Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Best American Band Ever?


This inquiry is drawn out of a conversation I had last week with a couple of friends. The discussion flowed out of a question about who each of us considered our five favorite bands ever. For the record, mine are (and this doesn't include solo artists) The Beatles, The Replacements, Pink Floyd, The Band,  and then a lot of hedging about; The Jayhawks, The Beastie Boys, Wilco, My Morning Jacket, Rolling Stones, and Steely Dan. I had to cheat because when it got right down to it, I could probably only choose between The Beastie Boys and Steely Dan with a gun to my head and even then I would have to apologize. Somewhere along the way the Eagles were brought up. One of us was really cold. One of us was medium cool. The other was more hot on them. I was the one that was hot on the idea that the Eagles were America's greatest rock band. I later apologized and leaned on the fact that I may have had my mind clouded just a bit on that lazy Saturday afternoon. 


The Eagles 

How I got there (to proclaiming the Eagles as the greatest American band) was by an outburst. I didn't think it through, but I felt as though I had to defend what they were against an onslaught of ripping for them being so, well.....mediocre. I fully realize they are not a particularly influential band, but they had a great deal of talent as individuals. They were easy to listen to and in my opinion they only made one album that I just think was bland (their "comeback" East of Eden). They made five really good records and one great record (Hotel California). I think much of the backlash over them was the type of sound they had coming out of the 1960's, which ended on a string of raw sounding guitar oriented bands, progressive rock, and politically motivated music. It isn't too hard to see why they could be so easily discounted as having substance. That California sound which they lifted from the Byrds and the country tinge they swiped from Gram Parsons captured the ear of the mainstream. Every album they released in the USA went platinum and I do mean EVERY record. That includes the greatest hits. Only eight artists have sold over 40 million records and they are on the list, with Greatest Hits volume 1. They also rank 14th all-time in sales with Hotel California. They won six Grammy's and that's nothing to sneeze at. They were doing something right and I think a very good argument could be  made that they are the best American band ever. Don Henley and Glenn Frey were solid song writers, good (not great musicians) and the supporting cast that were in and out of the group (Randy Meisner, Bernie Leadon, Joe Walsh, Timothy Schmidt, Don Felder) are strong musicians and would occasionally contribute songs. 



I won't make that argument though (at least not anymore than I already have), but they really do have to be up there. I think influence should come into play when there is a discussion of "greatness". Sometimes a band doesn't find an audience that makes them popular in the mainstream, but they find an audience that inspires others to create music or move their music in different directions. Progress is important from record to record in my opinion. The Eagles were pretty much (though they didn't stay entirely static) the same band making the same kind of music in 1979 (and 2007) as they were when they released their first record in 1972. So, while it would be hard to put up a well rounded argument against the Eagles with a serious Eagles fan, I think there are some bands that have had either popularity, influence, volume sales, and artistic respect (or all of the above) that could be mentioned as "great". Are any of these the "greatest"? Are any of them greater than the Eagles? It's subjective to the taste and opinions of each person, but I'll throw a few out there that I have been a fan of at varying levels of interest. 


The Beach Boys

This is a band that probably doesn't get the respect they deserve in some circles of rock "fandom". That definitely comes from the misconception (stemming from their earliest records) that they were a niche band for teenagers and that they wrote shallow songs. Well, sure, there are the surf, car, and girl tunes (which I have NO problem with), but the greatness of Brian Wilson emerged as being much more than that simple formula. The melody's he created that were textured, and sensational to experience, helped them rise above being just some sort of "boy band" that lacked credibility. You simply can't listen to "Don't Worry Baby", "When I Grow Up", "Good Vibrations", "Wouldn't It Be Nice", "Help Me Rhonda", "Sloop John B", and "God Only Knows" without hearing greatness, both musically and lyrically. They influenced The Beatles. If that isn't chops, I don't know what is!




R.E.M.

