Leap Year – MP3

February 29th, 2008

Concrete SkyI wrote “Leap Year” fifteen years ago, in the deep, dark winter of 1993.

Syracuse winters were brutal. It’s nation’s snowiest metropolitan region, averaging 114.6 inches a year. I happened to be there for three of the top five worst years, the penultimate being the year in question in which 192.1 inches fell. That’s over sixteen feet of snow.

Worse yet, though, Syracuse is notoriously gray. The city averages 303 cloudy or partly cloudy days a year. And we’re not talking about the billowy white kind. We’re talking slate gray, table flat, horizonless clouds. A perpetually low, dark ceiling hung over us 82.2% of the time.

Adding insult to injury that winter, though, was my imminent graduation. While it’s true that my band, Smokey Junglefrog, was having a great time headlining shows, the question of “What next?” loomed larger than the Thorndon Park water tower just up the hill from our shared house. And while my girlfriend, Erin, and I were managing just fine despite being separated by the Atlantic (she was studying in Florence, Italy), the the question of “Now what?” permeated everything.

And while I’m not sure those influences manifest in this entire song, they do in the key lyric, “Perhaps tomorrow will never come.”

I’d all but forgotten about the song (which, in a then-familiar bout of passive aggressive avoidance, was never recorded) until this morning when, while running on the treadmill, I spotted the word “Leap Year” on CNN. Once upstairs, I dug through my closet and located the notebook full of SJF lyrics (before The Daily Journal, and this blog, there were actual notebooks full of songs, thoughts, musings, etc).

So here it is, fifteen years later, and still imperfect: “Leap Year.”

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Leap Year

It’s cold inside you know me
I want to hide but you’ll show me
I want to run and join the crowd
But you know that I’m too proud

In your lies, promises are just disguise
Perhaps tomorrow will never come

Got no time for secrets
I’d give it to you but you might keep it
I’d tell the world just what I dream
But they might listen to me

In your lies, promises are just disguise
Perhaps tomorrow will never come

So I’ll take it to the light

It’s cold inside, you know me
I want to shout out loud I’m lonely
If only silence was returned
I guess I’ll never learn

In your lies, promises are just disguise
Perhaps tomorrow will never come

Cardmember Since, Um, Noon

February 28th, 2008

Am Ex I’m not gloating. It’s just that it blows my mind that I’m now, officially, the kind of guy who carries a corporate card.

“Corporate” has always been a dirty word for me. It makes me think of unethical, hob knobbing straw men in generic suits. It makes me think of greed, uniformity, and homogeneity, anonymous airports, hotel rooms and rental cars.

Growing up, I never really had any bad corporate experiences (ie: toxic chemicals in the backyard). Neither of my parents were terribly corporate. To the contrary, I worked for mom and pop operations: Berwyn Video (not Blockbuster), Uncommon Grounds (not Starbucks).

I read a lot of Thoreau in college. I’m sure that didn’t help. At one point, I threatened to drop out, move to a cabin in the mountains, and read books all the time. (My father talked me out of it.)

Still, I’m not entirely sure why. I mean, culture (at least whatever corner with which I identify) certainly disparages corporations — and for good reason. From Triangle Waist to DuPont, Exxon to Enron, corporations have a long history of exploitation, polution, avarice and fraud.

I think the primary reason I’ve never thought of myself as corporate is fairly obvious (and probably unworthy of exposition): rock ‘n roll.

I wrote a strange little song called “Corporate” (it’s on “Out Of Your Head,” my catchy but oddly uneven sophomore CD) just after moving to New York in 1995. It wasn’t just the canyons of skyscrapers that had me spooked. It was the kneejerk rush to judgement upon meeting someone new. The first question was always the same.

“What do you do?”

I was interning at Men’s Journal at the time (soon to freelance for Rolling Stone Online) trying to convert a journalism degree and eighteen months at an upstate newspaper into my half of the rent. I scribbled these lyrics on Wenner Media letterhead:

What do you do?
What did you say?
How do you fit into the food chain?

