One year ago today, I walked out of my job -- and my career as I knew it. I've already written on the topic before, so I won't rehash any of that. But suffice it to say that one year later, it has proven to be one of the pivotal decisions of my adult life. You learn a lot from walking away from any long term relationship and going it alone. And here is what I've learned: Money isn't everything. However, having a budget is critical. And if you wait until you're already poor to set a budget, you're going to spend a lot of time angry at your former self, who used to waste so much cash.
a back splash is one of the easiest home improvement projects out
there. You will still fuck it up, get discouraged, and leave it halfway
If you don't take a shower and get dressed within the first 90 minutes you're awake, you probably won't get much done at all. Put some pants on and face the day. The clients don't come to you. Learn to cook. Most of it isn't actually that hard. And your buddies will treat you very differently after they taste your oven roasted buffalo wings. I promise.
Also: make your own salsa. $4.00 16 oz jars are for suckers. SUCKERS. Even if you can watch porn all day long, you really shouldn't. You will see things you wish you hadn't seen, and it will raise very troubling questions about who we are as human beings.
If you have extra cash lying around, pre-pay your rent or mortgage. This could some day be the difference between being poor and being broke. Washington, D.C. has some first rate public pools. If you want to find out what kind of shape you're in, swim laps in an Olympic sized pool for an hour.
If you swim laps in an Olympic sized pool for an hour, three times a week, you will lose that beer weight.
If you stop drinking every day, you will lose that beer weight.
If you eat nothing but almonds all day, you will lose that beer weight.
you swim, eat nothing but almonds all day, and cut back on your
drinking for a couple of months, you will get drunker than an intern the
first time you meet your alcoholic former coworkers for happy hour.
You'll black out on the way home, you'll throw up, and you'll feel
awful for months about everything you put your wife through that
night. Be a
professional and eat a proper lunch.
Freelancers get paid last.
Read books every day. Fiction, non-fiction, trashy rock and roll biographies....it doesn't matter. It'll make you smarter.
Christmas without money sucks. Especially if your brothers make an unannounced decision that this will be the year they're going to resume gift-giving after a several-year break. You'll feel like a shitty brother, a shittier uncle and kind of a loser. It turns out that LinkedIn is actually an incredibly valuable tool. Not sure when that changed. Take skin cancer seriously. But don't be afraid to get a little sun. People will notice and comment on how much better you look. If you drink seven cups of coffee each morning, you're basically just drinking to maintain. We call this "chasing the black dragon."
pot at 10:00 on a Tuesday morning sounds like a fun idea. But in
reality, at some point it will penetrate the fog in your mind that every
single person you know is working, being productive, and contributing
to society at that moment, and you will freak out. But at least you'll never do it again.
Getting a massage or a pedicure at 10:00 on a Tuesday morning, on the other hand, will make you feel like a king. You will silently mock your friends who are working, being productive and contributing to society at that moment. (Too bad you can't really afford it).
You know that chronically unemployed/underemployed friend you have? Watch him closely. Make damned sure you don't turn into him. If he calls you in the middle of the day, don't answer the phone. Call him back later and explain to him that you were working. This is important.
Don't be afriad to take a job or two that might be "beneath" you. Chances are, you have some extra time, and you've gotten a little lax on your fundamentals.
If you have a day off, go to a museum you've never been to. Just try it.
Selling your porn on eBay feels a little weird.
If you have a chance to do something ridiculous and spontaneous, do it. That night your band drove up to NYC on a few hours notice to play an unpaid show in front of four people will stand out as a very happy memory of a unique moment in time. As the four of you huddle over 1:00 AM burritos at the all-night place off St. Mark's, you will be exceptionally glad that you left your job.
Do a pro bono job at some point. Even if you really need some money. You'll find out real fast if you love what you do.
If you have all day to sit around and look at your junk, sooner or later you're going to convince yourself that something is wrong with it. You'll make an appointment and your doctor will tell you everything is ok...but she probably won't ever look at you the same again.
Make friends with other freelancers. This may just save your ass.
Tattoo removal doesn't hurt as much as everyone says it does. But it is expensive, and it takes months.
Learn about taxes. Things change when you work for yourself.
Don't play XBOX during working hours. Ever.
Make time to see your friends. They're going to try and buy you drinks and dinner and it'll make you feel weird. Just accept the offer, and return the favor when you're in the position to do so.