They were the little alternative band that could. Hailing from Athens, Georgia which also produced another college rock darling The B-52's, REM made killer album after killer album. They sustained a string of critically acclaimed records and finally got a hit in 1987 with "The One I Love", were signed to a major label in 1988, and became an arena filling band with the release of "Out of Time" in 1991. By most any standard, they put together a string of about 7 or 8 fantastic records. I don't know how influential their sound was on other bands, but they were able to sustain some underground credibility even after they "hit it big". For my money, their best album was "Automatic For The People" with "Out of Time", "Life's Rich Pageant", and "Green" being right there. This is a band that continued to develop new sounds for themselves from album to album. You knew you were hearing REM, but they were always able to do something just a bit different to keep it interesting. No better example of that is the difference in their sound and lyrics from "Automatic For The People" to "Monster". From stripped down, subtle pop to the crashing guitars of glam rock! It's hard to ignore 14 Grammy nominations and 3 wins. This is a band that has to be right at the top of the discussion.




The Beastie Boys

Is a "rap act" a band? Sure it is. They played instruments. They wrote their songs. They produced records. They enjoyed some commercial and popular success with their first record, but really hit it off with the hip hop crowd with the stellar "Paul's Boutique" and then took their credibility to the alternative audience with "Check Your Head". "Paul's Boutique" is on quite a few lists for not only best album of the 80's, but for one of the best albums of all-time. They strung together 5 great records before releasing the so/so (in my opinion) "To The Five Burroughs" (which was one of 4 records they had that reached #1). Their influence can be heard in Eminem, Rage Against The Machine, Kid Rock, Pigeon John, and Sublime, among others. I hate that I never got to see them perform live. They were a band that I grew up with. I took to them right from the get go and followed their career until it ended due to the death of Adam Yauch a few years ago. 




Steely Dan

Now this is an odd "band". It's basically two guys (Walter Becker and Donald Fagen) that used session musicians (Rick Derringer & Michael McDonald among many others) and worked tirelessly to produce music that was hard to pin down or define. Was it rock n roll? Jazz? Blues? R&B? Rag time? Yes. The song writing was stellar. They chose to write most of their music about the culture, the seedy underbelly of city life and about people that society looks down on or ignores. They have released 9 albums in their career and I can't call any of them bad. By their own standards in comparison (using "Aja", "Can't Buy A Thrill", and "Royal Scam" as the highest standard) "Countdown To Ecstacy" and "Everything Must Go" are rather ordinary, but each has several solid songs that stand up to the Steely Dan catalog. On a side note, how can you dismiss a band that names themselves after a dildo from a William Burroughs novel? 




Wilco

This is a band that I really wish more people had an interest in. I've never heard anyone say they hate them, their music is accessible, but I guess it's just not right for radio play. Wilco has had many band members come and go over the years, but the band is built around the ideas and lyrics emerging from the mind of Jeff Tweedy. He may well be one of the most under appreciated songwriters in modern music. Each album for Wilco has been a departure (or growth) from the previous. They started out tapping into their alternative-country roots on the album "AM", dabbled in some pop, a little progressive rock...they just seem to have touched it all. They have released eight albums, with a ninth coming up in August. Each record they have recorded seems to push forward into something they have not done before and as a fan it keeps you on your toes and challenges you to step outside what you think "your kind" of music is and to hear things differently. That had to be what the Beatles were like to their fans in the 60's. If you don't allow yourself diversity in what you listen to, they won't appeal to you very long. Perhaps that's why they have not reached more commercial success despite being critical darlings. They have been nominated for 6 Grammy's and have won a couple. By the way, one of the best music oriented documentaries you will ever see is called "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart". You don't have to be a fan of the band to enjoy this look at how clueless, shallow, and spirit breaking the corporate music world is. 



I am going to stop right here. There are more bands that better music fans than myself can probably speak to as in the running for America's best band ever. If I created a list to explore it would also have to include Aerosmith, CCR, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Metallica, The Doors, Pearl Jam, and yes, The Replacements (the best band that America ever missed). I don't listen to some of those bands much, but I realize they have strong followings and I'm sure some solid arguments could be put forth. 

To end this long post, I'll just say that I don't know what band I would call the best American band of all-time. There are so many to consider and there are a lot of great arguments to be made for every band I've mentioned. Some achieved great commercial success. Some were critically successful. Some were influences on entire genres of music without ever having gained radio play. I'm just going to have to wind it up with saying, once again, it's simply subjective. But that's not really any fun is it? I mean, how can you spark a debate if you just dance around the subject? OK, so I will go on record as saying that REM is the best American band ever. So, there....let the hate fly!    

