Saturday, April 5, 2014

Choking On The Ashes Of The Inevitable: 20 Years After The Death Of Kurt Cobain

For 20 years, I knew this day was coming.

It was foreshadowed on April 8, 1994, my "official" date of the death of Kurt Cobain - the day they found his body laying on its back on the second floor in the greenhouse of his 171 Lake Washington Boulevard residence.

This is the day that I recognize the death of Kurt Cobain.

I'm serious. One of the things I remember about that date was how weird it would be revisiting it twenty years later. At that time, it would have been a little over twenty years since the death of Janis, Jim and Jimi. I don't exactly remember those dates, so the only death I could really compare it to was the death of John Lennon as both seemed to provide me with an overwhelming sense of sadness. And while I was despondent over the murder of John Lennon, I clearly remember my sadness being mixed with heavy amounts of anger at the news of Kurt Cobain.

I shit anywhere I please...
I was working in small market radio and having a great time. Part of that happiness was due to Nirvana. They had turned a very formulaic format into infinite possibilities, and it was a great time to be a part of that. For my money, 1991/92 would stand out as one of the high points of the rock and roll timeline, ranking next to such infamous dates as 1967 or 1977. It was our moment, and maybe that's why it's hard to look back on it now.

Cobain had  been missing for several days at this point, and  the rumors of a suicide attempt in Rome were prevalent. I had  purchased a bootleg CD called Roma that documented a live performance from around this time. The music was obviously from a soundboard recording as the fidelity is great and even the performance - recorded on February 22, 1994 - is surprisingly stellar considering he was just a few weeks away from his first suicide attempt and just a few weeks more away from his eventual execution of it.

The packaging of Roma was very professional in appearance, but the content was clearly slopped together. The photo collage is an orgy of Cobain shots, including a disturbing and prophetic band shot with Kurt holding a shotgun to his mouth. Again, this was released just a few weeks prior to his suicide.

An author with a very limited vocabulary penned  a few paragraphs about the band's notorious struggles during the first few months of 1994. "A near fatal accident in Rome has brought our the vultures hungry for a corpse" wrote the uncredited author, before adding a few swipes at  Eddie Vedder and soliciting sympathy for Kurt, Courtney Love and the other members of Nirvana. "It's going to take a lot more than this to knock down Nirvana's wall" continued the brief declaration, unaware that the wall was just about to be demolished with a quick shotgun blast to the head.

A representative from Elektra Records had called me and told me the news. I was in my office, obvious to the events. I went to the news room and began to scour the AP wire for information. "A body has been discovered at  the residence of Kurt Cobain" began the initial results. By the time of the start of my 2:00 pm airshift, the body was confirmed as Cobain's. I started every hour of my airshift with a Nirvana song and dutifully reported the news at any available break.

I heard the afternoon's news person talking to someone in the newsroom. "What an asshole! Committing suicide when there's a baby involved. How selfish!" It was hard to argue, yet hard to accept. This was the first musician of my generation that I explicitly related to, and the first one to explicitly disappoint me. I went into the room off of the station's studio where we kept a shitload of vinyl singles for years past and cried while "All Apologies" played. The news person came in and brought back all of the commercial carts that were used for her top of the hour news broadcast. She noticed that I was crying in the other room and seemed to understand that the words I heard her say moments before were probably left unsaid, given the circumstances.

"Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld"
I had semi-broken up with my girlfriend at the time, as she had taken a job close to the Minnesota border and moved out of our apartment. I moved back into my parent's home for a temporary residence, the entire event serving as an end to the salad days of my radio career, Cobain's suicide then serving as an exclamation point to its finish.

The event served as a clarion call to end any youthful aspirations of music, broadcasting, or anything related to the industry of both. I began to lift myself out of my limited economic resources and fell into a "straight" job where I began to earn a legitimate living, later realizing that the decision came at a price. I put the Nirvana records away and made little attempts to revisit them.

After my airshift that night, I went home to my parent's house. My mother had heard the news and quietly approached me in their sunroom as I watched the live MTV News feed of the suicide. "I'm sorry that the singer of the band you liked died" she offered. "I know you were a big fan."

"I was."

That weekend, I drove the five hours up to my ex-girlfriend's place and we watched the ongoing reports of Cobain's death on MTV. She cried continually and this bothered me as she was initially dismissive of Nirvana and chastised my enthusiastic support of them.

