Monday, September 20, 2010

We landed on the moon!!

America went to the moon in the late 60's and early 70's. No one's been back since. And if you believe the conspiracy theorists, we weren't there to begin with.

They say it was all filmed on a sound stage, because you don't see any stars in the background in those moon photos.

OK, fine. Answer me this then. You ever seen the stars in the sky on Earth IN THE DAYTIME?!?!


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Uh, how full is my glass...?

Anybody who knows me knows I'm a pessimist. I'd like to think I'm more argumentative, or maybe more realistic when they're trying to drown me with optimism. I agree that I go looking for clouds amongst the silver linings. But I realized something about my outlook on life the other day.

I may look at life as "glass half-empty", but I never actually USE that term. I always describe the liquid is in a container by how full it is.

So, what would that make me? I just don't know...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

American Idiot musical soundtrack review

Green Day has been a commercial juggernaut within the last 18 months. They followed up their most successful album to date, American Idiot, with 21st Century Breakdown, a very solid album in its own right, and worldwide tour to support it. EA released a Green Day Rock Band title. And most impressively, Billie Joe Armstrong worked with Broadway director Michael Mayer to turn American Idiot into a Tony award-winning musical.

If, in 1995, you tried to tell Green Day or any of their fans that they'd pull of something like this, he/she probably would have punched you in the face. But the soundtrack to the American Idiot musical shows how far Green Day has come in their 20 years together. This album shows both the band's maturity, as they all approach 40, yet how they've remained young at heart with their devotion to all things rock and their punk attitude.

I cannot stress how great this musical soundtrack is. In fact, I'd even say it's an improvement over the original American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown albums. Everyone involved just took this thing to another level. The cast of the musical has incredible vocal range, hitting and sustaining notes in a way that Billie Joe never could. They made such a production of the music by adding string sections and choruses (I love that kind of stuff; the more, the better, IMO). But Green Day didn't just sit on the bench during the recording of these tracks. They did what they do best on this album: they recorded most of the music themselves. Yes, that's Mr. Armstrong on guitar, Mike Dirnt on bass, and Tre Cool on drums. Finally, the album is uncensored. Honestly, you think Green Day would allow that? Hell no. No parental advisory label on the album either (not sure how they pulled that off, as the F-bombs are clearly audible throughout the album).

This is the first album I've ever listened to that IMMEDIATELY gave me goosebumps. And this was on a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon, during the summer, in a hot car, after picking it up at my local Best Buy. It instantly got to me, and I fell in love with it (and Green Day).

The album starts off with the title track, and you notice the first of the subtle changes with the music itself. The intro is a little bit different than that from the original version of the song. The goosebumps kick in when the cast sings round during the bridge from the guitar solo to the final chorus. So good...

The goosebumps continue into track 2, Jesus of Suburbia. Especially when "Heather" (Mary Faber), one of the female lead character, comes in for part 4 of this song, Dearly Beloved, and again for part 5, Tales of Another Broken Home. It's haunting, sending chills down my arms.

The next track, Holiday, starts off with an awesome bass intro. Mike Dirnt did a great job with it, trumping Billie Joe's original guitar intro. The "ooh, ooh, OOOOOH" during the guitar solo, the "THREE FOUR!!", the deep-toned piano into and during the bridge. Amazing. They melded into the rest of the song very well.

Boulevard of Broken Dreams starts out with an acoustic guitar intro that nicely mellows down the raw energy from the first three tracks. This relaxed tone is calmed down even more by the string section and lead character "Johnny" (John Gallagher, Jr.), but it kicks back into gear during the second chorus and bridge into the guitar solo. The outro really drives it home and brings the goosebumps back in full force.

Track 5 is Favorite Son. At first, I thought this was a new song written for the musical, but after some digging around on the Internet, I found out it was an unreleased B-side from the original American Idiot album, and it was eventually used in the protest compilation "Rock Against Bush, Vol. 2". I won't get into the politics this song MAY convey, but it's a damn good song. A real hidden gem. I love the female backup vocals chanting "Oh no, it's a drag" during the chorus that are anything but. The song stops briefly before the third verse goes off with a very appropriate "Now where's your fucking champion?" and a series of "Doot doo doo"s from those ladies singing backup. Chants of "It's your favorite son" and a drum outro segue nicely into Are We the Waiting. The entire cast continues delivering goosebumps with the choruses of "Are we, we are/Are we, we are the waiting". Tre Cool finishes out this song with a very nice drum solo. The outros for these two songs are some of the best drum work on the entire album. Tre one of the best in the business these days BY FAR.

