Thursday, January 26, 2012

Oops!...I Did It Again

It’s never a good day when you look in the mirror and realize it’s not only possible—but probable—you are insane.

You’ve heard insanity defined as the continuous repetition of an act with the expectation of a different outcome. And while you’re not sure where this leaves the scientific community, in the context of a job hunt it means you're certifiable.

Worse is the realization you may also be a masochist. The American Heritage Dictionary defines ‘masochism’ thusly:

• A willingness or tendency to subject oneself to unpleasant or trying experiences.

Regrettably, this definition also fits you like an Anne Claiborne dress shirt.

In this lottery of emotional impairments, you're a grand prize winner—only you don’t get to meet Linda Kollmeyer.

A notice arrives in the mail informing you that Kohl's is opening a new store in your area and are staffing it now. Because the above-named conditions remove the shield of impulse control, you apply to Kohl's a second time.

The flier says to expect great things. You make a note of it.

Since you have a lingering hangover from previous cashiering and customer service positions, you opt for an opening under Replenishment. The word evokes pleasant images of a gentle, fragrant rain nurturing parched earth.

The position requires you to place consumer goods on store fixtures in a neat and attractive way.

As you recently shaved and successfully returned the can of shaving gel and a razor to their rightful place on a shelf in the bathroom, you feel reasonably qualified to perform this job.

This doesn’t even take into account the innumerable household items you regularly restore to their proper place on shelves throughout the home. Yes, you have this putting-stuff-on-shelves thing down cold.

As instructed, you arrive at a hotel twenty-minutes early to fill-out the same forms you filled-out online. You sign sworn affidavits attesting to the fact that if hired, yes, these are the hours you are available.

So help you God.

You agree to drug tests and credit checks and criminal history checks and past employment checks. Every conceivable type of check but the ones beginning with 'pay'.

To your chagrin, the first question on the application asks if you have applied to Kohl’s before. Ignoring images of a guillotine in free fall, you answer ‘yes’ because you are an indomitable force of nature. You will not be denied a second time.

Applicants are then informed by a harried twenty-something that these positions are temporary. The room collectively deflates like a punctured tire. You are positive the word ‘temporary’ did not appear on the flier.

You check it a second time. You are correct.

You wrestle with the fact you are auditioning for a twelve-hour a week, near minimum-wage job. Then you wrestle with the fact you have no choice.

The facts win.

Returning your attention to the form, you attempt to fit the names of previous employers, their addresses and telephone numbers in boxes similar in size to the ones coupons list their expiration dates in.

The form then asks you to explain all periods of unemployment. Rage wells up inside you.

You want to answer that you abandoned your previous job to burn through your inheritance while on a meth binge in the Caribbean, accompanied by a dozen Las Vegas strippers.

But that would be snotty. Or unprofessional. Or both. And we wouldn’t want that.

Thankfully, you are not asked why you want to work at Kohl’s. You wonder if you could design job applications for a living. But then, you have an IQ.

The same twenty-something is now reading names from a list, which are followed by a number. You are assigned to group one. Group one then trudges listlessly to a meeting room.

At the group interview, you introduce yourself and attempt to put a positive spin on things. You try to sound youthful and vibrant. You want to impart the idea that yes, you are amazing. And if not that, employable.

But if you could do that, you’d be earning a bundle doing PR for Francesco Schettino, captain of the Costa Concordia.

When asked about recognition from previous employers, you respond that you hit speed and accuracy targets as a scorer of educational assessments and received multiple performance bonuses.

One of the women sitting at the table in the front of the room hears this and scribbles furiously. You allow yourself to believe you have made an impression.

Silly you.

A sharp knock on the door startles everyone. The interviewer announces they will have to abort the interview because they are running behind schedule. She reminds you to submit your completed applications before leaving.

As you walk through the vacant lobby, you cannot shake the feeling that you were at a dress rehearsal for an interview. You cannot imagine what kind of meaningful insight Kohl’s could have received from this exercise.

A week later, you find out.

Despite demonstrating “many qualities”, Kohl’s is unable to offer you a position at this time. You smile to yourself because you know what qualities were demonstrated, and you want no part of them.

This is insanity, and you are a masochist to pursue it. It is time for something different.

You have only to figure out what that is.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My Favorite CDs of 2011

Like its predecessor, 2011 finds its top ten evenly divided between industry veterans and fresh-faced newbies.

But before I delve into new releases, heaps of archival live albums appeared last year. Neil Young, Pink Floyd, Fairport Convention, Pearl Jam and the Rolling Stones uncorked vintage shows either as stand-alone releases or to round out expanded and remastered packages.

And there were some important re-issues, as U2, the Kinks, Frankie Miller, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys had landmark material re-visited and re-released.

I’ll attempt to sort-out this mess o’ product and, in the best-case scenario, provide a guide for the year just ended. Displaying the impeccable manners that are the hallmark of this blog, I’ll start with the old stuff first.

Were it not such a widespread and well-known bootleg, the Rolling Stones’ Brussels Affair would be the hands-down favorite of the vintage concert releases. It’s a resounding and unforgettable show. But it’s hard to get newly worked-up over something you’ve been listening to since the Carter administration.

