Saturday, December 31, 2005 

Closing Out 2005: The Top Tunes

So 2005 draws to a close, and none too soon here at Casa de Busbee--we've had more infections running around here than a Kinshasa whorehouse. Remember that scene in Gone With The Wind where Scarlett O'Hara is at an Atlanta rail depot tending to wounded soldier after wounded soldier, each one maimed in a new and fascinating way? Throw in some presents and put Vince Guaraldi's Charlie Brown Christmas CD on, and that was our holiday.

Thus, I'm more than happy to slam the door on 2005, but not before I wrap up with my favorite songs of the year, an annual tradition that for me dates all the way back to 1986. (Back then, the selection was...well, scroll down one post.)

As I write this, I'm listening to The Thelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane Live at Carnegie Hall, released earlier this year. Jazz, like wine and France, is one of those aspects of culture where I appreciate the thing itself but loathe its aficionados. But this time, the jazz snobs have it right--this is one HELL of a fine CD, passionate and powerful and seductive. Its backstory is almost as interesting as the music itself--the tapes of this hour-long performance were found earlier this year in an unmarked box by a Library of Congress researcher, and the sound quality is stunning--this is nothing short of a musical miracle. And given a little more time, I might even have named it my CD of the year.

No such luck, however. That honor goes this year to Ryan Adams' Jacksonville City Nights. Adams, like Stephen King, could probably benefit greatly from somebody telling him where to stop--the cat released three full-length CDs this year--but JCN is the best of the bunch. It's alt-country that's heavy on the country and easy on the alt-, and it sounds like it ought to be played out of a jukebox somewhere. Stuffed full of enough Southern-gothicisms to make Faulkner nod in appreciation--snakes and Pentecostal waters and daddies who've never said my name--this is the kind of disc that could make you feel drunk and lonely even if you were playing this at a beach party. And I mean that as a high compliment.

Song of the year--here's one out of left field. Sia's Breathe Me. What the hey...? Aren't you the dork that just sung the praises of Van friggin' Hagar, and now you're going all New Age emo-atmospheric on us? Yeah, but listen. The reason this was my favorite song of the year is in its association. This was the song playing at the end of the series finale of Six Feet Under, when one of the characters is driving away from her home in California toward a new life in New York. (A scene replicated on that CD cover, sort of--though if you were driving toward the sunset from California you'd be damp in a hurry.) Anyway, Six Feet Under represented some of the most overwrought, pretentious, mush-headed Cali pseudophilosophy I've ever seen on television--but I have never seen a series a) finish off on such a graceful note and b) redeem its entire existence in a six-minute coda. Think about how every great TV series ended off, and more often than not, you've got a letdown--NYPD Blue basically just clocked out for the day, Cheers ended with a weird camera angle that made it look like Sam Malone was about to get mugged when he told a shadowy figure "We're closed," St. Elsewhere ended with the inspired but still weird notion that the whole series was a dream in an autistic kid's head. But Six Feet Under--which spent its entire run demonstrating how death is always with us--gave us a moving coda to each one of its characters, showing not how they lived, but how they died--years, in some cases decades, in the future. And when Claire--the girl in the picture above and the final living member of the cast--finally passes on in 2081 or so, she slips away in bed, with pictures of her beloved family and friends around her, the final grace notes on a life obviously well lived. And Sia's Breathe Me--remember, this is an entry about a freakin' song--captures the emotional crescendo perfectly, building from a spare piano figure to an orchestral thunder, and from there to a final, permanent fadeout. A perfect piece of music.

Lest I run the risk of actually being accused of having taste, let's start the best of the rest of 2005 with a couple chunks of lunkheaded genius:

-Disturbed, "Land of Confusion"--Genesis on steroids. Like Guns n' Roses take on "Live and Let Die" a decade-plus ago, Disturbed doesn't do much with this beyond turn up the distortion on the guitars, the growl on the voice, and the threat of violence on the percussion. But that's enough. On the Opie & Anthony show, comedian Bill Burr nailed this one perfectly: "You know they were just dicking around with this song in the studio, and realized, 'Hey, that sounds pretty cool.'" Damn straight.

-Ludacris, "Get Back" (Sum 41 remix)--Every so often, you gotta quit thinking so much and just go break stuff. This tune'll give you the marching orders.

-Ben Folds, "Bitches Ain't Shit" (iTunes exclusive)--Goddamn, is this one funny--Folds recasts Dre and Snoop's love letter to the ladies--"Bitches ain't shit but ho's and tricks"--as a tender Cole Porter-esque ballad. You'll weep at Ben's tale of melancholy as he finds his nephew bangin' his ho and he has to straight cap 'im. That's some real conversation for your ass, homes.

