Wednesday, March 30, 2011

13 Complaints Against Humanity, the Individuals and the Collective

1. Lack of humor
2. Inability to understand their own ironies
3. Reluctance to embrace their contradictions
4. Ongoing need to believe in mythology
5. Disinclination toward true self-examination
6. Love of the new before its full exploration is conducted
7. Selectively upholds tradition
8. Quick to discard its relics and history
9. Revisionism
10. Quick to accept easy answers
11. Hypocrisy
12. Revels in slovenly behavior
13. Thinks it’s so goddamn special

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Some Sung Heroes: Cliff Burton

The last time I posted one of these it was to prop up a bass player from a great ‘80s rock band. And now it’s time to prop up another bass player from an ‘80s metal band—perhaps THE ‘80s metal band: Metallica. Now I know that James, Lars, and Kirk have pretty much rubbed their asses all over the name Metallica in almost every record since the Black Album, and though I don’t give a fig about the Black Album, and never, ever want to hear “Enter Sandman” again, I will admit that it was maybe the last time Metallica made anything worthwhile. I’m not a huge …And Justice for All fan either, though there are some quality moments on the otherwise bloated double record. Really, the only material with Newstead on it that I endorse is the killer Garage Days Re-Revisited ep, which still ranks as my favorite Metallica record. And none of it is original material!

So this last week I have been playing Master of Puppets repeatedly. Why? It was the soundtrack to much of my high school years and the opening acoustic strumming of “Battery” was how I began many a day at St. Lawrence (someone in the cafeteria or in the parking lot was always playing it on their shitty boom box). Listening to it 20 plus years after it was made, the thing still sounds pretty fresh and a whole lot better than the pro-tools, Bob Rock produced crap the band shat out in the '90s. The songs are better, the playing is faster, tighter, and the whole thing just sounds awesome. I credit a lot of this to the man on the 4-string: Cliff Burton.

In the unintentionally hilarious documentary, Some Kind of Monster, the fragments of Metallica audition their latest bass player, Rob Trujillo, and, of course, comparisons to Burton arise. I dare say it was inevitable. Burton was a unique player. He never used a pick, loved the wah-wah pedal, and played chromatic leads that threatened to shove the actual lead guitarist aside. And he was tall, long-haired, dirty looking, fond of denim jackets, had a Misfits tattoo, and, well, looked like a dirt-head. That is how I like my Metallica: looking like a bunch of dirt-heads. Not in suits, not drinking martinis, not shelling out absurd amounts of money to goofy therapists in ugly sweaters, not suing Napster. Oh they grew up, I know, and that’s fine by me, but I tuned out by the time they dubbed thee unforgiven. It just wasn’t the same anymore. Or maybe I grew up? No, that’s can’t be, because I still think “Leper Messiah” is the shit and get all excited when singing along to “stinking drunk with power!”

I once said, very unfeelingly, that the three members of Metallica who survived the bus accident actually conspired to murder Cliff Burton. Burton knew they would stop making interesting, fast, crazed metal and go on to make mainstream shitty imitations, netting them cash and losing them cred. So they pushed him out the window, as he was the one holding them back while, ironically, aiding in their best material. Obviously this is nonsense, but it seems a bit coincidental that the band’s output began drifting toward suckville after Burton’s early demise. I can’t help but wonder what Burton would be up to now. Would he too be clean and sober? Would he have cut his long hair and stuck with the band even as they made, ugh, “Unforgiven Too”? Maybe it’s best he went out when he did.

Well, there’s so much I could say about his playing, but I’ll let that speak for itself. Dust off Ride the Lightning or Master of Puppets, or better yet, peep this video and watch Burton shred on that bass. Case closed.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Fear and Loathing Turns 40

A damn fine piece on the classic Hunter Thompson book that has inspired a million acid trips, imitations, a movie, and far less of the conversation I think the good Dr. was trying to elicit in his stoned, quasi-revolutionary readers. I have never quite known how I feel about the book. Part of my thinks it’s an important book; part of me thinks it's self-indulgent tripe. Well, mostly I love it, but I dislike the book’s fans a bit. Kinda like how I admit that the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty is a good record, but I fucking hate Deadheads. Anyway, one commenter in this post makes the argument that the better read, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, is always eclipsed by Thompson’s search for the American dream, whatever that is. I’d agree. Still, like it or not, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is now 40, and, I suspect (though I won’t reread it) not much better for it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Patton Oswalt Gets Hit With Bad Questions

Read this horrible interview.

Patton Oswalt having a bad time being interviewed. Even when he is not being funny I laugh.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Some Sung Heroes: Michael Anthony

Putting aside, for just a second, the oft debated Van Halen question, Roth or Hager (ROTH!), and ignoring, for two seconds, the recent activity of this shambles of a band, let’s look at the structure of this rock behemoth from the late ‘70s and ‘80s and see how the beast was built. An outrageous front man who performed in, as Eddie called it, the “clowny, classy” roles. Check. A killer guitarist who reinvented the way the instrument was played. Check. A competent, occasionally fantastic drummer who could keep time and land a few awesome fills. Check. A solid, underrated bass player and background vocalist who got the least amount of attention but was an irreplaceable component of the sound. Checkmate.

