Did I just fall off the face of the earth, or what?

I’ve never heard a Beyoncé song (that I know of.)

I haven’t seen The Walking Dead.

It’s been at least a decade since I bought an album anyone reading this article has heard of.

I can’t remember the last time I read the news, tried craft beer, or understood a hashtag cause.

Anyone else feel me?

Every day that goes by, I’m lost deeper and deeper in an ocean of information. My friends ask if I’ve seen or heard the latest ______, and I’m a deer in the headlights. I’m like, “Huh?” And my friends are like, “Duuude.” I haven’t seen the latest show, heard the new kickass song, or kept up with whatever the Kardashians are up to. (Are they still famous?) I feel like I should ask for help, reach out to friend, or crawl out from under the rock I’ve apparently been living under.

Nah.

“Huh? Whaaaa…?”

Look, you probably think I’m about to start a big rant against modern culture and all its evils. Nope. I don’t have enough data to make a case for or against whatever the world has become. The only rant I could dream up would be an essay arguing the infinite darkness of social media. But whatever. That’d be pretty hypocritical, wouldn’t it? Especially since I’m about to post this commentary on Facebook and Twitter.

What I do wanna know is: how the heck did I get here?

I’m not that old.

I don’t have an ‘our generation is better than yours’ complex.

I don’t tell stories about wading through the snow to get to school and eating rocks for dinner.

You’d think having a son would compel me to brush up against modern culture now and then. After all, he’s at that age when Justin Bieber must start to seem cool. Or when the latest ‘thing’ must be purchased. Or when we just have to watch some crazy new show. But no. All junior wants to do is hang with his weird dad (me) and roast marshmallows in the fire pit, play board games all night, and watch movies that haven’t been famous since the 80’s (Gremlins, Willow, Sword in the Stone, et cetera.)

Anymore, I’m not sure whether I’m rubbing off on him or his indifference to modern stuff has reinforced my own.

And I’m not really sure it matters.

What started this thought process? Well… I’m glad you asked. Just the other day, I overheard some friends chatting it up about the Grammy awards. (And yes, I know what those are.) At the big Grammy celebration, some pregnant lady killed it with her performance and everyone thought she was a queen. Not just any queen, but THE Queen. Turns out the Queen was Beyoncé. (And it turns out the program I’m using to write this knew to put a ‘ over ‘e’ in her name – which is really weird to me.) Also, the guy from Metallica’s microphone failed, prompting Lady Gaga (whom I know of via her Super Bowl gig) to save him. And lastly, some blonde lady (Adele?) gushed so loudly about the aforementioned Queen some people questioned her sincerity.

Ok, cool, I thought. Sounds pretty entertaining.

Wait. No it doesn’t.

To all of this, I listened wide-eyed and confused. And then I realized that although I’m not terribly old, my tastes are pretty much ancient. It’s almost as if my love of music, culture, art, and books stopped somewhere in the late 80’s – early 90’s. And I can’t explain it. It’s not as if I don’t want to find new music to love. It’s not like I find modern music disastrously boring on some random whim. And life sure would be more fun if I had any inkling to enjoy The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and ________ <—- (insert superhero tv show here.)

Does anyone else experience this?

Anyone?

What the F does this meme even mean??

If I think about it, I don’t particularly miss the cultural era in which I grew up. The 80’s were straight up strange, with all the long hair, horrid pop music, and low production television. The 90’s might’ve been even worse, dragged into despair by depressing grunge music and not-quite-awesome-yet video games.

But I guess I didn’t realize my situation until the new century rolled in and forcibly stopped me from caring.

I don’t remember when it happened, but at some point all the music on the radio turned me off.

Until I stopped listening entirely.

Next came TV.

And here’s the whole story behind that.

More recently, the wave of superhero movies and bombastic action films flew right over my head.

Leaving me almost alone in the theater watching this.

I guess I can’t really complain; living under a giant rock has its benefits. I have tons of extra time. Peace and quiet are my domain. And then of course there’s all the money I save by not having cable and never going to a concert starring anyone famous. But the drawbacks are…well…I’m not sure. I’m left out of discussions regarding politics, news, movies, television, et cetera. And while I don’t particularly mind sitting in my quiet corner, it tends to halt conversations when I admit I don’t know a damn thing about whatever’s being talked about.

Me. As in my face. Always.

It’s almost intentionally ignorant, right?

It’s cultural abandonment.

It’s a willful disregard for humanity.

And now, after all these years, I still have no idea what happened.

Do you?

J Edward Neill

Builder of better coffee tables.

Under-the-rock artist.

Slayer, Anthrax, and a sleepy pit in Atlanta

If you’re a fan of thrash, speed metal, or any of the hard, fast, deadly metal bands from the 80’s all the way up to the modern era, it could be said:

  • You haven’t really lived until you’ve seen Slayer perform live
  • You’ve stood in a thrash metal pit and soaked up the abuse love of your fellow concert-mates
  • You’ve gone home in a haze of sweat and Jack Daniels with your ears ringing and your throat sore

These are things I know to be true.

Oct 5th, 2016 was one such formidable night. I was lucky enough to attend a mid-week show at Atlanta’s legendary Tabernacle theater. Slayer headlined, preceded by thrash metal pioneers Anthrax and Death Angel. The evening was cool outside, while the Tabernacle was as smoky and crowded as I remember from ages past.

It had all the promise of an epic night.

And for the most part, it delivered.

First, I have an admission. I arrived late to the show, missing opening act Death Angel completely. Like any sprawling city, Atlanta’s traffic is simply awful. One mishap on any of a dozen major roads shuts the whole scene down. I had every intention of arriving in time to catch every minute of each act, but the highways had a different plan in mind. So…… After two hours in traffic, I showed up just in time to grab two double Jack Daniel cocktails and plant my boots near stage-left, where Anthrax was already taking the stage.

Interesting note: just for kicks, Anthrax allowed the guy who plays Daryl on the show The Walking Dead to crash the stage just before their first song. I don’t know a damn thing about Daryl or his show, but the girls in the crowd did, and when Daryl picked up a bass guitar and pretended to jam, they soaked it up.

And then, boom. Anthrax started thrashing. (Or is it ‘thraxing’?)

anthrax_story_

Scott Ian (right) and Joey Belladonna (left) of Anthrax.

Now it’s true; Anthrax is a much different band than Slayer, so their inclusion on this part of Slayer’s US tour was an interesting choice. Singer Joey Belladonna belts out songs more in line with 80’s hair-bands, only with slightly more ferocity. Some might perceive them as not being as ‘heavy’ or ‘gritty’ as Slayer and other deathier bands. But as for my view, Anthrax’s spot in the metal pantheon is secure.

  • They played a viciously tight set
  • They showed no signs of aging. Scott Ian, rhythm guitar god, looked shredded, as did the other members
  • Belladonna’s voice was as crisp and powerful as ever

Anthrax’s set was maybe 45-minutes long. As one of the few ‘singer-only’ guys in the industry (most metal lead singers also play bass guitar) Belladonna hammed it up with the crowd between hooks. The set-list was energetic, especially when crowd-favorite Scott Ian took center stage and chugged through several awesome riffs. One noteworthy thing: Anthax’s style has always been kinda anthemic and sing-along, which is cool. One other noteworthy thing: despite their best efforts, the Tabernacle crowd just wasn’t biting. (More on that later.)

As my first Anthrax viewing (compared to at least six Slayer viewings) I was mightily impressed. Hair-band thrash isn’t exactly my thing, but ‘Thrax did it perhaps better than anyone. In the future, I’d like to see a show they headline.

