The Highs Of 2016

1. Hillary Clinton will never be President of the United States.  When you run an incompetent, uninspired, foolhardy campaign, screw over your Democratic opponent and his left-wing supporters thanks to your corrupt political and media allies and then blame everybody else for your own neoliberal stupidity, you get what you deserve:  utter and complete humiliation.

2. Game 7 of The World Series.  One of the most competitive, unpredictable and exciting championship games not only in baseball history, but in the entire history of sports.  It is a damn shame Harry Caray never lived long enough to see his beloved Chicago Cubs end their notoriously brutal 107-year slump.  Cleveland blew it.

3. David Bowie’s Blackstar.  Released 8 days into the new year, I never heard a better album.  Poignant, cathartic, masterful.  He couldn’t have ended his recording career on a higher note.

4. OJ: Made In America.  An epic, thoroughly revelatory documentary miniseries that puts the travesty of the OJ Simpson double murder case in illuminating and often uncomfortable historical context.  Infuriatingly fascinating.

5. Mauro Ranallo joined the WWE as a play-by-play commentator.  It’s so refreshing to hear the actual names of wrestling holds being called again.  Now if only the company would find him a decent colour man instead of saddling him with three unimaginative seat fillers.  Where’s his Bobby Heenan?

6. Jerry “The King” Lawler blocked me on Twitter and no longer does colour commentary for the WWE.  This misogynistic sleaze wasn’t worth following or listening to in the first place.  He did me a favour.

7. Persecuted journalist Barrett Brown was finally released from prison.  May he continue to sing like the proverbial canary.

8. Iggy Pop’s Post Pop Depression.  You can never go wrong writing songs with Josh Homme.  Too bad he’s going to lose the Best Alternative Rock Album Grammy to Bowie’s Blackstar next year.

9. Leah Remini’s Scientology & The Aftermath series on A&E.  A fittingly skeptical companion to the excellent, eye-opening Going Clear movie I finally screened this year.  David Miscavige’s cult is in serious shit.  Time to stop treating it like a religion.  Revoke its tax-exempt status and start making indictments.

10. Portugal won Euro.  Ronaldo’s redemption 12 years in the making.

11. Roger Ailes was forced out of Fox News after being sued for sexual harassment.  Is his most famous political operation going to survive?  Let’s hope not.

12. Despite hundreds of ill-fated attempts, the CIA could not kill Fidel Castro who died of natural causes as an old man.  Will Cuba continue to fight against the scourge of imperialist capitalism?

13. Rob Riggle’s set during The Rob Lowe Roast on Comedy Central.  Absolutely killer.  The wretched Ann Coulter got it the worst.

14. Batman: The Killing Joke.  A surprisingly dark animated version of the graphic novel that deserved a more traditional and longer theatrical release.  Far superior to the disappointing Mask Of The Phantasm, it features a much stronger performance from longtime Joker Mark Hamill.  We could be spared the mercifully brief musical number, though.

15.  The #NoDAPL protest at Standing Rock in North Dakota.  A noble cause that is literally life and death for an already marginalized and brutalized Indigenous community.  We must all rally around these heroic water protectors.

16. Mohamedou Slahi was finally released from Gitmo.  The best-selling author deserves reparations and an apology for his disgusting torture at the hands of the United States government.  Absolutely shameful.

17. The Getaway by The Red Hot Chili Peppers.  They take five years now to put out new albums but the wait is always worth it.  Still funky and instantly accessible, even in middle age.

18. Corrupt, decrepit racist Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio lost his latest bid for re-election and was indicted by the Department of Justice.  The end is near for this fascist monster.  Finally.

19. The Triple Threat number one contender’s match between Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar at Fastlane.  Fantastic action despite the expected outcome.

20. Green Day’s Revolution Radio.  I’m glad Billie Joe Armstrong got sober.

21. The List Of Jericho.  Sheldon Cooper called.  He wants his funny gimmick back.  Uh oh.  I just made the list.

22. The Lazarus soundtrack.  Three more David Bowie gems.  Plus, Dexter sings!  A genuine surprise.

23. Canada won 22 medals at the Summer Olympics, 16 of which were earned by women including the hardworking soccer and rugby squads, their best effort in 20 years.  Penny Oleksiak, Andre De Grasse, Rosie McLennan and Derek Drouin were among the standout individual athletes who excelled in Brazil.

24. AJ Styles’ debuted at the Royal Rumble, feuded with Chris Jericho, Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and John Cena, and became WWE Champion.  Superstar of the year.  His Extreme Rules match with Reigns in particular was filled with entertaining spots.

25. The AIDS Crisis and Greed Is Good episodes of CNN’s The Eighties.  There remains no cure for both.

26. Weezer’s “White Album”.  Their record sales may have plummeted but Rivers Cuomo hasn’t forgotten how to craft a catchy alt-rock sing-a-long.

27. All the good films I screened this year:  The Omen (1976), Misery, The Visit, Anthony Shaffer’s The Wicker Man (first version), Ginger Snaps, Crimson Peak, Fantasia 2000, Rockshow, Elvis: That’s The Way It Is, Mission: Impossible III, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, The Maltese Falcon (1931), Satan Met A Lady, The Desert Trail, the original Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, the original D.O.A., the original Psycho, Monterey Pop and Shock.

28. The Miz’ passionate promo on Daniel Bryan during Talking Smack.  The most entertaining mic work he’s ever done.  The Yes Man could’ve easily shut down his argument.  He walked off the set instead.  What a mistake.  The segment may have single-handedly revived the fortunes of the InterContinental Champion.

29. Game two of the Montreal/Toronto MLS semifinal series.  The first time Canada has gotten legitimately excited about mens soccer in 30 years.  An atmospheric juggernaut with plenty of goals, rain, smoky flares and suspense.

30. The Tragically Hip’s final concert on CBC.  Bittersweet and engaging from start to finish.

31. The Tragically Hip’s Man Machine Poem.  Certainly not their best offering but if it’s their final musical statement, it will certainly suffice.  After 30 years, they’re not afraid to experiment with new sounds and ideas.

32. The term “Divas” was finally retired by the WWE.  All women who wrestle for the company are now superstars like the men.  It’s about goddamn time.

33. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair for the renamed Womens Championship at WrestleMania 32.  Incredible spots, high drama, tremendous workmanship.  It should’ve been the main event.  An honourable mention to the ladder match for the InterContinental strap.  A fine exhibition for the future of the company.

34. The hour-long debate between “Donald Trump” and “Bernie Sanders” on @Midnight.  Hilarious.

35. Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool.  More melodic elegance as Thom Yorke beautifully mourns the end of his relationship to Rachel Owen who sadly died of cancer this year.

36. Kevin Owens.  Bam Bam Bigelow without the tattoos and better promos.  His elevation to the main event in just two years is a testament to his considerable skill as a performer.  And he’s Canadian.

37. Braun Strowman.  Turns out he’s much more effective without Bray Wyatt.  And he might be the fastest big man in the business today.  A monster heel with great potential.  He looks like he belongs.

38. WikiLeaks.  The #DNCLeaks and the #PodestaEmails exposed The Democratic Party for what it actually is:  cynical, snobby, clueless and neoliberal.

39. Watching Blu-rays for the first time.  Man, oh man, what a world of wonder I’ve been missing.  Thanks Mom and Dad!

40. The guy from Edmonton who found an escaped cat under a train and took him home before reuniting him with his relieved owner from Saskatchewan.  A Festivus miracle.

41. Hot Hot Heat’s final album.  A hooky farewell from one of Vancouver’s finest.

42. Nancy Grace’s Headline News show was finally cancelled.  Even CNN can’t stand her anymore.

43. The Last Man Standing match between Kevin Owens & Dean Ambrose at the Royal Rumble for the InterContinental title.  It’s no wonder Owens is World Champion on Raw now.  Stellar.

44. Kings Of Leon’s Walls which stands for We Are Like Love Songs.  It should be doing brisker business.  Not a bad song in the mix.

45. Smackdown started broadcasting live.  No more spoilers leaking out days in advance.

46. Billy Talent’s Afraid Of Heights.  Punchy and political at times, rocking and rolling all of the time.

47. Tom Mulcair was given a no-confidence vote by the NDP.  He was never a true socialist.

48. Bernie Sanders’ historic campaign for President, the most successful Jewish candidate in American history.  If it wasn’t for the Clintonistas, he would be moving into the White House next month.  They screwed him like the ignorant assholes they are.

49. Brooke Henderson won a major LPGA tournament as a teenager.  More success coming in 2017?  Let’s hope so.

50. Milos Raonic made the Wimbledon finals, a first for a Canadian tennis player.  Too bad he didn’t win.

51. The Golden State Warriors record-setting regular season win-loss record.  Unfortunately, Cleveland came from behind to snag the NBA Championship from them in the finals.  LeBron James will not be denied.

52. Mark Rylance upset Sylvester Stallone for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.  Score one for the anti-Zionists.

53. Dean Ambrose cut up Chris Jericho’s silly Lite Brite jacket.  The Scarf Era has begun.  Drink it in, man.

54. Every Womens Championship match on Raw between Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair.  The best TV rivalry of the year.  I don’t understand why the WWE doesn’t allow The Boss a longer title run.  She deserves one.

55. Pearl Jam is going into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame next year.

56. The #CureForKenza campaign.  This adorable little girl has a second chance at life.  May she make the most of it and thoroughly enjoy her childhood.

57. San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s National Anthem protest.  It’s a shitty, racist song and we don’t need to hear it anymore.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, December 30, 2016
11:41 p.m.

Prince: An Appreciation

He was signed by Warner Bros. when he was 20.  But they lied to the world when they promoted him as an 18-year-old prodigy.  Flamboyant like Little Richard, a colourful showman like James Brown, and a devastating shredder like Jimi Hendrix, Prince Rogers Nelson further bridged the musical gaps between funk, soul and rock as he would go on to become one of the most prolific singer/songwriters of all time.

And now he’s dead. Recently sent to hospital for what was reportedly the flu (new reports claim he was suffering from “severe dehydration”), his 57-year-old body was found earlier today at his home in Minnesota.  It’s not clear yet what exactly happened.  Surely, it wasn’t influenza.

When I was a kid in the 80s, Prince was all over the Television and radio airwaves.  Not a year went by when he didn’t have either a new studio album, a new live album, a new movie, a new soundtrack to that movie or a new song and video out.  Looking back, you wonder if the man did anything besides create and play music.  He must’ve been a light sleeper.

After releasing a couple of soul albums in the late 70s, one ignored and one that went platinum thanks to his first big hit, I Wanna Be Your Lover, Prince’s first full-length critical breakthrough was 1980’s Dirty Mind.  Village Voice critic Robert Christgau famously noted in his exuberant rave of the LP, “Mick Jagger should fold up his penis and go home.”

Prince never looked back after that.  The following year, he offered Controversy.  The superior single edit of the overlong, rather warped title cut intensified his already highly sexualized, religious fervor as he addresses rumours of his sexual identity.  (He was often presumed to be gay because of his fondness for falsetto vocals and seemingly feminine presentation.  He wasn’t.)  The single edit remains one of his greatest songs.

