10 Great Songs From The 1990s (Part Two)

“I’ll Stick Around” by FOO FIGHTERS (1995)

Written and recorded during some down time from his meal ticket, Dave Grohl, who played everything on the track, unravels the mystery of his turbulent relationship with Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain in this phenomenal rocker.  “I stand accused of all the methods you abused,” he shyly sings at one point, pointedly criticizing the singer’s endless heroin nightmare.  “I don’t owe you anything,” he eventually shouts during the chorus. 

Grohl made a stand with this material and it paid off handsomely, thanks to his one-man wizardry.  The then-underrated musician had something to prove on that first Foos album and while it took me ten years to move from a mixed assessment to a mostly positive one, there’s no question he could write cutting edge material with the best of them.  Cobain would’ve killed for a hook like this.

“Miss Sarajevo” by PASSENGERS (1995)

The only Luciano Pavarotti number ever heard on pop radio and it’s a dandy.  Inspired by an actual underground beauty pagent in the former Yugoslavia, the song is one long Bosnian Inquisition, so to speak.  “Is there a time for keeping your distance?”  Bono beautifully inquires as he poses one rhetorical question after another. 

Then, the pay off.  Pavarotti in all his Italian splendour, long past his prime but not giving a damn, delivers his most moving solo in years.  The only single released from U2 and Brian Eno’s marginally acceptable experimental Original Soundtracks 1 release, Miss Sarajevo is deeply profound in its sadness and it only takes one listen to appreciate your own fortunate existence.

“The Fly” by U2 (1991)

More than any other group, U2 had probably the most to lose in the 1990s.  If the long awaited follow-up to Rattle & Hum wasn’t extraordinary, they would’ve had a much harder time maintaining their much revered iconic status.  But a new ironic identity was effectively molded after much internal struggle thanks to the brilliant Achtung Baby. 

Many of the cuts on that record are superb but I want to single out the first single.  His voice electronically altered, Bono assumes the persona of a know-it-all barstool prophet offering various thoughts and opinions, all of them provocative, especially the artists and poets section.  (“Every artist is a cannibal/Every poet is a thief/All kill their inspiration/Then sing about their grief”)

If that weren’t enough to savour, The Edge is given yet another great showcase for his stellar guitar playing.  Why is he so consistently sharp?  He squeezes the most emotion out of the fewest notes.  As Juliana Hatfield once sang, Simplicity Is Beautiful.

“The Dream” by JERRY GOLDSMITH & THE NATIONAL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA (1990)

It was a dismal decade for original film scores.  One of the few that were truly inspired was the one composed for the Arnold Schwarzenegger smash, Total Recall.  For this project, Jerry Goldsmith, best known for Alien and the main title theme for Star Trek:  The Motion Picture (later recycled for The Next Generation TV show and films), created some of the most exciting music ever heard in an action movie.  (Seek out the audio soundtrack.  It’s terrific.) 

The Dream is heard twice in Total Recall.  First, during the dazzling opening title sequence and again through most of the end credits.  It’s a classical piece with a rock mentality, heavy on the drums and emotion.  And it features a goose-pimply bridge that’ll knock your socks off.  Easily Goldsmith’s finest and most underrated moment as a composer and conductor.  The National Philharmonic Orchestra follows his lead beautifully here.  I can’t imagine the movie without this magical masterstroke.  Awesome.

“Clownmaster” by SUGAR (1993)

After he quit Husker Du in 1988 and went solo for a brief period, Bob Mould formed another power pop trio in the 1990s.  Sugar are one of my favourite groups from that decade and it’s a crime that this riveting instrumental was, for the most part, completely ignored by the mainstream. 

An outtake from the sessions that produced their fine debut album, Copper Blue, Clownmaster initially surfaced as a bonus track on the If I Can’t Change Your Mind CD single in 1993.   You can also find it on the 1995 Besides compilation. 

Most of the songs on this list grabbed me from the very first second I heard them.  Clownmaster is no exception.  Sometimes, words get in the way of a marvellous arrangement which might explain why this song went from being about John Wayne Gacy (hence the title) to having no lyrical content whatsoever.  As a result of this excellent decision, this has become one of my all-time favourite rock ‘n’ roll juggernauts.  It may now be wordless but the music speaks volumes.  It’s fast, electric, relentlessly exciting, and ends at the right moment, dead cold. 

Three minutes and fifteen seconds of non-stop jamming and I love it.  If only Mould would re-form the band again.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, June 30, 2011
10:42 p.m.

Published in: on June 30, 2011 at 10:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

10 Great Songs From The 1990s (Part One)

After college graduation in the spring of 1996, my life didn’t quite take off like I had hoped.  There was no job waiting for me.  No women to date.  I still lived at home.  And I felt completely burned out after 16 straight years of working my way through the public and private education systems. 

Furthermore, my perfectionism, which had served me well all these years, was now turning against me.  For instance, it started to become quite difficult to enjoy (and properly critique) movies and music like I had so easily and effortlessly earlier in the decade.  And, for the most part, I was becoming more withdrawn from the world at large.  (I rarely socialized.)  Sadly, the second half of the decade was much less fun and productive than the first.  I regret that so much.

When 2000 arrived, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  But thankfully, despite some setbacks and disappointments, it was the beginning of a much better period, one of many in the last 11 years.  My ongoing love affair with entertainment was reignited and I was soon making up for so much lost time.

Near the end of the summer, with my confidence gradually returning, I decided to try to become a freelance writer.  Looking back, I was woefully unprepared for even thinking about the idea, let alone making it happen. 