The road to here is long and well chronicled. Taken from a thousand feet, or by someone who’s just met me, it might add up:

High School Paper + Rock Band + Journalism Degree + 15 Years = VP, MTV News

I still hear the strains of Bob Mould’s “Company Book” ringing in my ears:

In the epilogue the company man
Takes his company life with his company hands
In his revelation he decrees
Extinction of faceless robots like himself
Spawned from the company book

Twenty years after taking the reigns at The Conestoga Spoke (I was the guy who changed the masthead from Helvetica to Times), though, as I charged a conference to my new corporate card, iit’s still kind of perplexing. I don’t feel corporate. I’m ethical, non-exploitative. I don’t wear a suit (though I’m pretty sure I am one). Still, a guy can’t help but wonder…

How do I fit into the food chain?

R.E.M. Accelerate: A First Listen

February 27th, 2008

Michael Stipe The day job affords me the occasional perk: random Paramount Picture DVDs, semi-annual trips to Park City, access to Lollapalooza’s scrappy craft services tent. In general, though, mine’s a desk job. I write email all day.

Today, though, provided a brief respite from the usual. For fifteen minutes this afternoon, I was fifteen-years-old again.

Record labels have a whole host of strategies for drumming up press support for its artist’s forthcoming releases. The most tried and true is the “listening.” Today, a duo of young Warner Bros. publicists set up camp in the 28th floor conference room (which, by the way, looks exactly as you’d expect a corporate media conference room to: a warmly-lit fifty foot-long table surrounded by over-priced, over-stuffed leather chairs) to afford my colleagues an eye an early listen to R.E.M. forthcoming, Accelerate.

My introduction to R.E.M. is so well-known, it’s literally written in my biography:

“My big brother brought R.E.M.’s Reckoning home from college which immediately woke me up and snapped me out of my Phil Collins stupor,” Wagner laughs. “Hearing ‘So. Central Rain’ for the first time changed everything.”

Rote as that myth may be, though, the band’s import and influence can’t be overstated.

Example: People meet me after hearing my songs and say, “Oh, I figured you had a southern accent.” That’s me ripping off Michael Stipe.

Example: The minor chord and major lift is in every one of my songs. That’s me ripping off REM (who are ripping off Leonard Cohen, who is ripping off…)

Moreover, Michael (for better or worse) has been a huge creative influence. I think of him when I write lyrics. I think of him when I take photos. I think of him when I get dressed. To one degree or another, my sense of what constitutes art is informed by the lyrics to “Wendell Gee,” the video for “Losing My Religion” video, and the album cover for Document.

All of which explains why I was nearly trembling as these young publicists pushed play.

From the five songs I heard this afternoon (many of which were well-documented during the band’s week long Dublin rehearsals last summer), the band seems to have torn a page from The Bruce Springsteen playbook. Implausible as it sounds, it stands to reason; REM and The Boss shared the stage for the ill-fated Vote For Change Tour in 2004. Stipe and company seemed to have learned a thing or two about embracing one’s past — revisiting it, even — as a means of staying present (and current).

As a result, what I’ve heard of Accelerate — like Springsteen’s Magic before it — borrows heavily from the best of the band’s back catalog. There are snippets of the now-trio’s finest hour (which most would argue began with the band’s 1982 debut, Chronic Town, and ended with drummer Bill Berry’s 1997 departure) here, but the album isn’t a retread, it’s a reboot.

Our listen began with “Supernatural Superserious” (a song, Michael reports, that would have been called “Disguised” were it not for Coldplay frontman Chris Martin’s suggestion). Short, sharp and punchy chords yield to a familiar jangle. The elements are all there — Michael’s nearly-nonsensical lyrics, Mike Mills nearly-soprano backing vocals — but this degree of urgency and exuberance has been missing since Monster. “You realize your fantasies have been dressed up in travesties/Enjoy yourself with a no regret.”

