Monday, March 30, 2009

Clones (We All Are)

It's the law of diminishing returns. The more copies you make, the lesser the quality can be. Even so, sometimes there are surprises out there.

I was drinking when I wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray. A long time ago in a childhood far far away, one of the greatest movies of all time was made. Star Wars changed history and the face of mankind was changed forever. So powerful was Star Wars that it spawned a second set of sorry sequels years after the first series of sequels ended. Collectively, the prequel series of Star Wars movies were weak and tainted the brand as a whole. But bad product has never stopped a brand name before, not as long as it keeps selling. And as a result we have a new splinter to add to the Star Wars universe, the CGI animated Clone Wars.

It started with the movie that I got the DVD for in December. All I can say is that I'm glad I waited until DVD to watch this. On TV it's as impressive as the Cartoon Network series, the animation is pretty good, the characters are more lifelike than the live action films and the story telling somewhat plausible (at least not everyone is someone else's uncle, aunt or parent anymore). Star Wars: The Clone Wars is better than say The Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones yet that's not saying much. The story to Clone Wars is a little insipid, some nonsense about Jabba the Hutt's baby and kidnapping and what not. In a movie theater this would have been disappointing, at home on DVD it's not bad. On celluloid it would suck to see the start of a tv series on screen without any enhanced graphics or events to make it special as a stand alone item. So good thing I saw it at home.

This movie was a lead in to Cartoon Network's series of half hour weekly episodes. The series is very good, it fleshes out the Star Wars Republic era and many times surpasses the quality of the prequel films in terms of story. At its peak, the Star Wars tv series picks up the zippy sense of fun the original trilogy had. The storm troopers aren't misfiring dolts even (makes me wonder what happened to that gene pool by the time you get to Luke Skywalker's time) My opinion hasn't changed much from the last time I reviewed it, the series is worthwhile and in the words of young Anakin and his friend, pretty "Wizard".

Branded alongside the DVD and TV series is a video game for the Wii, Star Wars: The Clone Wars Lightsaber Duels. The chance to swing a light saber with a Wii remote is mighty tempting. After playing this a bit, Lightsaber Duels is pretty good. There is some matching with the remote motion to give you a little Jedi juice, though it falls a little short for me. You're limited to five remote direction movement and have to memorize complex move patterns to do combo attacks (never a favorite video game feature of mine. After a year of playing Mortal Kombat I only got down one finishing move half way, where Scorpion eats the opponent's head). I was hoping for omnidirectional control of the saber since the Wii seemed to be up to it control wise. Despite these set backs, I still find playing the game enjoyable even as I flail crazily to try to trigger half the movements I'm supposed to while playing. The Force is with me.

The Clone Wars series is a decent, respectable extension of the Star Wars brand. It's not perfect and maybe it gets a little good will from the prequel trilogy's low standards. Still, on episodes like the hostage crisis at the senate or the prison break of a trade group informant the show brings back the excitement lacking from a lot of the product. And that makes it worthwhile.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mr Mike AOR Project 1985

It's the roar of the crowd: Arena Rock's commercial slickness and focused energy became attractive to movies and aging rockers who wanted to meet mass appeal.

1985 was the year AOR went Hollywood, movie soundtracks and classic rockers hit the arena rock scene hard. The Iron Eagle soundtrack spawned a slew of Arena Rock classics, so much I purposely limited the number of songs on these CDs because it was dominating the whole thing. So, not included are Queen's "One Vision", Adrenalin's "Sign of the Gypsy" and Eric Martin's "These Are The Good Times". On top of that was the classic Rocky IV soundtrack, giving us another shot of John Cafferty and Survivor genius. Following '84's Footloose soundtrack, Arena Rockers were finding a lot of work playing over a film's ending credits or getting cut into that most famous of 80's film fads, The Montage. At the same time, Rock legends from the 60's like Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton jumped in too choosing slicker sonics to blend with the times. Arena Rock was still big business and everyone wanted in.

Disc 1:

Heart - What About Love

The Wilson sisters kicked off their new deal with Capitol records by releasing a nice shiny epic power ballad. Few on the planet can wail like Ann Wilson.

Fiona - Talk to Me

The smoky voiced chanteuse will forever be the person Demi Moore lip sync'd to in No Small Affair to me, though she is probably better known for acting opposite Bob Dylan in his big screen flick. Fiona tried every trick in the book to achieve fame to no avail, which is shocking because if a duet with Kip Winger called "You're Sexing Me" can't get you attention then what can?

David Lee Roth - California Girls

Diamond Dave rocked out the Beach Boys classic to the tune of random shouts and windmill kicks, giving him the delusion that he could do it all on his own. If only I could get a DeLorean and go back in time to stop him.

Alan Parsons Project - Days Are Numbers (The Traveller)

Wistful is not an adjective that comes up much in Arena rock, the pomp rockers get all teary eyed over the magic Traveller man. Travel on you questing spirit!

Loudness - Crazy Night

The Japanese Metal Gods tried the American market for a little while, I couldn't get a good copy of the excellent "Let it Go" so I went with another good tune from them.

Robert Tepper - No Easy Way Out

Just think, without Robert Tepper then Rocky might never have jumped into his Porsche to drive away his regrets and fears over Apollo Creed's death. Drago!

Supertramp - Cannonball

Who needs Roger Hodgson? Oh yeah, Supertramp does. The first single sans Hodgson was a sleek piece of jazz rock that sounds oddly close to the James Bond theme towards the end.

Bryan Adams - Heaven

Forgotten fact about this song: it was released as part of a soundtrack for a movie where Christopher Atkins (Blue Lagoon) is a male stripper in a relationship with his teacher Lesley Ann Warren. A Night in Heaven I think it was called. Or if it was made today, it would be titled Another Day at School.

Mick Jagger - Just Another Night

The Stones front man shaked and shimmied as hard as he could to make this song fly. He nearly succeeds as he pushed this to the Top 20. Sorry Mick, you really need Keith to make this stuff work.

Motley Crue - Home Sweet Home

Before it was American Idol's kiss off song, the Crue took power balladry to new heights on this jam which saw them switch from Satanic leather to spandex and scarves. No longer shouting at the devil, they're all sensitive and missing home.

