Saturday, December 19, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (SPOILERS....MAJOR SPOILERS)

I'm going to discuss one of my favorite film subjects in this post; Star Wars. If you have not seen the latest installment "Star Wars: The Force Awakens", then you may want to step away from this one. In fact, I insist. If you haven't seen this movie and plan too.....beat it. Scram. Get lost. I will be discussing what I thought of the film and what the future may hold for the next film and there is no surprise left after you read what I have written below. 

You have been warned!


First off, I really enjoyed it. As it's own film, I'd say a 7 or 7.5 out of 10. It's hard to get a 10 with me. That's Godfather, 2001, The Dark Knight, and Jaws territory. As a Star Wars film, I think it's a 9. Maybe the third best film of the seven as far as I'm concerned, with the top two being Empire and the original. 

From here I'm going to discuss some of the criticism it's been getting today (12/19) on the 'net and what I think may be in store for future films, as well as digging into the characters and plot on a surface level. I honestly believe that most fans of Star Wars are going to love it and the ones that are disappointed or ragging on it hard are people that don't really care much about the franchise or are just trolling everyone's good feeling about The Force Awakens. 

I'm going to get this one out of the way first; Han dying was inevitable. He probably should have gone in Empire, but he's an iconic character for the series and would have been a huge let bummer in a film (ESB) that was already full of darkness. In this one, he comes face to face with his and Leia's son (Ben Solo aka Kylo Ren) who has taken a dark path. I don't think Han really wanted to confront his son but he needed to do the right thing for Leia. One of the complaints I have with the movie is it was a bit hard to get too worked up about Ren (again, Han's son) killing him. There wasn't any emotional development leading into it at all. It almost feels like there is a movie missing in regards to this plot line. Anyhow, the emotional impact from Han dying came from his stature in the franchise and not so much as it happening at the hands of his son. It felt wrong seeing him die, but again, it was probably the right thing to do for the story. I also was puzzled at the lack of emotional impact it had on the other characters. There was just so much story to tell, it got lost in the shuffle and overall, the movie suffered a little for it.

Rey, the heroine, is an excellent character and likely the offspring of Luke Skywalker (or at least someone else that was very strong with the Force). I really thought it would be Han/Leia as her parents and she would be the sister of Kylo Ren (Ben Solo). I think in the books Luke had a son named Ben, so perhaps it got reversed for the film so Abrams could say he wasn't sticking with "cannon" in the expanded universe. She had also been to that island in the middle of an ocean (where she finds Luke at the film's conclusion) before and Ren suggested it when he was mind probing her. That sort of leads me towards the relation to Luke also, as well as R2D2 "waking up" when she came to the planet with the Resistance. People are already bitching about her quick use of the force and the saber fight. Easily explained in my opinion (and I realize my opinion may be wrong). She is stronger in the force than Ren or at least his equal....and he is REALLY strong. She got a jolt when she touched the light saber that belonged to Anakin and Luke. It was full of memory, pain, and foresight for her, but we would eventually find out it was her destiny to pick it up.  She was able to utilize his (Kylo Ren's) skills and gain an understanding of the force because Ren tried to get in her head. Ren had no idea what he was doing and opened himself up to creating a foe that was his equal or maybe even superior to him. He awoke the force in her and that was a crucial mistake. I think it will be seen as such in the next film. General Hux even said so to Snokes near the end of the film. Snokes almost seemed calm at the failure, as if he had anticipated the possibility. The movies title is related to Rey in my opinion. The Force Awakens is about her, just as A New Hope was Luke. There is always talk of "balance" in the Force and with Luke missing and Leia not taking up the Jedi mantle, the darkness emerged without a counter element. She may well be the "Chosen One" that was spoken of in the prequel trilogy and was presumed to be Anakin. 

The Fin character is very easy to like as a hero, but just as with the Han/Ren situation, his moving from being a storm trooper in the First Order to being a part of the Resistance was very hurried. There was little turmoil. His turn was fast. Again, it felt like we missed out on a few scenes that moved him towards his conversion. We were sort of dropped into the Star Wars universe 30 years after the Empire went down, so we are missing quite a bit of information. This is one of the areas of the film that I feel was a bit weak, but it's not very hard to fill in for yourself. 

I think Snokes is Darth Plaguis that Palpatine said he killed in Revenge of the Sith. If he learned to cheat death, perhaps he transcended his apparent murder or it's quite possible that Palpatine was lying about killing him to impress and seduce Anakin. I like the mystery that surrounds the character. Like the Emperor in previous films, he is pulling the strings from the darkness. Perhaps he is the ageless Sith lord (my friend Tanner brought this up to me), as he has transcended death. His patience has no limit as he is just moving chess pieces and manipulating different followers into doing his will. 