After Anthrax went silent, and after another Daryl the dude from The Walking Dead sighting, the curtain fell over the main stage. Someone (bravely) had scrawled a bloody ‘Slayer’ logo on the otherwise pristine white curtain, which the crowd appreciated.

And so I drank.

And milled about the crowd.

And drank.

And again I noticed that despite the promise of Slayer, most mighty of all thrash-metal bands, the crowd was…sleepy.

And then…

…with a rumble, a few drum smashes, and a growling bass, the white curtain lifted and Slayer emerged. The crowd erupted (kind of) and the world shook. Tom Araya opened with the title track from ‘Repentless,’ and it get better with each song. Compared to my previous experiences with Slayer (including a show at the Tabernacle back in the early 2000’s) I can say without a doubt Tom, Kerry, Paul, and Jeff Hanneman’s stand-in Gary Holt are still every bit the gods of death. While no one will ever truly replace Hanneman, Gary Holt is more than capable. His solos rattled the Tabernacle, ditto for Tom Araya’s ageless howls and Paul Bostoph’s percussive blasts.

81d4c63a-f68f-4cba-8877-9ce4cd7ccd40_113721_custom

King, Holt, Bostoph, and Araya

In case you care, here’s the setlist. (I’ve dropped an asterisk to the highlights of the night.)

Repentless

The Antichrist * A fine, fine choice for the first ‘oldie’ of the night.

Disciple

Postmortem * Probably the tightest, most energizing song in the setlist.

Hate Worldwide

War Ensemble

When the Stillness Comes

You Against You

Mandatory Suicide

Fight Till Death

Dead Skin Mask * The only time Tom Araya addressed the crowd was to explain how Dead Skin Mask is a Slayer ‘love song.’

Born of Fire

Pride in Prejudice

Vices

Seasons in the Abyss * Personally, I think this is Slayer’s best song ever. Played live, it’s twice as good.

Hell Awaits * I’d never heard this one live before this show. Completely worth the wait!

South of Heaven

Raining Blood

Angel of Death * Slayer almost always closes shows with this one. And for the last two shows I’ve seen them, they also dropped a tribute banner for Jeff Hanneman just for this song.

a35889_5a44f24ca5ee4c04b27322c738476f1b

The very cool tribute banner to fallen guitar god, Jeff Hanneman.

*

Other highlights:

  • The main banner behind the stage was a massive, crimson glow-in-the-dark monstrosity depicting Jesus with thorns in his scalp and other terrifying images. It. Was. Awesome.
  • The average ‘down’ time between each Slayer song: 1.5 seconds. These guys don’t slow down. Ever.
  • This was the first Slayer show I’d ever been to in which no girls stripped off their shirts.

All of this brings me to one little thing that bothered me about the show.

It had nothing to do with the bands. They were beyond good.

It had to do with the Tabernacle crowd. More specifically, the Atlanta crowd. I’ve seen Slayer in several different cities, and yet every time I see them (or any band) in Atlanta, there’s always something about the crowds. It bothers me a little bit, their sleepiness, their reluctance to form a pit and start thrashing, their strange indifference to transcendent guitar play and machine-gun drumming. And on this night, I think Slayer and Anthrax felt the same. Surely the bands noticed the lack of moshing, the high volume of people gazing at their cellphones, and the general malaise pervading the masses.

Are we getting too old for this? I mean…I know I’m not, but are other people?

Is a Wednesday night a tough draw for heavy metal?

Or is there something about Atlanta, something about the specific mix of concert-goers making shows a little less uninhibited? It feels possible, given that I (an old dude) was one of only three people in a mass of several hundred in Tabernacle’s lower area willing to go into heavy-metal convulsions.

   Despite Atlanta’s passive approach to headbanging, the show was awesome and the venue as perfect as it’s always been. If and when Slayer or Anthrax return, I’m all in. Maybe I’ll bring a few rowdy friends for good measure.

Next up…Carcass, aka the gods of grindcore.

Thanks for reading.

J Edward Neill

Fantasy/Sci-Fi Author and Dark Artist Extraordinaire

 

Painting Soundtracks

I can be a bit obsessive when it comes to music. I frequently listen to albums on repeat, especially when I’m working on art. Music helps me stay focused and inspired. Here’s a little taste of what I listen to in the studio…

If I’m working on something a little dark or Sci-Fi, I will often listen to the album Drink the Sea by The Glitch Mob.

I have several albums I love listening to while I’m painting a fantasy piece. If it has a mystical aspect to it I’m guaranteed to listen to Seven Lions.

If the piece is more nature based I might listen to Of Monsters and Men.

Then sometimes, I just listen to whatever is calling to me, like Masterplan, Bon Iver, Florence + The Machine, Placebo, M83, Blackmill, Metallica, Evanescence and many more.

 

Pearl Jam’s Hidden Gems

A few weeks ago I wrote about my love of Pearl Jam (OK, obsession maybe). But it occurs to me that while people are probably familiar with their various hits, those only scratch the surface of why they are my favorite band. So I present a few of the deeper cuts.

PearlJam-Binaural

Sleight of Hand – Binaural

“He found himself staring down at his own hands, not remembering the changes, not recalling the plan… was his.”

That’s how we go into the first chorus for this song. A man who finds himself at the crossroads of life. I’ve written about this idea before – that an 18 year old has picked out your life for you. Determined your path.

“Lost on a road he knew by heart.”

And here we have a man who has finally reached the point where he has to make a change – to something different. Hoping that it’s not too late to change.

“He waves goodbye to himself.”

It doesn’t take much, just a desire to make the change… and a willingness to do it.

A little push.

“Another man… moved by Slight of Hand.”

PearlJam-PearlJam2

Unemployable – Pearl Jam

“Thinking if he can’t sleep, how will he ever dream again.”

More than anything, it’s this one lyric that does it for me. Something so simple about stress, about not knowing how we’re supposed to get through the next day. How do we know we’ve done the right thing by our family? All of these things which keep us up at night – leads us to the real point:

When all we’re doing is just getting by – “How will he ever dream again.”

We all have dreams or at least had them at one point and put them aside for various reasons life throws at us. But they aren’t gone, just buried deep… waiting for us to dream them again.

Gone – Pearl Jam

I’m a sucker for Pearl Jam’s “Driving” songs. They started back on Vs. with Rearviewmirror – Eddie’s howl “Things were clearer… when you were in my Rearviewmirror.”

Yield brought MFC (Many Fast Cars) which I love for its tempo right out of the gate. We’re already on the road, going as fast as we can.

Gone, though, is different. It starts slow, deliberate… another person who is dissatisfied with their life. We see a mix of their regular self. Almost like a list of things someone wouldn’t care to miss. And then the decision is made.

“I will be what I could be once I get out of this town.”

But it’s a game… when will they end up with the choice? When will they make it.

“Long gone, I haven’t gone at all…

This time I’m gone.”

Is it a dare? And if so, for who? Us? Them?

PearlJam-Lostdogscover

4/20/02 – Lost Dogs (Disc 2 – Hidden Track)

“So sing just like him…”

“Because he’s dead.”

Pearl Jam’s tribute to Layne Stanley isn’t lauded or celebrated, but is buried as an unlisted track on their 2nd Lost Dogs Disc. And that’s fine. It doesn’t need to be anything more than it is. All too often we look at musicians who cannot escape their personal demons and succumb – and then we’re all left to wonder (and lament) about the music they didn’t get to create. That the world is denied their gift.

And then we get to Pearl Jam. Somehow, someway they’ve made it through when their popularity could crush them. Past individual member’s struggles with drugs. Pas the tragedy at Rosklide…

“No blame, no blame… it could be you.”

“Use it.”

That refrain we all make when faced with the loss of someone we cared about, admired, or loved. We have to carry on. We have to “use” the pain and push through the sludge.

