Thursday, July 20, 2006

Tom Reynolds Interview: Part Three

The concluding part, in which the author of I Hate Myself and Want to Die patiently answers a few more long-winded questions.

I didn’t want every question to be about depressing songs, because you certainly seem like a more general music fan, and I often geek out about music on the blog. So while I have you here, if you’d be so kind as to allow me to broaden the discussion, by first faking back in the direction of the book. Your essay about “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is hysterical, and all true, but I have to admit that I like that song. Probably because I heard it countless times when I was 12, and I have some strong theories about imprinting. Anyway, I’m smart (or self-conscious) enough to consider it a “guilty pleasure.” What are some songs -- depressing or not -- that you love, but might not cop to loving if a meddling blogger didn’t force you to do it?

Good lord, "Total Eclipse"? Can’t you hear the beating wings of death around Bonnie Tyler with every replay of that song? The banshee wailing outside the front door of the morgue, crypt, mausoleum, Disney ride, wherever the hell she recorded that thing?

To be honest, there were a slew of readers who took me to task for that song. One UK radio host even grilled me live on the air for choosing it. What’s really scary is that I hadn’t heard that song in two decades, but since my book came out I’ve heard it SEVEN TIMES! Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Guilty pleasures, eh? I’ll list guilty pleasure acts first. I’ll admit it, I like the Goo Goo Dolls. They write great hooks and can rock out when they want to (though I’m very over the theme song they did for that awful Nic Cage-Meg Ryan movie, City of Angels). I dig AC/DC, too, who’ve released the exact same album 14 times. Their rhythm section is fantastic, their vocalist shreds, and Angus Young is the greatest hard rock guitarist of all time. He’s never played a bad solo.

For guilty pleasure songs, I like "Footstompin’ Music" by Grand Funk Railroad, another critically-hated band, "Sookie Sookie" by Steppenwolf, most Three Dog Night singles, "Venus" by Bananarama, "Levon" by Elton John, "How Will I Know" by Whitney Houston (‘course, she was young and hot when she recorded it), "More More More" by Andrea True Connection (fantastic piano part in one of the world’s dumbest songs), "SOS" by ABBA, "Keep Yourself Alive" by Queen, "Outta Space" by Billy Preston (greatest demonstration of the clavinet ever), "You Gotta Move" by Gino Vanelli...

I’ll drop dead if I continue.

What’s the first album you can remember buying? What’s your favorite album that was released before you were 22, and your favorite album released since?

My first I ever got was a requested Christmas gift: "Four Wheel Drive" by Bachman-Turner Overdrive. I loved the guitar solo on "Roll On Down the Highway," so I had to have it. First I ever bought was "Ain’t Life Grand" by Black Oak Arkansas, a poor man’s Lynyrd Skynyrd with three lead guitarists. It was fairly awful except for a cool cover version of the Beatles’ "Taxman."

Most of my favorite albums were released before I was 13. I was always into music that was eons before my time. Favorite pre-22 albums include Pink Floyd’s "Dark Side of the Moon" and "Wish You Were Here," The Who’s "Live At Leeds," Beatles’ "White Album," Traffic’s "John Barleycorn,” Raspberries "Greatest Hits," and Frank Zappa’s "One Size Fits All." (There are others, believe me.) (Ed. Note: I do.)

One I totally missed until last year (!) was Big Star’s "#1 Hit Record," their debut, released in 1973. Absolutely fantastic, literally every song on it is great and a few are brilliant, like "Ballad of El Goodo." The album was recorded over 30 years ago, yet it sounds like it was released in 2000. It’s that far ahead of its time (which is probably why it flopped).

Post-22, the list declines severely. I’d say the Police’s "Synchronicity, a few X albums, Dire Straits’ "Brothers in Arms," and Nirvana’s "Nevermind.” I mean we’re talking the 80s and 90s here, when everything went corporate and all that awful Ratt/Poison/ Warrant/Motley Crue/Slaughter shit was big. Thank God Nirvana killed it, but then the rest of Seattle took itself too seriously and just added to the sludge.

One post-22 obscure gem is the DBs’ "Sound of Music.” Great songwriting, clanging guitar work, and the drummer was the only white man in the past two decades who could play a hair behind the beat. Fantastic.

Sprinkled throughout the book are some seriously technical musical terms. (I’ve always felt a bit bone-headed for being such a big music fan and having not an ounce of technical knowledge.) Given that you’re also holding a guitar in your author photo, I assume you’re still a practicing musician yourself. I’m going to also assume, because it would keep this question from dying on the vine, that you have written songs of your own. True? And if so, have you ever written anything that would qualify as depressing or sad on some level? Generally, what type of music do you play, or have you played over the years?