Exactly one article was pitched to several magazines through the mail.  There were no takers.  Thank goodness I was able to get a full-time job the following month (which I quit 6 months later) or I’d have zero earning opportunities.  I give up way too easily, I know.  (By 2001, however, I would try again and have a bit more luck.)

Anyway, all of this is a way of introducing this previously unseen piece, the aforementioned freelance article.  It was originally entitled “The Top 10 Songs Of The 1990s” but I’ve dropped the title because I don’t believe these were the best of the best anymore.  If I were to compile the list again, there would likely be some changes.  As a result, it’s now called “10 Great Songs From The 1990s”. 

However, the order of the songs (from tenth best to the best of the decade minus the numbers) remain the same so you’ll still get to check out the original list.  (Because of length concerns, the piece has been split into two equal parts.  Songs 10 through 6 in Part One, 5 through 1 in Part Two.)

Naturally, because of the reworked concept there are numerous revisions but thankfully, the essence of the original work remains intact.  The intro is exactly the same but now includes a new paragraph at the end that you could say is a sneaky swerve on my part. 

There are some dropped lines that were either out-of-date, iffy or didn’t reflect my current feelings, others that have been slightly tinkered with for grammatical purposes and there’s some added material in certain sections to either beef up thin areas or, in the case of the U2 section in Part Two, to offer a replacement opinion. 

(Everything remains the same in The Fly section except for the interpretation of the lyrics.  Originally, I thought Bono was referencing The Edge’s marital troubles, particularly with the line “You know I don’t see you when she walks in the room.”.  But after reading U2 By U2 and writing about this song in my series on the greatest U2 singles in 2007, a more accurate assessment now replaces this erroneous one.)

 

10 GREAT SONGS FROM THE 1990s

While everyone was busy being distracted by the faux millennium advertising blitz of 1999, something important was ignored:  the 1990s.  With the exception of Billboard and Rolling Stone, there weren’t many in-depth music retrospectives of the last 10 years.  In fact, more attention was focused on the past 999 years.  That left little room for thorough analysis of the decade that gave us SoundScan, the commercial breakthrough of underground rock and all of the sub-genres of rap.

Compiling a Top 10 list of your favourite songs of any given decade is a pain in the ass.  Shortlisting individual standouts from the 1990s, however, was even more difficult.  Here’s why.  At the end of 1991, roughly 7000 new albums were issued.  By the time 1999 wrapped up there were 10 times as many new releases.  No one person could ever hear every single song available for purchase.  (Who would try?)  And therefore, any list you make is left wide open for complaints about inexcusable omissions and questionable selections.

A list like this has to be great.  Only the most memorable, the most exciting, the most surprising, and the most enduring songs should make the cut.  They can be singles, album cuts, B-sides, mystery tracks, even new, original music from a film or TV program, whether it’s pop or classical.  And they have to have been released between January 1, 1990 and December 31, 1999.  (Lust For Life, Da Da Da and other oldie cult hits that enjoyed new life in the 1990s are unfortunately disqualified.)

Which is why I’ve decided not to put together a Top 10 list of my own.  (I couldn’t possibly settle on two handfuls of choices.)  Instead, I’ve selected 10 of my personal favourites from the past 10 years.  Some are no-brainers, some are a bit obscure and some are likely to cause vehement disagreements.  I don’t care.

“You Get What You Give” by NEW RADICALS (1998)

Musical nomad Gregg Alexander went the David Coverdale route when he founded the New Radicals, a group made up of hired session players, in the middle of the decade. 

Born and raised in Detroit by a plumber, a Jehovah’s Witness, The MC5, R&B and the original British Invasion, Alexander (really Gregg Aiuto), the only permanent Radical, was responsible for one of the most uplifting singles of the ’90s:  a song about hope, disloyalty, vanity, greed, insincerity, charity, teenage vandalism and Judgment Day.  Even Kurt Cobain didn’t cram his songs with so many ideas. 

With an irresistible arrangement that grows on you more and more after repeated listenings, you can’t help but be swept up in its optimism and gospel-like euphoria.  I’m not the first person to compare them to Karl Wallinger’s World Party.  And I won’t be the last. 

However, this remarkable debut single was the Radicals’ peak.  Someday We’ll Know, the second release from their only album, Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed, Too, despite some airplay, failed to make the same impression.  The band soon folded in 1999.  It’s too bad.  You Get What You Give was much admired by many including Joni Mitchell and Brian Wilson.  Easily, one of the best one-hit wonders of the decade.

“Perforation Problems” by IGGY POP (1993)

In the last decade “The Godfather Of Punk” continued to pummel us with his blunt tales of unrequited love, requited lust, political corruption and the idiots who run the music biz.  Brought back to life by Trainspotting, back catalogue sales, a surprise Top 40 hit (1990’s Candy) and all those TV ads that used Real Wild Child, Search & Destroy, Lust For Life and The Passenger, the former Jim Osterberg still produced some fresh, new albums. 

Perforation Problems is a largely underappreciated album cut from his 1993 release, American Caesar, which is best known for the great single, Wild America.  With its invigorating ascendant melody and honest lyrical tone Iggy delivers the goods with this smart rant against heroin addiction and how it can’t fill the holes of one’s soul.  

No doubt personal experience with the drug during his crazier, younger days paved the way for this insightful song.  Here’s hoping more people will “know the right way out”, stop “hangin’ on a needle” and acting like a “dirty slave” until it’s too late.