I'd love to hear anyone else's take on this or see your top 5 lists if anyone wants to take the time to leave a remark. 






Saturday, May 30, 2015

"Jimmy Cornette Gave Me A Virus" or "Revenge Is A Dish Best Served By Handshake"


Those that know me really closely probably do not know one little fact about me: I loved watching pro wrestling when I was a kid. OK..there it is, I said it. I tuned in to WAVE 3 every Saturday at noon to watch our heroes decimate the bad guys and listen to Lance Russell and Dave Brown call the action. I used to make my brother wrestle me in the living room with a blanket thrown on the floor acting as the the ring....the squared circle. I would always have to win in stunning comeback fashion of course. A punch to the head with a chain on my fist or a pile driver would always get the job done just when it seemed I was down and out. Sorry Derek, being a big brother comes with benefits. Sort of like us boxing with winter mittens on. I know those combinations had to hurt a little, but you are better for it. AmIRite?

Jerry "The King" Lawler dressed like a Chippendales Dancer.

The Fabulous Ones dressed (barely) like Friday night "weeny flop" contestants at Sparkies Lounge.

The Fabulous Ones again, looking like they are about to exchange vows.
Jeez, how did I miss the obvious homo-erotic sub text that was so prevalent in wrestling? I think I'll just leave that alone. (Backing slowly away from the topic)

So, anyhow, as a wrestling fan worth his salt, I always rooted for the good guy. I didn't appreciate actually rooting for the bad guy until I was an adult (and it became movie or TV villains as I long ago stopped watching "rasslin"). Rooting for the good guys means that there are villains to hoist your anger on. When your ego needed to whip a little ass, you took it out on Jimmy Hart, Killer Karl Krupp, or the Iron Sheik (no doubt we allowed what basically amounts to nationalism and racism to play a part into our hatred of the bad guys....it was implied in their characters that it was alright to do so). You shout at the TV and think horrible thoughts about the bad guys. If you actually went to an event you heckle the bad guys and they respond with threats and obscene gestures. I know this because I shared the front row at a wrestling event at Adair County High School back in the early 90's with a few baseball teammates. We had a bit too much to drink in the parking lot and went in to heckle and berate the bad guys without mercy. It was all in good fun, especially when the ringside promoter basically told us to keep it up! We rooted for Dick The Bruiser in the last  man standing match (yeah, he won.....but I'm not sure that wasn't rigged, he was at least 70 years old going up against guys in their 30's), and had to endure the shame of watching Leon Spinks "fight" a wrestler. Yeah, you read that right. Former heavyweight champion of the world Leon Spinks was in a wrestling ring "fighting" a wrestler in front of 100 people at a high school gym in south central Kentucky. It's the second most shameful thing I have ever paid to see. The first being that I actually paid money at the Kentucky State Fair to see a "freak" attraction. The world's smallest woman. I can still see her sitting there on her tiny stool, eating a bologna sandwich while Brian and I just looked at her. We didn't even have the decency to say hello or ask how her day was. Ahhh, the memories, right Brian? Anyhow, back to the story at hand.

One of the villains that we loved to hate when we were young was Jimmy Cornette. Cornette was a "manager" and a wrestling bad guy. He would make us furious by saying outrageous things, cheating the good guys during a match, distracting referees, and just generally being an arrogant pud. He was hounded without mercy at every wrestling event and those of us at home would scream at him through the TV. We felt proud of ourselves. We were contributing to the cause of righteousness. We hated on someone that was easy to hate and impugned his character at every chance. What recourse did he have? He had to endure it. He was a bad guy after all, and we got away with it. Or so we thought. 

Jimmy Cornette, doing what Jimmy Cornette does!

I had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Cornette at the Louisville Flea Market. He was there selling sports memorabilia and basically just selling "being Jimmy Cornette". He was very affable and seemed to enjoy speaking with me and my friend of 30 years, Larry. We laughed a little and he shook both our hands like a gentleman as we parted ways. "What a nice guy." I confessed to Larry. He agreed and we took a walk down memory lane in our conversation for a few minutes. Recalling some of Cornette's past exploits. We commented on how young he looked after all these years. What a positive experience. Jimmy was a good guy! I thought at some point I need to tell my old college buddies Greg and Joey about it, since they appreciated old school wrestling, often goofing on it when we were having good times (which in college, was quite often). 

