Many times in my life, I’ve been asked, or have indirectly heard, the question “What’s good music that really pumps you up? For when I want to work out or get going for the day?” Heard that question asked several times in several different ways. My usual answers? Pantera, Sevendust, Metallica, to a lesser degree 3 Doors Down and Paul Oakenfeld – and let’s not forget Tchaikovsky.
The suggestions in the answers to that question have a similar tone to me; intense, passionate, fierce, without needing to be angry or enraged, or any other similar negative feeling. Sure, a lot of pump-up music involves anger, but it’s not needed to get your blood going, at all.
Daft Punk proves this remarkably well in their soundtrack to the new movie Tron Legacy. What I like most about this soundtrack more than most is that the artist takes a creative turn while keeping the core of what they do intact. I’m used to Daft Punk as bizarre, mostly lighthearted, with beats that usually entice a house party or rave. They’re consistently fresh in their melodies, and they continue that powerful trek here.
The album is very dark, very intense, and very emotional. “Nocturne” is a brief song that sounds like a funeral scene, and tunes like “Overture”, “Armory” and “Recognizer” set the tone for the album as a whole; intensely passionate and gruesome, but with brilliant harmony. Daft Punk seems to take themselves more seriously than ever before, and you can hear it. And it’s brilliant.
The most traditional-sounding Daft Punk tracks are certainly “End of Line” and “Derezzed.” It has an old school sounding tempo, with sound bytes that you could swear were taken out of the video game Galaga, and brings you back to the time of the original Tron in that sense.
The execs for Tron either gave Daft Punk generally free creative reign, or they told them to write a strong set of songs that balance the Daft Punk we know with the Daft Punk that they want to create going forward. If you like tough, competitive-sounding symphonic instrumentals with a touch of that funky Daft Punk touch, then the soundtrack to Tron Legacy is right up your alley. It’s as inspiring as it is moody.
Good to have you back, boys.
One of my favorite all-time bands, one of the best metal bands ever created, and one of the most promising groups of musicians I’ve ever heard, lived briefly in the mid-to-late nineties. Their guitars were heavy and ugly enough to silence any other in their genre. Their rhythms were as nasty as they were catchy. The music they spanned in a few short years could have changed the scene forever. They put on an incredible aggressive show, and captivated anyone that saw them.
That band was Drain STH; a band formed by four Swedish women that would lead you to believe they were Motorhead gone mad. They made melodies ugly and phenomenal at the same time; something I haven’t heard before, or since. Eleven years since their breakup, and I still miss their bone-crushing symphonies.
Horror Wresting ought to be defined as a metal necessity for any fan of the genre. From the jaw-dropping heaviness of “I Don’t Mind” to the anthem that is “Serve The Shame”, to their hellfire cover of “Ace of Spades” that literally makes you feel like the apocalypse is about to incur its wrath all around you. And, in case you haven’t had enough of a powerful record thrown at you, they write the brilliant “Crack The Liar’s Smile” that sounds like something Nancy Wilson could have written.
But beyond that – their harmony, their excellent timing and their remarkable dark songwriting skills makes them as unique of a band as any I’ve ever experienced. They were ahead of their time, and still are. Every track had the same moodiness, but with different elements each time. And having such a feminine looking band writing something so disgustingly fantastic made them even more interesting.
Their lead singer, Maria Sjoholm, married Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi and that was the end of that. The other members play here and there, but they’ve never been able to find their niche since. It’s such a shame, because in less than five years of playing music together, I easily mark them as one of the most unheralded, intelligent and mesmerizing metal bands in history.
It’s never fair when you’re given the world, and are expected to live up to it.
A year ago now, we lost a King, a leader, a sensation and most importantly, a seemingly wonderful human being. I can’t imagine being the center of the world’s attention, and then on top of it going through such trouble, despair and confusion. While still being all of that, for earth to see. We all like to jump to conclusions, judge as soon as possible, and with that judgment tear people down like moldy old wallpaper. The second something isn’t what we imagine it to be, when it’s something we can’t understand without tearing down our own walls of perfect image, we condemn and destroy it.
