Thursday, April 30, 2009

Second City Risers (Off to New York)

The goal of this coming month was to go out on tour. This has been a bit of a disappointment as we attempted our first trek across the eastern seaboard and were unable to bring it all together. Nonetheless, we stand undaunted and will be taking a short vacation/trip to New York to play a show with two colleagues of mine. We're playing at the Stain Bar in Brooklyn with He Can Jog and Bryan Teoh and plan to do a little recording for a day or two with these dudes as well.

I met Erik Schoster and Bryan Teoh back at Lawrence University and the two of these guys introduced me to electronic music. I've dipped in and out of the world myself, and the great computer crash of '06 brought an abrubt end to anything I was hoping to accomplish with it. Looking back on it and seeing what these guys are doing now, I couldn't have had a better introduction into the whole world of computer music. I've recently stepped back from almost everything digital and/or electronic (though for better or worse I've been known to indulge in loops and gadgets in the past). This is not to say that I'm an acoustic purist or anything like that. I came to the realization that if I was to do anything really monumental with computers I would need a kind of dedication (obsession?) that I really wasn't capable of (needless to say I felt the same way about jazz). Bryan gave me a bunch of software only some of which I was able to make any sense of. He also made a beat to a Braille cover of Smashing Pumpkin's perfect. He was on the verge of world-wide superstardom with his 8 bit Betty among other things. Now he's started channeling his computer skills/aeshtetics into video art. Erik (aka He Can Jog) can turn endless lines of code toss in some discarded scratches and blips of tape hiss and create something that is musical and personal. Here's a track of his that I've always liked. It's minimal, raw, and it moves me. Do yourself a favor and download the albums he's got up for free. Do the world a favor and purchase his latest album. See you when we get back.


09 michael frederick rathbun (nuevamente llego el invierno, y es dificil regresar del sur...).mp3

P.S. I don't want to leave Kimberly Hanging. My opinions regarding feminism and music are continually shaping and folding in on themselves and therefore my contributions to the discussion are usually questions. Specifically the question about the correct male response to these issues. I'm not sure what the correct response is (beyond being mindful and resisting ambivalence), though I put forth evidence that at the very best displays the awkwardness the often accompanies male musicians trying to be pro-feminist and at the very worst reinforces the stereotypes that perpetuate the problem. I give you the newly married Mrs. Ben Lee.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


speaking of the wild west, a lot of things have been making me mad lately. actually, the wild west doesn't make me that mad. it's the time and place where lawlessness allowed relative freedom and power for women-- along with the unfettered exploitation of women of course. like bad ass calamity jane on deadwood, or belle star. but yeah, actually, the unfettered exploitation and objectification, medicalization and capitalisation of women's bodies in the late nineteenth century does make me mad...a lot of things, man. specifically, "rock and roll"* has been making me mad lately. or rather the spectre of the phallus which pervades it. i am serious.

today i read about marnie stern's kissing booth, which reminded me of going to see marnie stern back in october. let me explain for a moment in case you are not familiar: marnie stern is the sickest, baddest, most rocking guitarist i have seen in a very long time. the only word is disgusting. she is also very pretty, but mostly just badass all yelling and sweating and shredding. in any case, at this concert in october, in between songs some douche bag yelled out "you're a babe!", which despite being true is beside the point. i couldn't help myself, and yelled "fuck you dude! you're a sick guitarist marnie!". my point being that one should not have to be a pretty woman to be a good musician, and one should not be admired for looking nice while playing, but rather for playing well. or incredibly disgusting, as the case may be. there is this amazing musician in front of you and you want to tell her how hot she is? really?

but then it struck me: what if a room full of mesmerized hipster boys (attending what is always a cockfest, on stage and in the audience), is actually the perfect (post)feminist fuck you to all those hysterical girls swooning over elvis and the beatles that made us all look so bad? so my question is: sexuality? or rather sexiness? that almost solely female space of cultural value, seen usually as objectifying and devaluing women, could its certain strategic deployment engender an appropriate and well earned power? could it be a good way to try and pay parking tickets? did that douche and those awkward fans too terrified to kiss her actually make us look better? and really, am i just a little bit jealous that she didn't have a kissing booth when i saw her play?



