Category Archives: Sort-of-Music-Related

Controversial Opinion: “St. Anger” is better than “Fuel”

With a new Metallica album nearly upon us, I’ve been spending the past few days revisiting the metal giant’s previous works. I write about metal every now and then, mostly because I’m a pretty casual metal fan. A real n00b if you will. I tend to like the classic metal acts like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Motorhead, and Metallica. But that said, I really only played through Guitar Hero Metallica once and that was strictly for the achievements. My favorite Metallica album is their 1983 debut record KILL ‘EM ALL which is an economical, no-thrills thrash metal classic that stands as one the best examples of the genre. Love or hate Metallica today, there is no denying that in 1983 the band was simply amazing.

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Complex, insightful lyrics.

Anyway, as we all know, times change and bands develop. Metal fans are some of the worse when it comes to accepting the passage of time. And I don’t really blame them, after all when you begin your career with KILL ‘EM ALL why change things? Prior to 2003’s ST. ANGER, I think the band’s worst album is RELOAD from 1996. RELOAD is pretty pompous and finds the band doing sequel songs which I can’t believe is even a thing (“The Unforgiven II”). The album is also much longer than KILL ‘EM ALL…longer by a staggering 20 minutes. That’s a lot of fluff and filler to sit through. The worst song on the album, in my opinion, is the ridiculous first track/single “Fuel.” I remember when this song came out and I wasn’t even listening to metal at the time. The song was everywhere and from what I remember people liked it at the time. But boy does “Fuel” sound stupid today. Basically a Nike or Gatorade jingle, “Fuel” is a dunder-headed faux-tough guy anthem. It’s weightlifter music, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, but the idea of “Fuel” and the reality are two separate things. On paper, the masculine word salad appears hyper-masculine and aggressive. Listening to the song just makes me giggle. And I’m not giggling with Metallic I’m giggling at Metallica.

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Remember that time Spider-Man punched Metallica? That was so cool.

Compare that to ST. ANGER’s title track “St. Anger.” The song deals with similar tough-guy themes and has a schizophrenic fast/slow thing going on but I don’t crack a smile listening to it. I pick “St. Anger” because I feel like it best encapsulates the album, which prior to 2011’s LULU, was considered to be the band’s weakest album.  I don’t even know what to think about that mess of an album and frankly can only fall asleep most nights by pretending that it never happened. ST. ANGER is all about well…anger and mental issues and stuff. I know this because the band had a documentary come out (Some Kind of Monster) that explained all this to me. I think the frantic yoyoing of “St. Anger” fits with that theme and even though it was recorded in the crappiest way possible (modern metal production usually sucks) I think “St. Anger” actually accomplishes what it sets out to do. I’m also not embarrassed to get caught listening to “St. Anger.” When “Fuel” is on and somebody enters the room, I turn that shit down and hang my head.

I still feel like many people hate ST. ANGER so much they’d do or say anything rather than admit that parts of it aren’t all that bad. I know that I will lose what little metal credibility I have by writing this but: I don’t actually mind ST. ANGER that much. It’s far from the heights of KILL ‘EM ALL, but then again I think most of the band’s output falls into that category. Regardless, neither “Fuel” nor “St. Anger” are the worst Metallica songs…that would be “I Disappear” from the Mission Impossible II soundtrack. Holy crap is that a bad song.

So how clickbait-y is my click-bait title? Have you any opinions about either song? Let me know down in the comments. And stay tuned for my shitty, uninformed review of the new Metallica album later this week!

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Campaign to Send Me to See Kanye West Official Over

You might recall a few months ago when I started a Go Fund Me campaign in order to send me to Las Vegas to see Kanye West perform live. Don’t remember that? Well, it happened. Fueled by the  desperation to see the man perform LIFE OF PABLO live in person and a lack of funds in order to travel outside of Denver, I emulated my musical hero and took to the Internet in order to (essentially) beg for money. So how did I do? Well, I made $6 more than Kanye made when he infamously sought money from Internet Zillionaire/Facebook Mogul Mark Zuckerberg…of course, that means I only raised $6. Well short of the $900 I was asking for. Now, let me admit now that that figure was pretty high, but consider the fact that I need airfare, a hotel, and a ticket to Yeezus’s show. I only guestimated, so $900 might have been on the low side…who knows?

