Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Screamers' KK Barrett is Helping Make Roads Sing

From October 24th's Wall Street Journal, a pretty interesting and weird article involving K.K. Barret from the legendary synth punk band The Screamers and pavement cut so it plays music when you drive over it:

A California Road That Plays 'Rossini'
Drivers Heard the Music and Approved; Neighbors Grumbled About the Rumble

LANCASTER, Calif. -- In early August, this quiet desert community got an odd request from Honda Motor Co. The car maker wanted to cut a pattern of grooves into a stretch of road so people in passing cars would hear the theme from "The Lone Ranger." Footage of Honda Civics "playing" the famous tune would be used in an advertising campaign.

Eager to attract business to the Antelope Valley, Mayor R. Rex Parris gave the project the greenlight. "It was a way of singing the city's praises," said Mr. Parris, wearing black cowboy boots with his business suit on a recent sunny afternoon.

Instead, the novel "singing road" bitterly divided this city of 145,000 people. Residents living within earshot complained of constant noise from the song. "Why don't I come to your house at 3 a.m. and butcher the 'William Tell Overture' and see how you like it," grumbled Brian Robin, a 43-year-old public-relations consultant who lives in a two-story house with his wife, two kids and four cats a quarter-mile from the musical road.

Opponents like Mr. Robin pushed to fill in the grooves, posting homemade signs around nearby neighborhoods. Proponents, however, saw the stretch of asphalt as an American icon -- the country's first melodic sequence of rumble strips and thus a piece of history for their town and their children. They urged the mayor not to give in to the will of a small minority. In the past few weeks, both groups have had their way.

Singing roads first flourished in Asia. Built in three locations in northern and central Japan, they were the product of a team of researchers at Hokkaido Industrial Research Institute. After driving over the marks on a road left by a bulldozer, the Japanese scientists determined that cutting grooves at measured intervals onto a road's surface created vibrations producing notes up and down the scale.

A similar road in South Korea plays "Mary Had a Little Lamb," according to a video on More than a decade ago, in Denmark, another road used a technology that made use of buttons above the road's surface.

The idea that led to Lancaster's rendition of the cavalry charge in Gioacchino Rossini's "William Tell Overture" came from Honda's Santa Monica advertising agency, Rubin Postaer & Associates. Advertising executives there were inspired by a YouTube video of a man playing Mozart by attaching rods to his Rollerblades that hit water-filled bottles as he skated down a street.

RPA hired a production company that enlisted former punk drummer K.K. Barrett and his mathematician-musician friends to tune the pavement. Mr. Barrett, whose career began as the drummer for the Screamers, a Los Angeles techno-punk band, went to work on the Rossini piece.

By cutting ¾-inch deep grooves set 2 inches apart into asphalt, he was able to find a high F. With the same grooves 4 inches apart, he got a low F. From there, he measured his way to find all the 12 notes in between.

The width of the grooves determined the loudness of the sound. Half an inch was too soft, Mr. Barrett said, so he made it an inch. In retrospect, he says, that may have been too much. "We wanted to make sure it was loud and it was," he said. Nobody measured decibel levels, but city officials found the music could be heard half a mile away.
[Honda Civic musical road] American Honda Motor Co

The noise catapulted the Civic Music Road, as it was called, from civic attraction to civic dispute.

The road was completed in early September. And just days later, residents began posting videos of the 30-second drive online, attracting thousands of hits and hundreds of visitors to this quiet dusty city about 70 miles northeast of Los Angeles. The new popularity of the stretch on Avenue K soon created traffic problems and lots of illegal U-turns made by listeners who wanted to hear the masked Texas Ranger's theme over and over again.

For some of the hundred homes within half a mile of the road, that was a problem. Debra White Hayes couldn't sleep through the noise, which she described as incessant droning "like monsters." Thinking it was local teenagers partying, the retiree called the sheriff. But the noise didn't stop. With each interrupted night's sleep, her asthma got worse, she says. When she discovered the tune was to be a permanent fixture in her neighborhood, Ms. White Hayes says she wrote Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Mr. Parris says it wasn't the complaints of nearby residents that caused the city to decide to repave the road. "Quite frankly, I would have saved the road if it weren't for the safety concerns." After the mayor ordered the repaving, he said City Hall got 500 phone calls from residents demanding that the musical road be saved. Fans lined up for two miles on the desert highway to experience the final days of the melodic rumble strips. David Gilroy, whose house is about 500 feet from the road, painted a sign to get people to call City Hall and advocate to keep the road. "It's history for our kids," said Mr. Gilroy, downing a Bud Light behind his house. His daughter and a 12-year-old friend collected three-and-a-half pages of signatures at their school to save the attraction.