*except yukon ho!. yukon ho! is amazing, listen to them right now.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Song: Yukon Ho! (by: Yukon Ho!)

I've been watching a lot of HBO's Deadwood lately and it's gotten me really pumped up about the wild west. More specifically it reminds me of my own experience as a prospector. Long ago I journeyd west with a dream. Armed with the bare essentials and an unwavering eye on the prize I, along with 4 other worthy men, took to the frontier with nothing but the furious beats pounding out our each step. It wasn't gold we were looking for, but the rock wherein the gold lay hidden. 5 worthy travelers equipped with guitars, drums, and a late model moog synth, we sought our treasure out west. That is, the west side of the Fox River where the booze poured late into the evening and the unfortified walls shook with unfettered post-teen angst. The band was Yukon Ho! and the music we made is fast becoming a forgotten dream. I occasionally get snippets of melodies in my head as I play and can't seem to place them. Then as if Jip the squirrel is reading my mind from outside my window, he begins to tap furiously on the wood of the porch and I'm swept up in a dusty whirlwind of wild dance beats and spastic guitar strums the likes of which I'm sure I will never hear again. Here's a taste of Yukon Ho! A battle cry if you will. Should you choose to uncover more of this epic journey of old, I hear there are still remnants of this great band of adventurers laying dorment in the forgotten corners of the new frontier.


01 Yukon Ho!.mp3

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A note on Billy Idol

Who determines the meaning of a work of art? Can a long-held erroneous interpretation of a time-honored (and thoroughly scrutinized) classic hold any weight in the greater artistic field? I offer no simple answer, though I pose an example.
Years ago my friend Adam and I would hold 30 minute dance parties in one of our dorm rooms (usually his, because he had a sweet stereo). Despite having only 30 minutes to work with each week, our playlist remained pretty consistent. The Flashdance Soundtrack was a staple of our short-lived rituals, as was Billy Idol's 'Rebel Yell.' One of the tracks off this record that always interested me was 'Flesh For Fantasy.' One part in particular always caught my attention. In the pre-chorus section of the song Billy sang (at least to my ears) the following:

Face to face, about to bite
You see and feel my sex-a-tite.

I didn't think much of it. I thought it hilarious that Billy Idol made up his own word for Sexual Appetite, and was kind of disturbed by the cannabalistic overtones it provided. I even pointed this out to my friends over the past few years whenever this song happened to surface in some grocery store or my place of employment. Well, this came up in conversation once, and a skeptical friend of mine decided to look up the lyrics. The truth be told, I had been wrong all these years. Mr. Idol was actually singing;

Face to face, back to back
You see and feel my sex attack.

I was devestated to find that I had been wrong all these years. (the blow was softened by the realization that I had in fact invented the word sex-a-tite.) I immediately started criticizing the tasteless placement of 'Sex' and 'Attack' in the same line, but I think I was just bitter.

Moving on, the first line of one of our songs is "I'm the crackin' underneath your feet." The song is about King Phillip. My friend mark thought I said "I'm the Kraken underneath your feet." Do you know what a Kraken is? It's way cooler than 'crackin'. From now on I'm saying Kraken. Or not.

What have we learned? Not a whole lot.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Song: Somewhere I Have Never Travelled

this is a song i wrote for class, but i really like it. i am playing the piano, and my dear friend elizabeth hanley steiner is singing. it is set to part of an e. e. cummings poem of the same title, which is also the first line of the poem, like all his other poems. anyway, it is one of my favorites, but i especially wanted to set this one because of the subtle structural and thematic repetitions which i thought would work well for a song. it was kind of long, so i only used part of it. not very kosher of me. but the parts i took out are about flowers and snow, which in my opinion are way lamer metaphors for love than travelling. but i am not as famous as e. e. cummings so he probably knows better. anyway, it is a really sweet love poem, about one of those quiet nearly inarticulable moments of intense perception of something beautiful. hope this is a good antidote to paul's (moft goode and trewe) rant. life sucks, but some things are nice.


