Video Music Awards 2015

Well, the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards just finished up and I can honestly say I have no idea what the hell was going on and I don’t think anyone else knew, either. There were production issues, Miley’s nipples, Rebel’s “Fuck stripper police” shirt that MTV was very clearly not prepared for, Nicki cussing out Miley, and of course, Kanye’s crazy (some say poignant) speech. I suppose it wouldn’t really be the VMAs without some sort of Kanye controversy.

My faith in the awards totally dropped off when I realized two things; the first was that the same songs and artists were being nominated over and over again and the second was when Nicki Minaj won the award for Best Hip Hop Video over Kendrick Lamar. I mean, let’s be honest, she basically rewrote someone else’s song & talks about banging a coke dealer.

I guess I’m a bit biased because I really love Kendrick. I love his words, his beats, his videos (which do not show half naked women licking ice cream or anything), and his attitude. But his video for ‘Alright’ was one of my favorites and definitely deserved a win in at least one of the categories for which it was nominated.

I understood why they had Miley host, it made sense and she was smart enough to announce her album during her closing performance. Love her or hate her, she’s pretty smart in that aspect. I don’t know why that bothered so many people, she was entertaining and honest. Plus, we got to see her nipples and that’s always fun. I suppose they expect a more legitimate artist to host, but they really shouldn’t have anyone serious and they probably couldn’t get that to work anyway.

It was cool to see beef unfold. Beef is a large part of all genres of music history and is certainly not limited to any one kind. So watching Nicki’s acceptance speech dissolve into a shit talk fest, I was pretty pleased and happy with Miley’s retort. Especially since she added that second jab about toilet papering Meek Mill’s house during one of the cheesy preshot videos.

Popular music is definitely lackluster now and more about consumerism than actual talent or music. There are dance craze songs and all of them end up being one hit wonders (though, this is part of music history, as well). The “artists to watch” usually end up having short-lived careers, many of them failing after a sophomore album, while deserving artists with substance and talent sail by under the mainstream radars, only to be detected and perhaps corrupted a few years later.

Is Nicki Minaj able to walk on her own? She needed help to the stage and part of me believes it’s because she keeps packing silicone into her ass cheeks. Who knew Hannah Montana would be a pot smoking, MDMA loving hippie a few years down the line? Kanye West made some sense but his overly dramatic movements and self awareness was difficult to watch. I guess when people watch your every move (and you’re on a stage in front of thousands of people), it’s hard to be authentic.

MTV used to be the place we all went for jaw-dropping moments including historic performances from great musical acts. Now, it’s transformed into a teenage reality television monster and even the awards shows have fizzled out. But alas … bitching about “back in my day” is a whole other post.

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The Melvins at Winston’s

It was a muggy August night. The weather report called for rain, but all that came was wet air so thick, you could slice it with a butter knife. I was nervous. It was the first night I’d spent away from my husband and new baby since before she was born (she would turn 7 months old the next day). It was a good nervous. I had spent much of my youth doing this exact thing and it honestly felt a little like a home.

I stepped out of my car and greeted my jubilant friend with a hug and a shout.

“Are you ready or what?” she asked me.

I was beyond ready. ”Let’s get a drink!”

It was a punk show and typically, she was in black Doc Marten’s and I was wearing old school hi-top Vans. We kicked up dust as we made our way to the entrance of the venue—a honky tonk called Winston’s. Winston’s was famous for a few things; it’s famous for being an old Hollywood western sound stage, it’s been featured on a cooking show for its delicious slow cooked barbeque, and it was quickly becoming one of the top intimate venues in southern California.

After getting our wristbands from will call, we found ourselves ordering drinks and laughing about something from the internet. I knew we’d now be back out the door so my friend could enjoy a cigarette.

I enjoyed eyeing the people and sipping my drink. It was a Seven and Seven, my favorite. It was cool and refreshing, saving me from a dreadful desert night. My pants were damp against my legs and the back of my neck was wet. Still, I watched the wide array of concertgoers in awe. There were the typical twentysomething punks, old bearded hippies, hipster scene girls with shorts cut so high they were almost a romper, and the aging punks who grew up going to the Melvins’ shows. They were the ones growing up in punk’s heyday. Now they’re electricians and garage door repairmen who frequent Winston’s, clamoring for a feeling of those glory days.

Winston’s was a coveted place and has recently exploded with huge acts, especially during the week between the two weekends Coachella runs. Some of the artists make the drive and stay in Joshua Tree to avoid the heat of the lower desert and inevitably visit Winston’s and some play unannounced shows. A few years ago, they were doing yearly concerts by The Donnas and now, they have everyone from Sean Lennon to Jenny Lewis, The Pistol Annies, and it was even a stop on Neutral Milk Hotel’s farewell tour.

We heard the familiar sting of a guitar string reverberating through the amplifier and hussled inside. Roger Osbourne is an eccentric individual and his style is the same. It’s the middle of a sweltering August in the Mojave Desert inside a tiny honky tonk stuffed with people producing body heat and he’s wearing a goddamn black hoodie with bright colored paisley designs on it. He possessed an unbelievably large white afro. Some artists have hair that take on a life of their own (The Cure’s Robert Smith is a good example) and Roger’s hair was a fuzzy accessory to shake and flap around while he played his guitar.