Little did I know that Jimmy Cornette had not shed his bad guy ways. It was a farce. Larry and I thought he had reformed. If Jerry Lawler could come back from being a bad guy, so could Jimmy Cornette, right? Jimmy was now one of us now. Someone to root for. A man of redemption. We just knew that he stood for truth and justice and would now be battling the bad guys for supremacy. 

Well, we were wrong. Just a few days after shaking hands and leaving Mr. Cornette on what we thought were good terms, both Larry and I came down with a virus. Sore throat. Congestion. Weakness. Nausea. The whole deal. It dawned on us after we told each other about our illness that it had been Cornette's handshake that we had in common. Cornette had gotten revenge on us! He was now retaliating by pretending to be a good guy and spreading a virus to all of us that were celebrating his reform. He knew that we were middle aged fans that had likely been haters of his as teenagers. He was exacting the ultimate revenge while smiling to our faces and fooling us into thinking he had seen the light and went to the good guy side!


I went through several stages trying to come to terms with this situation. Denial. Now, Jimmy is a good guy now, he wouldn't do that. Anger. Dammit Jimmy, how could you use someones good nature against them!? Depression. I now have no way to trust the motivation of future reformed bad guys I may meet. Acceptance. Larry and I had gotten "got" and that's all there was to it. Jimmy is probably gloating about it right now at the complex where all the bad guys live, train, and conspire. The snake had bitten us. We should have known better, but you know, you sorta have to admire that sort of dedication to vengeance in a strange way, even when you are the victim. 

Well played Jimmy Cornette.....well played.  














Saturday, April 25, 2015

Let A Fresh Beginning Wash Over Me!



I don't keep a lot of "secrets" but there are some things I hold close to the vest and I just don't feel the need to share with a lot of people. There are things in each of our lives that we need to battle alone or at least work through without having our point of view or direction influenced. As much as we rely on family and friends, there are some walks you have to take alone or with limited support. 

With that said, I have reintroduced myself to a more "zen" approach. In recent years I fought to get out of the influential trappings of my past and I feel it has worked well in some areas of my life. I drifted away from that, as I suppose I was sort of content with the progress I made, but really never pushed it further. I am trying to do that now. More, now than ever, is a time when I need to let go. I had given my ego back about 80% of what I had claimed a few years ago. I'm going after it again. 

I know, in my heart of hearts, that my life is a very short blip on the time line of humanity's existence. I know I have a finite time. I know it's all bigger than me. Yet, at times, I feel like I have been cosmically wronged or that life isn't fair. Well, it's not, because there is no fair. It's all just part of existence. Your (mine actually) version of fair isn't what fair would be to the parents of a dying child. Nor is it the same as fairness to a teenager that doesn't get to stay out past midnight. It's all relative to your own existence, so, fairness really doesn't exist in any practical sense. 

If you stop and compartmentalize your mind and realize that no matter what is going on in your life, there is a world that keeps moving and functioning. If you died this second, it all motors on. Without you. I realize I have a role to play. This life is my experience. It's my duty to the universe and you for me to fulfill my role. There is no need to fret, get angry, or depressed over any situation. We are human, so it will happen, but it's best for us and the people we know and come into contact with (if only briefly) if we can let go. Just do what you have to do to make your situation better or even just tolerable. It's all you can and will do after all. No amount of anger, worry, or frustration is going to change a situation, so you have to accept it and move forward knowing that this is what I have to do. This is my reality and I have to play it out. You are a character in everyone else's movie, just as they are in yours. I'm going to live up to my role. I'm going to let my character (who I am) emerge and let the chips fall where they may. Have a problem? Work on fixing it, but no need to get crazy with emotion over it. That won't help anything and it only serves to cloud judgement and impact others negatively. Why feel bad over something that is out of your control in a particular moment? In other words, I should strive to work on my problems when I'm dealing with them and not worry too much about them when there is nothing I can do. For example; feeling bad on Sunday night because work looms the next morning is wasting the present time on a time that hasn't arrived and is beyond your control. 