“Man Sized Wreath,” like much of Accelerate, sounds like a mashup of Fables Of The Reconstruction and Monster. The song (whose title borrows from PJ Harvey’s “Man-Size Sextet”) begins with a hook reminiscent of “She Just Wants To Be.” The serpentine lead line turns taut and compressed. “Turn on the TV, what do I see?” Stipe asks. “A pageantry of empty gestures all lined up for me.” Guitarist Peter Buck churns to a stop, a la “Begin The Begin.” “Give me the song!”

For a second, the somber piano intro to “Hollow Man” suggests a ballad, “Everybody Hurts Part IV.” But the band has a crunchy, distorted “Don’t Go Back To Rockville” up its sleeve, though. “I’ve become a hollow man,” Stipe admits before pleading, “Believe in me.”

For the album’s track, Buck dips into his mid-’80s playbook, twisting “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” into “Begin The Begin.” His Rickenbacker screams. Stipe promises, “I’ve got to follow a new direction,” pauses, then commands, “Accelerate!”

“I should have kept my head down / I should have kept my mouth shut,” Stipe sings over what sounds like “The Finest Worksong” on speed in “Horse To Water.” “This contest has no purpose,” he follows, then resolves, “I come around.”

When our preview was done, the young publicists pledged to us that this album, R.E.M’s fourteenth, is the band’s most assured and urgent in years.

“They’re is really having fun on this album,” one says. “If you watch ‘Supernatural Superserious’ video, you’ll notice that Michael is smiling more than he has in years.”

“The real key,” I say, “Is whether or not Peter’s smiling.”

Judging by the barrage of careening, carousing, staccato guitars on Accelerate, he is.

And judging by what I heard today, I will be too come April 1.

Taking Requests

February 26th, 2008

Rehearsal Ok, so when we spoke last, I was talking about this “Magic Mountain EP” idea of mine.

Remember?

Right! That five-song, online-only recording I wrote about yesterday. The one Chris Abad and I are going to knock out this weekend somewhere between snowboarding and beer pong. Yeeeaaah! That one.

So lemme’ restate the premise: I need you to pick one song for us. Just one. As in, the same number of suggestions I’ve received in the last 24 hours. (And a fine suggestion it was, Stephanie. Thank you very much.)

I know I write a lot about work and life and love and marriage, but you do remember that I write, record and perform music, right? Maybe your memory needs refreshing.

You can click on that iTunes link up there on the right. Or click on the word Buy. There are twelve records worth of songs to chose from. Heck, go crazy. Browse my MP3s over there in the tag cloud. Or surprise me with something random!

I mean, in seven years of blogging, and twenty years of performing, when have I ever asked for requests?

Whaddya’ wanna’ hear Chris and me record live?

Sorry, no Throbbing Gristle, Alex.

Coming Soon: The Magic Mountain EP

February 25th, 2008

Rehearsal Magic Mountain Ski Resort near Londonberry, Vermont, is — if my pal, singer/songwriter Chris Abad’s description is correct — “the slacker’s Okemo.”

Chris and his wife, Megan, invited Abbi and I to join them there next weekend.

“It’s an awesome place for drinking beer, skiing, board games, cooking, writing music, etc,” he said. “Any interest?”

It took Abbi and me about three seconds of discussion.

“We’re in!”

An idea occurred to me the next morning. I emailed Chris on my Blackberry as I walked to work.

Here’s one for ya. We bring our guitars to VT. I bring ProTools + mic. On Sat PM we play/record a short set for everyone, then roll out mp3s on our respective blog/MySpace properties. Think of it is any easy way to remind our respective/collective audiences that we exist. :) Only downside is a) we need to rehearse a tiny bit b) our wives think we’re nerds (but I imagine they think that anyhow). Whaddyathink?

His response was succinct, and enthusiastic.

“Word!”

