New Song: The Invisible King

My latest song has a real prominent ’80s feel. The guitars are shimmery and clean, reminiscent of the Police, the bass line could be in a Cure song and the outro keyboard wouldn’t feel out of place on the Cars’ first album. The bridge feels very “Got the Time” era Joe Jackson, only way stripped down. The most contemporary element is the use of octaves, which is more of a ’90s punk technique.

I’m pretty proud of the verse chord progression. The four chord sequence feels dramatic, like something the Ventures would play. The chorus is something I wrote a while ago for a song I scrapped. The bridge is two chords and it’s all improvised first takes, which makes it sound live and saved a lot of time.

It was originally meant to have vocals but I found it too hard to sing over. The song requires someone to hit high notes and bring energy. My shaky baritone didn’t cut it.

The title is a mash up of words from two Police songs. Bet you can’t guess which ones!

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What to Do When Billy Idol Walks into the Bar 

billy idol
You will recognize Billy Idol by his haircut. He will be wearing some variation on the peroxide blond spikes he’s been rocking since the late ‘70s. He may or may not be wearing leather, so just look for the blond spikes.

Bartenders are advised to greet him with something along the lines of “what’ll it be tonight, Mr. Idol.” I haven’t checked but I’m almost positive Billy Idol is a fake name. Even if its not, it’s funny to call him Mr. Idol. Like the Times Arts and Leisure Section used to call Snoop “Mr. Dogg.”

You may have the bourbon Rebel Yell behind the bar. Don’t bother offering it. He’ll be able to see the bottle on his own. He’s surely tired of being offered it. Be the one cool bartender who doesn’t mention it.

When he’s done with his first round, feel free to ask him if he wants to sink another drink. Act confused. Pretend you didn’t know it was a line from one of his songs. Then later reveal you knew it was from one of his songs all along. Everybody will laugh because it’s a funny joke.

If you are a pretty girl, expect him to hit on you. You’re under no obligation to sleep with him, of course. You can if you want to. It could be fun or it might be weird.

If you want him to stop hitting on you, mention something about how much your dad used to like him. This will make Billy Idol feel old and deflate his ego enough to make him move on to another girl.

If you’re a man, expect Mr. Idol to be warmly curt with you. You will have time for one short interaction, such as a brief anecdote or question. Perhaps he can tell you about what a funny guy Adam Sandler was on the set of the Wedding Singer. Or whether it bothers him when people yell “hey motherfucker get laid get fucked” while he sings “Mony, Mony.”

When Billy Idol says “Cheers Mate,” this is your cue that he wants to politely end the conversation. Extending the conversation past this point will confuse and irritate Billy Idol. Billy Idol will not think that you’re a cool guy.

If Billy Idol is alone at any point in the evening, do not ask him if he’s tired of dancing with himself. It’s embarrassing for everyone, especially you.

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Billy Idol Week: Steve Stevens is the Worst Guitar Player of the ’80s

Last week, I learn how to play “Rebel Yell.” I expected a couple of quick fun minutes bashing around power chords and learning a simple guitar hook.

Nope! I couldn’t play the first five seconds. The song opens with a complicated fingerpicking figure before moving into a fussily precise intro section. Then it finally bangs into three quick power chords before moving into the verse section where, instead of power-chording in tandem with the bass, the guitar plays a precious little upper string countermelody. The chorus doesn’t even let loose with big easy power chords. You still have to move up and down the neck with stopwatch precision.

I watched a video of Stevens playing the song by himself. While I was instantly irritated by his harsh Brooklyn accent and decision to decorate his home studio with a mannequin wearing trashy ’80s lingerie, I still didn’t know how to play the song.

Casual listeners would probably never suspect any of this. The song feels like a three chord howler, like Danzig’s “Mother,” only faster. It succeeds despite the over-thought guitar part, as the guitar is mixed way below the vocals and the keyboards.

I was fresh off effortlessly intuiting the hook and chords of “Dancing With Myself,” a song that originated with Idol’s punk band, Generation X. Learning Rebel Yell, a song from three years deep into Idol’s solo career, I realized the corrosive effect of Idol’s guitar player Steve Stevens.

The ’80s were a shit time for guitar players in many respects and Steve Stevens encapsulates almost all of the bad of ’80s guitar. His guitar is so compressed it sounds like he’s playing through a plastic amp. All of the liberating roughness of ’70s punk and blues-style metal guitar was polished away, leaving only the speed and pomp. Guitar solos are showcases for technique-driven tricks instead of melodies. Every third note is a harmonic and the wammy bar never gets a rest.

