Book Review: NIGHT SHIFT

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stephen king - night shiftStephen King
Doubleday / Signet
1978

Night Shift was Stephen King’s first collection of short stories that was released in 1978, right after a little novel of his called The Shining was published in 1977. Compared to his later short fiction collections, Night Shift seems downright anemic in size, but still it stands as a good look at some early work from the author who would eventually become the icon in the horror/dark fantasy genre. At this point in his career, he maybe was getting there, but he was still getting warmed up a bit, maybe. And if it sounds like I’m gushing a bit much, keep in mind that I’ve been reading his stuff since I was but a tender 13 years-of-age, when I utilized Cujo as my 8th Grade Lit book report. I got an A-, because I went about 10 minutes over time talking about it. Anyway…

My history with this collection goes back to when I stumbled upon my mom’s stash of three books by King in the basement of my grandparents’ farm home, which consisted of the afore-mentioned Cujo, the Different Seasons collection, and this one here, all in their musty mass market paperback glory. Of the three, it was the cover of this one that really popped out for me: the image of multiple eyes staring at me from a hand that was either being bandaged up, or having the bandages taken off. Mind you, this was a reference to the story “I Am The Doorway” that was collected within these pages, but even if it had nothing whatsoever to do with any of the stories themselves, the atheistic awesomeness of that cover art alone was just the coolest I’ve seen, appealing to my budding appreciation of weird, surreal dark things. But, alas, at that young of an age, I didn’t develop the focus to read any of the stories straight through before getting distracted by something shiny (which translates in this instance to “females in my school”); thus, it wasn’t until years and years later, long after I lost that paperback copy with its unnervingly cool cover image, that I stumbled upon an original hardcover first print edition of Night Shift at a garage sale in Fremont, Nebraska of all places, being offered for a buck. A buck. The dust cover was a bit worn and slightly torn on the back bottom area, but…yeah, couldn’t pass that one up. And so, with my focus on reading a bit more tempered than it was as a teenager, I got around to reading these short stories that date back between 1968 and 1978:

“Jerusalem’s Lot”

A series of letters and journal entries tell the tale of an aristocrat and his manservant inheriting an old house outside of the town of Preacher’s Corners, and nearby the abandoned town of Jerusalem’s Lot, where some black arts-based weirdness doth ensue…

“Graveyard Shift”

A bunch of grunt laborers cleaning up the basements of an old textile mill, where they discover a nest of mutated rats in a sub-cellar…it doesn’t end well…

“Night Surf”

A bunch of teenage survivors of a manufactured virus plague that wipes out most of Earth’s human populous do what most teenagers do: Hang out on the beach and contemplate death…

“I Am The Doorway”

A retired astronaut realizes that he may have brought back a stowaway of sorts from his mission to Venus…

“The Mangler”

An industrial laundry press becomes possessed by a demon and has a serious blood lust. That’s really all you need to know, there…

“The Boogeyman”

A man explains to a psychiatrist how the deaths of his children was not from natural causes, but from the Boogeyman…

“Gray Matter”

An out-of-work single father drinks some rather cheep beer, and…well, let’s just say the moral of this story is “you are what you eat”…er, drink…

“Battleground”

A paid assassin is attacked by a bunch of G. I. Joe figures…this is how the movie Small Soldiers should have gone…

“Trucks”

The short story Stephen King based his movie Maximum Overdrive on, motorized vehicles have gained sentience somehow, and is enslaving humanity through terror and fossil fuel supplies…

“Sometimes They Come Back”

A grown English teacher finds himself tormented by the ghosts of a group of greaser thugs from his childhood, as they have some kind of beyond-the-grave vendetta against him, or something. This was made into a mediocre television movie back in 1991. And yes, I did watch it when it first aired…

“Strawberry Spring”

A man reminisces about a serial murderer coined “Springheel Jack” by the local media and a sereis of murders committed for a few days in March of 1968 on a college campus during a “false” spring known as a Strawberry Spring (get it?), as a new victim is found at the college eight years later tonight…

“The Ledge”

A tennis instructor is given an offer he cannot refuse by the mob boss husband of the woman he’s having an affair with…

“The Lawnmower Man”

Forget about the movie, as that has only the title of this short story in common; no, this one is a bit about a guy who gets a rather eccentric lawn mowing company to cut his yard…

“Quitters, Inc.”

