Thursday, March 3, 2011

How Do You Afford Your Rock 'n' Roll Lifestyle?

Something I have spent quite a bit of time doing lately is playing music with my two bands, Analog Revolution and Kitty Glitter. I suppose you could say I’m still enamored with the dreamscape image of rock ‘n’ roll which was sold to me as a little kid through MTV, magazines, and the movies. Epic tales of a musician’s lifestyle shaped my youth as others might’ve connected with coming of age novels or triumphant films about an underdog athletes. Now in my thirties, I realize that many of my favorite such narratives are those generated on the silver screen, and so, I thought I’d share with you the top five films responsible for shaping my rock ‘n’ roll imagination.

5. Walk the Line and The Runaways (TIE)
I initially decided not to consider any documentary or concert films, because there are just too many amazing works out there in the genre, and narrowing down the category would have eventually proved impossible. I did, however, allow myself to pull from docudramas (fictionalized recreations of actual people and events), and these two stood out as special contributions.

Not only are they both well written, beautifully shot, and glorious with depictions of the stereotypical “rise to fame-excess-down in flames-resurrection” narrative, but they also both include a cast who was dedicated beyond those of most bio-pics. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line and Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning in The Runaways all learned to actually sing and play the songs of their real life counterparts in addition to their usual character study routines. So while, yes, Val Kilmer displayed an amazingly accurate Morrison Drunk Stumble in The Doors and Jonathan Rhys Meyers pulled off a pretty decent sneer in Elvis, there is just something to be said for learning how to play Johnny Cash’s freight train guitar sound or Joan Jett’s defiant, yet sexy, vocal growl.

The special nature of this is exemplified on the commentary for The Runaways on which Jett admonishes herself for not getting a chance to teach Stewart the proper chord placement for “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Stewart replies by saying she ended up learning the song from one of the other music coaches on set, to which Jett replies, “Yeah, but that’s not the way I play it.”

As someone who also learned Jett's anthem the “wrong” way when I first started playing it, this moment is priceless.

4. Velvet Goldmine
I have to admit, it’s actually been years since I’ve seen this film, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hold a special place in my heart. It’s depictions of unbelievable excess and glamorous nihilism are unrivaled, and as a result, the 70s never looked so horrible and wonderful all at the same time. It doesn’t even matter that at times the film’s narrative is a bit “say what?” The amazing cast, including Ewan McGregor, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Toni Collette, Christian Bale, and Eddie Izzard, makes our trip through the rabbit hole so stylish and fun.

3. This is Spinal Tap
Okay, so I know it’s a cliché, but really, isn’t that the point? No list of rock ‘n’ roll movies is complete without “The Tap.” In fact, if someone fails to include this on their list of rock flicks, their opinion probably isn’t worth the weight of a cucumber wrapped in tin foil.

Honestly, this film is probably my number one pick in many ways. After all, it not only parodies nearly every great cliché in rock history, it created some of its very own (“These go to eleven.”), and it’s likely the only pick which can boast hoards of real life musicians telling tales of their very own “spinal tap moments?” However, I bumped it to number three, because my top two have been much more significant in terms of creating my mythical image of rock ‘n’ roll. This is Spinal Tap has simply been great at mocking it.

2. Almost Famous
I’ve always been a sucker for a good coming of age narrative, especially one that sticks with you for a few days. Now, make that a rock ‘n’ roll coming of age narrative, and it doesn’t get much better.

This film may have thought it was teaching me that I couldn’t “be friends with the rock stars,” but it failed miserably. I think I wanted to hang with them even more after watching William Miller’s ridiculous escapades. And frankly, even if I don’t get to be their friend, singing “Tiny Dancer” with them on their tour bus and going home with the groupie (sorry, “band aide”) with a heart of gold is still a pretty decent consolation prize.

1. Prey for Rock ‘n’ Roll
I have watched this film dozens of times, and it never gets old. It has a perfect balance of tense drama, snarky humor, and idealistic dreaming crushed by life’s lessons. Of course, I love the fact that this particular film is told through the eyes of women, as opposed to the endless films about male rockers, but I think what I love the most about this one is its more honest portrayal of being a musician.

