Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Someone Should Bury Florida Georgia Line's Music in a Time Capsule and Never Dig It Up

I can usually deal with a lot of music that I don't like. For example, I've never heard but a few Taylor Swift songs and I haven't ever heard "Let It Go" from "Frozen." I'm lucky in that way that my son doesn't like crap like that and my daughter is too young to like it. Bad music is just a part of life. I find the band (band? group? duo?) Florida Georgia Line so offensive on so many levels that I can't even handle hearing their music and not being irritated by it. If you don't know who they are, please stop reading so you don't get irritated too. They are a terrible, terrible "country" band. They aren't even a band really. They are two dudes who aren't talented enough to be rappers and aren't talented enough to write pop songs, so they throw some twang in their voice, absentmindedly strum some guitars, turn up the Auto-Tune and roll in the cash of aimless morons who think this is country music...or even music. It's not. Florida Georgia Line is nothing but background noise for a life lived in a beer commercial. Here is their hit "Cruise," which if you can tell me what is country about this then you are a better person than me.

The remix even features Nelly! I won't link that because there's no need to bring Nelly into this discussion. Their music speaks to the lowest common denominator of music fan. These are some of their song titles from the two albums they have miraculously gotten money from a record company to record:

Get Your Shine On

This is How We Roll (here's the video!)

And yes, that video starts off with them picking up hitchhikers and having a party on top of a rig. Because, that's fucking COUNTRY! Okay, back to the song titles...

It'z Just What We Do (yep, spelled that way...because that's fucking COUNTRY!)

Hell Raisin' Heat of the Summer (they have a severe dislike for proper punctuation using apostrophes...why? That's fucking COUNTRY!)

Tip It Back

Dayum, Baby (I mean, it's not even a joke. That's a song title from these mental midgets)

Party People

Sun Daze

Dirt (Otherwise known as "Where this album should be buried"'s the video!'s a love song about dirt. Why dirt? Because that' fucking COUNTRY! It's farmin' man!)

Sippin' on Fire (again, proper punctuation with apostrophes isn't COUNTRY like these guys try to be)

Bumpin' the Night

Like You Ain't Even Gone

Those are the song titles. What's most irritating about them is an endless list, but here's my partial list.

1. Their name- It's a stupid fucking name. Bottom line. No way around it.

2. They are not country music. I'm not interested in getting into a traditional v. non-traditional country music discussion. I'm not a huge fan of country music, but I do own a good amount, and this isn't country music. It's played on country music stations because it sounds country enough to get advertisers' money and ears listening to that certain country music radio station. It's bro-country, which is basically country music for those individuals who lack enough talent to make it in another genre. There's rarely been a more apt description than to call them the Nickelback of country music.

3. These guys don't have talent. They don't write their own songs. Well, they co-write them, but they have professional songwriters come in and make it sound 10% less shitty. They can't sing because their songs are Auto-Tuned all to hell. If you can't sing country music, then it's time to take that job at Arby's, because you are not a very good singer. Country music doesn't require a ton of talent to sing, though there are really great singers who do sing country music. Basically, you shouldn't be Auto-Tuned to sing country music. They don't even really play instruments. They strum the instruments to give the appearance they are playing, but they are simply playing some rhythm part that is barely noticeable.

4. The music. It's music dedicated to good times and living the COUNTRY life that they know morons will purchase in the hopes of reliving those wild nights out in the country they have never had. If Taylor Swift's music is that of a girl yearning for someone to love her, while pretending that she doesn't want love, Florida Georgia Line's music is the music of that girl who just let the cute guy in the hat standing outside Wal-Mart screw her in the bed of a truck and wanting to pretend he's the one who really loves her while he's bro-ing out with his friends bragging about that's how he rolls.

5. Again, the music. It's elementary, it's not really deep and it's not really even that complicated. It sells, so that's good, but there's nothing really good about it. It rhymes, it gets people to hold their Bud Light in the air and remember the good times of hanging out at the lake all day, and sells the good life to people who seem to really want the good life sold to them.

I'm not trying to be hater. Wait, yes I am. Florida Georgia Line is all that is wrong with the modern state of music and country music. It's over-produced crap where talent is set aside for production skills and two marketable looking guys who are more interested in their image than they are in their music. That sad part is their image is of two guys who aren't afraid to have some fun 90% of the time, but get really serious about dirt. If you are the type of person whose dream is to stand on a big rig and sing about "how you roll," then this music is for you.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Best and Worst R.E.M. Albums

I find R.E.M.'s discography to be fascinating. It's most likely because I have really liked their music for most of my life, but their discography is very interesting to me. It's full of experimentation, whether it be ideas that really worked or ideas that didn't work at all, and through this experimentation they still maintained the "R.E.M. sound." What makes their changes in sound most interesting is they were always a working band. They longest they went between albums releases was four years, between "Around the Sun" and "Accelerate," and in a span of seven years released five albums (this was at their peak by the way...when they could have toured and counted their money instead of making new music) that went from pop-rock, acoustic-rock, grunge, a road album, and finally their attempt at being Radiohead. It's a bi-polar discography, especially considering they spent most of the 80's as the typical college band that made it big.

It's a cliche to say they spent most of their career going against the grain. It's also not true, but they were making jangle rock in the 80's when hair band music was popular and spent part of the 90's pulling what I call the "Rolling Stones fuck you we can do what you do better than how you do it" move. What I mean by that is the Stones (in my opinion) had a habit of taking a popular form of music during an era and putting out an album that shows they can do that music better. The Stones put our "Some Girls" which was an obvious answer to disco and the sort of New York punk rock at the time, they answered the country rock trend in the late 1960's/early 1970's with a string of four albums that were as good as anything "real" country rock bands put out, and of course there was the "Satanic Majesties Request" album which wasn't that great and was a friendly answer to the Beatles "Sgt. Pepper's..."

R.E.M. was sort of drifting and doing their own thing with "Out of Time" and "Automatic for the People" when the grunge phenomenon hit. They decided it was time to put out their rock album they had promised for years and showed they could do grunge pretty well too. They then tried to combine their early 90's sound with the grunge sound on the next album to mixed results. Then in 1998 after their drummer, Bill Berry, left the band they decided they would do some electronic-sounding music like Radiohead was putting out at the time and I fell asleep so I'm not sure how that ended up (I'm kidding). It was pretty fucking dreary. So in a nutshell this is what makes R.E.M.'s discography so interesting to me, that they spent part of their career chasing what was popular in mainstream, another part going away from what was popular, but started out creating a sound that would become popular in the mainstream. Any time I listen to early Strokes albums I feel like I can hear the R.E.M. influence in the way the guitar sounds and how the vocals are unintelligible.

So I figured because R.E.M.'s discography was so interesting and varied I would rank the albums. #1 was the easiest one for me. It's one of my "desert island" albums. The rest weren't so easy because some albums had really high peaks with filler and other albums had fewer high peaks but less filler. That's probably true for nearly every album I guess. So here goes. I'm going in reverse order until I get to the R.E.M. album I consider to be #1. I rank these albums essentially in order of which albums I would most want to hear from the first to the last track. How good is the album as a whole if I am tied to a chair and forced to listen to the whole thing? That's how I rank them. It's all relative too. A low-ranked R.E.M. album is better than some other bands' high-ranked album.

These Albums Just Aren't Good

15. Around the Sun

Oh, this album. It's easy to tell in retrospect when a band's album is probably the worst. When band members are like, "Oh yeah, we almost broke up after making that album" or "We specifically made further albums before breaking up to prove that we were better than this album." Those were paraphrased quotes from R.E.M. members about "Around the Sun." Oh, and Peter Buck (the guitarist) said "it wasn't listenable" and they were "bored with the material." That's the material THEY WROTE by the way. So yes, this album deserves to be in the very bottom of any R.E.M. album list based on these quotes alone. Unfortunately, the music backs up these quotes.

I think the song titles on this album are a meta-criticism of the music they were making. Some of the song titles are Make it All Ok, The Final Straw, I Wanted to be Wrong, Boy in the Well, High Speed Train, and the Worst Joke Ever.

If those titles aren't the sign of a band crying out for help then I don't know what titles would be. To be fair, Leaving New York and Electron Blue are decent songs, but this album just isn't very good overall. It's a slog, it's slow and the song writing isn't as crisp as any other album in their catalog. It's the typical late-career album where a band simply is mailing it in. There's very little crispness and fight in the songs, which aren't characteristic of an R.E.M. album and probably is a reason why their next album came out with songs that are fast and punch hard immediately. I would like to talk more in-depth about this album but there's really not much to say. It's a drag and if anyone starts their R.E.M. collection with this album then they will never understand what's great about the band. It's like handing a copy of "Undercover" to someone who wants to hear a Rolling Stones album or give someone looking to get into Bon Jovi a copy of any album they have made in the last 20 years.

(Though as an aside, I almost always recommend a certain band's second-best album to those looking to get into that band. I learned that lesson from buying a band's best album and then buying their other albums only to be disappointed the other albums don't measure up to that one. If you recommend a band's second-best album then it's still good, but there is somewhere to go but up from there...speaking of "Up")

14. Up

It's interesting this album is called "Up" since it's the first R.E.M. album that really was "down." What I mean by that (and not just being cutesy) is this is the first R.E.M. album without Bill Berry and the first album that consists of slower songs which tend to meander. This album isn't bad, but it's clearly the sign of a band that is lost. They tried to be Radiohead and use some more electronica in their sound. They even hired Radiohead's producer to work on the album. The problem is Radiohead may not always play upbeat music but playing weird electronica isn't what R.E.M. does well. What comes off as creative when done by Radiohead comes off as meandering and aimless when done by R.E.M. It's not a criticism of them, because if Radiohead tried to do jangle pop or an album of mostly acoustic tunes I don't believe they could pull it off.