I may be wrong. This man may have been a sexual deviant, a double-crosser and a disgrace to generations worldwide. We’ll never really, truly know if he was. What we do truly know is that he showed the world nothing but love, dedication and endless talent that we ate up and later chewed out when it tasted a little funky. I myself have dealt with emotional issues, heartache and awful depression. Letting the world see not only that, but how I’d deal with that, is a trauma none of us could ever begin to imagine. He dealt with his issues with physical changes, interactions none of us gave any time to listen to or understand (including myself, absolutely), and decisions that were questionable at best.
I was having a panic attack once. I was in financial distress, dealing with more uncertainty than I’ve ever experienced, and dealing with losses I never thought I’d have to. If the world saw my reactions to that, and knew nearly every last detail of it, I might have changed myself and made bizarre relations as well. I nearly lost my world; and when you want that world back, and you don’t know how to, you don’t always know your own reason. All you know is, you lost something and you want it back. But you don’t want to be hurtful to anyone, and you don’t want to make a fool of yourself either. Well, to err is human, and there’s no margin of error when the scale is that large.
This man gave us every last drop of all he had to give. His talent, his creativity, his ecologic intelligence and passion, and even a good deal of his sanity. Yes, as we’ve all violently pointed out, he had his mistakes and character decisions that made him far, far from perfect. But are you? Am I?
He pleaded with us, with so many of his songs and lyrics within them. He tried to get us to listen. And of course we didn’t, myself included; he practically lived in obscurity and financial demise for years before he gave his final breath. The same market of journalists, TV hosts and press that glorified his imperfect mistakes and actions all of a sudden felt compassion and loss, and gave their best words. In the world’s best example of not knowing what you have until it’s gone, we lost the Polaris of the entertainment world. Had we heard him out a little better when he begged us to, maybe he wouldn’t have led such a life of inner misery and with such a lack of self-understanding.
He had everything there was to have, absolutely everything – and I can’t imagine he realized much of any of it. He paid dearly for trying to go back in time within his own life, with his home, with choices he made, and he knew it. Still, he died wondering if the world ever even gave a damn about him beyond what he gave and gave until he literally no longer could.
…I take that back. I saw his final documentary that hit theaters last year, and he had all the heart and talent he ever did, and it made it that much sadder to know that never got a chance to develop again. While he should have known better in some way, he paid the price of being cast off too soon.
Do we owe his spirit an apology? Who knows. Should he have shown remorse for his own trouble? Yes, and he did plenty of times. It’s an altogether tragic, sad and confusing loss of one of the best entertainers and activists we’ll ever witness. And if you scoffed at that last statement, I certainly can’t blame you, but I can’t help but understand and even relate a little to someone as in need of help as they were profitable in their deserved success.
He said it best in his own words, which is cryptic and even more melancholy to listen to now:
Like A Comet
Blazing ‘Cross The Evening Sky
Gone Too Soon
Like A Rainbow
Fading In The Twinkling Of An Eye
Gone Too Soon
Shiny And Sparkly
And Splendidly Bright
Here One Day
Gone One Night
Like The Loss Of Sunlight
On A Cloudy Afternoon
Gone Too Soon
Like A Castle
Built Upon A Sandy Beach
Gone Too Soon
Like A Perfect Flower
That Is Just Beyond Your Reach
Gone Too Soon
Born To Amuse, To Inspire, To Delight
Here One Day
Gone One Night
Like A Sunset
Dying With The Rising Of The Moon
Gone Too Soon
When his sunlight began to dim, we shut our blinds well too soon. I absolutely hope the anguish you felt in this lifetime is long gone wherever you are now. Rest in peace and quiet, Michael Jackson.
I wrote in my last post how inspired, original, captivating music is hard to find. How most newer music doesn’t capture the essence of its ancestral rock and pop originators. It’s hard, after so much music in this genre has been written over the past several decades, to find a crisp new sound. Eight out of ten people I know gave up on new music fifteen or twenty years ago.
Stellar Road is not such a band. It’s a strong and solid argument that they’re just a branch of Dave Matthews, Ben Harper or Jack Johnson. I can’t stand the last two artists, and I only like Dave a little. But that’s mostly because most people I grew up with listened to only those few artists for the most part, and most of those people were like James Spader in Pretty in Pink. So, bad connotation there.