Everyone is entitled to a chance to change, I suppose, so I kept my own callous opinions about what I considered to be her carpetbagging support to myself. We had seen Nirvana perform in a basketball gymnasium just months prior, and now that event would be sealed with his death. I relayed how the phone lines at the radio station lit up when school let out from lots of kids calling in to confirm the news. She began to cry again.

Months later, we went and saw Hole play at First Avenue in Minneapolis. Looking back, it served as our own funeral of sorts for Cobain as well as an end to our relationship. The day after the show was the last time I ever saw her. In another example of my own about-face, I later hooked up with the news reporter that was initially so verbal about her thoughts on Cobain's death. We married a few years later in Las Vegas with an Elvis impersonator officiating.

Even though my life is light-years away from that moment 20 years ago, I remember the event vividly. Coming into 2014, I was reminded that today would be coming, and I avoided acknowledging the subject until now and the inevitable articles that commemorate the event.

Newly released photographs of the death scene?

Fuck you.

Courtney Love hinting at a potential Hole reunion?

Fuck you, too.

Nirvana being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

"Corporate magazines still suck."

Instead of looking back on this day of Cobain's violent conclusion, I'd like to discuss why no band has been able to tap into the same level of cultural significance as Nirvana did even though two decades have come and gone.

Or maybe Cobain's shotgun ended that notion along with his life as well.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Nina Hagen - Nunsexmonkrock

Released in 1982 - the same year as Kate Bush's landmark album The Dreaming was issued - Nina Hagen's Nunsexmonkrock is probably best described as the crazy German cousin of that Bush offering. It is a widely epic statement that uses genres as its personal bitch, executed by an artist with a stunning, non-traditional vocal range that bounces between terror and beauty in seconds.

And it starts that way with the very first song, "Antiworld," featuring tribal drums beats and Middle Eastern tones, all while Hagen bounces off reverberated versions of herself-each one a demonic and terrifying force. Compared to The Dreaming's opener "Sat In Your Lap," Hagen gets the nod for straight up intimidation. It's unlike anything you've ever heard, and it's the first song on the fucking album.

Cut two "Smack Jack" begins with polite early 80's rhythms and it sucks you into its familiar spaces of synthesizers and cleanly strummed guitars. All good until Hagen begins singing like an elderly Eastern European Jewish grandmother with throat cancer and possessed by the devil. She howls underneath in another overdubbed voice and by the chorus she speeds up the tempo to a gallop and begins screaming "Shoot it  up, smack jack!" It's incredible drama, and even Hagen agrees with yet another voice appearing from the corners with the observation, "Junkies...are very sentimental."

"Taitschi-Tarot" channels Yoko Ono excercises quite nicely as thoughts on reincarnation. It leads into Hagen's tip-toes into the heavy metal arena with wails that are an octive higher than Maiden's Bruce Dickenson and run right next to an opera Hagen that's dubbed on top of the whole mess.

By the end  of Nunsexmonkrock, we've been professionally introduced to her infant daughter Cosma Shiva Hagen, an array of childlike voices, an eerie male demon, and five minutes on the subject of UFOs ("You are not alone!! Remember, it's true!!") underneath a mechanical syncopated beat.

Yes, Nunsexmonkrock can be an overwhelming barrage of voices, noises, and genres all lobbed together in a package that questions both Hagen's sanity and her own place in the world of recorded music. Because, quite honestly, the only other person I can think of who's accomplished this level of uncompromising music has a last name of Beefheart or Ubu. Shouldn't we be placing Hagen in the same breath?

Nunsexmonkrock makes a great case that we should.

"1968 is over!" Hagen reminds us, before screaming "Future is Now!" and some thirty years later, it still hasn't arrived, even when the spaceshit can be found right in the grooves of this warped masterpiece.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Kate Bush Returns To The Stage After 35 Years

"I'm coming back to his put it right"
During my formative dating years, there became a point within the relationship where I would introduce the young woman to the other love of my life: Kate Bush.

It could be a very daunting moment because, admittedly, Kate is  an acquired taste, and she sometimes wasn't received with the same amount of enthusiasm as I possessed. From this point, depending on the reaction, a few ladies were taken farther into this woman's work. These ended up becoming weirdly significant in terms of how deeply I felt about the person in the relationship. To love Kate was to love a part of me, I suppose, and if they could somehow see the brilliance of Kate then they could somehow relate to me better.

And they always understood that I would leave them at a moment's notice if Kate ever called up to propose.