-Bruce Springsteen, "Devils and Dust"--Springsteen's one of those artists who've hit so many high points that it seems impossible for him to continue performing at that level. It'd be like Dr. J continuing to throw down jaw-dropping dunks at age 72 or whatever. But even though Brooooce's latest work got overshadowed by the 30th-anniversary rerelease of Born to Run, it was still his most powerful work since--well, since his last one, The Rising. And he summed up the entire Iraq war in the three-word title. That's some real poetry for your ass, homes.

-White Stripes, "Blue Orchid"--Jack White has the exact same problem as Ryan Adams--too many almost-good ideas--only where Adams spreads them out over multiple CDs, White tends to jam them into individual songs. If Jack could quit loving himself enough to focus on his craft, he could turn out the most ferocious devil-blues album since Zeppelin I. Till then, we'll have to content ourselves with tunes like this--and skip over Meg White's contributions to the Stripes CDs the way we did Andy Summers' back in the Police days.

-Kaiser Chiefs, "I Predict A Riot"--Awesomely catchy neo-New-Wave Brit-pop song about rioting sung by guys who wouldn't last three minutes in a real one.

-Garbage, "Bad Boyfriend"--When Garbage hottie Shirley Manson purr/growls that she wants you to be her bad boyfriend, you'll be tempted, but remember--she will eat you alive.

-Rolling Stones, "She Saw Me Coming"--Critics hailed "A Bigger Bang" as the best Stones album since 1981's "Some Girls" (funny, didn't they say the same thing about 98's Bridges to Babylon...and 94's Voodoo Lounge...and '89's Steel Wheels...?). I dunno about that--I guess it's true--but praising the Stones is sort of like praising this fabulous new food called pepperoni pizza. Yeah, they're great, we all know they're great. This song's the best of the bunch, a classic Mick bitch with Keef sounding like he's playing the guitar with a shard of bone.

-System of a Down, "BYOB"--The dopey-naive politics--"Why do we always send the poor/Why don't presidents fight the war?"--take a backseat to relentless guitar and the goofy Eurotrash "Everybody party, have a real good time" bridge. Too weird to listen to often, but still good to hear.

-Limp Bizkit, "The Truth"--Fred Durst channels his inner Zach de la Rocha here with embarrassing results--kind of like watching your mom try to rap--but the music is the very apotheosis of kick-ass frat rock. You can imagine people getting beaten up to this music. On second thought, that's probably not a good thing.

-Ryan Adams, "Magnolia Mountain"--Off the first of Adams' three 2005 CDs, "Cold Roses," this song is six minutes of pitch-perfect longing, pain, and redemption. How old is this kid again?

-Beck, "E-Pro"--Beck's back in "Odelay" mode, only without all the silly "Loser"-era smartassery. This chunk of electro-fuzz-funk is perfect driving music.

Special mention must go to the Rolling Stones' "Rarities" CD, which contains a couple of kickass old previously unreleased gems--"Fancy Man Blues" and a barrelhouse-piano version of "Tumblin' Dice." Also, Refused's "New Noise," even though it's almost ten years old, was all over my iTunes this year. You might remember it as the song that sends the atmosphere thermonuclear in the state championship of "Friday Night Lights." Or not. Me, I used it to get myself pumped before this fall's tennis matches. Of course, I got my butt handed to me this fall, so maybe that wasn't the best music.

So that's that for the music, and for 2005 as well. As I write this, I'm 150 minutes from 2006--and yes, I'm officially an Old Dork now, writing on my computer on New Year's Eve. But I'm already laying the groundwork--in 2006, I'll be busting my ass and, in turn, kicking some ass.

Perhaps I shall call 2006 The Year of Ass. Or perhaps not. Either way, it'll be here in just a bit. Hope it's a good one for you too!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005 

Welcome, Uncle Spork!

Okay, since I've posted this website address on our family Christmas cards, and my 'rents did the same, that means I'm likely to get a bunch of visits from people who don't ordinarily wander to this corner of the Internet. Welcome to little Jaybirdie's site, folks!

In other news...SUNDOWN: ARIZONA #3 hits today, bringing to an epic close my vampire-Western tale. For those of you who fear the evil Comic Store, visit the Arcana Studio store to get yourself a copy. Dig on the cover:

Enjoy. I'm off to collect a few retail-store cashier scalps.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005 

The Song Hall of Fame: 5150

If you come across a baby bird in the wilderness, it's important that you don't spend a lot of time handling, touching, snuggling, or nuzzling it. (Cooking it also has a detrimental effect.) The reason? That callow, naive little bird will bond with you; your big dopey human touch will imprint it to the point that it forgets it's a bird and starts thinking it's people.