“Pay No Mind (Snoozer)” by BECK (1994) 

The second single from Mellow Gold, this follow-up to the ubiquitious Loser sounds like something a goofy stoner would sing around the campfire at summer camp.  If Weird Al decided to write something for Johnny Cash, this might be the result. 

With wonderfully surreal lines (“Give the finger to the rock and roll singer/As he’s dancing upon your paycheck”), Pay No Mind underscores Beck’s most consistent strength:  vivid lyrics.  And any song that has “a giant dildo crushing the sun” deserves special recognition.

“Ich Bin Ein Auslander” by POP WILL EAT ITSELF (1994)

The title comes directly from a famous speech made by President John F. Kennedy when he visited Germany in 1961.  It means “I am a stranger” and it’s the perfect title for this chilling yet hooky alt-rock smash.  Spawned from the Dos Dedos Mis Amigos album, it manages to combine two remarkably compatible elements – social commentary and industrial dance music – into a single track. 

Rightfully criticizing the Bosnian War, the song asks two uncomfortable questions:  “…when they come to ethnically cleanse me/Will you speak out?/Will you defend me?”.  In theory, a reasonable person would say yes.  As history has proven over and over again, however, reality’s a different story altogether.

“Firestarter” by PRODIGY (1996)

Released a year before landing on The Fat Of The Land CD, this song, thankfully, became a global blockbuster.  You may think it’s about pyromania, but then again, you might think George W. has brains.  It’s hard to write a great song, let alone one that perfectly describes the fire in the belly one feels inspired to write about.  Prodigy accomplished this goal quite nicely. 

“I’m the one invented twisted animator,” rap-sings the charismatic, spiky-haired Keith Flint at one point.  He has a lot of great lines and they suit the alternately frenetic and calming arrangement.  As a result, Firestarter thoroughly exhausts you.  You’re left with a dry throat and a deep sense of relief.  Listen for the little girl samples.  (“Hey!  Hey!  Hey!”)  They’re taken from an Art Of Noise single called Close To The Edit.  (The Breeders’ S.O.S. was also sampled.)  A song that sounds much better now than it did in 1996.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, June 30, 2011
10:27 p.m.

Published in: on June 30, 2011 at 10:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Five Welcome Alt-Rock Comebacks In The Aughts

It’s been said that music, particularly rock and roll, is a cyclical phenomenon.  What’s exciting audiences today will soon bore them.  But because of its ever mutating nature, old genres can be reborn when paired with fresh ideas and new applications.  And sometimes, the originators of those particular styles of music soon find themselves back in fashion almost overnight.

It’s also been said that everyone loves a good comeback story, the overdue return of a respected performer or band long out of the spotlight and the public consciousness.  The Aughts (2000-2009), like past decades, were a fertile period for such stories.  The Police, The Pixies, Love & Rockets and Bauhaus are just a small sample of those acts who reunited for either a tour, new album or both.

While some returns were not entirely well received (Spice Girls, New Kids On The Block), as far as alternative rock is concerned, the following five acts were certainly the most welcome comebacks in the last decade.

Morrissey

The former Smiths frontman began his criminally underappreciated solo career in 1988.  He was churning out albums and compilations at a nice clip right up until the middle of the 1990s.  Then, he got sued.

Two of his former bandmates felt shortchanged on the royalty front.  Morrissey disagreed.  While bassist Andy Rourke prematurely settled, drummer Mike Joyce proceeded with his lawsuit and won.  An appeal from The Mopey One was tossed out.  The singer channelled his bitterness in a song called Sorrow Will Come To Those In The End, easily the worst song on Maladjusted, the last album he would release in the 1990s.

Despite a 2002 tour, a 2003 BBC documentary and a couple of stop-gap compilations, Morrissey took a near-decade long recording hiatus after 1997.  When he re-emerged in 2004, he made the most successful album of his career, with or without The Smiths.

You Are The Quarry was easily his strongest collection of new material in a decade and all four British singles from it cracked the Top 10, a singular event in his career.  Since then, there have been two entertaining follow-ups, Ringleader Of The Tormentors and Years Of Refusal, a terrific B-Sides collection (Swords) and yet another solo compilation.  Now in his early 50s and completely disinterested in another go with The Smiths, The Mozzer appears unlikely to slow down anytime soon.  He continues to write new material and incredibly, considering his fiercely guarded privacy, is shopping around an autobiography to publishers.

Weezer

Named after frontman Rivers Cuomo’s childhood nickname (due to his bad asthma), this California quartet broke through rather quickly with their first self-titled album in 1994, thanks to crunchy pop songs like Buddy Holly and Say It Ain’t So.  But two years later, the band’s follow-up ran into some unfortunate bad luck.

Named after a character in Madame Butterfly, Pinkerton’s release was delayed after a California security company (also named Pinkerton) absurdly sued for copyright infringement.  Although Weezer and their label, DGC, ultimately prevailed, the temporary injunction and the lack of advertising greatly hurt initial sales.  Mixed reviews from critics and fans didn’t help, either.  Rolling Stone was particularly brutal.

Rather than continue onward, the band announced a hiatus.  Each member focused on side projects for the next year or so.  Despite reconvening in 1998, progress was stymied by a lack of band cohesion as well as personal problems and no new material would surface for the rest of the decade.

Then, in April 2001, Weezer’s second self-titled album suddenly dropped.  The first single, Hash Pipe, reminded fans and critics of their fuzzy, melodic strengths.  (Entertainment Weekly singled it out as one of the best singles of the year.)  Two more catchy singles followed.  The remarkably tight album (10 songs (all good) in less than 30 minutes) ultimately went platinum.