By 1982, after building a strong black following, he finally started appealing to white kids thanks to his highly acclaimed double album, 1999, which spawned numerous smash hits like Little Red Corvette, Delirious and of course, the political title song.   (Like David Bowie’s Fantastic Voyage, it warned of the still real danger of a nuclear holocaust.)  Speaking of the latter, every verse was originally supposed to be harmonized with members of The Revolution, his second backing band.  (The Time preceded them.)  But Prince decided to individualize the vocals so that each harmony part would get a line of its own to sing which made all the difference.  The apolocalyptic 1999 would go on to become one of his most enduring musical signatures.

In 1984, Prince was ready for the big screen as he unveiled Purple Rain, his only fictional film to receive praise.  (Under The Cherry Moon and Graffiti Bridge did not fare as well.  The concert picture, Sign O’ The Times, however, was critically acclaimed.  It played on MuchMusic for years after its 1987 theatrical run.)  The fantastic soundtrack became his Thriller, his most popular collection of recordings, some of which were captured live.  (It has sold about 15 million copies in North America alone.)  Just before the album’s unveiling, Prince felt it lacked an anthem, so he quickly put together a new song that would feature his best guitar solos, most especially the one that ends the track.  Long before he became a Jehovah’s Witness, Let’s Go Crazy cheekily addresses The Rapture without being annoyingly overt (unlike the full version of Controversy which directly references The Lord’s Prayer).  The result was Prince’s second number one single.  (When Doves Cry, which also features his first-rate guitar playing, was his first.)

The Purple Rain soundtrack, the first one that gave credit to The Revolution, was loaded with other memorable songs like the beautifully epic title track (which peaked at number 2), I Would Die 4 U and the lascivious Darling Nikki which bothered Tipper Gore so much it ended up on the Filthy Fifteen list.  Foo Fighters later covered it in 2002 and it became a minor alt-rock radio hit despite being a B-Side.  (As a thank you, during his Super Bowl halftime show in 2007, Prince covered their 2005 single, Best Of You.)  In 1985, the soundtrack would win the Best Original Song Score Oscar and would be nominated for the Album Of The Year Grammy.

For the rest of the 80s, Prince would continue to offer quirky, mass appeal singles:  the anti-drug Pop Life, Rasberry Beret, Kiss (another number one later covered by Tom Jones & The Art Of Noise), I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man, U Got The Look (with Sheena Easton) and the funky Alphabet St.  In 1987, the same year he presented Sign O’ The Times, Prince produced his darkest collection of songs.  Growing fascinated with the burgeoning hip hop movement, The Black Album was going to be his Christmas release.  Warner Bros. balked at putting out another Prince album so quickly after the multi-platinum double release of Sign O’ The Times.  But, in the end, he second-guessed himself.  Despite the production of a small number of vinyl copies (the survivors of which became very valuable collector’s items fetching thousands of dollars each), The Black Album would be cancelled.  It would go on to become one of the most bootlegged lost albums over the next 7 years.

Lovesexy would take its place in 1988.  (The Alphabet St. video urged fans to not buy The Black Album bootlegs.)  It included a rerecorded version of When 2 R In Love, the only Black Album track to see official release at the time.

With the hope of finally taking a break, Warner instead convinced him to do another soundtrack, this one for a new Tim Burton film.  Red hot after the overrated Beetlejuice, he directed Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger and Jack Nicholson in Batman, the biggest hit of 1989.  Prince’s stellar soundtrack, which I originally had on tape but is now very hard to find on CD (I’ve managed to locate three used copies in recent years, though, two of which I bought for a buck apiece), ended the decade with an emphatic exclamation point.  Batdance, an exhilarating, film dialogue-heavy montage of many of the soundtrack’s songs (including non-album B-Side 200 Balloons) and featuring yet another classic rip roaring solo, would also hit number one.  Another single, Scandalous!, didn’t fare nearly as well chart-wise but it is a lovely ballad nonetheless, another vivid showcase for his trademark falsetto.  Curiously, the video for Partyman would feature the full 7-minute version whereas the soundtrack only has the 4-minute single edit.

After Graffiti Bridge flopped in 1990 (Thieves In The Temple did crack the Top 10, however), Prince rebounded with his new backing band, The New Power Generation, in 1991 with Diamonds & Pearls.  The orgasmic Cream would be his final number one smash.  The pretty title cut would peak in the Top 5.

In 1992, Prince signed a lucrative multi-album deal with Warner, his longtime label.  He would immediately regret it.  Despite learning about copyright law in high school, Prince belatedly realized he didn’t own any of his masters.  His next album that year (Prince logo.svg) would become his new identity in 1993 (along with The Artist and The Artist Formerly Known As Prince), an unpronounceable symbol (referred to as the Love Symbol) that references both sexes.  (To be fair, it inspired cool guitar and stage designs.)  Prince logo.svg featured his last great single for Warner, the jazz-inflected Sexy M.F., one of the rare times he rapped on record.

After announcing his new identity, which baffled the music world and gave comedians plenty of material, Prince decided to get out of his contract by offering a succession of albums within a three-year period which deeply annoyed Warner.  They hated the idea of flooding the marketplace because it meant lower profits.

Prince didn’t care if they sold or not.  He just wanted out.  Some of the music he released during this period had been languishing in the vaults for years including The Black Album which finally surfaced officially in November 1994 but with a catch.  It would only be on sale for 2 months before being supposedly pulled from record shops in late January 1995.  (5 years after its release I still managed to find a new copy for 6 bucks.  I’ve seen at least one used copy available for 20 but that was a while ago.)

Just a few months before that, Prince released the acclaimed Come which finally corrected a longstanding error.  The cover revealed he had in fact been born in 1958, not 1960 as Warner had falsely promoted for years.

During a memorable September 1993 performance on The Late Show With David Letterman, Prince performed a track from The Gold Experience, an album that wouldn’t be available until 1995.  (I would love to own the damn thing on CD but good luck finding it today.)  The word “SLAVE” was written on his cheek, his way of protesting what he saw as an unfair arrangement with Warner.  Gold Experience included The Most Beautiful Girl In The World, another falsetto ballad that hit the Top 5 in 1994 and was previously issued on an EP that year, the Top 20 hit I Hate U and P Control, yet another hooky ode to the vagina.

After the releases of the unloved Chaos & Disorder and the Girl 6 soundtrack (curiously released under his old name) in 1996, Prince released his first post-Warner collection, the three-hour Emancipation, which featured his last Top 40 hits, a cover of The Stylistics’ Betcha By Golly Wow! and The Holy River.  Instead of signing with another major, he starting shipping CDs of his music over the Internet (they would eventually surface in stores not always with the same track listings, though) including Crystal Ball (available in three, four and five-disc incarnations) which captured numerous outtakes from past album sessions for a number of scrapped projects including a few that featured his child-like alter ego Camille (not including previously released rejects like non-album B-sides Shockadelica and the catchy Feel U Up which could’ve been a hit like U Got The Look, all of which are on The Hits/The B-Sides).

Meanwhile, Warner would continue to occasionally release new Prince material leftover in their vaults (one such collection was actually called The Vault) plus a number of hits packages, the best of which remains The Hits/The B-Sides in 1993.  It features Nothing Compares 2 U (which Sinead O’Connor famously covered in 1990) and the original version of I Feel For You (a big hit for post-Rufus Chaka Khan in 1984).   I guess he never recorded Manic Monday, the hit song he wrote for The Bangles.

Although the two discs of hits were also available as individual releases (The Hits 1 and The Hits 2), the 20 non-album B-Sides were exclusive to the three-disc set.  I was personally very lucky to finally nab a new copy at HMV just a few years ago.  It’s another hard-to-find release, but even when you do spot it, it’s not always affordable.  (I once saw a used copy that cost 30 bucks.  New ones can run as much as 60 to 70.  My copy was 10 but free with a gift card.)

In 2000, by this point long past his commercial and artistic prime, Prince belatedly announced he was reverting back to his birth name, although he would continue to incorporate his highly mocked symbol in his live shows.  No longer a Top 40 fixture, he would however have one last multi-platinum hurrah in 2004.  (To be fair, he would also have two final Gold albums in 2006 & 2009.)  Musicology received his best reviews in years and thanks to a clever promotion (it was given away with concert tickets), it charted well.  His performance with Beyonce at the Grammys that same year inspired a recurring Saturday Night Live sketch.

In the final 12 years of his life, Prince never stopped creating and performing, although he would considerably dial down the lust in his lyrics because of his new found religion.  He continued to churn out new records on an annual basis and he remained a popular concert attraction.  (He had just played a couple of shows in Toronto a few weeks ago.  His last concert, part of his Paisley Park After Dark series at his home estate, happened over the weekend.)

His sudden death comes just three months after the shocking demise of David Bowie.  Like the creator of Ziggy Stardust and The Thin White Duke, Prince was a major influence on subsequent generations of performers, both black and white, trans, gay and straight.  His sexually charged lyrics pushed the boundaries of acceptability way more than Madonna ever could. (There’s no way she could’ve gotten away with writing songs like Jack U Off, Head and Scarlet Pussy.)

Prince’s often horny songs were ubiquitous and brilliantly accessible to a mass audience, never more so than in the 80s and early 90s.  For someone so weird, soft-spoken and distant (he rarely gave interviews), he had surprisingly global appeal.  He was unusual enough to excite young audiences thirsting for something unique.  And yet his decision to sing more often than not in an inoffensive high register (a huge risk that could’ve resulted in unintentional laughter, although he did come close to becoming a self-parody at times) and his remarkable gift for well-crafted arrangements allowed him to win over more conservative pop traditionalists.  There’s no denying he had flat out, incredible musicianship.  He was as much as master of the electric six-string as more celebrated axmen like Eddie Van Halen and Jeff Beck.

But he could also be prickly.  Owners of Prince fan sites and bootleg distributors of his long coveted and voluminous unreleased recordings often felt his wrath in the form of lawsuits and public criticism.  A unrepentant control freak, he was not pro-Napster.  (He also didn’t want any of his songs parodied by Weird Al Yankovic who gave up asking for permission after a while.)  And although he would eventually return to work within the major label system, he wisely avoided traditional, longterm deals.  He would continue to offer new material online right up until last year.

And now he’s gone.  My reaction to his death is curiously more subdued than Bowie’s.  I hadn’t heard a Prince album since Musicology.  (The library copy I once borrowed I unfortunately broke by accident.  Not a good way to spend 20 bucks.)  And while I greatly admire many of his singles and especially his Batman & Purple Rain soundtracks, I have never felt the need to own everything he did.  On the contrary, I never stopped listening to Bowie.  (I’m loving Blackstar at the moment, his last release.)  In the last several years, I made it a point to add as many of his CDs to my collection that I could find for as little money as possible with a few more still to seek out.  With the exception of that elusive Gold Experience, on the other hand, I have all the Prince I need.