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The campaign is over, I’m no longer accepting donations, mostly because it’s too late for me to raise money to attend the Vegas show. But don’t shed any tears for this middle-aged rock blogger, for every time Yeezus closes one door he immediately opens another (and then tweets about it). This week it was announced the second leg of Kanye’s tour would come to my beloved Denver, Colorado! Huzzah! So this Friday at 10:00am I’m dusting off my credit card and paying whatever number fate demands I pay in order to see Mr. West. I wish the show wasn’t on the Monday after Thanksgiving, but we do what we can with what we are given, right?

I’m going to document the shit out of this concert, so stay tuned for updates!

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Collins, Phil

A few years ago, I wrote about some of my musical guilty pleasures. Included on that list was the band Genesis. I’ve had Phil Collins on the brain for a few weeks now, and I’m not sure why. Then last week I read an article about how he’s planning on playing at the opening ceremonies of the US Open at the end of this month. It’s a big deal because Collins has all but dropped off the face of the Earth these past few years. The reason for this has varied, depending on who you ask: Collins can’t hold drumsticks anymore due to a crippling back/nerve issue, he wants to spend more time with his family, he’s near death after years of substance abuse, and he’s so rich he doesn’t need to perform or record music anymore. But the biggest reason given for his extended absence from the spotlight–he got sick and tired of all the criticism.

This leads me back to my post from 2012 on my Top 5 Guiltiest Musical Pleasures. Genesis made the list, but why? It’s wasn’t because of their bizarre and sometimes beautiful early prog-records with Peter Gabriel. It was because of Phil Collins. I grew up on classic rock radio and Collins’ work with Genesis and his first few solo albums were in heavy rotation back in the 1990’s. Even today, his biggest songs like “In The Air Tonight” are played almost as often as FM staples like “Stairway to Heaven” and “Hotel California.” Growing up, Collins and Genesis never struck me as particularly cool nor did they strike me as uncool. This was not the case among my peers. I had a friend in Junior High who used to get teased mercilessly because his mother was a very, very big Phil Collins fan. I liked this guy a lot, but there were so many other things about him people could make fun of, so why was his mom being a Phil Collins fan such an issue?

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Is this the face of the most hated man in popular music?

I have two theories about why people hate Phil Collins so much. The first is that Collins was simply just too damn successful. The ubiquitous nature of his music during the 1980’s and early 1990’s made people sick of him. The same reasoning can be applied to The Eagles, who also have gone from beloved to hated by the culture at large. Getting over-played on the radio isn’t the band’s fault, but the listening public can only take so much before a backlash begins. Modern radio with its limited song rotation certainly did nothing to help either Collins or The Eagles. By playing “Life In The Fast Lane” 50 to 100 times a day, people got sick of The Eagles. Likewise, Collins was overplayed both as a successful solo artist and as a member of Genesis. Collins was a double-threat releasing hit songs by himself and with Genesis, though many people might have trouble telling them apart, especially near the end of both his solo career and his life with the band. Collins became a symbol of the old guard, his success was so great he became locked in an ivory tower. This made him the perfect target for the younger bands emerging in the 1990’s who showed real disdain for him (specifically Oasis, who were merciless in their public criticism of Collins).

The second reason Collins has become so hated has to do with Collins the artist. Phil Collins has two modes: mindless pop and painfully earnest sincerity. People can handle one or the other, but when an artist tries to exist in both worlds people start having problems. A good example of this is “Another Day In Paradise.” The song was written by Collins at the end of the 1980’s and tackles the issue of homelessness. It’s a serious subject, one that is undercut by the fact that it’s being done by a millionaire who made his fortune off of bubblegum pop like “Sussudio.” Collins tried to make both serious art and product, essentially trying to exist in two different boxes. This was something that people simply couldn’t reconcile. Making matters worse, a large swath of the listening public finds earnest sincerity fake when it’s attached to a smarmy-looking millionaire.