And so Chris and I spent a few hours running songs at his rehearsal space yesterday afternoon. It’s a cold, dingy room on the eighth floor of a building full of cold, dingy rooms on Eight Avenue just below The Port Authority.

I played him the ten songs I expect to put on my forthcoming CD which: “Giving Up The Ghost,” “Promise,” “(I Won’t Let You) Get Away From Me,” “Breathe In.” Taken as a whole, the constitute a solid bunch of songs. With Chris playing and singing on them, everything sound better, and looks brighter.

A few of those songs are going to pop up on this EP — this, “Magic Mountain EP” — which Chris and I will premiere on our respective sites during the week of March 3.

Here’s the wrinkle (to reward the few of you who’ve made it this far into the post): We’re leaving one of the songs selections up to you! Tell me what you want to hear Chris and I play in the comments, and we’ll do so with the most popular.

Then we’ll commence our Beer Pong Tournament.

Oscar! Oscar! Oscar!

February 24th, 2008

Me At The Oscars Ok, so we’ve almost made it through Colossal Televised Event season. I live blogged Super Bowl XLII three weeks ago, and the Grammy Awards two weeks ago. Tonight: The Academy Awards.

7:53 – My head literally explodes as Tim Kash — who’s been navigating the Oscar Red Carpet minefield for nearly an hour straight on MTV.com — is handed Sumner Redstone, the venerable head of our little media conglomerate. I see my career flash in front of me as our scrappy little punk rock production is suddenly front-and-center with the Chairman of the Board. And then, like some editorial transition from Venus, we go to Horowitz’s Oscar montage from Hell.

8:01 – MTV.com’s live webcast wraps. My heart’s BPMs return to normal (70). In the end, we snag John Travolta, James McAvoy, Jessica Alba, The Rock, Steve Carell, Keri Russell, Spike Lee, Seth Rogan, Jonah Hill, Jason Bateman, and George Clooney.

8:20 – I switch to ABC. Regis is doing some user generated thing. He’s talking to some metal-mouthed teenager from Pasadena when I’d rather see him talking to Angelina Jolie — or at least Ellen Page. Damn you Internet!

8:31 – The open is a CGI Schwarzenegger delivering an armored truck full of Oscar statuettes through general LA chaos, including (but not limited to): King Kong, T-Rex, Transformers, and Jimmy Stewart dodging a crop duster. Kinda’ creepy, but entertaining.

8:51 – Jon Stewart makes a joke about watching “Lawrence of Arabia” on an iPhone. Seems like an oddly out-of-time poke (though good for appeasing theater owners).

8:52 – When I was a kid, I though these awards shows were actually about acknowledging excellence. When Steve Carell walks out with Anne Hathaway to the “Maxwell Smart” theme, though, I am reminded it about one thing: boosterism.

8:56 – Katherine Heigl says, “Please excuse me; I’m terribly nervous and I’m not very good at this.” And I actually go, “Aaaaaaw.” What’s more, I mean it.

9:06 – Thirty-six minutes in and already I don’t care. Booooo-ring.

9:22 – “For those of you waiting for a moment, Javier Bardem’s was one.” That Jon Stewart (who I love, for the record) has to point this out is, um, troubling.

9:25 – One hour in, and I’m four for six in the Oscar pool (missed Art Direction and Visual Affects). Not bad.

9:28 – “Helen Mirren, you got served.” Funny.

9:29 – Oh my gosh, Owen Wilson!

9:38 – UPSET!!! Tilda Swinton wins Supporting Actress. I mean, good for her: great movie, great job. But Amy Ryan!?! There goes my Oscar pool.

9:40 – These Oscar flashback segments — like the Grammy 50th Anniversary ones a few weeks ago — just serve to bore the olds, and alienate the kids. Lame.

9:41 – Man, JC Penney has one hell of a music supervisor. John Prine’s “Killing The Blue” in a commercial for jeans? Gorgeous. “Somebody said they saw me / Swinging the world by the tail / Bouncing over a white cloud / Killing the blues.” Best part of the Oscars so far (until the logo reveal, anyway).