What's most frustrating about "Up" is even the good songs on the album sound like R.E.M. trying to sound like someone else. Daysleeper is a mid-tempo song that sounds like R.E.M. doing a cover of an R.E.M. song, At My Most Beautiful is a rip-off of a Beach Boys song and sound without adding anything that makes it sound like R.E.M., while Lotus again sounds like an outtake from "Monster." The amount of aimlessness on this album is astounding and I chalk it up completely to Bill Berry's absence. R.E.M. always had a very collaborative approach to music and without a permanent drummer it seems the urge to let the songs wander overcame them. Songs 6-14 consist entirely of wandering music that doesn't seem to know when to end. One of my favorites on the album, Why Not Smile, would have been perfect as a sub-3:00 minute melancholy tune, but instead has a fade out that lasts for almost a minute and a half.

It's like the band decided there's really no need for instrumentation and they would just let Michael Stipe's voice carry them. No offense to Stipe, but he's a great vocalist in the concept of a band (which is why I give him total credit for never going solo...he gets that he's great because the people behind him are great and he can't carry a band by himself, which is a lesson Richard Ashcroft had to learn the hard way) and a focus on his vocals helps the listener recognize the lyrics aren't always strong and focused. It's amazing how a little instrumentation can make average vocals sound better (see: Van Halen during the David Lee Roth era) and while Stipe is certainly not a weak vocalist or songwriter, an entire album of his thoughts without a strong melody starts to call out his weaknesses as a songwriter.

The Highlights Don't Overshadow the Lowlights

13. Green

I recognize the next three albums probably are people's favorite albums or there is a belief they should not be ranked so low. It's just how I feel. I like "Green." I really do. There is some strong material on here that looks great on a Greatest Hits album or stands alone as a single. It's just taken as a whole, there is a lot of filler, and put all together the album isn't as strong as some of the individual highlights. It's difficult to explain. I like many of these songs individually, but when put together they sound very fluffy and meaningless, which isn't something a strong R.E.M. album should sound like. I think this record was intended as a reaction to the more political and focused "Document." Except, this album was political too. It's a weird dichotomy to go from light pop ditties to songs about war and Agent Orange. 

Three of the first four songs are the simple pop ditties that I enjoy, but are also the reason I wouldn't consider this to be a great album. Stand, Get Up, and Pop Song '89 are good tunes but not the sort of tune I want to hear followed by a few more political songs. It was like the band was saying, "Hey, we are political but we can be fun too!" and they never quite got the combination right. This was their first major label release so I'm sure Warner Brothers probably didn't get a hard-on for a bunch of songs about war and vague-sounding critics of politicians. They wanted "It's the End of the World As We Know It" because that's a fun fucking song. Do that again! So they did try. But being a band that likes to control their own destiny they also put World Leader Pretend, Orange Crush, and Turn You Inside-Out on the album as well.

The highlights of this album, which I consider to be 7 of the 11 tracks, should overshadow the lowlights and move this album up in my rankings, but they don't flow for me. The album was originally going to be a side of harder material and a side of softer material (this plan was thrown out) and what resulted was an album where it wasn't entirely clear what the band wanted to be. The second side of the album is a great example of this problem and that's where most of the filler from this album comes from. The first side doesn't flow well for me and the second side is filled with filler. Maybe better sequencing would have corrected this (for example, I've always hated Orange Crush being the 7th track, it seems the track was buried there in order to prevent listeners from just rewinding the first side constantly), but the individual tracks don't make a great album.

12. Out of Time

I have an incredibly difficult time being impartial about "Out of Time." It sold over 18 million copies, so clearly someone liked it, but it absolutely drives me crazy. The entire album does. You can tell by now I don't like R.E.M. albums without a central theme, but "Out of Time" is the worst of the worst and the only reason it's ranked above "Green" is because the best tracks on this album are some of the best stuff the band has ever written, even though there is less of it. This album was R.E.M.'s attempt to be a strong pop band and it worked. There are five songs on this album that would have fit in perfectly with "Automatic for the People" and are indicative of the band's strengths and then there is stuff like Radio Song, Shiny Happy People, Me in Honey, Low, and Endgame that I consider to be pretty much shit songs that only serve to get the band on the radio and speak to the lowest common denominator.

Then there is Losing My Religion, Country Feedback, Near Wild Heaven, Texarkana, and Half a World Away that are some of the best songs that the band has ever written. Tracks 8-10 (Half a World Away, Texarkana, and Country Feedback) are one of the strongest three song stretches in the band's catalog and sets up the band for their (spoiler alert) masterpiece album that came out a year later. It's good music and highlights the band's ability to create atmosphere in a song. Not coincidentally, two of the tracks on this album are sung by the underrated Mike Mills and he does a bang-up job with both of them. The highs on this album are really high, but there is some junk to be waded through in order to get there.

The line that begins Half a World, "This could be saddest dusk I've ever seen, turn to marigold..." and the ad-libbing of Country Feedback where Stipe ends up repeating "It's crazy what you could've had, I need this..." over and over just can't make up for the pop crap of Shiny Happy People and Radio Song (which is probably why some people bought the album). "Out of Time" is a great example of how the best music doesn't necessarily mean album sales. If someone started an R.E.M. collection with this album it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, but I have a feeling after some time the bloom would be off this rose.

11. Fables of the Reconstruction

This was the second R.E.M. album I ever purchased. I still don't think I completely get this album. It's not bad, there's just not a lot of great songs on the album and there is an overall feeling of drab to the album. It's definitely a more experimental album for them and was probably worth recording simply so the band could start to test the limits of their sound. Feeling Gravity's Pull is a slow, weird way to start off the album. It's not a death-knell to start an album off with a slow song, but it's almost five minutes long and doesn't feel like it necessarily goes anywhere.

The middle portion of the album like Drive 8, Life and How to Live It, Green Grow the Rushes Grow, and Can't Get There From Here are the highlight of the album. Again, this is a grading scale that acknowledges this is basically R.E.M. albums being compared to each other. It seems like there are 4-5 really good songs on the album and the rest are just album filler that aren't some of my favorite tracks. The energy wasn't quite there on this album and this may be due to the increased use of different instruments not melding well with the band's sound. It could also be "the difficult third album" effect where bands want to do something different on a third album and aren't quite sure exactly how to take their sound in a different direction.

There is a dark tone to this album that I'm not sure the band was entirely able to work into the confines of their current sound. They did a much better job on the next album and on future albums in taking a different sound and trying to put together a group of songs that aren't loud, but aren't dreary.

The Album That's Not Overly Bad, Just Hard to Get Through

10. New Adventures in HiFi

This album frustrates the shit out of me. It's a long album at almost 66 minutes and seems to be the band's attempt at a "road record." The problem is it's a road record that stays around too long and has a tremendous amount of filler on it. Unlike Jackson Browne's "Running on Empty" where he seemed inspired by being on the road, R.E.M. seems just tired and the songs reflect it. Of course they had just gotten off the "Monster" tour (where I saw them in Charlotte) and everybody in the band seemed to have gotten sick at one point or another, so there's a good chance they were tired. It's not good to put out a road album where the songs seem weary from the road trip and the songs become a slog due to this.

There's a lot being juggled on this album. The songs are a step back from the reverb-feedback sounding "Monster," but still contains the basic sound on some tracks, while also trying to get some of the mellow vibe the band had on "Automatic for the People," all while writing a road album. It's too much. So what results is an album of good songs, but it runs out of steam and even the good songs hang around too much. I love E-bow the Letter but does it have to be over 5 minutes long? The synthesizer effect on Leave is great, but 7 minutes of it isn't so great. New Test Leper has Michael Stipe singing in an octave below his normal voice (either that or he is really, really tired...and he sounds really, really tired) but it goes long as well. It does have a good organ part.

This would have been a much better album if the tracks were cut down into a real road album and the sequencing were changed. Here's the track listing I would have chosen for this album:

1. Leave (cut it down to below 7 minutes)
2. New Test Leper (cut it down)
3. Wake Up Bomb
4. E-Bow the Letter (again, cut it down a bit)
5. Bittersweet Me
6. How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us
7. Departure
8. Be Mine
9. So Fast, So Numb
10. Electrolite

It's shorter and even if the songs aren't cut down the album won't be such a drag to get through. I thought Leave would have been a great way to start the album and Electrolite is a great way to end the album. It's just there is too much mediocre music that takes too much time to listen to. It's just not a fun album to go all the way through.

9. Collapse Into Now

This was the band's last album and it's not a good thing and it's not a bad thing. They went out like a lot of bands probably would like to go out, on an album that wasn't terrible to where it messed up their legacy, but also wasn't such a great album they felt the need to prove they are still on the top of their game. The band knew they were going to break up and made this album with the full knowledge this would be the last time they cut an album of new material together. Of course this album got all the typical reviews that contain quotes like, "Not their best, but they still have life" and "It's not Album X, but it's certainly really good." It seems all older bands get those medium-type reviews that don't bash the new album, while also acknowledging it's not as good as the old material.