Dokken - In My Dreams

Dokken still rhymes with rockin', their best heavy harmony topped off with George Lynch's blazing guitar. In the early 90's this song was remade as a dance track by a Disney group called The Party.

Starship - We Built This City

Stiff, mechanical, dopey and cheesy: everything I love! The Starship hit warp speed with this idiotic yet insanely memorable smash. I even had the twelve inch back then which consisted of five minutes of the drum machine pattern going over and over again followed by the regular song.

Marillion - Kayleigh

They didn't make much of a splash in the U.S., Marillion was a well respected British prog band who hit the European charts with this pop cut.

Survivor - The Search is Over

It's like Cats with rockers, Survivor croon their dramatic tale that made the list of VH1's Awesomely Bad Love Songs just because it's about finding true love after dating a lot of women.

The Hooters - And We Danced

Philadelphia's eccentric pop rockers were named after an actual musical instrument, not what you might think (get your mind out of the gutter!). For some reason this band has a knack for writing hits for female singers, case in point - Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" and Joan Osbourne's "One of Us" (you know, the what if God was on the bus song).

Fortune - Dearborn Station

One of the lost bands of AOR, Fortune released a classic Arena rock disc in '85 and was virtually ignored for their trouble. Not so, ahem, fortunate.

Van Zant - I'm A Fighter

Before reviving Lynyrd Skynyrd, Johnny Van Zant took a shot at making a name for himself and made a little bit of headway with a two fisted rockers and ballads approach.

Disc 2:

Asia - Go

The last sort of hit for the British Prog AOR group, "Go" is like listening to Manheim Steamroller with Barry Manilow on lead vocals. That sounds awful, but it's really good. At least to me.

Magnum - On A Storyteller's Night

Germany likes to rock and Magnum serves up a bright shiny anthem that builds from a ballad to straight ahead rock. Combined with Asia, they serve up a special kind of cheese that can only come from Europe.

Tina Turner - Better Be Good To Me

Half the fun is listening to Turner's raspy insistent delivery, at it's core "Good to Me" is classic Arena rock dressed up in Adult Contemporary garb. The other part of the fun is listening to my wife's great Tina Turner imitation :)

REO Speedwagon - Can't Fight This Feeling

Along with Survivor, '85 was a big year for finding love right under your nose. Was it social commentary as the 60's spirit of unmarried sex combined with the wave of conservatism created a culture where it was expected to sleep around before getting married? Nope, just coinkidink. This song added some much needed miles to the Speedwagon's career as it shot to #1 on the Pop charts.

Joe Lynn Turner - Endlessly

Ex-Rainbow singer JoLT powered his solo debut with this magnificent moody ballad. I got to see JoLT live when he opened for Pat Benatar a year later, thought it was funny his tour shirts stressed JoLT with a lightning bolt because there was a caffeine heavy soda at the same time with a similar logo. Ah, that soda got me through many a college final.

Huey Lewis and the News - The Power of Love

Maybe a little too bar band to be true Arena Rock, nonetheless Huey Lewis and the News made a dent in the Pop Rock scene. This song gave Michael J Fox the power to skateboard his heart out in Back to the Future.

Mr. Mister - Broken Wings

Singer / Bassist / Songwriter Martin Page turned down a shot at replacing Peter Cetera in Chicago because he had faith in his own band. For one year he was right, Mr. Mister hit the top of the charts twice. Then after that it looked like he totally made the wrong choice as Mr. Mister decended into oblivion.

Eric Clapton - She's Waiting

Slowhand's hook up with Phil Collins produced some of his biggest AOR moments, "She's Waiting" was one of his best of Clap's 80's phase. Though I've always had a soft spot for that Miller beer remake of "After Midnight".

Michael McDonald - No Lookin' Back

Yes, there were occasional moments where Mikey McD would sing lead instead of background vocals. "No Lookin' Back" was McD's attempt to get out of R&B pop purgatory, an attempt that failed but still gave us a nice piece of soulful AOR.

Loverboy - Lovin Every Minute Of It

Written by Mutt Lange, it looks like Def Leppard, sounds like Def Leppard, but it's not. It's not Def Lep, it's Canada's Loverboy droppin' the New Wave to take their shot at full on Arena Rock.

The Power Station - Some Like It Hot

Driven by what I consider to be the single greatest drum performance of the Reagan Presidency, the late Tony Thompson gave the renegade Duran Durannies (John and Andy Taylor) something to dance about. And the cool sophistication of Robert Palmer didn't hurt either.

Heart - Never

This delicious chunk of wiry Arena Rock (Neevverrr! Never Run away...) was a huge smash not just for its catchiness. Nancy Wilson bouncing, writhing and kicking throughout the vid clip in tight spandex was a key selling point for millions.

Mike and the Mechanics - Silent Running

Okay, I never did figure out if this song went to a movie or not. The video made it seem like it belonged to a movie about aliens or something. Either way, Paul Carrack backed by Genesis' Mike Rutherford made a sleek proposition for high tech mystery.

Rush - The Big Money

The egghead hard rockers railed against THE MAN with this textured swipe at Corporate greed.

Y&T - Summertime Girls

Same old story: Long running Bay Area hard rock outfit sells out to pure cheese for MTV airplay. "Mean Streak" this is not. And yet I cannot resist it's sub-Hagar charm.

King Kobra - Iron Eagle (Never Say Die)

Damn right you never say die, this is America!

The Cars - Tonight She Comes

Little did we know at the time that this would be the last Cars hit to have any real impact. Ric Ocasek's offhand delivery distinguishes this synth heavy hit.

And Cut! That's a wrap people, see you in 1986.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

European Dance Party

They don't need to put on the red light: Franz Ferdinand slides onto the dance floor with their twitchy rock intact.

Two of the CDs I got a little while ago have little in common on the surface: one disc is by a one hit wonder from 2004 and the other is by one of the best known rock bands of the past twenty years. Yet they bear strong similarities in 2009. Need a hint about these bands? They both are European, have four members and combine an alternative rock sound with techno beats. Yup, you got it, it's Franz Ferdinand and U2.

