The Misfits Restoration Project

The misfitsIn my head, “20 Eyes” is one of the loudest sounds in the universe. On audio devices in the real world, it’s only about half the volume of even the quietest folk song.

I’ve listened to the Misfits on CD, MP3 and streaming. The sound quality is always muffled. It’s frustrating. In theory, you should be able to go follow up any fast heavy song with “Where Eagles Dare.” But you can’t because in comparison with almost any other punk or hard rock songs, it’s going to be a delicate rain drop of sound.

I understand that the Misfits recorded their classic albums over 30 years ago during rushed sessions in discount studios. I know that they were largely unknown while they were together and that their post break up popularity is mostly due to Metallica covers. But other equally old and obscure bands have much better sounding music. As a random example, Rose Tattoo’s debut album has Dark Side of the Moon-level fidelity compared to the Misfits.

And while Rose Tattoo is a good, dirty Australian boogie metal group, the Misfits are fucking American treasures. They deserve better.

Somehow the Misfits didn’t benefit from the ‘90s re-mastering mania when record labels polished up their back catalogs for CD. Supposedly the songs were re-mastered they were collected for a box set in the ‘90s (shaped like a coffin!) but you would never guess that from hearing them.

But they still sound like they were dredged up from the Titanic, probably because they were remixed by Glenn Danzig and Tom Begrowicz. Begrowicz is evidently a huge Misfits fan and has archived and curated demos, photographs and band history for decades. He sounds like a total chiller but not exactly the professional sound-scaper a project of this importance requires.

I am not a recording engineer but judging from information on Misfitscentral, sessions it sounds like the band used professional equipment.

The Misfits recorded “live in the studio” directly onto two-inch multi-track tapes, usually with 8 or 16 tracks. A multi-track tape plays and records in only one direction and has a certain number of tracks or channels onto which music is recorded. For instance, a song on an 8-track tape might have three tracks devoted to guitars, one for bass, one for vocals, one for drums, and two for background vocals. Multi-track tapes include almost everything recorded during the session, from the band talking to alternate takes of the songs.

Sounds like there should be enough there to work with. Unless there isn’t? Anybody know better and want to set me straight?

Do I need to do a kickstarter for this or something? I feel like I shouldn’t. Can’t alleged Misfits superfan Rick Rubin give an intern $50 to turn some knobs?

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Harris Wittels, RIP

I don’t steal a lot of jokes. But I repurposed at least two from Harris Wittels. One was the idea that a man could be named Carl S’Juniors. I forget the other one. Anyway, in light of his death, I decided to make a highlight reel.

I think I first noticed him on the Farts and Procreation Comedy Bang Bang episodes. He has a hypnotic dry chemistry with Adam Scott and creates a low frequency mash-up of deadpan, willful stupidity and cleverness. I’ve listened to this dozens of times.

The second one is almost as good.

His regular bit on CBB “Foam Corner” was as hit or miss as a routine predicated on bad jokes could be. The one where he makes Annie Clark from St. Vincent gasp twice with the lameness of his forced punnery is wonderful. Nick Kroll and Zach Galifianakis providing professional bitching out is wonderful, too.

He popped up in Parks & Recreation as one of the animal control guys, twice gracing network television with the phrase “down to clown.” There’s a great but tragically unembedable compilation here.

But his nimble comic mind was shackled by an incredibly shitty taste in music. He spent eight hours trying to convince CBB host Scott Aukerman and the general listening public that the music of the wretched jam band Phish had merit. I think this project is the one that I like the best. It made me feel like he was a friend.

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“Catfish Blues,” By Robert Petway: My Favorite Blues Song

I just spent 10 minutes trying to track down this song. It was on a blues compilation I lost years ago. I was looking for a song about death or the moon, a delta blues song on an acoustic guitar. I’m writing this post so that I don’t forget it again.

It’s spare and haunting. The guitar sounds like it only has four string on it. The rhythm is hypnotic, lurching and powerful. It’s just a voice and a guitar but it builds in intensity despite the minimal instrumentation.

The second verse is the source of Muddy Waters’ “Catfish Blues.” It’s weird that Muddy took that part; it’s the dumbest part of the song. The third verse, where the guy drops to his knees for prayer and doesn’t have a word to say, that’s part to steal. That and the more ambiguous but just as sinister “Take a stroll out West” of the first verse takes the wind right out of your throat.

