I asked, and I received. I posted online, "give me your Mailbag questions--ask me anything!" And boy howdy, did you ask. Everything from Ke$sha to cornhole (yes, "cornhole," the tailgating beanbag game), from football to Facebook, from pumpkins to Prince.
First of all, thanks to everyone who writes in--all the emails are read and much appreciated. Second, if you'd like to be in a future Mailbag, just drop me a line. Ask me anything about anything.
Now, onto your letters...
I recently became aware of the radio-hit making machine that is Dr. Luke. After reading this post [and this profile] and reviewing his repertoire, I'm curious to hear your thoughts on this musical medicine man. Is he a genius or a one trick pony, masked by several twenty-something pop stars with less than stellar voices? Do you hate or (secretly) love this MD for filling your summer with "Daisy Dukes, Bikinis on Top"? And finally, why do all his songs sound good at the gym? --Amy in Nashville
Okay, a bit of background for those who haven't met Dr. Luke. Dr. Luke is a songwriter/producer who has penned many Top 10 hits over the last few years: Katy Perry, Ke$sha, Kelly Clarkson, Flo Rida, etc. His music is all over the place and he's getting a lot of press as the latest, greatest "hit-maker," in the vein of Dr. Dre, Timabaland, etc.
1) I'm all for anyone who values and contributes to pop music. I love pop music, I love hit-makers, and I have no philosophical issues with a producer who writes songs for a stable of artists to then sing and perform. We all love Motown--heard of Berry Gordy? So, on paper, I'm very pro-Dr. Luke.
2) For me, it always comes down to the song. How good are the songs? There's the rub. I've got no doubt that Dr. Luke is very, very good at what he does. He's a talented, hard-working dude. But I just don't want to listen to "Teenage Dream" or "California Gurls" or "Dynamite," etc. They're catchy, and I understand why other people like them, but for me they're more annoying than infectious. But that's just me, and that's just those songs. Which brings me to...
3) ...the fact that Kelly Clarkson's "Since You've Been Gone"--the song that kind of launched him as a hit-maker--is a truly great pop song. I love it unabashedly. Major props. The problem is...
4) ...some Dr. Luke detractors claim his best songs are co-written with long-standing Swedish hit-maker Max Martin. Exhibit A: "Since You've Been Gone." In other words, Luke's best hits are secretly Martin's songs, and his other hits are his own. I have no idea how much any of it is true. I do know that I still love hearing "Since You've Been Gone" and can't skip over "Tik Tok" fast enough. That's just me, though.
5) These songs sound good at the gym because here's what music we want at the gym:
--Something to make us move faster. (Check.)
--Something that will take our mind anywhere other than "I'm in pain right now." (Check.)
--Something amusing. (Check.)
Good gym music is daydreaming music. We want our body to work out while our head can just go somewhere else. Say what you will about Dr. Luke, but if I'm in the middle of a workout (as I am SO often), "California Gurls" can make four sweaty, uphill minutes pass in seconds. My head could swim off to Daisy Duke Land and 45 minutes later, I'm done.
Now seems like a great time to mention that yes, I'm writing this post on performance enhancing drugs. Can't you tell?
You've referenced a lot of different sports teams in the past and you've posted pictures of yourself wearing different teams' colors. I cannot figure out if you're an Alabama, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Memphis, or some other kind of fan. It also seems like you care a lot about the NFL but never talk about anyone specific, other than Michael Vick, which is not cool. Settle the debate: what are your teams? And don't give me that multi-team BS. --Sean, Brooklyn
Wow! Called out for sports-bigamy. Aight, I usually try to avoid specifics because nothing is worse than random sportsfan hatemail. But since you asked, here's the breakdown of my fandom, once and for all. Send your random sportsfan hatemail to the comments section below.
Alabama & Virginia Tech. I grew up in something of a split household. If you think this makes me a sports bigamist and a lesser fan, I don't know what to tell you. If you really think it's convenient for me to like these two programs, you 1) aren't aware of what happened to Bama in the mid-90's, 2) think Virginia Tech was founded in 1999, 3) clearly haven't seen VT's offense since 2002, 4) don't remember that they played each other to start 2009, nearly giving me a coronary, 5) etc, 6) etc. Trust me: I lived through the Mike Shula era. I've seen the "death penalties." Try finding Virginia Tech anything on TV before 1999. I know what a Brian Stinespring is. For 80% of my life, there has been nothing convenient about rooting for these teams. Outside the single year 1992 and everything post-Saban, Bama and VT fandom in my lifetime has been a tragic comedy of errors, a hellish farce, each year's failures more outlandish and depressing than the last.