If anything, this is a good album that only serves to remind the listener that there isn't a great track on the album. Therefore, it's hard for me to listen to the album despite the fact it's a consistently good album. You know how on certain albums there is a song or two (or three...or four...) you can't wait to hear? Well, this album lacks a song like that. So it's an album of really good music (Discoverer, All the Best, It Happened Today, and Mine Smell Like Honey) and the band still has an edge to it lacking from much of the late 90's and early 2000's material, it's still just an album of pretty good songs. It sounds crazy to write, since I put this as the 9th best album, but there are really no bad songs on this album. There's nothing shockingly embarrassing like "Out of Time" has, but there are also no great songs in the form of Electrolite. These songs if put on an album with any of the albums ranked above it would just be good songs on a good album.

So that's why I say it's hard to get through this album. It's good enough to listen to, not so bad you want to turn it off, but it mostly reminds you that R.E.M. still makes good music. Unfortunately, I don't see any great music on this album and that is the problem. An entire album of good, listenable music isn't a great album in this case.

The Ironically Titled Album

8. Accelerate

This was a "return to form" album for R.E.M. They had just made "Around the Sun," which was embarrassingly bad. They were getting older and probably didn't want to get into the "Dylan in the 80's" period of the band's career where they sold records off a good single or two and the brand name of the band. Plus, Michael Stipe is really liberal and George W. Bush was good for more liberal, political-minded songwriters to use for a muse. This was an exciting album at the time because it was the sign of the band being aggressive, loud and alive again. Seven years later some of that perspective is lost because "Around the Sun" is now a decade old and R.E.M. is broken up.

The album title is ironic because this album accelerates out of the game strongly with six really good songs in a row that have Mike Mills on background vocals and Michael Stipe spitting out lyrics from the outset of the album. It only slows down a little at the beginning of Hollow Man and then the pace picks up again. It's good, strong material, especially the first track Living Well is the Best Revenge, where towards the end of the song it seems Mike Mills' background vocals are simply trying to keep up with the pace of the song. Then Until the Day is Done begins and the rest of the album slows down and isn't as strong. It accelerated out of gate and then slows down into filler and songs that aren't as strong. This album is like a runner who is running a 10K who spends all of his energy on getting the lead in the first four miles and has no energy left to stay in the lead until the end.

There is a song called Sing for the Submarine which refers to a song from Around the Sun, Electron Blue. Why? I'm not sure. Then the album closes out with a song that, for me, is another silly song that I thought the band wouldn't record at this point in their career, I'm Gonna DJ. This song contains the lyrics:

"Death is pretty final,
I'm collecting vinyl,
'Cause if heaven does exist with a kicking playlist,
I don't want to miss it at the end of the world."

and then "I'm gonna DJ at the end of the world" is repeated over and over again. It's just not a great track. This is an album that proves R.E.M. can still write good music, but there's always some filler on their albums. If this were a seven track CD then there wouldn't be a weak track, but the way the album slows down after track 6 is very disconcerting.

The Highlights Do Overshadow the Lowlights

7. Document

When I was younger, I did not understand the politics behind this album. It's pretty damn political all the way through. They managed to include horns and a synthesizer on a song or two. I partly think this album came out of their attempts to vary their sound a bit more on "Fables of the Reconstruction" except they were a little more upbeat this time and the songwriting was much stronger. It's a more inspired album, mostly because the band was pissed off at Ronald Reagan (see? Republican presidents are good for songwriting) and the direction he was taking the country.

I tend to blame It's the End of the World World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine) for a lot of the later cutesy-songs the band tried to write. I'm probably off-base, but I feel like that song being a hit is responsible for side 1 of "Green" and the crap that is on parts of "Out of Time." This album has six classic R.E.M. songs on it, including the love song that is not at all a love song The One I Love. It's a song about using another person so I'm pretty sure the title is to be taken ironically and not literally.

The album starts off with three political songs that are only political if you pay attention to the lyrics, and since this is R.E.M., you probably are avoiding the lyrics a little bit since sometimes they are gibberish. Not so in this case. There is also one of my favorite R.E.M. songs, even though I have no idea what it's about, King of Birds, on the second side of the album. It's a very good album that takes a certain mood to listen to. If you want to hear R.E.M. at their kindest and most romantic then this is not the album to do so. It's more angry and jaded than anything else, though that's the brilliance of the band. It's angry and jaded but the music sounds happy and not angry at all. The lyrics are a different story of course.

On a different tangent, since I'm a person who has different moods then it makes sense R.E.M. has albums that can fit those moods. Sometimes I'm in the mood for jangle-pop and can put "Reckoning," "Murmur," "Lifes Rich Pageant." If I'm angry I put on "Accelerate" and "Document." If I want to annoy myself with what could have been I combine "Green" and "Out of Time" into one album without the crappy songs. If I want to hear more introspective and atmospheric songs then "Up," "Fables of the Reconstruction," "Automatic for the People," and "Reveal." If I want to fall asleep, I listen to "Around the Sun." Speaking of "Reveal..."

6. Reveal

This album deserves to be in the Hall of Very Good, but I recognize I'm biased because I love this album so much. There is some not-good material on here, so I have to place it at #6 and out of the "Hall of Very Good." On a day when I'm ready to hear the album, it's a top-3 album for me. It's moody, introspective and has a couple tributes to the Beach Boys on it. It's a really good album, though it's also not a very loud album. Sometimes it's hard to believe this album was made four years after "Monster."

"Reveal" has what I would consider to be the quintessential R.E.M. song on it in the form of Imitation of Life. I know, it sounds like high praise and it is. This song has all the attributes of a great R.E.M. song all packed into one.

1. Jangle-sounding guitar

2. Non-sensical lyrics

3. Mike Mills on background vocals where you can actually hear him

4. A chorus that sticks in your head and won't leave

5. A song title that just sounds interesting

6. Lyrics that may actually be nonsense or may actually be deep...who the fuck knows? Take it how you want.

My favorite song on this album is I've Been High. It's just a beautiful song (again, the meaning of it...I'm not sure, so take it how you want and I do take it how I want) about a person who wants to live their life "on high" but seems to be missing those things he wants and has seemingly tried too hard to get someone to believe in him.

do my eyes
do my eyes seem empty?
I've forgotten how this feels.

I've been high
I've climbed so high
but life sometimes
it washes over me...

was I wrong?
I don't know, don't answer.
I just needed to believe.

I've been high
I've climbed so high
but life sometimes
it washes over me...

close my eyes so I can see
make my make believe believe
in me

This song is seemingly the type of song that the band was trying to make on "Up," except this song is straight to the point in under three-and-a-half minutes. I'm a sucker for introspection and this album has a lot of that, as well as All the Way to Reno, which is another really great jangle-pop song. There's also The Lifting, She Just Wants to Be, Summer Turns to High, (the total Beach Boy tribute) Beachball, and I'll Take the Rain, which is basically a song where the narrator says if this is happiness he is experiencing with a person then he'll take the rain on his own (again, how I take it). It's not the most upbeat album, but on a given day I would put it up against nearly any other album in their catalog based on the great songs on the album. 

The Hall of Very Good

5. Lifes Rich Pageant

I consider this to be a sort of transition album for R.E.M. It's got one foot stuck in the college rock they did so well (Fall on Me, Hyena), while also previewing the harder rock that can be found on "Document" and "Green" (Begin the Begin, These Days), while also previewing some of the more pop-oriented jangle-rock and acoustic numbers they would record in the early 90's (Superman, and Swan Swan H). There are some really great individual songs on this album.

This is just a personal opinion, but it just doesn't add up to a great album for me. I can't really describe it too well, and it's still a very good album. It lacks cohesion for me. They are all really good songs, but it feels scattershot when listened to all together. Maybe it's that the album has a foot in several different sounds R.E.M. had over the years, because the album would have sounded great in 1986, but I hear the songs and think, "Well they did that song better on 'Monster' or I prefer the acoustic sounds of 'Out of Time' better." It's an album of really good songs, but they are all sort of really good songs, not exceptionally great songs throughout the album. Therefore I can't really rate it as a masterpiece.

4. Monster

I can't ever forget the first time I heard What's the Frequency Kenneth? on MTV. I was in love with R.E.M. at that point and was really excited to hear their new album which promised rock songs. The second I saw the video and heard the song I knew I was buying the album (which I probably would have done even if I didn't hear the song). Ready for a contradiction? This album is TOO cohesive for me. R.E.M. promised a rock album and they delivered a rock album with a ton of reverb, very little acoustic guitar, and loud sounds. It's great, but it's also very consciously a glam-rock album.

I have mentioned how one of R.E.M.'s strengths is they can play different types of music and do it well while making that sound their own. They did that here too. It lacks the masterpiece status for me because some of the songs go on too long (which was intentional by the band) and the songwriting just isn't strong enough to justify it being a masterpiece. It's got a great front side and one of my favorite R.E.M. songs in Strange Currencies, but the second half tends to go too falsetto and ramble at times. Tongue, You, and even I Took Your Name aren't my favorite songs by the band. It's a very conscious record in that they know they aren't sounding like R.E.M. and it only shows on a few tracks. Tracks where it is clear Michael Stipe is doing things vocally he hasn't normally done and the reverb gets to be too much for me. It's those moments when I notice it's R.E.M. trying not to sound like R.E.M. more than it is R.E.M. expanding their sound. Still, I think "Monster" is a great album overall.