Rather than disappear for another long stretch, a new album surfaced in 2002.  Then another in 2005 (which spawned their biggest hit, Beverly Hills, which also earned them a Grammy).  Since 2008, Weezer have released a new studio record every year without fail, a rarity in today’s music scene.  Although they left DGC in 2010 for Epitaph (the label that gave us The Offspring and Rancid), their former home has kept fans happy with numerous releases like the rarities collection, Death To False Metal (short but consistently rocking), and expanded versions of their first two records.  And despite not getting the greatest of respect upon its debut in 1996, Pinkerton has since acquired a surprising amount of revisionistic kudos.  It’s often sited as one of the best albums of the 1990s.

Jane’s Addiction

Perry Farrell’s first big outfit has a funny habit of releasing one studio album per decade.  Nothing’s Shocking surfaced in 1988 followed by Ritual De La Habitual in 1990.  It would take almost 15 years for the third one.

Why such a long wait?  Let’s see.  Drugs, creative disagreements, physical fighting, conflicting outside projects.  In other words, the usual shit.

Although the band did produce a couple new songs for the rarities collection, Kettle Whistle, in 1997, a new studio album wouldn’t be ready for release for another 6 years.

When Strays was finally unveiled in 2003, it was the band’s best effort to date, thanks to killer hooks, confident vocals and no prog rock pretensions.  Just Because and Superhero (later used as the theme to Entourage) helped earn the album Gold status.

Not too long after the album’s release, the band broke up for a second time.  A greatest hits package and a box set finished off the decade.  Incredibly, since 2008, Jane’s Addiction have reassembled yet again and yes, a new record is coming sometime this August.  So, the once-a-decade streak continues.

Crowded House

For 10 years, this New Zealand trio (and later, quartet) crafted some of the prettiest rock arrangements in the 20th Century.  Best known for the bittersweet spine tingler, Don’t Dream It’s Over, they have so many other gems that unfortunately never came close to that early chart success.  Tracks like Into Temptation, It’s Only Natural and Locked Out, to name just three.

After their break-up in 1996, chief songwriter and singer Neil Finn went solo and occasionally recorded with brother Tim (they also fronted Split Enz pre-House) while the others worked on various music and TV projects.

Then came the sad news in 2005.  A depressed Paul Hester (the band’s good humoured and steady drummer) walked his dog into a local park and hung himself on a tree.  The tragedy devastated his former bandmates.

But a positive development came out of the misery.  After Finn asked Seymour to help him out with his latest solo record, the two agreed to turn it into a Crowded House release.  Mark Hart, who joined the original trio for Together Alone, returned to the fold, as well.  Former Beck drummer Matt Sherrod replaced the late Hester.

The finished result was Time On Earth, a surprisingly moving reunion album which garnered positive reviews and very strong sales support from fans in New Zealand and Australia.  (The record was certified Platinum and Gold, respectively.)

Three years later, Intriguer arrived in record shops.  It, too, generated many good critical notices.  Deservedly so, it’s another fine CH album.

With their reputation already made and no real need to compete with the Lady Gagas and Rihannas of the current music scene, here’s hoping Neil Finn and company continue to age gracefully through their ageless music.

The Stooges

In 1967, an ambitious blues singer recruited a couple of brothers and a bassist to form the most dangerous garage band in history.  Originally named The Psychedelic Stooges (partly because of the hippie era but mostly because they all bonded over a Three Stooges TV marathon), Danny Fields, their first manager who later represented The Ramones, convinced them to sign not only with him but the former folk label, Elektra Records, the following year.

Two overlooked albums later, the band broke up.  The good news for Iggy Pop, the outrageous frontman who would do anything on stage to keep an audience’s attention, was his friendship with David Bowie, a big fan of The Stooges.  Through Bowie, Iggy got a new solo deal with CBS Records.  The plan was to have the red hot Brit (Ziggy Stardust was all the rage in the UK) helm Iggy’s next record.  But as it was coming together, it was clear that he needed his bandmates back.  With the exception of bassist Dave Alexander (whose chronic alcoholism would play a major factor in his early death in 1975), who was replaced by James Williamson (who actually bumped guitarist Ron Asheton over to Alexander’s bass gig), everybody else returned to the fold.

The result was the third Stooges album, Raw Power, one of the loudest albums ever recorded.  (Seek out the superb and downright scary 1997 reissue.)  Like the others, it came and went without much mainstream fuss.  The subsequent tour ended in disaster.  During a radio interview, Iggy challenged a local biker to fight him at that night’s gig in Michigan.  He did and he brought a lot of his friends.  February 9, 1974 would mark the last Stooges show in the 20th Century.  (You can hear it on the Metallic K.O. CD.)

After his first serious attempt to clean up in 1975, Iggy would soon embark on a rocky, only occasionally commercially viable solo career for the next 28 years.  (Bowie would help him out in the 1980s by covering China Girl and some other late 70s tracks they co-wrote together as well as producing Blah Blah Blah which spawned the hit cover, Real Wild Child.)   By the time he was making preparations for Skull Ring, his 2003 release, he admittingly was running out of ideas.

He had learned secondhand that the Asheton brothers (guitarist/bassist Ron and drummer Scott) were playing the old Stooges tracks on tour and more importantly, they still had the chops.  Plans were made to recruit the two for a new song on the album.

They ended up writing and recording six.  Four ended up on Skull Ring (two of which used the exact same intro) and the rest were issued as B-Sides.  With Mike Watt (Minutemen, fIREHOSE) recruited on bass, The Stooges were ready to tour again after a near 30-year absence from the stage.