"Of all the things you think people will react to," mused Mr. Parris. "It was immediate." The campaign "was vitriolic and it even had a level of organization. Their complaint: How dare you cave in to a few complainers."

On the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 23, 18 days after the musical road was created, construction crews steamrolled fresh new asphalt over the music-making grooves. Honda footed the $20,000 bill. A day later, passing cars produced nothing but a gentle hiss.

Mr. Parris, however, didn't want to give up the tourist attraction and the marketing potential for his city. He marshaled city officials to find a new location -- a stretch of road out toward the airport with a median to make U-turns safer, and no nearby residents. He reached out to Honda to finance a repeat performance. But, this time, the car maker wasn't interested.

The city went ahead anyway and 24 days after the first road was paved into silence, a new one had been put in, with 1,270 feet of grooves tuned to Rossini's score. The city paid $30,000 for the job, and officials are confident they'll find a new sponsor, or even "a revenue-generating application," Mr. Parris says, "like a jingle."

In this video you can see and hear the road in action, pretty cool!

Weird: Vampire Weekend+Fucked Up covering Blitz

I can't decide if it's cool or annoying, or both, but it's Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend singing with Fucked Up doing two punk covers, Blitz's "Someone's Gonna Die" and The Descendents' "Parents." During a twelve hour marathon gig by Fucked Up in a record store, they had a number of guest vocalists join them for a few songs, including Moby doing a song by his old punk band Vatican Commandos (and "Blitzkrieg Bop" by The Ramones and Wire's "12XU") and Dinosaur Jr's J. Mascis doing a song by his old punk band Deep Wound. But it was the Vampire Weekend/Fucked Up songs that seem to have drawn the most attention of the crowd that was there:

There's an article about the show here that's worth reading if you want more info about it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Poison Idea's Slayer Hippie arrested for armed robbery!

The Crime Stoppers police report:

The Portland Police Bureau, in cooperation with Crime Stoppers, is asking for your help in finding an armed robbery suspect. On Wednesday, August 20, 2008, at 3:24 a.m. a lone male armed with a knife, entered the Walgreen's pharmacy, located at 940 SE 39th Avenue, demanding opiate drugs. After receiving several hundred Oxycontin pills, the suspect walked out the door onto SE Belmont Street. On Monday, September 8, 2008, at 9:32 p.m. the same suspect entered the Walgreen's located at 3909 SE Holgate Boulevard, armed with a knife and a demand note. The suspect approached an employee and was told that their pharmacy had already closed. The suspect left the store. At approximately, 9:50 p.m., the suspect walked into the Walgreen's at 940 SE 39th Avenue, approached the pharmacy counter, armed with a knife, and demanded prescription drugs. The suspect is described as a white male, late 30's, 6'0" tall, 200 pounds, with gray hair and brown eyes. The suspect walks "hunched" over and appears to be wearing a wig with a long ponytail.

Somehow this slipped below my Poison Idea radar when it happened last month. The suspect in this crime was later caught on a tip and it turned out to be Steve Hanford, AKA Thee Slayer Hippie, ex-drummer for Poison Idea and Final Warning. Hanford was responsible for a string of pharmacy robberies in the Portland area over the past Summer. Oh how the mighty have fallen... maybe the downfall to drugs and crime are karma for the Ian Mackaye EP Posion Idea put out. Ha ha ha! I think I've gotta go listen to PI's "War All The Time" album now.

Friday, November 21, 2008

2night in Ballard: Partman Part Horse & Le Shat Noir

Like a little chocolate in your peanut butter? Sure you do, you are tired of the same old thang and like to shake it up a little. Tonight's show at the Bit Saloon in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood may be just they type of thing for someone like you. Why? Because the bands are all fucked up. Sure, you could try to call them art punk or post punk, but really they combine noise, keyboards, punk, art, rock and all bring something unique, and sometimes something kinda scary, to the table. If there's one thing you can expect to see with headliners Partman Part Horse, it's flesh, the lead singer tends to take a lot of his clothes off. And if you've every seen the Gloryholes, you know their spastic singer Doug White? Well he fronts Le Shat Noir and is backed by some of the dudes from the Cripples--which to me sounded like an instant success story even before I saw them tear it up live. $5 bucko, that's a bargain for your entertainment dollar.

"Skank or Die" 1984 article from Playboy

I posted an illustration from this June 1984 Playboy article on punk last week, promising to scan the full article in soon. Here it is! There's some good info and quotes in here along with the writer's commentary. Click on the images to get the bigger readable version of each page. I'd love to hear your opinions on it...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Gainsbourg, Seattle's newest bar opens tonight!