“All I ever wanted to be was a rock and roll star.”

There are never any illusions about what Jackie wants. She didn’t stumble into a band by accident, and she isn’t trying to sell us some “doing it for the music” crap. No, she formed a band, because she wanted to live the dream rock ‘n’ roll promised. But by the time we join her story, it is clear she is unlikely to ever reach that brass ring, and instead, she leaves us with a much more important lesson.

True success can be measured by loving the journey, even when it doesn’t go where you wanted. You may never play the big local venue, land a record deal, open for your favorite band, have a national tour, or even play a gig for more than fifty people. The real treasure in the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, though, is learning to love every moment of it as if it were your last, because it just might be.

“Instead I’m a musician, just some chick in a band. And you know what? It’s fucking cool.”

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Man in the Mirror

I was 8 years old.

My mother would play albums (yes, I do mean albums) while doing things around the house. I have wonderful memories of these days. She would flip through the stacks, pick out the lucky platter, and plunk it down on the turntable. and around! The pumping beats, precision guitar chords, and catchy lyrics combined to create sounds that seemed simply magical to me.

This is where I met Michael Jackson. Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5, The Jacksons, Goin' Places, Destiny, Triumph, The Jacksons Live, Off the Wall...and of course...Thriller.

It was not long before I found myself at the local mall, with allowance money in hand, to buy my own albums. While I had already poured over my mom's copy of Thriller countless times (memorizing lyrics, reading liner notes, and staring in fascination at that little baby tiger), I had to have my own.

I played it until it wore out. Other albums by "the gloved one" quickly entered my collection, only to wear out as well. I bought magazines, books, posters, T-shirts, and buttons. I watched videos, specials, and award shows. I collected everything I could find with his image on it. I joined his fan club.

What I didn't realize at the time was that not only had my mother exposed me to music which would forever change my life, but she had also introduced me to the concept of fandom. I could not be stopped. I cried when he was injured during the Pepsi commercial. I screamed at the top of my lungs for every Grammy and American Music Award he won. I sulked for days when I discovered the Victory tour would bring him and his brothers no where near my hometown. I learned every lyric, every dance move, every bit of trivia...everything. Michael Jackson was the reason for my first foray into a fan identity.

When I first heard of his death, I was of course shocked. Most of us were. For many, the sadness was about nostalgia. After all, a figure of our childhood was gone. He is, in fact, one of the first major celebrities of our generation to pass. Hence, we are grasping not only with his loss, but also with the realization that we are also going someday, and that day is much closer than it was when we first learned to moonwalk.

But I, as do many of us, also realize that Michael Jackson has not been the main figure of my fandom for many years. Scandal, gossip, and eccentricities have now dogged him for over a decade. Much of this has left us reeling with confusion. Do we mourn our childhoods, continue to make jokes, or remain steadfast to a belief that he was simply one f**ked up dude?

I called my mom. We talked about the news for awhile and reminisced about those days spent listening to his music. I told her I was sad, but I didn't really know why. She said that she was sad for Michael. Sad for his overwhelming lack of childhood. Sad for the physical and emotional abuses he suffered at the hands of those whom he was supposed to be able to trust. Sad for the immense weight of fame, which was forced upon him by power hungry parents. Sad for the tremendous lack of any real connection or friendship in his life. Sad for the way the world treated him.

That was when I began to understand. I was sad for these things, and I was nostalgic for my youth, but I was also unhappy with us as a society. We had managed to find fandom for Michael so easy during the 1980s. But when Michael did not wish to relinquish the crown we had bestowed upon him and instead attempted to continue giving us what we told him we loved, we turned on him. We told him he was no longer cool, we were no longer his number one fan, and he needed to "grow up" and "be normal." After all, we had to.

Of course, some of the crimes of which he was accused, if true, are heinous. For those of us with a spiritual persuasion, he will now pay the price for his indiscretions. For those of us without a spiritual persuasion, he is at least no longer hurting anyone. But if these accusations are not true, perhaps we have demons of our own with which to wrestle. Our quick condemnation of him, likely speaks much more about us.