They had two drum sets set up. Dale Crover (the original drummer for Nirvana) plays with The Melvins occasionally, and I was hoping I could end this show being able to say I’ve seen both drummers for Nirvana in concert. No such luck. Two young, handsome, sweaty guys were holding drumsticks, both chugging beers from the mason jar mugs that were famously Winston’s. It was a fun sight.

The music was too loud for the space. It was an indoor show and the inside of Winston’s was cluttered. It was a restaurant by day and there were plenty of chairs and tables throughout. It was wood everywhere, with kitschy decor littering the walls: dollar bills signed by famous visitors and musicians, previous show flyers, head shots of old west actors. There was a room in the front left of the building with pool tables and a jukebox, which was rarely ever used. The back of the building held the tiny stage, barely large enough for a full band. A small area devoid of chairs or tables which stood as the “audience space” or dance floor for shows. There was a smoker and barbeque pit outside in the beer garden, along with more seating.

The music was so loud, in fact, it was literally in every cell of my body. I could feel it my bones, in my chest. The drummers battled and dueted, exchanging solos with Osbourne. The whole crowd swayed, a few were headbanging a bit harder. Sweat and whisky dripped off my body and out of my glass, staining my shoes. Every time Osbourne screamed into the mic, his words vibrated through my bones.

This was home; sweaty, excited, exhausted fun. I was ready for the next one. I had just witnessed a small bit of music history, just a fraction of what happens in a year here at Winston’s. It’s amazing the way a sound, a smell, a restaurant can feel like home. Music does that to us, especially live music in an intimate venue like Winston’s. I had broken away from my new self: the mother, the wife, the caregiver and visited the old me. I got to see the girl that risked it all for a concert, drove out to LA with barely any money in her pockets to be in a music video, the girl that waited outside of concert halls religiously early for a good sport.

Splash of Pop

In our digital age, it’s difficult to unplug. We forget to turn off the TV, we stay inside during sweltering summer days, opting for a movie marathon over a game of cards. We worship people who are famous for no reason. No real talent, aside from looking good (which is usually someone else’s job, too).

Most intellectual people, or people who try really hard to appear intelligent, will scoff at the idea of reality television. Could you imagine Einstein watching the Kardashians? Nah, I peg him as more of a Flipping Out guy.

I mean, really, just because you’re smart, does that mean you must only like Downtown Abbey? I know reality television is usually trash, but then, am I ridiculous for following rap beefs? What about UFC fighter Twitter battles? Why is pop culture suddenly so looked down upon?

Maybe it’s because my generation is altering the way we view things; after all, it’s difficult to recreate a decade like the nineties. So we turn our noses up at things we hate. Saturday Night Live will always be funny for us and we use our internet leverage and bring back our favorite snacks and drinks (that we probably try again and immediately regret). I mean, we rebooted Boy Meets World and Will Smith is somehow still acting in movies. I guess our love for the Fresh Prince, like the Scrunchies around our wrists, will never disappear.

I don’t consider myself horribly stupid; I know the difference between ‘there,’ ‘their,’ and ‘they’re’ at the very least (also ‘allowed’ and ‘aloud’). I vote, I research, I don’t share those things you see on Facebook about Venus being as big as the moon on a certain date, I know The Onion is satire. I also really like reality television and the UFC.

Shows that incorporate reality television and sports together ultimately end up being my favorite. The Challenge is one of my favorite television shows of all time. It has everything: a great storyline, action, drama, physical stunts, comedy, hook-ups, and break-ups. One of the most endearing parts of the show was the years-long love story between CT and Diem, which ended tragically last year when Diem passed away from cancer immediately following her stint filming her last season. The Ultimate Fighter, the reality show the UFC uses to recruit new talent, is always changing and getting better. They had a season full of women and it was glorious. They had a season in which Ronda Rousey coached against Miesha Tate and their hatred for each other was palpable. That’s great television.

So why do we hate on reality television? I suppose most of it is very vapid and annoying. It’s sometimes difficult for me to watch The Real Housewives shows because of their incessant bickering. Yet, the characters they choose are perfect always rope you in; interesting, neurotic, obsessive, funny, sarcastic. Give me a drunken Sonja Morgan in Tahiti over a cliche-filled cop in sunglasses any day.

Pop culture … the music, television, viral stories and videos … these are the things that help shape our society. Not going on Facebook doesn’t make you anymore of a human. Perhaps you appreciate things more, but as with everything: balance is key. We need nature (read my post from last year), we need to be outside, we need places untouched. But society is just as natural. It’s the interaction between humans, what we’re inventing and why we’re inventing it. A city is just as natural as an ant hill. So embrace society, like what you like. That doesn’t make you any less intelligent. Just find your balance.