I get it. Eddie Van Halen is a loving father, and, as such, he can’t see that his son, Wolfgang, is no replacement for Michael Anthony, the pint sized, whiskey sippin’ bass player from Chi who went to Cali and landed a slot as the backbone of one of the best rock acts of all time. Van Halen was the shit. Their run from the debut to 1984 is a thing of rare beauty that can’t be tarnished, not even by their post Roth years. Yeah, I saw them with Sammy twice if no other reason than to see Eddie play solo for 10 of the greatest minutes of my young life, but even as I apologized for 5150 and was genuinely happier with OU812 (probably the best Hager record, though it still pales in comparison to anything from the Roth era), I was one of the many who felt that the band died when Roth left (was kicked out?). Still, I apologized for their shitty records. The guys were maturing. This was good, right? You can’t sing songs about whiskey and partying forever can you? No, you can’t, but does that mean we have to suffer through “Dreams”? Or, ugh, “Why Can’t This Be Love?” a song that broke my heart. (I remember the first time I heard it. I was on the bus coming home from St. Lawrence and one of my friends had his radio tuned to the Loop. They were the first to play the song, one we were all awaiting anxiously. We knew Hager was in, Roth was out. We were worried, we were excited, and then, three minutes later, we were depressed. It was undeniable: the new Halen sucked. But we kept quiet, forming a wordless pact to defend the song and the new incarnation of our favorite band. Still, we all knew deep down that the band was over.)

While the years have not been kind to Van Halen, Van Halen, specifically Eddie, has not been kind to his former bandmates. Yeah, he buried the hatchet with Roth long enough to cash in on a reunion, and he’ll probably reunite with Hager one of these days, but to snub Michael Anthony is unforgiveable. Even if Hager’s lyrics were more obnoxious, trite, and forgettable than Roth’s (which is saying A LOT), and his vocals were, um, reaching for heights (yeah, let’s stick with that), at least the elements of the music were kinda the same. Alex on drums, Eddie (occasionally) shredding on guitar and (often) wussing it up on the keyboard, and Anthony as anchor. But without Mike the band is definitely not the band anymore.

What makes a bass player so special? I hear that question often and I usually want to launch into a tirade in response. Perhaps it is because I played the bass or perhaps it is because I identify with the underdog, but damnit I tire of that question. Still, it needs a response. In regard to Van Halen, I’ll simply direct the listener to their best record, Fair Warning, and ask them to pay special attention to harmonics on “Dirty Movies,” the groves on “Push Comes to Shove,” and the absolute rock steady perfection of “So This is Love” all courtesy of Anthony. This is the record that was at once the peak of their career, the lowest seller, and the beginning of the end. Eddie was ready to quit. He was tired of the party songs and wanted to stretch as an artist. Roth was battling him to keep the band fun and stupid. The tug of war resulted in their most interesting record that still had some wild-n-crazy moments (“Sinners Swing!”) but focused on a considerably darker vibe (“Mean Streets” and the Goblins sounding “Sunday Afternoon in the Park”—one of my favorites). But, as Eddie struggled with the desire to write less dispensable material, Anthony had an open door to shine as the bass player he is. Legend has it that Alex and Eddie hired him after one audition, as he was the only bass player who could keep up with their odd time changes. His presence is barely felt (save for the vocals) on the first record, and the bass opening of “Running with the Devil” is kind of hilariously simple, but fuck all that. Anthony, like many gifted players, knows when to fly and when to walk. He knows well enough to leave the flashy solos to Eddie, but he’s not opposed to laying down a tight bass line where he can. There’s ample evidence that the guy is a workhorse of a player overshadowed by one of the hardest rock musicians in the world to overshadow. Still, to ignore the guy, to kick him out of the band and replace him with a kid, well, that’s just rude. Eddie will always be remembered as a stunning guitarist (rightfully so). Roth will always be remembered as a showman. Let’s hope there’s a little space in the books for Mike as well.

New QC

The newest, latest Quarterly Conversation is up with some great essays and reviews. Among the highlights, a discussion of Bernhard— one writer I feel everyone ought to read— a review of a fascinating looking book on Latin American dictators, and reviews of The Ecco Anthology I assisted with, which, as the author notes, is far from perfect (way too many poems by Milosz) but, nevertheless, is a killer book (by the way, WWB has a new anthology out of Middle Eastern lit that is next on my list, thank you Cassandra), and this review of Zukofsky that cements my decision to never read his sprawling opus.

C’mon get happy!
Her birthday was over the weekend, and I tend not blog during weekend hours, so belated shout out to the one and only Cassandra, mi amor, mi niña, mi vida, mi todo, mi esposa. Besos para ti.