In the days and weeks to come we will surely learn more about his sudden death, as mysterious and odd as the man himself.  But for those grieving for the early end of another 80s icon, there is the warm comfort of the vast legacy he leaves behind.  Plus, now that the stern gatekeeper of so many unheard goodies is no more, how soon before that enormous trove of material long buried from the prying eyes and curious ears of a soon-to-be insatiable public begins to be unearthed?

More than 45 years after the death of Jimi Hendrix, we’re still getting new albums from him.  Prince is about to give him some much needed competition.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, April 21, 2016
7:28 p.m.

CORRECTIONS:  Only Prince’s debut release was ignored.  His second album went platinum and spawned his first Top 40 hit, I Wanna Be Your Lover.  It was 2000, not 1999, when Prince announced he was Prince again.  P Control from The Gold Experience was wrongly listed as P Patrol.  Musicology was his last “multi-platinum” success but by no means his last certified album.  He would acquire two more Gold records by the end of The Aughts.  And sadly, having rewatched the Controversy video a couple of times today, I realize that Prince isn’t wearing his infamous assless chaps, just leggings and bikini underwear.  All of these corrections have since been incorporated into the original piece.  I regret all the errors.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, April 24, 2016
9:45 p.m.

UPDATE:  It was a drug overdose.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, June 3, 2016
1:54 a.m.

Published in: on April 21, 2016 at 7:28 pm  Comments (2)  

Bowie

I thought it was a hoax.  I really did.  There’s no way it could be true.  No way.  Someone is playing a cruel trick on us all.  Surely.  Hopefully.

But it is true.  David Bowie is dead.  His son, the filmmaker Duncan Jones, confirmed it on his Twitter account late last night as did Bowie’s longtime producer and friend Tony Visconti.

Less than two weeks ago in this space, I had just recounted the number of Bowie entries I had written in 2015.  There were five.  And I had noted the upcoming release of what will now be his final studio album, Blackstar.  Just three days after its release, he’s gone.  The reason:  cancer.  Fuck.

David Bowie’s sudden death at age 69 is shocking for a whole number of reasons, most notably the fact that so many of us didn’t even know he was sick.  (According to an official press release by his social media accounts, his struggle with the disease lasted a year and a half.) (JANUARY 12 UPDATE:  He had liver cancer and only a few people knew his diagnosis.)

It’s long forgotten now but there was a time when Bowie was a hardcore hedonist, a committed pleasure seeker who sought women, drugs & alcohol in ever copious amounts.  He was so strung out on cocaine for much of the 70s, he stopped eating regular food for a time, limiting himself to green vegetables, usually lettuce.  He thought aliens were out to get him.  He got drunk so many times in Berlin his worldview became bleak & helpless hence the dark music he would make at the end of the decade, his increasingly dangerous addictions fuelling his thankfully temporary fascination with fascism and Nazis.

How he survived one personal & professional crisis after another is a testament to his incredible endurance and adaptability.  Besides his terrifyingly self-destructive habits, Bowie was screwed over by his then-manager Tony DeFries, a toxic business arrangement that took years to end and left him in serious financial upheaval.  His first marriage, an open relationship with his former muse Angela (Duncan’s mom), ended acrimoniously the same time he wanted to divorce himself from RCA, the label that released almost all of his most famous, influential material.

The fact that Bowie even made it to middle age in spite of all this adversity, debauchery & trauma is shocking in its own right.  And downright admirable.  (I haven’t even mentioned Mark David Chapman, John Lennon’s jailed assassin, who also contemplated murdering Bowie before ultimately targeting the former Beatle.  It was the rare topic the usually accessible Bowie declined to discuss for obvious reasons.)  It’s important to remember that there was a time where it looked like he wouldn’t even survive the 70s.

But survive that treacherous decade he did.  Not only did he survive, he grew in stature despite releasing music that few felt was better than the classics in his first full decade, although he was never short on good songs and albums.  As he gradually cleaned himself up, only one bad habit remained:  cigarettes.  In pictures and countless TV interviews, Bowie was often never without one between his fingers.  It all caught up to him before a gig in 2004.

Bowie was in significant pain.  Ever the trooper, he went ahead with the two-hour show.  Immediately afterward, he sought medical treatment.  A pinched shoulder nerve was the initial diagnosis.  But when the problem remain unsolved, a second physician stunned him with the truth.  He was actually having a minor heart attack.  (An emergency procedure finally gave him relief.)  This doctor gave him an ultimatum:  give up the cigarettes or further put his health at risk.  Bowie finally gave up the smokes.

As a result, he would drastically scale back his public appearances.  Oh sure, there was a movie or TV role here, a special live gig there.  But for the most part, he would finally enjoy prolonged periods of privacy with his second wife, the model/actress Iman, and their now teenage daughter Alexandria.

Then, three years ago, out of nowhere, a new single followed by a new album.  The Next Day was Bowie’s first new studio effort in a decade.  (It was released in at least three different versions on CD alone.)  Recorded in secret very slowly over two years, it received glorious reviews upon its unveiling and deservedly so.  By the end of 2014, another new recording, the Grammy-nominated Sue, was included in Bowie’s most expansive greatest hits collection to date, the sprawling but by no means comprehensive 3CD set, Nothing Has Changed, which highlighted 50 years of music making.  A reworked version is on Blackstar.

Throughout his surprise return, Bowie had avoided engaging with the press.  He left that to Tony Visconti who produced all three recordings.  (However, when he won a Brit award in 2014 he did release a thank you statement while hoping Scotland would remain within the United Kingdom.  Remember the failed independence referendum they had?)

Now we know why.  Bowie saw his time was running out and by God, did he make the most of it.  MuchMusic aired about an hour of his videos earlier today, mostly from the 70s and 80s.  At the end, they aired new clips for Blackstar and Lazarus.  In Blackstar, it appears the mystery of Major Tom is finally solved.  His now skeletal body still in its spacesuit is discovered lying in permanent peaceful slumber.  In Lazarus, Bowie spends half of the time in bed and in the last scene climbs into some cabinet before closing the door locking himself in.

Death was often a theme in Bowie’s repertoire long before he ever got that awful cancer diagnosis.  Whether covering Jacques Brel’s My Death during the glammy Ziggy days, chronicling the disappearance and reappearance of Major Tom in Space Oddity and Ashes To Ashes, respectively, or addressing his own mortality in Dead Man Walking, the end was never far from his mind.

Neither was sex.  Consider the nude makeout scene, a tribute to From Here To Eternity, at the end of the China Girl video.  (I have to admit his buttocks were spectacular.)  Or Rebel Rebel.  Or Drive-In Saturday.  Or Time.  Or Suffragette City.  Or any number of songs in his vast, eclectic catalogue.

Bowie was never ashamed of his sexuality.  In fact, he’s quoted on the back cover of one of his most recent biographies admitting to being cheerfully promiscuous during his first flush with fame.  But when he met Iman, as he noted in an interview later on, he was already thinking of names for their children on their first date.  Although they only had one, they were happily married for more than 20 years.

These days, when a celebrity comes out of the closet, the world shrugs.  But when Bowie declared he was gay in 1972 (while promoting the Ziggy Stardust album), it was a proverbial earthquake.  Men in rock were expected to be macho, supremely virile, barechested conquerers like Robert Plant and Iggy Pop.  They were not supposed to be outrageously effeminate like Little Richard.

Bowie cleverly realized that by shocking his audience with non-traditional statements and moves like declaring he was homosexual (although he was indeed a macho, supremely virile ladykiller himself), he would stand out.  (His hero, Little Richard, a black man from the segregationist South, could never get away with that.)  Playing around with gender identity not only suited his image, it gave his songwriting a clear focus and identity.  It effectively separated him from the pack even if John Lennon initially dismissed it as “rock and roll with lipstick”.

Ziggy Stardust, you could argue, is the first fictional trans rock star.  Both Suffragette City and Lady Stardust employ female pronouns.  The gender of the protagonist of Rebel Rebel is never specified.  (“She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl.”)  Other songs like John, I’m Only Dancing seem to suggest a male character is only pretending to pass for straight when he’s really bisexual  (“She turns me on/But don’t get me wrong/I’m only dancing”).

The gambit worked in the free spirited UK but Bowie struggled for a similar break in the more sexually repressive America.  (It took three tries to get Space Oddity into Billboard’s Top 40 over six years.)  None of his glam anthems crossed over into the mainstream at the time.  It wasn’t until he directly addressed the US in Young Americans with his more soulful approach that he finally achieved the recognition he had long coveted.

And it might not have been as successful as it was were it not for the last-minute inclusion of the brilliant Fame, a blistering commentary on how shady managers ruin the charmed lives of rock stars, entirely inspired by a productive, late night bitch session with Bowie’s now close friend & supporter, John Lennon, who sang back-up vocals.  It hit number one.

Young Americans also benefited from the participation of Luther Vandross, then a young, hungry soul singer who Bowie hired to do arrangements and his own backing vocals.

From there, Bowie would undergo another dramatic transition to the cold detachment of Germanic electronica, first teased on the excellent Station To Station (which featured the hit Golden Years and the epic title cut with its slow build before its exceptional disco climax) then fully embraced on the laconic Low and “Heroes”.  Bowie has little memory of Station To Station’s creation because he was high on cocaine the entire time.  It was the last time he would make an album during punishing, successive all-night sessions.

When STS was ready to go, Bowie was riding in the back seat of his limo in Los Angeles one typically sunny afternoon when he spotted a familiar face walking down the street.  It was the troubled Iggy Pop, the former Stooges frontman.  (Bowie produced their third album, Raw Power.  His original mix remains controversial.)  He gave him a lift and eventually played him his new album.  Desperate to get something going again after his band flamed out for the second time, Iggy readily agreed to Bowie’s generous offer to tour Europe with him.  They ended up living in France and a then-divided Germany for a brief period.

The gesture solidified their friendship for years (although things cooled in the late 90s) and launched Iggy’s solo career.  Bowie helped spearhead The Idiot and Lust For Life (he convinced his label RCA to sign Iggy hyping him as the next Alice Cooper), both released during the UK punk explosion.  (He later produced Iggy’s eventual breakthrough, Blah Blah Blah, which included Real Wild Child.)  He even played keyboards in Iggy’s own touring band.  (They appeared on The Dinah Shore Show together, believe it or not.)  Years earlier, when another friend, Lou Reed, was similarly struggling, Bowie, fresh off his Ziggy Stardust triumph, produced Transformer, the album that spawned the classic Warhol Factory tribute, Walk On The Wild Side.  Bowie also penned Mott The Hoople’s biggest hit, All The Young Dudes, while also recording his own version.

After Lodger and Scary Monsters (both filled with classic hits and killer album cuts), the one-two punch of Under Pressure (with Queen) and the five-year-old Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth (with Bing Crosby), still the greatest modern Christmas song of all time, and the Baal EP, Bowie would be welcomed back to the American mainstream with Let’s Dance (which featured an unknown guitar slinger named Stevie Ray Vaughn).  Its blockbuster success genuinely startled him.  Combining dance music with the blues was seen as a unique hybrid.  Bowie never expected it to be his biggest album.  (It was nominated for the Album Of The Year Grammy.)  The title song would be his second and final US number one.  China Girl, originally recorded by Iggy on The Idiot, became a worldwide Top 10 giving The Jean Genie/Ziggy Stardust inspiration his first taste of financial stability.  (Bowie recorded other Iggy tracks on his next two albums.)

