february 2001

I think that my obsession with Modest Mouse is now officially the worst I've ever had it for a band. There have been a few bands that have taken over my musical consciousness for an unnerving length of time before. I loved everything the Smiths did, but I never got so obsessed with them that I couldn't listen to anything else. The Pixies were gods on "Come On Pilgrim", "Surfer Rosa", and "Doolittle", but quickly descended to mere mortal status with "Bossanova". Helmet killed me with "Meantime" and "Betty"; I listened to little else for about six months. But the long wait for the next album, "Aftertaste", and its "I'm-starting-to-run-out-of-ideas" feel dampened my enthusiasm. Liz Phair was a late discovery of mine; I didn't start listening to her until 1997, when I saw "Whip Smart" used for about five bucks and figured I'd take a chance. I fell in love with that record and its predecessor, "Exile in Guyville", which is probably the best debut album ever (although, contrary to most critics, I like "Whip Smart" a little better). Even though I had only been waiting for about a year by the time "whitechocolatespaceegg", her third disc, came out in 1998 (most fans had been dying for new material since 1994, but her marriage and the birth of her child took precedence over her artistic expressions), I was still as ravenous for it as they were. Every little delay in the record's release (changing producers, remixing some tracks, recording some new songs, etc.) drove me crazy. But, just as the Pixies and Helmet had done before her, Liz broke my heart and released what can charitably be called a mediocre disc.

In each of these cases, I still think that the discs I got obsessed with are great albums; indeed, I would rank them all in my personal top 20 of all time. But the new, disappointing follow-ups to those records were able to effectively end my obsession with each of those artists and allow me to go back to a more varied musical diet.

I am at that point now with Modest Mouse, who I ironically didn't like very much the first time I heard them. I bought their "Lonesome Crowded West" CD when it was released based on the critical raves it was garnering. I listened to it a few times and didn't find much that caught my attention. I normally wouldn't have even purchased the follow-up, "The Moon and Antarctica", especially since the reviews were a little more restrained this time. But I was bored, and I wanted to listen to something new, and so I bought it on a whim. My initial reaction was much more positive than my first response to "Lonesome Crowded West", and the more I listened the more I grew to like it. I went back to "West" before too long, and found that something about listening to "Moon" had unlocked the secret of the earlier record for me. I then bought their collection of B-sides, "Building Nothing Out of Something", and their debut record, "This Is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing To Think About". Those took a little while, but they grew on me, too. I have listened to little else since last June, when "Moon" was released. I've even tried to force myself to listen to other music, and even though there was some decent music released this year (not to mention Radiohead's "Kid A", which I think is amazing), none of it has been able to hold my attention the way Modest Mouse has. They are quite simply the best band in the world right now. They may even be the best band ever, Radiohead notwithstanding.

In a final, pathetic act of submission to this obsession, I spent an afternoon downloading all of the Modest Mouse B-sides and EPs that were only released on vinyl from Napster and burned them to a CD. Despite the poor encoding quality of many of the MP3s, not to mention the sometimes-poor quality of the source material, I have found that I love this CD almost as much as their formally released albums. They just can't do anything wrong in my eyes. I quit. I give up. They win. Long live Modest Mouse.

Sorry for the lack of updates. I've been home sick, which should consist of resting, reading, watching tv, and just recuperating while waiting for the illness to run its course, but which in my case meant 30 minutes of fitful sleep followed by an hour of staring at the ceiling waiting to fall asleep again, interspersed with occasional visits to the computer to check my email and try to get a little time-critical work done. Updates should be back to normal by next week.

As much as I hate to admit it, the quality of the Cure's records really went down after they threw out Laurence Tolhurst who, up until "Wish", was the only original member of the band besides Robert Smith. I mean, I know that Robert Smith is The Cure, but maybe there was something about Tolhurst's simple-minded obsession with pop melody (heard most often in his keyboard parts, which could be played using the "one-finger method" according to Roger O'Donnell, the keyboardist who took Tolhurst's place) that somehow catalyzed Smith into writing more hook-oriented songs and prevented him from becoming to mired in gloom and doom and swelling cascades of instruments. I'm sure they had plenty of good reasons to get rid of him (he was allegedly a drunk who was basically collecting a paycheck for the last two albums he participated in), and the Cure's decline could reasonably be explained as the natural decline that all artists suffer once they have reached a certain point ("Disintegration" is probably the band's masterwork and was easily one of the best albums of the last 20 years; it's also the last one in which Tolhurst was officially a member). But I don't know. That's some coincidence.

Man. When did Jamie Lee Curtis get so uncool?

There are two recent trends in commercials that I just don't understand: cars falling out of trees and people confronting bears in the woods. The bear ones could just be coincidence: an ad for Smirnoff Ice where a guys sacrifices his friend to a bear in order to save the drinks, the Volkswagon ad where the guy takes a picture of himself with a bear cub and then has to beat a hasty retreat to avoid the mother bear, and the Toyota ad where four weekend warriors fight off a group of bears that have invaded their campsite. It's a little weird that all three of these ads appeared around the same time, but not ridiculously so.

What's really weird are the three ads that feature cars falling out of trees: a Dodge one where a red Nascar racer falls out of an apple tree, a Honda ad where, to illustrate the falling prices, a car falls over in a forest like a felled tree, and the Volkswagon (the only repeat offender) ad that was run during the Superbowl where two guys get their Volkswagon stuck in a tree and have to use a shoe to knock it out.

I'm not sure what this trend is supposed to mean. Are all of these ads from the same agency and they're just ripping themselves off? Are they from different agencies that are ripping each other off? Has the so-called talent in the advertising world become so homogenized and formulaic that this is the inevitable future of television commercials? Is it all just a big coincidence? Are the ad agencies following in the footsteps of Hollywood studios, who have recently released several similar movies within months of one another (Antz vs. Bug's Life, Deep Impact vs. Armageddon, Mission to Mars vs. Red Planet)? Or is it all just a big coincidence? I don't know. But it sure is disturbing.

My sister came to visit this weekend. I was still getting over feeling sick—I'm mostly just really tired, even though I'm sleeping like 10 hours a night—so we didn't do as much stuff as I wanted to, but we still managed to take her out to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (which just got a much-deserved best picture Oscar nomination, among 10 nominations total). I think she liked it pretty well, but we didn't talk about it that much.