St. Jimmy has a very quick pace to it, full of all kinds of energy, bringing you back up from the last track. I didn't like this song at first, thinking it was too busy, too noisy, too all over the place, but after listening it to it a couple more times, it grew on me. I can listen to it without pressing the skip button on my media player, but it'll never be my favorite track of this album, unlike...

Give Me Novacaine. This is my favorite song from the original American Idiot album. You can keep all those other songs that got released as singles, but this one? It's all mine. It starts out with the same drum beat as the album cut, but then the drums stop and an acoustic guitar starts, with Michael Esper ("Will") singing a couple seconds later, then a stringed portion during the first chorus. It turns the goosebumps up to 11. It gets me EVERY time. Then after the second chorus, the drums come in hard and fast, the cast belts out a "Aaah, novacaine", and a small snippet from a stringed instrument, BOOM, right into the guitar solo. Turns the goosebumps up to 12!! After the final chorus, the tempo comes back down, but not for long.

Track 9 is a medley of Last of the American Girls from 21st Century Breakdown and She's a Rebel from American Idiot. The cast goes back and forth between the two songs, not just lyrically, but musically. Last of the American Girls is backed solely by a stringed section, with She's a Rebel with the full rock, like the original. This medley is greater than the sum of their parts. Each original was good, but the two together is unbelievable. Everyone involved in this arraignment is a genius.

This album turns somber again with the stringed intro for Last Night on Earth. Another haunting song with "St. Jimmy" (Tony Vincent), "Heather", and "Whatshername" (Rebecca Naomi Jones) on vocals. It's chilling. Finishing off the roller ride of down, up, down, and back up again from these last four songs on Disc 1 is Too Much Too Soon. Another Green Day B-side, this time from the American Idiot single. It's got that classic, "I don't give a fuck" Green Day attitude. You just want to sink your teeth into it. Strong guitar riff, constant drum beat, driving bass line. Real good modern punk rock sound. The big "FUCK YOU!!" drives that point home so well.

Disc 2 kicks off with the first half of Before the Lobotomy. The organ intro sets up the four-man round of cast members Stark Sands ("Tunny"), Chase Peacock, Joshua Henry, and Ben Thompson. Each one finishes their respective verses, then repeats their parts as the next man joins in. I can picture a dark stage, with a spotlight coming down on each one they enter. It gets a little busy at the end, but you can still make out most of the words. Very well done. Extraordinary Girl, sandwiched between the two parts of Before the Lobotomy, has a very Middle Eastern tone with the opening beats and backing vocals. The reprise of the former song lights the fire after these two very relaxed songs. Again, goosebumps start as soon as this track opens up and will stay with you the rest of the way.

When It's Time is a song from WAY back in the Green Day. According to Wikipedia, Billie Joe Armstrong wrote during the Kerplunk! days for his wife Adrienne. It's a very sad song, with "Johnny" alone on vocals and guitar. It really touches you. You won't feel down for long, as Know Your Enemy will pick you back up again. It moves you to get up and do something about all the crap you've experienced in you rlife. It ends abruptly after a couple of minutes, which is a little disappointing. The original version clocked in a little over three minutes. They certainly could have done more with it, especially when you crash right into...

...21 Guns. This is probably the best track on the whole album. Six of the seven main characters sing this together, but it's the women ("Whatshername", "Extraordinary Girl", and "Heather") who really knock it out of the park. Haunting, chilling, driving, all filling you up with more goosebumps. It's got all the emotions we've heard across the album rolled up into this song. It's easy to see why a version of it with Green Day and the entire cast all together (with Billie Joe Armstrong handling most of lead male vocals himself) was released as a single. It finishes up with a couple lines from Nobody Likes You, part 3 of Homecoming. "Heather" sings "Nobody likes you, everyone left you/They're all out without you, havin' fun". Those words will stick with you FOREVER. I just can't get them out of my head.