Kylo Ren, the figure head villain, is the son of Han and Leia and is actually just a bully. He takes no responsibility for his actions, as he feels like it's part of his birthright. He's a spoiled brat that can't control his emotions and he has no discipline. He is trying to be Darth Vader and the use of a mask he doesn't need really makes that obvious. His tantrums when things don't go his way seems to indicate there can be real depth in developing this character in future films. Rey took Ren's want to be a power like Darth Vader and threw it in his face when he was trying to probe her mind. I also believe she mimed his skills, even as unrefined as they are, and was able to use those to defeat him and escape. Again, a lot of internet naysayers are complaining that she couldn't have picked up how to use the Force or the light saber so quickly, but I disagree. She simply allowed the force to do its will through her, so she didn't just suddenly know how to fight, she let the force do its thing and she also pulled knowledge from Ren. She submitted to the Force and didn't try to control it. Luke did the same thing in A New Hope with the saber training on the Falcon and as he shut down his scope when he blew up the Death Star. The Force used him as its tool and the same thing happened with Rey against Ren. Also, the complaining about him taking his mask off is so weak. That's an obvious attempt to clue you in on who he is. He doesn't need the mask. It's his "put on". It's him imitating his grandfather and what he thought he was. All of his actions are an imitation, but he doesn't have the mental toughness or stability to harness his power. The power he has is actually using him as its tool. Think of Snokes as the puppet master. Again, he's reckless and has no discipline. It makes him an interesting character. 

Luke will obviously be prominent in Episode 8 and that's part of the outright charm of his only being revealed at the end. Anticipation! I am already anxious to see where this thing goes. I'm OK with this being a rehash of A New Hope. I've read a lot of complaining about how much is taken from the original film in its' plot. I think it's intentional though. It's the Star Wars universe. Every movie series takes place in its own time and place doesn't it? Terminator. Jurassic Park. Avengers. Batman. Hunger Games. Harry Potter. All examples of a movie "universe" that goes to the well again and again and mines its own past for plot lines and character situations. There is cannon to hold on to and the circumstances are of that "universe". It only makes sense that it would borrow what made it successful to begin with. It's a reward for the fans. Maybe a bit TOO much stealing from ANH and Empire? Sure, but it was still effective as a film. Make no mistake, this was for the fans. Newcomers can get on board, but this was a movie made by a fan (JJ Abrams) and he did right by it. I believe he made the movie he wanted to see. Abrams is a master at giving an audience what they want, but still retaining mystery and anticipation. He did it with Star Trek and did it with LOST. There was also enough humor to give you a sense that this should be fun to watch, but never silly or dumbed down (like the prequels and Jedi). Abrams walked a tight rope and successfully navigated it.

To close, I loved....LOVED the way it was shot. It felt "real". The use of real people in those storm trooper suits made a huge difference. The lack of CGI and the use of real sets meant everything to how I saw the movie. Again, it felt "real" if there was substance to what I was seeing. The prequels had pretty shots, but it was so clean and almost too polished. Some of the background in the prequels looked like a cartoon. This film, was dirty. It was lived in. It felt right. It felt like Star Wars.

Oh, and lest I forget....the new droid, BB-8 was pretty awesome. It wasn't used as just eye candy or a prop, it was a prominent part of the film, much like R2-D2 and C-3PO in previous films. A very cool character that helped to drive the plot and never got in the way of what was happening. 

OK, so there is that. My spoiler filled response to my first viewing. I'm smitten with it and am anxious to see it again. Any shortcomings it has (and it has a few) are easily masked by all it did right. I'll reiterate that I feel like there is a movie missing. 30 years just don't guy by without a story to be told. That was truly the biggest weakness of the film, but it's not very consequential in the grand scheme, as we can expect the franchise to move forward from here and start to carve out its own story. By Episode 9 I expect we will have very little reference to the past films in any sort of "tip of the cap" or nostalgic way. This film gave you the nostalgia and I think it put the franchise back on the right path. In my's the real deal. Star Wars is back and episode 7 came out swinging. We got the film we needed. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is satisfying on quite a few levels. Bring on Episode 8 and some Luke Skywalker action! 

I'm interested in responses from Star Wars fans if you are so inclined, so feel free to comment. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Ever Increasing Vileness Of American Life

I don't know if I really have any place to go with this other than to say it seems we Americans are getting more and more vile and deliberately hateful as well as becoming more isolated by labels. Just look around the internet. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogging, message forums.....all of that just seems so full of anger, resentment, aggression, fear, and downright hatefulness. 

It's as if sitting behind a keypad gives us the freedom to say things we would never normally say to someone in person. Well, it's not "as if" really is just that. Anonymous degradation. It seems to be at an all-time high and this is coming from a person that has sworn off Twitter and Facebook for several months now. I still see it everywhere. In fact, it's celebrated and most difficult to run away from. We now talk about what's on Twitter or Facebook. It's sort of bizarre, like writing a book about a book. We discuss what it being discussed. Are we at the peak of our boredom as a species? Probably not....yet. 