We also took her to a new geocache, which was probably a mistake given my weakened condition, but it was worth it. When we parked, the GPS unit said we were only 400 feet away, and I figured it couldn't get any easier than this. Of course, it was 400 feet down a 45° slope made up mostly of mud and rocks covered with a thick layer of dry leaves, which meant it was pretty slippery and the falls weren't pleasant. Tougher for me because I was carrying the GPS leaving only one hand free for balance. And the walk up wasn't much fun, either. Still, the view was nice, even given the English pall of the cloudy skies.

I took Monday off (she didn't leave until Tuesday morning), and we had tentatively planned to go to either the National Gallery in DC or the Visionary Museum in Baltimore, but I forgot that most museums are closed on Mondays. Plus, we got up pretty late. We ended up just eating lunch together and planning a vegetarian meal for that evening (my sister is a vegetarian) and watching Gladiator, which she had never seen. She seemed to like it pretty well. The vegetarian dinner fell through because by the time my wife got home and we went out to the grocery store to get everything, we were so tired that we just ordered a veggie pizza and made some banana pudding. But we are going to try and practice a few tofu dishes for the next time she comes to visit.

It was a pretty lame visit due to my lack of energy, but she didn't seem to mind. And that makes me happy.

I do not have the urge to herbal.

I have become obsessed with "Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangster" by the Geto Boys after hearing it in the Mike Judge movie "Office Space" (which you must see if you have ever had to work in a cubicle—I really need to stop listening to movie critics and accept that Mike Judge is incapable of making anything unfunny). I know this is really stupid and trendy, especially given that I first heard the song in a movie that parodies geeky white guys listening to rap. There are several scenes in Office Space that use rap as a soundtrack for computer nerds stealing money from their company using a virus or beating the hell out of a printer, all shot in slow motion like a video.

I had a roommate my senior year in college named Jim who was really into the Geto Boys and Ice Cube, and I just didn't get it. Then pretty much the only rap I was capable of listening to was Tribe Called Quest. But man, Jim was right. This stuff kicks ass, in spite of the ultraviolent imagery in the lyrics.

So we finally went to see Cast Away this weekend, after putting it off in order to see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for the third time with my sister, who had already seen Cast Away. It was a decent movie, but I wonder if it could have been pulled off by anyone but Tom Hanks. He is really one of the few true stars in Hollywood these days, and the reason he's such a big star is because he makes you believe that he's just like everyone else. He played an idiot that everyone loved in Gump, he was your father or your grandfather in Saving Private Ryan, an oppressed minority in Philadelphia, the romance that every woman secretly wishes for in Sleepless in Seattle, and a true blue astronaut in Apollo 13. He has managed to create an onscreen persona of the perfect man, whether father, lover, husband, soldier, or average joe.

But I wonder if the serious acting career that he has embarked on over the last 6 or 7 years would have gone as well had he not done the innumerable mediocre to good comedies in his early career (Splash, Bachelor Party, Money Pit, The Burbs, Volunteers, etc.). It seems to me that what makes his serious characters more believable is Hanks unique ability to infuse humor into very tense situations—that is, even though the script is calling for humor, I don't know of many actors who could pull off the lines the way Hanks does. I don't know if it's because we have this idea of his personality that is informed in large part from his early comedic roles or what, but I have a hard time putting any other actor into some of his better known roles (specifically Gump and Cast Away) and having them pull off the humor without being hammy or without having the lines fall flat. Hanks is able to walk a very fine line of everyman, funny guy, and tragic hero that I think no one else in Hollywood can really come close to these days.

I'm not sure how clear all this is, but what I basically wanted to point out was that I don't think Cast Away would have been made if Tom Hanks was not a part of the project, or if it was made, it would have fallen flat. I think that the movie's enormous success is more because everyone in America likes the personality that Tom Hanks projects on the screen, which is fairly consistent from movie to movie. From Money Pit to Saving Private Ryan to Splash to Cast Away, it is basically the same guy: the ordinary joe thrown into extraordinary circumstances that he is able to deal with through humor and strength and goodness of character. And I don't mean he's repeating himself. What I mean is that he's able to inhabit each of his vastly different characters with the same nobility and humor, so that in the end we get the impression that Hanks himself is noble and funny and just like us. And that's quite a feat in these cynical times.

While we were waiting in line to buy tickets for Cast Away, there was a group of women who were trying to decide whether or not to see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. They started to ask the people around them if anyone had seen it yet. The woman who was standing in front of them raved about Tiger, but she also mentioned that it was a subtitled film (which I thought just about everyone who might care knew by now). So these women then started to discuss whether or not this would dissuade them from seeing the film:

Woman 1: Oh, it's in Chinese? I don't want to read the whole time. Do you want to read the whole time?
Woman 2: You have to read it? Oh, I don't know then. Are you up for that? I'm not really up for that.
Woman 3: Do you want to see Chocolat instead? [She pronounced Chocolat like "Chawklet". They all did.] Isn't Chocolat supposed to be good?
Woman 1: Why don't they just translate it for us? I don't want to have to read the whole time.
Woman 2: Yeah, why don't they just translate it. Because they tell you you won't notice the reading, but I'll notice the reading.
Man standing behind them: Yeah, I don't know. Maybe it's like those old Italian Westerns, where there was a lot of action and not much talking. But I still don't know why they didn't just do it in English.
Woman 1: Why don't we just go see Chocolat instead? I think that's supposed to be good.
Man standing behind them: I haven't seen it, but it's up for an Academy Award, so it must be good.

I was fuming at this point. I really wanted to tell them that Crouching Tiger was up for 10 Academy Awards, including best picture and best director, and deservedly so. I think this is the best movie to come out in a long time, and that it should win in every category in which it's been nominated. I also think that it should have been nominated in the best actor, best actress, and best supporting actress categories as well.

I don't know. Maybe I'm just being a snooty asshole about this, but I don't think people like that should even be allowed to see Crouching Tiger—that is if they could somehow bring themselves to get over the fact that it's in another langauge. (A language which, by the way, is far and away the most common language on Earth, Mandarin Chinese. There are nearly three times as many people who speak Mandarin Chinese than people who speak English. But I guess that didn't matter to those people in line ahead of us.) Crouching Tiger is everything that a movie should be, and I would even argue that the use of Chinese strengthens the movie by adding an extra layer of mysteriousness to the dreamlike world of medieval China. It is also well-suited to the spiritual themes that are emphasized in the dialogue and in the cinematography. If you can't get outside of your American bubble long enough to realize that the whole world doesn't revolve around our culture, then I guess you don't deserve to experience the absolute perfection of Crouching Tiger.

There will be no further updates this week because I'm going skiing and won't be back until next Monday. Hopefully the CD liner notes should keep you busy for a while, though.