Midwestern Top 40 radio (yes, the region makes a difference) was an unexciting mix of uninspired hits and Wonder bread melodies. Sometimes you would hear a track bubbling under the Top 20 songs, but these spins were restricted to evenings and  overnights. There was very little space provided to chance and anything deemed too "urban" for these stations was avoided like the plague.

Bush managed to crack the U.S. Top 40 with "Running Up That Hill," a song that did ease its way into the area radio stations before quickly retreating once again. A few girlfriends vaguely remembered the track, but admittedly, this song was somewhat of an anomaly compared to her album tracks.

Moving backward reveals a weirder muse working with Bush, and those earlier records also add a touch of youthful flamboyance. It's in full view on the Live At Hammersmith Odeon concert, a video released in the early 80's that remains as the only recorded document of her 1979 Tour Of Life shows. For a few "lucky" ladies, I would whip out a shitty vhs dubbed copy of this performance and wax on and on about how great of an artist Kate was.

The Tour Of Life is getting a lot of attention lately, thanks to the huge news that Bush would be returning to the stage this Fall in a 15 date tour being called Before The Dawn. Trouble is: these 15 dates are in London, as the reclusive Bush is reportedly not a fan of flying, making the idea of a world tour highly unlikely.

So if you want to get a pair of tickets for the shows, you're left with this option: try to find them at one of the four dates in August or any one of the dates until September 19th at a venue in London that only holds about 3,600. The servers to Kate's website crash when news of these new live dates went public, so I would imagine that these 3,600 x 15 seats will go insanely fast. Edit: They sold out within 15 minutes. They've now added 7 additional dates to the initial 15, but those have also sold out.

This proves to be an issue for a fan like me, from Iowa, and without suitable resources that I can drop everything this September and fly over to London to catch a show, never mind the near impossibility that I could even get a ticket to begin with.

The murmurs about Kate's return to the stage began a few years ago. It was believable to the point where I could actually see how the current state of the music industry may the idea of Bush performing again a reality. I'm guessing that her semi-retirement and loonnnggg stretches in between records was funded by consistent record sales, sales that have all but shriveled up.

While I certainly don't expect Ms. Bush to divulge her bank ledger to the world, I can't help but wonder if this entire project is financially motivated. But whatever. In the end it's prompting Kate to work in a medium that hinted at enormous potential the last time she graced the stage.

Which begs the question: Why did she leave the stage after her promising debut?

The rumor was the death of a young lighting crew member during one of the tour dates caused her to avoid live performances, but there was very little supporting this theory.

In 2011, she cited "exhaustion" to The Telegram, which if you've seen the Hammersmith-Odeon video, you can clearly understand how plausible  the explanation is. There are numerous costume changes, ridiculously theatrical choreography, and a sprite Kate utilizing a microphone headset while running around the entire stage for a solid 90 minutes. It's both hard to watch and hard to look away from, but when you consider it's the warped vision of a 20 year old woman and compare it to the hyper-sexual theatrics of a Miley Cyrus concert, you tend to appreciate it more. Kate is clearly working from a more advanced inspiration during these shows.

Ironically, the attempt to promote or report on the sexuality of her performances was another reason Kate walked away from live performances. Her early records are filled with songs of sex, lust, menstruation and pregnancy-all very striking statements from someone just barely of age. The live performances don't exactly exploit these topics as they do visualize them, and more recently she's cited the uncomfortable feeling she had with that focus on her sexuality as another reason she's isolated herself in the studio ever since.

Looking at the output she's provided since that tour from 1979, I'm fine with that decision. But I'm also hugely intrigued at her return to the stage and hope that it's not a retirement set. I'm also hoping that the reports of her fear of flying don't prevent her from coming to America at some point, but I'm realistic and understand that this will probably never happen.

I've already begun to formula a dream set list for the London dates, but even the title Before The Dawn seems to indicate there's something special afoot. Of course, that's always been the case with Kate. And if I ever want to be reminded of that, I can always return to the color-saturated video of the Tour Of Life that still resides in the few vhs tapes that have made it this far.

I couldn't let it go.

Unlike all those former girlfriends who were treated to a showing of this flawed relic, I'm still true to my first love.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Big Dumb Love Of My Husband's Stupid Record Collection

Oh yeah, the other thing...

The last few weeks have produced a buttload of hits for Sarah O'Holla, a librarian who has thankfully understood how awesome her last name is while probably enduring a lifetime of continually canned lines like "Yes, that's my real name" and "Yes, I'll give you a 'holla' back soon."