Otherwise we might succumb too.

PearlJam-NoCode

Off He Goes – No Code

We actually included this song on the cds we burned for our wedding keepsakes. I knew a couple of things about that project (which Courtney put me in charge of) but the biggest was that it wasn’t just going to be a bunch of sappy love songs for the sake of having love songs. And that there needed to be 1 Pearl Jam song.

I thought about it for a good while. Trying to figure out if their was a song that just fit, and then I went back and listened to the lyrics for this song – a song about friends and how fleeting our time is with them as we grow older.

“We go way back.”

Those early days where all we had to focus on was school and maybe sports. Somewhere along the line life started to show up. And friends moved away or they got busy. And it can be sad…

“And now I rub my eyes, for he has returned.”

The moments that we now might get to spend with those old friends through phone calls or emails or even in person – we have to take a little time and really understand what we have with each other. Catch up with them, but more than anything take the time to be in that moment.

“And now he’s home and we’re laughing like we always did

My same old, same old friend…”

You won’t regret it.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

 

My Musical Love Affair: Pearl Jam

Prior to 1992, my musical tastes could have gone a few different ways. The small collection of cds that I happen to be cultivating was an eclectic mix of many different genres. Among the first 3 cds I ever had were Aerosmith’s Permanent Vacation, Bell Biv Devoe’s Poison, and Wilson Phillips’ Wilson Phillips. Add to that the handful of tapes I’d bought (Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Def Leppard’s Hysteria, and a pair of “tape singles” featuring Poison’s “Unskinny Bop” and Faith No More’s “Epic”) and it didn’t necessarily tell a complete tale of “this guy is going to be into this type of music”.

cassette-950152_1280

Growing up, my sister and I were somehow convinced, even with MTV, that the radio only had one station. And it only played the Oldies.

Seriously. If every time you got into the car with your parents the station NEVER CHANGED, you might think there was nothing else.

It got so bad that during the summer the Beach Boys put out “Kokomo”, my sister would call the station to try and get them to put on Madonna and when that failed, she’d opt for “Kokomo” (which they would play because it was the Beach Boys).

Fall of 1992 that changed. Chad Shonk for some reason or another brought over a cd to play while we got ready for another night of D&D. And from what little I heard, I didn’t think much of whatever it was. The next morning (or more like around Noon), when everyone staggered out to their cars in order to go home, Chad forgot to grab the cd.

It sat in my player for about a week, never spinning… until Chad requested his property back. So I thought, “I should probably listen to this band for free since he seems to like them.” So I sat on the edge of my bed, powered up my stereo, and clicked play…

I don’t want to do the cliche’ thing of saying that listen changed my life. It’s not like I suddenly went out and bought a guitar and started a band and made it big because of that night. That said, it might be the first album I’d ever heard that I immediately liked on the first listen.

That weekend I returned it to Chad and promptly bought myself a copy of Pearl Jam’s Ten.

pearl jam

In that following year it was a mad scramble to find whatever we could that Pearl Jam had done. Back in the days prior to the internet telling us the complete discography of every band, we had to go to the “cool” record shops and dig through the bootlegs they might have. I paid $20 for a taped concert just to get 1 song I’d never heard before (turns out it was a Who song). But every couple of weekends the search would begin anew.

A year later, I purchased Vs. on the day it came out (the first time I’d ever done that). I did it again with Vitalogy. I went to the midnight release of No Code and Yield. Each time I have a slight fear before I press play on the new album. I worry that this will be the point they lose me. I worry that they will become another band that I “liked”. I worry I’ll become one of those fans who, disappointed with the “new stuff” goes on and on about how they used to be good… or whatever happened to those guys or even worse “I wish they’d stopped X albums ago”.

Yet, it hasn’t happened yet. Sure I like some songs more than others, but overall they have yet to disappoint.

In those early days, if I had to chose my side in the Pearl Jam vs. Nirvana grunge war, there was no question where my allegiance was going. I bought Rolling Stones with them on the cover, scanned MTV for any word or bit of news about the band. When Cobain committed suicide my first thought was whether Eddie Vedder would be next (and selfishly thinking about all the songs I would never get to hear if that happened).

While in college I discovered that I could download some of their concerts… so I did. So many concerts (dozens)

I’ve written about my first real concert with them (at the Fox Theater in Atlanta) here. Not only is it my favorite concert of all time, it still is the concert I judge all others by.

I’m lucky too that my wife loves them too. That she’s seen them with me every time I’ve seen them. When they were boycotting Ticketmaster, Courtney and I drove up to Charlotte, NC to see them and then drove home after the concert. 10 years later we did something similar in Columbia, SC, with me somehow finding my way home through blurry eyes. She was the one who scolded me when my Fan Club membership accidentally lapsed and we had to get tickets for the 2000 show like “normal” people.

Look, I make no claim to be Pearl Jam’s biggest fan or anything like that. From reading blogs breaking down every song in their catalog, to reading about the concert exchanges online from various traders… I haven’t reached that level of obsession. I’ve never followed them around on tour (nor have I ever seen more than 1 show on any of their tours).

I do have a spreadsheet showing every concert I’ve been to and the set lists laid out so that I know which songs I have heard in concert and which songs I still need to hear (“Oceans” and “Breath” are two I have never seen from the Ten era that I’d love to be played). Also on this spreadsheet is every song they’ve ever put out in an effort to make sure I have all their songs.

I take offense when I read on a forum about how the show I happened to go to wasn’t as good as the one in X place. That the set list wasn’t as “cool”, or that it was too “paint by numbers”, or even that the crowd “wasn’t as into it”.

So there is a bit of an obsession.

And I believe in fandom. Heck, I read comic books and watch TV shows and go to conventions that are only based on fandom. I believe that while we can LIKE a great many bands, we can only LOVE a select few. Pearl Jam is at the top of that mountain for me.

I love the fact that songs which meant one thing to me in my teens might mean something different to me now.

stewie - like that band too much

In a couple of days I will be seeing them again, for the 9th time (I can’t count Lollapalooza 1992, we only saw 2 songs and it was about a month before Chad brought Ten over), having again drive to Columbia, SC from the suburbs of Atlanta (I still don’t quite understand why Atlanta gets skipped on these southern tours every other time). I don’t have any expectations as this will be the first show I’ve seen not on the heels of an album release. In theory, that could allow them to play almost any song in their arsenal. You see, Pearl Jam is not a band with a locked in set list. It varies night to night, and while there are staples that will be played, it also means some of the more obscure stuff might sneak in there. Maybe a song you haven’t thought about in years. So, yeah, I’m excited. I want the crowd to be into it. I want the band to be into it.

I want the evening to last forever.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

 

Minimoogs, Synthesizers and Trent Reznor

First off… I don’t have a blog post for today. I’ve been thinking about what to write for the past two days with zero luck. I even went through an old archived blog and found nothing I might re-post. But I had this video open in my tabs because I’m a Trent Reznor fan. I know. Hard to believe this nature loving, taoist likes Nine Inch Nails. I’ve always said, I have a dark side. 😉

Regardless, this is an interesting interview. I’ve always had a thing for electronic music and I find it interesting learning how artists find their way into using synthesizers. Maybe you’ll find this interesting too. I found the video in this Rolling Stones Article – Trent Reznor Recalls Making Early Albums, Moog Influence.

Route 3: Sean’s Playlist

I like music. I like it a lot.

When I’m in my car I’ve got my Cake, Chance The Rapper, The Roots, Red Hot Chili Pepper, Kanye West, or Tito Puente Pandora stations on constant rotation. Music helps get me through the day, long writing sessions, and just Sean-3allows me to unwind.