My friend Lydia once told me that she believes there are three kinds of people in the world: those who make mix tapes for others, those who receive mix tapes, and the ultrarare breed that can do both. I am definitely one of the tape makers; Regan is really the only person in the world who has ever been able to make a tape for me that I've been able to listen to more than once, but I have probably made dozens of mix tapes (and now CDs) for my closest friends.

When my sister came to visit I gave her 2 compilation CDs. I have burned CDs for her in the past, and she seems to like them pretty well, but they have all featured fairly recent material. The CDs I gave her this time were different; they were composed of songs that were on albums released from 1987-1989, when I attended the science high school that she attends now; essentially this was a compilation of all the stuff my friends and I were listening to when I was her age and when I was going to school at the place she is going to school now. That was a very important time for me; I was surrounded by more people who were like me and who understood me than at any other point in my life, and I still have several friends from that time that I am still in touch with (including my wife). I was pretty surprised at how well the material held up, but I'm still not sure if my sister will be able to tell that it's all really old the first time she listens to it. I usually don't write anything more than the song titles when I make someone a CD, but this set of songs is so tied up with my memories from that time in my life that I thought I should write some liner notes for it. So, here they are.

Disc 1
Mining for Gold—Cowboy Junkies
I lost interest in the Cowboy Junkies after a while, but their first 2 records are still brilliant and beautiful, especially "The Trinity Session", which was recorded in one take with a unidirectional microphone in an old church. "Mining for Gold" is an acapella cover of an old standard, and Margo Timmins' voice is hauntingly perfect. I don't know why I led off with this one. I just stuck it there to see how it sounded and I never found anything better.

It's Only Life—The Feelies
The Feelies are still one of the great unknown bands, even though they are essentially a Velvet Underground ripoff band. That's not such a bad place to steal ideas from, though. "It's Only Life" is the opening track from the "Only Life" album, the first record for which the Feelies gained widespread critical acclaim and college radio airplay. This is still one of my all time favorite songs, upbeat despite its meditations on futility and hopelessness. It looks the inevitability of death in the eye and...chuckles. "Only Life" is still my favorite Feelies album, thanks in large part to the strong tone that this song sets for the whole record.

See a Little Light—Bob Mould
"See a Little Light" was the first single from Bob Mould's first solo album, "Workbook", a relatively quiet, introspective record that was a far cry from the speed metal pop that Mould had become famous for with the legendary Hüsker Dü. When he disbanded Hüsker Dü and embarked on a solo career, I had only been listening to them for about a year, so this album didn't shock me as much as it probably did some of Hüsker's longtime fans. Don't get me wrong—I loved "Candy Apple Grey" and "Warehouse Songs and Stories", but I hadn't been a fan long enough to get pissed off when Bob essentially abandoned the distorted fuzz guitar sound that was the key ingredient of many of Hüsker Dü's songs. I saw him several times live, and it was interesting how easy it was to tell his mood by the way he played the music and reacted with the audience. He is one of the most open and sincere performers I have ever seen—no rock star cool masking his feelings. When I saw him on tour supporting "Workbook", he was shy, almost apologetic, as if he was saying, "I know this isn't what you're used to from me, but I really like this stuff. Just give it a chance." "See a Little Light" is just a good, quiet pop song, and its sound is pretty representative of the whole "Workbook" album. Still one of my favorite records by one of my favorite artists—"Workbook" is as good in its own way as "Warehouse" or "Copper Blue" (Mould's best album with his second band, Sugar)—and "See a Little Light" is one of the best songs on that record.

The Me That Was Your Son—Poi Dog Pondering
Poi Dog Pondering were introduced into my musical world when they opened for Robyn Hitchcock while he was supporting his "Queen Elvis" record. They were playing at an old movie theater in Raleigh across the street from the Baptist church that my grandmother had attended. They hadn't been signed yet, but everyone at the show loved them, and we weren't surprised at all when we heard that they had been signed a couple of months later. This song is off of their second and best album, the awkwardly titled "Wishing Like a Mountain and Thinking Like the Sea". I like the sense of happy nostalgia that the lyrics evoke, and the following lines, referring to the narrator's long-divorced parents, are especially meaningful to me:

Do you know that you two are so different?
And I wish I remembered the two of you together
But all I have are photos of them
And they tell me a lot
But only in the way a smell reminds you of time long gone

Time Never Forgets—Scruffy the Cat
The first time I heard Scruffy the Cat, they were being blasted out of my neighbors' dorm room, the ultracool seniors Josh and Anthony. I don't know if I ever knew their last names; they were always together, and everyone always referred to them as Josh and Anthony. This song is from "Tiny Days", the first full-length LP from Scruffy and the last batch of songs featuring a full-time banjo player. In retrospect, that banjo made a hell of a difference in the sound, even though you don't notice it at first. Their next record, "Moons of Jupiter" sounded hollow and flat by comparison. "Tiny Days" is still one of my all-time favorite records, even though this song is probably not one of the best 5 songs on the record. But I thought Tori would like it, even though I really don't feel like I have a good grip on what she likes and doesn't like. I just thought she would like it.

She Divines Water—Camper Van Beethoven
This song is off of the amazing "Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart", whose title refers to Patty Hearst circa her days as a member of the SLA (also specifically referenced in the song "Tania", which was the name that the cultists gave her). This album catches this band at their best, a little more professional-sounding than their cult wacko days (in early interviews, the band made frequent references to the death threats they alleged had been made against them by the Illuminati, an ancient world-controlling group that is a favorite target of conspiracy theorists) and happier than their next-big-thing days (although ironically frontman David Lowery went on to modest pop success with his next group, Cracker). I like the way that they can mix songs about drug-induced hallucinations, weird pop-culture references, and conspiracies with songs that have genuine emotional resonance. This is one of my favorite tracks on this disc, although it's pretty hard to choose a favorite—even the instrumentals are amazing, and I usually don't have much tolerance for instrumentals (as David Byrne noted in the liner notes to "Stop Making Sense", "Singing is just a trick to get people to listen to music for longer than they normally would.").