Four years later, they made a new album.  Like The Stooges, Fun House and Raw Power before it, The Weirdness was not a financial success.  Produced by Steve Albini (who famously worked on Nirvana’s In Utero), it was nonetheless a welcome return after so many years of inactivity.  Despite being grizzled, worn down, middle-aged malcontents, the album was proof that the band had lost none of their edge and none of their grumpiness.  (“My idea of fun/is killing everyone” goes one typical lyric.)

After almost ten tries, The Stooges were finally inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2010.  Sadly, Ron Asheton would never know it.  He died of a sudden heart attack in January of 2009.

With a once reluctant James Williamson back with the band to fill the void Ron left behind, Iggy has said the band will continue touring and make another record.  He’s planning another solo album for later this year.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, June 20, 2011
7:29 p.m.

CORRECTION:  The erroneous “Rhiannas” has been replaced with the more accurate “Rihannas” in the Crowded House section.  My apologies for the mistake.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, February 25, 2012
6:01 p.m.

Published in: on June 20, 2011 at 7:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Classless Gesture

I offer you my hand
You simply walk away
There are no words
What could I say?
You’re leaving me hanging
I feel like a fool
Frozen by your rudeness
You just took me to school

Who knew you’d be offended
By the extension of my arm
I thought you’d be welcoming
But you were rather alarmed
Your rejection was painful
Unexpectedly so
Never thought you perceived me
As lower than low

The look in your eyes
Told a horrific story
I’ve never felt so naked
A timeless allegory
You didn’t make a sound
When you turned to leave
Neither do the others
Who refuse to believe

Conversational clatter
Quickly slices through the shock
As does the ticking
Of a nearby clock
You acted with haste
And a great deal of malice
Is that how you attract friends
By acting so callous?

The apologies come swiftly
From those mortified souls
Who are as surprised as I am
That they invited such assholes
You aren’t the only one
Not delighted to see me
Your sycophantic followers
Were also eager to flee

But the joke’s on you
You’ve been isolated from the pack
You’ve inspired such disgust
Despite your monstrous rack
Your classless gesture
Has killed your elegant mystery
And everyone in attendance
Hopes you’re soon history

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, June 18, 2011
9:19 p.m.

Published in: on June 18, 2011 at 9:19 pm  Comments (2)  

What’s Really Going On With Shannon Tweed & Gene Simmons?

The sixth season of Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels began airing this week on A&E.  Up to this point in the series, despite occasional moments of tension between the heads of the household, everything seemed reasonably calm and happy with the unmarried couple and their remarkably well-adjusted kids.

Not anymore.  After Tuesday night’s episode concluded, it sure looked like splitsville for longtime Kiss co-founder Gene Simmons and his girlfriend (or common-law wife, if you prefer) of almost 30 years, former Playboy Playmate and direct-to-video sex siren Shannon Tweed.

After being sent an online report that featured a photo of Simmons exiting a restaurant with two beautiful women on his arm, Tweed confronted her man who proclaimed his innocence and claimed not even to know who the women were.  Smooth, dude.

Saying she had had enough, by the end of the episode, Tweed left behind a note, packed some of her belongings and departed from the family home.  Despite resisting at first, Simmons started on-air therapy for the first time since the first season five years ago.  Who knows if he’ll take it seriously this time.  (He doesn’t believe in it.  He needs to give Howard Stern a call.)

The whole sad episode was quite perplexing if you’ve followed this series from the beginning as I have.  For years, despite being rightly annoyed with his chronic workaholic ways, Tweed seemed perfectly ok with Simmons’ endless business trips (especially since she often rang up ridiculously huge bills on his credit cards while he was away).  Despite Simmons’ tendency to always have babes by his side (an admittedly transparent attempt at wooing potential clients and business partners), Tweed never once indicated embarrassment, hurt feelings, resentment or even jealousy about any of this.  Everything seemed kosher.

In fact, she told TMZ a few years ago that she was perfectly ok with Simmons hanging with babes while making personal appearances and doing deals.  So, why on Earth is she suddenly so bent out of shape about that photo?  What’s really going on?

As of now, we don’t really know for sure.  (Judging by the A&E promos, it looks like the whole season of Family Jewels will be about this mess.)  But the couple’s recent promotional appearances have certainly given us lots of room to speculate. 

While being interviewed for The Today Show recently, Shannon noted the difficulties of her relationship over the last two years.  (They were “a bitch”, she succinctly surmised.)  During the premiere she appeared to have stated that Nicholas, her son, may have been the result of an unplanned pregnancy and seemed to imply that she stayed with Simmons much longer than she planned to as a result.  Isn’t that lovely.

One thing I’ve never completely understood about their relationship is why Tweed stays with Simmons in the first place if she truly wants to be married since he has never expressed an interest in doing that.  There have been plenty of jokes about this throughout the show’s history but one wonders if there’s a lot of truth behind the constant ribbing.

Getting back to the original point, what’s with the recent tension between them?  As Tweed mentioned on The Today Show, their recent problems go back just a couple of years.  What could’ve been the source of that tension?  Oh, I could think of one possibility.

It was late February 2008.  A mysterious new website called Genessecret.com suddenly sprang up out of nowhere.  It offered a badly lit, black and white sex tape allegedly featuring Simmons getting it on with “an Australian marketing ‘babe’ named Elsa”. 

Unsurprisingly, Simmons’ legal team had some work to do.  They succeeded in having the site taken down (a flawed, cached version can still be accessed via The Internet Archive Wayback Machine) but stories and stills about the sex tape remain widely available online.  (Just Google or Bing “Gene Simmons sex tape” to find a multitude of links.)