Don't be a slob. If you're home all day, you should be able to get at least some house keeping done. Remember: money isn't everything.
Self-dubbed as "America's Biggest Metal Party of the Year," Maryland Deathfest is an 11-year tradition on which I'd somehow always missed out. Despite its taking place a mere 45 miles from my home, I just never got around to it. At first, I merely flirted with the idea of attending this year. Then I saw the line-up: Bolt Thrower The Obsessed Pentagram Pig Destroyer Carcass The Melvins ...and about 50 other bands I was either vaguely familiar with, or not at all. With the exception of Pig Destroyer, I'd never seen any of these bands. This would have to be my year. Unfortunately, my monetary situation was going to force some difficult decisions: even with a three-day pass coming in at a tidy $160 (far, far less, by the way, than the cheapest Rolling Stones tickets I could find....fuck you, Keith), I was going to have to settle for a one-day $60 ticket.
And to complicate matters, the festival line-up had most of the bands I wanted to see spread across each of the three days. Bolt Thrower would perform on Thursday night. Pig Destroyer and Carcass would perform on Friday. The Obsessed and the Melvins had Saturday. And Germantown, MD's beloved Bobby Liebling would perform with Pentagram on Sunday. I was not going to see everyone I wanted to see. And so, after performing some comparative analysis, I put my money down for Saturday. I'd catch local celebrity, Scott Weinrich, perform with the Obsessed. I'd see the Melvins for the very first time. (Aside, of course, from that one time I intruded on Buzz Osborne in a bathroom on a fearfully drunken evening in Seattle). And I'd keep an open mind about seeing Down...less to see Phil Anselmo and more to finally see Pepper Keenan. And, so, at around 2:00 on Saturday, I departed for Baltimore. The day went a little something like this: 2:50 PM: I arrive in Baltimore, and make the questionable decision to park in Fells Point, treat myself to lunch there, and then walk roughly a mile to the festival site. Because I'm cheap and didn't want to pay for parking. 3:00 PM: I decide to grab a beer and a bite at the Heavy Seas Alehouse. The house-smoked pastrami sandwich, coupled with a Powder Monkey Pale Ale are wonderful, and the siren song of the bartenders dark eyes and enormous bosoms tempt me to enjoy another round. Summoning all of my will power in the name of metal, I push away from the bar and begin my festival crusade. Sort of. 3:45 - 4:15 PM: I'm in zoned parking, and I have a strong suspicion I'm going to get ticketed, so I spend nearly half an hour looking for a new space. I continue to cling to the idea of parking in Fells Point -- which is actually even stupider than it sounds. (I thought I might grab a late night hot dog at Stuggy's on my way home...as though I couldn't have just driven to the fucking place at the end of the night). Meanwhile, even the "safe" streets I park on don't inspire a lot of confidence. 4:45 PM: I complete my dumbass walk down East Baltimore Street and arrive. Despite the festival being well underway by this time, the line to enter is otherworldly. As it turns out, some impromptu rule had been set on this day, banning all clothing featuring studs and spikes. The line I was witnessing was for re-entry after everyone went back to dump their jackets in the car. Total mess. (Personally, I marched right in after an aggressive pat down at the will call desk). 4:50 PM: I take in a bit of the end of Weedeater's set, but I'm too overwhelmed by everything to stand still. I make a round through the merch vendors, and I'm reminded once again just how deep the metal community runs, and how much of an outsider I really am to it. So much merch. So many bands. 5:00 PM: As the crowd disperses following Weedeater's set, I see a familiar face in the crowd. It's my guitar player's ex. I haven't seen her in nearly ten years, and for good reason, given the nature of their breakup. Despite the massive amount of negative PR surrounding this individual, I call out to her. She doesn't recognize me (because I've gotten old as fuck). I reintroduce myself and we have a long conversation about the old days and gossiping about old friends. A friend of hers' shows up, and I use this as my opportunity to make my exit. I wonder around feeling deeply conflicted over the fact that I'm not supposed to like this person, but also relieved that we had a pleasant adult conversation.
5:45 PM: The Obsessed takes the stage. The Maryland crowd gives a fantastic reception to Weinrich, but I'm finding myself compulsively staring into the alley next to the stage, which serves as a make-shift backstage/VIP area. This is where I first see Buzz Osborne during the day, and I find myself instantly very starstruck.