But none of this is very fair to Collins, is it? After all, it’s not his fault that he was so successful. And it’s not his fault that he’s able to make simple pop music and music with a bit more weight behind it. I don’t think the man’s career is unblemished (it isn’t) or that he hasn’t recorded more than a few stinkers (he has), but I do think the level of hate for Collins is simply disproportionate to his contribution to popular culture. Even if you don’t particularly like him or his music, you can’t help but admit that “In The Air Tonight” is an interesting, cool, song. In fact, I can’t think of another song that’s like “In The Air Tonight” that became a massive hit.

So I’m removing both Genesis and Phil Collins from my list of Guilty Pleasures and instead owning the fact that I like a large portion of the music he’s created. There’s been a sort of ironic appreciation of his career over the past few years, but I want it to be known that there is not a drop of irony in my love for Phil Collins. Human beings are petty, sometimes jealous creatures, and my guess is we needed a whipping boy. I’m sorry that person had to be Collins, but at least he seems to have been able to take it. Imagine someone like poor Morrissey saddled with a Phil Collins-level of public malice! He’d have thrown himself under a bus or train decades ago. I suspect that there are more than a few people placed in that awkward situation of secretly liking something that’s seemingly universally despised. If you’re such a person, my recommendation to you is to cast off the shackles of conformity and own your opinion. Unless you like Nickelback, in which case you’re not right in the head.

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Tegan & Sara Vs. Middle Class Fashion

It was 2004 when I was first introduced to Canadian pop duo Tegan & Sara. I’m sure I’ve written about it many times before, but in a nutshell: “Little” Steven Van Zandt turned me onto them via his radio show. Somehow, Little Steven was finally able to penetrate the thick cloud of testosterone swirling around my brain and he convinced me that women could rock and there was nothing wrong with a dude listening to “girl music.” Sure, it’s funny to look back on this now as some sort of revelation, but I was young and dumb smack dab in the middle of the country.

Since that time, I’ve followed Tegan & Sara’s careers with great interest. [Sidebar: I can’t believe SO JEALOUS, my favorite album of theirs, is 12 years old. Where the hell has the time gone? ] Over the years the duo have morphed from indie darlings to a much more mainstream act. Besides appearing on TV and the radio, the concert venues have been getting larger and larger. It’s all very exciting and I’m honestly very happy for them that they’ve found success. However, I’ve noticed that as their popularity increases Tegan & Sara seem to move further and further from the indie rock/folk sound that I loved so much when I first discovered them. This first became noticeable on their 2009 album SAINTHOOD. When it first came out I enjoyed SAINTHOOD, even though I noted that the sound skewed a bit more synth-pop than their previous albums. Then in 2013 they released HEARTTHROB, the album the launched them into the popular consciousness with the single “Closer.” When I heard this song in a JC Penny, I knew that Tegan & Sara were officially entering Kings of Leon territory.

 

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If their new album was a cool as their eye make-up I swear to God they’d be my all-time favorite band. And, this article would not exist. So really, everyone would win.

 

Let me pause in order to make two things perfectly clear. First, I’d like to say that there is nothing wrong with a band evolving and changing over a period of time. I have a lot of trouble with this because on an emotional level, I just want things to stay the same forever. Like most humans, I profess that I love change and that chang is good all the while fearing change. Intellectually, I know The Beatles are a better band than say AC/DC because none of The Beatles records sound the same. The Fab Four changed and grew over the course of their albums and the world was all the better for it. When a band doesn’t grow and change over time they turn into a factory, endlessly producing the same product over and over. To the point where I honestly can’t tell the difference between the last 4 AC/DC albums. I love AC/DC and bands like them (The Ramones also come to mind) but let’s face it: doing the same thing over and over isn’t the same as jumping from “Love Me Do” to SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND.

So while I poke fun of sell out bands like Kings of Leon that started out making cool garage rock with dirty lyrics who went on to become Mom Rockers, I can’t begrudge them from trying something new. Even if that new thing isn’t what I want. With Tegan & Sara, I wouldn’t want them to pump out endless clones of THIS BUSINESS OF ART or IF IT WAS YOU for the next fifteen years. I dearly love those records, but I don’t think that would make Tegan & Sara happy nor would it make me happy ultimately. Maybe I don’t like this new dance-pop direction they’ve taken, but who’s to say that this won’t lead them towards something new that I will love.

 

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Middle Class Fashion: purple power.