Franz Ferdinand came on the scene strong with a vigorous debut album and smash single Take Me Out. The sophomore jinx caught up with them on a solid yet unsatisfying second disc pushing the Scottish foursome to take a different approach for their third record, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand. I have to admit to being skeptical of what to expect this time out, for about a year or so there were many reports of the group supplanting their Gang of Four slam with boogie beats. Usually these hybrid attempts at music come off as desperate and tacked on, so I was a little surprised at how good this CD is. The combination of dance floor grooves and Alt rock kick blends seamlessly, allowing Franz to take their next step artistically.

Throughout the disc, Franz' familiar sense of ironic, dour melody and brittle guitars continue their traditional style as the beat gets enhanced with the latest electronic bells and whistles. The Apple I-whatever commercial has gotten exposure for one of the best songs, the bouncing jaunty No You Girls. "Ulysses" is a good lead single with their well known "la la la la" style chorus intact to draw some attention. For me, the best song was Lucid Dreams which starts off with the band and then evolves into something like Queen's "Radio Ga Ga" groove at the end.

It's still not as good as their first album, but for a good time in the post recession economy you can call on Franz Ferdinand to bring the party. After the party's over, who's gonna save the world?

U2 returns to the spotlight to answer that question. The follow up to their slightly schizophrenic 2004 release How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb which rocked like a like a boulder in a catapult the first half and then pulled all the juice on the second half, No Line on the Horizon brings the Irish group back with their best known producers at the board. As with any U2 album there is a ton of hype and a lot of reviews already out there, so I'll just speak broadly about this one.

Some people thought this disc would be a summation of all the previous versions of U2's sound: The chiming guitars and hearty anthems of the 80's mixed with the cool jokey dance floor vibe of the 90's. Well, for the most part those people were right. No Line on the Horizon does sound like that quite a bit. Electronic sounds buzz and swarm about before giving way to Edge's famous serrated guitar sound and Bono's belting. There is a bit of a World music feel in parts and the stellar production team of Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Steve Lillywhite find the right balance of spacious openness and meaty substance. The rhythm section of Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen are in fine form, providing a pulsing drive and slapping percussion to ground the sound.

While the first single Get On Your Boots with it's jumpin' electronica groove and drum break fails to kill me (though it is better in the context of the disc than as a stand alone) much of the album is quite good. I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight is a mid tempo pop rocker filled with hooks. The ballad Moment of Surrender is packed with all the bleeding heart chest thumping sensitivity that they're known for and has a great chorus to boot. Another ballad, White as Snow, has a lyrical beauty and has the feel of a deep soundtrack cut for an art house movie.

U2 pretty much said this is their bid to remain relevant and on that scale the album is a success. Nothing on No Line comes off as rote or tired, the album hangs together as a collective statement and maintains a level of ambition. U2 still wants to rule the planet or at least save it, though there are no obvious smash hit songs this time out No Line on the Horizon proves they still matter.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Here To Pump You Up

I'm a little under the weather right now so this post will be brief. I recently got the new Franz Ferdinand CD (with review to follow 'natch) and so I decided to feature their first single, "Ulysses" .

Franz Ferdinand "Ulysses"

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mr Mike Project 1984

Game, Set and Match: The future Mrs. McEnroe transforms into a Kabuki looking super heroine armed with fingers that can shoot walls of heartache.

In 1984 MTV became the undisputed center of the music world and three things happened to AOR as a result: First, the channel pushed a lot of L.A. Pop Metal in the wake of Quiet Riot's success leading to a lot of exposure for bands from the Sunset Strip. Second, established AOR bands saw a lot singers either get pushed to the forefront or make solo albums to become full on "stars" in their own right. You ended up with lengthy titles like Scandal featuring Patty Smyth, leaving no secret who the star of the show was regardless of the band name. Third, AOR started to become more homogenized as outside songwriters like Holly Knight ("Better Be Good To Me", "Never", "The Warrior") became standard issue to aspiring pop rockers. Because of this I tend to think of '84 as the Star Search year or Go Solo. Here's my two CDs for 1984.

Disc 1:

Russ Ballard - Voices

The erstwhile songwriter (Santana's "Winning") recorded some stuff of his own, including this track that became a minor hit following heavy exposure on Miami Vice.

The Firm - Radioactive

Jimmy Page + Paul Rodgers should equal greatness, yet all they could muster was one memorable song. I guess the name Bad Zeppelin would have been too definitive.

Motley Crue -Looks That Kill

The kings of the lipstick and leather crowd, Motley Crue first hinted at Satanic danger on their second record led by this lethal dose of Pop Metal.

Arc Angel - Tragedy

Really from 1983, Arc Angel (not to be confused with the post Double Trouble band) pushed themselves to the bottom rung of the charts with this nice ditty.

Ratt - Round and Round

Few mastered the "street urchin" look (bright colored torn clothing, fishnet and poodle hair) like Ratt did and for four minutes they were in hook city with this winner. And every guy air guitared that Warren DeMartini guitar solo and then mimicked the finger pointing straight up on the part where Robbin Crosby takes over.

Gary Moore - Empty Rooms

Back in the day, my neighbor friend used to tape records for me and put a Gary Moore album on the B side of each cassette in an effort to make me a fan. All these years I'm still not a fan, but this song is good.

Honeymoon Suite - New Girl Now

Another artist to gain a lot of exposure via Miami Vice, this Canuck quintet hit pay dirt with this synth backed hard rock anthem.

The Cars - Drive

Talk about a no brainer of a song title, Ben Orr's lovely ballad was a monster hit.

Black n Blue - Hold on to 18

I often regarded this band as a sort of pleasant joke, hard to believe when they started out they actually rocked pretty hard. Probably should have included later material from them when they were more plastic.

Stone Fury - Break Down The Wall

In the Reagan era everyone wanted to break down walls. Lenny Wolf was no exception, rockin it a few years before Kingdom Come.

Utopia - Crybaby

Todd Rundgren's prog rock dream child turned in a decent Pop Rocker with a classic Runt style swaying chorus.

Autograph - Turn Up the Radio

Another band that caused some name confusion (The Russian band of the same name was featured during Live Aid) distinguished itself with a tall ass lead singer and a drummer that defines 80's music vid posturing.