Political, societal, and cultural forums are the worst. Those that cling staunchly to an ideology without giving it thought seem to be ruling every conversation. They say the ugliest and meanest things about people they probably have a lot more in common with than not. And it's generally because of beliefs. Beliefs are a dangerous thing. They make people do and say all sorts of crazy and harmful stuff. 

I don't like where our country is headed and as always, most of the population believes that their ideology and political affiliation is the way to get things fixed. I'd beg to differ. It's those ideologies and political parties that have us where we are right now. The people in power have made all the rules and maintain all the control yet they have "regular Joe" followers that want to complain about how terrible things are and how certain people are hurting the system. Oddly enough, they won't turn the mirror on themselves. Few of us will. We want to blame everyone else. Even when we have all we want, we can't help but want to beat someone else up over what they have or criticize what they have. The absolute bottom feeder is someone that you know is probably doing OK in their life and they bitch about "welfare queens" and what kind of sneakers a poor kid is wearing or that the poor buy steak with their food stamps. What kind of warped mind seeks to belittle others in that way? Especially others that they don't even know and wouldn't dare stoop to try to understand. Internet memes, lies, and damn lies are taking over the public conversation and getting traction as being factual and enter the American psyche creating hysteria and anger over a situation that isn't likely even a reality.

The poor are taking a beating in our society right now. They are the cause of all our economic woes according to many people. I don't have the will to shred this concept as I sit writing this. Think for yourself. Do some digging and open your mind and perhaps you can come to realize who is running this country into the ground.'s not the middle class and it's not the poor. Anyhow, I've covered it before. I just don't see it getting any better. The nation is as polarized in regards to class as much as it's ever been in my lifetime and I suppose I could put race into the equation too. 

I don't have any answers. I guess I just wish it would go away, but I realize it's not likely to happen. That means I must be the one to change. I have to turn off those things that are hateful. I have to be the one to remove myself from a situation. I've learned a hard lesson; you are not going to change someone's mind that doesn't want to see something from a different point of view than their own. 

The people that are willfully ignorant just tear me up. I'm talking about smart people with the capacity to see the world in a realistic way and to step into other people's shoes to try to understand their experience, but refuse to do so. I guess worldview and identifying with a group means more than practical reality and perhaps improving life for oneself and others? I guess I have to pull back from this culture of hate, because expecting it to change is a fool's wish. I just dislike that my kids are growing up steeped up to their necks in it. The current culture is going to have more of an impact than I am in their developing world view. I fight it, but they are young and right out in the middle of it all day long between school and social media.

I wrote the post below some years back. I have evolved on a couple of things, but overall, the gist of what I said holds up, even if some pieces of the topic don't hold directly true for me at this point.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

This Needs To Be Said: America Is An Empire In Decline PART 1

I've never lived in another country, so I can't say for sure that we are the greatest nation on earth. Perhaps we are. More likely, perhaps we were or if we still are, there isn't much of a bar to jump over these days. 

We need to change. We are number one in in the world in regards to some things, but nothing that I would find worth bragging about. In fact, the things we used to be (and should be) best at are slip sliding away and we haven't even noticed, or maybe it's just that we don't care. 

As I said to kick this off, I have never lived elsewhere. I'm glad I was born here, but that doesn't mean I have to cheer lead when things are wrong. Love it or leave it? What kind of hillbilly nonsense is that? Without dissent, we'd still be colonies. Dissent and bucking the conventional wisdom is as American as it gets. I'm guessing if 30 people read this (and that's probably being generous), at least half will be pissed off about it. Well.....good. I don't care. Some things need to be said. 

First off, we are the best in the world at some stuff. We have more people in prison than any other nation. We spend more on the military than any other nation. We are the world's largest exporter of military grade weapons and often times we have our own soldiers killed by those very weapons. We have more gun deaths than any other nation. We are the most obese nation on the planet. Hip Hip Hooray!!!!

There are some things we should be right near the top in world wide, but sadly, we are not even close. We rank 11th among industrialized nation in health and healthcare. The rest of the world is seeing an increase in life expectancy, the United States is seeing a decline. Education? Glad you asked. US students rank 17th in reading and 21st in mathematics. Out of the 35 most economically developed nations on earth, the US ranks 34th in child poverty. 