Sarah is married to a guy named Alex Goldman and he has about 1,500 pieces of vinyl which, as anyone who has a record  collection and has had to move into a new abode know, can be a real pain in the ass during moving day. After one such move, O'Holla pondered "What the fuck is with these things?" while Goldman probably didn't even bat an eye as he carried milk crate after milk crate of such  titles as Adam Ant Friend Or Foe (I'm partial to Strip) and Anthrax's Among The Living.

But rather  than complain about how stupid it is for lugging up all of these pieces of antiquated technology, O'Holla decided to learn a little bit more about the man she married by digging into those crates and checking out the records-one at a time-and record her thoughts on them for her website, My Husband's Stupid Record Collection.

The title alone got record geeks across the country a bit pissed, in a way where I'm almost embarrassed to acknowledge it. Believe me, any record fan with a hint of self-awareness has uttered these same words every time they've lugged up another box of these things, contemplating the need to have a document of something that has already burned a hole in their memory.

For some, just the hint that their passion was "stupid" brought out the fangs, and soon message boards were full of comments suggesting that O'Holla had no right to write about such things, particularly when she doesn't even get the vernacular right. On one post, she's lambasted for calling a gatefold sleeve something other than "gatefold sleeve" and another she's chuckled at for getting transfixed by a locked groove.

Within days of  this, the online media caught wind of the kerfuffle and began reporting on it from a variety of different angles. One of the most prominent was how the record collecting culture is very male driven, to the point where the entire "teacher/student" aspect of how male music nerds attempt to "school" potential ladies into the club. Of course, then the entire notion of how men  never really want the ladies into this exclusive club is introduced and supported by several examples of female critics dishing out examples of how men totally discount a woman's opinion of something, based entirely on their gender rather than their knowledge of the subject matter.

I began to think about my own interactions with women, and I can attest to contributing to  some of this same behavior. I have a  history of trying to "teach" people about new music, and I was probably less subtle about it when I was younger than I am now.

I can think of several examples of relationships  where I made instructional mix tapes, promoting an agenda of music that I thought  was cool, in an attempt to change the person away to whatever music they may have enjoyed previously.

The problem is, as I considered beating myself up over coming across as a snob abuser, was that I didn't exert this kind of behavior  exclusively to women. In fact, there are probably double the number of examples of the teacher/student role within my own gender than any kind of condescending attitude towards music based  on the other person's sex.

In fact, any kind of music instructions towards the ladies was coated with plenty of things like accessibility and lyrical hints, because, let's face  it, a lot of this behavior was based on an idea that you're beginning a  soundtrack of a potential relationship.

Any woman who possessed a modicum of interest in music or displayed a knowledge of facts regarding it was  almost immediately placed on a higher level than any other woman. Think of that scene  in High Fidelity where the bald  dude hooks up with that chick from Roseanne and you've got a good idea of how men tend to melt when faced with a musical equal. It's what we're all secretly striving for inside.

But the Internet is a much different place, and definitely a much crueler one. I can't imagine the amount of straight-up anonymous hatred that O'Holla has  probably endured already, feeding the idea that this discussion is legitimate one, even when it should be nothing more than a defense mechanism created by a bunch of uber-defensive babies with retarded social skills.

Because at the end of the day, that's what a bunch of us music geeks really are.

I looked at O'Holla's blog and thought, how lucky this man is. Not because of  Sarah's physical appearance-she  looks like a normal 32 year old woman and her and Alex seem to make a perfectly adorable couple. No, I was jealous at the fact that his wife took a harebrained  idea over a  few drinks and totally dug into the project.

Her words are wonderfully touched with the ears of a novice, but they also suggest that she possesses a certain amount of passion about the topic. Maybe not  in the same manner that her husband seems to have a penchant for Adam Ant records, but ones in the sense where she considers every title with open ears.

What kind of man or woman wouldn't want a  partner like that? Doesn't every one of us strive to find a partner who loves both the person that we are as well as the road that brought us there? To love  Alex Goldman is to also love Prince Charming.
Photo courtesy of the My Husband's Stupid Record Collection blog.

From a personal standpoint, I would love it if my wife or other partner ever thought of such an idea, and even the thought of their amateur opinions on the subject matter increases the appeal. I love the idea of such observations as being fixated on Adam Ant's guitarist rotund appearance and the white tennis shoes of Anthrax, thereby eliminating any perceived threat of violence, despite what their lyric sheet might suggest.