Why? Because it's way more painful to root for a bad good team than a bad bad team. For example, Vandy fans (I know 3 of them/75% of them) are happy with any win. Expectations are permanently--and perhaps terminally--low. But with a program like Bama (and Virginia Tech post-Vick) every year's an opportunity for the Big One. You talk yourself into it. You get your hopes up. And then the new head coach gets fired after two weeks for practically moving into a strip club. Or a QB stomps on an opposing player, on camera, on national television, in a bowl game. Or the lone bright spot (1992 national championship) is immediately and permanently tainted by NCAA infractions.
Or they lose to James Madison at home.
You get the picture.
And all of this--all of it--is why I'm now publicly announcing my love for Nick Saban. It's worth repeating: I'm in love with Nick Saban. Just total, unrelenting, cartoon-hearts-floating-around-my-head, doodling-pictures-of-him-on-my-Trapper-Keeper, mancrush love for Nick Saban. I have been waiting literally all my life for one of my teams to do something right. He completes me. There, I said it. It's out there. Your move, Nick.
Memphis, for obvious reasons: 1) I grew up in Memphis going to games and 2) I'm clearly a masochist. But I love my Tahgers.
Free agent, with a side of Redskins. My aunt and uncle, living in DC, converted my family to Redskins fans. I was eight, and I had Redskins windbreakers, so I figured, "sure, why not." That was 1991. In 2010, they're run by Dan Snyder, the franchise in no way resembles the 90's, the awesome Skins crowds of old have been priced out, and basically I'm in an annual struggle to give a crap about this team. With pro football, it's much more about individual players or individual teams that are interesting year-to-year.
Memphis Grizzlies. No, it's not easy. On the bright side, I loved Magic Johnson as a kid, so I spent many a golden childhood year basking in the glow of Lakers championship rings. But when the Grizz came to Memphis, I knew those years were over. I was a Grizzlies fan. I am a Grizzlies fan. I am a Grizzlies fan.
My name is Chris, and I'm a Grizzlies fan.
There is literally nothing I care less about. I care more about the hobbies of Millard Fillmore than baseball. I care more about types of grass than baseball. I care WAY MORE about the romantic entanglements of Baywatch's Lt. Stephanie Holden than baseball. I care more about hockey than baseball. Other things I care more about than baseball:
--Sharon Stone's politics
--What tofu is
--The admissions process for exclusive prep schools
Wait--what's with West Virginia, then?
Yeah, I give love to WVU's football and basketball and watch them with a mild rooting interest because:
1) Lots of family in WV. Hence, lots of windbreakers growing up.
2) Their fans are insane/awesome.
3) They burn couches when they win big games. And sometimes when they lose big games. And sometimes they just burn couches.
4) West Virginia (the state) is awesome, and WV fans are probably overdue for a win. Or twenty.
5) This guy. Who's rooting against that?
Chris, if you won't do this on Facebook, maybe you'll do it in a Mailbag. "Fifteen Records That Stuck." You know the rules: list the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. Tag fifteen friends, including me, because I'm interested in seeing what albums my friends choose. Go! --Ashley, Franklin
I don't do most of those Facebook survey things because most of the questions aren't interesting. I like this one a lot because I'm curious what fifteen albums pop into my head first, and why. Could be all-time favorites, or could be randoms. Let's see.
1) Pearl Jam Yield
2) Tom Petty Mojo
3) Dawes North Hills
4) Cory Branan The Hell You Say
5) Bush Sixteen Stone
6) Alanis Morissette Jagged Little Pill
7) Guns N Roses Use Your Illusion
8) Nirvana Nevermind
9) Usher Confessions
10) Outkast Stankonia
11) Lucero Tennessee
12) Bruce Springsteen Born To Run
13) Tom Waits Closing Time
14) Bob Dylan Another Side of Bob Dylan
15) Beach Boys Pet Sounds
A few more notes:
--Not surprised a Pearl Jam album was first, but I am surprised it was Yield.