The only songs I ever wrote were when I played piano and performed with sketch comedy troupes. I recall one I composed as the opening number when we were an all-male cast. The chorus went:
We’re boys, we’re men, we’re blades, we’re chaps,
we’re strapling lads and swains,
we’re virile manly macho hunks (point at each other) except for him.
Otherwise, I play piano jazz, which means I take a series of related chord progressions (secondary dominants, tritone substitutions, etc.) and grope around on them in a formless manner until the paint dries. Give me enough meth and I can fake an entire Keith Jarrett concert.

On guitar, it’s fingerstyle a la Leo Kottke, or weird open tunings with a lot of hammering. I also own a Strat and can do a credible solo version of Hendrix’s "Little Wing," because it doesn’t involve feedback, distortion, or setting anything on fire.

Your bio says you were a DJ in East Texas at one point. May I ask where and when? I lived in Dallas for 12 years, and I recently came across a funny quote from Hunter S. Thompson about that city: “Terrible place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.” How was your experience in that state? It’s a great state for music in many ways, I found, but in certain pockets of course...

I lived in Texas during the late 80s, right out of college. I did radio in Jasper, a small town most noted for being the site where a black man was dragged to death in 1999. I was fired exactly the way George Jetson and Fred Flintstone got canned by their bosses: "Reynolds! Yoouuuuuuu’rrrrreeee FIRED!!" It was great.

I then produced training films in Beaumont, a refinery city near the Gulf, creating such masterpieces as "Safety Rules and Hazardous Chemicals in the AC Polyethylene Unit." The New York Times called it "...a laconic jargon-heavy production about making plastic, or something..."

I finally moved to Houston right when it was going through its worst recession in history. I suffered there a year doing more freelance production, including for a film that got a congressman nominated for president on the Libertarian ticket (seriously). I was paid $700 for it. Cheap-ass Libertarians.

Texas, in short, was an.....experience.

I posted a while back about the best concerts I’ve ever seen, and a few readers chimed in with their own lists. Would you mind listing some of your favorites, with whatever embellishment you’d like (memorable moments, complete set lists, photos you took of groupies flashing the band)?

First concert was Rush. I saw them in a high school gymnasium for $4. On my way there, a drunk Polish guy in a bowling shirt changed lanes and totaled our ‘67 Corvair. A cop gave me and my friend a ride to the concert because he was doing security there, unaware my friend had a bag of pot on him the whole time.

Also saw Jethro Tull, Jean Luc Ponty, Neil Young (solo), Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Who (we snuck in), The Other Ones (Grateful Dead w/o Jerry), Buddy Guy, Little Feat, Alanis Morissette, and most recently Richard Thompson, who was incredible. Did 1,000 years of music, starting with Chaucerian ballads and ending with Britney Spears.

One great show is French guitarist Pierre Bensusan. I’ve seen him twice and both times he was incandescent.

Do you keep up with contemporary music and, if so, have you heard anything lately that you’d recommend?

Coincidentally, I’ve been asked to work on a documentary about reggaeton, the Spanish-language hip-hop/rap music out of Puerto Rico. They have about fifty hours of footage and I have to put it together into a cohesive finished product that’s ninety minutes. Most of the interviews are in Spanish, a language I know as well as I do calculus and topiary.

I find reggaeton much more interesting than standard Snoop/Eminem/50 Cent rap, because it’s rhythmically complex and has machine-gun delivery. The big star is Daddy Yankee because of his hit "Gasolina," his weakest tune. He has better songs than that.

Lastly, I’ve posted some of my favorite passages from the book this week, but I wanted to commend you on a particular moment, which is when you write this about “Seasons in the Sun”: “I can still remember when I was young and radio stations played this song every hour on the hour; it was the traffic report of pop singles.” Great line. So, there’s not really a question there. Thanks for taking the time, and I hope you’re getting plenty of aural serotonin these days. You deserve it after all you’ve been through.

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Anonymous lfw said...

"Total Eclipse of the Heart" is completely addictive. I can't get enough of it. Pure pleasure, no guilt involved!!

10:58 AM  
Anonymous pf said...

"Total Eclipse of the Heart" is a bludgeoning. What wrong with you people?

LOVED the interview. Hi-larious. One quibble: I can't believe you let him off scot-free for Alanis Morissette. But then, you probably like her too, don't you. (Ugh.)

7:05 AM  
Blogger JMW said...

PF, the interviewee agrees with you about Eclipse. But not me. I love it.

As for Alanis, I got into Jagged Little Pill a bit when it first came out, but no, ever since I find her (including that album) pretty insufferable. But to each their own.

9:08 AM  

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