I'm reminded of the women in my life who taught me a thing or two about music, holding their own with the other snobs to the point where their gender wasn't even a factor because their authority washing away any of the same nonsense being tossed around in O'Holla's direction.

Who knows. Maybe by the time she reaches the "G" section we can move beyond the dialogue of the walls that are needlessly put up because of O'Holla's gender and focus on her reaction as she discovers more about the life of her husband and the music that provided the soundtrack to it.

And from that freedom, we may be able to learn about some music that can become a part of our own lives in the process.

I'm happy to say that, because of the blog's review of The B-52's debut album, there is a metal version of "Rock Lobster" floating around that I music get my hands on.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

You Wanted The Best, You Got The Shaft! KISS Vs. The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

Sorry. I took some time off to boycott winter.

Now that it’s Spring, let’s pick up with a Glam-Racket tradition: making fun of the band KISS.

You really didn’t think that I would be able to ignore the almost daily statements coming out of Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons concerning their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, did you?

To be honest, I almost did, as the two co-founders reluctance to perform with the other two co-founding members was nothing that would really surprise the most fair weather of KISS fans, so why comment on it.

But what’s different here is the constant barrage of whining complaints about the Rock Hall process, which has been a continual complaint by anyone who noticed how the RRHF overlooks certain genres and is managed by a few rich white boys with a limited view of rock music. Just because Gene and Paul have suddenly brought the hypocrisy into the spotlight once again doesn't mean that we have to listen, particularly since their own actions are riddled with hypocrisy too.  We have been talking about the lack of legitimacy and transparency in the RRHF for quite some time now and we will continue bitching about it long after these two wealthy men have hung up their platform shoes and worked out a retirement plan with whoever wants to assume the moniker for future KISS Army mouthbreathers.

Let’s begin there, where Paul Stanley suggested that KISS will continue long after he and Gene call it a day. His first ridiculous mistake is to suggest that the band KISS and the KISS corporation are two separate things. If he wants to hint that someone will be granted the authority to dress up like the band's characters and continue peddling KISS shows to whoever wants to don the makeup, then he should be able to understand that there are a lot of people who resent this idea, particularly those who are drawn to the original members that got this band rolling.

Gene and Paul can remind us all they want that it was their idea and their hard work that made it all possible, but to pretend that Ace and Peter are not entitled to a certain amount of higher praise than later "members" is extremely shortsighted. If he is really sincere about letting other people use the original member's make up scheme and appearance, then all of his phony baloney complaints about how other KISS members are deserving of a RRHF induction is suddenly irrelevant. He has every legal right to allow other people to continue on with his band’s image, but he doesn’t have the power to dictate to the rest of us how this line-up will be received, or how many more fans feel that it was the original members that made the band what they were.

Obviously, to anyone with an ounce of logic in their head recognizes that replacement members will only further taint the band’s reputation and secure the very real fact that the band’s brief output featuring Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter is the only part of KISS that's worth examining. And as someone who straight-up hates this band, I’m smart enough to recognize that this original line-up was hugely influential and deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

What’s so disingenuous about Paul’s constant complaining is how he's suddenly incensed and has now assumed the role of the heavy. That has traditionally been Gene’s m.o.  He has a history of slighting Ace and Peter and questioning their contributions. To now point out how these two members were often m.i.a. for much of the line-up’s later records is silly, particularly since Paul and Gene signed off on trying to pull the wool over their fans by suggesting that Ace and Peter were still active members when the liner notes told otherwise. To only now fess up to their diminishing contributions and continually suggest that their roles weren’t essential to building the “product” is childish. There is nobody in their right mind that will suggest that Lick It Up, Revenge or Sonic Boom is as influential as Destroyer or Rock and Roll Over or that posters of Tommy Thayer and Vinnie Vincent line the bedroom walls of rock and roll fans around the world.

Besides, both Gene and Paul have cock-blocked Vincent’s contributions and for years have suggested that his role in rebuilding KISS during the mid-80’s unmasked period was not pivotal. The very reason that he left the camp was because Gene and Paul never allowing him to be a true member even when his material was essential in providing the band with their first gold record since Unmasked, even without makeup. Even Eric Carr, the drummer they love to refer to and eulogize was never a full fledged member of KISS’ and never received full corporate authority with any of their licensing opportunities. They were paid to play, and anything with a logo at the merch table helped fund only two parties: Gene and Paul. So why on earth are they now whining about not allowing anyone besides the original line-up into the RRHF when they didn’t even offer these people full membership to begin with?