So when writing Route 3 I’ve created a mix-tape of sorts that our protagonist, Sean Anderson, would have queued up on his MP3 player.

I’ll admit a lot of my tastes influence what Sean probably listen’s too, so hey, sue me. We both like good music.

Below is a small sampling of what Sean rocks out to when heading to school, or saving the day.

 

 

 

LOGIC

Logic – Under Pressure (Album): This guy has me constantly thanking Pandora for mixing him into my Chance The Rapper rotation. With a laid back flow, the Maryland born and bred Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, a.k.a Logic would be a constant fixture in Sean’s ears. Logic’s masterful rapping, including insightful lyrics speaking about his newfound success and struggles could form a great reflection to Sean’s own triumphs and trials.

Added to this, Sean would more than likely keep his head bobbing on his “road trip from hell” to the awesome beats/ production being laid down by legendary producer No ID.

KANYE

Kanye West- College Dropout/ Late Registration/ Graduation (Albums): Ok, ok hear me out. Mr. West has become a sort of polarizing figure for a lot of folks. To be honest with you, I don’t focus on anything with him outside of the music. I’m not big into celebrity news/ gossip, and when it comes to Mr. West, for me, all that matters is the music.

The Kanye that Sean would be rocking out to would be what I’ve deemed “The Backpack-Polo Trilogy” (College Dropout/ Late Registration/ Graduation). Not saying that I haven’t enjoyed any of his work that’s dropped after these three album’s, but for me, and Sean by extension, this is classic Kanye, and includes some of his greatest work.

This was the bashful braggart. The socially conscious/ fun rapper, who could belt slick lyrics laced with lines that would make you think and want to dance at the same time. The backpack carrying, polo shirt wearing, rapper/ producer. For Sean this would be a guy who would tap into the smart swagger that he himeself feels he embodies, but which has taken a hit due to death of his own mother.

Dave-Brubeck-Take-Five-EP-565413

Dave Brubeck-Take Five (Single): Gonna cheat here a little, as this would be
a song that would be suggested to Sean. This would be a track that Charles has slipped into the car radio while he and Sean are fleeing across the country. Charles is a bit of a “old head”, as the young folks say, and his musical tastes represents that somewhat.

So he’s a bit of an aficionado of all forms of music. Ranging from classic hip hop, to bluegrass music, Charles likes a little bit of everything, and this includes jazz. After a few conversations where he’s been able to pick Sean’s brain a bit, Charles decides to pull up Dave Brubeck’s seminal work, “Take Five”. It’d be a track that would keep Sean cool, calm, and collected as hell continues to rain down around him, while also opening new doors of music for our young protragonist.

IZ-WonderfulWorld

Israel “Iz” Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole- Somewhere over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World Medley (Single)- Even writing about this song gets me all misty eyed and what not.

I can get sappy sometimes.

This for me is the track that I picture Sean’s mother playing for him when he was younger. This was the song that Sean played every night on a portable CD player by his mother’s bedside at the hospital, as she battled cancer. This was their song. This track by the Hawaiian born and raised Israel “Iz” Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole is the type of song that just leaves you feeling good and happy with life.

The song has a melancholy feel, but at points uplifts you. In my opinion, it’s the best rendition of both Somewhere Over The Rainbow and What A Wonderful World that I’ve heard in a while. So, to just find a moment of peace in the tumultuous events that play out in Route 3, and reminisce on his mother, Sean would have this on repeat on his playlist.

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Hope you enjoyed this trip down Sean’s musical lane.

One question for my fellow writers/ creators: what artists/songs do your characters listen to?

Second Star to the Right and Straight on ’til Compton

StraightOuttaSomewhere (3)I think every young filmmaker has a handful of dream projects in their back pocket. Not only dozens of original ideas but also ones based on preexisting content: an adaptation of a novel or comic book, someone’s life story, a sequel to a beloved franchise, a tale from history, a (gasp) remake of a classic film. Projects filed away under the “When I make it big, I’ll use that clout to get one of these things made” category. Some of these projects you are sure will rock the box office; others, that you don’t really think will make any money but, if all goes well, will net you some critical acclaim.

The two big dream projects for me could not have been more different in tone and subject matter:

I wanted to do a live-action, semi-serious, sticking-to-the-book version of JM Barrie’s Peter and Wendy

…and a biopic about Eazy-E and the creation and dissolution of legendary hip-hop group N.W.A.

And they both got made.

But not by me.

It’s weird seeing these films come to fruition; it’s even weirder watching them. You can’t help but think about what you would have done differently, what they did better than you, what they fucked up entirely. It’s not a crushing feeling; I never got close to making either one a reality. But it’s… strange.

peter-pan-wendy-03What attracted me to JM Barrie’s 1911 novel Peter and Wendy was that it was a version of Peter Pan I had never seen, knowing only the Disney interpretation. The book was darker than the animated film. More violent. More powerful. With a bittersweet message about childhood, both celebrating it and recognizing our need to shed it. Peter himself was full of contradictions: he was charming, fun-loving, sometimes feminist (“Wendy, one girl is more use than twenty boys.”) optimistic and brave, but also selfish, mean, forgetful, and super-duper violent.

Which all made sense to me. Little boys are terrors. When I was a child, I may have used a stick or wooden sword to fight pirates (or Darth Vader. Let’s be honest here.) but I was imagining a real blade. I wasn’t knocking people over. I was running them through. Cutting off their heads. Killing bad guys. In Barrie’s novel, that’s what Peter does. He kills bad guys. It’s not the bloodless, G-rated action of the Disney film.

The novel has several other dark tropes that few Peter Pan adaptations have yet to explore. Peter’s role as an Angel of Death, tasked with holding children’s hands on their way to heaven. His hatred of adults, parents especially, and how he genuinely wanted them dead. The slaughter of the Indians, an aspect of the story that I admit feels racist here in the 21st Century. And the famous Peter Pan quote, when stranded on an island left to die, a line that has forever stuck with me as probably the most positive outlook on death I’ve ever heard:

to-die-would-be-an-awfully-big-adventureAnd then there’s the end. I’m not going to get into it, but the last chapter of Peter and Wendy is sad and beautiful and a real reminder that Pan is a boy who will NEVER grow up. Which is the main reason why I hate Spielberg’s Hook. I know it’s beloved by the generation after me, and that’s fine, but it’s a bad film, hands down, my Peter Pan purist proclivities aside. But more than anything: Pan doesn’t grow up. He isn’t a child. He’s a demigod, an angel, an imp, maybe even a devil. He will live forever, as the final lines of the novel tell us:

“When Margaret grows up she will have a daughter, who is to be Peter’s mother in turn; and thus it will go on, so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless.”

Gay and innocent and heartless. That is Peter Pan to me. I have yet to see him on screen.

30521196_1300x1733I’m not going to offer a full review of PJ Hogan’s 2003 adaptation, Peter Pan. I have only seen it once and did not care for it. It got a lot right, especially in the first half hour or so. But then it fell apart for me. And, while it did incorporate a little bit of the adult edge I was looking for, it didn’t go far enough. But when that film came out, I knew my chances of making a film out of Peter and Wendy had just been cut drastically. And then when it failed at the box office, it showed that maybe a big-budget Peter Pan movie wasn’t commercially viable.

We’ll see if Joe Wright’s film, simply called Pan, will be different when it comes out this year. It’s apparently a prequel or something which we know ALWAYS bodes well, right? (see: Prometheus, The Thing, Star Wars, Hannibal Rising). But I doubt it’s the film I would have made.