Betcha didn't know I'm an awesome photographer. I call this one "Where's Buzzo?"
5:46 PM: I begin to inhale a constant stream of second hand marijuana smoke. Unfortunately, I'm past the point of the fabled "contact high," so I pretty much just enjoy it for its earthy aroma, and the pleasure of watching security make a true team effort to look the other way as much as possible.
6:12 PM: Local metal legend, the Chicken Man, is spotted in the pit. Curious observation: the Caucasian security guys think this is a hoot (so to speak). The African American security guards aren't the least bit impressed...or amused. 6:20 PM: The only three guys in Baltimore taller than I position themselves directly in front of me. The sun is blaring down from just above the stage, blinding everyone trying to take in the show. I give up....it's time for water in the shade.
Nice head, dude. Apparently Washington Wizard, Jan Veseley likes doom metal.
6:42 PM: A girl certainly young enough to be my daughter corners me to comment on my Samhain shirt and talk at length about her love for Glenn Danzig. Her date looks on uncomfortably from a distance as she pulls up her sleeve to show me her tattoo of the Unholy Passion banshee. "She's my spirit animal," she tells me. "Only without the 80's bush."
I excuse myself to see the end of the Obsessed's set.
6:50 PM: I go around the corner to watch the beginning of Broken Hope's set. Highly interesting until the vocals kick in. Then it just becomes ridiculous. (Sorry). African American security guards continue to be all business. Baltimore City cops, on the other hand, are taking pictures of the freaks with their iPhones, and leering at the chicks. I feel safe....
7:11 PM: Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest tattoo. Ever.
"To be the man, you gotta beat the man."
7:35 PM: Grab a beer and get in place during sound check for the Melvins. It becomes clear that this is going to hurt.
7:45 PM: The Melvins slay the fuck out of everything in their path for more than an hour. No one is chatting in the "VIP alley." They're all perched on the fence and the windowsills to get a better view. At this moment, the festival reaches an entirely different level. A solid 20-25 people - film crews, road crews, wives and girlfriends, buddies, other musician -- are jamming themselves on the side and the rear of the stage to watch up close. It is absolutely incredible. I wish I could write more about this....
Scorched. Earth. Melvins.
8:35 PM: The Melvins break. The entire crowd -- all of them -- make a break for the bathrooms at the same time. Apparently, I'm not the only one who was afraid to move for the past hour. The floor of the Sonar is covered with a thin grey film that flows forth from the men's room.
It is best not to discuss this any further. 8:40 PM: I head to stage two to check out Ihshan. Oh, hell no. 8:42 PM: I head to stage three to check out Revenge. Also, hell no. Kill time looking at merch and having a beer.
9:30 PM: My back hurts. My knees hurt. My ears hurt. I kind of want to go home, but feel obliged to stick it out for Down. To kill some time, I order an Italian sausage from a vendor. At the first bite, it is very clear that it isn't thoroughly cooked. I stare at the sausage in the dark. I'm hungry, but I know that not only is this a high risk manuaver, but also that it kills my dream of hitting up Stuggy's at the end of the night....I eat the damned thing anyway, all the while knowing that (1) I cannot possibly poop in the Sonar men's room; and (2) it is a mile walk back to my car; and (3) it is a 45-mile drive back to D.C. I've got to hope that everything in my GI tract stays where it should for the next two hours. 9:50 PM: Here comes Down. I give them three songs and two speeches by Phil Anselmo. And I'm fucking done. Anselmo is a hero to many and he carries the flag for metal. But he's an idiot. 10:35 PM: I begin a long walk back to my car. These streets didn't look so great when I came down during the day, but they're positively frightening at night. I start planning for what I should do if the car is (a) stolen, or (b) broken into when I reach it. Thankfully, the car is as it should be and I hop in. I allow myself the pleasure of sneaking out a fart and immediately realize that I'm very much on borrowed time. 10:36 PM: I begin the drive home. Windows are down. Ears are ringing. Have to say: I'm very happy.
Good grief. Has it really been almost two years since I've done a ticket post? To think this was supposed to be the basis of this blog...
