Band: Squirrel Nut Zippers
Album: Hot
Best song: “Hell.” Obviously.
Worst song: “Blue Angel” isn’t very good.

It’s an old parlor game, the “if” questions. Indeed, I have three books from a series that ask a series of those questions. A popular one, of course, is something like “If you could be born during any time of history, when would you be born?” I was recently having a conversation about the time of my birth and how glad I am that I was, indeed, born in the winter of 1981. I don’t think I’d want to have been born during another time.

Like all children of boomers, I spent part of my teenage years fetishizing the 1960s and 1970s. A lot of that is the media I consumed; not just the Forrest Gump/boomer circle jerk stuff, but also the primary sources from that era. George Carlin, the Who, early Scorcese and Coppola, etc. These things mattered and created pieces of art that are nearly unparalleled.

“Nearly” being the operative word here.

I’m certain it was a truly exciting time to be a human, but I wouldn’t want to live any time other than now. Our world is truly being turned upside down, both culturally and economically. We’re living in a world of haves and have-nots, all while we watch the expansion of technology never seen before. The old adage that Abraham Lincoln would more easily relate to Jesus than to a modern person is not a myth or exaggeration. Lincoln lived in a world with slavery, yes, but he also lived in a world with horses as a major way of transport, paved roads as a luxury, the telephone years away and, of course, computers decades from being invented. Shit. Airplanes didn’t exist in Lincoln’s day. Now we can tweet from airplanes.

This is all without the notion that American popular culture is far more vast than it was then. While there may not be a peak-level Scorcese or Fellini or Coppola working, Spielberg is still putting out great movies and recent filmmakers are on a similar leve, with the Cohen Bros., Paul Thomas Anderson, Darren Aronofsky and Wes Anderson all making near-perfect pieces of film. Dramatic television — as decidedly progressive a medium as there is — has produced four of its best series in the last decade in Mad Men, The Wire, The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, without even mentioning the wonderful genre fiction that is Game of Thrones. TV comedy is at a peak with 30 Rock and Community comparing favorably to Cheers, Seinfeld and vintage Simpsons. Music is more personal and hard to parse, but Kanye West leads the hip hop charge, while bands like Mastodon, Arcade Fire, Radiohead and Bon Iver can all fight for the title of “best recent band.”

The point is that there is no time like the present.

In the same conversation, my companion and I talked a bit about VH1. It’s neither here nor there (read: I swear this is not a humblebrag), but I don’t watch VH1; I watched it when my family first got cable and all VH1 showed was stand up comedy and Eric Clapton videos. This moved into the Pop Up Video era, which then went into the nostalgia era. I stopped watching in the nostalgia era, as the I Love the [insert decade here] got a little grating. Nevertheless, I did watch a lot of that.

Which brings me to the Squirrel Nuts Zippers. Man, remember when everyone thought swing dancing was a thing? SNZ weren’t exactly a swing group, as they played a dixie kind of jazz, albeit in a pretty excellent way. No, they weren’t whatever turd thing Brian Setzer was doing. Rather, Hot is mostly soft and understated, with songs like “Put a Lid on It” nearly falling into barbershop quartet territory.

“Hell” is the most raucous of the record’s songs and it’s a pretty excellent song. The video is not without value, of course, as the goofy band’s special effects stuff takes the band’s unironic nostalgia to its logical end.

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

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