Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Everything Sucks for an aging punker

Way back in the day there was a little ska band called Reel Big Fish. Damn near all of my friends were going to see them play at the House of Blues in Chicago on a school night. It was near the end of the school year but my mom was unrelenting and wouldn't allow me to go to the show. I gave my buddy Jimmy a few bucks and he bought a shirt for me at the show so I could at least feel like I was cool enough to have gone. The shirt simply said "I Hate Reel Big Fish" in block letters across the front. As I was standing in the second row at the Irving Plaza in New York waiting for Reel Big Fish to take the stage roughly 16 years later I couldn't help but think about that shirt. While that shirt was obviously a joke I couldn't help but delve deeper into the sentiment behind it, at a couple of times in my life wasn't it telling the truth? Sure. Why Do They Rock So Hard? was definitely a disappointing album. And frankly I didn't really listen to any of the albums that followed it. They just seemed kind of crappy after that and with the exception of a few songs I never really knew any of their stuff, although I would throw on Turn the Radio Off from time to time. Then I got thinking of a bigger question:

Wasn't I supposed to hate Reel Big Fish? The answer to this is sadly yes, albeit for two very different reasons. The first reason being that they "sold out". The irony gets really thick when you accuse a band that became famous for a song mocking the idea of selling out of selling out but by definition it's true. They signed to a major label and appealed to the masses (for 15 seconds). The problem is that I think it's incredibly stupid to hate a band for selling out. It breaks my heart that the members of bands that I love have to work shitty jobs when they aren't on tour just to survive while no talent ass clowns like Flo Rida have a Rolls Royce in every color of the rainbow. I want to support my favorites in any way I can and hopefully provide a living for them by going to shows and buying albums. If a bunch of non punks like the new Bad Religion album it's because it's a fucking good album not because they compromised their values and turned their back on the scene. Hating a band because they become popular is idiotic. Sure, after becoming successful some bands will change their sounds in ways that I disagree with (Prime Example: The Offspring's Pretty Fly for a White Guy) and it will make me stop listening to them, but it's because I don't like the musical direction they are headed in. 

Which leads us to the second reason that I am supposed to hate Reel Big Fish; It has become accepted that punk/ska music is only for teenagers and that I am supposed to grow out of this phase. There is something about this kind of music that appeals to high school kids, I get it. What I don't understand is why it's suddenly supposed to be shameful to still like it when I'm older. As far as I can tell Losing Streak didn't change over the years, why should my opinion about it have to? If I had a dollar for every time I've had someone tell me that they used to like punk or ska music but out grew it I would have enough to by an original pressing of Minor Threat's Out of Step. Sure, some of the songs that I pumped my fist to as a teenager seem more than a little bit trite and juvenile as an adult. So what? Love me Do sounds like it was written by a 4 year old and no one ever says they outgrew The Beatles. Was I supposed to spend my 21st birthday by taking all of my Descendents and Bosstones albums to the record store and trading them in for the new Sigur Ros and whatever the fuck other band Pitchfork was praising that week? Fuck that. And I'm not trying to take anything away from Sigur Ros (who I enjoy) or indie bands in general; what I don't understand is why I have to stop liking one type of music in order to enjoy another.

With very few exceptions I never fall out of love with music. (The Spin Doctors are that exception) I might not want to listen to Sublime's self titled album every waking moment of every day anymore but I sure don't hate it either. Any time I hear it I think of all of the positive memories that I associate with it and enjoy the music. It's the same when I put on Goldfinger or Iron Maiden or Soul Asylum. It's all music that I got into a long time ago and I respect it as such. Any time I hear someone belittle the music they liked as a kid it makes me cringe. There was a time in my life when MU 330's self titled album was the most important record to me. I listened to it all of the time, knew every single word and went and saw them play live any time they were within 100 miles of me. During some of the darkest and loneliest times of my life that album comforted me. Seeing that band made me jump around with glee at a time when I wasn't sure I could even crack a smile. Yet now that I am 32 and my playlist has a heck of a lot more Black Keys than Black Flag I'm supposed to dismiss the music of my youth as a silly phase and that sickens me.  

