Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I have never known a video game system which has received as much love from gamers as the Sega Dreamcast. While many gamers like a system, or like many of the games on that system, or adopt it likes a sports team to become "fanboys" and cheer on their Xbox or Playstations, the Dreamcast is beloved almost as a pet. When they die, I have had friends bury them.

There are several reasons for this. Part of it is that the Dreamcast had a far larger number of classic games than it should have. Part of it is that those games were fun and interesting, and that got transferred to the system to some extent. Part of that is the system's design, which allowed for four controllers instead of two, making party games easier. The graphics card also seemed to be made for bright colors and enthusiastic animation, leading to a fun, cartoony style (a style duplicated to some extend by the Gamecube and Wii.) The system also had its somewhat charming flaws, most notably, it sounded like a small weedwacker when it was spinning CDs. Perhaps most importantly, it was an underdog from the beginning, and within a year, it was clear that it was going to fail financially. That, combined with the quality of the games themselves, made the system something of a cause celebré.

As time has gone by, it's also become lost. The Dreamcast itself was a finicky machine, and wore down fairly regularly. Its games didn't sell enough to be found in used stores for more than a few years afterwards. I'm one of those Dreamcast-lovers, but I haven't played one in five years, or owned one in seven. Many of the games have been ported to other system (like Space Channel 5 to PS2 or Ikaruga and Skies of Arcadia to Gamecube), or have surpassing sequels (like Soul Calibur 2). But some remained unplayable.

It was one of the happiest days in my recent life when I found NullDC. It's a Dreamcast emulator for PC. It works. It works well. Damn well. The interface is a bit clunky, and it doesn't have gamepad support (though 3rd party applications can add that) but...I don't have a Wii. But I have Samba de Amigo again. Actually, I have Samba de Amigo 2000, the Japanese sequel which was never released in the US. And just seeing Jet Grind Radio made me giggle happily, although it'll require more configuration to be playable.

But more than that, just seeing that Dreamcast logo and hearing the sound makes me gleeful. It'll make you happy too, if you have the Dreamcast love.

Monday, May 11, 2009


I have, in the past, been accused of being a Beatles-hater. This is somewhat unfair. I like the Beatles, I own most of their albums. Only one other band has more MP3s on my computer. Etc. The reason I get the accusation is that I don't go in for the Beatles-worship which seems to be almost mandatory. My pushback against this hagiography reached its high point with the release of Across The Universe, a film I had no interest in seeing.

"Look," I'll say, "The Beatles were a good band. They were a very good band. They had perhaps the longest run of consistently good new music in pop music history. But they're not the Only Band 'Gainst Whom All Others Must Be Judged (and Found Wanting)." To a certain extend, the music of the '60's has become, to music fans but not experts, a history of The Beatles, with The Rolling Stones and maybe Bob Dylan or Hendrix tossed in for good measure. Even groups like The Kinks, who actually had a similar musical trajectory as The Beatles, with poppy dance hits turning into increasingly bizarre but occasionally wonderful concept albums, appear dwarfed by the Fab Four. The Velvet Underground are held up as the counter to the mainstream groups like the Beatles. A group like The Zombies is still somewhat popular, and to be honest, I'd take their two best and most famous songs, "She's Not There" and "Time of the Season" against any two Beatles songs.

But bringing up The Kinks and The Zombies isn't exactly daring in saying that there was other, non-Beatles-based rock'n'roll in the 1960's. Which is where the Nuggets collections come in. The original Nuggets LP was released in the 1970's as a reissued collection of buried treasures from psychedelic and garage rock in the 1960's. It became a big influence on punk rock, if for no other reason than Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye helped put it together. In recent years, Elektra records reissued the original LP with three other full-length discs of American psychedelia. They followed that up with a British and foreign box set, Nuggets II, and more recent psychedelic songs, in Children of Nuggets.

I recently went through my music collection, trimming some places and filling in gaps. I added the Nuggets songs to my collection, to my almost universal enjoyment. It also gives me 60's-style rock music that's not the canonical Beatles and Stones, and in some cases, may almost be better.

Here's one from the original LP, The Knickerbockers' "Lies," which could almost pass a lost Beatles track.

(I have no idea if these embeds will transfer from the blog to Facebook. Only one way to find out!)

Here's another Nuggets I piece of British Invasion pop, The Remains' "Why Do I Cry"

Another notable thing about the bands in the collection is that they have the best band names. I guess it's from before they all got taken. The Primitives, The Smoke, The Sonics, or this one, The Poets, a Scottish group.

The Nuggets II collection from "the British Empire and beyond" has a different feel, which I somewhat prefer. The music seems deeper, darker, and a little more stripped-down. The Wimple Winch's "Save My Soul" is decidedly not a Beatles song.

The Children of Nuggets collection is a bit more hit-and-miss. Some of it sounds simply like old songs with more modern instrumentation, a combination which doesn't always work. One of the places where it works best, however, is in the odd XTC side project, The Dukes of Stratosphear. The Dukes are occasionally called a psychadelic rock parody, but that seems unfair. This is an homage. Maybe a winking one, but an homage nonetheless. (song should be playable on the right of this link)

The place where the Nuggets collection really fit into my own collection became clear when I heard the Them track from Nuggets II, "I Can Only Give You Everything." Them became famous primarily for introducing singer Van Morrison (of "Wild Nights," "Gloria," and "Brown Eyed Girl" fame) to the world, but the song became something of a punk anthem, covered by Richard Hell on his second album. As I mentioned in the "15 albums" meme, Richard Hell was one of my gateways into being a music fan, but my parents were also Van Morrison fans, so deep in my nonconscious mind, there are several Van Morrison tracks. This song brings it all together - proto-punk meets British invasion, Beatles meet Stones, pop meets rock.