Yes - Owner of a Lonely Heart

The song that started a way of life for me as a Yes fan, spiffy Trevor Horn production puts a nice shine on Trevor Rabin's pop rock glory.

Orion the Hunter - So You Ran

Guitarist Barry Goudreau strikes, filling the Boston void with his version of the beantown AOR band. And he does a real fine job of it here. Would you believe the singer's name is Fran Cosmo?

Steve Perry - Oh Sherrie

The Journey singer proves he doesn't need anyone else to find success on this ode to his then girlfriend. Although he would record two more Journey albums, Steve Perry's solo hits marked the end of an era for me. Journey was never the same afterwards. Doesn't change the fact that this song rules!

Tommy Shaw - Girls with Guns

The Styx axe slinger escapes Mr. Roboto land and turns in his most upbeat song...ever? Zippy synths and slammin drums power this track about - you know what it's about.

Scorpions - Rock You Like a Hurricane

Every sports program and half time show owes a debt to the German metal band's best known song, one of the greatest Pop Metal songs ever. Here I am!

John Waite - Missing You

After dismissing Jon Cain's "Open Arms" as too syrupy, the ex-Baby's singer lets out a ballad of his own backed by a track made for school dance remixes.

Disc 2:

Van Halen - Jump

Eddie Van Halen adds more synthesizer to their antics and David Lee Roth finds inspiration in suicide jumpers leading to the band's biggest pop hit.

LRB- Playing to Win

The Aussie Country rockers drop the Country and most of the letters in their name (Little River Band) putting manic keyboards in its place. Freakin' love this cheesy song.

Whitesnake - Slow and Easy

Proof that before David Coverdale was ripping off Led Zep he was...ripping off Led Zep. But few have done it better then or now.

Sammy Hagar - I Can't Drive 55

This seems less rebellious now that the speed limit is 65, at the time this was probably the biggest protest song of the 80's. Sure other generations protested wars, social injustices and what not but we, we protested the speed limit. Take that!

Giuffria - Call to the Heart

One of the great unsung AOR bands led by keyboardist Gregg Giuffria (ex-Angel). They were the minor leagues of AOR with ex band members later going to Quiet Riot, Dio and Boston.

Dennis DeYoung - Desert Moon

Now free of Tommy Shaw, nobody could stop DeYoung from going full on Broadway or his sappy love songs. This led to one of DeYoung's best ballads, the reverie of "Desert Moon".

Bryan Adams - Summer of 69

In the 90's Adams revealed this song was not about the year '69 but the sexual position. And if anyone wants to imagine his pockmarked craggy mug between some girl's legs all I can say is Nasty!

ZZ Top - Legs

The Texas trio found a stream of never ending gold with this cut. Long beards, spinning guitars and Playboy models made this simple yet effective rocker easy to swallow.

Foreigner - I Want to Know what Love Is

For better or worse, Mick Jones and Lou Gramm turn the corner from rock band to balladeers with this unforgettable #1 smash. The gospel choir puts magic in this slow moving inspirational track.

Night Ranger - Sister Christian

Soaring guitars, bic lighter choruses about "motoring" and earnest vocals mark one of the definitive power ballads of the decade. Or if you watch Boogie Nights, great background music for drug dealers.

Slade - Run Runaway

Quiet Riot's cover of their "Cum On Feel The Noize" brought this British glam rock band back for one more round of goofy fun.

Twisted Sister - We're Not Gonna Take It

Speaking of goofy fun, Dee Snider's costumed metal band summed up media inspired teen rebellion with a classic vid clip placing them against the bad guy from Animal House. Between this and Sammy Hagar, teen rebellion seemed so canned back then.

Scandal featuring Patty Smyth - The Warrior

Or if you go with Smyth's New Yawk enunciation, "The War-Re-Uh", shootin up them walls of heartache. Bang! Bang! I remember a friend of a friend gettin' pissed off whenever this song came on, he considered it the dumbest song ever. Good times (I didn't care for that guy).

Van Stephenson - Modern Day Delilah

Sleek pop rock that makes me want to cruise L.A. at one AM. Don't ask me why.

Survivor - I Can't Hold Back

Two of the greatest voices in AOR, Jimi Jamison and Starship's Mickey Thomas, combine on one of the Chicago band's best songs. And that music video was pure Risky Business.

John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band - On The Dark Side

Bruce Springsteen's chief acolyte came up with a strong Boss pastiche. Michael Pare', where are you now?

Toto - Stranger in Town

"Stranger in Town" has been sort of shunned by the band after its release rarely making Greatest Hits or Best of comps despite the fact that it charted. Sure it's a silly song with boogie man vocals and a lyrical theme that makes no sense on the surface other than bizarre xenophobia. But still, it charted (it hit like #30 on the pop charts or something like that).

John Parr - Naughty Naughty

You know what really sold me on this song? When they used it for commercials in a vampire movie called Near Dark. Something about that advertisement really got the rhythm hook jammed in my brain and I haven't forgot it ever since.

And that was 1984. Next we go to the heart of the 80's, 1985!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Grappling With Life

Ooooh yeah Brother! The Wrestler jumps into the squared circle of reality.

Last Sunday we went to see The Wrestler, the movie about a washed up pro wrestler named Randy the Ram. The movie has had a strong buzz due to the comeback of Mickey what-happened-to-your-face Rourke. Directed with almost documentary style realism by Darron Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream), The Wrestler literally follows The Ram as he plays the low level indie circuit of ball rooms and school gyms for measly pay days in between gym runs, steroid shots and his part time job at a supermarket. In the 80's, The Ram headlined major matches in big Arenas. Now he gets by just barely, living in squalor while trying to hold on to his remaining shreds of former glory.

Of course the question on every one's mind is Mickey Rourke: is he really good this time? Well the answer is yes, Rourke delivers the goods. He gives Randy The Ram a lived in feel of a guy who's been to the top and felt every kick on the way back down. His Wrestler lives for the business, for the smattering of remaining fans and brotherhood of wrestlers who still respect him. The Ram has a quiet pride when he's in his element and a sense of stifled desperation when he's out of it. Early in the film Randy gets bad news from the doctor - he can't wrestle anymore. Rourke captures the feel perfectly of The Ram's awkward attempts to adjust to a normal life with a regular job, making amends with his estranged daughter and trying to capture the attention of his favorite stripper.