 

Tegan & Sara but out a new album recently, an album called LOVE YOU TO DEATH.  Guess what? I didn’t really love it to death. I listened to it exactly once, because I’m a fan, and then I promptly forgot about it. The only thing I can exactly recall about it is that it’s painfully short. Like barely clocking in at 30 minutes short. Ten tracks short. The sort of release that feels like a band running out of steam. As I write this, I just pushed play on the album and right from the first song (“That Girl”) I find that I don’t hate this music. It just isn’t as good as “Time Running” or “Walking With A Ghost.” It’s not that Tegan & Sara are wrong and making less-inspired music, it must be that I just don’t like this sort of electro-pop music, right? Wrong.

One of my favorite albums to come out this year is III by Middle Class Fashion*. This album shares many of the same musical genetic components of the new wave of Tegan & Sara albums. The difference? Middle Class Fashion don’t do a serviceable job, they’re borderline brilliant. I actually think they’re brilliant, but I’m afraid to jinx them by throwing that sort of label around. The songwriting is tighter and more inspired, the arrangements are lusher and more interesting on III than they are on LOVE YOU TO DEATH. I’ve wanted to write about III and Middle Class Fashion since the album came out earlier this year, but I’ve been completely gobsmacked by it. The songs are all catchy and the lyrics are really interesting, but I have no idea what the songs are really about. Literate and mysterious, Middle Class Fashion remind me of REM’s Michael Stipe singing about how he’s gay without anyone in middle America picking up on that. My favorite song on III is a song called “86” which I think is both a reference to “86-ing something” and the year the lead singer was born, but honestly, that’s probably not even close. And I kind of love that about “86.” Compare that with the single off of LOVE YOU TO DEATH, “Boyfriend.” There’s nothing subtle or mysterious about “Boyfriend,” the song is pretty much what you think it’s about. I’m a fucking dunce and I know what that song is about.

What’s the difference between a band like Middle Class Fashion and Tegan & Sara? Besides the fact that Tegan & Sara are super-well-known. Middle Class Fashion are in the early stages of their careers, I suppose (III is the band’s third album, kinda like LED ZEPELLIN III, which makes me love them all that much more). But I think the difference between the two bands is more than just the chronology of the life of these bands. Middle Class Fashion exude a level of artistic confidence that Tegan & Sara had but somehow lost. I’m not privy to all the behind-the-scene goings on with either band, but I’ll wager someone in a very slick looking suit is influencing the artistic choices Tegan & Sara are making. Middle Class Fashion are probably doing exactly what they want to do and that comes through in the music. Also, the songwriter/singer in Middle Class Fashion is a fucking genius operating on a different level than the usual rock/pop singer-songwriter**.

Though on the surface Tegan & Sara and Middle Class Fashion have a lot in common, really this is an apples-and-oranges comparison. Tegan & Sara have somehow wandered into the same sonic playground of Middle Class Fashion and suffer greatly through the comparison. I hope that this phase of Tegan & Sara’s career ultimately results in more interesting music and I hope Middle Class Fashion keep making great records. And if Middle Class Fashion want to genre-hop they’ve more than earned that right, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve got an open mind and will follow artists I like down any rabbit hole, even if it’s just for one listen.

 

 

*Okay, so don’t kill me, but III is 11 tracks and 28 minutes long. But ya know, this is a good kind of brevity…

**Fun fact, I once stood behind the dude in Middle Class Fashion in line for beer after a show. I worked up the nerve to tell him how much I enjoyed their then-current album JUNGLE. No way in hell would I have done what with the singer.

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ROCK N’ READ: The Rap Year Book

Earlier this summer I was in Barnes & Noble, haunting the Arts & Entertainment section. I was looking for a good book to read on the history of punk music, what I found instead was a really good primer for rap music. Shea Serrano, a former columnist on the now-defunct Grantland website, has crafted a nice introduction to the genre. Far from being definitive, The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song From Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated, and Deconstructed provides a nice introduction to a rap novice (such as myself). Like the rather lengthy title suggests, the book is broken up into chapters by year starting in 1979 and ending in 2014, each chapter focuses on the most important song of said year. Serrano opens each chapter simply with a “What This Song Is About” and “Why It’s Important” section before proceeding to wax philosophically about the merits of that years song. This longer, essay portion of each chapter is followed up with a colorful infographic or illustration that ties somehow into the subject matter of the song featured. These are all really amusing, though I didn’t get to enjoy them as fully as I’d would have liked because I bought the Kindle version of the book and most of them didn’t display properly on my iPad.