His style is the peak of Guitar Center salesman style.

In comparison, the guitar player for Generation X is sort of a savant genius. The glorious two string opening guitar hook of “Dancing With Myself” undoubtedly did not arise from hours of practice. The chorus is pure Johnny Ramone power chords and comes on like a rush and a release. When Idol remade the song as a solo artist, Steve Stevens played the chords almost timidly, with delicate timing. The guitar sound is an echoey ghost of its punk origin. It strips it of everything that was originally remarkable.

Stevens has stuck with Idol since the early ’80s, occasionally straying for solo records or to take on high-profile chances to ruin songs by people like Michael Jackson.

I just found out this week that he appeared (or maybe even starred) on some dumb reality show about how he’s a vile Los Angeles rock cliche married to a plastic surgery nightmare lady.

I still think that Billy Idol seems like a chill guy but his 30 year association with Stevens makes me question his choices. Maybe Idol’s so laid back he doesn’t want to cut loose an old friend?

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Billy Idol Week: Rock the Cradle of Love: Unredeemable Bullshit

Sometimes I hate myself for the stuff I remember. I know so much rock trivia that I wonder if my heart is made of garbage.

Case in point: “Cradle of Love.” It’s a mediocre song I have no personal connection to. But for some reason I know everything about it. The following paragraph was all written from memories I kind of wish I didn’t have.

It was on the soundtrack to the Andrew Dice Clay movie Adventures of Ford Farlane. I think the video was released around the same time as the movie. Billy Idol was injured while they were filming (I think in a motorcycle accident, and if I turn out to be right about that, I will feel like God is laughing at me), so instead of featuring his spiky hair and signature fist bump, the video starred a lithe and bubbly female model who dances in a Eugene Levy-type nerd’s apartment to a cassette tape (haha) of Billy Idol. When it first aired, footage from Ford Farlane was interspersed in the video. They took it out after the movie flopped and cut in more scenes of the girl.

The girl was a big part of what made the song a hit. Dudes were really into her. Watching it now, it seems ridiculous. The fleeting shots of her in a bra and a skirt writhing on a bed are interrupted by long reaction shots by the nerd. She crawls and I guess that was a big deal at the time but over all, it’s more stylish than lurid. Compared to Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” video, you could show “Rock the Cradle of Love” at a Sunday school field trip.

About that stylishness: David Fincher directed the video. The future director of Zodiac packed the video with unnecessarily artful composition. A high heel sinking into a fish tank gets as much screen time as Billy Idol.

It’s Billy Idol’s worst hit song. Say what you will about “Mony Mony”; it believes in its own worth as a song with enough conviction to be annoying. “RTCOL” is a lazy attempt at an ‘80s ZZ Top song rip off. The song starts with the chorus and never significantly deviates from it. It sounds like everyone involved with its composition and performance was hung over and on deadline.

The girl from the video’s is Betsy Lynn George. If you google “Cradle of Love,” you’ll stumble on an interview with her where she sounds pretty traumatized about the sexual nature of her performance in the video. Also, according to the interview, she later went out on a date with Billy Idol that almost seems like a scene from Entourage.

Billy and I [did go] to dinner once. We got along well, but it was not exactly a match. I rarely wore makeup and did not dress sexy in real life. I was wearing shoes that he did not like, I was later told. We went to his house and sat by the pool. We kissed, but it was not going anywhere. I asked to be driven home. His driver and right-hand man told me when we got in the car that he “could not believe” I didn’t stay, that “all the woman stay.”

She’s a gymnastics teacher now, according to IMDB. Billy Idol would never have a hit again.

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The Flash Might be the Best Superhero Show Ever

full-flash-suit-grant-gustin-the-cwThe new Flash TV show has a its flaws. But after the pilot episode I think it might be the best superhero show ever televised.

It’s achingly sincere and unapologetic about being its source material. It makes Smallville, Agents of Shield and Gotham seem ashamed of what they are.

There’s no winking in the show. It’s not ironic. There’s no arch comment on superheroes or comic books. There aren’t any overtly comedic characters to deflate its sense of purpose. The Flash’s heroism occurs without reluctance. He is simply a good and brave person who wants to do the right thing.

It’s strange how refreshing that is. After the gloom of the Dark Knight trilogy and the oppressive volume of Man of Steel, seeing a D.C. character be an uncomplicated do-gooder just kind of feels good. It harkens back to the simple joy of reading comic books as a kid. The good guys are good guys. Sometimes being a good guy is complicated because people think you’re a bad guy, like with Spider-Man or the X-Men, but the stories had simple moral codes overall. Everybody ended up doing the right thing for the most part.