Marisa Tomei also makes a comeback as the stripper Cassidy. Her character parallels The Ram, a little too old for headline status of her profession. But where The Ram holds on desperately, Cassidy shrewdly looks for opportunities to get out to a different life. She has a good connection with Randy and seeing them together will make you listen to Ratt in a whole different way. Finally Tomei delivers a performance that will quiet all the naysayers who said her Best Actress Oscar was undeserved.

Aronofsky's direction is real fly-on-the-wall stuff, the camera follows The Ram to the point that you see Rourke from behind almost as much as his front. When Rourke walks somewhere, the camera trails shortly framing the back of his shoulders and head just like you see on reality television. All the while he places the characters in a gritty, overcast and cold setting to enhance the mood.

Being a wrestling fan it was hard not to be happy with the fun of watching staged fighting and all the blood and pain that goes with it. Even in the ring the camera sits up close, giving new appreciation for the bumps and body slams these guys take on a weekly basis. The wrestling characters were well constructed, Rourke does some decent moves and is given a fantastically over the top finishing move with the top rope dive called a Ram Jam. His chief opponent, The Ayatollah, is clearly based on the famous Iron Sheik right down to the Camel Clutch.

It all adds up to a strong movie, The Wrestler puts you in a choke hold and doesn't let go. It's the life of a pro wrestler just as you imagined it, the film is very reminiscent of the documentary Beyond the Mat (1999) in its approach and themes. The main character is a composite of grapplers past and present, sort of like if Shawn Michaels lived Jake The Snake's life in a watered down way. How many more cliche's can I squeeze in? The Wrestler is a good flick, and that's the bottom line 'cause Mr Mike said so!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Midnight Madness - Tatiana Del Toro Edition

She likes herself, she really really likes herself: Tatiana Del Toro in full drama action.

The ultimate drama queen, Tatiana Del Toro, lost for a second time on American Idol and ended her run on her knees crying in front of the judges. While she's annoying as all get out, I've gotta say her self absorbed dramatics have provided many of the entertaining moments from this season so far. In her brief episode this week, Tatiana defended her tired old song choice (Whitney Houston's "Saving All My Love For You") and tried to ride the good will fellow contestant Jorge generated by invoking a Latin accent. It was so blatant that Paula Abdul called her on it. So goodbye Tatiana Del Toro, the show is technically better without you but will be a little duller too.

American Idol update - The show is going for a Top 13 this year to give a little room for the Anoop Dogg. Of the people to not make it, the only one I really wanted to see more of was Jesse Lerseth who turned out a pretty decent version of Chaka Khan's "Tell Me Something Good."

Everybody Wants Some!! - There may be a Guitar Hero: Van Halen in the works on top of the existing GH: Metallica and the forthcoming GH: Beatles. With all these boutique Guitar Hero games, will we eventually get down to a Guitar Hero: White Lion game?

Target Team Members Gett Off - Prince has signed a deal with the chain store to sell his upcoming 3 CD set. It will include two new Prince albums plus a third disc by someone who I assume is a protege' of his. Maybe Target will create a Prince section like Wal Mart did for AC/DC? You can pick up his CD, get some diamonds and pearls plus purple glitter coat in one spot!

Bonorific - U2 has a street named after them in New York now called U2 Way. With their return to the limelight, all of the good U2 puns are taken. So all I got is Bonorific. They've also announced they'll release a second album this year called Songs of Ascent and that it will feature a song called "Every Breaking Wave".

Mis Fortune - INXS says they didn't release singer JD Fortune and the supposed firing at the airport never happened. Sometimes you kick, sometimes you get kicked.

Crue it - Motley Crue will be hitting the road again soon and may even play the Dr. Feelgood album in its entirety to celebrate its 20th anniversary. If you're a fan that's been waiting to hear "Slice of your Pie" live, this is your year.

Teen group failure, now in 3D! - The media is widely reporting that the new Jonas Brothers movie has stiffed at the box office. I'm not a fan of these kids music, yet it seems to me the media is having too much fun reporting on this. Though on the up side, at least film will be one part of electronic media that I won't have to see endlessly advertised for them in the future.

Stay With Me - The Faces reunion rumors just won't die, it's pretty much been said it's all up to Rod Stewart to make it happen.

Let's Tap into America - The Spinal Tap tour is going unplugged meaning we'll be hearing acoustic versions of classics like "Hell Hole" and "Big Bottom". I'm sure it will be funny, just as a concept it doesn't cut it for me.

Get Your Groove On Grunge God - Chris Cornell has a new track produced by Timbaland called Scream. Interesting. Very interesting.

Cherry Bomb - Looks like the Runaways movie is picking up steam, former child star Dakota Fanning has been cast in the film.

Meeting People is Easy - It seems both Myley Cyrus and Kanye West received the cold shoulder from Radiohead. Guess all those songs about alienation aren't fake.

Robin Williams will be undergoing heart surgery - The comic actor has given several memorable performances and great moments during his long career, so I won't poke fun at him at all. I'll just say I wish him well.

We All Watch the Watchmen - The delayed comic book adaptation finally hit the big screen and raked in the big bucks over the weekend. Yes!

Reality TV Douchebags - Two guys have caused a stir with their recent reality TV appearances. The Bachelor dude apparently picked a winner to marry and then turned around and dumped her for a runner up contestant. He'd be the most hated man in reality TV if it wasn't for the guy from last month's episode of Wife Swap. This guy takes stuck up to a new level and I'm sad to say is from the Bay Area, if you want some proof just check out what's below.