A contradictory letter from Simmons’ attorney Barry Mallen was sent to ValleyWag.com ordering the site to compensate for the “unauthorized use” of “Mr. Simmons’ name and likeness” (essentially confirming his identity on the tape) and to remove the video itself as well as the posted still photos.  (In other words, only Simmons was entitled to make money off his own stupidity.) 

Furthermore, Mallen claimed that the video was made “without Mr. Simmons’ knowledge by a woman named Traci Ann Koval” (I guess “Elsa” was her stage name) and that she had no right to sell it because Simmons and a company called Allied Industry Tours were its rightful owners.  (Did Tweed know about this alleged deal?) 

But at the very end of the letter, Mallen claims with zero irony none of the information provided “constitutes an admission of fact or waiver of any right”.  Nice try.

Could this be the reason why Tweed has been crying the last few years (albeit off-camera since this has never been seen or mentioned on the show before) and why the very idea of seeing Simmons just walk out of a public place with other women on his arms irritates her to no end?

It wouldn’t surprise me in the least.  It also wouldn’t surprise me if any or all of this is merely exaggerated schtick to drum up interest in Family Jewels, an aging “reality series” not likely to last much longer.  (The show has been on the air twice as long as The Osbournes.)  In fact, there’s been much skepticism in the media about the sincerity of all this tension which Tweed, Simmons and even A&E insist isn’t fake.

Regardless, even though it often feels like a neatly (and suspiciously) plotted sitcom and its most famous participant’s faux arrogance can be too much to bear at times, Family Jewels has remained very funny and very entertaining.  In fact, you don’t have to be a Kiss fan to get into it.

But a lot of that wit and familial joy was missing in action during the sixth season premiere.  Also notably absent was any real insight into Tweed’s anger and despair over that photo she was sent. 

One thing that is certain.  There has been no official break-up announcement.  (If they have broken up privately, no one is talking about it.)  Among the descriptions Tweed has listed on Twitter for herself, “Gene Simmons’ love” is still right there after “Mom”.

In the end, it really doesn’t matter whether they stay together or not and whether their show is completely real, somewhat real or totally reenacted.  Their future on and off the air are their business (and theirs alone despite all this publicity) and the show works despite not always being completely honest and naturally spontaneous.

That being said, I have one last question.  If Simmons did in fact cheat on Tweed (as evidenced by the sex tape which no one disputes), how in the hell did he pass that lie detector test on Adam Carolla’s radio show?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, June 18, 2011
12:04 a.m.

Published in: on June 18, 2011 at 12:04 am  Comments (26)  

Questions For President Obama

Why are you against gay marriage?

Why are American forces still in Afghanistan after the assassination of Osama Bin Laden?

Why won’t you seek Congressional approval for the war in Libya?  Why won’t you even call this latest invasion “a war”?

During your first Presidential campaign you vowed to be the most open and transparent leader in the history of America.  Yet, since taking office, you’ve been relentless in your prosecution of whistleblowers (who you publicly supported during the campaign when they exposed President Bush’s illegal activities) who have revealed your Administration’s malfeasance.  A recent report noted you’ve been more ruthless than President Nixon in this regard.  You’ve also been anything but completely candid about the actions of your federal government.  You even accepted a transparency award in secret.  What do you have to hide, Mr. President?

Why were you not interested in arresting Osama Bin Laden and having him tried in the American court system or The Hague in Europe?  Were you afraid you wouldn’t get a conviction?

Why can’t Palestine have a sovereign military?  Why does America continue to support Israel when its governments don’t always treat Palestinians with the greatest of respect, hence the endless occupation?  Shouldn’t you stop supporting them financially when this happens?

Why was Bradley Manning tortured while in American custody?  Aren’t you opposed to torture?

How could you accept your Nobel Peace Prize while simultaneously overseeing questionable military campaigns in the Middle East?

Why won’t you overhaul the defense budget?  Don’t you think all that taxpayer money can be better spent in other areas like education, the environment and health care?

Why do you continue to hire corporate fat cats for important cabinet jobs?

Why does America continue to support Middle Eastern dictators who are loathed by their oppressed populations?  Do we really need their natural resources that badly?

Why are you going after online poker and adult entertainment sites?  Are they really threats to America’s national security?

Why did you want New York Congressman Anthony Weiner to resign over his embarrassing Twitter activities?  Unlike you, Mr. President, he hasn’t done anything illegal.  Why won’t you resign over your unlawful actions?

Why do you laugh off, make fun of and routinely dismiss your liberal supporters who legitimately complain about your actions and unkept promises since taking office?  Is it because deep down you know they’ll still vote for you over a Republican and that there’s no real pressure on you to actually be liberal?

Why are we fighting in Yemen?

Why are you afraid of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks?  Do you really think you have a case against them?  Are they not practicing the kind of journalism we rarely see out of Washington these days?

Despite campaigning to the contrary, why do you continue to support policies that erode the civil liberties of American citizens?

Why did you talk about a public option for your health care bill when you were never really serious about it in the first place, hence its inevitable exclusion?

During your campaign for President, you promised to shut down Quantanamo Bay exactly a year after you took office.  Why hasn’t that happened?  Were you ever serious about that promise?

Why does America have a secret prison in Badra?  Are we still torturing prisoners?

Why are you targetting people for assassination without bothering to present concrete evidence backing your unchallenged assertions and with no serious intention of prosecuting them in either federal or criminal court?  Like Bin Laden, are you afraid you can’t win convictions legitimately?