++++++ Among the silliest cliches that music enthusiasts routinely drag out is the belief that one band or another "should have been bigger." The irony of this statement is that more often than not, the artist in question has - for all intents and purposes - made it big already. Maybe they didn't make it to superstar status. But by the time that band's music reached your ears, they'd likely been signed to a decent major or independent label. They'd probably toured and amassed a litany of road stories. At one point or another they'd met, hung out with, or shared a stage with someone impressive. They'd definitely been interviewed, seen themselves on TV, and heard themselves on the radio. And at least one -- if not all -- of them at some point got laid when they didn't necessarily deserve to. Still, even with all of that behind them, sometimes you feel like a certain band deserved to do a bit better. For me, that band is Catherine Wheel. If you recall, the late 90's were awash in a heck of a lot of terrible "indie" music. The genre had its champions, for sure. But for every Beck or Weezer or Breeders, you'd have to sort through ten or more Tonics or Better Than Ezras or Crackers...bands that all wrote catchy enough songs (I guess), but would have likely been interchangeably made into hair metal bands ten years earlier, grunge bands five years earlier, or garage bands five years later. Amongst all of that underwhelming radio rock, its easy to forget the 90's bands that sacrificed a little more airplay for the benefit of more artistic approach to things. Pavement (rightfully) is the poster child for this community, but I could make a case for Catherine Wheel being right there with them. Catherine Wheel wasn't particularly avant garde. Quite the opposite: they were a straight-ahead, melodic rock band. But they also had an uncommon literary streak; their lyrics tended to be deeply introspective and intellectual, often melancholy, but never bound by the nerdiness or self-pity that so often defines bands working towards being "smart" or "sensitive". That ability alone makes them stand out among their peers. I suspect that it was their frequent return to themes of passion, romance and yearning that kept Catherine Wheel relatable. So often, the band's soaring choruses (enhanced by singer Rob Dickinson's fantastic pipes) were abstract. But they also were often instantly familiar to me in a way that didn't need a lot of explanation. Choruses to songs like "Heal" (It's how high you are/And the time it takes to heal"), or "Fripp" ("I need so much to sleep/You shine me on/Too much is not enough") were deeply evocative to me, without any need to be narrative. This is only half the story, however. Catherine Wheel also boasted a pretty excellent repertoire of straight-up pop songs. To this day I can't help myself but to grin when my iPhone randomly digs up "Delicious", "Satellite", or "Show Me Mary". And I respect the band so much for their ability to put the intellectual stuff on the shelf once in a while for the sake of supporting a great hook. There is always a flip side, however. And the flip side to Catherine Wheel is that their output could be dreadfully unsteady. A friend burned me a stack of their CD's one summer, and I vividly remember becoming less and less excited about the band as I delved deeper and deeper into their catalog. In fact, Catherine Wheel sometimes came across self-indulgent and a bit lost within themselves. Songs could meander. Hooks could get lost or just goabsent. Their videos even suggest that Dickinson might have had something of a rock star complex. And that's all a shame, because each and every one of their albums offers about three excellent tracks for every clunker. About this show..... I went to this concert by myself, which wasn't uncommon in those days. And what I recall most - for better or for worse -- was my shock in seeing that the concert was kind of a sausage-hang. I certainly don't want to give anyone the impression that I went to shows back then solely to pick up girls, but let's just say that given the fact that Rob Dickinson is not only a blood relative to heavy metal royalty, but is also, well, totally adorable, I expected there to be a LOT more women there. And there were not. I recall that the band played "Fripp"...and I recall this because "Fripp" has something of a legend behind it among the band's biggest fans. (I can't speak very much to what that legend is, but suffice it to say that several of their concerts were defined over the years by whether or not they played the track). I also remember that at or near the end of the set, the band played my favorite track at that moment in time: the afore-mentioned "Heal". During the quiet breakdown at the end of the song, I also recall that Dickinson turned away from the crowd and affixed a pulsating heart-shaped LED ornament on his chest. It was a cute effect -- honestly, a touching moment to which my words can't quite do justice, no matter how many times I attempt to rewrite that sentence. I leave you with a sampling of my favorite Catherine Wheel tracks. I intended to only use one, but got a little carried away as I remembered just how much I used to love this band. I hope you enjoy. Judy Staring at the Sun
By now it is quite old news that Jeff Hanneman passed away last week. And even though I knew at the time that I should have written something, I have to admit that I was challenged to do so. To get this out of the way, I've never really been a big Slayer fan. It's not that there's anything wrong with them, but they just didn't move me the way they seem to move every other metal fan.