Wife Swap dude

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Bringing It All Back Home

Freewheelin' Bob Dylan

There are certain cardinal rules in Rock & Roll that all self respecting music critics and fans agree on: Elvis is The King, The Beatles are the greatest rock band ever and Bob Dylan is the ultimate songwriter. I like each of the artists above and can appreciate why they have their standing for the most part. I grew up listening to Beatles records because my Mom is a fan, records like Rubber Soul, Sgt. Pepper and the White Album were all great. Elvis was still heavily featured on TV in my childhood even after he died, the crazy leg dancing and early hits like "Hound Dog" or "All Shook Up" were fun songs. But Bob Dylan? The people "in the know" insist he's the greatest thing ever. For most of my life I did not get what the big deal is about this guy.

About ten years ago or so I finally started to have some appreciation for Dylan. It started with hearing the song "Masters of War" on a record, I really liked that song a lot. I bought a box set of his Greatest Hits (which did not include "Masters of War" ironically" and later took a liking to his Love and Theft disc. I liked Bob Dylan now. But I don't worship Bob Dylan to the level he is often held by the general public. He's good, but I didn't get why he was so adored.

Recently I watched the film I'm Not There (2007) by filmmaker Todd Haynes. The movie had a bout five different story lines running from different decades to illustrate the meaning or impact of Dylan's music. I found I'm Not There to be an interesting but somewhat off putting experience, it was well structured and had a host of notable actors (Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere) including Cate Blanchett playing a version of Bob Dylan from the 60's. The film succeeded in bringing some fresh meaning to Dylan's music to someone not immersed in his catalog like myself, but as a film it failed to hit home on any emotional level for me.

So after watching this movie I decided to dig into Bob Dylan's music with a fresh perspective. At one point in I'm Not There, an unfriendly music critic says Dylan's music and nasally voice is considered the honest sound of the people and their feelings. After a week of listening to Bob Dylan in my car, here's what I found out.

"Blowin' in the Wind" actually is a good song

That song, Blowin' in the Wind, has been a cliche' for most of my life. It's a song I felt was sort of rammed down my throat as being "good", it is so revered that it seemed it could never be questioned just accepted as is. When hippies or ex-hippies on tv would grab an acoustic guitar and play, they usually played this song. It became a parody of itself, most memorably when Merideth Baxter Birney would perform the beginning over and over again on Family Ties. But this past week I paid close attention to the song out of any context other than it was music. And I found the song actually has lasting meaning about raising questions about maturity, death and war without offering any pat answers. I've never heard it as a fresh piece of music before, it's actually kind of moving. Who knew? Oh yeah, hippies knew.

I like that he's harshly sarcastic
I've found that my favorite Bob Dylan songs are the ones where he's really harsh on people. Like I mentioned earlier, Masters of War is my favorite Bob Dylan song. In "War" he takes the people who have power and money that create war to task and ends it with hoping they die soon so he can watch their funeral and confirm they're dead. That's harsh! My second favorite song is Idiot Wind from his divorce album Blood on the Tracks. In that one he describes the speech from his "babe" as the "Idiot Wind blowing each time you move your teeth". That is so scathing yet oddly poetic that I find it really funny. Even It Ain't Me Babe cracks me up as Dylan outlines all the reasons for his "babe" why he wouldn't be good for her, pretty much says you can count on him to treat you like dirt. Don't Think Twice It's All Right is humorously dismissive. When it comes to mean relationship songs, this guy can't be beat. And last but not least, Maggie's Farm uses a metaphor to mean he won't be owned or held accountable to anyone.

His political stuff is just OK for me

Dylan made his name based on the political angle of his music. While I do like the political songs I listed before, other songs I mostly just find as decent. This includes another immortal classic, The Times They Are A-Changin. While listening to his discs in the car, this one failed to come alive for me the way "Wind" did. It has been covered and used so many times to signify cultural revolution that I can't separate it from it's tired context of the Peace and Love 60's. The only political song that really connected for me was Hurricane, a song that sharply told the tale of a boxer falsely imprisoned for racist reasons crushing his hopes for a professional career. But other than that, I really haven't heard anything to really grab me the way I was led to believe.
The thought of Bob Dylan getting it on is really out there

Now obviously Bob Dylan has gotten it on, he has a son Jakob after all. And the sex life of Bob Dylan is really not something I give a lot of thought to. It's just that on certain songs he takes on a lover man persona. When he does this, the crypt keeper element of his voice seems heightened calling to mind that he's a little scruffy ragamuffin dude that doesn't look like he bathes regularly. It's like listening to a homeless man come on to a girl, which is something you don't really want to think about unless you're homeless yourself. Lay Lady Lay, a song I like, almost works with that worn out voice of his and smear of steel guitar. But then when we go to, say, I'll Be Your Baby Tonight with it's slight country blues raggedness it becomes a bit comical.

Murphy Brown Homesick Blues

Another song that hit the TV a lot back in the day was Subterranean Homesick Blues, mainly because of it's innovative video where Dylan dumps a bunch of flash cards in front of the camera with some lyrics and other references. It became cemented by watching Murphy Brown bond with Frank the reporter over the lyrics to this song when they first met. It's a catchy, fun song that I have no idea what it's about. I think it's about being on the run or something. It's good though.

I Like His Music Better When It's Covered By Other People

Purists, David Crosby is one I saw an interview with, contend that Dylan's music has more meaning when heard from the original artist himself. Maybe it does. Still, I like his music better when other people perform it. I remember in the late 80's getting into A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall because of Edie Brickell's version. The Byrds (which included Crosby) covered a lot of Dylan, most memorably Mr Tambourine Man. My favorite cover is The Byrd's version of You Ain't Goin Nowhere, I thought they brought more of an offhand feel to it. Later day Dylan sounds good in other people's hands too, Make You Feel My Love was a hit for Billy Joel and is on Adele's current CD as well.

So to summarize I like Bob Dylan though his music doesn't live up to the historical hype for me personally. I realize this is just my take on it because there are plenty of artists that are my age or younger that like Dylan a lot. He laid down the framework for a lot of music and musicians that followed. Writing this post has given me more insight to Dylan's artistry and impact on music yet I can't list the guy as an all time favorite. There are parts of his music that's just impenetrable to me, I just can't get into it strongly enough. But that's how it feels. To be on your own. With no direction home. A complete unknown. Like a Rolling Stone.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Anniversary Day Flashback

Friday March 6th is the 15th anniversary of my marriage to my wonderful wife. To commemorate this day, I will flashback to 1994. We were driving through the mountains to go to our wedding and there were two songs that came on the radio that always remind me of that day.