9:44 – “Ladies and gentleman, please welcome the always fantastic, Jessica Alba!” Clever pun on move title notwithstanding, that’s one weak intro.

9:49 – Ethan Coen: “We, ahhhh… [four second pause] … thanks very much.” Those silly Coen Brothers!

10:05 – That Seth Rogan and Jonah Hill are presenting is kind of mind-boggling awesome.

10:12 – UPSET!!! Damn. I was 10 for 13 until Marion Cotillard went and screwed it up.

10:15 – Bertolli uses The Oscars to launch its user-generated “Bertolli Nights In” (“Have you ever dreampt of seeing your life on the big screen? Send us you a video with your ingredients for a romantic night in, and of course include Bertolli frozen dinners. Your story could be coming soon to a theater near you!”) ad campaign whose kicker is a beastiality joke. Nice. At what point will the world’s audiences rebel and say, “Yunno what? We want YOU to make TV, commercials and movies, not us!!!”

10:48 – Travolta’s hair is just SHOCKING. It looks like astroturf. “It’s my favorite category because” — and here I think he’s gonna’ say something about “Grease” or “Hairspray” — “a song can lift spirits, and move your heart.” Barf.

10:50 – Wow! “Once” wins! That’s, like, the only cool thing that’s ever happened at the Oscars! After all those awful, saccharine Disney songs, a genuinely beautiful and modest song wins something. “Make art!” Indeed.

10:52 – Spielberg characterizes the feeling of winning an Oscar as “Male menopause.” Genius.

10:56 – My boss just walked into my office. “Congratulations. The Oscars.” Now all I need is the Harp at O’Lunney’s to make it official.

10:57 – Wow AGAIN!!! When do they EVER bring someone out to take a second crack at their acceptance speech!?! The feel-good story of the year, for sure.

11:02 – The Dead Pool. Which deceased star drove the most applause? Shamelessly, producers left Heath Ledger for last. So when applause in the Kodak Theater crescendoed, it was difficult to tell if it was for Heath, or collective relief that that awkward, painful segment was over.

11:15 – How hilarious will it be when the producer’s (again, shameless) Iraq soldier-hosted segment awards a Documentary Oscar to “No End In Sight”?

11:16 – Or when Tom Hanks awards it to “Taxi To The Dark Side” immediately after the producer’s (still shameless) Iraq soldier-hosted segment.

11:19 – The results are in for Dove Supreme Cream Oil Body Wash Ad Contest! Congratulations Celeste of Omaha, Nebraska!!! Wow. Inspiring.

11:23 – Harrison Ford and Tom Brokaw ought to have a voice off.

11:25 – Diablo Cody: Check! Oscar pool update: 14 of 22.

11:41 – Every time they show that clip of James Cameron yelling, “I’m the king of the world!” I think, ‘What a douche bag.’ I imagine I’m not alone in that thought.

11:42 – Can you tell that the TV over my shoulder gets really crappy reception? Or that I’m wearing a tux (jacket anyway)?

11:44 – The Coen Brothers’ first home movie was “Henry Kissinger: Man On The Go”? Really?

11:47 – I’m sure he’s a lovely guy, but Scott Rudin’s Best Picture acceptance speech leads me to believe otherwise. Kinda’ lame.

11:48: Final Oscar pool tally? I call 17 of 25 categories. Oddly enough, I blow both documentary categories. Oh well. Not bad.

11:50 – The credits roll! Another two hours of work, and I can go home… or to O’Lunney’s. One or the other.

12:04 – The results are in… I WIN THE MTV NEWS OSCAR POOL!

12:05 – I email my acceptance speech: “I’d like to thank my wife, Abbigail, without whom this would just be hardware.”

G’night! Drive safe!