Which is why I’m naming Fairport Convention’s Ebbets Field 1974 as the year’s best. Snobs may decry the absence of Richard Thompson, but only until they hear it. If you’re lucky, songs like “John the Gun” and “Matty Groves” will act as a gateway drug to what could become a full-blown addiction.

Picking the year’s best re-issue is a little more-difficult. The two-disc Kinks’ re-releases were powerful candidates, especially Face to Face and Arthur. But by the slimmest of margins, I’m picking the Frankie Miller box set, if only because his material has been unavailable in the United States for so long.

While not a box set in the traditional sense (there’s only a couple of B-sides and no previously unreleased material, demos or one-off concert recordings), it presents the entirety of his output for Chrysalis in his seventies prime plus an alternate version of High Life.

For all intent and purposes, Miller should’ve been rocking arenas throughout the late-seventies and into the eighties. But commercial success is a nebulous thing, dependent on many things utterly unrelated to music. At least the catalog of one of rock’s great voices has been restored.

Now to 2011.

1. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

This isn’t the howling vocalist of yore, but one that uses marimbas, autoharp and muted brass to sculpt striking songs of war and mortality. The inspired "Call to the Post" sample on "The Glorious Land" suggests war is a horse race, and just as consequential.

Check "The Glorious Land" and "Written on the Forehead".

2. TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light

No one writes intricate melodies (complete with counter melodies) that coalesce into sublimely funky pop overtures the way TV on the Radio does. If Nine Types of Light appears to tail off in the second half, that’s only because four of the album’s first five tracks are absolutely brilliant.

Check "You" and "Killer Crane".

3. Raphael Saadiq – Stone Rollin’

The former Tony! Toni! Tone! front man finds his voice on this towering fusion of rhythm and blues, soul, pop and blues. From the razor-edged strut of the title track to the smooth soul of "Movin’ Down the Line", Stone Rollin’ is all good, all the time.

Check "Go To Hell" and the title track.

4. The Black Keys – El Camino

This is the album I wanted Brothers to be; fuzz-toned stomp that is as habit-forming as Spicy Nacho Doritos. And unlike its forebearer, Messrs. Auerbach and Carney have herewith worked-up eleven indelible and indestructable melodies on El Camino for your listening pleasure.

Check "Dead and Gone" and "Gold on the Ceiling".

5. David Kilgour and the Heavy Eights – Left by Soft

The Clean’s David Kilgour has received much belated recognition for his singular guitar-playing, and it’s duly highlighted on the six-minute epic "Diamond Mine". But it’s Left by Soft’s more-modest pleasures that land the album here.

Check "Pop Song" and "Diamond Mine".

6. Fairport Convention – Ebbets Field 1974

Along with the Move, Fairport Convention were one of the most unjustly ignored (in the U.S., anyway) bands of the late-sixties and early-seventies. This 1974 concert proves that ultimately, the strength of any band is its songs. For even sans RT, they cast a haunting, unforgettable spell.

Check both tracks listed above.

7. Nicki Bluhm – Driftwood

This album really shines when Bluhm and husband Tim pair-up for their plaintive and heartfelt harmonizing. Even when they don’t, its country-ish Americana is fine. But in the tradition of George Jones and Tammy Wynette, it’s best when they do.

Check "Women’s Prison" and "Wall of Early Morning Light".

8. The Feelies – Here Before

Reunion tours and reunion albums usually make me squeamish. But leave it to the Feelies to upend convention. Here Before sounds like a year or two passed since their last, and not a couple of decades. Does this mean the Feelies are timeless? Probably.

Check "Should Be Gone" and "Way Down".

9. James Walbourne – Drugs and Money EP

While his earlier full-length was completely competent, Drugs and Money raises Walbourne’s craft to a whole new level. Be it the weathered Americana of "Drugs and Money" or the highland hoedown that is "Hillbilly Crack", this EP reeks of soul and fire.

Check both of the aforementioned tracks.

10. Tune-Yards – Whokill

The jagged jump-cut musicality of Whokill can be as startling as it is fractured, but when it works, it’s as bracing a breath of fresh air as was heard in 2011. And the buoyant undercurrent of Afro-Pop that holds it all together is just a bonus.

Check "My Country" and "Powa".

Honorable Mentions:

Admiral Fallow - Boots Met My Face
The Bats – Free All the Monsters
REM – Collapse Into Now
Neil Young – A Treasure

Monday, January 2, 2012

To the Unemployed...

...who understand that fifty is the new seventy.

...who understand deeply and resolutely that, yes, it can happen to you.

...who, just for a change, would like to hear the phrase ‘stay positive’ from someone who is actually unemployed.

...who are able to withstand being judged by that supreme arbitrator of worth known as Corporate America.

...who understand that America’s labor force consists of just two groups: the unemployed and hostages.

...who understand that ‘unemployed' means in 2012 what 'colored' did a hundred years earlier.

...who understand the purpose of the question "Are you currently employed?" and answer yes with the specific intent of accomplishing what the question was expressly created to avoid, which is the wasting of an employer’s valuable time on an unemployed candidate.

(Don’t you feel horrible?)

May you always possess the faith of Mother Teresa and the persistence of Sisyphus.

You are my heroes.