However, unable to relate to his new expanded audience and now uncertain about where to go next (he was also probably conflicted about the restoration of his fortunes after being screwed by DeFries which also had to have contributed to his reticence), Bowie greatly scaled back the edgy experimentation that defined his 70s work and played it safe with the covers-heavy Tonight (a good but not inspired collection) and the heavily criticized Never Let Me Down.

By the end of the 80s, Bowie was determined to get back on track.  The formation of Tin Machine with guitarist Reeves Gabrels and the Sales brothers (who played on Lust For Life) might not have panned out quite the way he intended, but it did spring him from his cushy, unfulfilling creative prison.  Never again would he feel the suffocating pressure of softening his avant garde ideas for mass appeal.

After Fame was remixed for Pretty Woman & Changesbowie (it was augmented by a nifty, visually arresting video) and Rykodisc reissued Bowie’s Polygram & RCA albums (many of which contained rare bonus tracks), Bowie resumed his solo career, first with Real Cool World (from the awful Cool World movie) and the album Black Tie White Noise which features a number of songs inspired by his second wife Iman who he had just married.  Standouts on the latter include Jump They Say (about his late schizophrenic brother Terry) and the belted out cover of I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday where he out-Morrissey’s Morrissey.

For the rest of the decade, Bowie’s alt-rock cred rose substantially even though the Let’s Dance audience had moved on.  Nirvana covered The Man Who Sold The World to much fanfare for MTV Unplugged.  (Bowie was often annoyed that fans thought Kurt Cobain wrote it.)  Nine Inch Nails joined him on tour.  And the guitar work on The Smashing Pumpkins’ Zero was clearly an unsubtle homage to Boys Keep Swinging.  Meanwhile, his hard rock edge returned.

Outside’s spoken word segments are skipable but not the songs, most especially The Heart’s Filthy Lesson, Strangers When We Meet, Hallo Spaceboy (the last Major Tom song) and A Small Plot Of Land (featuring the great pianist Mike Garson who played on Aladdin Sane).

The boisterous Earthling saw Bowie embracing jungle.  Best known for Little Wonder and I’m Afraid Of Americans (Trent Reznor’s remix is superior to the album version), it was released the same year he turned 50.  (In celebration, Bowie had a birthday concert at Madison Square Garden which featured guest musicians Dave Grohl, Lou Reed, Robert Smith, Frank Black and Billy Corgan.)

Bowie ended the 90s with the flawed but moving …hours which gave us the beautifully philosophical Thursday’s Child and the rocking, Stooges-inspired The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell.  The Dreamers features one of his most soaring late period vocals while This Isn’t Happening showcases one of Reeves Gabrels best hooks.  (A fan who won a songwriting contest wrote the lyrics.)

When Toy was scrapped (it later leaked online), Bowie presented Heathen instead.  (Slow Burn is a seriously underappreciated single, another great vocal showcase.)  Then came Reality and all its multiple versions.  The stellar New Killer Star was nominated for a Grammy.  Fall Dog Bombs The Moon, which was inspired by Dick Cheney of all people, is cutting social commentary about the collective indifference of rich, unaccountable sociopaths.  And his hurried, Spanish-inflected version of The Modern Lovers’ Pablo Picasso challenges one’s affection for the more relaxed original.

I could go on and on and on about this man’s life and career.  We haven’t even talked about his acting, how he played Andy Warhol in Basquiat, the villain in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (the soundtrack has a number of bouncy Bowie originals), the detached alien in The Man Who Fell To Earth and Pontius Pilate in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation Of Christ.  I haven’t mentioned his championing of bands like The Ramones, The Talking Heads, The Cure, Kraftwerk (V2 Schneider from “Heroes” was a direct tribute to the leader of the German foursome), The Polyphonic Spree and The Arcade Fire (who he performed live with during a Fashion Rocks event).  What about all the songs he did for other movies like Absolute Beginners, When The Wind Blows, The Buddha Of Surburbia and The Falcon & The Snowman, to name but four.  Nor have I run down his very funny Late Night With Conan O’Brien appearances.

There’s just so much, too much to document in a single tribute which is fitting after all.  Because there isn’t one song, one B-side, one concert, one album, one movie, one TV show or even one interview that singularly defines David Bowie.  You can try but it’s incredibly difficult.  There are just too many high points to choose from.

That said, let me highlight one moment of brilliance that is often overlooked.  In 1999, Placebo convinced Bowie to add his vocals to a single version of Without You I’m Nothing.  It’s this take that was added to their singles collection, Once More With Feeling.  Listen to the original album cut.  Then listen to the Bowie version.  Which one is the definitive one?

Do I even have to ask?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
3:53 a.m.

CORRECTIONS/CLARIFICATION:  In paragraph 6, I wrongly asserted that Bowie had “survived overdose after overdose”.  As he noted in an interview excerpted in the terrific BBC documentary, David Bowie: Five Years, he had come close to overdosing without actually doing it.  The original, erroneous phrasing has been excised and that first sentence has been tweaked to reflect the change.

Regarding paragraph 9, Bowie was wrongly diagnosed with a pinched shoulder nerve by the first doctor he saw who prescribed him muscle relaxers.  It was a second doctor who told him he had suffered a minor heart attack (he actually had a blocked artery) which resulted in a successful emergency surgery.  With the exception of the muscle relaxers and the blocked artery, all of this information has been added with the errors removed.

Finally, this piece was written in 2016, not 2015.  And yes, I just noticed this mistake now.  The correct year is now in place.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 15, 2016
4:28 p.m.

Published in: on January 12, 2016 at 3:53 am  Comments (2)  

5 Rock Songs That Slyly Reference 5 Other Rock Songs

Before they were rock stars, they were fans:  impressionable kids who scoured the racks at their local record shops looking for something, a single or an album that would change their lives.  Once they found it, they took it home and played it to death while obsessing over every detail of the packaging until it was all committed to memory.  Then they would return to find something new and repeat the process all over again.

Even after they started their own bands and achieved their own level of success, they never stopped being fans.  From time to time, they even recorded their own versions of their childhood favourites with varying results.

But sometimes the best way to pay tribute to a classic song is to be subtle.  Instead of doing a full throttle remake, why not just make a quick passing reference in one of your originals?  Like a direct lyric lift or a sample.

These five bands did just that:

1. Rush honours Simon & Garfunkel in The Spirit Of Radio (1980)

Drummer Neil Peart was a fan of CFNY, the tiny FM alternative rock station that would introduce the likes of Elvis Costello, the Sex Pistols, U2 and countless other cutting edge acts to Toronto-area listeners beginning in 1978 while also playing the latest from Neil Young and The Who, two revered influences on the burgeoning movement.

As a tribute to the station, Peart wrote the lyrics to The Spirit Of Radio, one of CFNY’s early ad slogans, which became one of the key singles from the 1980 album, Permanent Waves.

In the final reggae section of the song, singer/bassist/keyboardist Geddy Lee sings:

“For the words of the profits are written on the studio walls/Concert hall”

That’s a sly reference to this lyric from Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sounds Of Silence:

“And the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls/And tenement halls”

Peart was mocking the corroding influence of the commercial music business on individual creativity.

Ironically, The Spirit Of Radio would only receive sporadic airplay on CFNY, much to Rush’s disappointment.  It would be spun far more often on local competing classic rock stations.  In fact, it still is.  It wasn’t until Catherine Wheel was commissioned by the station to do a cover for the Spirit Of The Edge Vol. 2 compilation in 1996 that the song, albeit in this remade form, was finally put in high rotation.

2. Bush references David Bowie in Everything Zen (1994)

Ultimately derided as Nirvana clones (they were really trying to sound like The Pixies), this English foursome couldn’t produce enough modern rock hits to ever win over their increasingly unimpressed critics.

Their first album, Sixteen Stone, quietly debuted just before Christmas in late 1994 and would go on to spawn five singles which flooded alt-rock stations for the next two years.  (The last one, Machinehead, continues to be a jock anthem at numerous sporting events today, most notably hockey.)

Of all the Sixteen Stone hits, none was better than their debut offering, Everything Zen.  At the start of the second verse, singer Gavin Rossdale sings:

“Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow/Dave’s on sale again”

After the massive UK success of his fifth album, The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars in 1972, David Bowie’s record company RCA decided to release a single from his previous LP, Hunky Dory, in order to cash in on his sudden fame the following year.

Smart move.  Life On Mars? went on to become a Top 5 smash despite being two years old.  (Strangely, it was never released as a single in North America.)  At the start of the second verse, Bowie sings:

“It’s on America’s tortured brow/Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow/Now the workers have struck for fame/Cause Lennon’s on sale again”

Bowie was referencing future close pal John Lennon who would release the Imagine album in 1971.  (Four years later, they would collaborate on Bowie’s first US number one smash, Fame, which gives that portion of the lyric unintentional prescience.)  In turn, Rossdale was giving a tip of the hat to Bowie who actually didn’t release any new CDs in 1994.  Presumably, the Bush frontman is referring to his 1993 solo comeback, Black Tie White Noise.

Interestingly enough, Bowie himself referenced another song in Life On Mars?  While the female protagonist is watching the fictional, unnamed film in the chorus, he sings “look at those cavemen go”.  As noted by Wikipedia, that’s a direct reference to a 1960 song called Alley Oop by a forgotten band called The Hollywood Argyles.  (“Look at that caveman go!“)

3. The Tea Party pays homage to Joy Division in Fire In The Head (1995)

Another band who knows a thing or two about having their egos bruised by the critics is this Windsor, Ontario trio.  Often dismissed as “Jim Morrison fronting Led Zeppelin”, which is only partially correct (the band has freely admitted deriving inspiration from the English metal pioneers), The Tea Party were actually more influenced by Joy Division.

Case in point:  the 1995 single Fire In The Head from their third album, The Edges Of Twilight.  At the end of every verse, deep-voiced frontman Jeff Martin croons with his higher-voiced self:

“This is the way/Step inside”

That just happens to be the chorus for Joy Division’s Atrocity Exhibition, the opening track from their second album, Closer.  (Atrocity Exhibition was also the name of an experimental J.G. Ballard novel.)

Tired of comparisons to The Doors, The Tea Party named their fourth album Transmission (also the name of an early non-album Joy Division single) and added keyboards to their already unique sound.  By the end of the decade, they were one of the most successful bands in Canada, half-accurate critical descriptions be damned.

4. Garbage quietly samples R.E.M. for Stupid Girl (1995)

The fourth single from the first Garbage album was their Top 40 breakthrough.  The drum hook that plays throughout the track is from The Clash’s Train In Vain which, curiously enough, was their first Top 40 achievement.

But there’s another unoriginal drum part not credited in the liner notes that pops up during several instrumental breaks.  If you listen closely, you’ll notice a quick rat-a-tat-tat sample from R.E.M.’s Orange Crush.