Prescience

February 23rd, 2008

February 23 I’m not sure which was the most prescient harbinger: Pedro’s trio of sixes (diamonds, clubs, spades), or my beer pong glove.

The new plan hatched somewhere between miles three and four of the NYRR Al Gordon Snowflake 4-Miler.

With just thirty-six hours off from work, the original idea — taking in one of the three Best Picture nominees we haven’t seen — is losing traction.

“Let’s skip the movie and do the margarita/guacamole thing.”

Fast forward twelve hours. We’ve finished our second pitcher.

I’ve donned my beer pong glove. Pedro’s pulled his sixes. Pembry’s taken three rounds in a row. And Abbi’s fallen off her chair.

I wake up alone on the couch. The television is off. The living room is dark. An empty pint of Häagen-Dazs rests in my lap.

Looks like another Sunday morning punctuated by lime-flavored burps.

Oh well.

An Open Letter To The Residents Of Des Moines, Iowa

February 22nd, 2008

The Nadas Dear Jason, Stephanie, et all:

My trip to The Greatest City In The World is all set!

It’s a quick hit, but if last years trip was any indication, thirty-one hours in “The Hartford of the West” should be about all my liver can take. That is, assuming that whole “In like a lion, out like a lamb” thing doesn’t waylay me in Minneapolis.

Besides, you know I wouldn’t miss The Nadas CD Release for all the rye in Templeton. I mean, Mandy will be there, right? And Josh? And Jon will do his whole, big bass solo thing, right?

Here are the details:

Saturday, March 8
Northwest Airlines #658
Depart: EWR Sat. March. 8 6:00 AM
Arrive: DSM Sat. March. 8 9:45 AM

Sunday, March 9
Northwest Airlines #3760
Depart: DSM Sun. March. 9 4:55 PM
Arrive: EWR Sun. March. 9 11:00 PM

Sadly, Mrs. Wagner will be home in NYC with her mother, though she promises to listen to “The Ghosts Inside These Halls” the entire weekend.

As for me, I hope young Mitchell is ready to PAR-TAY!

:), Benjamin

Oscar Awesomeness

February 21st, 2008

Josh My day job includes oversight of MTV.com Movies (hence last month’s sojourn to the Sundance Film Festival).

Our movies coverage was an outgrowth of our news.

Chris Connelly’s “The Big Picture” had long since established MTV News’ presence in the movies space on television in the late ’90s, as MTVNews.com was hitting a stride in strict music coverage, it lacked representation online. During that time, my colleague, Robert Mancini, and I were spending out brief lunchtime trolling the Internet for trailers. At some point, we turned to our boss and said, “We should start doing movie news.”

It grew from there.

The site’s been relaunched numerous times since its first incarnation in 2000 (or so). We premiered the wildly-successful MTV Movies Blog last spring, and are soon to launch a brand-new version. We cover all the big events, from Sundance to ComicCon to the Golden Globes. Until Sunday, though, we’d never been the Oscars.

A few months ago, I asked an esteemed colleague what he thought the odds were that the Academy would welcome us.

“It’s been years since we’ve been there on air,” he said. “And these days, you have to broadcast live from the carpet.”

“What if we were live on the Internet?” I asked.

“I’ll ask ’em.”

There’s more to the story, including Integrated Marketing pitches, and some real hustle on a whole bunch of people’s parts. In short, the Academy said yes. And we’re going to be live on MTV.com Sunday night from 7-8pm, then on-demand thereafter.

We’ve done a ton of stuff this week in an effort to create some excitement on behalf of our coverage. The following video, though, takes the cake. Enjoy. And see you Sunday night!

Hide & Seek: A Consideration Of REM & U2

February 20th, 2008

Michael Stipe & Bono In the fall of 1987, two scrappy rock bands stood poised for world domination.

REM’s fifth release, “Document,” catapulted the band from college rock staples to mainstream mainstays. The band’s Top 10 hit, “The One I Love,” cracked the top ten. The album went platinum, paving the way for a five-album, $80M Warner Bros. deal.