Let's just not say we are slipping....we have slipped. The game isn't over, but we don't seem to want to do anything to change the score. We seem content to be the next great empire to implode upon itself. I'm guessing most Americans are not seeing it coming. Why would they? If you watch network TV or one of the cable news channels, everything must be going great right? I mean, they show us people with no talent in talent contests. We watch celebrities that can't dance, try to dance. Bruce Jenner's tits and dick are worthy of news reports. We are sold a bill of goods about our great democracy when 90% of the media is owned by 6 corporation, and the only bills that get passed are ones in which lobbyists are pouring money into the political piggy banks for. Guess who is getting the screw? The middle class? Give that dog a bone! 

You might still be with me at this point, but here is where I'm gonna lose some of you. It's time for some shit to change. It's time to start thinking like we live in 2015 and not 1615. 

The confederate flag. Isn't it time that goes? Don't give me some bullshit about heritage. It is a symbol of treason against the very nation that some of you say you love so much. It's a symbol of regarding some human beings as being animals and personal property. States rights? Sure, a states right to cheap labor. It's a symbol of fighting against the tide of change (geez, that should feel REALLY familiar to people in the south these days) and the evolution of thought. The country isn't going to shake like a big rattlesnake and the south isn't rising again. Let it go. The north didn't win and the south didn't lose. The entire country won and lost with that war and it's time to put the damn 1860's to bed already. 

Evolution. It's real. Educate yourselves. Cling to your 2,000 year old Koran/Bible or whatever, but don't hold your children and this country back any longer. If you don't want it taught in schools, well, you need to teach your kid at home so he/she can be a half brain dead idiot like you without any upward mobility. The rest of us are trying to move on. I don't give a damn what your book's WRONG. It's been wrong about anything to do with science for thousands of years. We are dumbing our children down with nonsense. We are confusing them with mythology. This is becoming a highly technical world and we can't lose generations to believing we all came from a few people that got off a big boat after a flood. We spend a trillion dollars a year on the military (16% of the budget) and we spend 2% of the budget on education. What the hell are we doing? We don't even have simple factory jobs for the dumb asses to do any more (because your political ideology is giving you the high hard one and you aren't bothering to look over your shoulder) and the jobs the morons are qualified for are jobs you don't want to even pay them $10 an hour for! We actually tell people to get jobs and then get mad if we think they  make too much for said job. We actually side with the hundred billion dollar company over the slave....I mean worker making $8 or $10 an hour! Insanity.

Guns. It's time that we had a serious talk about guns and the gun culture in this country. For the record, I support gun ownership. I just believe it's time that we get strict with the ability to purchase/own one. Buying a hunting rifle or a shotgun is one thing. You should have to get a license and take a safety class. As for semi-automatic guns, folks should have to take some sort of test to see if any red flags fly up that may point towards future violence. At that point, a person should probably have to go through a longer waiting period and have to take additional courses on safety and hell, why not get a psych evaluation. (just spit balling ideas) What is so wrong with making gun ownership as safe as possible? You would think that the NRA and gun owners would want these sorts of things. The responsible people are getting a bad rap and frankly, less gun restrictions is just about one of the stupidest things anyone can argue for at this point. I'm actually more afraid of an American with a handgun on their person or in their car than I am of any terror threat. Hell, depending on what study you want to believe, we have had well over 200,000 gun deaths in the USA since 9/11. How many terrorist attacks have we had here since? We are manipulated to fear the wrong things. Stop buying the bullshit. 

Climate change. It's happening. Man made? Maybe. Probably. Even if it isn't, is that a good reason to ignore it and fight against trying to protect the planet? Most scientists agree that there are things happening globally in regards to our climate that are eventually going to have a huge impact on human life in a negative way. I guess if you want to side with big money corporations that don't give a single fuck about you or this planet have at it, but you are going to be wrong (as you are on a lot of things I'm guessing if you are a denier) side of history and what a helluva issue to be on the wrong side of. If you have children and say you care about this country, you should be appalled at deforestation, fracking, and the deregulation morons that are only going along with this thing for political reasons. We should be leading the world in trying to keep our planet habitable, not fighting against is because of politics. 

I suggest that we stop being controlled by political ideology and start thinking for ourselves. Reclaim your brain. Pick up a book and put down the phone. Watch a documentary instead of America's Got Talent. This conservative vs liberal, Democrat vs Republican thing is dragging our asses into a fast decline. We are a broken nation and we don't seem to know it. We cling to ideas more than practical reality. It's time to do what is best for the people of this nation. There are thousands more words I could write on how politics and corporate America being married is ruining the nation and our future, but I've already done it. If you care, search my site.

It's time to think differently....if you care. 

As I close this out, and leave you believing I'm some American hating liberal, know that I don't identify myself with an ideology. Most of this post would likely be applauded by folks of the more liberal persuasion, but there is a part 2 on this one that I will address at a later date. Some things need to be accounted for that many liberals don't want to face. Chief among those things are political correctness, crime, hardcore mental illness and topics as such.

So, until next time.....adios. 

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!


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? 


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 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.