It's all happening and it's all out of our control. Knowing that is a big step for me. Things work out they way they work out and that's all there is to it. There will be emotionally compromising moments. There will be set backs. I just hope I don't forget where I am right now. There is only one way to deal with life and that's by staying in the present as much as possible. Work towards future goals yes, learn from your past yes, but you can't live in that future, just as you can't live in the past. Now is always the time. And we can spend that time aimlessly looking at what might be or looking over our shoulder at what was. In either case, it takes us out of the now and the now is all we really have. It's all we have ever had.

Some ego stuff from the great philosopher Alan Watts. It's not necessarily relevant in a direct way to my previous words, but it's solid thinking. 




Sunday, December 28, 2014

My Favorite Entertainment From 2014


The year 2014 was a year in which I didn't really pursue much in the way of new music. That's kind of odd for me, because I generally buy 6 to 10 new albums every year. I still went out and got a few, but they were from bands that had either already established themselves as bands I want to hear or they were artists I heard live and wanted to hear more from. 

So, of the albums I bought it was pretty easy to find which ones were my favorites. 



Jenny Lewis- The Voyager
I knowingly heard Lewis for the first time at the Forecastle Music Festival and it was a revelation. Solid, sensible songwriting and a sweet, yet experienced voice that had me swooning for a couple of weeks after purchase. "The Voyager" still has a few songs that are getting played by me weekly. It's a good effort. The pop melodies just suck you in and she has a way of painting a picture in your head with her stories in song. "Slippery Slopes" is one of the catchiest songs I've heard in a long time and "Just One Of The Guys" is right there with it. 






Christopher (Crash) Richard- Hardly Criminal
This guy was a total surprise for me. I saw him at Zanzabar in Louisville with about 40 other people and was just blown away. It didn't hurt that he covered "Treatment Bound", but this guy was excellent and so was his original material. I bought "Hardly Criminal" from him and put it on the turntable a couple of days later. Really solid record. "Motion Animal" may be my favorite song of 2014 and if I had to list 100 songs of all-time, it may sneak in there. An infectious tune to say the least! 




I had the pleasure of seeing quite a few films this past year and I have to say this was a pretty good year for movies. Among the best were Gone Girl, Intersteallar, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, and Night Crawler. There were two that really stuck with me though. 

Boyhood-  Richard Linklater
This film was shot over a 12 year period. A very ambitious undertaking. Anything could have gone wrong when trying to span time like that. It totally worked though. We got to follow the characters of the film as the actors actually aged. There is a documentary feel to it that gives it some weight. It's difficult not to equate some of the points of the film with my own childhood and early life. It stuck with me and I wasn't immediately able to even put my finger on why it was so good, other than it just struck a chord with me on how much influence our parents, peers, and experiences have on us. Those things can turn us away from goals, change our perceptions on what we think we know and see. It's easy to see the parents in this movie as being stifling or even villains when it comes to the influence they hold, but they are really just people (like you and I) trying to have their own lives and trying to find out who they are while doing the best they can by their children. For better or worse. It's something that isn't pleasant to relate to at times, but it's a part of a parents reality that isn't readily apparent in day to day life.  I highly recommend this to anyone that loves nuance and intelligence in their movie going experience. 




Birdman- Alejandro Iñárritu
Part reality, part fantasy, part mental illness....this film throws it all in the pot and leaves you to figure it out. It's not an easy movie to understand, but that's part of what makes it so interesting. The director seems to create one long stream of consciousness and that doesn't lend itself to trying to understand the film as it's playing out. I think there is definitely an indictment of the visual entertainment system (as well as the fragile ego of those entrenched in that system) at some level and it takes a shot at all participants. From those in control, to the actors, the critics, to the folks behind the scenes and all the way down to the ticket buying movie fan. Self expectation and projected expectation lay heavy over many of the "scenes" (even if the director tries to get you to take the film in as one long scene with a series of events). What can you be satisfied with? Is it wise to let your past success and failure manipulate the person you are today? Are you doing what you are doing for you or to prove something to others? Can you find happiness running from a past that jogs just one step behind you? Questions that Michael Keaton is dealing with, even if he isn't totally honest with himself about it. 