U2’s fifth studio album, “The Joshua Tree,” was a cultural phenomena. Its two number one singles (“With or Without Your” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”) drove over 10 million sales, securing the band the cover of Time Magazine and, later, two Grammy Awards.

I was a sophomore in high school that year. Music was everything. Both cassettes were in heavy auto-reverse rotation on the tape deck of my ’79 Volkswagen Rabbit. And both informed my sense of what constitutes a pop song: meaningful, propulsive, compulsive, and hook-filled.

Moreover, though, I wanted to be both singers: Bono, and Michael Stipe.

Twenty years later, U2 has made good on the promise of its youth. From the genre-busting Achtung Baby to the of-the-moment All That You Can’t Leave Behind, the band has continued to shatter expectations, break records, and remain one of the world’s best, most-massive rock bands.

REM, though, has faltered. Its drummer, Bill Berry, departed the band in 1997, leaving the the remaining trio apparently aimless. All of of the band’s subsequent releases — Up, Reveal, and Around The Sun — left critics and fans alike alienated.

While membership is certainly a factor, the key, I think, to the discrepancy between the degree of each band’s success comes down to a childhood game: hike and seek.

Both bands are preparing 2008 releases. REM leads with its April 1 release, Accelerate. U2 is reported to follow in October with an as-of-yet untitled CD. REM’s new single, “Supernatural Superserious” hit iTunes last week.

“Everybody here,” Michael sings, “Comes from somewhere that they would just as soon forget or disguise.”

The lyric is Michael Stipe in a nutshell: exhibition is shamed, mainstream is shunned, and the place from which we derive is best left behind. Here he is skinny dipping in the dark in “Nightswimming.” Here is clad in cloaked ambition (“No one can see you try”) in “Imitation Of Life.” Here he is withholding (“I will hold all my breath until these shiver subside”) in “Try Not To Breathe.” Here he is “Leaving New York” (“It’s easier to leave than to be left behind”). Literally and figuratively, he is hidden behind obscure, oblique, indecipherable lyrics.

Bono, in contrast, cannot aspire, endeavor or be clear enough. High (“Vertigo”) or low (“The Playboy Mansion”), his heart is on his sleeve, his cards are on the table. He’s “Lookin’ for the baby Jesus under the trash.” He understands prostration, that, “If you wanna’ kiss the sky you’d better learn how to kneel.” He seeks light (“Ultraviolet (Light My Way)”), love (“Do You Feel Loved”), and levity (“The Sweetest Thing”).

Consider, even, one’s associations with each band’s moniker. REM: dreams, depths, the unconscious. U2: insight, altitude, inclusiveness.

And consider their respective heroes. REM: Patti Smith, The Velvet Underground, and Television. And U2: The Beatles, The Who, and The Clash.

It’s not just lyrics, names, and heroes, its ethos. It’s Michael’s near-closeted homosexuality versus Bono’s unabashed Catholicism. It’s the Reconstructed South versus a Unified Ireland.

It’s persecution (“Call me leper king”) versus absolution (“packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been/A place that has to be believed to be seen”), a transient adolescence (Michale was an “army brat”) versus a well-rooted youth. It’s “Maybe we shouldn’t” versus “Yes we can.” It’s a come-from, a world view, a raison d’être.

It took me until last week — running down Ninth Avenue with my iPod at full tilt — to begin to get at something that’s been in front of my eyes (or, blaring in my ears) for twenty years. Hide? Or seek? Obscurity? Or clarity? Closed? Or open? Maybe? Or yes?

I love both bands, and always will; they’re the soundtrack to my life. As such, I will probably always buy their records, and see their shows. Moreover, I value gray area they collective provide: the intersection of dark and light, unconscious and conscious, dreams and reality.

But it occurs to me that one can die only one of two ways. So what’s it going to be? Hide? Or seek?