This aside, what we are left being able to know with any amount of certainty is that which he set out to share with us in the first place: entertainment. He gave us amazing music, incredible dance, and an undeniable impact upon our cultural history.

We turn to this now, remembering the Michael we loved, because we no longer are haunted by the Michael we did not understand. How ironically easy this now is for us, as we continually failed to make anything easy on him.

So, it is with these many reflections that I bring out my old copy of Thriller (the original one, with all its worn out glory). I can only hope that a few of the rest of us do as well.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


I have just heard about the plagiarism lawsuit facing Coldplay. It was filed by (my personal guitar hero) Joe Satriani and alleges that they ripped off "Viva La Vida" from his "If I Could Fly." You can read a longer article about it here, and below you can watch a YouTube video comparing the two songs.

To me, it seems pretty undeniable that the songs are strikingly similar. I hope Satch wins and I hope he takes a sh*t-ton of those wankers money!

I've had a personal vendetta against Coldplay ever since their last album was released. They've been compared to U2 ever since they arrived on the scene several years ago. They always downplayed these comparisons and/or "honorably" stated they could only hope to be as great a band as U2. However with this latest album, it became suddenly obvious that Coldplay really did wish they were U2. Or maybe it was that they wished we all thought they were U2.

First there was that iPod commercial which looked strangely similar to the U2 one from 2004. Then there were the new stage moves copied straight from U2's Live at Red Rocks performance, the outfits and decor alluding to the Vertigo tour (including the giant red graffiti "V" on the kick drum!), and of course, the songs with amazingly similar sounds to U2. "42" gets a particular nod with regards to the last of these. Homage to "40" or simply band with no more ideas of their own? This all culminated with their SNL appearance, in which they performed three songs, as opposed to the usual two allotted for musical acts. The only band to do this before Coldplay? You guessed it, U2 and not even until 2004's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb was released.

Personally, I don't know how Bono & Co. can stand these pretentious (and not in the Bonoronic sense), wannabe jag-offs! Why are they not suing Coldplay, or at least giving them a stern talking-to? Maybe my Irish boys think audiences will know who has the real goods. Maybe they know Coldplay can't touch their millions. Or maybe they're laughing too hard to do anything. After all, these guys are so talentless and unoriginal that the band they are obviously trying so desperately to be isn't even the one suing them!

Guess John Lennon was right. Instant Karma really is gonna get you! Well, may you pay that piper dearly, Chris Martin. Dearly!

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Oh dear god! I just saw this on TV and had to find it online to share with all of you. This is the best thing I have ever seen, and if you know my history, you know why! Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What the Public Wants...

It has been brought to my attention by some of my faithful fans that I need to update this puppy a bit more. I do apologize to y'all for slacking so much lately on this ole' blog. I promise it is not that I don't love you all to pieces or that I have nothing to say. I've really just been struggling a bit with the shift in workload for the new job. Instead of having the cushy single course load of a graduate student, I now have a real world full course load of teaching. I have quickly learned that one needs to alter assignments and schedules to be both appropriate for students and manageable for oneself (who knew!).

Anyway, the semester is almost over and I promise to be much better about adding new posts soon. But in the meantime, below are some fun things I've been doing and pondering the last several weeks. Enjoy!

What I'm Hearing...

While working, I've been listening to a lot of music lately. It helps keep me sane when the students don't. Anyway, here are a few of the things I've been enjoying lately.

1. The Black Keys - Okay, so I'm probably the last person on the planet to "discover" these guys. I had actually heard of them before, but just never got around to checking out any of their stuff. Well, I recently rejoined emusic and once again stumbled across their name while searching for something-or-another.

They have one of the most incredible sexy-dirty-crunch (my own term) sounds I have ever heard. When I listen to their stuff, I can't tell if I want to make out with someone because it's hot or slap someone because I'm offended. But either way, I like it! Some will probably call this group alt-country, but as someone who doesn't always love everything in that genre, I would add that they are all the good stuff and very little of the yawn stuff.