Robert Petway recorded the song in 1941, later than I expected from its skeletal nature. The far more sophisticated compositions of Robert Johnson had been on wax for five years by then. Petway is a mysterious figure, even for early 20th century bluesman. He only recorded about a dozen songs, with “Catfish Blues” being the most famous. His songs show off more intricate guitar playing, but none, sadly, have the raw, cold force of “Catfish Blues.”

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Writing in the Present, Tensely

Two of my favorite writers published great pieces about their difficulties being great writers in a time not conducive to great writing

Jim Knipfel should not be on Facebook. He should be in a nearly empty bar, with afternoon sunlight streaming onto his back and a pint in front of him. He is made for neither modern media or being social. And yet, he popped up on my Facebook feed last week.

He tells the story better than I can. The upshot is he’s going to remind everybody following him when he has a new Slackjaw column up on Electron Press and I’m going to repost that every week. No likes so far, though. Fucking philistines.

Mark Ames, formerly of the late and lamented eXile and currently of the mostly OK Pando Daily (they focus on tech news, which isn’t something I’m all that interested in), posted a screed about how social media and the internet hive mind’s outrage engine is choking out satire. Overall, it’s a remarkably smart argument that comes from a weird direction and presses on a painful truth, all of which is expected from Ames’ writing. But his sadness at trading in his snarling satire for straight journalism stuck with me.

None of this is very funny—having to set the record straight on satire—not funny now, anyway. Might be funny in a few years or decades, if we live that long. But not now. Then again, I’m not very funny these days either, not since getting tossed out of Russia. 21st Century America, it turns out, ranks as one of the most un-funny paradigms to be stuck in since the Bronze Age.

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Should Tom Petty Have Backed Down?

My buddy Paul asked me if I thought that Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” rips off “Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down.” A recent court action ruled that it did; the song now credits Petty and his producer, former ELO front man Jeff Lynn, as co-writers.

They’re both terrible songs, so it’s pretty funny anybody’s fighting over ownership. SWM is a whiny little bleat that illustrates how wrong British people can get soul music. WBD is such smug dad rock that Johnny Cash couldn’t even save it with a cover.

The “SWM” vocal hook seems to rip off about six sequential notes from “WBD’”s chorus. As this purportedly damning video demonstrates, while the songs are in different keys and tempos, the songs partially lines up after some quick digital editing.

I don’t think that’s enough for it to be considered a total rip off. The tempos are different, the instrumentation’s different and the key is different. The vocal is different enough to make it its own song. Unfortunately, “WSM” is so minimal that once you hear “WBD” in it, it never goes away. The same three piano chords rumble in the background throughout the song. The vocal melody flitters around it for the verses and then lines up with it for the chorus and the contrast makes it an effective song.

A couple of journalists have noted that Petty has shrugged off other alleged instances of plagiarism so it’s puzzling that he called up his lawyer for this one.

But I have a theory.

Even though Petty’s a chill weed-smoking stay-at-home Willbury now, back when he was a hungry swamp rat trying to break out of North Florida, he was notoriously litigious. In a series of protracted legal battles, he fought record companies about artists’ rights and record prices.

I don’t know what record label Sam Smith is signed to. I don’t know who the executives of that label are. But my guess is that maybe Petty had one last score to settle.

UPDATE: Evidently I am wrong. According to Petty, his legal team merely contacted Smith’s team and never threatened a lawsuit. All right, whatever. Who cares, really.

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Dancing With Himself: The Tragic Way Billy Idol Undermined his Best Song

Billy Idol recorded two versions of “Dancing With Myself.” The first was with his ’70s punk group Generation X; the second was as a solo artist. The Generation X version is a pop punk classic. The solo version—far more widely known—is a vaguely punk inflected ’80s pop song that could fit comfortably into Cyndi Lauper’s catalogue.

Here’s the Generation X version. Note how the punk guitar slashes through the mix at 0:35. Even when it drops out in the next verse, the energy it infused never goes away. The band repeats the first verse as the third verse only with those power chords throbbing underneath the reiterated words.

Below is the video for Idol’s inferior solo version. By the way, the video is amazing. Director Tobe Hooper (of original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist fame!) creates this amazing ’80s urban dystopia by way of Andrew Lloyd Webber stage production tableau. Billy idol is all synthetic charisma, like an English punk rock Michael Jackson.