Why do I lead with an ornithological tidbit when talking about a song by the world's mightiest whomp-rock band, Van Halen? Simple. Because although I am a fan of the Killers, Arcade Fire, Ryan Adams, and two dozen other ultrahip bands you've never heard of, I was imprinted with arena-rock guitar-bass-and-drums at a young age by the Mighty Van Halen, and brother, you ain't ever gonna peel that off my DNA.

So, to set the the mid-1980s, hair-metal bands ruled the parking lots of America's high schools, and Van Halen stood astride all the Motley Crues, Twisted Sisters, Cinderellas (Cinderellae?), and all their ilk like a colossus. Social relevance in music was the province of skinny college bands, and the only time pop music had any kind of black influence was when the lights went out just before the concert began. Van Halen was all about the PARTY, brother, and if you didn't rock hard to their tunes, well, you just needed another beer.

I can't overestimate the seismic effect on the young male population when Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth split with the band. Brother, this was an EPIC schism. It's twenty-plus years later, and you've STILL got guys arguing over whether Roth or his replacement, Sammy Hagar, was the better VH lead singer. A couple years back, I went to the Music Midtown festival in Atlanta where Roth was performing--wearing hairplugs and fronting what was, in effect, a Van Halen cover band. Nobody in that audience was younger than 30, 95 percent of it was male, and every single one of us stood there enraptured as our childhood hero ripped through "Panama," "Ain't Talkin' Bout Love," and all those other anthems of our high school days.

The Roth/VH split hit some dudes I knew harder than their own parents' divorce. We pored over the articles in Rolling Stone and Kerrang! and Creem and all those other pre-Internet glossy fan mags, trying to glean some nugget of hope that the boys would kiss and make up. (Not literally, dude. That'd be gay and stuff.) But when Eddie Van Halen went out and hired rock yeller Sammy Hagar--he of "I Can't Drive 55" fame--we all figured, whaddaya know--this might just work.

And it kinda did. Sammy brought a kind of California-trip-hippie vibe to Van Halen, mixing in a little weed and tequila with the existing Schlitz. Of course, the guy is a bit limited thematically--he uses the word "love" so many times in his songs it's like he's trying to win a bet. But he's quintessential '80s rock--and I say that without a trace of irony or criticism.

So Van Hagar released their first album, "5150," and it was your basic smashing success--safe enough for the chicks, rife with enough sex and guitars for the guys. Plenty of soaring keyboards, yes, but plenty of stuttering-chainsaw guitar too.

A word on Eddie Van Halen's guitar playing. I learned to play guitar in the '80s, which was--hands down--the worst time since Elvis that a youngster could learn to work the six strings. See, in the '80s, it was all about flashy technical achievement--spiraling off cascades of 64th-notes with zero regard for melody, harmony, or even common sense--in a way that was daunting to anybody who hadn't spent years learning classical musical theory. Most of the guys who practiced this quicksilver guitar style are long gone--I think Yngwie Malmsteen was working the counter at the Krispy Kreme I hit this morning--but none of 'em could match up to Eddie. He was like the Michael Jordan of his time--run around him all you want, but when he picked up his red-and-black-striped guitar, he was gonna bury you.

See? I still talk about the guy like he's a god--and for us, he was. The day I learned how to do that wee-wee-diddly-diddly thing he does on the fretboard of the guitar (example: 15 seconds into this clip of Eddie's solo "Eruption") was one of the happiest of my young life. (Yeah, I needed to get out more.) I still bust out that technique when I'm playing guitar for the kids--they love it, even though it sounds as dated as Donkey Kong now.

But that's the point of these Hall of Fame songs. They capture an instant for me, and one of the best is the eponymous "5150." It's not Van Halen's most famous song, but it just might be the best--all slippery double-tracked guitar and relentless stop-start rhythm. (Click here to check out a sound sample courtesy of our pals at Amazon.) Yeah, the electronic drum sounds like Alex Van Halen is banging on stretched Saran Wrap, and the lyrics are the usual bloodless '80s near-cliches--"The love line is never straight and narrow"..."Take the highs with the blues"..."Always one more, you're never satisfied"--but who the hell cares? This is flat-out dopey-fun music, talent cutting loose for the hell of it--like Dale Earnhardt Jr. using his driving skills to make a beer run. For what it is, it's absolutely perfect.