--Kind of surprised I didn't get to Dylan until #14.
--More surprised I didn't get to Zeppelin, Big Star, The Who, and Radiohead.
--Really surprised I didn't get to the Stones.
--Totally shocked I didn't get to the Beatles.
--If Dawes' inclusion feels random, it shouldn't: North Hills is the last thing I heard before starting this post. Also, the record is fantastic.
Alright, now your turn! What are the first fifteen albums that pop into your head? Hit up the comments and let me know. We'll see how many favorites and randoms there are.
Feels like a good segue into...
Dear Chris Milam, give me some music recs. I like [insert broad genres here], for example [insert artists here]. I haven't listened to "new" music since [insert year here]. What's out there/what would I like/what are you listening to/etc? --Many people, many places
Glad you asked!
Let's combine some of these questions by using an old Klosterman trick: I'll tell you what new(ish) music I'm listening to these days, and break it down by what you might enjoy. Caveat: depending on your listening habits, some of these artists might not be "new" to you. I'll try to strike a balance between Top 40 folks and Brooklyn Vegan folks.
Here we go!
Dawes, North Hills. You will like this if...
...you like The Band
...you like harmonies
...you wear vintage sunglasses
...you enjoy narrative lyrics with a philosophical bent
...you like any pop melodies since 1966
...your favorite part of the week is Sunday morning
...Laurel Canyon holds a special music mystique for you
...you like The Band
For an upbeat, funsy time, try: "When You Call My Name"
For a slower, contemplative time, try: "Love Is All I Am"
For (I think) the best song, try: "When My Time Comes"
...you like the Avett Brothers (side note: if you haven't heard the Avett Brothers, buy I And Love And You now, immediately, twice, enjoy, send them a thank you note, and then resume reading)
...you think everything sounds better with a British accent
...you maybe, occasionally, sometimes have some anger issues
...you like harmonies
...you have ever lived through an "on again, off again" romance
...you like Swell Season
...you like it even more when Glen Hansard gets real angsty/Irish
...you look forward to winter
For an upbeat, funsy time, try: "Winter Winds"
For a slower, contemplative time, try: "Timshel"
For (I think) the best song, try: "Sigh No More"
(Side note: These song recs are a little misleading. This album's songwriting is all pretty much in the same vein. They do what they do really well, but there's not much deviation. If you like "Sigh No More," you'll like all of Sigh No More.)
New Pornographers, Together. You will like this if...
... you like Neko Case
...you like really catchy rock songs
...you like lyrics that are "even quirkier/weirder than R.E.M. but inexplicably make sense"
...you ever get in the car, turn on the stereo, and need some powerchords to get you moving
...you like pop songs, but don't relate at all to what's in the Top 40
...you like spring more than the average person
...you're okay with music having a sense of humor
...you've got at least a modicum of ADD
...you love handclaps
For an upbeat, funsy time, try: "Moves"
For a slower, contemplative time, try: "Valkyrie In the Roller Disco"
For (I think) the best song, try: "My Shephard" or "Up In the Dark"
Band of Horses, Infinite Arms. You will like this if...
...you like when My Morning Jacket "takes it down a notch"
...you're having a quarter-to-midlife crisis
...you like harmonies
...you enjoy the vocal idiosyncrasies of Perry Farrell
...you always wish it was the Holiday Season
...you're cool with reverb
...you're really cool with reverb
For an upbeat, funsy time, try: "Laredo"
For a slower, contemplative time, try:"Evening Kitchen"
For (I think) the best song, try: "Older"
Some more rapid-fire recs of things I'm listening to, old and new, in 140 characters or less:
Foo Fighters, Colour and the Shape:
No surprises and absolutely no filler. A great longtime friend you haven't heard from in a while.
Veviter, Tight Knit:
Talk about sonically monolithic, but that monolith = crisp fall morning. Pretty, honest, and seasonal.
Jeremy Stanfill, "Seasons":
Pitch-perfect, simple, gorgeous ode to fall. You can hear a cool breeze blowing through it.
Delta Spirit, History From Below:
"Golden State" and "Ransom Man." It's impossible not to like at least one of those two.
Josh Ritter, The Animal Years:
Finally hearing everything besides "Girl In the War." Finds the balance between smart and accessible.
I need some fall music recommendations, too! What are y'all listening to?
Until next time,