It sounds corny but my love of punk and ska music is a huge part of who I am as a person. Bad Religion and the Descendents taught me that being smart and nerdy was actually cool. When I was heartbroken over a girl The Mr T Experience was there for me like a shoulder to cry on. The Vandals taught me that I could avoid talking about that heartbreak with a little white lie. When things actually worked out with the ladies The Slackers helped me feel suave. Mephiskaphales taught me that their really is no finer tuna in the sea than Bumblebee. Less Than Jake helped me understand that I was far from the only person desperately wanting to get out of their shitty hometown. The Suicide Machines told me what shoes to wear while NOFX told me which shoes I should avoid. I still carry all of this (relatively) meaningful information with me today.

I'm not ashamed of the music I love. Some of the best experiences of my life were spent covered in sweat (most of it belonging to other people) screaming along to bands in a shitty bowling alley in Chicago or at a VFW in the middle of nowhere watching a band no one outside of their area code had heard of tear the roof off the place. Seeing Slapstick play this September at Riot Fest to a crowd ten times larger than they ever drew when they were together was damn near a religious experience for me, I couldn't stop smiling for a week. Whenever I miss my good buddy Jimmy K I think of the time our hair froze after leaving a Suicide Machines show. I do a similar thing when I miss Foss except I remember when the Pilfers asked if he wanted to drop out of college to drive their van for them. And I can plug in countless other friends and countless other bands to get the same effect. If I laugh and belittle the music that was such an integral part of my most cherished memories what does it say about the memories themselves?

Which brings us all back to Irving Plaza the other night. In the days leading up to the show I had felt a little bit silly about going to see Reel Big Fish and the Pilfers and Dan P after all of these years. I knew that I was going to be close to the oldest non parent in the crowd, the only guy who was missing hair on his head for a reason other than fashion. Then from the second that Dan started playing an old MU tune on his acoustic guitar and I started belting out the words along with him all of that stupid self conscious bullshit faded away. I didn't give a shit what my friends and others thought about it, I was exactly where I wanted to be. 3 hours later I was screaming along to "All I Want is More" and throwing the bird in the air the way I wished I had been able to 16 years ago and I realized that the shirt was 100% correct, I do hate Reel Big Fish. I hate Reel Big Fish because they had that combination of goofiness and a catchy song that made them absolutely perfect one hit wonders. So when all of the people who latch on to the "next big thing" moved on beyond punk/ska they looked back on it with condescension and I was stuck here defending the music that I love. It gets pretty damn annoying to always have to defend that shit. I'm sure that some other band would have gotten people to jump on the bandwagon if RBF didn't and I'd be equally annoyed with them. I'll still go to their shows (which are great, by the way) and listen to their new album (which is the best they have put out since Turn the Radio Off in my humble opinion) and I'll always defend them. But I'm still going to use them as a scapegoat for my irritation about having to defend the music I love at my advanced age. I do already have a shirt proclaiming my hatred, why not make the most of it?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Don't Mess with Sriracha

I feel that it goes without saying that Sriracha is one of Mankind's top 5 achievements; the others being the wheel, harnessing fire, GoldenEye 64 and the forward pass. Some would laud Sriracha for the way it makes good food great thanks to it's just powerful enough kick and delightful flavor. Others would say that Sriracha is more impressive for the way it takes crappy and barely edible food and injects them with enough flavor to make it enjoyable. Both of these are true but I feel that Sriracha's true ace in the hole is it's versatility. Now, I have been told before that I have a wee bit of hot sauce addiction and I'm not disputing that but I am hard pressed to think of a food that is not enhanced by a wee bit of Rooster Sauce. Here's a quick list off the top of my head:

  • Asian food, particularly Pho
  • Soup
  • Pizza
  • Fries Mixing ketchup and Sriracha together is a little slice of heaven
  • Meat
  • Sandwiches
  • Latkes
  • Alcoholic beverages - Deliciousness awaits ===> SRIRACHA BEER!
  • Hot Dogs
  • Basically anything else
It's the greatest. I feel that over the years Sriracha has proven to us that it should not be trifled with, it is perfect as it is. Unfortunately the proprietors of multiple Chinese eateries in the fine city of New York disagree. They think that it is acceptable to water down Sriracha. It is not. Everyone knows this.

I went on a wee bit of a dumpling crawl this past weekend through Chinatown in NYC. It seemed like a fun way to get acquainted with the Dim Sum options that I have in my new area. Now, I must be honest, Sriracha is not my go-to when it comes to Dim Sum. I usually make a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar and hot chili oil. At the same time I don't like to make trouble so I'll tend to make do with what is on the table. At a three of the places I stopped at Sriracha was the only hot option on the table. Three out of three times it was watered down. This was not a case of one place having lower standards or a rogue bottle of watered down Sriracha. This was not only a trend it was an abomination against the hot sauce gods.