But when the guitar kicks in in the chorus, it’s much lower in the mix and sounds kind of flat. The punk edge is absent and the energy drops as a result. It’s a bummer.

We live in an age of miracles and abundance, so you have instant access to the superior Generation X version at will.

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So, You Have a Baby.

raising_arizona1A friend of mine went and got his wife pregnant. For him, it’s a life changing experience. For me, it’s an excuse to show off my expertise in caring for babies.

Being a parent is like playing a video game. You start on the easiest level without any skills. As you get better, the game gets harder. This isn’t to say that infants are easy to care for, particularly if you’ve never done it before. But infants are immobile, which counts for a lot.

While the infant is breastfeeding, the mom is the boss. Dads can be good employees by taking some initiative and owning important business practices like changing diapers, bottle feedings, getting the infant to sleep and ridding the baby of snot and gas. You’re going to learn to be a specialist in one or all of them.

Each of those tasks has different challenges. Changing diapers rewards efficient and quick thinking. Getting a baby to sleep and eat rewards patience and sticking to a disciplined routine. Your baby is apt to squirm, roll over or kick when you are trying to get a diaper on. As long as you are thorough, gentle and quick, you can approach it however you want.

Related: inventing euphemisms for body functions is really fun. We started with “she’s the mayor of Browntown,” shortened it to “Browntown” and flipped that into “Brownton Abbey.”

Getting an infant to sleep isn’t an application for improvisation. It calls for steadiness and patience. If a position or a rhythm works, you have to hold it until it stops working, which means dealing with physical discomfort and boredom. That sounds easy but believe me, it is not.

Babies can’t blow their nose. So it’s your job to get the boogers out of their nose. You should get a device called a frida. It’s basically a short, thin hose attached to a plastic tube. You stick the tube in the baby’s nose and the hose in your mouth and suck the mucus out. Babies hate this and you will feel like a self-loathing snot vampire. But it’s effective and they get over it.

Burping a baby remains to me as mysterious as casting spells. I’ve done it thousands of times but still do not understand it. Look elsewhere for insight.

If you’re watching your baby by yourself, use the bathroom the second they are safely asleep. They could wake up five minutes after they fall asleep. It’s hard to find the necessary serenity to calm a baby when your bladder is screaming at you.

The optimal time for an infant to be awake is 90 minutes. There’s a whole book about it, but the important information can be distilled to a sentence fragment: put the baby back to sleep 90 minutes after it wakes up. The time frame will have a high success rate until they are about six months old.

Following the advice in the book and video The Happiest Baby on the Block will 1) make you feel like a lunatic and 2) be almost revoltingly effective. When the baby cries, hold him/her parallel to the floor, rocking them and saying “shush” in their ear at the same volume they are crying. It feels like a harsh, punishing thing to do to a baby. It feels wrong. You will want to sing or speak gently. While older babies will respond to that sort of thing, newborns like the shushing better.

Expect people to treat you very differently when you’re out in public with your baby. I’m a white dude. When I am in public with my daughter, older black and Latin women—people for whom I was previously largely invisible—now greet me with warm smiles and bright eyes. I could do something crazy, like ask them to loan me money or tell them I’m running for office as a Republican and they’d keep an open mind. Women carrying babies don’t enjoy the same automatic approval because they’re expected to.

Fellow fathers will nod at you as you pass. It’s like being part of a secret club except it is totally not a secret. Just nod back. It’s fun.

You will be invisible to most women under 30 when you’re with an infant. I don’t know why exactly but I just know that they don’t have time for your noise.

If you show up at a place full of college students with a party atmosphere, you can almost feel the crowd stiffen. It’s a real bummer for them to see all that adult responsibility right in front of them. Conversely, it will be hilarious for you.

And this was the most unexpected thing: caring for an infant will likely be the least narrative-driven period of your life. You will be pretty happy but there will be no stories to tell about it. I saw friends a couple months after my daughter was born and said that while spending time with my daughter was a staggeringly rich and rewarding experience, I didn’t have a single anecdote about it. I can turn a story about seeing a guy in a funny hat into a five-minute bit. When my daughter was a newborn I would just drip words like “beautiful” and “amazing” like some sap with a thesaurus.

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