And, man, the film I would have made is so good. It’s still there, in my head, scene by scene. I could still write it, legally. In 2007 the rights to the novel basically became public domain, leading to a series of disparate book series’ that I have not read. And maybe one day I will. Or maybe one day I’ll come up with a different take on one of my favorite stories, a new way to bring it to life.

Straight_Outta_Compton

“You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge.”

In the late 80’s, when I was 13 years old, I got hold of a cassette tape I shouldn’t have. It was called Straight Outta Compton, by a band called N.W.A., which I soon learned stood for “Niggaz wit’ Attitude”. It scandalized me, excited me, educated me, and, quite frankly, scared the shit out of me. Especially the song “Fuck tha Police” and the shit storm that came with it.

The group’s frank and often gratuitous depictions of life on the street in a city I had never heard of called Compton, a place so far removed from suburban Atlanta that I couldn’t imagine ever going there, was eye-opening, sure, but it was also dirty. The non-stop assault of profanity, violence, and sex was exceptionally titillating to my white, sheltered, adolescent mind.

Just the use of the word “nigger” (or “nigga” or “niggaz”, technically), which my parents had raised me to strike from my vocabulary forever (“Forever. Forever? Forever ever. Forever ever?”), was scandalous. And, I admit, intriguing. This was a bad word used to describe black people. Why would these guys talk about themselves that way? I sort of understood it, but not really. Not for a long time. But I knew it was controversial and adult and, in the back of my brain, powerful. I just couldn’t tell you why.

18280-n-w-a-1680x1050-music-wallpaperO’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson. Lorenzo “MC Ren” Patterson. Eric “Eazy-E” Wright. Antoine “Yella” Carraby. Andre “Dr. Dre” Young. These are guys whose faces and voices I’ve known since puberty. I can recite all of Straight Outta Compton (the album, not the movie. I guess we have to differentiate now) as well is its companion piece, Eazy-E’s Eazy-Duz-It, word for word. Still, to this day.

"See you at the crossroads."

“See you at the crossroads.”

When (SPOILER) Eric Wright died of AIDS in 1995, it shook me. I was mostly listening to heavy metal and grunge, but I had never forgotten N.W.A. and their 5’ 5” superstar (“Niggaz [his] height don’t fight.”) . I knew the group had broken up and there had been bad blood. If you were alive in the early 90s and remember Dr. Dre’s The Chronic coming out, it was impossible not to know. But Eazy was a part of my adolescence and he was gone.

I wanted to make a movie about Eazy-E and the formation of N.W.A. I did some reading and found that there was a lot of drama to be mined. The music would be center stage, of course, but there were also political, financial, racial, sexual, and societal themes to be explored. Were these men artists pretending to be gangstas or gangstas who stumbled into being artists? I wanted to explore that question.

And, morbidly, films about actual people are more satisfying if they have a definite ending. And by that I mean death. It’s fucked up, I know, but it’s true. And the more tragic that ending, the more drama you can conjure. And (SPOILER) Eazy’s death was tragic, to be sure. He was destroyed by his own reckless behavior, sure, but dying of AIDS made Wright an icon of the 1980s. He not only helped birth a style of music that rules the airwaves over 25 years later, but he was struck down by the 20th Century’s Black Death, just at the point where we were starting to understand it. As Eazy said, from his hospital bed, after being told he had AIDS: “But I ain’t no fag.” That was the attitude then. For a lot of people.

I tried to pitch this movie to anyone who would listen. Every one of my L.A. friends knew about it. But I was never able to get through any doors of consequence. People I did get to talk to weren’t interested. Plus, there was the matter of clearing the music, an incredibly expensive process that meant the film could never be made independently. I still held out hope for 15 years. Just like with Peter and Wendy, I had the whole movie in my head and “damn, that shit was dope!”

maxresdefaultRight now, for the second straight week, F. Gary Gray’s film, Straight Outta Compton, is on top of the box office charts. I was both excited and nervous to go see it. I mean, the subject matter is obviously attractive to me, but, motherfucker, I wanted to make this movie. And I was weary that the film was produced by Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. That meant that rough corners were going to be sanded down. Certain less-than-flattering things would be omitted. I was especially worried about how the film would depict Eazy, who would have been my protagonist.

I really liked the movie.

It’s odd. It’s not at all the movie I would have made but it’s also exactly the movie I would have made. It doesn’t look like the movie in my head. Doesn’t feel or sound or flow like it. But it covers the exact story beats I would have. Its Point A is my Point A and its point Z is my Point Z. It told the story I wanted to tell, just not in the style I wanted to tell it in.

And that’s fine. Because I liked it. And a lot of people seem to feel the same way.

(Especially after the mind-blowing clusterfuck that was the Biggie Smalls “movie”.)

I do wish it had explored a little more of the dark side of things, especially the famous incident involving Dr. Dre and Dee Barnes, an omission that is getting a lot of press over the last week. It should be in the movie. It really should. The first step to atonement is to acknowledge what you’ve done. Dre has done that in the press this week, releasing statements that seem genuine. But it would have been much more powerful to explore these themes in the film. Let it all hang out. Show your ugly side. The movie has to stand on its own and Dre’s history of domestic violence isn’t something that should be discussed in a press release.

osheajacksonjr_withicecubeBut the performances are great, especially by O’Shea Jackson Jr, who not only looks like his father but does a spot-on impression. The music is of course awesome. The cinematography interesting. The script could be better and sometimes the “bio-pic-ness” of the thing hurts it, with its need to make sure you understand who all these people coming in and out of the story are. Hey guys? I’m at a movie about N.W.A. I know that guy is playing Tupac. I am aware of his music. No need to point him out to me.

Surprisingly Eazy, the drug-dealer turned hip-hop mogul and star, comes across as the one of the biggest heart. He’s actually the soul of the movie. This makes me happy. Because that was going to be my way in, too. Through him. And when (SPOILER) Eazy dies, I was shaken, teary, even though I knew it was coming.

The only thing that pisses me off about the success of Straight Outta Compton (the movie) is… its success. It’s making BANK. All those years I was told no one wanted this movie. That it would be too expensive to get the music rights. That who cares about some gangster who died of AIDS? And now it’s ruling the Summer box office. Beating the crap out of more traditional Summer movies. I TOLD YOU, YOU MOTHERFUCKERS.

the-devil-in-the-white-city-by-erik-larson-book-cover-960x1459Do I have more dream projects in my head? Of course. Novels I want to adapt (not telling you which ones). Life stories I want to tell. Historical incidents I’m dying to recreate. And I will hold onto them, along with the countless original ideas I have in my head, until the next one gets knocked down by someone who got to it before me.

One of my favorite books, well, ever, is Erik Larsen’s Devil in the White City. I would love to make it into a movie. Recently, it has been announced that Leonardo DiCaprio will be starring in the adaptation, with our greatest living filmmaker, Martin Scorsese, behind the lens. I will defer and gladly give up that dream. Because while I think one day I could match the talents of PJ Hogan or F. Gary Gray (both accomplished, not taking anything away from them), I will never-ever come close to Mr. Scorsese. So make that movie Marty. I can’t wait to see it.

 

I don’t know how interesting this has been. I just had this gut reaction to seeing Straight Outta Compton (the movie) that made me sit down and write my first blog post in forever. Sitting there, watching a movie I have dreamed about a thousand times, not looking at all like the film I would have made but enjoying it all the same.

Now that I think about it, that’s probably how I’m going to feel about The Force Awakens, too, because I know I have at least 3,263,827 Star Wars movies in me.

And I’m not giving up entirely on Peter and Wendy. Some dreams die harder than others.

Top 10 Songs to Drive at Night With

Night owl life.

Learn to embrace it.