The Masterpieces

3. Murmur

2. Reckoning

I hate to package these two albums together, but I consider them to be the same kind of album. Like "Van Halen I and II," Boston's self-titled album and "Don't Look Back," and a lot of Dave Matthews Band's early output "Reckoning" and "Murmur" are different in packaging and name only. Each of those bands added a different sound or instrument to a track or two or in order to have some diversity, but if you through their first two albums together it would be hard to figure out which songs came on which album. I rank "Reckoning" over "Murmur" only because the songs on "Reckoning" feel like a more grown-up and expanded version of what R.E.M. recorded on "Murmur." I love "Murmur" (obviously from the ranking of it as a masterpiece), but the songs are a little thinner-sounding compared to "Reckoning."

There isn't a bad song on either album really. "Murmur" is the typical debut album from a college band that doesn't have quite the big production and Stipe's vocals feel buried and completely unintelligible at times. It's not a bad thing at all, but "Reckoning" has slightly more diverse song-writing and sounds on it while still being an obvious sequel to "Murmur." It's an album where R.E.M. takes the sound of "Murmur" and expands on it with a more country sound on Don't Go Back to Rockville or going straight acoustic on Time After Time. It's a stronger album for me because the production is better, the songwriting is tighter and more focused, while the performances are also more streamlined and don't feel like it's simply really, really good college rock.

"Murmur" is the sound of a great college band changing the sound of music, while "Reckoning" is the sound of a band continuing to change the sound of music while also changing the band's sound in small ways just to see what they are capable of while keeping their own sound. This attempt to change went bad at times on "Fables of the Reconstruction" and they learned from that, but the attempt to grow while still keeping their signature sound is what makes "Reckoning" a better album in my mind.

The Best Masterpiece

1. Automatic for the People

This is a desert island disc for me. It can be a depressing album, so if I was stuck on a desert island then I would probably be pretty depressed and this would be an appropriate album, even if I didn't think it was R.E.M.'s best album, which I do. It probably has more filler than other R.E.M. albums, but the filler isn't bad and fits perfectly with the tone of the album. While I wouldn't choose New Orleans Instrumental No. 1, Monty Got a Raw Deal, Star Me Kitten, or Ignoreland as my favorite R.E.M. songs, they fit in perfectly with this album and how it was sequenced. The last two songs on that list (Star Me Kitten and Ignoreland) are on the back side of the album as a preview of the sound the band would pursue on "Monster" and break up the melancholy first side and the melancholy last couple of songs.

New Orleans Instrumental No. 1 fits in wonderfully after Everybody Hurts and before Sweetness Follows. It's an incredibly nice way to transition between the two songs. It's not a challenging or great instrumental, but it serves as a great outro to Everybody Hurts while also being a good intro to Sweetness Follows. Whereas Everybody Hurts is about holding on when times are tough, Sweetness Follows is about the same topic, but is just a little more jaded about it. Everybody Hurts says that life sucks and sometimes you just have to carry on (as anyone who has seen the video knows) and rarely has Michael Stipe been this pointed with his message in a song. Sweetness Follows is basically saying why continue carrying on with life when people you love will die and bad things happen? It's inspirational to just carry on while also being less uplifting than Everybody Hurts. My point is I think the instrumental breaks up the sort of sameness and downerness of these two songs.

So the sequencing is great to where the songs don't have to be the best to make sense in the context of the album. It's impeccably sequenced and the album ends with three of the best songs on the album. It's dark, hopeful, nostalgic, depressing, funny (The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight) and even political at times. It's a very cohesive album with death and reacting to death in some fashion dominating the album, but not being so dominating that it influences the listener's thoughts about the album.

Nightswimming is a favorite of a lot of people, but I think I prefer Find the River (which the opening notes sound like were nicked by Lisa Loeb on Stay) to Nightswimming. It's a song that even Michael Stipe has said is so personal to him that it probably doesn't carry the same meaning to everyone else, as well it being a song the band has struggled playing live. I have no idea what the song is about. It could be about death, it could be about taking chances in life because at some point it all ends (which is death) or it's just about taking life as it comes and not trying to speed up things. It's one of my favorites on the album, especially when he sings about "Nothing is going my way." It seems so random since a lot of the song is more flowery and poetic imagery, while this seems like a simple statement of frustration. It's tough to analyze it too much I guess.

I never get tired of "Automatic for the People." I think it's a perfect album. It's an acoustic album that doesn't feel soft and a depressing album that doesn't always feel depressing. That ends the overly-long list of my ranking the best and worst R.E.M. albums. For someone who doesn't love lists I sure do write a lot of them.

Friday, September 5, 2014

So Future Islands Are Very...Interesting in Concert

I was listening to Spotify over the past few weeks as I want to do every single day of the week when I am work. There's been a really good song I've heard and even took the time to download. It was called Seasons (Waiting On You) by a band called Future Islands. It's very synth-heavy and definitely has a sort of melancholy mood about it. Anyway, I have enjoyed the song and now own it. Here it is. Ignore the weird country video that doesn't seem to match the song too well. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but it grew on me after a while and I really like the song. Long story short, I listened to the rest of their "Singles" album (the album the song is off of) and wasn't quite as impressed. It's not bad and it's the type of music that could grow on me if given the chance. I did stumble on their bio on Spotify and it mentioned they had a performance on "The Late Show with David Letterman" that left him impressed and speechless. I like bands that are good live, so I checked out the video. The live version is very interesting. Now before you watch the video, please listen to the studio version above and then listen to the live version with the vocals. You'll know what I'm talking about when you hear the live version compared to the studio version.

So first off, the dancing. It's not bad. It's not entirely distracting. It's just dancing. It's one of those dances that someone would do in private, but just politely say, "I don't dance" if there ever was a time it had to be used in public. It goes from "Dances your dad does" to "Wow, he has some rhythm" to "These are some sincere vocals" to "That's an easy way to tear an ACL" to "He can't be entirely serious." Again, it's not bad, but I ran the gamut of emotions watching it.

At 1:48 he pounds on his chest so hard you can hear it through the mic. Holy crap, he's serious.

At 2:43 he gives the "Eddie Vedder intense stare into space" look that makes me worry somebody in the front row might get either kissed or murdered. Possibly both. But not neither. Then more chest-beating.

So the vocals, they aren't bad and you can tell he is really singing and does not care if you know he misses notes. In an era where no musician wants to miss a note live, it's refreshing.

But then...3:08 the Cookie Monster voice comes out. Holy shit. That's Cookie Monster or some weird gothic-metal voice. I can't explain it. I thought the studio vocals were fine, but apparently the producer worked hard to talk the lead singer (his name is Sam) out of using that voice, but when the producer is away the voice comes out. I don't know if I don't like it more than I am wondering why he changed the vocals around.

So of course being the inquisitive person I wanted to know if this was a "Late Show" thing or something Sam, the lead singer, does during most live performances. It turns out he does this voice during live performances. As seen in this entire concert video below.

There's more chest-pounding and Cookie Monster vocals. I will check out more of this band's music, simply because I'm really interested now. Maybe that's the point. Either way, wow, I didn't expect much of this live performance to work this way. Still, Seasons (Waiting for You) is a good song.

Friday, July 18, 2014

My Worst Job Interview Ever

We've all had some bad job interviews. I have gone through at least two periods in my life where I was without a job (once out of college and once when I quit my worst job ever) and I was more prepared and applied for jobs that were more appropriate the second time, as opposed to when I was looking for a job fresh out of college. I've shown up to interviews very prepared, not so prepared, hungover and feeling great. I have had two shitty, shitty interviews that don't qualify as my worst interviews ever. Both involved selling products door-to-door, when the job posting indicated something completely different from what the interview involved. Both interviews involved me shadowing a person for an entire day (yes, the entire day and I walked around in dress shoes all day too) and in one interview I sold door-to-door in Fayetteville, North Carolina and the other interview I went from Charlotte back to my hometown 10 miles from Charlotte and sold door-to-door in a neighborhood where I knew people. By the way, at the end of both of these interviews I told my would-be supervisor in that position I would rather be unemployed than work for them. Of course, both would-be supervisors reminded me what a mistake I was making. Of course, I didn't make a mistake and can't even remember the names of each company. I'm sure they are still out there trying to get energetic college graduates to work for them in some bizarre pyramid scheme.

But my worst job interview also happened to be one of my shortest job interviews. I don't remember the company, but I do remember it was an insurance firm and I was applying for a more junior managerial role at that firm. I had graduated from grad school in May and it was September and I wanted a job. I was looking at the all the popular sites on a daily basis and even had the Fortune 500 list bookmarked and went through 100 of those companies everyday to where I was looking at those companies for jobs once a week. So I found this job I thought I might apply for through one of these sites. It dealt with numbers, didn't seem like it involved too much sales, and it was a semi-managerial position. So I applied for it, and as I was want to do, promptly forget the specifics of the job as I went searching for the hundreds of other jobs available in the hopes someone would hire me so I could start living my life.

A week later or so, I got a phone call from this insurance firm and they wanted me to come in for an interview. I looked back at the spreadsheet I kept of jobs I applied for with the job description included. I was surprised because I did feel like it was a bit of a reach for me to even get a call in response to my application since I didn't have prior work experience in the field, but it was a pleasant surprise. So I studied up on the company, learned more about the position, got my questions ready and didn't stay out too late with my friends the night before. I was prepared. I woke up the next morning and drove to downtown Raleigh to the interview.