Summertime Rolls—Jane's Addiction
I saw Jane's Addiction live before I ever heard them on record, and to this day that show remains one of the best performances I have ever seen. They were opening for Love and Rockets, who were supporting their "Earth Sun Moon" record. We saw them at a theater on the Duke University campus, near the chapel, and they completely blew Love and Rockets off the stage. I don't know how that band even had the courage to take the stage after seeing the Janes performance. We had no idea what to expect—I had read an article about them in Rolling Stone that focused on the record company attempts to sign them as the next big thing. Hype like that usually leads to disappointment, but not in this case. Most of my friends who were at the show went out and bought their self-produced live album the next day; we couldn't wait for their first studio effort, "Nothing's Shocking", the disc that this song comes from. It was and is one of the strongest records released in the 80s, and opened the door for the coming grunge wave that would dominate popular music in the early 90s (and led, unfortunately, to the horrific onslaught of rock-rap that seems to be the only type of guitar-based music that MTV and radio are capable of playing these days). Again, "Summertime Rolls" is not necessarily my favorite song off of this record (even though it is very good), but I don't know how much stomach my sister has for louder stuff. So I decided to play and safe and let this song be the representative from Jane's Addiction. I don't see how you can not like this song. But I don't see how you can stand to listen to that prick Fred Durst talk about how much he loves his own music either, and there he is talking about it nonstop on MTV.

Catch—The Cure
This song is the Cure—or the part of them that does whimsical, sick-in-love pop songs that sound like they were written and recorded in an afternoon and are perfect in that way that only something that was done without revision can be perfect. It is off the "Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me" double album, which would be any band's masterwork unless they went on to make something as perfect as "Disintegration". Which the Cure did. But "Kiss Me" is still a great record, and this is one of the two best songs on it (the other, "Just Like Heaven", is included later on this disc).

Girlfriend in a Coma—The Smiths
Let's get one thing clear: the Smiths were my absolute and unrivaled favorite band from about age 14 to age 20. It broke my heart when they broke up, especially given the increasing pointlessness of Morrissey's solo albums and the almost complete withdrawal of Johnny Marr from the world of music. One of my best friends, who was a year ahead of me, taunted me about loving the Smiths all year, then ended up getting obsessed with them just in time for his first year at the Naval Academy, where I'm sure the taunting he received was tenfold what he had given me. I don't know what it is about this band—they are still one of my all time favorites, and I still secretly wish for a reunion, even though I know in my heart of hearts that they could never recapture what they had before. The music is amazing, and all of the musicians themselves are great players. Plus Morrissey's erudite and literary lyrics tend to focus on themes of unrequited love and making fun of stupid people, a perfect combination for a brooding, bookish teen. Which I was. This song is from their aptly titled swan song, "Strangeways, Here We Come", which was supposed to be a joke about going crazy (Strangeways is the name of an asylum in England), but which ended up being a very accurate description of the member's careers after the disbanding of the Smiths. "Girlfriend in a Coma" isn't the best song on "Strangeways", nor is "Strangeways" the best record by the Smiths, but I picked it because I was trying to stay true to the time frame and because I thought my sister might like it. I hope she sees the dry English humor in the lyrics, though—otherwise this song comes off as psychotically misogynistic.

Welcome Tomorrow—Love and Rockets
Love and Rockets (named after an indie comic that was popular at the time) were born from the ashes of the seminal goth band Bauhaus. Their music was more upbeat, and tended to focus on spiritual exploration and fulfillment, in direct contrast to Bauhaus brooding industrial gloom. Express was and is still their best record, but it wasn't released in the right time frame so I chose something from "Earth Sun Moon", which produced a couple of modest radio hits for the band. We saw them on tour supporting this record (with the then-unsigned Jane's Addiction opening), and although the performance itself wasn't bad, it was an extremely short set. Daniel Ash, the guitarist and singer, was having trouble with his guitars all night—it wasn't uncommon for him to throw his guitar to the ground mid-song and run off stage to grab another. A guitar tech would then rush onstage to get the defective instrument, hoping to fix whatever was wrong with it before Daniel threw down the one he had just grabbed. This happened probably 6 or 7 times in the first half hour; it was hard to tell if he was in a bad mood because the guitars weren't working or the guitars weren't working because his bad mood found them less than satisfactory. At any rate, the show didn't last very long—probably 40 minutes at the most. One highlight was the onstage presence of the bee people, who are often featured in Love and Rockets videos and packaging. A small group of them stumbled onstage and spun around during one of the songs. Really helped lighten what by then was a pretty dark mood. This song wasn't one of my favorites off of "Earth Sun Moon" at the time, but it seemed to fit well on this disc.

Chinese Bones—Robyn Hitchcock
Robyn Hitchcock is a man that everyone who loves music should know about. He's as capable of writing a funny, sincere, folksy acoustic love song as a psychedelic distorted guitar trance track, and he's been making consistently great music for 25 years now. Seeing him live is an experience like no other; in addition to extemporaneously adding new lyrics or altering old ones, he tells rambling, non-sequitor-ish stories in between songs that add to the strength of his songs despite their seeming whimsical randomness (Jonathan Demme, director of the Talking Heads' "Stop Making Sense" and of "Silence of the Lambs" made a concert film of Hitchcock last year in an attempt to document some of the unique chemistry Hitchcock creates with his audience). The first time I tried to see him was at an old theater in Raleigh; after a disturbingly long pause where nothing was happening on stage, he came out and announced that his doctor had told him that if he sang tonight with his sore throat, he might as well cancel the rest of the tour. Still, he couldn't leave us with nothing, so despite the risk to his voice, he stood at the edge of the stage (with everyone gathered below) and sang three acoustic songs for us. Then he and Peter Buck from R.E.M. (a longtime friend of Hitchcock's who had come to guest on a couple of songs that night) signed autographs for everyone in the lobby. The next year when he returned, you could redeem your ticket from the first show for a ticket to the new one, although almost nobody did because most people had had Hitchcock sign their tickets. This song is off of "Globe of Frogs", which is still probably the best Hitchcock record. It is hard to pick a favorite song off of this one—it works best as a unified whole—but I felt like this song fit in well with the rest of the songs on this compilation.

Down on Me—Jesus and Mary Chain
Jesus and Mary Chain is really two brothers, Jim and William Reid, both of whom sing and play guitar. They are big proponents of simplicity (I remember one interview where they were being questioned about the number of their songs that used only three chords, and their response was that you could write a thousand great songs with only three chords), and their landmark first album, "Psycho Candy", was a landmark in feeback-laden industrial stomp whose influence can still be heard in everyone from Oasis to Nine Inch Nails. This song is from their second disc, "Darklands", my favorite Jesus and Mary Chain album. It retains some of the elements of their first record, but they cut way back on the feedback, lengthened the average song time considerably ("Psycho Candy" songs lasted about 2 minutes), and relied a little more heavily on hooks. I like songs like "April Skies" and "Happy When It Rains" (which I recently heard on a car commercial, sad to say) better, but again, this one just seemed to fit. It is actually fairly reminiscent of the songs on their first album, featuring Velvet Undergound-like drumming (distorted, of course) and a heavy dose of feedback towards the end, but it still felt like it belonged here even though I'm pretty sure my sister wouldn't like "Psycho Candy" very much.