Why did you back down prosecuting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged 9/11 mastermind, in a New York courtroom?  Is it because he was tortured hundreds of times during interrogations and a court of law would throw out your case if it was presented there?

You campaigned against The Patriot Act during your run for President.  Why do you now support its extension?

Why did you bother publicly criticizing Bush’s policies if you were just going to adopt them as your own when you took office?

Why do you identify as a Democrat when you are often more conservative than Republicans?

Why are you so disinterested in prosecuting Bush Administration officials for their war crimes?  Do you have a Gentlemen’s Agreement in place with the Republicans that would prevent that from happening?

Why did you extend the Bush tax cuts when that’s a considerable amount of lost revenue for the federal government continually struggling with out-of-control debt problems?

Why won’t you raise taxes?  Are you that afraid of being labelled a “tax-and-spend liberal” by Republicans and more conservative Democrats when you know doing so is pretty much the only way to eliminate the deficit?  What is your ultimate debt reduction plan? 

Why have you continued Bush’s hyperaggressive Middle Eastern policy when it does nothing but further contribute to the radicalization of demoralized Muslim populations?  Do you truly believe dropping more bombs on those countries will convince those people to support you?

Why didn’t you openly support the construction of the public Islamic centre in Park 51 if you support the religious freedom of Muslims?  How does the existence of this place hurt anyone including atheists like myself?

Why won’t your Administration prosecute Wall Street for the collapse of the economy three years ago?  Are you afraid of alienating campaign donors for your re-election?

When you campaigned for President you criticized the immunity deal The Bush Administration struck with telecom companies regarding their complicitness in the warrantless wiretapping of American citizens.  You promised to scrap the deal.  When you took office after the election, that never happened.  Why?

As a state senator in Illinois, you publicly opposed The Iraq War.  As a presidential candidate, you promised to pull American forces out of that beleaguered country.  If you were sincere in your opposition to the invasion, Mr. President, now that you’re in the White House, why are American forces still engaged in combat there?

What is your Administration planning to do about pollution, climate change and global warming?

It’s been 40 years since President Nixon began The War On Drugs.  Many addicts, whose only crime was to get hooked on an illegal substance and nothing else, have been incarcerated for long stretches of time.  Trillions of taxpayer dollars have been spent pursuing them, prosecuting them, convicting them, and incarcerating them.  Yet the scourge of addiction continues unabated.  Why are you still pursuing this destructive policy?  As a recovering cocaine addict who never served a day in jail for his addiction, isn’t this a hypocritical public policy?

Why would you run a Presidential campaign on hope when your actions have caused nothing but cynicism?  Where is the change, sir?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, June 17, 2011
6:27 p.m.

Published in: on June 17, 2011 at 6:27 pm  Comments (2)  

X-Men: First Class

Masterful storytelling.  Well-developed characters.  Magnificent performances.  Incredible dialogue.

Don’t expect to think any of these phrases while watching X-Men: First Class, the latest installment in the ongoing superhero franchise.  Now entering its second decade, this fourth sequel is really the obligatory “origin movie” in the series.  Yes, it’s nowhere close to greatness but much to my surprise, despite its screenplay deficiencies, there’s enough technical skill and effective performances from the appealing cast to warrant a modest recommendation.

Without a doubt, the most interesting character is Erik Lehnsherr, the Holocaust survivor with the uncanny ability to manipulate magnetic objects with his mind.  (The Rebel Alliance could’ve used him in the Star Wars movies.)

Like the very first X-Men film, we see him as a young child being separated from his family in Poland right near the end of the Second World War in 1944.  Then, something cool happens.  A pissed off Erik takes out his rage on a big steel gate that’s just been closed by some Nazi guards.

Erik’s abilities impress the hell out of a particularly nasty Nazi scientist (played well by Kevin Bacon) who wants the lad to move a silver coin, without touching it, over to his side of the desk.  Just to make sure he plays ball, Bacon has a couple of his goons bring in his poor mother who will be shot at the count of three if he’s unsuccessful.  (Needless to say, she urges him to just do the Jedi coin trick already.) 

But stubborn Erik pretends to really struggle with the task which leads to the inevitable.  What happens next truly is a triumph of special effects as the enraged Jew manipulates every other metal object around him as a devilishly grinning Bacon beams like a proud father.  The whole scene is really well done.  It has to be or the rest of the movie doesn’t really matter.

18 years later, a now fully grown Erik stares at a photo of Bacon and surprisingly gives away, without saying a word, a key plot point.  He will not rest until he has his revenge.

Meanwhile, Erik’s eventual nemesis, Charles Xavier, is startled one night when, as a young child himself, he’s puzzled to find his mom in the family kitchen.  Knowing full well this is odd behaviour coming from her, he calls out the young girl who brilliantly imitates her physical form.  (She even gets the voice down perfectly.)  She can’t believe he could tell the difference and that he’s unafraid of her real appearance.  Very sweetly, Raven and Charles become immediate friends.  Much to her eventual disappointment, though, he only sees her as a spiritual sister, not a possible mate.

We soon catch up with them as fully grown adults.  Xavier (now played by the charming James MacAvoy) has transformed into a brainy Austin Powers type (with better teeth), hitting on beautiful women with science talk.  A lonely Raven (the gorgeous and mysterious Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence) is jealous of this and remains a reluctant mutant in hiding.

In 1962, a much younger looking Bacon has replaced his German accent with an American one and in order to blend in he’s developed side burns.  (How very 1965 of him.)  He’s manipulating both The Soviets and The Americans into believing that both sides are eager to eliminate the other in a full-scale nuclear war.  