The office was full of dark wood panels. That's all I remember. The wood paneling was really dark and the reception area wasn't huge. I checked in with receptionist and within probably 15 seconds a gentleman came out and introduced himself and brought me back to his office. He was a middle-aged white man (I know, a shock, right?) dressed in a shirt and tie. Pretty standard look and he had the corner office with a nice view of the street through some trees. He was a cliche. He sat me down and that's where the fun began. I remember most of the conversation, which isn't hard since I was there for maybe five minutes. And I promise, I am not making his tone and antagonism up.

( a very loud tone that appears to try and sound's a standard dominant-male-trying-to-intimidate-to-see-what-you-are-made-of act) "Tell me about yourself."

(Me, knowing this is always the first question asked is ready to nail this question) "Well...(I start the whole spiel about my background and then he interrupts)"

(Guy) "No, specifically why did you apply for this job?"

(Me) "I thought the job description sounded interesting and I have a background in with finance and money, so I was hoping it would be a field I could be interested in developing a career in."

(Guy) "Well, what do you know about the field?"

(Me) "I know the insurance field isn't easy and that a lot of success depends on keeping good relations with your customers and always acquiring new customers to keep the business growing."

(Guy...I realize now his tone isn't supposed to be threatening, but he's essentially fucking with me...he's antagonizing me and I had no idea why) "My job. What do you know about my job?"

(Me...looking at my notes) "I don't think I'm applying for your job, am I?"

(Guy...smiles condescendingly) "No, you are not. But tell me what you think I do on a daily basis, from the time I walk in the office until the time I leave."

( a tone that is meek, because I need a job...these cigarettes and alcohol aren't going to pay for themselves) "I have no idea what you do on a daily basis from when you walk in until you leave during the day. I'm eager to know, which is why I'm here to see if we are a good fit."

(Guy...asking the questions in a tone that I now see isn't confrontational or antagonizing necessarily, but he brought me here to tell me how I am underqualified for the job) "We aren't a good fit. But do tell me what you think I do on a daily basis."

(Me...I'm defeated at this point, but I keep going...) "Okay, when you get in at 8am you...(I go through a list of what I think he does, which based on the fact I had never worked in the office was obviously completely incorrect)

(Guy shake his head at me) "All wrong. I come in early every morning before 8am (I should have stood up and given him applause I guess), look at my agenda for the day, plan my client meetings, plan at least two hours (and he puts up two fingers as if I would fail to understand what "two" means) for additional phone calls, have meetings with staff members and get updates on how the business is going. I leave after 5pm everyday."

(Me...not giving up) "And those are all things I would like to do in the future---"

(Guy) "Not here you won't. Why would you apply for a job you aren't even qualified for? Why would you waste my time and have me interview you when you have no idea what I do and what the position calls for?"

(Me...done giving up giving up) "In fairness, I have no prior work experience outside of work done during summers in high school and college, so I don't know what any job consists of because I haven't been given a chance to learn. I can't get job experience until I'm given a chance to do a job. Also, I don't think I applied for your job."

(Guy) "Yes, but this is a job that requires someone who has experience. It said on the posting it takes 3-5 years experience (which is something I knew at the time is just put on there to get more qualified candidates to apply and I know that now too when I interview people and put "3-5 years experience" on the job posting) and you march in here with zero years experience. You need to reconsider your job search and start applying for jobs that you are qualified for and not waste anyone else's time."

(Me) "You didn't have to interview me and you chose to."

(Guy) "Start applying for entry level jobs you are qualified for and don't waste anyone else's time. Do you have any more questions for me?"

(Me...I did have questions for him, probably a thousand, but wanted to leave ASAP) "No."

(Guy shakes my hand and lets me out of his office) "Good to meet you and good luck."

I drove home laughing because this guy called me into his office simply to antagonize me for applying for a job. He wasted his time to berate me for wasting his time. It seemed sort of unnecessary. I would have gotten the message by never receiving a phone call for an interview.

When I got back, my roommate who did have the experience required, heard the story as we sat by the pool and said he was going to apply for the job and then go in and mess with the guy (he had a job pretty much guaranteed to him by his old company once he graduated from graduate school so he had nothing to lose). He never did that of course, which is probably a good thing.

To this day, this is my worst interview. Probably even worse than the interview where a second interview was supposed to be scheduled for 4pm and they called me at 8am to see if I could make a 9:15am interview instead. I wanted the job, so I took the interview. I had been out the night before very late and I was a zombie at the interview and did not get the job. It was probably my terrible ability to recall facts and the fact I wanted to sleep and not talk that set me back. Regardless, I still don't know why this insurance guy called me into his office just to berate me for applying for the job. Who does that?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

$25 to Assemble a Rock Band

There is a recent Twitter trend to give someone $25 to choose a sports team and Matt Norlander of CBS Sports and Sports on Earth jumped on the trend, except he assembled a band for $25. Here are the options and the prices for each member in this Tweet.

I immediately have a couple of issues with this. John Mayer for $7 on rhythm guitar? Make him a lead guitarist and lower the price. Also, Mick Jagger is not a strong vocalist so I think $9 is a bit overpriced for him. $1 for John Paul Jones? That's a gimme for how good of an arranger, bassist and keyboardist he is. Yeah, I'm already spoiling that he's in my band. I'm not a big Rush fan so $10 for Neal Peart is overpriced for my tastes. Also, no women on the list. Very sexist.

Here's my band for $25, starting off with the lead guitarist. Please remember I am starting a band, which means singing and the ability to play other instruments as well as write great songs is important to me.

Lead Guitar: Prince, $8

The guy can play guitar exceptionally well and he writes great music. Personally I would choose Lindsay Buckingham if he were available (and he would have been cheap, which allows me to go expensive elsewhere), but he was not. Regardless, Prince can play all sorts of music. He can play soul, rock, pop, you name it and he can play it, plus he's got the vocals and songwriting chops. Secretly, I just want to see him singing background vocals just to see how that would work. He's the best for the prices given on this list.

Hendrix, Vaughn, and the others are great (except for Eric Clapton who I think is just a bit overrated in some aspects in his guitar playing...he's technically great, but lacks some soul to me), but I don't find another lead guitar player who combines the songwriting, vocals, and ability to play guitar that Prince has.

Rhythm Guitar: Stone Gossard, $1

My biggest issue with this category is that all the guitarists but Keith Richards, Gossard, and James Hetfield are the lead guitarist in their band. Even Gossard and Richards play lead guitar at times. So I like to choose a pure rhythm guitarist, which means only Hetfield really fits. James Hetfield probably doesn't have the range and Keith Richards is too expensive for me to choose. It's not that Gossard is sloppy seconds or thirds, but he's an excellent rock guitarist who blends in well with the rest of the band and contributes background vocals. I like band members who can contribute in various ways. Gossard also wrote the music for "Alive," so that's enough to put him on this list.

Lead Singer: Freddie Mercury, $10

I saved my money, pinched my pennies and got the vocalist I wanted. I'm not a huge fan of Queen's music. It's very operatic and a little too overdone and dramatic for my tastes, but that is also what makes Freddie Mercury the perfect lead singer for my band. Can you imagine him on stage with Prince? Mercury had great stage presence and knew how to put on a show as the lead singer. His range was ridiculous, and yes, he can play piano if my bassist is too busy playing the bass to play piano. So while I'm not a huge fan of Queen, I understand that Freddie Mercury was a great vocalist and worth the money here.

Jagger is a great performer, but he's not a great vocalist.

Plant, Daltry, Rose, and Osborne don't really fit the sound I want with the band.

David Bowie would be a good choice but I've never really thought of him as strong on vocals for some reason. The same goes for Jim Morrison who is a great writer, but also isn't the best of singers. Plus, there is always the chance he shows his penis on stage which isn't something I want for my band.

Bono is a douche and I feel like he and my drummer won't get along, plus I'm not in love with his songwriting ability.

Steven Tyler annoys me by going to his high register and screaming instead of just singing the words to a song. "Dream On" was the worst thing to happen to Tyler's vocals. It made him believe he needs to screech on every single track whenever he gets the slightest chance. I need a vocalist who can cool it down when I want him to.

Bassist: John Paul Jones, $1

There's no way John Paul Jones should be $1. He is a fantastic arranger, great at playing different instruments (keyboards especially), can do vocals and plays a great bass. He's honestly everything I would want in a bassist and he only cost me $1. There's really no need to discuss the other bassists too much, but of course I will.

Flea...he's good, but not as good as Jones. I don't want the other bassists on the list in my band. Paul McCartney is a guy who can play multiple instruments, but I think he is a bit overrated in the songwriting department. Plus, I feel like he would want to play "Hey Jude" at every show and want to sing lead on a few songs. I didn't hire Freddie Mercury for $10 to have him take the background on 5-6 songs in concert. I would worry about this with Prince, but I think he would also enjoy just playing lead guitar. John Paul Jones is very clearly my guy.

Drummer: Dave Grohl, $4

Ironically (not ironically) I did not like the Them Crooked Vultures album even though I love Grohl, Jones, and Josh Homme, as well as their respective bands, separately. Maybe if there are five guys in the band instead of three, and Homme isn't the lead singer, I will like a collaboration from them better. Dave Grohl is also very versatile and has a background in different types of instrumentation. You can see I value versatility and Grohl can play drums, guitar, and pretty much he sings and doesn't mind singing background vocals from the drum kit. Plus, he is a great songwriter and works hard at making new music. He can drag these other guys (you know, the ones who aren't dead) into the studio to make new music.

Grohl was my #1 choice, and I like the other candidates, but I didn't think they would fit in as well with my band as Grohl would. I can see him playing drums behind Freddie Mercury and jamming with Prince onstage. For some reason, this was an easy choice for me.