I digress. Stellar Road’s new self-titled effort is phenomenal. It’s acoustic rock for the most part, with additional horns and strings as needed. The songwriting is brilliant, though; their melodies and harmonies are, well, stellar. They have passion that a lot of newer music lacks; you can hear it loud and clear in tunes like “Try to Be” and “Amazing.” They’re catchy, but also intelligent; I can imagine an entire amphitheater singing loudly to the chorus of “Shipwrecked” and “Believe.”
They’re bluesier than those in their genre, and you can even hear a little jazz. Each song is put together carefully with just enough construction and layering to make it strong and brilliant, without overdoing it. An entire room could dance and lose their minds to their perfected jams in many of their songs, but it’s the intense passion when they let it rip that really captures me. Daly can croon as well as he can belt out, and the band meshes so well together that you’d think they’ve been doing this for thirty years.
Songs like “Before We Dance” and “Goddamakaway”, on the other hand, put me to ease as well as anything else soothing that I’ve ever heard. You can imagine them being played on a beach after sunset, after a long and exhausting day. They sing of love and fun, of the future and the past; never trying to be something they’re not. I think that stands for something.
Stellar Road is for anyone who enjoys a good rock or pop song. What’s amazing is that the world doesn’t know them, yet; for now, I’ll enjoy seeing them at Chicagoland bars until some major label realizes these songs have to be truly heard.
Before I critique another album, I’m taking this time to make a point, or statement, whatever it is. My thoughts are so jumbled and layered that I don’t know if I’ll make more sense to myself than I might right now. It’s an exhausted argument and a very narrow one as well, but one I feel will always be addressed.
You know who the biggest bands in the world are right now? That’s right, the same damn ones that have been on top for three, four, five, SIX decades now. U2. The Rolling Stones. AC/DC. Metallica. Madonna. The Who. Iron Maiden. Can Phoenix sell out 100,000 seat arenas? No, but Edward The Great can. They’re the biggest draws live, and they’re just as big now as they ever were. These artists and the scores more at their level have sealed their legacies and legends, and have inspired masses and generations, and always will.
Now, granted, they’ve had the time to keep it together, stay together and stay inspired enough to stay relevant. Time to create these legacies. But these artists defined their generation, revolutionized music, whether they wanted to or not. There’s no way to know if something you did will be groundbreaking and a worldwide favorite, but there’s always something magical that happens when it’s made.
These artists are the master at what they do. Whether it’s brilliant lyrics, defining entertainment, groundbreaking musical talent, they mastered it. You see them live, they define your own lifetime, they move you, they become a part of your own dreams and loves.
Kings of Leon? They’re as marginally forgettable as Kingdom Come. Rihanna? Incredibly talented, but is the millionth R&B singer to shout out songs about relationships. Lil Wayne? I’ll admit that hip-hop has had many brilliant talents in their innovative and culture-defining uprising, people like Russell Simmons, Grandmaster Flash and Dr. Dre, but at what point does it begin to sound like self-obsessed noise?
I don’t write this blog to attack people who live their dreams and make great careers for themselves, and I’m trying to pick my words wisely now. But there’s a point where you just have to take a leap and say “Will this inspire? Will this song live on? What is the point here?”
I’ll also say that artists, many of them, don’t want to lead the pack. They’re not looking for infamy, or an avant-garde musical lifeline, and that’s fine. But there’s got to be someone who can take the torch from the artists that have held it for generations. It’s going to have to happen sometime. The Rolling Stones are nearing their mortal end. So is Paul McCartney, Jimmy Page and Roger Daltrey. Rock n’ roll isn’t old enough to see its direct originators play it through their 80’s, but it’s far from easily possible.
Music isn’t defining anymore. If it is, I consider myself dated. Music’s movement has been technological; vocoders and auto-tuners are “in.” Bands like The Postal Service, Owl City, VNV Nation and Shiny Toy Guns are successful due to their computerized sounds that stem as far back as Nine Inch Nails and before that, 80’s synth pop.
In that, music a continuance. Maybe that’s all it is. I don’t know if music is going to define our lives like it did our parents and grandparents. I think we’re forced to grow up too fast in a harsher reality, and music doesn’t always have the sway it used to. With more ways to get music out there, with more media and with so much created in an always-corrupt recording industry, maybe there will be no one to step up to the likes of The Beatles. Then again, we’ve never been able to see what’s to come in music, so why start now?