For many years, Paul seemed to be the most rational of the two, particularly in regards to white-washing Ace and Peter’s struggle with addictions and in acknowledging their contributions. Gene was usually the one who brought up the stories of their abuse and lack of creative input, which is ironic considering how Gene himself checked out during most of the 80’s, leaving Paul alone to entertain his commercial drive, usually with outside help.

Now, it seems that the roles have reversed: Gene seems almost amiable when discussing the possibility of Ace and Peter joining him and Paul onstage for a song or two.  Paul, on the other hand, goes ballistic at being told by the Hall of who is being honored and who isn't. Stanley seems bent out of shape that he wasn't consulted in all of this, and how the Hall wasn't interested in having the current configuration of the band perform during the ceremonies. Of course, Paul has a new autobiography that’s out, so it appears that all of his fucking commentary is just another way to build interest for his pocketbook, never mind the fact that his band is now comprised of two poseurs who are merely hired hands.

Stanley likes to use the Grateful Dead as an example of how unfair the RRHF has been to KISS and their desire to put on the makeup with their two staff members and play during the induction ceremony. But nobody gives a shit about the current configuration of KISS, so why not just admit that you’ve run your logo into the ground, be a man and take the honor without performing, an honor-by the way-that you fucking owe to the poor saps that lobbied hard on your behalf?

All of Gene and Paul’s talk about how their fans are the most important thing has been sullied by this entire fiasco. You could tell that the two were hurt after being overlooked for so many years, but as soon as they get in-under the condition that only the original membership gains entrance-they pout and take their toys and go home. I believe that I even read where one of them dared to suggest that the RRHF would be making money from KISS’ legacy, so why would they allow the Hall’s leadership to dictate how their band was going to be presented?

How about the fact that all of the band’s archives are only taking up space in a warehouse at the moment, draining Gene and Paul’s pocketbooks in rental fees when they could be placed in a venue designed to display them, in turn building up interest in the band and opening wallets in return. But neither KISS member likes the idea of someone else mucking up the supply chain of KISS dipping directly in their fan’s pocketbooks.

Need proof?

Walk up to Simmons in an unauthorized KISS t-shirt and ask him to autograph something. Changes are he’ll refuse based upon the origins of your attire and then browbeat you how you’re not a real fan by wearing a knockoff.

They also aren't very good at planning a business model beyond what's happening with their next, immediate product. After that, well it's just Paul Stanley talking a bunch of horseshit (does he really think fans are going to pay top dollar for an officially licensed cover band?) and Gene Simmons reminding us all how he's smarter, wealthier, and more promiscuous than the rest of us.

The band's immediate plans are a summer tour with Def Leppard, a package deal that enables them to capture an audience that might consider dropping $75 for a good seat to see both bands, but certainly not for one as the only headliner. I mean my wife saw Lep at a frigging county fair a few days after the boy was born, and that was nearly 11 years ago.

If KISS thinks that all of these incessant press releases that Gene and Paul keep issuing are going to translate into more ticket sales, then they are mistaken. For all of this talk to try an legitimize the band's current line up or to build any kind of sympathy for Stanley's bullshit concern for all of the other band members hired hands, they are merely showing how greedy and  ego-driven they are by pretending that they are anything but a brand that based more on their history than any current creative output.You see a lot of references to the band's 40th anniversary, but let's be honest here: those four decades continue to pull from the original line up years quite heavily.

All they had to do was play nice for a night. Christ, they could have easily just gathered at the end of the performance for a one-off version of "Rock & Roll All Night" and then gone their separate ways. Instead, Simmons and Stanley needed to make it a fighting match after they've already won and gotten exactly what they wanted. Rather than confront the anger and bitterness for a mere three minutes and thirty seconds as a thank you to those fans that brought them out of their shitty little existence that was Wicked Lester, they piss on their own food supply.

Fuck KISS.

Take it back and give it to The Zombies.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Ghost - Opus Eponymous

I discovered Ghost with the second album, Infestissumam, a regrettable decision that was made in haste and nearly derailed any additional interest in the band. Take it from me, don't make the same mistake: begin your exploration of this Swedish sextet with their debut, Opus Eponymous.