For years, I gave it a try. It just didn't work. (This, and the goddamed hipster fascination with Slayer is just so irritating that I don't even want to like them anymore....which is a terrible reason to stop trying, but whatever). Then, this afternoon I came across Alex Skolnick's outstanding tribute to Hanneman on PremierGuitar.com. I happen to like Skolnick an awful lot. Even if I'm not a fan of his band, I think the guy is smart as hell, and his tribute proves as much.
In fact, Skolnick effectively addresses the fact that Hanneman's style was possibly one of the primary obstacles to my having an appetite for the band. And then he gives a brief analysis of why I may have been wrong all this time:
"...his frenzied, turbulent solos were also an important part of the
package. They weren’t about showing off. They served a greater artistic
purpose—to sonically channel the qualities of Slayer’s lyrical content.
They were sometimes abrasive, sometimes jarring, and at times
disturbing. They had less in common with typical rock-guitar virtuosos
than they did with the sonic collages of avant-garde improvisers such as
Derek Bailey and John Zorn, the latter of whom is a self-professed
Slayer fan who has cited the band as an inspiration."
This is probably the single greatest argument I've ever heard for reconsidering Slayer. And, so, that's what I'm going to do.
Rest in peace, Jeff Hanneman.
More good stuff below, courtesy of MetalInjection.com
Richie Havens died this morning. And he was the only goddamn hippie worth his salt. Period.
Sure, hippie culture has plenty of appeal. Everyone likes sex. Everyone likes pot. Everyone likes music and dancing and community. And, no, it wouldn't kill you to recycle.
Plus, let's just get this out of the way: if you've had even one eye open for the past ten years, you should immediately be able to grasp the fundamental value of pacifist politics, and the needlessly tragic consequences of that worldview having been turned into a mean-spirited punchline. On the other hand, as a kid who came of age during the apex of the military industrial complex, the AIDS epidemic, 80's excess and heavy metal radio, hippie culture seemed to have been utterly trampled by the time I was a teenager, conquered in so many ways by its antithesis. It didn't seem like there was much to respect about it.
But I made an exception for Richie Havens. Because no matter his politics or the topics about which he wrote, Havens simply didn't fit the mold of the hippie as far as I was concerned.
Havens wasn't in it for the free love, he wasn't in it for the grass, and he wasn't in it because he couldn't be bothered to get a job. Richie Havens paid his dues. He worked. He was a professional.
Havens wasn't a West Coaster. He was aBrooklynite who had spent years hanging out with beatnicks and folkies in Greenwich Village, long before hippie culture took hold. And everything about the way he approached his craft reflected that kind of ethic.
The man didn't sing the kind of ethereal melodies andharmonies with which hippie music is most often identified.Havens sang like a man. He roared. When he did a ballad, he may have toned it down, but his gravelly baritone was always world-weary and utterly masculine. None of that hippie shit.
That same quality extended to his guitar style, a hyper-percussive, hyper-aggressive strumming technique that always sounded like a vaguely Afro-Carrbean flamenco. And on top of that, his technique of barreing with his thumb continues to be one of the most outlandish things I've ever seen a guitar player do. No 12 bar blues jams. Play like a man, hippie.
Was he a leftie? He sure was. He sang war protest songs. He sang about saving the environment. He sang about civil rights. But he backed all of that up with a commitment to activism that many of his generation just couldn't sustain. In fact, he co-founded not one, but two non-profit organizations (including a children's museum) dedicated to educating children about the environment.
Richie Havens was authentic. He got his hands dirty.
And what better example could there be than his three-hour festival-opening set at Woodstock? When the majority of the peace-and-love bands couldn't figure out the logistics to show up on time (and the others were too shy to kick things off), Havens stepped up and did it on his own.
When MTV launched a corporate sponsored rape-fest to commemorate Woodstock 25 years later, Havens bowed out and did his own festival.
I thought the guy was awesome.
When I was in college, I had the opportunity to see the man perform. On a hot summer morning, he played a totally free, seven-song set on the Western concourse of Union Station in Washington, D.C. No more than about 30 people showed, yet every single person coming off the Metroliner took a very long stare at him as they walked past with their luggage and their attache cases, trying to place that voice.