I’m rambling. I knew I would. I guess my bottom line is that I’m bummed I missed Woodstock, missed the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, missed the foundation of bands like Aerosmith, Cream, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. Those bands changed the world. They’re honored and worshiped today and will be forever.
Is there anyone else coming? Will my generation and those after have such incredibly earth-shattering swarms of talent that would overcome any dry spell in popular music? I don’t know, and I don’t see it, and that worries me.
In an age of advanced electronic music, that stems from techno to house to jungle, it’s all too easy to get caught up in gadgets and vocoders, and miss out on the whole purpose of music, which is of course to reflect emotion, thought and personality. Key word; person.
Owl City’s ‘Ocean Eyes’ is a remarkable and respectable take on emotional electronic music. “Fireflies” is their biggest hit, discussing the rotation of our world, the colorful symphony of millions of fireflies and how he’s kept them before. Its music video and lyrics combined paint the image of the imagination of what used to thrill us as children. I will argue that it is damn hard to bring a refreshing take to nostalgia in a song, but they pulled it off this time.
To me, that’s just one of the many peaks of this album. The album continues to show an exciting, visual take on the world that we take for granted, and again one that hasn’t been done over and over again. You would think these guys lay under a skyline all night every night, and let their minds explode. “I am floating away in a silent ballet” is one of the several brilliant lyrics on the album that just provide an excellent summation of the scenery they show such passion for. Meteors, stars, the whole non-luminescence we all take for granted. They connect such nature to love in one of my favorites, “Vanilla Twilight”, as well as on “If My Heart Was A House”, where he dances and embraces under a sun held from a string. Adam Young, the sole member, makes his voice almost as visual as the words sung out of it, as he allows it to travel and echo and carry with the many harmonies he creates on each song, in a perfect order.
I won’t dissect albums track-by-track, because it makes an album all to microscopic. The best albums are defined as a whole scope, and this album fits that bill when it comes to electronic music. Again, what makes Own City so unique and outstanding is that they take the largest departure from ‘natural’ sounds in my opinion, that being synthesizers/keyboards, and combine that with the most natural things in the world; our sky, daisies, islands, and insecurity coming down like a tidal wave that myself and many others understand all too well.
It’s music that has very much to do with personal taste more than the quality of the music, so I could see how Owl City could be hated; the bizarreness of their band name, the whole electronic sound, the lack of machismo. Who knows. But in my opinion, the album creates a scene that envisions a combat to my anxiety, and brings me to a place where I actually feel relaxed.
I, too, got lost in this silent ballet.
It’s been hard for me to find my words on here. I’ve spread the word – I fear I’ve lost what little steam I had on here. It’s so funny how you can have as many interests as I do, and as many opinions as I do, but when given a blank page to write on in recent times, neither come to form.
I’ve done writing exercises. I’ve spoken to writers I believe in and admire, and I do what they say; just write. Write, write, and write some more. Who cares, just write. It’s fun, but also aggravating, because no matter how much I try not to worry about the substance and stick to just the idea of writing, I want to make the words perfect. And nothing is perfect. Everything has its limits.
I’ve been using baseball on here to serve as a segway to a lot of emotions, feelings and psyches. Honestly, my love of the game is the only sensible reason I have for doing so. Baseball is a simple game played for simple reasons. I almost get uncomfortable when a baseball player or coach is grilled on some sort of “mindset” when going up to the plate, or catching a ball, or throwing a pitch. It’s simple; hit the damn ball, catch the damn ball, throw whatever pitch you know the batter won’t like. It’s all about whether you can simply achieve that simple success or not.
Maybe that’s why I used baseball, come to think of it; nothing is more complex than human emotion; nothing to me is more simple than a baseball game. Using something simple to relate something complex makes the task quite easy.
But I’m defining more, and I’m toning up this site more. It’s not going to be just baseball. Life can be defined through lots of methods, and I will be using this site to open every door I’d like to.
I’ve been watching a lot of Mad Men. I’m nearly done with the second season. The show takes place in the early 1960’s Manhattan, at an advertising firm called Stanley Cooper. It follows an executive there by the name of Don Draper, and the life he leads and the past he fights.