If it weren't for the band's wonderful religious imagery and their incessant praising of Satan, chances are good that I would have probably ignored Ghost completely from that moment on.

Call it the devil's work or blame it on some subconscious backwards masking, but there was something compelling to me about a band working with an image that is most associated with aggression, volume and lots of testosterone while using an abundance of pop and melody in their quest to acquire your soul for the underworld.

The dichotomy was addictive, and the more I immersed myself in discovering Ghost, the more I began to appreciate their unique mission statement.

You have to understand that I grew up during a time where any association with the devil was viewed negatively. Sure, it may have been a little titillating to have a hint of Satanic imagery to gain interest in your music, but if you had any desire of financial success or commercial intent, you had to suppress the pentagrams and play nice. And part of "playing nice" meant making sure your product was acceptable to the record buyers of Sam Walton's joint and the God-fearing local business owners who made Motley Crue turn in their barely visible pentagram for the cover of Shout At The Devil into a boring quartet of photos of the band in garish make up.

Things were so bad that even televangelist Jim Bakker's network in the early 80's gave an hour a week to a show devoted entirely to "outing" bands with Satanic references and other suggestive evil matters. When the devil material got light, they would often spend an inordinate amount of time looking for backward masking on records and other issues of concern like sex, drugs, and doing drugs that may lead to sex. If it wasn't for this show, I would have never known the message "It's fun to smoke marijuana" could be heard if you played Queen's "Another One Bites The Dust" backwards.

My point is this: had the band Ghost tried any of this Satanic jive back in the day, they would have been crucified (ha!) by religious leaders and other do-gooders who didn't see the band's over-the-top theatrics as anything but a complete threat to our nation's youth.

I mean, you've seen Paradise Lost, right?

By 2010, the world was ready for a confirmed group of devil worshippers, at least not the kind that burn historic churches and eat the brain splatter of a fellow band member's successful shotgun suicide. No, Ghost are the palatable devil worshippers, the kind where their look oozes irony and their lyrics read like make believe Latin and lazy memories of the Anglican Book of Common Prayers.  Fronted by Papa Emeritus, a Pope-like religious figure in skull make-up and supported by 5 masked and anonymous musicians known as "nameless ghouls," Ghost slightly suggest some elements of evil on a visual scale, but the shear audacity of their bold religious image is hard to accept as anything more than an ironic statement of our world's curious history with Christianity and evil.

This is all confirmed within moments of Opus Eponymous, the band's debut album. They're from Sweden, which also contributes to their lack of possessing any real threat against humanity, particularly since some of the band's initial seed money came from art grants divvied out by the Swedish government .

But the real nicety is found not within the band's peripheral image or religious doctrine, it's in the music itself. While undeniably a hard rock record, Opus Eponymous noticeably light on the aggressiveness. The keyboards are mixed as high as the guitars, leaving Papa Emeritus with plenty of room to sing without the aid of any cliched metal effects whatsoever.

Opus Eponymous reveals hints of Blue Oyster Cult's more accessible moments as well as hints of late 80's prog metal favorites Voivod, if they'd pointed their songs towards the bowels of hell instead of outer space.

"Lucifer, we are here/For your praise, evil one" sings Emeritus, showing neither much conviction in the topic itself, or much concern for intimidating the listener. His ambivalence towards metal's notorious history of nutswinging machismo is unsettling at first, but positively refreshing after repeated listens. And thanks to the record's good melodic sense and abundant parade of hooks, it is quite possible that Opus will amass more listens than you probably should admit to.

The guitars are impeccably appropriate, closely following warm, retro tones and vintage appointments. Besides tactful organs which are used abundantly throughout Opus, Ghost have enough smarts to let the bassist-again, listed as another "Nameless Ghoul"- tackle the low end without letting it be ruined by endless drop-D tuning strategies. Everything is wonderfully recorded in what sounds like a very analog environment. The performances are clever and tactfully restrained, representing a very respectful tribute to the era of music that it is obviously indebted to.

The impeccable musicianship makes it so much easier to sing and quietly giggle along with Emeritus' constant praises of Satan ("The Devil's power is the greatest one"), usually bordering on Cliffs Notes edition of religious phrases ("Hear our Satan prayer/The anti-Nicene Creed") with the occasional songs about Elizabeth Bathory, a royal Hungarian 17th century serial killer ("Her acts of cruelty/Her lust for blood/Makes her one of us").