I was in heaven. I could not possibly have been standing more than fifteen feet away, watching the guy who opened the Woodstock festival play "Here Comes the Sun," "Freedom" and a handful of other songs that don't immediately come to mind. Afterwards I got to briefly meet him and shake his hand, and I remember being in disbelief at how a person could look so young and so old at the same time. He was well-rested, well dressed and well coiffed, clearly in excellent health, but still with the deep lines around his eyes that betrayed a life on the road. It turns out that his appearance at Union Station was part of a five-city railroad station music tour he'd been doing....which only sounded strange until I'd learned that he had penned Amtrack's current jingle (There's Something About a Train That's Magic...which you might know by its other title, "All Aboard America").
It also turns out that this had turned into a tidy side-business for Havens in his middle age. He'd also recorded the Maxwell House jingle, as well as the absolutely elegant "Fabric of Our Lives" jingle for the cotton industry. Because a guy's got to pay the bills.
God damn it. I just cried listening to that. As I try to wrap this up, I'm a little stunned at how saddened I am about Havens' passing. I've been pulling up song after song after song on YouTube, and I have to admit that I'm completely broken up. Just terribly sad.
The thing is, I listened to Havens an awful lot in college....in between bursts of all sorts of jazz and metal and classic rock, I retreated to Havens constantly. And it was never those intense, percussive songs I mentioned earlier. It was always the ballads. The fact is, I was incredibly lonely in college. I wasn't necessarily sad all of the time; I had good friends and I had more than my share of insane fun.
But I felt chronically alone through those years, and the songs "Follow" and "The Dolphins"became a safe haven for me during that time.
Through the circular hippie-drip of "Follow", every single time I heard Havens sing the lyric, "As I walk on through the garden/I am hoping I don’t miss you" I felt tremendous empathy for every lost, squandered, neglected or aborted connection I'd made through those years -- often painfully aware that I was fumbling them in front of my eyes. Then I'd flip the tape and put on "The Dolphins" and obsess over the lyric, "Sometimes I wonder if you ever think of me." ...which is terribly embarrassing. But it speaks to the person I was at that time: a kid who was kind of lost and kind of sad and kind of destructive...and totally, completely longing for a human touch more than he could bear for anyone else to know about.
A great music documentary is a wonderful thing. Because if you love music enough, you almost can't help but to have some desire to better connect with the people who create it. Call it voyeurism, call it artistic curiosity, call it being a fanboy. In my case all of them are true. Ultimately, it boils down to an appreciation for the passion, sacrifice, ego and drama that is associated with all forms of creation. For years I have been an addict for music documentaries, and I thought it might be worth sharing a few of my favorites. This list is by no means comprehensive. Hell, I've forgotten more great music films than I can remember, and I have no doubt that within 20 minutes of hitting the "Publish" button, something obvious will come to mind. Nonetheless, have a look, and let me know what I've forgotten. (Note: metal version is to come). 24X5: The Continuing Adventures of the Rolling Stones The Stones have released a gold mine's worth of great documentaries in the past 10 years, but this one is my personal favorite. Despite being released around a relatively blah chapter of their musical career, the Stones are captured at a mature and reflective moment in time, seemingly grateful to have their legacy intact after years of infighting. Highlights include footage of both young and old Mick and Keith writing together, Charlie Watts conducting rare (and extensive) one-on-one interviews, and a massive amount of archival footage that had been unseen by even the biggest fans at the time of release. David Bowie: Cracked Actor Up front: there isn't much of a story arc here. And quite frankly, any insights into Bowie's art is completely obscured by the primary appeal of this film: the spectacular thrill of witnessing Bowie coked out of his fucking mind 24/7. As such, there is a vitally important cautionary tale to this film: although nothing particularly shocking takes place, it does provide proof positive that even the most brilliant individuals turn to total fucking idiots when they do cocaine. (Corollary: his vocal arrangements at this moment in time happened to be absolutely fantastic and completely inspired. Damn you, cocaine). The Pixies: Loud Quiet Loud The term "indie music" doesn't really mean what it used to (if the term even exists anymore), which is why its so important to recognize the infighting and drama the Pixies slogged through on their way to pioneering the genre. Shown through the eyes of an older, fatter, more mature band, this surprisingly subtle documentary finds all bandmates seemingly resigned to their legacy. To that end, this is less a story of overcoming dysfunction as much as it is a story of coping with it; in fact, there are no fights or arguments anywhere in this film, yet the tension is always present in the form of uncomfortable silences, deep sighs and rolled eyes. Stay tuned til the very last second to see Kim Deal soldier through a truly hysterical and cringe-worthy life-on-the-road moment.