I can’t help but compare myself to characters I watch in my favorite shows. There are qualities in each character I’ve come to love in each favorite series; I love the living-to-die, gung-ho ferocity of Jack Bauer, I love the power of Tony Soprano, I love the intelligence and leadership of President Josiah Bartlet, and I love how Hawkeye Pierce can turn dark days into light and sarcastic humor. Each character has taken a lot of pain, and in rising from it, has developed some sort of unique strength and intrigue that keeps me watching them. Events and life-changing experiences these characters have that you just don’t get to see in this society where everyone shuns their problems away from others.
Don Draper is different. I like him less than most characters I’ve gotten to know, and I’ll even include all the characters in the thousands of books I’ve read over the years as well. On the surface, if I knew the man, I’d consider him just another suit. He’s gritty, he’s tough as nails to be around if you like to be goofy like me, and he cheats on his loving wife with several women that I can hardly stand to watch. Maybe it’s because my own dad couldn’t stay loyal, and thus it’s hard for me to swallow, but at the very least watching unfaithfulness is tough, and hearing about it makes me subconsciously make a fist. Not a character you can see me enjoying, clearly; yet, I’m deeply interested in him and what he does and how he lives.
I realized this is for one main reason, at least the only one I’ve thought of; unlike every other character I’ve come to love, I have a connection to him that I don’t with anyone else I’ve watched or read about. He has no family. He changed his identity, started fresh after coming home from the Korean War, after a childhood and adolescence where he never found his niche or real home. So he remade himself that on one hand is a success, and in another is this mysterious and empty darkness that he probably had to assume when he shut his old life away. After all, you can’t shun the first couple decades of your life completely without either realizing and emptiness, forming an emptiness, or even risking your own emotionality. I do have more family than Don did, but I know that emptiness he feels. The same things that haunt him haunt me as well. The only difference is, I deal with mine by talking about it and making sure I surround myself with great friends and my dream of a girlfriend, and he deals with his by masking himself from everything and fighting his battles alone to the point where no one gets him.
Every emotion is a crossroads; each story is told with each decision made. Sometimes we deal with it by throwing ourselves into the fires of war, or by making our own army to max out our power, or by joking all the way through until a fifth of liquor becomes a truth serum. Either way, when someone you’re close to mistreats you, it brings you to this crossroads where you either uniquely build yourself back up from its frayed ends, or you end up mistreating others and never letting anyone know who you really are. Sometimes the war doesn’t end in your head or your heart until you end the battle for good.
Life feels different when certain people in your life aren’t around. Not everything has the same feel – the days don’t have the same routine, and it all makes you miss the person more. Even if it’s just for a brief while.
I haven’t been able to wake up and hear her outside babysitting. I don’t wake up to the almost-empty coffee pot keeping warm just outside the bedroom. I don’t hear that pretty laugh, I don’t walk in a room to see her head-over-heels enthralled in her Stephanie Meyer books. The house doesn’t feel as warm, and many things around the house remind me of her.
It sounds silly – she’s only been gone a short time, and many couples actually get excited about this – but while I’m happy with myself, I’m a whole lot happier in my daily life when I get to see that pretty face on a good day or bad day. When someone brings that much life and spark into your own, it’s sorely missed when it’s not physically there.
People need personal time, days and nights to themselves, to decompress and gather their thoughts and work on themselves if need be. Or to just sit and not have to talk or worry about our expressions, or to let a bad mood pass through.
But on a rainy day, or multiple rainy days in a row for that matter, when you’re not working – you wish more than ever that her pillow was back on the bed, her clothes back in the closet and her smile lighting up your day all over again. It makes you realize how lucky you are and how much that person means to you, and it makes you realize how much loving someone can make you feel that much lonelier when they’re not there for a long time.
I’m a lucky man, and I can’t wait to have my girl home. I’ll cherish her all the more when she returns.
For twenty-three seasons, X has been a major league baseball player. A star for many seasons, always reliable, always professional. Always came to batting practice early, always doing the extra infield drills, always talking to each coach thoroughly, with the eagerness of a rookie, year after passing year.