And one of these days, the wee-wee-diddly-diddly's gonna make a comeback. And when it does, you're gonna wish you'd listened to more Van Halen.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005 

The Lucky 13th

Today's my birthday, and while I didn't quite celebrate it the way I have in the past--usually coinciding with end-of-the-semester blackout-drunk sprees in college--it was a good one. Got a fine dinner with the fam at Dreamland Barbecue, and the wife gave me a new Ipod. I'm stuffin' that baby right now--the Ipod, not the wife--and I'm going to kick back with a bottle of Abita Turbo Dog, the latest James Lee Burke book, and some new Ryan Adams tunes.

To quote the prophet Ice Cube, it was indeed a very good day.

Oh, and George W. ought to be happy today, too, seeing as how my birthday marks the two high points of his presidency--the day the Supreme Court finally certified the Florida results in 2000, and the day we nabbed Saddam in his rathole in 2003. No need to thank me, Mr. President; I'm happy to share the day with ya.

Sunday, December 11, 2005 

The Best Thing About Chicks And Books Is...

...when they're reading, they ain't talking! Ha ha! Am I right, fellas? Am I right? But seriously, folks* a new article I wrote for the Chicago Sports Review linked here for your pleasure, a review of two books written by ladies about football. What do ladies know about football, you ask? Read and see, my friends, read and see...

*-Two cheesy-nightclub-comedian-themed posts in a row. I'm officially a blog hack.

Friday, December 09, 2005 

The Cliche That Walks

I know that in the annals of comedy, "those DMV workers sure are cranky" is right up there with "boy, airline food stinks," Jack Nicholson impressions, and "cats and dogs sure are different!"

And yet...cliches didn't just spring out of thin air.

I'm at the DMV this morning getting my car sticker renewal. This is the same DMV I've visited every December since 1998. Every time, it's a different gut-curdling experience. Today, though, I hope--as I always do--that it'll be different. First off, there's no line--a phenomenon on a Cubs-winning-the-Series scale. A good sign. I go to the window, hand over my paperwork to the worker--who has the kind of face and demeanor that only a lifetime in civil service grants you--and then the fun begins.

"This isn't your car."

Who did what to the who now? I helpfully point out that the name on my renewal certificate, my license, and my insurance card are all exactly the same. "No, they're not," the pinch-faced little troll replies. "This"--pointing to my renewal--"is your father's car. You're Howard James Busbee, Jr. This car is registered to Howard James Busbee."

I try a little humor. "Well, Dad sure didn't make any payments on it." Ho ho ho, nudge, nudge. Nothing. She gives me a look like I've dropped a dead cat on her counter. Oh boy. And the horror starts to dawn on me--this woman is a Kafka story brought to life, and she's going to spin me into ten hours of paperwork over two letters.

In this world, logic--demonstrating how I've come to this same DMV for most of the past decade with zero problems--fails utterly. "You can't be serious about this," I say. She looks back at me, eyes deader than Kennedy. We engage in a Sergio Leone-esque staredown for several agonizing seconds, and then she signs off on the renewal. And falls back on that old government-service chestnut, the blame-dodge--"I don't have a problem with this, but you're not going to be able to sell it with the wrong name."

"It's not--" I start, and then just throw up my hands. What is it that makes these people that way? Is it the job that transforms them, or are these kinds of soul-sucking harpies drawn to civil service? Yeeesh.

Oh, and by the way, my wife sure takes a long time to get ready! Is this thing on? Hello? Hello?

Thursday, December 08, 2005 

Ain't Nothin' Up But The Renteria

Baseball news here. Non-Braves fans, take this post off.

Good news from the winter meetings, as the Braves dealt Andy Marte for Edgar Renteria. Smiles all around (except maybe in the Marte household)--this is a great deal. Marte had promise, but Renteria is a proven gamer, and I just love that we're picking up the fallout from the ongoing Yankees-Red Sox apocalypse. Sure, Renteria had a cement glove last season, but he'll provide a solid veteran presence at short while we wait for Francoeur and Langerhans to ascend to the All-Star status they'll hold until 2015. And in any other season, losing a talent like Marte would be rough, but after the rookie explosion of 2005, it's like giving away the lemon-filled donut out of a box of a dozen Krispy Kremes--sad in the abstract, but an acceptable loss.

A year ago almost to the day, I predicted that the acquisition of Tim Hudson would land us another division title. I stick with that prediction again this year--I don't care how much the Mets load up with talent, they're the freakin' Mets--the 2000's version of the woeful spend-first, lose-next 1990s Orioles. The Braves have the Mets and Phillies so bitch-slapped that they'd wash our cars and mow our lawns for us if we told 'em to, as I wrote in last month's ChopTalk.