The first is "Amazing" by Aerosmith. The song was part of some countdown on the radio and the dj told the story of Steven Tyler. Tyler was described on the radio as a shy person who changed after high school into the extrovert he is now. My wife (fiancee' at that moment) pointed out that I could make changes too, like Steven Tyler. While I am no where near the extrovert that Steven Tyler is today, I have made some changes along those lines to be more outgoing. Anyway, when I hear this song I often think of the support I received and the time spent with the person who would become my wife.

The second song is "The Calling" by Yes. I am a big Yes fan and was unaware at the time that the prog rockers were recording a new album. The surprise and thrill of hearing a new song from a favorite band I took to be a good omen (though I am generally not superstitious).

I was hoping to get this post up during my anniversary but fell short of finishing it off in time. It's been a wonderful 15 years and many more to come! I love you Bunny!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Mr. Mike Project 1983

Make way for the New Wave! Arena rock bands were suddenly faced with obsolescence as MTV changed the rules from regular looking people to fancy hair cuts and costumes.

1983, MTV started to take hold. Music Videos began to break new acts left and right, particularly in the New Wave field. This took its toll on the established Arena rockers as they had made their name on live concert experiences more than having a photogenic look. Arena rock bands ran to the cameras for their closeups to compete with A Flock of Seagulls but ultimately could not translate their live appeal to video. The fact of the matter was that many of these guys weren't what would be called "pretty" and in 1983 looks mattered a lot more. As a result, '83 became the last gasp of true Arena rock. The regular guy look was out, glitz and glamour was in.

So my picks for my Arena rock songs of '83?

Disc 1:

Kansas - Fight Fire With Fire

John Elefante takes over for Steve Walsh on vocals and let's out a wail over a pounding riff as a giant mosquito bites his neck. One of the first records I ever bought. I used to get a lot of crap from my friend because it wasn't Metallica.

38 Special - If I'd Been The One

The video where the first Mrs. Springsteen shoots the singer and then drives off while the horses run free. A song where 38 asks a lot of "what if's", like what if I'd been the one to say goodbye, the one that makes you want to cry, the one that never fades away...dude, get over it!

Sweet Comfort Band - Don't Bother Me

Trying to be a completest here so despite my personal lack of spirituality I couldn't completely ignore Christian rock's contributions to the Arena rock genre. So I picked the most secular song I could find by a Christian rock band.

Manfred Mann's Earth Band - Runner

The 80's had these awesome synth rockers that were meant to sound futuristic and cool like this one. Would go great with a Logan's Run montage.

The Tubes - She's A Beauty

Maybe the most clean cut sounding song about a strip joint ever. In the video, I still can't believe what they got away with what's painted on the door the amusement park cart goes through towards the start.

Tony Carey - I Won't Be Home Tonight

Ex-Rainbow keyboardist strikes out on his own with a solid chunk of pop rock. And that's all I got here.

Genesis - That's All

Phil Collin's balladeer instincts began to kick in here though the group is clever enough to dress it up in an upbeat keyboard bit and tasteful guitars.

Vandenberg - Burning Heart

Flick your bic for a mighty fine power ballad courtesy of Adrian Vandenberg. This guy just has a name that is born to rock. Say it - Van Den Berg!

Def Leppard - Rock of Ages

The prime purveyors of Pop Metal get downright biblical on their hard rock stomper and introduce an unforgettable catchphrase to a generation - unta gleebin glossen globen.

Charilie - It's Inevitable

A song made for video arcades and miniature golf, this sounds awesome when you're trying to sink that last hole for a free game.

Eric Martin Band - Sucker For A Pretty Face

One of my favorite records back in the day, EMB aka 415 kicked out this blazin' ode to guys in Izod shirts with their collars up gettin' used by beautiful girls.

Billy Squier - Rock Me Tonite

The last of Squier's big run, of the Arena rockers to fail to transition to the video age few crashed harder than Squier. His fey dancing and rolling around in this clip has been cited as the killer of his career.

Alcatrazz - Hiroshima Mon Amour

Another Rainbow alumni, singer Graham Bonnet brought in guitar phenom Yngwie Malmsteen to burn up the fret boards like an A bomb.

Queen - Radio Ga Ga

Faced with the growing popularity of a medium they helped perpetuate, Queen takes on the music video era with a tribute to radio.

Night Ranger - Don't Tell Me You Love Me

Twin guitar fury hits like a locomotive. Night Ranger arrives on the scene guns blazing and Brad Gillis' whamming.

Journey - Faithfully

While "Open Arms" broke new ground for the Bay Area band's power balladry, "Faithfully" was the one that put the patent on it.

Dan Fogelberg - The Language of Love

Mr. Sensitive longer than same old lang syne dropped the misty eyed sentimentality for a second to find his inner cow bell.

Saga - On The Loose

More proof that Canada rocks, the Proggy Arena rockers lay down a thunderous groove for spinny keyboards and guitars to dance over.

Disc 2:

Def Leppard - Photograph

One of the first groups to really benefit from MTV exposure, the Lep unleash a butt load of hooks from the opening guitar riff to the "Oh!" chants to the cushy synths under the chorus to rock you in your living room.

I Ten - Alone

Songwriters Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly originally performed what would become a power ballad standard following Heart's remake in 1987.

Chris DeBurgh - Don't Pay the Ferryman

Before that whole "Lady in Red" thing, DeBurgh was a pop rocker with a dramatic flair.

Randy Newman - I Love L.A.

Sublime songwriter that he is, Newman went AOR in the early 80's penning one of the top rock anthems of the decade. The song became shorthand for the decadent feel good consumerism of the time.

Kiss - Lick it Up

The make up came off in '83, revealing...four pretty ugly dudes. Yet the trick worked, Kiss successfully switched from fading glam metal to hair band in a snap.

Bon Jovi - Runaway

Jon Bon Jovi makes his mark as a Foreigner styled rocker a few years before making the jump to premier hair band status.

Zebra - Who's Behind the Door?

One of the great forgotten power trios of 80's rock, Zebra mashed up Rush and Zep into a compelling sound.