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The Rap Year Book chronicles the maturation of the the genre and illustrates not only the massive creative talent behind the music, but also maps out the various genres and sub-genres that contributed to the birth of rap. Despite being a thoughtful, articulate explanation of why each song is most important song of a particular year, this book is divisive as hell. Anytime one tries to pick “the best of the year” in any subject, there’s going to be some hard choices made. Refreshingly, at the end of every chapter there is a “Rebuttal” section where another writer gives a brief explanation of why an entirely different song from that year is actually the best song. Some of these short mini-essays could have been fleshed out themselves into interesting chapters. I found this to be a ballsy move on Serrano’s part and helps to illustrate just how the author doesn’t 100% fully believe that his picks are the only correct picks for song of the year.

In case your’e wondering, here are Serrano’s picks/chapters of the book:

1979 “Rapper’s Delight” The Sugarhill Gang

1980 “The Breaks” Kurtis Blow

1981 “Jazzy Sensation” Afrika Bambaataa and the Jazzy Five

1982 “The Message” Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five

1983 “Sucker M.C.’s” Run-DMC

1984 “Friends” Whodini

1985 “La Di Da Di” Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick

1986 “6 in the Mornin’” Ice-T

1987 “Paid in Full” Eric B. and Rakim

1988 “Straight Outta Compton” N.W.A

1989 “Fight the Power” Public Enemy

1990 “Bonita Applebum” A Tribe Called Quest

1991 “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” Geto Boys

1992 “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” Dr. Dre, featuring Snoop Dogg

1993 “C.R.E.A.M.” Wu-Tang Clan

1994 “Juicy” The Notorious B.I.G.

1995 “Dear Mama” Tupac

1996 “California Love” Tupac, featuring Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman

1997 “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” Puff Daddy, featuring Mase

1998 “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” DMX

1999 “My Name Is” Eminem

2000 “Big Pimpin’” Jay Z, featuring UGK

2001 “Takeover” vs. “Ether” Jay Z vs. Nas

2002 “Grindin’” The Clipse

2003 “In Da Club” 50 Cent

2004 “Still Tippin’” Mike Jones, featuring Slim Thug and Paul Wall

2005 “Gold Digger” Kanye West, featuring Jamie Foxx

2006 “Hustlin’” Rick Ross

2007 “International Players Anthem” UGK, featuring Outkast

2008 “A Milli” Lil Wayne

2009 “Best I Ever Had” Drake

2010 “Monster” Kanye West, featuring Rick Ross, Jay Z, Bon Iver, and Nicki Minaj

2011 “Niggas in Paris” Jay Z and Kanye West

2012 “Same Love” Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

2013 “Control” Big Sean, featuring Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica

2014 “Lifestyle” Rich Gang, featuring Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan

 Obviously the first chapter, 1979’s “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang, is an important chapter because it kicks off both the book and the genre itself. Other standout chapters (in my humble opinion) are 1989’s “Fight the Power,” 1990’s “Bonita Applebum” (cited here as the “first true rap love song”), and 2006’s “Hustlin.” I really enjoyed the chapter on Rick Ross’ “Hustlin” because I liked finding out what a complete and utter bullshit artist Ross is. The evolution of rap songwriting from brutally autobiographical to the fanciful bullshit stylings of Rick Ross is a fascinating transformation. I also really appreciate how well-represented Kanye West during the 00’s.

There’s a Spotify playlist available that features the songs mentioned in the book and it’s just as essential. Overall, I think the careful thought and intelligent analysis of The Rap Year Book make this a must-read for anyone even remotely interested it the both rap music and modern black art. Even if you don’t agree with all of the choices for song of the year, there is so much good analysis of lyrics, artist backstory, historical context, and in-depth interpretation this is one year book you’ll actually want to revisit.