So, why wasn’t this noted?  A number of quick web searches didn’t provide any answers.  (My guess:  a secret financial deal was reached without the need for credit which, as Alan Cross has noted, is pretty standard for the industry.)  Maybe when the 20th Anniversary edition of Garbage, the band’s self-titled debut, comes out later this year, we’ll get the full scoop.

5. The Killers tip their hat to David Bowie in Mr. Brightside (2004)

This one I just noticed recently after buying the Hunky Dory CD.

In the last verse of Queen Bitch, his glammy tribute to Lou Reed, Bowie sings about being isolated, cold and envious in his hotel room.  At one point, while continuing to observe his male companion “down on the street”, he reports:

“So I throw both his bags down the hall/And I’m phoning a cab/Cause my stomach feels small”

In Mr. Brightside, frontman Brandon Flowers is tormented in the aftermath of an ended affair.  In the second half of the song’s only verse where he punishes himself by dreaming about his ex getting involved with another man, he sings:

“Now I’m falling asleep/And she’s calling a cab/While he’s having a smoke/And she’s taking a drag/Now they’re going to bed/And my stomach is sick”

Earlier, near the end of the first verse of Queen Bitch, Bowie sings:

“I just can’t see her letting him go.”

In Mr. Brightside, in the midst of his imaginary nightmare, Flowers observes:

“But she’s touching his chest now/he takes off her dress now/letting me go”

These similiarites between the two sets of lyrics (both songs deal with jealous lovers) are not a coincidence.  Flowers has openly declared his admiration for Bowie in the press for years.  In fact, in 2010, he said his music changed his lifeIn a 2013 interview with Entertainment Weekly, he admitted that the bassline for All The Things That I’ve Done was stolen from Slow Burn, an underrated Bowie single from 2002’s Heathen.  In that same interview, he revealed that as The Killers were starting to generate material, he was very much into 70s glam rock, Lou Reed’s Transformers & Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust in particular.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, July 26, 2015
10:18 p.m.

CORRECTION:  I can’t believe I screwed this up.  The Tea Party lyric stolen from Joy Division is “This is the way/step inside” not “aside”.  My apologies for this stupid mistake.  The text has finally been corrected.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, July 8, 2017
4:17 a.m.

Published in: on July 26, 2015 at 10:18 pm  Comments (1)  

From The Published Archives: Breaching Vista’s Vera City

For three years (2009-2012), I submitted reviews to MonkeyBiz.ca, a website that provided a free platform for local, independent writers.  (Today, it’s just a one-person blog.)  In the end, the site published all of my proposed pieces:  twelve CD reviews & three movie reviews.  Fourteen have since been reposted in this space.  Here’s the story behind number fifteen.

Shortly after the long delayed publication of my positive assessment of Keane’s Night Train EP in July 2011, the editor emailed me asking if I would be interested in doing another CD review right away.  Of course I was.  So I went down to their office downtown and picked up the disc.

Like most of the acts I assessed during that period, I had never heard of Breaching Vista.  Based out of Kitchener, Ontario, they were completely off my radar.  Having only previously released an EP (which I’ve never heard), Vera City was their first proper album.  As the editor pointed out, the band actually autographed the center spread of its liner notes which kinda freaked me out a little bit.  I was worried the gesture would unduly influence my critique.

As it turned out, my concern was misplaced.  Although I did praise the album (because I legitimately liked it), there were a few songs I didn’t care for.  After the review was posted, Breaching Vista frontman John Maksym personally wrote two emails to the editor of MonkeyBiz which were then forwarded to me.

The first one simply expressed appreciation for my review (“It’s a nice honest perspective of the record.  I can tell he actually took the time to listen to each song carefully, and that’s exactly what we’re looking for in a review.”).  The second went on to explain in considerable detail the inspiration for two of the three Vera City songs I panned.

Nervous, which I found uneven and confusing, is about Maksym’s miserable experience in one of his previous bands which he doesn’t name.  (“In order to keep another member content, I excused myself from the front-man/lead vocalist duties, and allowed for them to take over.  It was never a move I was comfortable with, but went about it for the sake of keeping the original line up together.”)  Like Edwyn in I Mother Earth, Maksym claimed that he “was completely left out of the writing process” when this unnamed band decided to do some recording.  When informed that he “wasn’t needed in the studio”, he “voluntarily walked out”.  Nervous was originally written in 2006, months after his departure, during his brief solo period before the formation of Breaching Vista.  It was rearranged a number of times before being recorded for Vera City.

Forgive You was “loosely based on an article” Maksym read by Susan Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine shooters.  It appeared in Oprah Magazine back in 2009, a decade after the infamous high school massacre.  Deeply affected by the tragedy as a Grade 10 student, years later Maksym wrote the song from her point of view as an answer to this question: “In the most tragic and devastating events, could unconditional love warrant forgiveness and trump the darkest of evils?”

Makysm never references Columbine or the Klebolds directly in the lyrics (“I had hoped the song had enough substance to leave it open for interpretation, without directly linking it to any one circumstance in particular…”) but even if he had, my dim view of Forgive You wouldn’t have changed.  (I didn’t care for the arrangement.)  That said, the fact that he took the time to explain the reasoning behind every verse & chorus of it was much appreciated and revealing.  In all my years of writing reviews in various spaces, that has never happened before or since.

My mostly positive review of Breaching Vista’s Vera City was posted by MonkeyBiz on August 29, 2011.  I was quite happy with the final edit (very few changes were required before posting) so I’ve left the original review intact.  Because MonkeyBiz renovated its website a while back, all fifteen of my pieces are no longer there.  You can only find cached versions now.

As for Breaching Vista, according to this January 2015 interview with the Canadian Beats blog, they’re still working on a follow-up to Vera City.  Good luck to them.

Breaching Vista’s Vera City: An Album Review

Posted on August 29 2011 under Arts & Entertainment
By Dennis Earl

Is emo still a viable genre?  Breaching Vista sure hopes so.  According to their Facebook page, this ambitious Kitchener quartet has been kicking around the independent scene for almost half a decade waiting for a breakthrough.

Three years after the release of their first EP, Breaking the View, comes Vera City, their entertaining debut album.  And yes, that’s a play on veracity which would’ve been a better title.

Imagine Johnny Rzeznick of the Goo Goo Dolls fronting Jimmy Eat World and you’ll have a basic sense of how they sound.  Their unoriginal yet slick musical presentation convinces you they may not be independent for very long.

The album begins well with a tight, mostly instrumental number called We Are the Way.  Is the background vocalizing of the title an unsubtle, prematurely cocky declaration to the world? Definitely.

There have been numerous rock songs about the pleasure of a deep slumber but Breaching Vista manage to add another good one to this long list.

Sleep extolls the virtues of resting over the persistent danger of drug-taking: “Give me something that my body needs/Not those chemicals that make you crazy.”

Singer/lyricist John Maksym is unabashedly open about why all of this matters so much to him:  “Are you aware, of the life that I’m trying to lead?/The success that I need to achieve/Aspirations that I have conceived/Just let me get some sleep.”

A refreshing attitude, so different from most alt-rockers who pretend not to want to be famous and successful.

Run With the Punches continues the ambition theme by portraying the band as masochistic underdogs determined to make it despite constant struggles.  Like all the full-on rockers here, it has good energy and thoughtful lyrics.

Romantic torment is fairly common subject matter for an emo band and Breaching Vista offer several such songs.  Goodbye, So Long focuses on two quarrelling lovers who have very different views of their relationship after an exposed dalliance.  It’s skillfully familiar.

Far less successful, though, are Nervous and Forgive You.  The former suffers from confused lyrics and uneven music.  The choruses are catchier than the verses.

Despite the use of strings, African chanting and Maksym’s usual anguish, the latter lacks an emotional pull.  It also doesn’t help that it’s not entirely clear why this particular relationship died.

Was it because of an external affair?  A cruel prank?  The lack of revelation robs the song of a heartbreaking payoff it needs to work.

The best of all these numbers is Wrath of Nyre.  Featuring a killer hook from lead guitarist Al Malnar, paired at the start with an effective acoustic counter lick, you can file this one under “can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.”

The sly use of violin and cello during the choruses really brings out the emotional ache of the lyrics.  The Radiohead-style ending is a nice touch, too.

Tonight is the only love song here not dripping with bitterness and disappointment.  Malnar’s guitar work, from the riff to his solo, noticeably strengthen the arrangement.

When he’s not singing about relationships and his career aspirations, Maksym’s worried about the apocalypse (the engaging Give Me a Reason), supportive of the military and their families (the underwhelming Letters) and confronting an unrepentant pedophile (the insistent W5).

Vera City concludes with Little Thoughts, a typically catchy rocker about forging ahead despite the stranglehold a traumatic past can have on your personal development: “On the brink of self-destruction/We’ll let our diligence unfold.”

Like W5, it’s as close as the band comes to sounding like the Goo Goo Dolls. Nonetheless, it’s a fine way to end an album full of polished indie pop.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, June 14, 2015
4:52 p.m.

Published in: on June 14, 2015 at 4:52 pm  Comments (1)  

Five David Bowie Classics That Bombed In America

Five years.  That’s how long it took David Bowie to get his first Top 40 hit in the UK.  In America, it took eleven.  Even after he established himself as a different kind of rock star, one who was more than willing to play around with gender identity and bisexuality, it wasn’t always so easy to win over mainstream US audiences.

But in the many decades since his dangerous, controversial 70s heyday, Bowie has since won the long game.  A good number of singles & albums that didn’t sell, that didn’t receive much critical respect or both upon their initial releases are now considered bonafide classics, definitive audio documents of the shapeshifting performer at his absolute best.  Without them, bands like Nine Inch Nails and The Smashing Pumpkins would’ve had to find their inspiration elsewhere.

While memorable singles like Fame & Let’s Dance managed to win serious raves from fans & critics alike in their respective eras (and remain beloved today), numerous others were rejected & ignored for reasons long forgotten and discredited, only to become enormous cult hits decades after their debuts.  Here are five such examples:

1. Space Oddity

It was the only track producer Tony Visconti didn’t want to produce for Man Of Words/Man Of Music, Bowie’s second solo album.  On a record filled with acoustic folk songs, the weird, melancholic tale of a depressed astronaut looking to escape his home planet’s troubles felt a bit too gimmicky for Visconti who let his engineer Gus Dudgeon oversee the recording.

Strategically timed to coincide with the Apollo 11 moon mission in the summer of 1969, a four and a half minute edit became a Top 5 smash in the UK thanks to its use in a TV commercial and, eventually, through constant airplay on the BBC.

Bowie had no such luck with the song in the US.  A three and a half minute version of Space Oddity peaked at #124.  That’s right.  It didn’t even make the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart.

In 1975, three years after the Man Of Words/Man Of Music album was rereleased as Space Oddity, the five minute and five second version of the song (the full version is 10 seconds longer) was released as a single in America.  This time, it cracked the Top 20.