Why is he doing this?  Because he believes mutants are the supermen of their species (“the children of the atom”) and before humans make note of their existence, like the Nazis in WW2, he wants to exterminate them before they try any funny business.  He hopes to inherit the world and rule it like a king.  Very original.

But there’s a big problem.  A beautiful CIA agent (Rose Byrne) has secretly witnessed Bacon and a few of his mutant friends (one who literally looks like the devil, another a telepath who can transform into crystal, and yet another who can make tornadoes come out of his hands) threatening an American general to do his bidding in a secret room in a Vegas casino.  She seeks out Xavier, now a full-fledged professor, who at first foolishly tries to pick her up at the local pub.  (She’s too smart for his line of bull.)  But once she explains the situation, he’s ever so helpful.  What a nice young man.

Thanks to an important invention by a young CIA scientist (the likeably shy Nicholas Hoult), Professor X is able to expand the use of his telepathic powers beyond even his own human limitations and find the location of other mutants, all four of them.  With a reluctant Erik on board as well as former laughingstock G-man Oliver Platt (he’s typically good here but should’ve been given more to do), who claimed to always believed in the existence of mutants despite the chronic skepticism of his colleagues, this growing Marvel Comics Justice League need to band together to foil the evil plans of Kevin Bacon and company before an alternate history of The Cuban Missile Crisis can become reality.

As you can imagine, X-Men: First Class is not terribly brilliant nor astoundingly original.  The dialogue, in particular, will not light a fire under your ass.  While there are some standout lines, for the most part it’s serviceable. 

No, the real joy of the film centers around its terrific action sequences that depend greatly on its marvellous use of special effects, a strength it shares with X-Men: The Last Stand.  Like the earlier pictures, the characters are not terribly well drawn.  Beyond their cool superpowers, with some exceptions, there isn’t a lot of interesting personalities here.

That being said, I liked the brief Raven-Beast romance (which could’ve been developed a little more) as well as the interactions between the philosophically opposed Professor X (who believes humans will ultimately accept mutants) and Erik (who believes they’re Nazis in the making), the man destined to become Magneto.  (There’s also a very funny cameo from a character who got his own origin movie two years ago.)  Michael Fassbender does a terrific job as the latter.  He’s a fierce adversary to anyone who’s ever crossed him.  Consider the scene where he disposes of two of Bacon’s cronies in a bar.  Gripping stuff.  I wouldn’t fuck with him.  That’s for sure.

Speaking of Bacon, that key early scene involving the silver coin nicely establishes the sheer diabolical nature of his character.  (He’s also a bit sexist.  Note how treats the beautiful January Jones when she thinks she’s his equal.)  But it must be said, whenever he puts on that helmet (later used by Magneto) to prevent Xavier from reading his mind, he looks really silly which in a quick, self-aware moment he readily acknowledges, thankfully.  It’s definitely more practical than fashionable.

Inevitably, while there is resolution to the main story (the consequential fight between Magneto and Professor X is particularly well executed), the ending makes it clear we’ll likely see another chapter in this series.  When that becomes reality, let’s hope 20th Century Fox gives Christopher Nolan a call.  Surely, he could elevate the quality of this franchise to something well above  “just ok”.

(Special thanks to Dave Scacchi.)

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
12:46 a.m.

UPDATE:  Special thanks to Christina Lucas for cross-posting this review (with nifty pics) over at The Blog Entourage which you can check out here.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, June 23, 2011
5:44 p.m.

Published in: on June 8, 2011 at 12:46 am  Comments (2)  

Concrete Stubbornness

An impenetrable brick wall
Undisturbed by reason
Pride before the fall
Drowning in the dry season

Continuously clinging
To archaic beliefs
Can’t shield the stinging
From longstanding beefs

Oblivious to facts
That could improve his position
Blinded by cataracts
He lives a life of omission

Solitary and defiant
And unwilling to change
Could be a giant
But unrepentantly strange

Watches the world
Safe within his castle
Evolution unfurled
But viewed as a hassle

A proprietor of nothing
But his gutless self
Surrounded by nothing
But threats to his mental health

Sad behind the smile
Peeved beyond words
Thinking all the while
They’re all just stupid turds

Unwilling to state
What needs to be said
Is it too late
To get out of his head?

Or is he glued to the notion
Of permanent fear?
There is no magic potion
For reviving his career

And so time stands still
For the eternally scared
He never got his fill
If only he dared

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
12:40 p.m.

Published in: on June 7, 2011 at 12:40 pm  Comments (2)  

The Shadow Of Misery

An ongoing deception
Protected by a hard, glossy exterior
A persistent lie
Conceals a lifetime of hemorrhaging
Waves of bad decisions
Crash into each other in this limited space
Unable to escape
Quarantined like an infected population
Cut off from the rest of an oblivious humanity
Eager to wreak havoc
On a defenseless system

The fraud is becoming harder to maintain
Small cracks are slowly forming on the glistening surface
Darkness is beginning to seep through
Projecting the negative beyond its borders
The dream is fading
As naivete melts away
The glass is breaking
From the constant thrashing of regret
More damage is inevitable, unstoppable
One tsunami of a setback
And this dam will surely break
Releasing evidence of a life poorly lived

Sounding the alarm only delays
The flood of pain kept at bay for so long
And now it waits to finish the mission
And cast a long shadow of misery forever

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
7:18 p.m.

Published in: on June 1, 2011 at 7:18 pm  Leave a Comment