End Of the Century: The Story of the Ramones Shot during the short years between the deaths of Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone, this film is heartbreakingly charming, funny, sweet and tragic. Seemingly unappreciative of their status as punk rock icons, the members of the Ramones face the ends of their lives nearly overwhelmed with a sense of own failure to be commercially successful. Moreover, each member of the band is up-front about the unfortunate state of the personal relationships between them, culminating in the revelation of one very closely-guarded (and incredibly sad) band secret.
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco Often slow and occassionaly downright boring, the story of how Yankee Hotel Foxtrot came to be is worth watching less for all of the creative angst and more as a proof point that record companies are staffed by complete idiots.
Standing in the Shadows of Motown Despite the well-intentioned (but clumsy) use of a live Funk Brother's concert performance as the unifying thread of the film, this documentary provides an essential reminder that Motown isan absolutely vital part of America's musical and cultural history.
Documenting that, of course, is the easy part. Stringing together a compelling film about the house band that made all of that music is a taller order.
Nonetheless, I promise you that there will not be a dry eye in the house as Bob Babbitt describes being smuggled out of Hitsville USA as race riots ignited Detroit.
DiG! Quite simply, this is my favorite music documentary of all time. And the vision behind it is absolutely mind-blowing.
Chronicling the early years of "rival" Pacific Northwest bands, the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, DiG! captures the triumphs and the miseries as one band breaks big and another simultaneously implodes.
Between the fist fights, the melt-downs, the drugs and the emotional abuse, one still has to wonder how filmmaker Ondi Timoner knew that the reels and reels of footage would ever deliver a payoff for either band.
Some Kind of Monster Wait? Didn't I say that metal documentaries will be featured in a future blog post?
I sure did. I'm including this one here because, quite frankly, this film has nothing to do with metal.
It has everything to do, however, with rock stars having mid-life crises. And that - together with hearing Lars Ulrich shout "FAUUUUUUUUUK" every five minutes - makes it a totally worthwhile watch.
(Truthfully, I'm conflicted about this film because it captures such a powerful band at such a helpless point. Yet, that is precisely what makes it great).
New York Doll So very much like the Ramones, the story of the New York Dolls has always been one of "could've, should've, didn't." Yet, with David Johansen's relative success as a solo musician/personality, it is easy to forget how absolutely trampled the rest of the band became after the Dolls broke up.
Oh, everyone knows about the demises of Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan. And if you scanned TimeOut NY enough over the years, you could always find Syl Sylvain playing the odd, sad gig somewhere on the Lower East Side.
But no one ever thought to look for Arthur Kane. When director, Greg Whiteley, finally did, he found a timid, middle-aged man living an impoverished life surrendered to God. Sober, but broken; spiritual, but not at peace; Kane comes across as a borderline bitter figure, fixated on the ludicrous fantasy of his old band reuniting. But we all know that sometimes dreams do come true.
Last week marked the 31st anniversary of Randy Rhoads' death. I've always liked Rhoads' work an awful lot, so I thought it might be worth discussing the man. There are a lot of reasons to consider Rhoads' death tragic. First and foremost, he was young, and between his time in Quiet Riot and being in Ozzy's band, he was kind of on top of the world at the tender young age of 25. Moreover, while his death was needless (downright foolish, in fact), it wasn't the kind of rock and roll cliche that we all know so well. No overdose. No choking on vomit. No suicide. He simply put his life in the hands of someone who wasn't very responsible. (Perhaps that is a rock and roll cliche, actually). And then there's the issue of his wasted talent. Whenever a noteworthy musician dies in his prime, the phenomenon of "iconic sympathy" takes place: overwhelmed by the loss of the artist, the masses drastically inflate the talent and legacy of that individual.