So this is my band that cost $24:

Freddie Mercury (lead vocals, keyboards)
Stone Gossard (background vocals, rhythm guitar)
Prince (background vocals, lead guitar)
John Paul Jones (keyboards, strings, bass guitar)
Dave Grohl (drums, keyboards, guitar, background vocals)

I sort of wish I could see this band in concert now.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

My Worst Job Ever

We've all had jobs that we have hated or couldn't wait to quit in protest (I think...I have a friend who got a job out of college with his father's company making six figures where he works four days a maybe there are exceptions). The job I had that was my worst job, and I even knew it at the time, went from January 2006-December 2006. Well, actually I only worked from March 2006-December 2006, but I had to study for financial tests, as well as prepare for my new job and chose to quit my previous job to focus on my new job and studying for the tests. The worst job I ever had was in the financial services industry. Not a boiler room or anything like that, but sort of a more low-key boiler room with a financial company that isn't Edward Jones, Prudential or Charles Schwab, but competes against them. The job sucked and was a time drain, as well as a drain of a lot of money out of my pocket. Here's how my worst job ever came to be.

I was working as a manager in a retail job, which I actually enjoyed fairly well. The only parts I didn't enjoy were the hours (if it weren't for the hours I would have stuck around) that entailed me working until 2am some nights and getting up at 4:30am during the week when I had to work early. I've never had much of a set sleep schedule, but I couldn't do this for long. It just threw me off. I also didn't enjoy unloading trucks and being on my feet all day. It wasn't a great job and I would come home exhausted from walking around and lifting shit all day. I'm not lazy, trust me, but I like to go to the gym for fun and don't want my life to be one big visit to the gym. Plus, I missed having weekends. Weekends are important to me.

So I decided I was going to look for another job and I did. I found a financial firm that was hiring (as all financial firms are at all points during the year...which is something I didn't know at the time) and went in for an interview. It sounded good. I'm a people person, I got most of my weekends back and I had no girlfriend and no reason to not work long hours. As I said repeatedly at the time when I asked why I took the job, "What else do I have better to do?" I thought it would work out in the end. Just a note, if your reasons for taking a job encompass the following four reasons:

1. I don't like my current job.
2. What else do I have to do?
3. I have no girlfriend.
4. It will work out in the end.

Do not take that job. Just don't. If only I could give myself this advice before I wasted a year of my time. So I quit my current job, went to the pre-job training sessions (another red flag) with this financial services firm, and spent most of my time trying to pass the four exams required to get licensed. I also hung out, drank and partied with my friends during this time, which was by far the coolest part of studying for licensing exams. I also spent time putting out fish bowls (yes, actual plastic fishbowls) at restaurants for reasons I will explain in a minute. I had seven restaurants when I started my with this financial services firm and felt pretty good about myself for that. So I started my new job in March of 2006 very pleased with how very pleased I was. It did not last long.

So let me get these fishbowls out of the way first. I have to explain this. The marketing plan for this financial services firm, the entire marketing plan other than to go to your "natural market" (which is a polite way of saying "Call your family"...which I will get to in a minute) was to put fishbowls out at restaurants where people could put their business card in there and win a free lunch. It's no scam, I had a budget for $10/person that I got reimbursed for these free lunches. They ate, I spoke for five minutes about investments, etc and then got the fuck out of there to let them eat. I of course gathered their personal information so I could call them later to see if they were interested in talking more in-depth about these investments. I was up front that I would be calling them. Again, it wasn't a scam and I got reimbursed at $10/person. The problem is that outside of saying "Call your family," this was the ONLY marketing this company was capable of supporting. Oh sure, there were other things you could do, but you had to run it by corporate and then get all this other bullshit completed in order to get your alternative marketing event (that's what it was called, as if any idea outside of "Put a bowl in a restaurant so someone can put a business card in there and then you can hassle them for a few months over the phone" was just so crazy it needed more time to be dwelled upon) approved. It wasn't worth it and took time with no guarantee it would work. Oh, we also went to Costco every Saturday to offer free $20 gift cards for giving out personal information to us so we could stalk you by phone. That's really what it was, stalking. So I lied, there were three marketing techniques this company had. Marketing savants they were not.

The problem with these lunches is I would create a specific menu everyone could eat off of so I could stay under budget and my $10/person limit included tip and drink. So at some restaurants where people who earn more money chose to eat lunch, I would have to dip into my pocket and pay out of my pocket for lunches I wasn't getting reimbursed on. These are the type of people you want as clients, people who have money. I needed these types of people as customers so if they act like dicks and choose to order off the main menu then I could swallow it and pay out of pocket or refuse to pay and ruin any slight chance I had at gaining their business. Since money was made off gaining business, I often swallowed my anger and just paid out of pocket for lunches that were over $10 per head. This led to a lunch I had with the assholes from the North Carolina Education Lottery. These assholes were notified by phone that I had a special menu they could eat off and that is what they could order on the menu for lunch and they could not order dinner for lunch. I was taking them to a local restaurant here in Greensboro that sold ribs and steak for lunch and dinner. The person who dropped the business card in the fishbowl stated she understood. Spoiler alert: She ignored this and requested all 15 of the people who came to lunch get a full menu. The waitress obliged. I told the waitress this isn't how it works and the asshole lady who dropped the business card explained this was the deal and I am liar. I could not have been more clear that there was a special menu when we set the lunch up. I even had it written on the piece of paper I sent out confirming the lunch time. Because I was a wimp, I said "Fine" and then EVERY SINGLE PERSON AT THE TABLE ordered steak, except for the asshole lady who dropped the business card who ordered steak AND ribs. She took some home for dinner, of course. My bill for 15 people came to around $300, which means I just spent $150 to take a bunch of assholes from the North Carolina Education Lottery out to lunch. By the way, they all gave me fake numbers. This was towards the end when I decided I was quitting, but let me go back to the beginning again.

Okay, so if I did get a person to drop a card in the fishbowl and took them to lunch, I would get their personal information, then I would call and stalk them. This is the point where I stopped becoming everybody's lunch bitch and became a motherfucking telemarketer. I'm not sure if this is a bump up or a bump down. I hated this, but it was part of the job. Before every phone session which went by this schedule (and this schedule was not fucked don't eat, you don't piss, you do nothing but "smile and dial" with the leads from your lead box*):

Monday: 5pm-8pm
Tuesday: 9am-11am
Wednesday: 2pm-5pm
Thursday: 4pm-8pm
Friday: 2pm-5pm
Saturday: 9am-12pm

*By the way, this "lead box" was part of what happened sometimes called "a lead box audit" where my vice president would go through my leads and tell me which ones I should get rid of and which ones I should keep. Guess what? I never was told to get rid of any leads, even some five years old or more, and this "lead box audit" only served the purpose to ensure that leads weren't being fabricated by the advisors using their own handwriting to put down fake numbers and names. I can't emphasize enough how much I would never encourage someone to work for this financial services company. 

That's a lot of talking on the phone and to this day I still hate talking on the phone. There were "warm-ups" before you spoke on the phone, because we were all morons who couldn't talk on the phone without warming up, for 10 minutes and then the calls began. I asked one time, as I am want to do, why it is if a person says they aren't interested we don't hang up. I was told they may be interested if they hear more, which never made sense to me. Personally, I always know if I'm interested in something and if I say I'm not interested then I'm not interested. But again, for the sake of sales I had to assume every human I spoke to was a drooling moron. If I happened to get someone on the phone and they agreed to come in and talk to me, that was a good thing. Of course people didn't show up sometimes and then there would be a long discussion about my "show rate" which means I didn't close them well enough on the phone to get them into the building to speak with me. Since it's my job to control the universe and the people in the universe and all. Because it's entirely fair to blame me when someone tells me they aren't interested in my services, I convince them they are interested and then they decide later they really aren't interested. I'm sure there's a science to getting people to show up for appointments I didn't care to understand. If your show rate wasn't good, then it became a problem that involved sitting down and talking about it. It's sales and how sales go. Sometimes people show up, sometimes they don't. I'm too logical and it didn't make sense to me to talk about why people didn't show up to meet with me and it became something I was doing wrong in closing them. People have minds they make up no matter how convincing I am. That's my position.

So before they came in to see me I had to get that person in to speak with me on the phone to get them interested in seeing me. Sometimes they came to meet me. That's great, right? People like me in person generally. I'm pretty casual and say what I think or mean. So what this financial services company did was take away all of my likeability in favor of a 4 page document we had to memorize and were tested on (yes, tested on it) to make sure we had it memorized. Then I would give this speech to every client who met with me in an effort to remove any likeability I had and make me sound like a robot. This document served as an introduction to me, what would be discussed when I met with the client and would take up to 10 minutes to go through. So all likeability has been ripped from me and I'm now a robot. When I pointed out to my vice president part of my likeability is that I speak off the cuff and think on my feet, it was explained to me the script works. I asked if they had never not used the script and they said it was handed down from corporate and was proven to work. Showing I was quick on my feet, I pointed out this meant they probably had not tried an alternative method and so they can't say for sure the script works better than another method. This did not endear me to my vice-president.

Let me get to the hierarchy of this financial services company for a second. I had a vice-president who was in charge of the office, a mentor who was over me and a few other employees and would listen to us and advise us, as well as a coach who was in meetings with me at the beginning. Quite the hierarchy. So I had three people on my ass at all times preaching the gospel of bullshit the company was peddling. It made Scientology look loose and non-rigid in comparison.