Letterbomb brings the bar back up again (it's just one roller coaster ride after another). "Whatshername" carries the torch on this one solo with her voice. I expect Rebecca Naomi Jones to have a long, successful career after all is said and done. She's definitely one of the stars on this album. She belts out, "It's not over 'til you're underground," and just have to nod my head in agreement. The great guitar work and drums also carry this song to that higher level. It comes down again with Wake Me Up When September Ends. Another one of the vast improvements over the original version by Green Day. Again, conveying great sadness, more appropriate to its original intent (a story about Billie Joe's father passing away while he was a teenager). It really makes you reflect on those low members in your life, when you just wanted the calendar to turn the page to something better.

Homecoming starts bringing the show to a close, but it's doing so at full speed. The energy rides high through all five parts of this song, closing out with the entire cast singing the same last lines as 21 Guns. Whatshername is the final track from the musical itself, with a sobering piano intro and "Johnny" reflecting back on everything that's happened throughout the story line. Those aspects and the stringed portion after the first verse make you think, "Geez, it's just never gonna be the same, and that sucks..." But all hope is not lost. In the final sequence of goosebumpery, the "Aaaaaah..."s and guitar solo carry you into the cast repeating the chorus of "Remember, whatever/It seems like forever ago", you get the hope back. Yes, things have changed, but you can't go back and "fix" them. You have to continue down the road you're on.

The album closes out with Green Day's own version of When It's Time. It reminds me a lot of Good Riddance (Time of Your Life), but this one has the weight of the full band behind it. It's also one of the rare exceptions on this album (and perhaps the ONLY one) where they did a better job than the musical cast did. The Green Day version just doesn't seem like the emotional drag that the musical version is, and I think that's why I prefer it.

Start to finish, you go up and down with Green Day and the cast. It's a journey full of all kinds of emotion. This album is so good, it makes me want to fly to New York so I could see this show on Broadway. And I HATE New York with every bone in my body. It's just that good. All musical theater should be like this. I'd love to see other bands try to pull this off. Maybe Weezer can resurrect Songs from the Black Hole (the follow-up to their debut album, but ended up becoming Pinkerton). Or The Donnas can go on tour to support their upcoming Meatballs musical.

Green Day is one of the greatest bands in the last twenty years. With work like this, I expect them to stay on top for another twenty years. Keep it up, guys.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Thanks for nothing

I really hate the words "Thank you." It just never feels like it's ever enough.

When I'm at work, busting my ass to fix a computer problem for a customer, they'll thank me for helping them out. But it feels empty to me. I know I'm just doing my job, and I'm being paid nicely for it, but I wish they'd do little more to show their appreciation. Maybe a little kickback or bribe. A small snack, an offer of an alcoholic beverage after hours, a few extra bucks out of their own pocket. If you really were thankful for helping you out, you'd SHOW me. Or tell my boss.

On the reverse side, "thank you" doesn't properly show my gratefulness for someone helping ME out. I could say it until I was blue in the face, and I'd still fall short. Doesn't matter who: family members, friends, customer service. I usually want to offer someone something in return. "Hey, I'll buy you beer". "You want me to come over and give you a hand with that?". Seriously, is there anything I can do to repay you? I'd like to give what I get; I don't want to feel like I owe anybody anything.

When I was in college, my roommate Paul talked about this book he read about the five languages of love. Words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. I speak those last four languages pretty well. I want to spend time with the people I care for. I love gifts, usually receiving, but I'll put a lot of thought into giving something from the heart. I always want to lend a hand or borrow someone else's. Then there's the handshakes, pats on the back, man-hugs.

That first language? I understand most of it, but when you say "thanks", you might as well be talking French or Japanese, Arabic or Portugese. I'll show my appreciation for that on my face for about two seconds, then turn away in disappointment with a blank stare (I don't actually stare blankly, but that's how I feel on the inside).

Need help showing your love for me? I'd take advice from Gary Cherone and Nuno Bettencourt on that one.
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