By far the highlight of my year in entertainment was seeing The Replacements at Forecastle. I truly enjoyed other acts also, including a stellar set from Beck, the hard driving rock of Jack White, and the surprisingly solid efforts from Jenny Lewis and Brett Dennen. Experiencing Paul McCartney for a second time was certainly a highlight of my year. Seeing and talking to Pigeon John was fun and I really dug the experience of seeing Christopher "Crash" Richard, but again, The Replacements topped my list. They put on a lively show and didn't just go through the motions. The wall of sound they created with the added guitar of BJ Armstrong set it apart from the show I saw in Chicago in 2013. Lots of fun and a "life" moment for me! 



Most people would expect me to have a book or two on the list, but I didn't really dig into reading quite as much as I have over the past few years. With that, I will just say that the two most memorable reads of my year (neither book is new to 2014 though) were "Gonzo", which is an oral biography of Hunter Thompson compiled by Corey Seymour and Jann Wenner and "Room Full Of Mirrors", a biography of Jimi Hendrix by Charles Cross. 

My favorite TV shows, once again includes the always relevant South Park. Justified and Game of Thrones were also programs I binge watched and really grew to enjoy. I look forward to the return of those programs in 2015. 

There were several stand up specials that struck a chord with me this past year. The best of which was Bill Burr's "I'm Sorry You Feel That Way" which is on Netflix and is being released on vinyl also. He is the most consistently funny and spot on comic working in an era that I consider to be a revival of great stand up. I also enjoyed Jim Jefferies "Bare" and Tom Segura's "Completely Normal". 




So, there you have it. A few of my favorite things from this past year. I write this to document my year in entertainment, but to also....hopefully...pass on something to anyone that may read this. Perhaps you will enjoy some of this as much as I did. 



Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Lamenting The "Lost" Magic of Christmas.....



I'll keep this brief. I'm sitting here working on a hot mug of apple pie moonshine and reflecting on the evening thus far. 

In past years I, admittedly, wasn't thrilled with Christmas. Tonight, I feel a bit melancholy. I wasted a lot of time and a lot of moments wrapped up in my own self induced misery and selfishness. I've never been at a loss for love of my children. They are the most special things to me. Out of a handful of things that I have gotten positively, absolutely right in my life, they are the main ones. That is in conjunction with marrying my wife. My life would be devoid of meaning without them. Honestly, a life not worth having lived. 

To the point, there were so many years that I should have held more dear. More precious. I never realized that I would miss them being little more than I do right now. Yeah, I am tearing up and I just can't help it. There was amazement and wonder in their eyes for years and I neglected to play the role of the vampire during that time. I should have been sucking up that anticipation and joy and I let it slip away. Now, the magic of the unknown is gone. It's missing from their Christmas Eve and it's never coming back. We have shared some wonderful moments tonight, with my mom sharing her gifts with them, with making craft plates and the traditional reading of "Twas The Night Before Christmas". Magic has loosened its' grip though. It's now on to tradition. 

We won't be tracking Santa tonight on NORAD. Some other kids at some other house will be doing that. Some other parents will be waiting for the kids to go to sleep as they gaze at the Christmas tree, silently enjoying the spectacle and each others company with a sparse word to be said, yet still perfect. Somewhere else, a couple of young girls will be trying so hard to go to sleep so Santa won't pass them by. Somewhere else, those young girls will not be able to find slumber as they hold so much anticipation and excitement in their hearts. Somewhere else, Christmas is full of magic. 

Not that our Christmas is bad or ruined. I don't want to project that. In many ways, this has been a fantastic time. My girls are more mature and more understanding of the moment and don't just go through the motions of our traditions. They are active participants. Still yet, something is lost for me and I will not regain it. It went by way too quickly and I didn't stop and embrace it. When my daughters have daughters and sons of their own, I can only hope they will appreciate and cherish the moments they have and be truly present and appreciate the true magic that can only be experienced through the perception of a child. 

Appreciate time. It's slipping away and it's unforgiving to those that do not respect its value.