2. Changes

Today, like Space Oddity, this Hunky Dory standout is ubiquitous, popping up in movies, on TV and, of course, the radio.  But when it was first issued as a single in early 1972, it was a much tougher sell.

Much softer and orchestral than the more hard rocking antics of The Who, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, it stood no chance of gaining a foothold in the UK.  Indeed, Changes didn’t even chart in Bowie’s home country during its first release.

However, unlike Space Oddity, it did at least hit the Billboard Hot 100 in the US.  Unfortunately, it peaked at a disappointing 66, a total flop.  Three years later, Changes was re-released.  How well did it do the second time around?  It got up to #41 on Billboard.  Despite greater visibility, one of Bowie’s most highly regarded songs of all time still couldn’t crack the Top 40.

In 2015, Changes got yet another release on vinyl for this year’s Record Store Day.  This time, it was a number one seller.

3. “Heroes”

It has been covered by The Wallflowers, Oasis, Blondie, Nico, TV On The Radio, Tangerine Dream, Peter Gabriel and, believe it or not, Jessica Lange, among many others.  Bowie sang it to much acclaim at Live Aid in 1985, at The Concert For New York City after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and during countless other concerts throughout his career.

But when “Heroes” debuted in shortened form in 1977, it only reached #24 in Britain.  In America, the three and a half minute classic didn’t even chart on the Billboard Hot 100.  (The superior full album version is just over six minutes.)  Not even a performance of the song by Bowie on Bing Crosby’s final Christmas special that year could help improve its prospects in the States.

In the decades since, however, as Bowie’s late 70s material was being reassessed in a more positive light, “Heroes” (both the song and the album) started to grow in stature.  Musicians like Moby, Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan (who joined the band after singing the song in an audition) and Trent Reznor each acknowledged its importance and influence on their own careers.  And now, thanks to its inclusion in numerous movies, TV shows and commercials, it is everywhere.

4. Ashes To Ashes

1980 was a tumultuous year for Bowie.  He began divorce proceedings against first wife Angela and released his final album for RCA (which ultimately led to another painful parting of the ways).  Perhaps feeling a bit nostalgic or maybe wanting closure after a decade of intense fame, he conceived a sequel to his first major hit.

Fittingly titled Ashes To Ashes, it either continues the story of long lost astronaut Major Tom or is a cleverly disguised allegory of Bowie’s private personal struggles with his career, the end of his marriage and his addictions.  Regardless, it was a monster success in Britain where it topped the singles chart.  After puzzling most fans and critics with his experiments in Germanic electronica at the end of the 1970s, Bowie began the 1980s with his greatest commercial and critical triumph since Station To Station.

But in America, Ashes To Ashes failed to even crack the Billboard Hot 100.  In fact, it peaked at #101.  Thanks to the debut of MTV the following year, however, the brilliant video for the song was put into high rotation, which instantly made up for its lack of support on Top 40 radio.

5. Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy

“I hate this song.  Is there something else I could sing?”

Bowie didn’t want to do Little Drummer Boy with Bing Crosby while taping the latter’s Merrie Olde Christmas special in the summer of 1977.  So, a compromise was made.  Both men would sing the first verse, then while Crosby carried on with Drummer Boy, Bowie would sing a new song called Peace On Earth, a track written very quickly by Crosby’s hired songwriters.

The result is the greatest modern Christmas song of all time.  After the special aired in late 1977, the song was bootlegged for five years until RCA decided to officially release it as a single in 1982.  It was the last straw for Bowie who apparently wasn’t notified of this decision.  He would never record for the label again.

During its first UK release, Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy was a smash, climbing all the way up to #3.  This version included audio from the special beginning with Crosby letting Bowie into his house and them bantering about family before launching into the track.

The US version eliminated the pre-song banter altogether.  Including it probably wouldn’t have helped its commercial prospects anyway.  The song didn’t even make the Billboard Hot 100.

Over time, however, Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy would be dusted off every subsequent Christmas where it grew in popularity and prominence, a welcome tradition that will likely continue indefinitely.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, April 24, 2015
5:05 p.m.

Published in: on April 24, 2015 at 5:05 pm  Comments (1)  

50 Things I Loved About 2014

1. Daniel Bryan vs. Bray Wyatt at the Royal Rumble.  Two stellar talents putting on a clinic in the first match of a pay-per-view that easily bested the disappointing WrestleMania 30.

2. Jake “The Snake” Roberts’ WWE Hall of Fame induction speech.  Poignant, cathartic, painfully honest & even funny.  A much deserved honour for a superior ring psychologist.  Thanks for “masturbating our emotions”.

3. Coldplay’s Ghost Stories.  Who knew a “conscious uncoupling” would lead to a lovely set of tunes?

4. Rob Ford is no longer the Mayor of Toronto & Doug Ford is no longer on Toronto City Council.

5. Dylan Farrow’s powerful statement on the New York Times website against her estranged father & childhood abuser, Woody Allen.  It opened up a wide ranging public conversation about sexual assault & the celebrity assailants who often get away with it.

6. The executive summary of the CIA torture report was finally released after multiple delays.  Despite excessive redactions, its shocking revelations should inspire worldwide pressure to prosecute all guilty parties, past and present, even though the Obama Administration is very reluctant to do so themselves, the fucking depraved cowards.

7. Bruce Springsteen’s long awaited studio recording of American Skin (41 Shots).  His timing couldn’t have better.  The song of the year.

8. Germany won the World Cup for the 4th time while defending 2010 champions Spain didn’t even get out of their own group.

9. Jian Ghomeshi & Bill Cosby were finally exposed for the serial predators they’ve secretly always been for decades.  More proof that “nice guy” images are powerfully deceptive.  May their many victims finally get justice after all these decades.

10. Glenn Greenwald’s thoroughly frightening No Place To Hide.  The book of the year.

11. The ending of the final Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson.  Very funny homages to The Drew Carey Show, Newhart & The Sopranos.

12. “We’ll Meet Again”, the charming, strangely moving celebrity sing-a-long from the last Colbert Report.  The fake conservative pundit character might be resting in a coffin somewhere but the lid isn’t sealed.

13. Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H at WrestleMania 30.  The match of the year.  The post-match steel chair beatdown by H on Bryan’s arm was brutality at its finest.

14. Daniel Bryan winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, his 4th such title, at that same event.  Despite a slow start, the Triple Threat match with Randy Orton & Batista ultimately evolved into an entertaining main event featuring the pinnacle of the most unlikely babyface superstar of all time.  The right guy went over that night.

15. Interpol’s El Pintor.  Still plumbing the darkness for sexual release, this time without Carlos D.  Let’s not take another four years for album number six, ok guys?

16. Being asked to become a Huffington Post Contributor.  Seven posted pieces, thus far, with hopefully many more to come.  Talk about a big career break.  If only it was a paying gig.

17. Robyn Doolittle’s Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story.  Just a small, fascinating taste of the insanity that is the Ford Family, plus a revealing look at how a difficult series of stories came together at The Toronto Star.  I’d love to see a sequel.  God knows there’s more than enough material for one.

18. Canada’s performance at the Winter Olympics.  Winning 25 medals four years after winning a record-setting 26 in Vancouver is pretty god damn impressive.

19. The eruption sequence in Pompeii.  Too bad the rest of the film isn’t as fun to watch.

20. U2’s Songs Of Innocence, the two-disc version.  There’s still plenty of vitality flowing through these middle aged bodies.

21. Weezer’s Everything Will Be Alright In The End.  The record Blue Album fans have been waiting 20 years to hear.  Rivers Cuomo’s voice hasn’t aged a day & he still has a trunkful of catchy melodies to share with the world.

22. Green Day is going into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame next year.  Fuck you, Johnny Rotten.

23. The astonishing fall of former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling.  What took so long?

24. Invisible Children is on the verge of extinction.  You won’t be missed, phony White Savours.  Kony 2012 was an absolute fucking failure.

25. The #BlackLivesMatter movement.  The spirit of Martin Luther King lives on in a peaceful yet rightfully pissed off community tired of systemic mistreatment & disrespect by governments & law enforcement.  May they succeed in their ongoing quest for real change.  A tip of the hat as well to protesting fast food workers, Canada’s native community for demanding an inquiry into missing women & girls as well as fighting against the construction of new gas & oil pipelines and Palestinians for fighting their evil Israeli occupiers.  Righteous, moral courage is contagious.  May we all catch it.

26. Sloan’s Commonwealth.  More melodic elegance from The Canadian Beatles.

27. Belle Knox.  Smart, honest, defiant, ballsy & incredibly sexy.  After being outed by an asshole schoolmate at Duke University, she made the absolute most of a scary situation.  An excellent writer whose young voice will only grow stronger & smarter over time.  She’s also very sweet.

28. Mr. T’s hilarious yet completely sincere WWE Hall of Fame speech, an incredible tribute to his mom.  He shouldn’t have been cut off, though.  Let the man get all his thoughts out, for Christ’s sake.

29. CNN’s explosive reports on Veteran Affairs hospitals in the US shamefully covering up long waiting lists for patients, an uncomfortable reminder that governments still don’t give a shit about the damaged people who implement their heartless & failed foreign policies.  Drew Griffin deserves much praise for his dogged work.

30. Edward Snowden’s prime time interview with NBC’s Brian Williams.  He is the strongest, living reason to impeach President Obama.

31. The continuing bombshell reports on the NSA’s illegal, immoral mass surveillance programs.  Snowden’s whistleblowing continues to reverberate around the world.  Keep sweating, President Obama.

32. Recreational marijuana became legally available for sale in Oregon & Washington State.  The beginning of the end of the war on pot.  How much longer before everyone wants a piece of this lucrative action?

33. Michael Sam became the first openly gay player to be drafted by the NFL.  If only he had beaten up little kids & grown women, he’d be on a team right now.

34. The Intercept.  Finally rolling with regular updates, it’s the best new news site out there right now.  Fiercely adversarial & consistently revelatory.  Glenn Greenwald was absolutely right to leave The Guardian for this venture.

35. Kim Kardashian’s beautiful bare ass.  I like big butts & I cannot lie.

36. Damien Mizdow, The Miz’ stunt double.  Hilarious, despite being somewhat of a comedown from “The Intellectual Saviour of the Masses” gimmick.  On the plus side, however, he’s finally gotten a title push.

37. Big Wreck’s Ghosts.  Yes, Ian Thornley can scream like Chris Cornell but that’s part of the appeal.  Nearly 20 years after In Loving Memory Of…, they can still bring the rock.

38. Lana Del Rey’s inescapably dreamy West Coast.  I finally get it.

39. Police in Holland arrested a man they believed shamed & tormented Amanda Todd online to the point of suicide.  As CBC’s The Fifth Estate revealed, there are dozens more victims in multiple countries including Canada.  It is such a shame his arrest couldn’t have happened much sooner.  Todd may very well still be alive.  God knows it was possible.  But in a story full of so much tragedy, this very positive development may finally get us closer to understanding the full truth.

40. Antonio Cesaro bodyslamming The Big Show over the top rope to win the first ever Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 30.  Also, the handshake at the end was classy.  The Swiss Superman should’ve turned ‘face that night, one of the many fuck-ups the WWE made in 2014.