That’s what made X such a wonderful player, and such a perfect role model. It doesn’t take a baseball fan to understand the love he had for his craft, for his brethren, for those that loved him as much as he loved them back. It’s may be talent that allowed him to work his magic with his glove and his bat, but it took character to turn that into the respect and devotion he’s put into his entire carer.
X was finishing up work on his glove one Spring morning, in the clubhouse. He always used the same mitt; that same old trusty mitt, that’s caught over 10,000 balls in its lifeline. X was beckoned into the manager’s office, where the door was shut gently behind him. X stood up and smiled, and put the mitt inside of his duffle bag. He knew.
“What’s going on, Mr. Coach?” X asked, knowing the conversation that was about to begin. Yet still respectful, as always.
“X, I don’t know how to say this, but I’m going to try anyway. The staff and I just put together the 25-man roster, and I just spoke to (General Manager). This is killing me…but you didn’t have a good Spring, X. We both know that. you hit under .100 and could barely chase any fly balls. If we kept you on this year, everyone would see it would hurt the team, and neither of us want that. I know you’ve been on this team since half our lineup was born…you know what I’m saying, X.”
X blinked a few times, and looked down, noddling slowly. “I know, Mr. Coach. I lost count of how many hours I ice my shoulders and knees these days. The desire’s still there, so is the passion…but my body isn’t. You don’t need to say anything else. I’ll clean out my locker for the kid and fly back to Chicago. Thanks for letting me play the Spring out, Mr. Coach.”
The coach smiled, with faint tears forming on the sides of both eyes. He stood up and shook X’s hand gratefully. “We could have put you on the 40-man roster and sent you down to the minors, but you looked like you were saying goodbye every day already. You and I go back a lot of years, X, no one will miss you more than I do. Thank you…thank you.” The coach took his hat off, holding it in front of his stomach, and let the tears flow.
X was speechless. He nodded and smiled, and went to open the office door. As he did, he looked back one more time. “It’s been a great run, Mr. Coach. I’m going to go on the field one more time, if it’s alright, and I’ll be on my way. Give the new kid my regards.” The coach humbly nodded and smiled back, and X shut the door.
Getting back to his locker, he went through each memory he had as he packed up. The first cap he got when he signed his first contract two and a half decades ago, pictures of him friends long since retired or deceased, and a sticker he got on the first day of spring training twenty-three years ago that said “Baseball is your music; sing your finest tune.” A token from one of the best players of his lifetime.
X’s eyes watered to match his lightly quivering cheeks as he carefully peeled the sticker off the locker and put it outside of the locker door. “Best of luck, kid” X said as he gathered his things. He took one last look at the old and small clubhouse, still as can be. All of the other players went on that old familiar plane right back to the major league city, preparing for the 162 game season ahead.
X walked slowly out of the clubhouse, down the long and low hallway leading to the field. He walked up to the plate and took out his bat. Seeing the groundskeeper, also a dear friend, he called out to him “Hey Z, can you do me a favor?”
Z didn’t need to ask what he was doing there, but wasn’t sure what the request was. An old high school friend of X’s, he felt the goodbyes of the Spring with everyone else. He shook his head and laughed, and walked over from where he was in the visitors bullpen, where he was fertilizing the grass.
“Yeah X, you old lug, what do you want?”
“Do me a favor and walk over in front of the mound and pitch one like you used to. Just one.”
“I’m not even going to ask. Whatever floats your boat, X.”
Z walked up in front of the mound, about fifty feet from home plate. He picked up a nearby ball and got his grip. Smiling through his focus, he threw one straight and true in front of X.
X pushed his right foot back, flexed his arms, quickly raised them and swung through his aching bones and muscles. He flinched in pain as he connected with the ball, and swung through before dropping the bat immediately. The ball sailed, almost looking as if it was enjoying its moment in the air, before finding its home past the center field fence in the accompanying lawn.
X stood there, with the numb pain lingering throughout his upper body, with his throbbing fingers. He looked at where the ball landed for what felt like eternity, and looked back at Z, who looked back at him quixotically.
“No worries, Z, just had to do that one more time. I’ll see you around.”
Without another word, X walked through the field, taking it all in after his self-produced last hurrah, and let himself out through the right field gate. He didn’t look back that time; he let the hit speak for itself, as he always had before.