So I had a script I hated and that ruined all likeability. I was doing well otherwise. I rolled over a little short of $2 million into the company in my first few months and this was proof that what they were doing worked. What my coach and all of the other parts of the hierarchy didn't know is I didn't use their stupid fucking script when I was alone in a meeting and told the people at my lunch that there was a short scripted beginning and then we would talk candidly. Yeah, I'm not good with being told what to do. So who knows what worked, but if I told my coach/mentor/VP what I was doing, it would have gotten shut down so I had to let them think their process was working. It's hard being a passive-aggressive rebel. So many compromises to make.

Also, we were fee-based financial advisors. So if someone wanted to work with me, they had to pay $500 up front. Yeah, no one wants to do that, which made my job hard. When I pointed out that we are collecting $500 and giving up potentially thousands of dollars this fell on deaf ears. This is the type of company that would break their arm jumping on the concrete to grab a quarter. Sure, you have to pay doctor bills, BUT YOU HAVE A QUARTER! I had so many clients who couldn't give me $500 but wouldn't mind investing with me. I couldn't take their investments because the industry was going towards fee-based advising, so of course it made sense to pass up thousands of dollars to have $500 for sure in your pocket.

My rollovers and clients stopped for a period through the summer because I no longer gave a shit. I wasn't in fear of being fired (you have to bring in a certain amount over a specific time frame or you will be fired) because my numbers were still high. I didn't like the hours I was working (which was from 8am-8pm Monday through Thursday, 8am-5pm on Friday, and Saturday 9am-12pm, which didn't include appointments I set after hours) and frankly was tired of being told it was my business to run but couldn't run it how I wanted to. There's only so much, "It's your business, take control of it...but only how we tell you to take control of it" I could hear before I was going crazy. I had a Master's degree and had some ideas that just weren't going to work with corporate. The long hours sucked and I decided I needed to quit when I could. The problem is the money was still good and I didn't want to be unemployed. My girlfriend at the time (now my wife) thought I was crazy for even thinking of quitting without having another job. She would support the decision though. It wasn't time to quit though, because I enjoyed my co-workers and wasn't motivated enough to get past the hump of wanting to quit and actually doing it.

Then my tipping point came in a conversation I had with my vice-president. I was genuinely concerned I wasn't getting any accounts and went to him for advice. In the next hour he mapped out 200 people from my natural market I could contact. Again, the only marketing device they know of outside of doing lunches is "Call your friends." On this list included my best friend from grade school whose parents lived near my mother, but I had not spoken to him in 15 years. My girlfriend's father was on this list too. Because nothing says, "I really like your daughter" by hitting him for money. It all seemed pretty fucking ridiculous and it was at that point I realized these people have absolutely no clue how to help me. They don't know the job they claim to know. They don't know how to increase my sales other than to guilt those who love/like/know me into opening an account with me, and of course paying $500 to do so. I told my VP this was unacceptable. I had come to him for help and all he could do was try to get me to leverage my friends and family. That's not a solution and won't be a solution. I want to learn to sell and help people by gaining accounts, not use my family and friends to make me feel better about myself. He said something that I don't remember, but it wasn't helpful and involved cursing. He was a very persuasive guy, but I saw through him pretty quickly. He was full of shit. Once you understand he was full of shit, everything he said/did made sense. 

This was the end of summer. I waited another month to think about my decision and then told my girlfriend over lunch that I was quitting December 20 and going into "Operation Shutdown" until that time. I was going to do everything my way and spend the day away from the office (I usually had a lot of time during the week to go around and collect business cards from the fishbowls and search for new restaurants) not doing the two lunches per day, but doing 2-3 lunches per week. During the time I usually sat in the office and tried to get better at my job, I would be playing Playstation 2, eating lunch with my girlfriend, and going to the gym. I'm not sure she believed I was quitting December 20, but I don't bluff.

So for the next month, I refused to train any new employees on how to do lunches (yeah, I wasn't good enough to get accounts, but was good enough to do training...go figure) by thinking of reasons to get out of having new employees follow me to these lunches. I did anything I wanted to do and had not had time to do. I turned what was a 60-65 hour a week job into a 40 hour a week job where I wasn't tired and could be on top of my game when I did lunches and met with prospective clients. Around the end of October my numbers started getting better. I got an account a week for a month (which was pretty good) and was brought in to tell how I did it to new recruits. I preached the gospel I was told to preach...sort of. I did throw in a few of my own personal thoughts like instead of doing lunches five days a week, go eat with a loved one during one set day of the week. Needless to say, I was asked to not speak to the recruits again, even though at that point I was one of the better performers who had been there less than a year. I deviated from what they were being told about hard work, 60 hour weeks, and don't eat with loved ones but try to get their money instead.

I held back a little when speaking to these new recruits. I didn't want my VP or anyone else to know what I was really doing, because I wanted to drop my new business plan of working a 40 hour work week when I pretended to quit on December 1. Yes, I had a plan to pretend to quit just to see what the reaction would be. I had three goals in this pretending to quit meeting:

1. Make them concerned I was going to quit and have to worry about explaining why a high performer just was quitting while having no other job.

2. I wanted to see their reaction when I told them I was running my own business the way I wanted to. That I was spending company time working out, swimming, and eating lunch with my girlfriend. If they fired me, so be it. I was quitting anyway.

3. I wanted them to think they had talked me out of it for when I did quit on December 20, just to make the shock a little bit more severe. I also wanted to basically test the waters and didn't want to deal with them trying to talk me out of it once I did quit. Basically, since my VP/mentor/coach were all salesmen I wanted them to think they had sold me and used all of their ammo on why I shouldn't quit on December 1. I was interested to hear the bullshit, if I'm being honest. I would get all of their objections out of the way AND get amused at the same time.

I'm an asshole. I was tired of being used over long hours and treated like a moron (I am leaving out quite a few stories just for the sake of your eyes. You get the point. It sucked to work here), so I was going to get back at them in my own way. I like to fuck with people's heads and expectations, so I was going to pre-quit a few weeks before I really quit. I'm manipulative when I want to be and I really, really liked fucking with people.

Here's an example: I told my 8th grade history teacher I had an Uncle Shanks who was a Lumbee Indian. I went on and on about him when I had the chance to and my friends would assist me in pretending. This went on for a month or so until my history teacher invited him in to speak with the class. At that point, I had to admit I didn't have an Uncle Shanks who is a Lumbee Indian. She was too embarrassed to really tell anyone she had been long conned by a 13 year old. It was lying, but mostly I didn't like her and wanted to mess with her. My parents weren't really upset when I told them what I did. It was sort of a "Pooped in the fridge and ate an entire wheel of cheese" moment. I got a short lecture about not lying, but overall I think they were slightly impressed.

So moving up to December 1, I went into my mentor's office and said I was quitting. She called in the VP and that's when the fireworks started. He initially called me a "pussy" and said I was giving up. I told him I hated it there and would prefer to be unemployed then work 60-65 hours at a job. I then told him I was actually only working 40 hours and semi-explained what I was doing instead of doing lunches. He told me that they could dock my pay for not working the full hours. I pointed out to him under North Carolina law because I am not an hourly employee then I am not required to work a certain amount of hours. I'm salaried, so there's no pay to dock for not working a set amount of hours. He called me a "pussy" again and said that if he weren't my supervisor he would physically assault someone (like me, obviously) who did this for "using their privilege of independence" like this. I have a privilege of independence in his opinion. I always assumed I had a right to independence, but apparently within the confines of this job during the 60 hours I was there I did not.

(On a side note, I don't love my behavior here. I was tired, even working only 40-ish hours a week, and mentally beaten down. I felt like a prisoner and would never behave this way again. I would never act this way at my current job, mostly because I'm respected and treated like a human rather than a piece of meat who is only good for calling family and friends and begging for money from them...or at least begging for them to open an account with me for $500. I wouldn't call my behavior reprehensible, but again, there is more than just what I'm saying here that occurred during my year-long employment with this company. I wasn't a model employee at this stage, that I will admit)

This meeting lasted for a while and I explained to them why I was quitting and had stopped following "the plan," mostly because it was a waste of my time and they had no ideas to help me improve at the job, so I did what I thought I needed to and improved. I think the fact I improved without following "the plan" probably made my VP angrier than anything else. The job wasn't just about getting accounts, but not questioning "the plan" and being fully committed to what bullshit the company was peddling. I have a low threshold for bullshit, so I didn't buy into it completely. I also yearn to try something new when I'm told "This is the only way this can get done." I want to prove there is another way. The meeting started winding down and I again got called a pussy by my VP and I told him I wasn't being a pussy by creating my own hours, in fact that was pretty fucking ballsy.

So we went back and forth and I got called a few names and was accused of quitting (yep, they were pretty perceptive weren't they?) before I got a chance to get good at what I was doing. I told them I didn't think I could get good when I had leadership who believed my only chance of success was calling my natural market and trying to get them to spend $500 on an account. Finally, I had gotten what I wanted and said I would give it some more time while following "the plan," which was a complete lie. They clapped me on the shoulder and then my VP met with my mentor a few minutes and I could tell he was urging her to give me special attention for a while. So my little stunt ended up with my mentor following me around for an entire week, which really ruined the whole "I'm only working 40 hours per week" thing. Fortunately, my mentor was useless and couldn't take a piss without permission from the VP, so I simply had a shadow and didn't have someone wasting my time by trying to improve my business.