I’ll be the first to admit: when the sun’s up, I’m pretty much a drone. I eat, I exercise, I work, I breathe, but sometimes it’s all so…passionless. Not to say there isn’t beauty during the day, but beneath it all I crave the stars, the Moon, the endless void. The night awakens me. It makes me rebel against my galactic insignificance. It makes me feel alive.

To get anywhere in this festering suburban miasma, one must drive. A lot. And if one must drive, one must have music. And if one must have music, one must have good music for driving at night with. For me, there are few things as serene as driving at night, alone or with someone beautiful beside me. Flying past streetlights, watching the Moon, devouring the emptiness of it all…

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Few.   Things.   Are.  Better.

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10 Songs for Driving at Night with:

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To Live is to Die

To Live is to Die – Metallica

The slow, chunky guitar riffs in this Metallica classic will have you tapping your non-gas pedal foot. It rises and fades like the Moon, and when it’s gone, you might just want to hit ‘Repeat.’

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Am I Not MercifulAm I not Merciful? – Hans Zimmer

If you’ve seen Gladiator, you probably remember the scene in which Commodus stabs Maximus moments before their epic fight. This song is as dark as the night is black. You’ll wish it lasted your entire drive.

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Bring on the Night

Bring on the Night – Sting

It’s lighter fare than the first two on this list, but even so…  Every word of it is true.

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I Don't Mind the Pain

I Don’t Mind the Pain – Danzig

Among the Lord of Deathy Blues’ best songs, this one has a great hook, superb guitars, and a dark little message to send you into the night.

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Black Sunshine

Black Sunshine – White Zombie

The whole album would work just as well. In fact, almost everything Rob Zombie ever did is solid for driving. At ALL hours.

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Invocation to a Continual OneInvocation to a Continual One – Morbid Angel

Ok, it’s got a weird title. And no, not everyone will appreciate most of Morbid Angel’s catalogue. But Invocation features guitar riffs that’ll send your mind reeling. And the solo at the end…probably the best heavy guitar work ever. Plus it’s nine minutes & forty-eight seconds long. Boom, goes the road.

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Rooster

Rooster – Alice in Chains

An instant classic the moment it hit the world, Rooster is probably good for all hours. I’ve riffed it at breakfast, in my office, wherever. But songs about suffering belong in the night. And so here it is.

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Seasons in the Abyss

Seasons in the Abyss – Slayer

Seasons is the heaviest song on this list by far. And it’s probably Slayer’s best. If you like shredding guitars and thumpy drums that’ll make you drive fast, just queue this one up at the very end of your night.

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Little Wing Little Wing – Stevie Ray Vaughn

Among the best guitar solos ever, Little Wing takes off and never comes back to Earth. It may be a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s song, but with the vocals carved out and the length more than doubled, you’ll find it hard not to drive faster.

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Brothers in Arms

Brothers in Arms – Junkie XL

My newest favorite from Mad Max. Anytime you’re feeling aggressive or indestructible in traffic, plug Brothers in and smash.  It has a quality to it that’ll make you feel godlike on any highway.

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Rev up your engines and go.

And when you get home, finish the night with this.

J Edward Neill

Whiplash Movie Review

JK2Disclaimer: This review is largely spoiler-free

A few weeks ago I reviewed George Miller’s screamingly loud and bone-crushingly good Mad Max – Fury Road.

This week’s movie, Whiplash, breaks only a few bones, but is almost as loud, and is definitely as good.

I’ll start with an admission: I’m late to the party. Very late. 2014’s Whiplash, directed by Damien Chazelle, has already earned three Oscar wins and numerous other accolades. That said, it’s my opinion that not enough people have been exposed to it. So if this review convinces even one person to check Whiplash out, I’ll claim success.

So…

Like Jazz music much? Maybe? Maybe not so much? It’s ok. While planted on my couch during a 1AM Redbox DVD screening of Whiplash, my first worries were: ‘This is a jazz movie. What was I thinking?? I should’ve picked something else. Or maybe just watched some porn.” And yet, two minutes in, any fears of drowning in discordant jazz and wonky music vanished. Into. Thin. Air.

Early on, we see a different J.K. Simmons than we’re used to. Gone is the friendly guy from the Farmers Insurance commercials. Gone is the affable, calm dude from J.K.’s previous films. Instead we get a badass. And I’m serious. As Fletcher, the leanest, meanest jazz instructor ever, J.K. is shredded. He’s an all-black-wearing, door-slamming, fist-shaking maniac. He’s a force of f’ing nature.

And it’s apparent he’s made it his mission in life to mold Andrew (played to perfection by young and talented Miles Teller) into the planet’s best drummer…or kill him in the process.

JK3

“Faster!”

As an interesting aside, it should be noted that Miles Teller played ALL his drum pieces. He had a head start, being born of a musical family, but even so. His dedication to learning some of Whiplash’s more extreme rhythms is admirable, and adds tons to the movie’s realism.

So what’s it really about?

Whiplash is primarily a struggle between two men. Fletcher’s win-at-all-costs mentality are at permanent odds with AndrewFletcher wants perfection, nothing less, from his musicians. And perhaps no instrument requires perfection more than drums. Andrew’s willing to bleed to become the best, but still manages to be overwhelmed by Fletcher’s never-ending stream of F bombs and insults. As the movie drums on, literally, the questions become: “Is greatness only achievable under enormous pressure?” and “Is there a such thing as going too far to win?” I know what MY answer is. If you watch or have already watched Whiplash, I want to know YOURS. Because therein lies Whiplash’s soul. It’s Pain versus Reward. Sacrifice versus Greatness. Living a full life versus Having a Singular Dedication. The movie puts us in the proxy position of asking how far we’d go to be the best at something.

Would you bleed? Would you suffer? Would you give up every comfort? Most of us wouldn’t. But perhaps Andrew might.

The supporting cast is small, but more than capable. Veteran Paul Reiser plays Andrew’s concerned but ultimately powerless father. Beautiful Melissa Benoist charms as Andrew’s unfortunate love interest, Nicole. Austin Stowell and Nate Lang are formidable rivals in the studio for Andrew to wage war against. They’re all very good, but reduced to mere pawns in the Fletcher v Andrew struggle. And that’s ok. This isn’t their film. It’s J.K.’s and Miles’.

As another aside, if you like drums of any kind, you’ll love Whiplash’s talent, if nothing else. The speed and excellence demanded in the film transcend genres. It’s obvious this isn’t a movie about jazz at all. It’s about power, skill, and using means to justify the ends. But even if you don’t care about all of that, the drums…are…epic.

Let’s be clear. I Redboxed Whiplash on a hunch. I’d never heard of it prior to plugging it into my DVD player, and I’d no idea what to expect.

…which made it all the better when it turned out to be fucking awesome.

Rent it. Watch it. In the dark. Preferably alone.

And when you’re done, check out my latest philosophy title here.

Love,

J Edward Neill

I like to swim… into the mosh…

Tonight I’ll be on my way to see Breaking Benjamin in concert for the second time ever… the first being about a decade ago when they randomly opened for Evanescence. In fact, had they not switched the order of who was coming on first (I believe 3 Days Grace was supposed to be the second band of the night, but had to go on first for some reason) I would have never even seen them.

I love concerts. I love going and watching people, and sometimes seeing old friends from concerts long passed. When I was younger I loved jumping in the midst of the craziness and feel the beat rip through us.

With this impending concert adventure, I’m reminded of a few of my favorite shows:

Korn-Korn

Korn with Helmet and Limp Bizkit – Athens, Georgia 1997

I think I saw Korn 6 times for their first album. I swear every 2 months they came through Atlanta… first playing a small club, then the next larger one, and then the next one, and so on. But this show was a chance to not only see them, but to see Helmet – who were one of my top 10 bands at that time. A band I’d managed to miss previously  because of misplaced tickets.