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Iron Maiden Legacy of the Beast

Legendary British metalheads Iron Maiden are no strangers to merchandising. Beyond the usual band March (t-shirts, posters, hats, etc.) the band was one of the first acts I was personally aware of hawking their own brand of beer. These days, phone apps are where the money is, so it should come as no surprise that Iron Maiden have an iPhone game. Intrigued, I downloaded Iron Maiden Legacy of the Beast to see what it was like. What sort of game would it be? I had no idea. To my surprise, the game is a fanatasy turn-based RPG!


The game follows Maiden’s long-time mascot Eddie as he battles monsters on a quest to reclaim pieces of his soul. Along the way, a mysterious clairvoyant woman helps him and various monsters join your party. The graphics are pretty good for a mobile game. The visuals are fun but not gruesome, like many metal album covers, and the artwork skews very comic book-y. I’m not a huge fan of turn-based games, but I think this style of game play works well for a mobile game. I really liked the style of the creatures you battle and their various attacks. The game also features a ton of references to Iron Maiden’s music. The levels and creatures all have fun names that either directly or indirectly reference the band’s impressive musical legacy. Some of the sound effects for the menus and some of the attacks are also musical flourishes (drum strikes and guitar riffs and the like).


The game is free, which of course means the are micro-transactions. There are a plethora of power-ups and collectibles which I had a really hard time understanding. I played for about 20 minutes before I hit a wall and was asked if I wanted to pay a little money to get extra goodies. I think that if you’re able to resist the nickel-and-diming Iron MaidenLegacy of the Beast is worth checking out if you’re a fan of the band and need a pleasant enough distraction. Casual fans may enjoy the game, too but this game is pretty by-the-numbers and I have no doubt I wouldn’t have bothered downloading it were it not for the bands’s licence. Have you played this game? What are your thoughts and feelings?

I would love to see a GNR game set in a monster-filled LA. Now that’s a game I could really sink my teeth into…

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Please Consider Supporting Toxic Melons’ Kickstarter

Hello Friends. So remember when I asked you all to send me $900 so I could go see Kanye West perform in Las Vegas? Well perhaps consider donating instead to Paul Fairbairn’s Toxic Melon’s Kickstarter campaign. Paul releases excellent power-pop under the name “Toxic Melons” and hoo-boy does he have a fantastic E.P. in the works titled “Four Play”. Not only did this guy get guitar hero Eric Dover to participate…he got Roger Manning. Are you a fan of Jellyfish? You know, that band I won’t stop blathering about that everyone who’s ever heard them loves? Well if you pine for those golden power-pop days of yore, supporting Paul’s Kickstarter is a great way to see those days live again, people!!!

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Yummy.

So far Paul’s been able to raise roughly half the amount of money he needs in order to put the E.P. out as a physical product (delicious, delicious vinyl!). I can’t stress enough how important just about everything related to this Kickstarter is to us power-pop fans. Jellyfish connection? Check. Brilliant-but-under-appreciated starving musician? Check. The promotion of physical media as a great keepsake/vinyl release? Triple check. I know all of you were planning on sending me to see Yeezus, but spend your money on Toxic Melons instead.

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Send Defending Axl Rose To See Kanye West

Hello. Well this is awkward. A few weeks ago I found out that Kanye West would be touring in support of his latest album/magnum opus THE LIFE OF PABLO. Normally, this would be great news except he wasn’t coming to the city I live in. I was pretty bummed out. Then, a few days after my birthday, my parents got to see Guns N’ Roses in Kansas City. While very happy for them, this also really bummed me out. I should have gone to that show, but unfortunately a new job and a new baby (plus lack of money) meant that I’d have to skip seeing GNR. I’m barely able to live with myself, people. I swore that the next time a “Holy Fuck!” artist went on tour I’d do everything in my power to go and see them.

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Which leads me to Kanye. I was once offered free tickets to see Kanye open for U2, but I had already made unbreakable plans was was forced to pass up the opportunity. My relationship with Kanye started in the fall of 2005. I was living in the dorms at the University of St.Louis-Missouri when hurricane Katrina hit. The kids studying in New Orleans were distributed to colleges all across the nation. I remember sitting on the front porch of my dorm building, smoking Camel cigarettes, when a van pulled up and deposited two such refugees. The school representative helped them with their luggage, gave them vouchers for food, and then basically said “good luck” and drove off. I could tell that these kids were shell-shocked and in need of help. I didn’t really know anyone in St. Louis at the time, having just moved there myself, so I sympathized with them. I took them out for lunch and we became friends. They introduced me to Budweiser (up until that point I did not know there was any variety other than Bud Light), Tyler Perry movies, and Kanye West. LATE REGISTRATION had just dropped and they insisted that I hear it. That was my gateway to rap music, a gift that continues to enrich my life over ten years later.