Opus Eponymous is perfectly suited for vinyl, with its tidy running time and its cheesy Gothic cover art. As with any bit of seventies worship, Opus comes complete with the album's lyrics found inside its gatefold sleeve, written in some impossible read font that's as fun as shit to follow along to while you're giving it a spin. You'll be able to confirm the lyrics online if needed, and certain sites even provide song meanings as supplied by fans and devoted listeners of the record. The site that I visited listed "It's about Satan" as the explanation of every song on Opus Eponymous, and that explanation is entirely correct.

Not that it matters. You'll be able to recite every single ridiculous chorus, particularly since they're so infectious and enormously fun to sing along with. It was suggested that I failed to notice that important element -"fun" - in my review of Ghost's second album, and I suppose that criticism is somewhat fair. But it works better here on the band's debut, because the record's focus is so tightly centered on one topic (Satan) and the band's blueprint is based entirely on spreading the message of evil in the guise of a very entertaining thirty-five minute long package.

The pop elements, the strong performances, and the band's theatrics all combine perfectly to create a refreshing and unique approach that works surprisingly well in today's ADHD culture. For me, I think that the appeal was discovering a band that focused on something beyond the walls of reality, right out of the gate to the point where I relished the idea that Ghost isn't content with modest intentions. Ghost seems to be arena-ready from the start, a goal that is practically unheard of since hair metal got buried with Nevermind's ascension over two decades ago.

Maybe it's taken that long to be ready for such blatant attempt at lofty desires. Or maybe it's taken such the dramatic appearance of a make-believe Pope and his Darth Vader masked minions to make this kind of yearning to be acceptable again.

One thing is for sure:  if you sit down and put on the second side of Opus, you'll find that it's damn near perfect- that is, if that corn cob of pretentiousness that's lodged in your ass isn't too out of reach. It's a great blend of hard rock's mid-70's worship with a very legitimate attempt to recreate some similar magic for today's rock and roll virgins. Because - I don't know if you've noticed - hard rock isn't what it used to be, and its lack of eye-catching excitement probably has something to do with it no longer being the bond of our youth. And while I'm certainly not suggesting the death of hard rock/heavy metal's is here or even imminent, I do notice a decline in its influence among our youth.

To correct this, I see nothing wrong with eliciting the help of Satan himself to make sure the impressionable ears of our youth at least give hard rock a chance. Perhaps that's achieved with a band working something that's bigger in scope that what their garage or basement can provide or what their laptop can help create.

Perhaps that's achieved through the efforts of a Pope, his evil minions, and a few songs about the devil.

And that's fine by me too, because everyone knows that Hell's got all the good bands anyway.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Peter Criss - Out Of Control

Pretend for a moment that you're the drummer for America's most popular rock band. Despite not being a very accomplished drummer and an even less talented singer, you've managed to score a Top 10 single that propels your group to superstardom and your limited drumming skills are still recognized enough to be considered "influential," albeit mostly for appearance rather than ability.

Is all of this enough to cash out and go solo?

Some may claim it was Peter Criss' ego that led him to quit KISS, while others may cite the drugs, pressure or the sheer displeasure of having to work with Gene Simmons. Whatever the reason, if Criss' first solo record from 1978 was any indication that embarking on a solo career was the wrong career direction entirely, his second offering Out Of Control confirms it.

Teaming up again with longtime collaborator Stan Penridge, a friend from his pre-KISS days who co-wrote "Beth" and is all over that 1978 solo monstrosity, Out Of Control was supposed to serve as Criss' first foray into post-KISS independence. And like the solo record before this, life on his own seems to be a very challenging place for Criss as it resides in the middle of his hard-rock persona and his obvious comfort with more standard rock fare.

"Looks like this time I'm on my own/Starting over again" Criss muses with the syrup-laden opener "By Myself," an obligatory nod to the obvious. But whatever all by myself jive that Criss tries to impose from the get-go is nothing but baloney, particularly when the second song reaches into KISS' own limited arsenal of hooks and lifts straight from nemesis Simmons' hit "Calling Dr. Love" for "In Trouble Again." In fact, the rest of Out Of Control is so dismal that you almost wish Simmons' would have sued Criss for copyright infringement, thereby preventing it from ever obtaining a release date.

It is the work of mere obligation instead of any real inspiration. Out Of Control is a lazy recording of two mildly talented buddies pissing away one man's lottery winnings on the misguided notion that there is an audience for a old top cat who has used up his nine lives already.