Regardless, on December 19 I brought a box into work and packed up all of my shit and left the office at my usual 8pm. I got home and my roommate and I laughed for quite a while about how I carried a box of my possessions out of the office, had an empty desk and no one even asked me what was going on. My plan for the next day was coming in and while the office was having "a class" from 8am to 9am that the VP was teaching, leaving my resignation note and then leaving. So I walked in on December 20, got a cup of coffee, walked into my mentor's office and told her this was my official resignation and to have a good life. She said, "No, wait until Mike (that was the VP) gets out of the class and then we can all talk this through." I told her we had talked previously and there was nothing left to talk about at this point. She again urged me to wait for Mike (mostly because she was a useless drone who couldn't speak unless our VP put words in her mouth for her) and I declined, then walked out of the building. I was done, thank God.

I went home and immediately started looking for a new job. I feel sympathy for my wife's parents. We had just started dating less than six months before and now she has to tell them I just quit my job and am going to be looking for another job. I'm sure they thought she was dating a real winner. To their credit, they held their tongue around me. It's just so happens I met my wife at a very transitional point in my career. But man, I can imagine the conversations her parents had about me just walking out on a job. It took me a couple of months to find a job. I looked everyday and interviewed at probably every financial firm in Greensboro/Winston-Salem and at every bank in Greensboro/Winston-Salem. I was attractive to banks because I had my licensing for the Series 7 and Series 66, as well as my long-term care and insurance license. I could peddle all sorts of products, and that's all they wanted me to do, peddle products. I wanted a non-sales job in a bank or with a financial company and those did not exist for me. My background pushed them towards wanting to push me towards the sales part of their company.

It wasn't until I interviewed with a State Farm representative who wanted me to run the insurance portion of the company that I realized I needed to stop interviewing for jobs I didn't want. Seems easy, right? Interview for jobs you want, not jobs you don't want. The problem is there is a certain comfort in interviewing for a job and a certain discomfort in not getting any interviews. I could get interviews with financial services companies and had trouble getting interviews outside of that industry. It's natural to keep getting interviews and praying this company will be different. So I quit my job on December 20 and I didn't find a job I wanted to take until the middle of March. It felt like years. What I did was start over. Just start completely over. I had a Master's Degree, but really had no idea what I wanted to do. So I signed up with the best temp agency I could find at a job fair here in Greensboro and told them to just work my ass off. Give me jobs and I will do them. I figured somewhere in there I would find a permanent job or something I like. For the first time in my professional career, I was right.

I spent a couple of days in my first temp gig working with a British consultant for a local company combing through thousands of documents that I'm still not exactly sure what I was looking for. He seemed pleased with my work, but it was mind-numbing. In fact, worse than mind-numbing. It was reading multi-colored Excel spreadsheets line-by-line looking for discrepancies. The good news is I got paid. The bad news is I think I went blind for a few days. Then I got fortunate. A hiring manager at RFMD who hired temps through the temp agency I worked with saw I went to Appalachian State and as a graduate from Appalachian State wanted to know why I was unemployed and looking for work. We had a phone conversation and he agreed I could be a "Supply Chain assistant" or something to that effect. Either way, it was a temp job that had no ending while also having no promise of permanent employment, but it did provide me with better pay than I was receiving (which was a yearly salary of $0 or $0/hour if you prefer to look at it that way) and I worked 8:00-5:00pm everyday. That's exactly what I wanted. I wanted a normal job. I wanted to be an office drone.

RFMD made chips that were used in wireless communicators and other electronic devices. As I was told repeatedly during my time there, they were growing and had never laid anyone off. Being the jaded person I am, I pretty much assumed layoffs would be in the future (spoiler alert: They were). So I really had no idea what job I was doing upon walking in, but I got to wear shorts and a knit shirt (that's what I call what most people call "Polo" shirts) to work. Basically, what I ended up doing wasn't hard at all. There were engineers who needed parts sent out to their clients of RFMD for testing and other varied reasons that I wasn't privy to. It was my job to get these parts together and get them to engineers spread out over quite a few buildings. Some of the parts went into an oven (yes, an oven), other parts did not. It involved a lot of walking and taking direction, both of which I didn't mind doing.

So in March 2006 I started this job and it was a complete 180 difference from where I previously was. Lunches took two hours sometimes (not mine, because while the engineers were out at lunch they would call in with things that needed to be done RIGHT FUCKING NOW) and generally it was a very laid back atmosphere. In all frankness, the company seemed bloated to me. There were a lot of people who worked there and it didn't seem people were very stressed at the job with a lot of downtime to talk. But I loved it. I got a cell phone and I got to work with a guy who was the most anal-retentive person I have met in my life, which helped me deal with demanding people. This guy, named Jeff, had a system he used and if I didn't use that system then I was doing it all wrong. Having just gotten done with a job that had a specific system I was required to use, I had familiarity with this idea. The difference is Jeff's system actually worked. He dared me to try something different for a week. I did and it did not work. Jeff also had a thing for older women that I repeatedly tried to talk him out of to no avail. So it was a pretty good temp job. Low stress and it didn't require a ton of thought. I had time to look for other jobs and enjoyed it there. Still, I'm being honest in saying it wasn't what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I tried to leave once for a different job and they gave me a raise (I kid you not when I say they were bloated...they gave me, a fucking temp, a raise when I threatened to leave to take another job...who does that?), which of course pleased the temp agency because they got a percentage of what I was making (not from me, but from RFMD). Other than the fact I didn't have money and my girlfriend was making well over twice what I was making, it wasn't a bad deal.

But then I got a little restless. See I was a temp. That's how the engineers saw me. That's fine, but I had a Master's Degree and didn't like being talked to like I wasn't a smart person or talked to as if I wasn't on their level. It happened...frequently. I got asked a few times which high school I graduated from, in the tone of that being my highest education. My uncle never graduated high school and he's a millionaire, so no offense to those who didn't go to college, but I didn't take out all the student loans I did and work for six years in undergraduate and graduate school to be treated like I didn't go to college. So I decided rather than be comfortable in a job not making a ton of money I needed to REALLY look for a job. I was looking, but not really looking, if you know what I mean. So I started looking and after a month or so I got another job offer that was a permanent job and I was paid a sufficient amount more than I made as a temp (though, to be honest, not that much more for a permanent job) and took it. When I went to my temp agency to quit I was reminded by them they liked me at RFMD and a permanent job could be on the future because they have never laid anyone off. They also offered me another slight raise (I mean, stop offering a temp raises, even small ones...I'm a temp) as well. I explained that while I was a temp, I had seen the internal structure and work force of that company and had enough of an education background to understand if there was a dip in the economy or if they lost a few accounts then their success was in no way sustainable. There were too many well-paid people doing a similar job. So I took the new job and two months later RFMD had their first layoffs. I went to this new job, got treated in cheap fashion for the job I was doing (I was given a 0.8% raise one year when I know for a fact other departments got a 10% raise...I didn't like that) and used my experience there to get the job I have now. All has worked out.

I've gotten off track about my worst job ever, but it has a point. My point is that all has worked out. I feel like some people are stuck in jobs they hate and I was too. I was fortunate that I could afford to quit my job and go searching, but it was nerve-wracking. Very nerve-wracking. I was also fortunate my girlfriend understood I hated my job and allowed me the freedom to not nag me about finding another one. She understood the process. Of course, she quit a job she hated a few years later, so we are sort of even in that regard. You can see why we got married. We both make potentially bad job-related decisions because we can't stand doing something we don't like. Things turned out okay, it just took some time and for me to have patience, which is the hardest part for me.

Back to my worst job ever. This financial company ended up getting the last laugh on me, though not entirely intentionally. When I first started there in March 2006 my mother wanted to support my new endeavor and so she became one of my clients. She put her money into a fund and specifically asked my mentor if she was going to have to pay taxes on the money she had moved over to me. My mentor told her "No" and then gave a reason that I don't recall. It sounded weird to me at the time that there were no taxes to be paid on this money moved over, but I was in the process of learning the job and didn't speak up. This isn't the only one of my clients who this absolutely false information was handed out to, which makes me feel incredibly guilty. It turns out my mom did have to pay capital gains tax on what she moved over to me from the account she had with her current financial advisor...a lot of taxes. Needless to say, when we found this out in early 2007 I was pretty fucking pissed. Unfortunately, the financial company had worked for had covered their ass and guess whose name was the only name on those documents transferring the money over? That's right. Me. So whereas my mother could have chosen to sue her advisor for providing poor advice or at least threatened to do so based on the faulty information she was given, she wasn't going to sue her son.

I had retained an attorney for a different reason around this time and asked him whether there was a case that could be made and he basically told me it wasn't going to be worth the fight. My mom didn't want to pursue it anyway. I was the only one absolutely inflamed about how my name were on the forms that I wasn't even aware how to fill out appropriately at that point in my young career. Live and learn, right? I learned a lot from my worst job ever. Even now when I'm having a bad day, I calm myself by reminding myself it could always be a lot worse for me and has been a lot worse for me in the past. I would never advise anyone work for this company if they are even close to being the same kind of company they were when I was there. They treated their employees as tools to gain the financial accounts of that employee's family and friends and the pretty picture their commercials paint of advisors caring about their clients is patently least when it comes from upper management. To this day, I think about my clients I had there and feel bad I simply left them without notifying them I was leaving. It's not how I like to do things in my life and (as you can tell) this whole experience left me with a very sour taste in my mouth. All I can advise anyone now is that if you see Tommy Lee Jones in a commercial, don't believe what he's saying. He's full of shit and doesn't even know it.