If It Crumbles—The Connells
I have no idea how many people have heard of the Connells. I know that they had some modest college radio hits, and that they usually get reviewed in Spin and Rolling Stone when they release a new album. But have always been a local band to me, and so even though everyone around NC knows who they are, I'm just not sure how far their name has travelled beyond its borders. "Boylan Heights", from which this song is taken, is their first true full-length album—the record that preceded it, "Darker Days", was really a compilation of 2 EPs. This record is probably the ideal Connells record—they are mature and confident enough to experiment a little, but they haven't been hanging around studios long enough to put a slick sheen on everything, which is the weakness that eventually made me stop buying their records. I've always loved the way that this song, which is really pretty simple, can build for so long into a climax of just two lines of pretty abstract lyrics. That's all there is, after almost 3 minutes of instrumental buildup. And it's perfect. Anything more would have been too much.

Perfect Blue—Lloyd Cole and the Commotions
I'll admit that I didn't get into Lloyd Cole until about a year after I graduated from Science and Math, but all my friends listened to him and his songs fit the time frame, so I decided to include a couple. This song is one of the saddest, most honest, and most perfect love songs ever written. The line "I dreamed the ocean was in my house" always reminds me of the Edward Hopper painting "Rooms by the Sea", where water is lapping at the open door of a living room. It's one of my favorite paintings, which I was lucky enough to see a few years ago when I went to Yale, where the painting lives, to visit my friend Regan. She also attended Science and Math with me, and she also loves this song.

Wave of Mutilation—Pixies
This song comes from the album "Doolittle", which was the best album released in the 80s and which remains a prime influence on any alternative guitar band to this day. I don't know how you can love rock and not love the Pixies, and this record captures them at the pinnacle of their creativity. It's so perfect that even the parts that aren't as perfect as the rest, like "Silver" and "La La Love You" (not coincidentally, the two compositions primarily written and sung by band members other than Black Francis) make this record even more perfect than if they hadn't been included, like the flaws that Persian rug makers leave in a rug's pattern so that they won't offend god by trying to make something that is perfect. "Wave of Mutilation" was probably the second-most popular radio song, behind the a-little-too-cheerful first single "Here Comes Your Man", but the album is full of other songs that are at least as good, if not better, like "Debaser", "Tame", "I Bleed", "Hey", and "Gouge Away". This song is probably a good introduction to the Pixies for someone who hasn't listened to them before (which, unbelievably, I think my sister is—she didn't know what that the "pixies" in Ben Lee's "Away With the Pixies" referred to a band). And that doesn't mean that it doesn't still kick ass after all these years. The reason everyone is still obsessed with the Pixies is because there hasn't really been anyone who was ready to take their place since they broke up (although Modest Mouse might be assuming that mantle for me personally).

Don't Let's Start—They Might Be Giants
They Might Be Giants really were original when they first came out—a duo who both played guitars but who anchored their sound around keyboards and hyperkinetic drum machine tracks. Their lyrics were kind of like young punkass American versions of Robyn Hitchcock—a little snottier, equally full of non-sequitors, but just as sincere and true, especially when talking about relationships. I remember that this album was released just as CDs were beginning to catch on as the preferred medium, so all the releases by Top 40 acts were automatically released on CD, but smaller acts had to prove that there was a market demand for their material on CD before the record companies would burn a digital copy. So, for three months after this album came out, you couldn't get it on CD; there were constant promises from the record store owner that it would be available "in about a month". Jeff Hoffman, who was a year ahead of me, was the first person to get a copy; I think he probably showed the CD to everyone on the campus before he took it back to his room to listen to it. All my friends really loved this record a lot, and I'm still surprised at how well the songs hold up, especially given the relatively low production values. "No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful". Great line. Great song.

Slip—Game Theory
Here's where I go into a rant about how Game Theory was one of the greatest pop bands ever, and that if there were any justice in the world, lead songwriter Scott Miller would be a famous multimillionaire who was still producing great music to this day. The truth is, he's a computer programmer who released what is in all likelihood his last record about a year ago with his second band, Loud Family. Over the course of his career, though, Miller made three or four great albums, including "Lolita Nation", the sprawling double album that this track comes from. Not only did it have some great songs on it, it was also sprinkled with song fragments and incomplete pieces that somehow bound the finished songs together into a whole that was much more than just another alternative pop record. One of the best albums ever. It's a real shame that not only is it not well-known today, but also that the musical ideas that were explored on it haven't really been picked up and explored further by other groups. Miller was especially good at these hyper-optimistic songs that just seem to cheer you up without annoying you. There are songs that I like better on "Lolita Nation", but as usual, I thought this one fit in best with the rest of the music on this compilation.

Juno—Throwing Muses
For a while, Kristen Hersh was the coolest woman on the planet, and Throwing Muses was the best band on the planet. "House Tornado", the record that this song comes from, remains one of my top 20 favorites of all time, full of supercomplicated guitar structures and lyrics that I've only seen rivaled in the music of Modest Mouse. And "House Tornado" makes Modest Mouse sound as simple and uncomplicated as Tom Petty. When I saw Throwing Muses play in support of their next album, "Hunkpapa", they played almost everything from "Hunkpapa" and their self-titled first album. When they came out for their second encore, they asked the audience if there was anything they wanted to hear, and someone yelled out "Play something off 'House Tornado'!". Kristen paused for a second, and then answered "YOU play something off 'House Tornado'" and proceeded to play some new material. Kristen Hersh was also the first person who told me about the Pixies. The guy who owned Poindexter's, the record store that all of my friends shopped at, knew how much I loved the Muses, so he told me about a secret in-store signing she was doing. I skipped one afternoon of my internship at the Duke Primate Center to be there, and got to spend about half an hour talking with Kristen and the drummer, David J. Narcizo. It really was an unannounced appearance, and there just didn't happen to be anyone else in the store that afternoon. The Pixies had then just released Surfer Rosa, and since they were from Boston, where the Muses were from, Kristen knew them (in fact, she had been instrumental in getting the Pixies signed to the prestigious English label 4AD, only the second American band to be signed to the label—the Muses were the first). She highly recommended buying the Pixies' records, which advice I followed to my eternal benefit the next week. Anyway, this is a great little song off of one of the most overlooked albums of the last 20 years.