I watched the pilot episode of The Flash with my computer open. I was only half paying attention to the show at first. Then I started googling character names. Pretty much every character on the show is comic based. Iris, the love interest has the same name as the Flash’s eventual wife in the comics. The Star Labs assistant played by the girl from Sky High has the same name as a comics villain. And judging by this tweet by the actress, that’s no coincidence. I could continue but honest to Zoom, it could be a spoiler.

I’ve watched super hero-based shows all my life and hey almost invariably only import the bare bones of the source material. Superman, Lois Lane and Lex Luthor will be ported over without Brainiac, Mr. Myxlplyx or Bizzaro. They’ll rename Bruce Banner David Banner and never mention Rick Jones, Betty Ross or the Abomination.

Smallville was the worst of them. The show never featured Clark Kent as Superman. But the show runners realized they could hype up an episode by distantly alluding to the comics. So viewers would get two minutes of an interpretation of a classic character talking to a guy in a blue and red shirt who had yet to learn to fly. The first season of Agents of Shield was littered with similar teases but with they’ve improved greatly in the second season, unapologetically featuring a comics-accurate Absorbing Man.

Speaking of Smallville’s aversion to show Superman being Superman: The Flash is having none of that. Barry Allen was in his stupid red suit running around like a lightning bolt moron by mid point of the first episode. It was glorious.

So I’m hooked, despite the blandly handsome lead actor, the cheesy thwarted love story, the flat dialogue and strangely rushed plotting. Don’t let me down, nerds!

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Everything That Works in Other Spielberg Films Fails

spielbergJurassic Park isn’t Spielberg’s worst movie, but it’s the worst Spielberg movie. Spielberg assembled it from approaches that worked in his previous movies but fail here.

Filmmakers and critics say Jaws works because you don’t see the shark until the end. That misses how Jaws is an entertaining, well-crafted thriller aside from the shark. Interesting people do interesting things. It’s not a bunch of Michael Crichton fake scientists sitting around arguing about dinosaurs like in Jurassic Park.

Jurassic Park thinks it’s fooling people. It doesn’t show dinosaurs for almost a half an hour. A raptor kills a guy and we just see a shaky cage. The main characters don’t know there are dinosaurs on the island when they get there. This information is withheld to allow for big reveal that dinosaurs are in the movie.

The slack pacing doesn’t slow down the bombast of Spielberg’s favorite music man, though. John Williams’ horns and strings play at blaring volume even during mundane conversations. Every note asks if the audience can believe the amazing shit that going on, with swelling strings accompanying standard movie features like flying helicopters.

When the dinosaurs at long last appear, they are heralded by Spielberg’s signature shot: having someone look offscreen in slack jawed bewilderment. It’s ok if you miss the first one, when Sam Neil and his neckerchief see a brontosaurus. The same shot repeats about a half dozen times. If you like watching people look at stuff without knowing what they’re looking at, this is the movie for you.

And the stuff they’re looking at isn’t all that impressive, frankly. Dinosaurs in films ranging from special effects showcases like Peter Jackson’s King Kong to goofball comedies like Will Ferrell’s Land of the Lost. So the scenes that expect awe induce boredom.

Spielberg made Jurassic Park right after he made Hook. With both plodding middlebrow movies, Spielberg leans heavily on his signature styles. He had to shake off some dust to prepare for  his next movie, Schindler’s List, and the “mature” phase of his career that movie brought on. I’m glad that he refilled his mojo to eventually pull off the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. But the shopworn style in Jurassic Park is tedious hackery.

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Jurassic Park, My Least Favorite Movie: An Introduction

Jurassic Park is not the worst movie ever made, but it’s the one I hate the most.

There’s no escaping Jurassic Park. It’s constantly on television and film writers treat it like a masterpiece.

When writers talk about Jurassic Park, they employ language usually reserved for describing childbirth. Words like  “joy,” “wonder” and “awe” get aired out. Devin Faraci, a pop culture writer/reporter whose stuff I usually like a whole lot (his gamergate soul searching is a masterpiece of self aware nerdery), calls it “one of the best movies ever” and leads with the sentence fragment “terror and wonder.” The Rotten Tomatoes review pull quotes overflow with ghastly phrases like ” the joy is timeless” and “this movie doesn’t just stand the test of time, it transcends it.”