But the biggest reason I remember this show is for the opening band – Limp Bizkit. I couldn’t tell you much about their show. The songs didn’t wow, but I didn’t dislike them either.

And then they launched into Faith… and we laughed… and then they started screaming the lyrics and we stopped laughing.

After the show, Fred Durst (and probably others) were outside the venue handing out their sampler tapes to anyone who would take them. On my next trip to Richmond we wore that tape out (all 2 songs of it). By the time they put their cd out, we were ready.

The Misfits – Dragon Con, Atlanta, Georgia 2000

This one gets a mention only because it has two events that I’ve never seen before happen during a concert.

For those that don’t know, the Misfits are a punk band from the late 70s-early 80s (originally fronted by Glenn Danzig) which reformed in the late 90s. I’ve liked them since before I knew what punk music really meant (not that I’m 100% on that even today). So getting a chance to randomly see them at Dragon Con of all places was too good to pass up.

My roommate, Scott, accompanied me down to whatever room it was they were playing. And a decent crowd had formed. Now, this type of music is far from Scott’s scene (he likes the Lilith Fair types), but he settled in the back of the room, eager to rest his feet from the full day of walking one does at Dragon Con.

After a few songs, I take a glance back and see my good friend, head thrown back, mouth slightly open… asleep in the chair. While this angry, fast, loud music is pumping through the speakers… there he is sleeping.

Sadly, the other thing I remember about this concert is watching a girl crowd surf for a few minutes and then crash down to the floor more or less on her head. A few seconds later she’s twitching… having a seizure. Luckily most concert goers are good about not trampling someone on the ground and her friends managed to get her out of there.

Pantera – Lakewood Amphitheater, Atlanta, Georgia 1994

We had row 9 or 13 for this show, no lawn tickets for us. And I know what you are thinking – a Pantera show that you have seats for, how on earth would that be any good. And if I hadn’t been there I would have agreed with you. I don’t know why it worked so well. I think Phil (the lead singer) was in a good mood as he talked to the audience after every other song… but not just the BS singer do, I felt like he was eager to share his stories.

And while we couldn’t get into the pit back on the lawn, that might have been for the best. I’ve been in a Slayer pit before and barely survived… I might not have made it out of a Pantera one.

1994-04-03-Fox-Theater-Atlanta-Georgia-USA

Pearl Jam – Fox Theater (2nd Night – The Radio Broadcast), Atlanta, Georgia 1994

Somehow we managed to get tickets to this concert. Impossible to believe nowadays, my friend Lee – who happened to work an intership or something which allowed him to leave school early – contacted me as soon as I got home. Told me that the tickets were on sale, and I needed to get my ass to Turtles to stand in line.

Somehow I made it to the line, and then magically it sold out… two people after me.

To see this show at the Fox, to be one of the lucky ones who got to see it unfold was a thing I’ll never forget. And even though people offered Courtney and I hundreds to buy our tickets – I never regret seeing them. And since the show was broadcast, it was the first concert I got to relive back at home keeping my memories much more vivid and crisp than they might be now.

Sadly, we did not see the entire concert. When Pearl Jam finished their last song, the house lights went up and slowly we all started to file out of the building. Courtney and I had ridden with Chad and Lee, so after about 10 minutes of waiting in the car, they finally showed up.

“Wow that last song was great. I can’t believe they played Indifference.”

“Uhm, they didn’t play Indifference.”

“Sure they did. With the house lights on. <sees the look on my face> “Did you leave before they played it?”

Sigh.

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Lollapalooza – Lakewood Amphitheater, Atlanta, Georgia 1993

I consider this my first concert even if it isn’t. I’d attended a couple of “Oldies” concerts with the parents throughout the years, I’d managed to see Janet Jackson (I think it was the Rhythm Nation Tour), but this was my baptism by fire.

I didn’t know any of the bands. I didn’t even have a ticket prior to maybe 2 days before the event as one of my Kroger workmates had an extra ticket. I didn’t know any of the bands who were playing (I was only beginning to learn exactly what Grunge was). But it was a concert and I actually had the day off, so Rebecca and I climbed into my Sunbird and off we went into Atlanta.

Now in the days before GPS and phones that yell the directions at you, we were forced to use heresay and sonar or something to find these places. Somehow we missed the exit (it actually says Lakewood, so to this day I’m unsure how that happened). We drove for about 30 minutes, and were soon far south of Atlanta. It was at this point we decided we MIGHT have missed the turn, stopped and tried to get some directions, and finally made it to the show for the last 2-3 songs in Pearl Jam’s set. And while I wasn’t destined to really hear them for another couple of months when Chad left his cd at my house… I do wonder what might have happened if we’d got there earlier.

As the day progressed, we hung out on the lawn area, soaking up the sights and sounds of these bands I still didn’t know, but I didn’t care. The sun began to set, and darkness rolled in, and a band named Ministry took the stage.

Within seconds the entire lawn area began a mad scramble to their feet. Bodies pushed against each other. Men and women shoved each other. Still others were hoisted upward. The mosh pit breathed as a creature unlike any I’d ever seen before. And while Rebecca abandoned all “sense’ and dove right in, I took a few steps back trying to figure it out.

My first mosh pit was one I never actually got into… but there would be many, many more.

 

 

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John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is FREE!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

My Top Seven Heaviest Metal Albums of All Time

Please allow me to digress…

Whenever asked what my musical preferences are, I’m hesitant. If I say I love Hans Zimmer and Clint Mansell soundtracks, it’s true, but it’s really only fifty percent of the story. (I’m lucky if my audience knows who those guys are.) Because, yeah, soundtracks are awesome, but they’re the soft and squishy underbelly. They’re the basement, deep and dark, of my musical mansion. Sometimes even I grow weary of them, with all their eerie, melancholic moods. Sometimes I need to obliterate my calm center and get head-punched.

So let’s be clear. Let’s be honest. I don’t care for jazz. I can’t stand country (except Johnny Cash.) Blues bores me after a song or two. Modern rap, hip-hop, and contemporary just hurt my ears. But…and don’t judge me for saying this…I love extravangantly complex, eardrum-crushing metal. I can’t help it. It’s antisocial, off-the-grid, and hard to understand for most normal folks. I get it. So for your sakes, I won’t subdivide it into Thrash, Black Metal, Grindcore, or whatever. It’s all the same to me. The heavier and more talented, the better.

Let’s do this.

My Top Seven Heaviest Metal Albums of ALL Time:

Vulgar
 7. Vulgar Display of Power – Pantera

This album gets a spot on the list for one reason: Dimebag Darrell. Sure, Phil Anselmo’s roars are massive (ie; Walk, Mouth for War.) But Dimebag’s prowess sets Vulgar Display apart from all other Thrash albums. He’s the Eddie Van Halen of metal. He’s what Yngwie Malmsteen would be if Yngwie had a soul. Just listen to his solos, man. Just listen.

 

Covenant

6. Covenant – Morbid Angel

A lot of people will tell you Morbid Angel has better albums (Altars of Madness, Blessed are the Sick) but my favorite Morbid flavor is Covenant. If you like slow, thumping metal, God of Emptiness is a rare treat. If you want your senses overrun, try Vengeance is Mine. Lyrically, this is M.A.’s best album. And if you know what blast beats are, no one did it better than Pete Sandoval.

 

Dreams of the Carrion Kind

5. Dreams of the Carrion Kind – Disincarnate

My guess is that I’m the only one alive who remembers this 1993 album. It was Disincarnate’s only studio effort, and its weirdness made it enigmatic to all but the most battle-hardened fans. That said, they don’t come much heavier than this. True…you can’t understand a damn word the singer says, but even so. The solos are melodic, the rhythms chunky. Yeah. Get some.