Somewhere I Have Never Travelled.mp3

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Demo: A Whole New Third World

I know we've skirted around the issue for a while here at the Ragged Blog, but its time to own up. The phones are ringing and everyone wants to know; where does Ragged Claws go to find inspiration? What is it that drives you? What angers you? What's your message? I'm going to keep the media guessing on the other three and focus on the third question right now. I got off work today around 5 pm and have to return for a work meeting at 10. No, no, its nothing like that. I work at a restaurant that sells soup. Soup, and nothing else. It's called the soupbox. You should stop by some time. Really, its a ton of fun.

Speaking of things that drive me to drink, I've spent the past 3 hours wandering around one of Chicago's many thinly veiled wastelands known as Lakeview East. From the last few hours, I've compiled a list of things that frustrate me. They don't just erk me, or annoy me. They strike me as evil. Not the evil that we like to block out of our heads and pretend doesn't exist. I'm talking about the evil that is so sly and swift that it creeps into our lives and convinces us that things are actually pretty great and we should look on the bright side, while it silently sucks out our souls and eventually shapes our way of life. Let me explain a little;

The Chicago Transit Authority: I only have $1.50 in my pocket and need to get to work. I'm forced to go take out money from an ATM (the cta doesn't take cards), buy something from the gas station (the cta doesn't give change) and then pay 2.25 to ride 3 miles on a train that is running late (the cta is horribly unreliable). The technology to offer unlimited passes everywhere and purchasable with a credit card was invented at least 20 years ago. The cta chooses not to use it because they make more money this way. Thanks for lookin' out, Chicago. I appreciate it.

Small Businesses that make me feel guilty: That's wonderful that you are privately owned. However, nobody's dog needs organic home-made baked goods. Sustainable living is not sustainable if it doubles the cost of something most people don't want and can't afford anyway. Finally, I think I can live a full and healthy life, having never consumed wheat grass, but thanks for the tip.

Clothing Store Parties: This is an oxymoron. Unabashed materialism and eerily soft t-shirts and jeans that cost $100 just because of some crooked/urban-ish/graffiti-esque logo are no cause for celebration. Never.

Citibank Student Loans: Citibank calls me more than any of my friends or family members. Nobody who loaned $17,000 to a college-age future-alcoholic music major should expect payment or any of my respect. $25 million dollars from tax-payers and I can't get one late-fee taken away. Have you no shame, Citigroup?

Taxing my vices: The cigarette tax has now expanded to include tobacco as well. This means that a pouch of rolling tobacco cost $4.50 yesterday at the 7eleven by my work and today it cost $8.50. I know its just cigarettes, but it elicited a deep sigh of resignation on my part as I coughed up the money.

The third world: It's there. So are all these things. [dissonance]

These are just little things, but I can't shake the feeling sometimes that I just don't meld with the city I'm living in. I don't really want to start an argument with business owners about the merits of their products or start bombing banks, so instead I channel my frustration through songs and words. It seems a little childish sometimes. Anyway, here's a little song I recorded on the little talk-back mic on my laptop. It's not as ironic as it sounds.

p.s. While I was working one day a bum walked into the soupbox and asked if I wanted to buy a homemade banjo for 3 dollars. I said yes. It was half a coconut on a stick with a bunch of wires tied to it that more or less twanged when you hit them. I don't know if he actually made it, but it seemed fated. Anyhow, that's what comes in at the end of this song. I just cranked up some phony distortion on the track.


A whole new third world.mp3