Roger Ebert was a holdout skeptic for the film on its release, saying in his review that while he thought the dinosaurs were “a triumph of special effects artistry,” the movie overall lacked “a sense of awe and wonderment and strong human story values.” That qualified thumbs up is now supplemented by an unqualified one on rogerebert.com. On last year’s release of the 3D version of Jurassic Park, reviewer Nell Minow calls it a “thrill ride” and ” a masterpiece of the genre.”

In the next couple of posts, I plan on showing how terribly wrong they are.

 

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Stop Whining About U2

ipodquadI don’t like defending millionaires. But people need to stop complaining about U2.

For all the people angry that content has been automatically included with new technology: did it bother you that Duck Hunt and Super Mario Brothers came with the original Nintendo system? Were you livid when Minesweeper came with Windows?

And for all the youngsters with the clever “what’s a U2” question. Do you think your kids are going to know who Drake is? Time only moves one way. Yes, U2 is an old band with old fans. Your youth will pass and you shall someday be old. Don’t be a dick about being young now and you won’t be bummed out about being old then. When you consider that the only alternative to aging is death it won’t seem so bad.

By the way, the funniest person to complain about U2 being old is Sharon Osbourne, who is married to a 1,000-year-old man who still sings “Crazy Train” at festivals.

For all you oldsters complaining that it’s not punk or metal music: “Kill ‘Em All” is 30 years old. Minor Threat broke up the same year that album was released. Your loud aggressive music is Dad rock. It’s just not in beer commercials yet.

For people complaining that the U2 album is coming up when they set their iTunes to shuffle: you know the big button with the two triangles that point to your right? Try clicking on it. All should be OK with the world.

Just realize how bitterly ironic your online moaning is. You are complaining with the same instrument that caused the situation. The Internet burped and inflates the cultural bubbles that make it possible to be inundated by pop culture without ever encountering U2, the most famous band in the world.

And it’s likely that Internet users created the need for the biggest band in the world to partner with an international mega-corporation to have their music not just heard but also paid for. Every song you’ve ever streamed, bit torrented or youtubed has led to U2 popping up on your music library. Congratulations. Well done. You have stripped music of its monetary value. Now the biggest band in the world can’t rely on selling records. Bravo.

And the Internet insures U2 can never happen again. The weird little band they were in the early 80s would never find traction. They’re hard to twitter. Pitchfork probably wouldn’t give care. They’d never register with American Idol Fans. Their second album was a disappointment so they’d look like a one hit wonder.

So when Metallica puts out their next EP of Misfits covers exclusively on Vine or something, remember it was probably you that put us all in this dumb position.

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The Lighter Side of Cult Deprogramming

vmk4bOcAfter 15 years of living in a cult, the unbreakable and wide-eyed Kimmy (Ellie Kemper, “The Office”) is rescued along with three other women, causing a national sensation that culminates with an appearance on the “Today” show.

That’s the first sentence in a description of “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” a TV show NBC is airing this fall. They’re trying to go for a girl against the world thing—they even invoke the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” at the end—but that set-up is so unpleasant that it’s hard to get over.

The first thing I thought of was Ariel Castro, the monster in Cleveland who kidnapped three women and held them captive for over a decade in his home. The second was Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped from her bedroom at age 14 by a volatile religious zealot.

These are not stories where nice, sitcom-appropriate things happen to women. They are grim and troubling stories of violence and lost innocence.

To be fair, there’s a difference between the famous cases and the situation comedy background. The titular Kimmy Schmidt wasn’t kidnapped; she was in a cult. And cults are funny, right? They’re full of hilarious characters like Jim Jones, David Koresh, Charlie Manson and Warren Jeffs. They do funny stuff like hold armed stand offs with federal agents and committing ritual suicide while wearing Nike sneakers.

I kind of understand the thinking behind this. The star, Ellie Kemper, has a weird, chirpy energy. Her characters in “The Office” and Bridesmaids have been dimwitted and childlike. Stunting her character’s development would let her continue to use that kind of humor.

But the cult membership
is a dark way to arrest her development. I’m sure they’re going to do the TV thing where the cult is weird and silly but not threatening, like they worship a ray of light named Frank and always wear roller skates or something. But it’s still icky and there are probably easier ways to justify her acting like a 12-year-old.

There seems to be a much easier way just sitting there, waiting for the show’s producers to notice. I looked up Ellie Kemper on Wikipedia: she’s from some crazy old money family in St. Louis—her grandmother is the namesake of the city’s Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum. Make her a rich girl who’s been coddled all her life and has to learn how to function as an adult when her family’s money unexpectedly runs out.