Just Like Heaven—The Cure
This song is absolutely perfect. If you don't know why, then I can't help you. This is the song that Robert Smith was born to write.

A New Season—The Church
My favorite Church album will always be "Heyday", the first record of theirs that made a major splash on college radio in the US. But "Starfish", which this song is taken from, is far and away their biggest seller in this country (they are from Australia, where they are enormously popular), featuring the Top 10 single "Under the Milky Way". It's strange to me that this album and this song were big hits over here, because they are both quiet, atmospheric pieces that don't seem to really fit into American pop music. An album like "Heyday" or even "Gold Afternoon Fix", the followup to "Starfish", seem to be more likely candidates for popular success. This is still a pretty good album, even though it really signalled the beginning of the end for the Church (the three albums that followed before they broke up became increasingly tedious and uninteresting, although the band recently reformed and released "Hologram of Baal", a worthy addition to their catalogue). I'm not really sure why I picked this song out of all of the others on this record—there are others that I like better and that are more accessible. Just a whim, I guess. But it fits into the flow of this compilation pretty well.

Celtic Ballad—The Saints
Another Australian band. From the little I know about them, they were late 70s punk pioneers who gradually morphed into a fairly successful act in Australia. "All Fools Day", the record that contains this song, was their first US release to garner any serious attention from college radio (they were one of the first acts signed to the TVT label, which also signed the Connells and Nine Inch Nails). I think this is just a great record—great songwriting, great lyrics, everything. Unfortunately, their next record "Prodigal Son", wasn't anywhere near as good (the best song, "Ghost Ships", was actually a rerecording of a song from an earlier Saints album). "Prodigal Son" is one of the few CDs that I have actually sold back to the record store (I have a hard time letting go of things). But "All Fools Day" remains a very good album, despite all indications that it was a fluke. "Celtic Ballad" isn't necessarily indicative of the rest of the record, but it very much belongs to the sound of this record. I guess I couldn't really recommend any other Saints albums, but I couldn't recommend "All Fools Day" more highly.

Sleepwalk—Joe Strummer
Joe Strummer, for those of you who don't know (and I'm afraid my sister is one of them), is one of the founding members and principle songwriters of the Clash, one of the best and most influential bands ever (right up there with the Beatles, the Stones, and the Velvet Underground). This is from his first solo album, "Earthquake Weather", released many years after the Clash broke up. The production on this album is its primary weakness—sometimes the instruments sound a little tinny, and the whole thing smells a little too strongly of years spent in the studio. But it still has some great songs on it. The Clash had that peculiarly English way of being able to get at the heart of American culture in a way that no natives really could, the same way that U2's "Unforgettable Fire" talked about America, and Joe Strummer's solo work is no exception: the lyrics contain references to Charlie Parker, Fatty Arbuckle, Elvis, and Pabst beer among many others. I read in an interview with the singer from Everclear where he said that he and Joe Strummer are neighbors now, and their families have barbecues and go on vacations together. Something about that makes me really sad. Everclear just sucks so much. It's like Georgia O'Keeffe at the end of her life, when she was surrounded by sycophants and posers who took advantage of her celebrity for their own personal benefit. It's not exactly the same thing, because the Everclear guy isn't trying to use Strummer's fame to further his own career or anything. It's just that Joe Strummer should be around cooler people than the Everclear fucks. Anyway, I have a deep love for this album despite its somewhat obvious faults. There's something about the line "What good would it be if you could change every river that ran through your life and mine?" that really gets to me.

Disc Two
Sunspots—Bob Mould
A quiet instrumental that is the opening track on "Workbook". A very tranquil little piece of music.

Rattlesnakes—Lloyd Cole and the Commotions
Most of the songs on the "1984-1989" compilation of Lloyd Cole's work with the Commotions are pretty good, but I liked the way this one fit in after "Sunspots". I had a friend in college who used to think that the line "She looks like Eve Marie Saint in 'On the Waterfront'" was actually "He looks like Elie Wiesel". You can kind of hear it if you try real hard, but it took me forever to figure out how to tell her what the line really was without making her feel stupid (we were taking a Jewish literature course at the time, and she had grown very fond of Wiesel's novels). Anyway. A happy little song about being in love.

The Mayor of Simpleton—XTC
XTC are guaranteed to have a song like this on every album—power pop chords, catchy chorus—the kind of song that would dominate pop radio if we didn't live in such a screwed up world. It is a kindred spirit to other XTC songs like "Earn Enough for Us" ("Skylarking"), "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" ("Nonsuch"), and "Playground" ("Wasp Star"). There are a lot of songs that are more interesting on the stunning double album that this song comes from, "Oranges and Lemons", but as usual this one fit into the mix well and I thought my sister might like it. I remember that my friend Kirk (who I would have roomed with if I had decided to go to Chapel Hill) and I would sit around his room senior year blasting this record for hours on end to annoy his incredibly uptight junior roommate. I love the music, but it holds a special place in my heart above other XTC records just for that memory.

Everybody's Trying—Poi Dog Pondering
Another optimistic song from Poi Dog that was perfect for sullen teens trying to figure out what the hell they were going to do with their lives. Usually when a band is this big (Poi Dog had 8 regular members, along with several part-time contributors) with such a diverse hodgepodge of influences and instruments (a couple of members of the band were from Hawaii, and several were from Texas; they routinely incorporated instruments like accordions, ukuleles, mandolins, and a horn section into their compositions) can sound like an unorganized mess, but for two or three albums there it really worked for Poi Dog.

One of These Days—Camper Van Beethoven
Weird. I didn't notice until just now the lyric similarities between this song and the previous one by Poi Dog. Camper Van: "One of these days when you figure it all out be sure to let me know". Poi Dog: "Everybody's trying to figure it out". What can I say? I was sorting out a lot of things back then, so songs about other people trying to figure things out really appealed to me. This is one of the most straightfoward songs that Camper Van ever recorded, and it is still one of my favorites.

Pictures of You—The Cure
I remember Robert Smith complaining bitterly a few years after this song was released as a single that it should have been the Cure's best-selling single ever (it was the third or fourth single off of the masterwork "Disintegration", after "Fascination Street", "Love Song", and maybe "Lullaby"). And to some extent, he's got a point: this is a great song, and it probably did deserve a little more recognition. "Disintegration" is one of those albums where it's really hard to single out one song over another, but if you had to pick one song to represent the whole album, this one would be a good candidate. I remember when we saw them touring behind this record at Cameron Indoor Stadium (my friend Kirk had mysteriously scored a huge block of second row seats—still the best seats I've ever had at a non-club show), they opened by playing the first six songs off of "Disintegration" in the same order as the record, and it was beautiful and perfect and it just made so much sense. One of the best shows I have ever seen.