Now, when's that season start again?

Friday, December 02, 2005 

My Man Makes It Big!

Big congrats this week to my pal Reilly Brown, a damn fine comics artist who worked with me on a Digital Webbing Presents story. Reilly's first work for Marvel Comics hit this week in the Marvel Holiday Special 2005. Reilly's story's about an evil robot who gets reprogrammed to think he's Santa Claus, and mayhem, as expected, ensues. Here's one page:

For those of you who aren't comics geeks, the dude in the yellow-and-blue in the first two panels is Wolverine, the star of the X-Men movies. The green chick is--er--"She-Hulk." Spider-Man, you already know. I hope.

So, congrats to Reilly--I was lucky to get him when I did. Now, the bastard won't return my calls.*

*-Not true. Yet.

Thursday, December 01, 2005 

The Song Hall of Fame: Fool In The Rain

Every year, I make a little mental list of my favorite songs of the year, and pick an MVP--the song that, for whatever reason, stands out for me. This year, I decided to start up my own little Hall of Fame, my personal favorite songs of all time. This isn't any kind of "best-of" list; I know that it's mathematically provable that "Let it Be" or "Like a Rolling Stone" or "Smells Like Teen Spirit" are "better" songs than almost anything I'm putting in my pantheon. But the first five songs inducted into the JBHOF each have some kind of personal significance, something that makes me jack the volume every time they pop up in the iTunes shuffle.

I'll roll out all five over the next couple weeks, but we'll start off at the top--Led Zeppelin's "Fool in the Rain." This is my all-time favorite song--like "Raising Arizona" or "Godfather Part II," when it's on I'll stop whatever I'm doing and see this one through to its end. On one hand, it's a sweet little pop ditty about a goofball who's in love with a chick who's apparently stood him up--but by the end of the song he realizes he's been waiting for her on the wrong block. But it gets run through the Zeppelin Machine, and comes out brimming with sex and power--like the proverbial librarian with the smokin' body under the dowdy clothes.

"Fool" is on In Through The Out Door, Zeppelin's final studio album, and it's one of the band's late-period high-water marks; this is a Led Zeppelin that mixes disposable pop, broken-bottle blues guitar, frenetic Brazilian carnivale percussion, and even a hint of a waltz rhythm together in this one song. (Hear a clip by clicking here.)

And for me, here's why it's Number One. It's 1985, I'm a reed-thin little high-schooler deep into Zeppelin, Who, and Floyd in lieu of actually, like, talking to chicks and stuff. There's this absolutely gorgeous girl I know, so far out of my league she's playing a different sport. But we work together at the local grocery store, we study at the same library, we end up at a lot of the same parties. So one bright October afternoon while we're both at the Sandy Springs library, I notice she's packing up to go home. I could have been halfway through administering CPR and I would've jumped up to walk her out. So, oh so casually, I ask if she'd like to go to the homecoming dance with me.

She accepts. She friggin' accepts.

This is homer-off-Clemens-in-your-major-league-debut stuff, and I'm halfway through a "okay, thanks anyway, guess I'll see you tomorrow" surrender when I realize she said yes. And I actually giggle in delight, while she's got the kind of polite smile on her face that says she realizes she may have really made a serious mistake.

After she leaves, I don't even remember the walk to the car--obviously, because I left my books in the library and had to turn around three miles down the road. But I do remember the song that was playing when I started the car--"Fool in the Rain." And right there, that perfect afternoon, that song was burned into my DNA.

So sentimental it makes you want to puke, I know. But you've got a story like this of your own, and you've got a song to go with it. "Fool in the Rain"'s mine.

Oh, and the date was a classic screwup worthy of a John Hughes film...but that's a story for another day. There wasn't a second date...not after I buried her in my parents' backyard. (Joke!)

(It was the neighbors' backyard.)

Next up: the HOF tune that will make you question whether I have any right to listen to music at all.


Jay Busbee runs Yahoo! Sports' NASCAR Blog From The Marbles, Atlanta Magazine's Atlanta sports blog Right Down Peachtree, and the Southern sports/humor blog Sports Gone South. He also writes for damn near anybody who'll throw him a buck and a byline, and he's at work on the books The Quiet Dynasty: The History Of The Atlanta Braves' Championship Run (2009, Sports Publishing LLC) and God Is A Bulldog: Georgia, Florida, And The Greatest Play In College Football History (2010, Sports Publishing LLC). Click below for more info on his novels, articles, and comics.
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