 

 

WhenSatanLives

 4. When Satan Lives (Live Album) – Deicide

Ignore the stupid title, dumb lyrics, and Decide’s ridiculously over-the-top lead man. These mofos can shred like no one’s business. Seriously. They play seventeen frenetic songs back-to-back without flinching. I’m guessing they don’t do anything else with their lives besides play guitar and act as Satan’s penpals. Whatever.

 

Entomber

 

3. Left Hand Path – Entombed

No one does it like the Swedes. This album’s thick, soupy, shake-the-world-off-its-chair-at-night rhythms are like no other.

 

 

 

Surgical Steel

2. Surgical Steel – Carcass

In the last fifteen years, only one new extremely good metal album took me by the collar and rattled me to my bones. Earlier this year (yes, 2014!)  Carcass reunited and slapped the teeth out of the metal world’s mouth with their first release in decades – Surgical Steel. Jeff Walker’s grotesque lyrics coupled with Bill Steer’s melodic mastery are a once-in-a-lifetime pairing. I was tempted to put Carcass’s 1993 album Heartwork in this slot, but I believe in my heart Surgical Steel is…better.

 

SeasonAbyss

1. Seasons in the Abyss – Slayer

Old? Yes. Overplayed in my car? Definitely. Seasons in the Abyss is the defining metal album of my listening career. To this very day, Dead Skin Mask chills me, Skeletons of Society gets me headbanging, while the title track puts me in a darker state of mind than any of the soundtracks I so love and adore. Lyrically relevant, technically transcendant, and cold-to-the-core morbid, Seasons is the album my grandkids (if I’m lucky) will be shouting at me to, ‘turn the eff off, grandpa!” Sorry, kids. No sense in listening to it unless the volume is on 11.

Maybe next week I’ll write about writing.

For now, I’ve an hour to drive to work and an ear itching to be destroyed.

J Edward Neill

Author of the Tyrants of the Dead dark fantasy trilogy

Co -Author of Hollow Empire – Night of Knives

Author of The Sleepers and Old Man of Tessera

Down the Dark Path

I’ll Ride the Wave Where It Takes Me

There are many things which make me feel like a man out of time. I joke about it. That I was born too late for having a job in this country (I’d much rather be at one place for decade after decade rather than jumping from one employer to another). I was born too early to see us out there in the stars (since the space program seems to be a little stalled on the man missions to other places right now).

Music-Quote-Wallpaper-music-24173742-1440-900

 

But one place I might have been in the sweet spot was with music. I was reaching my teen years with the onslaught of Grunge which wiped away the awfulness of Hair Metal (which even now their looks seek to both embarrass and confuse. Where up until that point I was bouncing from whatever might have been on the radio (though there were a couple of years there that both my sister and I thought there was only one radio station – Oldies  – because that is the only point on the dial the radio ever sat on). A strange thought since I change the station on every kind of whim if a certain song is no longer holding my interest.

More than that is with this discovery of something that could be mine, it has been with me every since. I typically cannot sit down and write without it. Most days I’m fortunate enough to have it on while I work the old day job, my headphones assisting me in blocking out the background noise.

Music has become this important piece of my life. Songs and albums act as markers in my past in a way that no singular action could otherwise. And the playing of that particular tune, sending me spiraling back into my own life, and forces me to relive moments both glorious and terrible. Certain songs that can no longer be listened to because of an event I must now associate with them.

Random songs that carry strange and fantastic memories for me –

Kokamo by The Beach Boys – Summer 1988 – Cocktail soundtrack carries a Beach Boy song of all things: Kokamo. Because of the singular radio station in the house, aside from songs on MTV, my sister was obsessed with anything and everything Madonna. Now what does this have to do with the Beach Boys? Well, when you only think there is one radio station in town and you ask them to play Madonna on a daily basis during the summer they are going to tell you NO (especially if they only play the oldies). However, when you are 7 years old, like my sister was, you really just want them to play a song for you. And so Kokamo became the go to song to ask them (after petitioning for Madonna first, of course).

 

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Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana – Winter 1992 – We’re six months after Smells Like Teen Spirit has reached the airwaves, but it has only really been in my head space for a couple of months. But more to the point, this is pre-internet days where BBS(s) ruled the world. Where some people would set up their computers so that we could remote log in to them, play games, download or upload files, and then move on to the next BBS. And my buddy Chad had the idea to set one up on his computer… which worked well enough. As one of his first guinea pigs, I logged on, tried it out. And since the connection was sometimes spotty the following exchange happened:

Hello?

Hello?

Until the other one responded. Chad tweaked this a little bit because of a certain song playing on the radio.

Hello?

Hello?

Hello?

How low?

No matter when I hear the song I get a picture of my old vga monitor (which was large enough to kill an ox) with those words drifting down the screen.

Van Halen - Live - Right Here Right Now 2

Right Here, Right Now (Live) Both Discs by Van Halen – Every College Quarter Break between 1994 and 1999 – My parent moved to Richmond, VA right after I graduated high school in 1994, which mostly meant that when a quarter ended I had the unenviable task of driving 8 hours up I-85 by myself. In the days before iPods and satellite radio, I was not going to suffer at the hands of whatever radio station might be within range. And that meant a book of cds sitting in the passenger seat.

8 hours is a long time.

This is also the part where I confess that I am a Van Hagar fan more than a Van Halen fan. Don’t get me wrong, I like David Lee Roth, but I missed out on his antics with the band. By the time I cared about them, Sammy had been the singer for 3 albums. More than anything though, this thought was cemented by the double live cd I had. Every trip, without fail, I had to listen to the cd(s). It wouldn’t have been a proper trip without them. And, of course, they feature 95% of Van Hagar’s catalog.

Even now, when we make that drive, the desire to listen to those songs are powerful ones.

pearljam-indifference

Indifference by Pearl Jam – Spring 1994 – Those only familiar with the radio hits will likely not know this song, that’s fine. This serves as much as a lesson learned that I’ve since carried through every concert I’ve since attended. That Spring my future wife, Chad, myself, and our friend Lee had somehow managed to get tickets to their now legendary show at the Fox Theater. They were my favorite band at that point (and still are) so this was going to be amazing. We all ride down to downtown Atlanta together and go to our 2 pairs of seats (we were on level 1 and they were on level 2). The band played pretty much every song in their catalog and did a pair of encores. It still ranks as one of my top 5 all-time concerts I’ve ever been to.

But there is one song Courtney and I did not hear, and that was Indifference. Though, if you check the set-list for that night, listen to one of the copies of the concert that are out there, you might notice that it was, in fact, played as their final song.

See, the problem was that after their second encore they thanked us and the house lights came on. Now, I hadn’t been to very many shows at that point, but I understood that meant “Get the heck out of here.” So Court and I did. However, once at the car we began to wonder what was taking Chad and Lee so long. When they finally arrived we began our trek home and the following conversation took place:

Me – “That was amazing!”

Chad – “Yeah. I especially loved them playing Indifference. That blew my mind.”

John – “Uhm, they didn’t play Indifference.”

Lee – “Yeah, they did, it was the last song they played.”

Beat.

Chad & Lee – “John, did you leave when the lights came on?”

So now I don’t leave until the ushers and other concert staff start to poke me with sticks and the like. I don’t move until the band’s bus is on its way out of the parking lot.

Never again!

 

There are hundreds of others which move to a time and space trapped in my memories. And I am thankful to music for that. They serve as wondrous mile posts and exit signs in a way that I would have never expected.

What songs transport you?

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and now the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program. He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

The Dark That Follows is now available in print here or on Amazon!