It’s easy and it dials down the creep factor to just over zero.

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The Grim Brilliance of “The Leftovers”

wasting.breath“The Leftovers” is a terrible show and that it deserved to be canceled after one season.

But I can’t stop watching it. It’s too satisfying.

On a metaphorical level, the show is about crumbling, entrenched institutions. It’s probably what the apocalypse will really look like; everybody pretending everything is normal.

But on a more immediate, emotional level, it’s misery porn custom made for smug atheists. Every character on the show is so depressed happiness doesn’t seem possible. The show’s God is either dead or incredibly cruel.

Its darkness ends when the credits roll. The gloom is consequence free; it’s not the news and it’s not your life. You watch it, say “too bad for you, buddy,” and forget it when it’s done. Once it’s over, the long scenes of mournful faces scored by piano music take on a twisted humor.

The show takes place some after a Rapture-like event that magically zapped away two percent of the population. No one knows why it happened. No one knows why the people who were zapped away were chosen.

When it was first advertised, I assumed The Leftover’s Rapture would be like the one in the hideous, Left Behind book series. I thought it would follow some sociopathic reading of the hostile gibberish in the Book of Revelations, pitting good against evil at the end of civilization.

Nope! The Leftovers rapture is an evangelist’s worst nightmare. Good Christians were not whisked away. There’s no decades-long battle between the second coming of Christ and Satan. The disappeared weren’t pure Christians or even necessarily good people from saints. They ranged from shitty people to merely OK. Almost all of them had baggage.

In the Leftovers, Revelations went off book.  The church didn’t stop the disappearances and still can’t explain them. Religion was powerless when presented with one of its main tasks: dealing with Armageddon. At the start of the series,Christopher Eccleston’s small town minister’s church is crumbling from lack of followers. He investigates and publicizes the sins of the disappeared. He wants to prove God didn’t save them.  If they had, why would he still be around? And if God didn’t, who did?

“Who did” is a question I expect the show will tease throughout its run without answering. The show implies that God, or some kind of pro-Christian supernatural force, exists in its universe. Supernatural forces seem to aid Eccleston in his quest to keep his church. But they don’t help a thief accosts him in a parking lot. Eccleston, supposedly a man of God, has to beat the man, possibly to death, to keep the money. If God’s directly intervening on his behalf, He’s got a dark sense of humor.

There’s more evidence the show’s God is scoffing and cruel. After the fight, Eccleston is knocked unconscious while defending a cult member from a drive-by hate criminal. He wakes to find that the cult he defended has bought the church from under him.

When the credits rolled, my wife and I asked how the show would top that bummer. Then the next week they had an episode about his sister, who lost her husband and two elementary school children in the rapture event. I wanted to applaud. They did it. They found the sadder idea.

Just as religion did nothing to predict it or prevent the Rapture, law enforcement and government are powerless against it. Cops patrol the streets but are just empty uniforms. Politicians and bureaucrats pretend they’re in charge but secretly turn to fringe elements for guidance.

Regular folks without any illusions that they ever had any power join and start cults. The show’s world is lousy with them. Federal agents raid a rural cult with a Koresh-like leader and armed guards on the first episode. Another background group paint targets on their foreheads and forgo shoes. But the show focuses most on the Guilty Remnant, which have their headquarters in the show’s fictional upstate Hudson River Valley Town of Mapleton.

For fictional cults, the Guilty Remnant is unique in its silence. The senior members never speak. Their belief system drips out in the handwritten notes the members use to communicate with each other and the outside world. Otherwise, they chain smoke and stalk people to gain more members.

They wear white, presumably, to show they have drained the color out of their lives. I think they just smoke because it’s cool.

Justin Theroux’s sheriff character is an alcoholic and a bully. He may be a spiraling lunatic. But it’s possible his biggest mistake may be treating the Guilty Remnant humanely. As they demonstrate, most obviously, in the last episode, they are hardcore dickheads who do not deserve humane treatment.

The last episode was probably the worst one the show has presented thus far. The GR put their big plan in motion and it was kind of a letdown. I’m not going to give anything away, but I feel like the low-key awfulness they previously maintained victim to the needs for TV plot movement. The status quo was too dramatically inert for TV producers’ comfort. I wish they hadn’t made that decision because the cult was more compelling when their plans weren’t clear.

I suspect the second season will be terrible. They’re going to introduce mysteries and set up conflicts and I’m going to regret ever liking it. The appeal of the show is the grim rut the show runners are trying to dig out of. Hopefully writers have some real heavy bummers planned. Fingers crossed.

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