Island Hopping—Joe Strummer
This song always reminds me of Key West, a place that I used to love to visit but which recently seems to have become overrun with tourists. I guess to the locals I'm a tourist, too, but I have always had a special affinity for that place. I like the idea that when you get bored with what you are doing, you just take off for another place and find something else to do—it's the kind of life that I could never lead, so I have an affection for the characters, real and imagined, that do. "It's been the same since I don't know when, so I'm going island hopping again."

The Smiths—William, It Was Really Nothing
In England, this song was included on the Smiths first album "Hatful of Hollow", a mix of studio recordings and live takes from the John Peel BBC radio show. It wasn't released in the US, however, until "Louder Than Bombs" came out, which was a massive double album that included six new songs along with virtually every other song the Smiths had recorded that hadn't yet been released in the US. I really love this song, but I still have no idea what the title means.

She's an Angel—They Might Be Giants
This is the perfect TMBG love song: a guy finds out that his too-good-to-be-true girlfriend is an actual angel and starts to worry if one of them will get in trouble because he's not supposed to know. There are several great lines in this one:

When you're following an angel
Does it mean you have to throw your body off a building?

I heard they have a space program
When they sing you can't hear, there's no air

Why did they send her over anyone else?
How should I react?
These things happen to other people.
They don't happen at all, in fact.

This is the kind of song I think you can only write if you don't think anyone's ever going to hear it; otherwise, you'd end up making it too cutesy and sappy. But this song is sad and true and funny without being kitschy or feeling fake. A little jewel of a song.

The Perfect Girl—The Cure
A shiny happy Cure song, along the lines of "Lovecats" or "Close to Me". I've noticed that Cure songs seem to be dominating these two CDs—there are a total of five, including one at the end of this disc, while the most any other group has is two—but they really were a dominant force in the musical tastes of my friends and I at that time. Perhaps only R.E.M. (who aren't represented on these discs, for reasons I'll explain later) were as uniformly well-liked and listened to as the Cure. Plus, the two albums that were released during this time, "Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me" (which contains "The Perfect Girl") and "Disintegration" are unquestionably the Cure's best and most popular albums. The music wasn't just appealing to alternative music fans, which most of my friends could be classified as; thanks to MTV, they were getting radio airplay and were becoming true pop stars in America and on the campus of NCSSM. Everybody listened to them. That doesn't have a lot to do with this song in particular—I don't think this was ever a single, and it certainly didn't receive much airplay if it was—but I just wanted to address the abundance of Cure material somewhere. This isn't quite as good as "Catch" or "Just Like Heaven", but then again what is? It's still one of my favorite Cure songs, though.

Flesh Number One (Beatle Dennis)—Robyn Hitchcock
Another title that I can't figure out. Coming from Robyn Hitchcock, though, it almost makes sense. The rhythm guitar in this song is played by Peter Buck of R.E.M., who has played on a lot of Hitchcock albums. This is a very-good-mood kind of song, and even though the lyrics talk about planes crashing and houses burning down, I take real comfort in the line "There's nothing happening to you that means anything at all". The way Hitchcock delivers the line, it becomes a very calming reminder of our mortality and the relative insignificance of these little lives we lead. To me, the song is emphasizing that it's the moments of joy we experience that make our lives meaningful. And it just makes me happy to hear this song.

Deep One Perfect Morning—Jesus and Mary Chain
I remember being annoyed by this song sometimes, but for some reason I felt it was worthy of inclusion even though there are better songs off of "Darklands" that I didn't use. Oh well. I've long since given up trying to understand why I do the things I do.

Teenage Riot—Sonic Youth
This is another song that I first heard in Josh and Anthony's room. I miss the days when Sonic Youth was the coolest indie guitar band trying to find a way to make the music they wanted and make a living at the same time. I'm sorry, I just can't get into the experimental guitar noise orchestral suites they've been working on for the last few years. I guess they just decided that there was nothing interesting left to do with pop music. But before, on records like "Goo" and "Daydream Nation" (which features "Teenage Riot"), they proved that they could be a truly innovative guitar band even within the constructs of a pop song. "Hey Joni", "Silver Rocket", and "Teenage Riot" were the songs off of this record that were the templates for the grunge wave that was to wash over pop music five years later. But by then, Sonic Youth sounded like imitators instead of innovators. It's too bad. I know that music critics still squeal for joy every time they release something, no matter how abstract, but as far as I'm concerned "Daydream Nation" was their peak.

Where is My Mind?—Pixies
I know, I know: this song has become ultratrendy thanks to its inclusion on the "Fight Club" soundtrack. I don't care. This is still one of the best songs ever, straddling the thin line between funny-ha-ha and funny-touched-in-the-head that Black Francis was so fond of. If you don't like this song, you might as well stop listening to music.

Never, Never—Scruffy the Cat
Another upbeat song from "Tiny Days", one of the few that doesn't feature the banjo. The first time I saw Scruffy live was in the old Cat's Cradle in Chapel Hill, when it used to be way down Franklin street in a little row of shops that included a second-hand clothing store and an old bookseller. A couple of years later the Cradle moved to an old post office building which is where it was last time I was there (it certainly could have moved since then). The old Cradle was a real dive—tiny tiny tiny. I don't know how the fire code would have allowed in more than 50 people, but it was regularly packed with two or three hundred. The stage was so small that Scruffy (who were by then a four man outfit, having already lost the banjo player) could barely all fit on the stage at the same time. They had a minimum age limit of 18, so I got my roommate to make me a fake ID that made me just 18 (I wasn't interested in drinking—I just wanted to get in to see the shows). When we wanted to see a show at the Cradle, my friends and would have to sneak off campus after curfew, walk up to Duke and then take the intercampus bus over to Chapel Hill. We usually ended up sleeping in a dorm lounge at Duke or UNC, and I remember spending lots of time in the Hardback Cafe drinking coffee with lots of sugar (that institution is now, sadly, closed, but not forgotten—it is memorialized in a Ben Folds Five song). Anyway, Scruffy played a pretty good show, but you could hear even then how much they missed the texture that the banjo added to their songs. Their live shows were always good—even the "Moons of Jupiter" stuff was really good live—but they just couldn't get that sound on their later recordings. "Never, Never" sounds pretty much the same on the record as it did live—if they had been able to keep the banjo player and the "Tiny Days" producer, this might have been the start of a very long career. But I'm glad that I'll always have "Tiny Days". It's a record that not too many people know about, but those who do all love it.