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you fucking like something, like it. That’s what’s wrong with our generation: that residual punk rock guilt, like, “You’re not supposed to like that. That’s not fucking cool.” Don’t fucking think it’s not cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” It is cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic”! Why the fuck not? Fuck you! That’s who I am, goddamn it! That whole guilty pleasure thing is full of fucking shit.” – Dave Grohl

Tangible Music

One of my favorite memories as a young kid was when my dad took me to Target on Tuesdays. You see, my father and I had a similar intense love of music and CDs were released on Tuesdays. I would scurry to the entertainment section and scour the racks for new music or maybe something I had recently discovered. I would peel open the cellophane in the car – obviously this job couldn’t wait until we got home – and immediately comb through the inner sleeve. I would read who the band thanked, who wrote the songs, or if they used excerpts from other songs.

This is why, no matter how much society tries, I will resist purchasing digital music as long as I possibly can. They still make CDs in 2015, so I purchase them instead. This weekend my boyfriend surprised me by buying me a new CD on Amazon. He could have gotten the digital version. It might have been cheaper and I would be able to listen to it instantly. In fact, I could probably do this on YouTube, anyway. But no, he bought me the CD because he knows what music means to me, especially tangible music.

I grew up without instant access to all the answers of questions I had regarding the music. My father, however, always paid for me to have a subscription to Spin magazine, which has always been slightly ahead of the curve. I bought Alternative Press magazine and studied the inside sleeves of my CDs like they were textbooks. Now, they buy digital copies of music tracks and can read through thousands of websites every time they Google a question regarding an artist.

They will never experience the sheer joy of peeling back that cellophane. They don’t know how frustrating the top strip is to remove from a CD case. It’s insane for my generation to be the last to discover music based on what records or CDs our older siblings had and the first to download MP3 tracks from our beloved Napster. CDs are recorded at a different volume, they sound better. Just like records sound better than CDs (everything sounds better than cassettes and 8 tracks). CDs have cover art and photography, they are a product of creativity and art all around.

Now everything is automatic. No waiting for the CDs to ship, no driving to the store to purchase them, and no potential for problems due to scratching. Take your phone into your car and there you go – your entire music library. No huge CD books, no sunvisor sleeves. Just the thing you carry around in your pocket or purse all day long. I guess I’m just getting older and I know how my parents felt when they longed for those coveted “good ol’ days.” They bitched about not being able to understand my screaming jibberish music and I just can’t understand how there are NO popular songs with actual instruments. Yeah, Jenny Lewis and Circa Survive were big names at Coachella but DRAKE headlined. DRAKE.

Well, as long as they continue to pump out CDs, I will continue to purchase them. Perhaps a little less frequently than before, but it’s difficult for me to find artists I like from this decade. But I will always have a love for tangible music. Do they still have CD clubs? I’d definitely be in on that.

Wonderland

When most people imagine Southern California, they envision beaches freckled with blond haired, chestnut skinned twenty-somethings and busy highways flowing into the smog filled horizon. All I can imagine are Joshua trees and the smell of wet creosote. Living in the Mojave High Desert alters your experience of what it means to live in Southern California and your classification of a beautiful landscape. I can appreciate brown hills, the small bursts of green from the tops of the Joshua trees, the tremendous amount of boulders that overtake most of the landscape, and I have even come to appreciate the bristling beauty of the cholla.

The desert is one place where nothing is as it seems. The drab cactus that litters the landscape will surprise springtime visitors with beautiful pink and yellow flowers, resembling Christmas lights strewn about the tan sand. It’s truly a spectacular sight when the desert comes to life after a long winter. Spring is also when we receive our heaviest influx of tourists, when the weather is no longer freezing and it hasn’t yet reached the typical 100 degrees of summer, so staying in a tent is actually a pleasant experience.  Some of them rent time shares or vacation homes if they plan on staying a little longer. Yet, I feel like these people never get to the heart of my beloved Joshua Tree. They will visit the markets and cafes, eat at the few restaurants we have, but living in a town as small as Joshua Tree you get to know everyone on a first name basis.

We have no corporations in our town, save for the two gas stations on the highway. We have hiking/rock climbing stores, restaurants, cafes, art galleries, real estate companies, a health food store, a yoga studio, a general store… all of which are owned by locals. It is wonderful thing to see the community flourish without the intrusion of giant corporate monsters sucking the profit from the town. We are having a hell of a time keeping it this way. The town and its wonderful residents are attempting to prevent the imposition of a Dollar General (of which there are 2 within 15 miles in either direction of Joshua Tree; one in 29 Palms and one in Yucca Valley) by fighting a rough court battle against the county.

Places like Joshua Tree need to exist. Places where nature and art are the driving force are necessary, especially in a place like Southern California whose natural beauty is so often undermined by capitalism and human interruption. Humans need places where nature reigns so we can remember what life is really all about. This is why I am so thankful that after years of jumping around from city to city, I have finally developed roots in Joshua Tree. I am in the midst of finding myself in this small town and I know there isn’t a better place to begin this journey. My son was born here and my daughter will soon be born in the same hospital. I found a deep rooted love and began a family, the first stop on this road to Who I Am, and I was fortunate enough to do so in the midst of the Joshua trees and creosote.