess did happen in this movie, to be fair.

A Tip For Aspiring Writers During the Holidays

OK, shifting gears. This is my first holiday season in many years where I’m not working for a website, but if you’re looking to break into the exciting world of online journalisms I have a timely tip for you. 

If you can believe it, website editors have families, some of whom even love them. This is surprising, I know. Around the holidays, these editors like to spend time with their families and play with their dogs and avoid thinking about the internet. Most of them are just praying that no one famous dies or drops a surprise album on Christmas that might force them to fire up their work laptop that they dragged all the way to Hartford, Connecticut, just in case. Usually they’re fine. But once in a while Beyoncé will drop an album or George Michael will drop dead and then oh goddammit better check the work Slack to see if anyone’s got this. And then they have to sit up in their childhood bedroom blogging which is a very sobering reminder of how far they’ve not come in life.

Anyway my tip is this: Since editors are very eager to kick off and forget about work in the last days of December, they often come back to the office in January and think O Fuck. They realize that it’s a new year and they need new stories because what kind of Type-A kissass nerd plans their work out weeks in advance? So as someone who is terrible at thinking ahead, I was always open to more pitches in the first days of the new year as I scrambled to find new projects so that I wasn’t just staring at my computer and pretending I was busy.

So if you’re making it your resolution to get published more in the new year, spend some time this holiday week crafting some pitches and have them ready to go. Then once January 3 hits, fire away. Don’t send pitch emails on weekends or holidays.

On Writing Eventually 

And lastly, speaking of writing tips, an exciting and sort of scary thing happened to me this weekend that I thought I’d share here because where else am I gonna share it. 

I’ve been going through some ~*personal stuff*~ over the last few months as most people do. Nothing dire, just the kind of normal stuff that happens in life that you have to deal with and say well what can you do am I right. I don’t go to therapy and I’ve got to imagine my friends are sick of hearing about my pathetic baby problems at this point so I’ve been letting all of these thoughts incubate in my subconscious like a well that’s too deep to dip my toe into while I’ve worked on my book. My book is a non-fiction work about music and has absolutely nothing to do with my personal life so whenever I sit down to write I’m focusing on the stories of other people and I don’t often consider committing my own feelings to paper. 

Then Saturday morning I woke up with a vague idea planted in my head of how a short story could begin. So I opened my notebook and wrote the beginning and then I wrote the next part and the next and then before I knew it ten pages had dropped out of my brain. I inputted it into my computer and fixed a few small things and it is… perfect? It so succinctly captures everything I’ve been ruminating on for months and dissects several larger issues in ways that are engaging and kind of funny and also kind of deranged. Unlike most things I write which I either hate or I think are fine at best, I don’t mind bragging about this story because it truly feels like I didn’t write it. It feels like someone much smarter than me climbed into my brain and scraped all my half-thoughts out and arranged them into a perfect little story for me. 

The experience reminds me of this video I watch sometimes of a seven-year-old kid trying to solve a Rubik’s cube in under two and a half minutes. For the first 30 seconds he doesn’t spin the cube at all. He just stares at it, examining every side and every color. A full minute goes by and he hasn’t spun a single side and you start to get stressed out for him. But he remains calm and just looks and memorizes and works things out in his head. After a minute and a half goes by you start to think ok little dude you gotta start solving this frigging thing or you’re not gonna make it. But instead he just keeps staring. Then, finally, at the 1:40 mark, he pulls down a blindfold and his little fingers go to town on the cube and within 40 seconds he is done. Solved. So sure is he that it’s correct that he doesn’t even look at the cube when he finishes.

This is not usually the way I write and this has never happened to me. I’ve had good ideas strike like lightning before, but I’ve never had a fully formed work pour out of me whole like this. It feels like I’ve done a drug for the first time, and has been motivating me to get more work out this way. It’s hard to force it but knowing that it’s possible is exciting. I want to live for these effortless moments of creativity. 

I’m trying to compile a collection of more work like this and put it all out into the world. Will people be interested in reading things I’ve written that have nothing to do with music? I have no idea and I don’t really care. I feel powerless to the work and that is the greatest, scariest, most thrilling feeling I’ve had in a long while.

I often get emails from aspiring writery-type people looking for advice or guidance or other things I can’t really provide because I don’t know what I’m doing myself and am just making it up as I go along. But if there’s a lesson this experience has taught me that I can impart here, it’s that sometimes your brain is doing more work than you realize. Let thoughts ruminate. Don’t force things out when they’re not coming. Allow yourself time in the quiet moments to reflect on the things that cause your heart to ache. Carry your notebook everywhere you go and when something has decided that it’s ready to jump out of your brain, stand there with a big open net and catch it. Don’t think about whether it’s right or wrong, just let it out.

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