I Suppose—The Connells
The song is the epitome of poignant, regret-filled composition that the Connells were so good at. I really like this song anyway, but I've always been attracted to the reference to Boylan Heights, which is the name of a neighborhood in Raleigh near where my grandfather lived. It's a secret communication to the locals, an encoded message that only inhabitants of the Triangle area would get. Or maybe not. But it always makes me think of my grandfather's old house by the river, the one whose yard to this day blossoms in a riot of pink and white when the azaleas bloom, the house where I have my earliest memories of Christmas with my extended family, the house where my grandmother died.

Together Now, Very Minor
This song is the closing track on Game Theory's epic "Lolita Nation", and although I've never been able to entirely decipher the lyrics, it has the same feel to me as "Throwing the Election", the closing track off their next album, "Two Steps from the Middle Ages". The latter song is about the virtues of giving up fighting all the stupidity in the world and focusing instead on spending time with the people you love. Or so it seems to me. That kind of benign world-weariness and deep contentment that you see in the movies when a Buddhist (or other similarly spiritually inclined character) smiles serenely as the bad guy steals his ancient artifact or whatever. The feeling of being at peace with a world that you have spent a long time struggling against. In one of my more whimsical moods, I wrote some of the lyrics to this song on my housing questionnaire for Davidson College after I had decided to go there. This might explain why I ended up with a fourth generation legacy admission roommate who was already well on his way to a serious drinking problem by the age of 18. He was a nice enough guy most of the time, though, so I guess it all worked out.

Untitled—The Cure
The closing song on a flawless album. Quiet perfection. A truly melancholy song. Tristesse.

There are a lot of groups that were a big part of our listening lives at Science and Math that aren't represented here, from local groups like the Pressure Boys to more well-known acts like Pink Floyd and Talking heads. R.E.M. was huge, of course, and even though I am a big fan, I just didn't find anything on the records that were released during that time frame ("Document" and "Green") that fit in with the rest of the material here. And then there were other groups, mostly local bands like the Pressure Boys and Johnny Quest, that everyone on campus knew of and listened, but who didn't really fit into the overall mood of these CDs. And I'm sure that there are groups that I've overlooked because the music is unavailable on CD, which is the only format for music that I own these days. But overall, these two CDs contain a pretty accurate sampling of the songs that my friends and I were listening to when I was my sister's age. I hope that she likes at least a few of them.

Just got back from skiing at Snowshoe in West Virginia for four days. The first two days my dad and stepmother were with us; the last two we had some friends from Kentucky. My parents own the condo we stayed in, and though they have always rented it out when family members didn't want to use it, they are reconsidering this because the behavior of the people who are coming to the resort is getting so bad that they're afraid that some serious damage will be done to either the condo or the people staying in it. There are always the troubles with furniture being broken, the condo being left in an especially bad mess, or things being stolen, but my stepmother is especially worried because of an incident that occurred last year. Apparently a woman arrived at her condo (this happened in some other condo, not in our unit) with a group of friends and decided to fix herself a drink. A few minutes later, she started having seizures and convulsions and had to be airlifted by helicopter to the closest hospital (which is an hour away by car). It turns out that two teenagers who had been staying in the condo the week before had mixed meth in the water in the ice trays, so when the ice cubes that the woman had made her drink with melted in the drink, she ingested the meth. Scary.

Why biscuit when you can schmiscuit?

For the last few years, I have tried to have a live and let live policy towards snowboarders. I've had it now, though. I thought that after a few years, as the technology of their equipment improved and as it became easier to learn due to better teaching techniques, they would go (generally) from unskilled, ill-mannered, out-of-control idiots to aggressive but nonetheless skilled athletes who were capable of sharing the mountain with traditional skiers. Now I don't think that this is ever going to happen. My experiences with snowboarders on my most recent ski trip were the worst ever: I almost got clipped in the head by a boarder who was using an illegal (and invisible) offtrail jump, one of my friends was pushed off the trail by another boarder who was out of control (and who didn't even stop to see if she was okay, even though she slid down into a tree that would have likely caused serious injury to her eye had she not been wearing goggles), and we were all nearly run over by another out of control boarder who also came dangerously close to nailing a small child on a green slope (green slopes are the easiest ones, for those of you who don't know much about skiing). This last one announced his arrival by screaming "Get out of the way, get out of the way, I don't know how to stop!". When there is an accident on the slopes, the responsibility for the accident generally falls to the skier who is farther up the hill, since presumably that skier is able to see the people down in front of him or her, while the downhill skiers cannot see who is behind them. In all the cases I saw, the snowboarder was the uphill skier, and clearly responsible for the accident, but not once did I see any of these people stop and apologize, much less make sure that their victims weren't in need of assistance (luckily for my friend, two ski patrollers were close by and able to quickly help her; otherwise, she could have been stuck down there for a while).

I've also noticed that snowboarders are increasingly traveling in larger packs. It used to be that a snowboarder would be out with two or three friends who would all be on skis; there were usually no more than two snowboarders together in a group. But this trip I witnessed several packs of 6 or more; and when they all come screaming past you, barely in control and taking up all the space on the slope, it can be a little daunting, even for experienced skiers. Plus, this group mentality seems to foster even more aggressiveness on the slopes, which of course leads to more accidents and more danger to other skiers on the mountain.

This isn't to say that all snowboarders are evil or anything. I saw quite a few whose skills were nothing short of amazing. But for the most part, boarders seem to be getting more aggressive, less skilled, and more dangerous than ever, I guess because it's easier to learn how to just get down the mountain on a snowboard than on a pair of skis (although I would argue that getting really good at using either type of device takes an equal amount of time and training). People try to defend snowboarders by saying that if they were on skis, they'd be acting the same way. But if they were on skis, they wouldn't be able to be as aggressive; they simply wouldn't have the skill to stay erect. The higher initial learning curve when using skis would force them to acquire at least some amount of control before they could become at all aggressive on the harder slopes. It's just too easy to be a bad snowboarder. A bad skier simply wouldn't be able to go down a slope that was above their level; they would end up walking down the slope because they wouldn't be able to stay on their skis long enough to make any progress down the mountain, much less get up enough speed to crash into and injure another skier.

I know this rant has the codgerly feel of "those young whippersnappers with their fancy new contraptions" about it, and I know that some of it is a generational thing (my brother and youngest sister, who are 8 and 11 years younger than me, have been snowboarding for the past couple of years), but that doesn't mean that what I'm saying isn't true, or that there aren't a lot of skiers who feel the same way as I do.
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