This year’s LIFE OF PABLO is my number one favorite album. It’s the album I listen to when I run and when I speed to fast on the highway. In short, I need to see this man, but I can’t afford a trip and concert without help. Please take a moment to consider donating to my Go Fund Me campaign.  It feels weird asking for this money, but at the same time you’ll be getting something out of this, too. For starters, I plan on writing extensively about both the lead-up to the concert, the concert, and my post-concert thoughts/feelings. Maybe some of you would pay to NOT get my thoughts on a Kanye West concert, to those people I say: “Why are you still reading this post?” I’m going to reward my top donors with a thank you package and wear the names of everyone who donated to the fund on a special t-shirt when (if?) I attend the show.

I promise not to be annoying about this and post about it ad nauseam. I also won’t make this a “thing” that I do for every concert I go to. I can afford a $35 ticket to see Weezer in the city where I live, I don’t expect people to pick up the tab on that sort of thing. I do feel like I’ve turned my readers onto good albums and songs over the years. And I know I’ve made you laugh (at least once) even it was at me and not necessarily with me…that has to be worth a buck or two, right?

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Can We Talk About Michael Stipe’s Beard?

Recently I was listening to a podcast and someone was talking about a benefit concert held on March 31st for the late (great) David Bowie at Carnegie Hall in New York. Among the many stars who came out to pay tribute to the Thin White Duke, was former R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe. Stipe pretty much fell off my radar in 2011 when R.E.M. called it a day and ended their storied career. Growing up, my parents were really into mid-period R.E.M. going so far as to take me to see them play live in 1995 when the band was touring in support of their album MONSTER. Some of the later albums like UP and ACCELERATE were actually pretty good, even though most people probably didn’t take the time to listen to them.

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Winter is coming! Stipe is totes ready for Movember.

Anyway, Stipe’s bizarre rendition of Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” was a hot topic on this podcast, so I decided to pull up a video of it online. I found a clip very easily, and while the sound isn’t great, everyone who wasn’t there needs to watch it. Is the cover that great? It’s okay, I suppose (it’s a bit talky for my taste). But that’s not what I’m here to discuss today…no, I’m more interested in that beard Stipe is rocking.

When and where did he get that thing? My wife saw him and said he looks like fantasy writer/procrastinator George R.R. Martin (though not fat). Me? I think Stipe is slowly turning into a Jack Skellington version of Santa Claus. The beard/facial hair is all the rage these days, so I get why Stipe would sport a little growth now that he’s out of the spotlight…but the beard he’s rocking these days is epic. Believe me, as a guy who sometimes has a beard, it takes serious commitment to have a beard that full and bushy. Known for his shiny-happy-chromedome, hair is not the first thing one thinks of when thinking about Michael Stipe. This beard changes everything though. From now on, when I hear FABLES OF THE RECONSTRUCTION I’m going to think about Stipe’s bouffant, salt-and-pepper beard swaying back and forth to the rhythm.

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Will Axl Put the “A” in AC/DC?

From the files of “Too Strange For Fiction” comes the rumor that W. Axl Rose, your friend and mine, is going to step-in as lead singer and finish AC/DC’s current tour. Excuse me, what? Seriously, this is without a doubt the weirdest story I can personally recall involving modern rock music. But let’s take a step back to see just how we got to this (really freaking weird) place.

The former-current lead singer, Brian Johnson, announced on March 7th that he would be unable to finish the last 10 dates of the band’s tour. The reason? His doctor told him that continuing to perform would cost him his hearing. Let that sink in for a moment. Brian Johnson no doubt has access to the best healthcare available to human-kind (dude is in one of the biggest rock bands in history). I’m sure there was much “are you sure?” and second-opinioning made before such a lucrative tour was essentially placed on pause. When this story first broke, I thought “damn that sucks, but that’s the price you pay for being in a rock band.” Then it came out that Johnson lost his hearing as a result of driving race cars. Could there be anything crazier than losing your hearing from race car driving? Not being in one of the biggest, hardest rocking bands of all time…no driving a really loud car did his ears in.