41. Barack Obama apologist Sophia Bush is still blocking me on Twitter, 18 months and counting.  My second proudest writing achievement next to becoming a Huffington Post Contributor.

42. Edward Snowden was given permission to stay in Russia for three more years, far away from the corrupt tentacles of Obama’s evil National Security State.  Plus, his girlfriend is now living with him.  Suck on that, Michael Hayden, you lying, spying, torturing, bald piece of shit.

43. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s numerous, growing political scandals including the now infamous George Washington Bridge closing.  May his political reputation continue to take the critical beating that it deserves.

44. Eric Cantor surprisingly lost a primary and resigned from Congress.  Now he can enjoy all the Britney Spears concerts he wants.

45. Eric Holder announced his forthcoming resignation as Attorney General.  His legacy will be decidedly mixed.  His constant hounding of whistleblowers & journalists, James Risen in particular, should not be forgotten or forgiven.

46. Egypt’s sham “justice system” which punishes critics, members of the Muslim Brotherhood & journalists doing their jobs like the Al Jazeera Three, & Obama’s continued financing of it.  Disgraceful on so many levels.

47. Lenny Kravitz’ Strut, which features some of his sexiest & most soulful arrangements.  Glad he’s still rocking out.  It’s not fair that he’s better looking than me, though.

48. Rachel Nichols’ welcome, adversarial grilling of serial woman beater Floyd Mayweather on CNN.  I wish every journalist treated him like the disgusting misogynist that he is.  Iron Mike Gallego’s stinging round-up of his criminal acts on DeadSpin deserves high praise, as well.

49. Sheldon Cooper telling his girlfriend Amy Farrah Fowler that he loves her for the first time, then kicking her out of his bedroom because girls aren’t allowed in there on The Big Bang Theory.  Perfect.

50. Eugenie Bouchard & Milos Raonic’s grand slam breakthroughs.  How long before either of them take home a major championship for Canada?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, December 29, 2014
3:06 a.m.

50 Things I Loathed About 2014

1. The Ultimate Warrior died.

2. Despite pulling out of the race for Mayor with just six weeks to go before the election & being diagnosed with a rare cancer, Rob Ford is once again a Toronto city councillor.

3. Gitmo is still open.

4. Israel’s heartless genocidal attacks on Gaza, The West Bank and the rest of the Occupied Territories.  Will long suffering Palestinians ever see justice?

5. Julian Fantino’s pitiful performance as the Minister of Veteran Affairs.  How does he still have his job?

6. Robin Williams & Philip Seymour Hoffman died, two superb talents killed by serious depression.  Can we please take mental illness more seriously now?

7. Boko Haram’s ongoing terror campaign in Nigeria which led to the kidnapping of hundreds of girls, only some of whom have managed to escape and reunite with their families.

8. Monday Night Raw is still 3 hours, has consistently terrible commentators, and remains unworthy of weekly consumption.  Ditto the 2-hour Smackdown.

9. Brock Lesnar ending The Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak.  Dreadfully boring match & the absolute wrong creative decision.  The Beast Incarnate didn’t need the added heat.  The Streak had to come to an end at some point, yes, but not like this.  Horrible & infuriating.

10. Morrissey’s World Peace Is None Of Your Business.  I waited 5 years for this forgettable, mean spirited piece of shit?  Maybe he’s already written his strongest melodies.  God knows I don’t care about his upcoming Ramones tribute.  Ugh.

11. CBC’s Terry Milewski’s strange refusal to cooperate & collaborate with Glenn Greenwald on Canadian mass surveillance stories.  A completely blown journalistic opportunity.  Milewski should be ashamed of his timidity.

12. ISIS’ decapitation videos.  Only Saudi Arabia & the US are allowed to be this barbaric, right, Barack Obama?

13. The Nut Job.  Poorly animated, sluggishly paced, almost completely unfunny.  Its only redeeming quality:  the guilty pleasure dance anthem Gangham Style playing over the end titles.

14. England couldn’t even get out of their group at the World Cup.  A depressing performance for a talented squad that needs a big kick in the shorts.

15. Robin Thicke’s Paula.  That’s not how you reconcile with your wife.  No wonder she wanted out.

16. GamerGate.  A stupid name for a stupid scandal started by assholes who care nothing about “ethics in video game journalism”, only their unjustified hatred for women.  Despicable.  All the feminist targets of their childish scorn deserve full apologies, restitution & their regular lives back.

17. Alberto Del Rio was fired for defending his ethnicity.  He is much missed in the WWE.

18. The retirement of CM Punk.  WWE blew this one big time, as well.  Let’s see how he does in the UFC next year.

19. The unfortunate injuries of Daniel Bryan & Roman Reigns.  The lost possibilities because of their long absences.

20. CNN’s embarrassingly excessive coverage of that missing Malaysian Airlines plane.  Despite weeks of breathless anticipation of its recovery & endless, pointless speculation, it remains completely unaccounted for.  A low point in the channel’s 34-year history.  Also pitiful at times were their on-the-scene reports during the Ferguson, Missouri protests & Israel’s illegal invasion of Gaza.  “Fuck CNN”, indeed.

21. A Haunted House 2.  Disgusting, sexist, slut shaming garbage.  Mark Henry, you should be ashamed of yourself.

22. Republican Congressman Michael Grimm’s scary threat to a NY1 reporter caught by a cameraman who had just finished shooting a quick on-camera interview with him.  Grimm eventually apologized.  He should resign, especially now that he’s a convicted felon.

23. Shaker Aamer & 63 other innocent, tortured men remain trapped in Gitmo, the American gulag.  All the rest have yet to have their day in court, a real court, not these fucking kangaroo “military tribunals”.  That’s not justice.

24. The heartbreaking fire that destroyed a senior’s home in L’Isle-Verte, Quebec in the middle of a bitterly cold winter which resulted in 32 deaths & 15 injuries.

25. Eden Alexander’s health scare & the nonsense she had to deal with while trying to raise money for her expensive medical bills.  The good news is, despite some rough months, she’s almost completely recovered now.  Very nice lady.  May she never be this sick again.

26. War Machine’s obscene assault against former girlfriend Christy Mack.  He belongs in prison for the rest of his life.  She deserves the full restoration of her health.

27. Megan Trainor’s All About That Bass.  An annoying song that will haunt wedding receptions for years to come.  I prefer Baby Got Back.

28. Michael Coren’s phony “apology” to the gay community in The Toronto Sun.  Until he publicly & privately supports full equality, don’t believe for a second that he’s changed because he hasn’t.

29. The Polar Vortex.  Whoever loves all this supremely cold weather is an emotionless psychopath.  I’ll stick with summer, thanks.

30. Sony cancelling The Interview’s wide Christmas Day theatrical release because of a bogus, empty threat from clever hackers.  Although they ultimately changed their mind & let independent theatres exhibit the film, and also made it available online, they looked incredibly stupid capitulating like this.  If it happens again, here’s hoping other studios are less cowardly.

31. The celebrity nude photo hack.  Unless these women want me to see them naked, I’m not going to invade their privacy without their permission.

32. The disturbing elevator video of Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancé Jenay with one punch.  How is he not in prison?

33. Devil’s Due & Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones.  Two more compelling reasons to declare the “found footage” genre dead.

34. The Edmonton Oilers.  They’re so bad now I’m glad I stopped watching them play the few games that air on TV.  Time to resign, Craig MacTavish.  2006 is a distant memory.

35. The persecution of Matt Dehart.  Are you ever going to write about his case, Glenn Greenwald?

36. Chelsea Manning, John Kiriakou, Jeremy Hammond & Barrett Brown are all still in prison for opposing Obama’s growing, illegal National Security State.  Along with Dehart may their vengeful persecutions be over soon.

37. All the other terrible movies I saw this year:  Movie 43, 21 & Over, Cheech & Chong’s Next Movie, Cheech & Chong Still Smokin’, Goon, Fool’s Gold, 13 Ghosts (2001), Little Man, Mannequin, Mannequin: On The Move, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, What A Girl Wants, 21 Jump Street, My Bloody Valentine (1981), Nuns On The Run (it hasn’t aged well), Silent Hill: Revelation, Nightflyers, Grown-Ups 2, You’re Next, 30 Minutes Or Less, Project X (2012), The Hangover Part III, His Majesty The Scarecrow Of Oz & The Patchwork Girl Of Oz.

38. MuchMusic’s pitiful 30-minute “special” commemorating its 30th Anniversary.  It was hardly worthy of the channel’s important legacy as The Nation’s Music Station.  Then again, these days, it’s only a shell of its former self.  A proper tribute devoted to its glory years would only reinforce that.

39. Suey Park’s #CancelColbert campaign.  An ignorant, hypocritical, self-important “activist” uses the old Fox News excuse (“I was only joking!”) to justify a complete waste of fake, collective online outrage.  I’ve yet to see proof she understands what satire is.  In the end, the only reason The Colbert Report is off the air is because the host got a new job.  He takes over for David Letterman next year.  As for Park, she’s off Twitter now.  Good riddance.

40. The abhorrent mistreatment of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.  Like the endless human rights violations of the Palestinians, the world continues to look the other way.

41. The Republicans won control of the Senate.

42. The sudden rise of Charles C. Johnson, already the most despised media hack of the new millennium.  Thankfully, he’s making way too many sloppy mistakes & enemies to survive for much longer.

43. Lena Dunham’s stunning revelation that she abused her sister when they were kids, her defensive, embarrassing “rage spiral” in response to the mostly genuine outrage over it, her ultimately bogus “apology” & the predominantly white feminists who gave her a pass for it.  If it was anybody else, they’d be chased out of Hollywood.

44. The murders of Eric Garner, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown & many more people of colour – male & female; young & old – by white, paranoid, racist American police officers.  The brutal, Israel-inspired militarization of law enforcement must be curbed, the sooner the better.  The days of cops getting away with criminal activity have to end right now.  The system is completely rigged in their favour.

45. The WWE Network debacle.  How not to unveil a new venture two years behind schedule.  Vince McMahon ended up losing half his fortune thanks to the company’s plunging stocks.  (Actually, I love that last part.)

46. Howard Stern’s ongoing support for torture, an internationally recognized war crime, & Israel’s decades-long genocide of the Palestinians, especially the horrors unleashed on Gaza in the summer.  I’m done with this asshole.

47. Elliott Rodger, his frightening misogynistic murder spree, that creepy video with the sunlight in his face & that deeply troubled manifesto.  What the hell happened to this kid?

48. James Avery, Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air & Shredder from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, died on New Year’s Eve 2013.

49. The WWE’s ongoing association with serial woman beater Floyd Mayweather.  Chris Jericho, Triple H & Jim Ross, you all sicken me.

50. Rolling Stone’s much criticized report on an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia.  Of all the important stories to fuck up, why did it have to be this one?  This better not set back all the tremendous progress made by feminists this year in combating rape culture.  For the record, I still believe the woman at the centre of the UVA story was violated.  Like all victims of sexual assault, she deserves justice & peace of mind.  Unfortunately, Rolling Stone has made that very difficult for her now.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, December 29, 2014
2:34 a.m.