It happened to Dimebag. It happened to Sid Viscous. It happened to Jim Morrison, Keith Moon and Biggie Smalls. It even happened to greats like Tupac, Hendrix and Cobain. (There are exceptions. Say what you want about Michael Jackson, Miles Davis or even John Bonham, but I'm not really sure you could overstate their talents by all that much. Probably should throw John Lennon in there, even if I don't particularly want to).
And, of course, it happened to Rhoads.
It has, in fact, become somewhat fashionable to group Rhoads in with the many also-rans in the post-Van Halen era. As you may recall, from 1980 until that goddamned "More Than Words" song came out, it seemed like the metal media was fully obsessed with crowning a "new Eddie Van Halen" every six-to-nine months. All of these guys were talented, and they each brought something new to the table. But few of them have much of a legacy today outside of hard core guitar nerds.
To that end, one must remember just how early Rhoads was on the scene. He did all of his recording with Ozzy (including the concerts for the stellar Tribute album) between 1980 and 1981. And while this puts him well behind Mr. Van Halen, it puts him far, far ahead of the likes of George Lynch (Dokken's debut didn't come out until 81), Yngwie Malmstein or Warren DiMartini (neither Steeler, Alcatraz nor Ratt would have a record out until 1983), or Nuno Bettencourt (who was probably about 12 at the time).
Moreover, it was the posthumousTribute album that truly catapulted Rhoads into "dead superstar" status. Released in 1987, however, it hit the streets at a moment whenLos Angeles was awash in wiz kids whose musical ability rarely exceeded the wheedeley-wheedeley phase.
The point is that by an odd twist of circumstance, Rhoads is more often seen as a follow-along 80's slasher, when he in fact was one of the early architects of 80's metal guitar. An endless stream of guitar players would emulate his ability to incorporate classical technique into hard rock and heavy metal solos, but few ever pulled it off without formulaic cop-out hammer-ons or total pretentiousness.
For me, however, that's only half the story.
I believe that the genius of Rhoads was his ability to play multiple guitar parts nearly simultaneously. This capability might easily be compared to Robert Johnson's famed technique of alternately plucking rhythm and playing slide leads, but a more apt comparison might be towards Nina Simone's piano method.
If you haven't heard Simone, she was a phenomenal (and phenomenally tortured artist). While she's largely known as a vocalist, she was actually -- like Rhoads -- a classically trained musician, and possibly a virtuoso on her given instrument (the piano). Much of the beauty of her technique was to play her chords all around the beat -- which is totally normal for jazz piano. What is more spectacular, however, was her method of dropping in melodic flourishes all over her songs -- sometimes short, sometimes long, sometimes complex, often simple, but always rooted on the beat.
And THAT reminds me exactly of how Rhoads approached his guitar, especially on his live performances. Naturally, ALL the parts were on the beat (no rock and roll worth listening to strays far from it), but the flourishes have that same nature -- seemingly lost, quickly bordering on chaotic, only to land exactly where they need to be.
(I admit, the comparison is kind of self-serving and ridiculous, but I like it.)
Anyway, by and large, Rhoads has a much larger chance of being the victim of an overstated legacy than the other way around. But mindful of the backlash, I still wanted to offer that defense.
In the meantime, enjoy some of my favorite performances of his.
That doesn't mean that there's no such thing as bad taste. And it also doesn't mean that people with ordinarily good (or even excellent) taste aren't capable of enjoying what should otherwise be considered fantastic crap.
It all comes down to how one chooses to disclose the frequent contradictions of their true tastes over the years. Too shameful and you'll be considered a drama queen and a snob. Too honest, and no one will ever believe that you're even capable of recognizing the finer things in art and music.
(Consider for a moment the mortification you might feel if your music snob friends learned that not only are Savage Garden, Bad Company and Trixter all on your iTunes, but that they all boast abnormally high play counts).
I say that apologizing for your tastes over the years accomplishes nothing, and only sells through a less interesting story of how you arrived at the tastes that you embrace today.
And so, witness the shitty (and not so shitty) concerts that I saw over a roughly 10 year span between 87 and 97. These stubs tumbled out of a photo album that I found when I was moving a couple of months ago. Most were in D.C. but there are a few from other areas, and a couple of sporting events and other assorted ticketed disasters in here as well.
I figured it would be better to go public and share them than to have someone find them after I'm dead and I can't fully explain myself.
...Which might indicate that I'm a little more embarrassed about my lousy taste than I want to admit.