Once "North of the channel" in Seattle was a cultural wasteland for Seattle's nightlife scene. Areas like the U-District might have been great for record stores and there were short-lived all-ages venues on the Ave and in Lake City, but the bar scene was mostly dive bars, college bars and sports bars. In the past decade though, things have changed. The Monkey Pub came on strong as the punkest bar in North Seattle with live shows and an alternative crowd. The Blue Moon got a lot more rock'n'roll and the Galway Arms also started doing shows (it's pretty punky these days, although they don't really advertise their shows). In Ballard the Sunset, Hattie's, the Tractor and Hazlewood brought a thriving nightlife (and now the Bit Saloon is in the game!). In Fremont the High Dive and Nectar brought music to a once fairly quiet artist neighborhood (although the bars still mostly suck there). Off of Phinney Ridge on 65th the Tin Hat and Tigertail are bars thriving with a hip younger crowd. So North Seattle is doing pretty good these days, but it's about to get better! The newest edition is Gainsbourg:

Gainsbourg is a lounge/bar on Greenwood just North of 85th that has it's grand opening tonight. It's owned by Scott Kannberg, JJ Wandler, and Hannah Levin. Levin's name you probably recognize from her writing at The Seattle Weekly and previously The Stranger, she's also on the air on KEXP. Behind the bar you'll spot bartenders from the recently closed McLeod Residence, The Sunset and Tigertail--all great drink servers that know their shit and are fun to talk to. And on the public side of the bar, your side of the bar, you'll find a dark, cool place with a rock'n'roll vibe and good drinks. I hit a soft opening private party a few weeks ago and really liked the look and feel of Gainsbourg, y'all should check it out! Levin said they may not have a full food menu or liquor when they first open, but both would be coming soon. So expect a small menu, beer and wine for a week or two before the full blown action happens.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pretty in Punk: 1985 News Story on Boise Punk Scene

I love stuff like these clips below. If anyone out there has on videotape the news editorial on Seattle's Channel 7 by Lou Guzzo railing against Seattle's punk rock scene (immortalized in The Dehumanizers' song "Kill Lou Guzzo") you gotta get that on YouTube. Meanwhile, here is a three part news story on the Boise, Idaho punk scene circ 1985. Check out a young Mark Hanford! Ex-Haggis, writer for MRR, and long time 10 Things writer:

Monday, November 17, 2008

Holy Crap! Johnny Rotten in a butter commercial!

Much has been said about punk songs being used in commercials, whether the original music loses some of it's integrity or not when it's being used to sell goods or services. I myself have flip flopped a bunch on the issue. In my twenties I was super into DIY and non-corporatism, I had the almost militant fervor of a letter writer to MRR. I think as I've gotten older I've learned to let go and feel more like it's none of my business what other bands choose to do with their music and careers... and frankly, punk bands pushing 50 probably do need to be cashing in on their old careers a little to make some money. You can't tour in a van across the US playing club shows when you're 40 or 50 like you did when you were 18. I also kinda get a kick out of realizing how songs I grew up listening to wormed their way into mainstream culture, although more than likely most people hearing Iggy Pop's "Lust for Live" on a cruise commercial or The Buzzcocks' "What Do I Get?" on an AARP commercial have no clue who the bands are. It's more than likely it's some 30 or 40 something punk rocker worker for an ad firm that made that stuff happen. For better or worse though, it will continue to happen.

That brings us to this, not just punk music being featured in a TV commercial, but punks starring in TV commercials. Johnny Rotten has been spearheading a butter campaign in the UK. I know many of you will think it's horrible, but I actually think it's pretty funny and totally not surprising, Rotten has always given the fuck you to convention and the punk scene.


Woah, OG UK crusty punk band Amebix has reformed and is going to tour the US in January. You can almost smell the unshoweredness from the crowds at their shows months in advance. I'm pretty stoked, I listened to them a fair amount in the latter half of the '80s and had the requisit Amebix patches on my crusty jeans and jacket. I don't think I've listened to 'em in twenty years though, so it's time to dust off the old vinyl and see how they held up. With most crust punk, I tended to be a bigger fan of it live than on record, Amebix, Nausea and Discharge being the biggest exceptions. The wierdest part of this whole deal is the Seattle show is going to take place at Neumos... a venue not exactly known for hosting punk shows:

January 27th @ Neumos
Mass Graves

Nirvana's "Nevermind" record release show

Live at Beehive Records in the U-District
9/16/91, free and all-ages

Nirvana was already a somewhat big band around Seattle before the release of "Nevermind" rocketed them onto the world's stage. Their debut album "Bleach" had sold a couple thousand copies, local college radio station KCMU would regularly blast "Recess," and they were getting bigger drawing shows, including huge crowds at University of Washington HUB and International Sports Garage in 1990. The same year, while local heavies TAD were recording in the studio and left for a dinner break, members of Nirvana with Dan Peters of Mudhoney drumming laid down a few tracks on TAD's equipment. Those songs became 1990's "Sliver" single (the flipside was "Dive"), which was decidedly more pop than Nirvana's debut album. The "Grandma take me home" line repeated again and again at the end of "Sliver" pretty much got stuck in the head of anyone that listened to it. So it was no surprise that the "Sliver" single (released in the US by Sub Pop and Glitterhouse in Europe) really jumpstarted the band's career outside of the Northwest. It broke the top 100 in the UK, was written about in Melody Maker by Everett True, and started getting airplay outside of college radio in the US. Nirvana had gone from an opening band to headlining band pretty quickly, but that was nothing compared to what would follow.

I was working in the mailroom of the Seattle monthly music paper The Rocket when we got an early review copy of Nirvana's "Nevermind." There was cassette tape of the album making the rounds through The Rocket staff and everyone was dubbing a copy. Funny sidenote: the paper's owner Charles Cross later went on to write a Nirvana book, but I swear he didn't like "Nevermind" at the time and had to be talked into featuring Nirvana on the next cover by the younger staff at the paper. The new album definitely followed in the path the "Sliver" single had hinted it and seemed like a really catchy album blending heavy rock and pop. The single "Smells Like Teen Spirit," was released to the public, I'm pretty sure first being played by local station The End. It was an instant hit. Then an announcement came out that the band would play a free record release party at Beehive Records in the U-District. Sweet! Beehive Records for most of it's lifetime had been Peaches Records, but had recently been bought out. I was going to school at the nearby University of Washington and had a shit ton of friends that worked there and pretty much visited daily to rent movies and record shop. I remember it being the place where I bought my first Dwarves album, "Toolin' for a Warm Teabag," the one with the skull and crossbones on the cover, only the crossbones were made of giant cocks, ha ha ha!

So anyway, the free show was announced in a few days and everyone on the planet was planning on going. Great. It was about 8 blocks from my apartment, so my girlfriend and a few friends and I drank some beers, then cruised over for the show about an hour before Nirvana was to play. The place was packed solid. The record store staff barely knew how to deal with the situation, I'm sure tons of shit got stolen that day. By the time Nirvana played the place was chaos, kids were crowd surfing over the record stacks, the whole store became a moving mosh pit. My girlfriend couldn't handle it anymore and went across the street for a beer at the Blue Moon, so I squished up front and rocked out. Fun, crazy show!

Afterward the band hung around for an hour in the parking lot talking with kids and signing autographs. I watched a girl pull out one of the coveted white vinyl copies of "Bleach" (the first 1000 were on white) to have the band sign and then drop it in a big mud puddle. Ooops. I had brought two records with me to have them sign, a live bootleg 7" and the "Sliver" single. What kind of idiot brings a bootleg to have a band sign? Why, that's me! Kurt Cobain signed it: "I hate fucking bootlegs... Kurt" and then stabbed a pen through the cover where the hole in the center was. Awesome! For some stupid reason I sold the bootleg about a year later for $17 to some kid when I needed beer money. I hope he held onto it, it's probably worth a ton now. I still have the "Sliver" single signed by everyone in the band that day and cherish it, as well as the memories of that day.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mainstream interpretations of punk in the '80s

While digging around in my piles of old zines and punk flyer archives this weekend, I stumbled upon a folder simply labeled "Clippings and Reviews" that had a hodge podge of article clippings in it. There were old reviews of 10 Things, interviews with me in other zines and papers, letters I'd written to the editors of various papers, articles on punk and other stuff I'm sure I thought was super important at the time. This illustration come from a Playboy magazine article that ran June of 1984... it actually looks like my dad cut out the article and gave it to me, it's his handwriting with the citation and date in the corner of the first page. Awesome. I'll scan in the whole article some time this week, but this is a little teaser, clearly showing a mainstream writer's idea of what punk rock fashion was like circa 1984. It's pretty ridiculous, even if it touches on a lot of real punk fashion, but it seems like a pretty jaded and snide attitude like you'd expect from a yuppie writer looking down at punk rock in the '80s, while still admiring elements of it. The article is actually pretty decent with lots of quotes from Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedys' manager Michael Vraney.