Prof. Jughead schools us on some of rock’s best albums

John Pierson’s ‘Jughead’s Basement’ podcast is one not to miss (and Nerdette rules, too)

August 15, 2013

As the co-founder and longtime guitarist in Screeching Weasel (1986-2004), those hugely influential pop-punk progenitors from the Chicago suburbs, John “Jughead” Pierson played a big role on at least two of what I’d consider all-time desert-island classic records: Boogadaboogadaboogada! (1988) and My Brain Hurts (1991).

But above and beyond that claim to fame, and in addition to the many other hats he’s worn (driving force in the acoustic band Even in Blackouts; playwright; novelist; key member of the Neo-Futurists theater troupe), Pierson always has been a fan—someone who discovered punk rock via Alex Cox’s 1984 film Repo Man, and who’s always been able to articulate exactly what he loves about the bounty of great music that he’s been celebrating ever since.

From this devotion was born Jughead’s Basement, a monthly podcast of in-depth, track-by-track examinations of timeless albums via contributions from the host and other critics/fans as well as interviews with the musicians themselves. Among the discs tackled so far: The Repo Man Soundtrack and My Brain Hurts (no surprises there) as well as Double Nickels on the Dime by the Minutemen, Energy by Operation Ivy, Rain Dogs by Tom Waits, The Good Earth by the Feelies, and Throb Throb by Naked Raygun.

In the interest of disclosure, I should note that Pierson is an old friend—though I don’t think he’s ever totally forgiven me for shorting his role in the band when I wrote about Screeching Weasel for SPIN in 2001—and I contributed to the last two episodes on that list (masterpieces both!). But I’ve listened to every episode he’s taped, and I for one am hooked.

“I thought of the idea when my basement flooded and I lost a couple hundred of my vinyl records,” Pierson says of the birth of this latest labor of love. “While I was sifting through them I realized all the music that had influenced me directly. I wanted to share my enthusiasm with fans of my own band. Then I wanted other writers that I respect to write about these bands too, plus I wanted to get the bands themselves involved.

“It was important to me to interview every member of the band separately, instead of just the figurehead of the band, to get a more complete picture of the bands story revolving around a particular record,” Pierson adds (and that’s a particularly revealing comment, given the way his old band mate Ben Weasel always hogged the spotlight). “What I love about it is that that feeling I used to get walking on a stage for theater or for a music concert of butterflies in the stomach is magnified even more talking to individuals who were my heroes, whether I knew them socially or not.

“That nervous feeling is like a drug that keeps you on your toes and hyper-aware. It also is great on the other side to just basically get to know these musicians and ask them questions that only another musician might ask.”

If you already love any of the albums listed above, you’ll love the way Jughead’s Basement brings them to life anew. And if you don’t know them, while, then you really need to hear these podcasts!

And while I’m plugging podcasts, another must-hear is Nerdette, “a safe space for nerding out about all the things you're watching, reading, listening to, and encountering” co-hosted by my editor at WBEZ, Tricia Bobeda, and our former WBEZ colleague Greta Johnsen, now based in Ashville, North Carolina.

One week, these proudly self-professed nerds are chatting Breaking Bad or Doctor Who, the next they’re pondering why “feminism isn’t annoying” or Star Trek, always tapping into fascinating guests who share passions you might not expect them to have. (More disclosure: I just taped an episode for this, too, diving deep into my love of sculpting and painting military miniatures, coming soon to a download near you.)

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