2. The New Slipknot's Disc - This has been a tough one for me. I have a long history of dislike (or at least great apprehension) for this band. They came out in my former Hot Topic days. I initially found them to be an overrated gimmicky nu-metal band amongst a heap of thousands. I saw them once back in '00 or '01 and they were pretty terrible. At the time, I also had a friend from Iowa (where they're supposedly from), who told me that there was no way the band now going by the name Slipknot was the same band that played the bar scene of Des Moines, because that band was a god-awful talentless mess. I also had a great unease over the fairly well-documented story of how Slipknot and their record label ripped off their look and story from Cleveland-natives, Mushroomhead.

Anyway as a result, I avoided the group for many years. But, I had recently been hearing really good things about their new album, All Hope is Gone. So when I came across a used copy in Boston last week, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. I must admit, I'm glad I did. While many of the bands of this era have disbanded (System of a Down), lost their edge (Korn), or simply become ridiculous (Limp Bizkit), Slipknot has hung around and, to my astonishment, gotten immensely better! All Hope is Gone is one of the tightest and more inventive albums I've heard in awhile. I also appreciate their ability to stretch their sound into other metal genres instead of beating the proverbial dead horse. I don't know who these guys really are or whether or not they really pull this off live now, but damn they know how to make some awesome s**t in the studio!

3. The White Tie Affair - J and I went to see Kill Hannah a couple months ago. They were playing at this tiny club in St. Paul called Station 4. It actually reminded us of the hallowed ground that is Howard's in BG. But anyway, the White Tie Affair was one of several opening bands for KH, and they were a super high-energy, electro-pop, funfest! The singer kept alternating between hanging from the support poles and getting the entire crowd jumping up and down in sync to their technopunk beats. Much fun to be had! I've been digging their disc ever since. It's like Mono in a college dorm during February! Fast, hard-hitting, and infectiously catchy!

4. The New Metallica Disc - Oh yeah, you read that right! I have not forgotten my previous post of doom and dread. However, remember all of those qualifications of unless the initial tracks were not indicative of the remaining album? Curiously, they were all right on. The new album is well...quite impressive. Is it the disc that should've come between Justice and the Black Album? Maybe, but I would actually say it should've been where the band went after the Black Album instead of wallowing in the "Load and Reload of Crap" era. Death Magnetic is beautifully tight and assaultingly heavy. By far, "The Day that Never Comes" and the oh-so-unfortunate "Unforgiven 3" are the only weak spots on the album. The rest is the onslaught for which I've continued to carry the Metallica torch all these years, ever hoping they still had it in them!

What I'm Watching...

To unwind after a long day of posting/grading/posting/grading/replying to whining/grading some more, I've been chilling with J and watching a lot of television in the evenings. Here are some of our favorites.

1. 30 Rock - Oh, my beloved Tina Fey! No one makes me laugh like you. It's so refreshing to laugh with my brain as well as my gut. So far the season is off to a HI-larious start. Jennifer Aniston stalking Alec Baldwin, Night Court reunion, Oprah Winfrey, and Princess Leia on jury duty! What more do I have to say? Oh and by the way, Fey also gets a tip of the hat for getting me through the election season. Of course, she had help from SNL, The Daily Show, and The Cobert Report.

2. Life - This is one of the most underrated shows on TV right now. It has been a victim of time-slot jockeying and poor promotion. It almost feels like NBC wants it to fail. But still, Damian Lewis and Sarah Shahi's perfect chemistry and offbeat humor continue to prevail. Sure, its a crime drama, but it's not exactly run of the mill. After all, where else does fruit help in the solving of crime?

3. House - This show makes my hypochondria surge into hyperdrive, but yet, I can't stop watching. Hugh Laurie's portrayal of caustic, yet strangely loveable, Gregory House is flawless. Plus, this season's tension between House and Cuddy is hot, yet sweet!

4. Life on Mars - This is my favorite new show of the season. I know this is a "reinvention" of a British series (which I haven't yet seen), but I'm still diggin' this version. Strangely, my attraction is not really for the storylines, which are often a bit weak. Instead, I'm loving the characters, especially Harvey Keitel's Lieutenant Hunt and Michael Imperioli's Detective Carling, and the beautifully shot and carefully crafted look of the series. This show recreates the 1970s so slickly, it makes you wish it really had been that way.