From The Published Archives: Dirty Penny’s Sage Against The Machine

Two weeks after my edited review of Autobodies’ Rearranger first surfaced on MonkeyBiz.ca, this assessment of Dirty Penny’s Sage Against The Machine made its debut.  (The Sage in this case being Mahatma Gandhi whose face is on the cover, a still of which was included in the original posting.)  This was the second of four critiques that would finally appear on the site after months of uncertainty, as documented in that first link.  (Two more reviews of The Unborn and Morrissey’s Years Of Refusal would follow two months later, as would a fifth, Jennifer’s Body.)  By the way, this Dirty Penny is not to be confused with this Dirty Penny.

Posted on April 11, 2010, it is slightly shorter than the version you’re about to read.  I was perfectly happy with what I submitted, so it was a little disappointing to see lines get clipped or chopped off completely from the finished version.  (A minor complaint, it should be noted.)  Some have been restored for this reposting.  I hope you enjoy it.

Dirty Penny’s Sage Against the Machine

Posted on April 11 2010 under Arts & Entertainment
By Dennis Earl

“It’s a big, long part where I don’t do anything,” says the deep-voiced Jason Cavener during a rare moment of lucidity.

It’s an ad-lib heard two minutes and one second into a song called Just One Finger, track nine from Sage Against The Machine, the second album from his indie band, Dirty Penny.

Based in Toronto, this gruesome fivesome specialize in rocking out to the dumbest lyrics you’ll ever hear.  After his unexpected pronouncement, his bandmates continue on with a groove reminiscent of The Tragically Hip’s So Hard Done By.  It’s 40 seconds of bliss.

Then, Cavener starts singing again.  Oh dear.

It’s a shame because almost all the music on this album is highly listenable.  The unfortunately titled Dick Opportunity has a Franz Ferdinand vibe to it.  Hot Cocoa has a solid arrangement that sounds like The Rolling Stones in their later years.  If I Wuz A Cat imagines The Hip channelling Sonic Youth.  Declined wouldn’t be out of place in a They Might Be Giants setlist.

If only the singing and the lyrics were equally as good.

Cavener’s vocal approach is mostly maddening and rarely tuneful.  He offers his worst performance on the album’s opener, Magic Tricks.  In a croaky, almost self-pitying tone, he describes an afterlife involving wizardry, friends with flowers growing out of their noggins and “swimming pools of lovers that you had”.

Obviously attempting to be John Lennon at his most surrealistic, the result is more baffling and moronic than transcendent.  By the end, we’re led to believe that these were just scenes from an unnamed movie.  Let’s hope it never gets made.

Atahualpa, the tenth song, makes even less sense.  Plus, the vocals are just terrible.  Not even the mostly effective arrangement (which, sadly, grows weary itself after a while) can save this four-minute nonsense.

Cavener never sounds original when he sings.  Throughout the album, he alternates from sounding like dreadful imitations of Robert Smith of The Cure and Roland Orzabal of Tears For Fears to an unsexy Mick Jagger, a less confident Dave Grohl in a lower, quieter register and even that guy from Real Life who sang Send Me An Angel in the ’80s.

Time and time again, he lets down his talented bandmates with lacklustre results.

Increasingly desperate for your attention, Dirty Penny aims to shock.  Lady Nurse None, which begins and ends with Under Pressure-style finger snaps, spins a delightful tale about overworked hospital employees who are eager to shag poodles and bugs instead of human beings.  Hot Cocoa is about calling your mom while in the middle of preparing for self-gratification.  The meandering Declined ends with a disturbing image involving Catholic priests.

Since they have nothing terribly meaningful, coherent or even funny to say, Dirty Penny frequently go the disgusting route.  How very sad.  The only bright spot is a rather pretty acoustic reworking of Pretty Boy Floyd, a 70-year-old Woody Guthrie song.  You can tell it’s a cover because the lyrics are good and Cavener dials down his creaky vocals considerably.  A good decision on his part.

Could this band succeed with a different singer and a more serious lyrical approach?  Considering the plethora of bands fighting for attention these days, it’s very hard to say for sure.

What is certain is that Sage Against The Machine (love that title) is easily one of the worst albums I’ve ever heard, despite its entertaining musical arrangements – and putting the late Mahatma Gandhi on the cover doesn’t change that fact.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, January 4, 2014
7:38 p.m.

Published in: on January 4, 2014 at 7:38 pm  Comments (1)  

From The Published Archives: Autobodies’ Rearranger

It was the summer of 2009.  My Employment Hamilton job counsellor had just gotten off the phone with a contact and was eager to tell me the details.  During a meeting with him in his office, he got in direct touch with a woman from CCMA (Community Centre for Media Arts), a local non-profit.  Knowing I’m a writer, he asked her about this website CCMA created, MonkeyBiz.ca.  She told him what they were looking for and after hanging up, he relayed that information to me.  (They wanted people to review CDs, mostly.)

At the time, the name didn’t sound too familiar.  But when I went online later that same day to check it out, I remembered.

Eight years earlier, when I got my first PC, I found the site through a Google search while looking for writing jobs.  Two things turned me off of it right away.  One, they didn’t pay and two, they wanted short articles (nothing longer than 600 words).

But in 2009, with little hope of getting a paying gig of any persuasion, I reconsidered.  I got in touch with my counsellor’s contact and made arrangements to come to the MonkeyBiz offices downtown.  While there, I picked up a couple of CDs from a small pile she had (there were only independent Canadian acts to choose from), took them home, start listening to them and ultimately drafted reviews for each.

Not long afterwards, both assessments were ready for submission, so not knowing any better I emailed them to my counsellor’s contact.  She was very enthusiastic about my writing but, as it turns out, not very enthusiastic about getting them published.  Every so often, after not hearing back from her, I would fire off an email to find out what the hold-up was.  I never did get an honest answer, when I got any kind of response at all.

By 2010, with the frustration rising, my job counsellor told me to email the editor.  She replied with some startling news:  my contact had quit.  During my next meeting with my counsellor, he confirmed what he had secretly known for some time.  When exactly was he going to tell me?  I was greatly annoyed by this but never let on.

Thankfully, the editor already knew who I was.  Besides trying in vain to get my entertainment stuff on MonkeyBiz, I started a brief three-month run as a volunteer writer for Green Venture, a local, non-profit environmental organization in September 2009.  The first article I wrote for them was basically a thinly veiled press release for some Car Care event they were doing at the time.  It was posted on MonkeyBiz but curiously yanked after only a week online.  (I say curiously because other outdated articles were still available to be perused, at least until late 2012.)

Anyway, when I enquired about these two reviews (including a couple more that were submitted to the woman I met that also disappeared down the Internet rabbit hole), the editor said she never got them.  My counsellor’s contact never passed them on to her.  Thankfully, she expressed interest in seeing them and requested I resubmit all four directly to her which I did promptly.

Happy to receive them, she told me they would be “published on our next publishing cycle”.  Well, not quite.  As it turns out, she would post them bit by bit over a multi-week period which, to her credit, she later said was the actual plan.  I had no problem with that, though.  After waiting more than half a year to see my work surface publicly, I was relieved any of it was coming out at all.

My very first MonkeyBiz posting was this March 28, 2010 review of Rearranger by the independent duo, Autobodies.  Sadly, the review as seen was not exactly what I submitted.  My reference to the two singers’ harmonies paling in comparison to The Beach Boys was excised as was an entire section about the song, Yer Bird.  Also cut was a reference to Fox News broadcaster Bill O’Reilly’s infamous “We’ll do it live!” freakout from 1996.  For this Published Archives reposting, all of these unnecessary removals have been restored.

Since all of my MonkeyBiz reviews are no longer on there (the site went through a makeover sometime in the second half of 2012 which involved dropping a whole slew of reviews, interviews and articles from various other writers) and they obviously have no further interest in working with me (it’s been almost two years since the last email), beginning a year ago I’ve been gradually republishing them here making changes where appropriate.  Only two more remain after this Autobodies review.  Look for my review of Dirty Penny’s Sage Against The Machine shortly.

Autobodies – Rearranger

Posted on March 28 2010 under Arts & Entertainment
By Dennis Earl

At various points during Rearranger, the fifth album from Autobodies, you wonder what exactly frontman Kent Eliuk is trying to say.

No matter how many times you listen to the 13 tracks that feature his vocals (there’s also an instrumental), a fair number of his lyrics are hard to decipher.  (A lyric sheet may have cleared things up).

It doesn’t help matters that he evokes a less confident Thurston Moore when he sings.  Not a gifted warbler by any stretch, Eliuk (who recorded and mixed the album in the basement of his Toronto home) struggles on each song.

It’s too bad because for the most part the music he’s made with German-born drummer Jan Ladisich is quite good.  If only this were purely an instrumental CD.

Submarined is easily the best song here which, unfortunately, isn’t saying very much.  It features a lovely, slowed down acoustic riff that you’d expect to hear from Supergrass.  Thankfully, despite a distractingly unnecessary xylophone part in the last minute and a repetitive one-note bassline in the first, the guitar playing is strong enough to warrant multiple listens.  I wish I could say the same for the rest of Rearranger.

Eliuk alternates between singing off-key to simply talking his way through the material.  His wife, Joy, backs him up on a few tracks and they clearly lack harmonic cohesion.  The Beach Boys, they’re not.

The closest he comes to delivering a passable vocal happens during Yer Bird about a betrayed man not buying his woman’s change of heart.  He’d rather have a pet bird instead of being burned again.

The arrangement, clearly evoking the acoustic guitar work in Love Will Tear Us Apart, is the prettiest on the album despite the unevenness of the singing.  A stronger vocalist would’ve made the track an album standout.

Wind Chill, the CD’s finale, has an earthy, souful feel thanks mainly to a simple yet effective organ part and disciplined drumming.  Catwatch has a scrappy, unpolished vibe and features an end-of-song electric guitar solo that Billy Corgan could have laid down.  Some of the acoustic work on Airspace is Jam-like.  Unfortunately, each of these songs are ruined by Eliuk’s unsophisticated vocals.

Clearly realizing his limitations, he’s made sure to bury himself so far down in the mix at times that he’s hard to follow and consistently understand.  Sadly, even if we could hear his every word, his lacklustre performance remains a problem.

When you do understand what he’s saying, the results are sometimes silly.  On the two-minute Old Smile, he sings the hokey line, “love is something to believe in when it’s something real” with such earnestness you wonder if he’s deluded himself into believing he’s a deep thinker.

On the title song, he offers lines like “your voice is like a jar of paint” and “your lips are like a parade in a small town”.  As Bill O’Reilly once put it, “I don’t know what that means!”

Autobodies, for the most part, are fine instrumentalists but they need a new singer, more compelling lyrics and a professional mixer.  Rearranger provides the evidence.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, January 3, 2014
9:51 p.m.

Published in: on January 3, 2014 at 9:51 pm  Comments (2)