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Like most people (I think) yours truly thought that this was finally the end of AC/DC. I remember thinking “Damn, first they lose Malcolm Young to dementia…then kick Phil Rudd out for going bananas/plotting murder…losing their lead singer is the end of this band.” Of course, I should have known better. AC/DC is the band that deified the death of their original (and best) lead singer Bon Scott. A true hellraiser, Scott was AC/DC and yet…after his death in 1980 after basically drinking himself into a stupor. Brian Johnson joined the band, and AC/DC released BACK IN BLACK. You know, the band’s most popular album, the one that even non-fans know entirely by heart. Besides being such a huge smash and a cultural milestone, BACK IN BLACK proved that it was possible for a band to not only move on after the loss of a frontman, said band could thrive. So why wouldn’t guitarist Angus Young want the show to go on and for AC/DC to get a new lead singer?

But this is where the story starts getting…strange. On March 15th comedian Jim Breuer (yes, the stoner-ish dude from SNL) stated that his friend Brian Johnson hadn’t quit the band for health reasons: he was kicked out. Breuer claimed that Johnson was planning on defying his doctor’s orders and finishing the tour. Before he had a chance to work out plans with the band, Breuer claimed Johnson was kicked out of the band.

Brian Johnson is 8 years older than Angus, whom Breuer claims wants to continue the band “for at least another 10 years.” So a much younger lead singer would certainly help AC/DC to solider on and make that sweet, sweet touring money. But who would be cast into the role of frontman? Speculation swirled online, with several people throwing their names into the hat for consideration. My favorite of these was Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist the lead singer from The Hives (whom apparently toured with AC/DC in the past as an opening act). Another interesting person in the running (maybe?) is the Marc Storace, the lead singer of Krokus. This choice seems more likely, as he was asked to audition for AC/DC to replace Bon Scott back in the 80’s, which he famously turned down.

I’ve been trying to figure out where the rumors of Axl Rose joining AC/DC originated from, and it’s a bit tricky. Apparently, both Rose and AC/DC where in Atlanta, Georgia (of all places) at the same time…and this geographical proximity launched the rumor. At least, I thought it was just a rumor. Then late this week, Malcolm Young’s son posted twice on social media that Rose was going to take over singing duties for the band. These posts were quickly pulled down, adding further fuel the the fire that this was serious and that there are negotiations happening right now for Rose to front the band.

Would Axl be a good choice for AC/DC? From a financial and marketing perspective I would say: hell yes. Both AC/DC and Axl could use the bump in promotion. AC/DC are as popular as ever, but having the lead singer from another legendary rock band would do wonders for their bottom line. Axl Rose also stands to reap the benefit$ as well. With the Guns N’ Roses reunion looming on the horizon, anything that Axl can do to increase his visibility and prove that he’s still a great frontman will only help put asses in seats and make him money. A Guns N’ Roses reunion is a certain money maker, but promotion costs money but joining AC/DC would be one helluva marketing campaign. And it wouldn’t cost Rose anything. Hell, if this all turns out to be an elaborate hoax, the reason neither side is coming out and squashing it is no doubt due to the tremendous interest this story has caused.

But that’s not really the question is it? Would Axl be a good fit for AC/DC in a musical sense? No, as much as I love Axl, I don’t think he’s the right guy to sing AC/DC’s songs. He’s not gruff and bluecollar enough to pull that off. Oh sure, one or two songs would be cool, but I can’t imagine he’d be able to pull of an entire setlist of songs from the band in any sort of believable way. And are they going to toss in a GNR song or two? I think that people would expect that and I don’t see Angus wanting to play any of those songs.

I feel really grateful that I had the chance to see AC/DC on the BLACK ICE tour in 2008. I’m also really grateful that I run an Axl Rose-themed blog in a year where we’re going to see a GNR reunion and a possible Rose-fronted AC/DC. Can you imagine what this is going to do to my page views?

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