Part of what makes Sriracha superior to Tabasco, Cholula and the like is it's texture. It has a thickness that the others don't. This not only adds a little complexity to the flavor but it gives it the ability to stick to food and stay in one place. Not when it's watered down. It just goes all over the damn place. I could find a way to adapt to that if I wanted to but I soon learned that there would be no point as the watered down Sriracha was completely flavorless. All it really did was dye the outside of my dumplings reddish. There was no spice. There was no delightful garlic flavor. There was nothing.The let down was monumental. It was like being given Super Bowl tickets and finding out that they were counterfeit at the gate.

I was left to ask myself who would ever allow for such an injustice. If Sriracha was expensive I could understand a restaurant attempting to cut corners by watering it down a little bit. The 28 oz bottle sells for about 4 bucks. It is one of the cheapest condiments out there. This leads me to believe that either the owners of the restaurants think they are improving the sauce by watering it down (impossible) or that they are so goddamn cheap that they must be cutting similar corners on everything. Therefore the chicken and mushroom dumplings I thought that I was enjoying were more than likely pigeon and newspaper dumplings.

There is only one solution to this problem and it is something that I have been considering for decades. I'm going to have to carry a holster with hot sauces. Although that seems insufficient, holsters usually only have room for two guns (or in my case sauces). I would probably have to go with Sriracha and Frank's in this instance, sadly I would be shit out of luck when in a Mexican place, there just wouldn't be room to carry Tapatio. Wait. . . I don't need a holster, I need a bandolier! We all know that bandoliers look totally badass, what if they were filled with delicious hot sauces? Boom. Problem solved.

Friday, January 11, 2013

I'm a McMoron

Jersey is a weird place. They have these things called "malls," you may have heard of them before. Kevin Smith even made a movie about them. I hadn't been to an actual mall for at least 8 years in this country before moving here. I said in this country because in both Hong Kong and Beijing seemingly every train stop is in the middle of a mall. It's sort of like a more infuriating version of how every museum makes you walk through the gift shop in order to leave. Well, in order to get to the PATH train here in Jersey City I have to walk through the Newport mall. Sure, I could probably walk around it but that would be backtracking and backtracking is the worst. I hate nothing more than backtracking. Nothing. I digress. . .

So I walk through this mall most days. Every time I am in the mall I walk past a McDonald's. The other day as I was walking past I noticed that the McRib has returned. HOORAY! Isn't it great that the McRib has come back? I found myself more excited about the McRib than I have been about most of my life's accomplishments; although I'm not sure if that says more about the McRib or my lack of accomplishment. I'm sure lots of people get excited about the McRib, Homer Simpson sure loved the knock off Ribwich. So here's the kicker, I don't like the McRib.

Actually that's not strong enough, I hate the McRib. I think it tastes like absolute garbage. It's all pressed together to look like ribs, which are inedible if you recall, so you have no clue what part of the pig it's even from. On top of that it's a well known fact that the McRib only appears when pork prices are relatively low so this makes me assume that it's made from assholes and neck fat of the cheapest pigs in town. The barbecue sauce is too sweet and the pickles taste like they have been scraped off of a men's room floor. The McRib is awful. Yet I have been programmed over the year to go bananas every time that it comes back.

I find that I have the same affliction whenever the Monopoly game returns. In years of devotion to the Monopoly game I have accrued somewhere around 4,390 Park Place pieces and absolutely nothing else that ever amounted to more than a free apple pie. Yet when I see that be-monocaled 1%er on a sign next to the kid touching clown every fiber of my being wants to buy a super sized meal so I have 4 chances to win my fortune. I don't want the food and I sure don't want most of the prizes, if I wanted a fucking Huffy I'd buy one.

Somehow I have been brainwashed by this silly corporation to do somersaults any time one of their "limited time only" specials comes up. Do you want a McRib? OK. Would you like it super sized to get two extra Monopoly pieces? Of course I would. Would you like to add a Shamrock Shake to your order? OF COURSE I DO. It's ludicrous. Why can't I get this pumped up about healthy food? Maybe I should start smashing all food into the shape of ribs and my pea brain will be none the wiser. This brainwashing has allowed me to keep my Grimace-esque figure.

No matter how hard I fight these urges I'm sure that the next time pork prices drop I'll find myself squealing in glee about the McRib's return, like the McMoron that I am.