Taxxi - I'm Leaving

Occasionally British bands would forget their from England and take a wholly American character. Point in case: Taxxi.

LeRoux - Carrie's Gone

Could vocalist Fergie Frederiksen be denied a spot on my CDs? Hell no!

Quiet Riot - Cum On Feel The Noize

The "Smells Like Teen Spirit" of the 80's, Quiet Riot's successful streamlining of a Slade classic ushered in the hair band era in an explosion of hair spray and spandex.

Toto - Africa

Showing the softer side of Arena rock, Toto gets mythical about "blessing the rains down in Africa" giving karaoke singers in the low vocal range something to shout about.

Journey - Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)

Own up to it, you would look for docks and warehouses to jump around in and do that grabbing the wrist of your shaking fist with your other hand thing for the "break those chains that bind you" part. Or maybe it was just me.

Michael Bolton - Fools Game

In one of his previous lives, Michael Bolton was a super cheesy rocker who oversang all over his backing track. As opposed to a super cheesy R&B crooner who oversang all over his backing track.

Asia - Don't Cry

The Fab Four of Prog rock score one more Top 10 hit before ego battling each other to the bitter end. And then coming back again two decades later.

Pat Benatar - Love is a Battlefield

You know, at the time "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" was her signature tune but now it's been supplanted by this one. Because taxi dancers need love too.

Loverboy - Hot Girls in Love

Did you ever notice in this video that the girl wasn't particularly hot? Or that the drummer was playing the drums with gas pumps? Or that no one was in love?

707 - Megaforce

Singer Kevin Chalfant strikes in this brilliant theme song to a craptacular movie about a military unit that rides rocket launching flying motorcycles and dune buggys. My younger brother loved this movie so of course I had to make fun of it, often referring to it as "Megafake".

Styx - Mr. Roboto

Japanese lessons courtesy of Dennis DeYoung, the song has become a kitsch classic that still gets referenced today. Even the Japanese guy who won an Oscar last week said "Domo Arigato Mr Roboto."

That's it for 1983, MTV makes an even greater impact on the next round. See you in 1984.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Midnight Madness - Brett Butler Edition

See the picture above? When I bought tickets to see Brett Butler's show last night, I thought I was going to see the person pictured. Instead I saw a dishelved hot mess.

Tonight we went to see actress / comedianne Brett Butler at a local comedy club, hoping to have a nice night of laughs. Butler had a troubled past leading to the end of her popular sitcom Grace Under Fire, still we thought it would be a good show. We were wrong. Rreeaaallly wrong.

Brett Butler appeared on stage and proceeded to give one of the worst comic performances I've seen anywhere. She seemed to be either drunk, high or both. Her entire set was a random, non sensical stream of consciousness that rambled in between awkward pauses. Butler would stop often to search for words or try to remember what she had just said. There was no sense of timing or even attempts to tell jokes, just a jumble of comments and stories about dead dogs, crazy Moms and Southern ways. Half of the audience left ten minutes into the act, causing Butler to become temporarily saddened. My wife and I stayed because we felt sorry for Butler all the way to the painful end.

Now home, we both have headaches from having sat through a Brett Butler show. I can't say I'm upset or anything along those lines, just sad. Sad because there were flashes of intelligence in that blind maze of insanity. What's worse, after adding up the night's expenses we spent about $100.00 just to make a coke head feel better about herself. It almost feels redundant to say on to the Madness!

I Wanna Go Back - Eddie Money is putting the finishing touches on a musical about his life. Sooo I'm guessing the play is about a guy who has a few hit songs peppered over a decade with a lot of binge drinking and O.D.'ing on the way? My nominee for the lead role? Gary Busey!

The Mega Powers Unite! - REO Speedwagon and Styx have teamed up to record a new single together, "Can't Stop Rockin". Then they will tour with 38 Special. This may be the most powerful tag team since Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage. Ooooh Yeah Brother!

The Mega Powers Unite pt. 2! - Def Leppard, Cheap Trick and Poison will hit the road together as well. They will all ride on a tour bus together and talk trash about each other while partying hard to try to win the affection of Bret Michaels. Oh wait, I got that confused with Rock of Love. We'll never hear the words "Bun E Carlos, will you stay here and continue to rock my world." The tour is for real though.

Speaking of Buns... - Bun E Carlos is part of a new supergroup that includes that kid from Hanson, James Iha formerly of the Smashing Pumpkins and a guy from Fountains of Wayne. They seem to be going into a power pop vein, could be promising.

American Idol Update - The showstoppa Nick Norman whatever his face is fell short in making the final 12 though he provided the most memorable moment so far this season with his cabaret style performance of that Jennifer Hudson's Dreamgirls song. Who did make it? A screaming Alison Iraheta who blasted through Heart's "Alone", one of the few performances to stand out last week. Kris Allen, who surprised with a decent version of the Gloved One's "Man in the Mirror". And Adam Lambert, whose manic take on the Stone's "Satisfaction" keeps having his performances described as Broadway but for me he's really Hair Metal. And I mean that in a good way. This guy is almost as good as the dude from Steelheart.

Oh Brother - All week these hyper dramatic ads for a Tv Movie to the show Brothers and Sisters have come on and annoyed the hell out of me. It looks like Ally McBeal is trying to get her surrogate mother to give birth and Rob Lowe is supposed to be there but gets shot leading to Sally Field to run to the hospital to say she's family and its all like a bunch of junk. I'll be so happy when this thing finally airs and doesn't have to be advertised anymore.

Run It - After weeks of intensive media coverage, singers Rihanna and Chris Brown have reportedly reconciled.

Sing A Song - Earth Wind and Fire, Chicago and noted liberal Sheryl Crow all performed for a bank that took federal support money. Our tax dollars at work.

Slumdog Millionaire - was the leading film in major Oscar wins including Best Picture. Kate Winslet finally won best actress (I haven't seen the movie she's in right now, but she is a really good actress in general) and Sean Penn won best actor. Hey Bud, let's party!

Wii anything - A featured vid on You Tube, this was mildly amusing but definitely easy to relate to for anyone who has seen a Wii in action.

Wii Breakfast