A chronic smoker joins a self-help group that’s very, very serious about their success rate…

“I Know What You Need”

There’s “creepy stalker” level of infatuation, and then there’s this guy in this story…

“Children Of The Corn”

A couple on a road trip as a last-resort to fix their fracturing marriage finds themselves in a small Nebraska town filled with filled with uber-creepy small Nebraska town children with a creepy fanatical bent. Yep, this is the story all of those Children Of The Corn movies are based on…

“The Last Rung on the Ladder”

A man remembers back to his childhood, when he saved his sister from a bad fate, in the aftermath of something else…

“The Man Who Loved Flowers”

Love is in the air! And so is murderous insanity…

“One for the Road”

A couple of old locals try and help an out-of-towner try and save his family that was stuck in a car during a bad blizzard near the town of ‘Salem’s Lot before the inevitable happens…and it’s not frostbite…

“The Woman in the Room”

The mental struggles of a young man who watches his mother waste away in a hospital room day by day…

Overall, I found this collection rather interesting, little bite-sized bits of Stephen King that showcased a talent for short story writing early on in his storied career (pun unintentional). Anyone can write a long, detailed novel (which King has demonstrated almost ad nausium over the decades), but to be able to pack the same kind of literary punch within the confines of a limited amount of words is a different kind of talent for the genre. Love him or hate him, hail him as a genius or blow him off as a hack, you have to admit that Stephen King has a gift for storytelling. And Night Shift would be a good place to start checking out his shorter works of fiction, from the perspective of his salad days as a writer.

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Movie Review: INTERSTELLAR

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interstellarParamount Picture
2014
PG-13

“Everybody good? Plenty of slaves for my robot colony?”

In Earth’s future, a global crop blight and second Dust Bowl are slowly rendering the planet uninhabitable. Professor Brand, a brilliant NASA physicist, is working on plans to save mankind by transporting Earth’s population to a new home via a wormhole. But first, Brand must send former NASA pilot Cooper and a team of researchers through the wormhole and across the galaxy to find out which of three planets could be mankind’s new home.

After emerging from the recent directorial offering from Christopher Nolan, I had an early theory: Interstellar was a spiritual remake of the Disney movie The Black Hole. Then, after chewing it over further with the friends who accompanied this early Saturday afternoon viewing over a late lunch, I have since amended my initial theory to–Interstellar is the result of no one being able to decide to remake either 2001: A Space Odyssey or the afore-mentioned Black Hole. And while I realize that The Black Hole lifted plot points directly from 2001 (among other popular sci-fi movies of the era), I would so not like to incur that kind of headache right now, thankyouverymuch. At least, not on top of the one Interstellar gave me.

Let me clarify–this headache would be one of the good kind; the kind being what results from giving something good to mentally masticate on. Interstellar is a very well-written, well-directed, and overall well put-together science fiction movie that manages to fire on all cylinders throughout the entire run time of the film. There is the ending that makes me a bit twitchy even now, just remembering it, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

In the near future, a kind of worldwide famine caused by a blight wipes out the majority of crops that we can produce for food, resulting in a severe drop in the human population, universal dust storms, and a move back to farming as a way of life. Technology is modified to help focus on farming, but the crops keep succumbing to the blight, leaving only corn as a substantial crop, and even that is beginning to show signs of blight. Matthew McConaughey is a former astronaut-turned-farmer has to deal with his childrens’ school not teaching them proper science, but also with his younger daughter’s idea that there is a poltergeist trying to send messages in the dirt that builds up during the dust storms inside her room. Of course, he figures out there really were messages being sent from an intelligent being, which leads him to the secret operational base of NASA, which has been reduced to Radio Shack status due to the global anti-space travel mindset everyone else has. Apparently, a wormhole has opened up near Saturn, which leads to several other planets that could sustain life, and thus they send McConaughey along with a handful of other science-y people and a couple of robots to check things out. When they get to the other side of the universe, however, the planet they were sent to investigate first seems to be caught in the outer pull of a black hole, which really messes with the relative time dilation. And if you think jet lag was annoying, try having 20+some-odd-years pass in the span of only less than an hour. By this time, McConaughey’s son has taken over the farm and has gone somewhat insane, while his daughter is all grown up and working for NASA to figure out how to get the human race off of Earth and settled in better space digs before their complete extinction, all the while still being butt-hurt about him choosing to go off into space to try and help in the effort himself, to make a better future for his children. That selfish bastard. Meanwhile, they run across a crazy Matt Damon stranded on Hoth, McConaughey gets sucked into the black hole trying to save the remaining astronaut on the mission, and does his best to tell the laws of physics to piss off while pretending to be the ghost that communicates with his younger daughter by way of gravitational fluxes. Believe me, what I just wrote there doesn’t even come close to being as confusing as the actual part of the movie. Anyway, rather than transforming into a Star Child (which wouldn’t have surprised me if they went that route), McConaughey winds up in the future, where his daughter managed to figure out the science behind saving the humans (it involves space station colonies or something), and he even gets to visit her on her deathbed, where he totally squanders the chance to quip, “You know the best thing about Special Relativity is? You all get older, I stay the same age.” I don’t care how heartless that would have been, it was a wasted opportunity, people. Anyway, he then goes off to find the last remaining member of his ill-fated expedition, rather than stay on the replica of his old farm house from Earth days. The End.

It’s rare that I would venture out into the theaters to watch a science fiction movie nowadays; even more so when it’s in its initial first run. But, it was my birthday, and I was attending with friends, and it looked rather intrigueing, so I went. I was rather glad I did, as I found Interstellar to be a good, complex, compelling and utterly engaging science fiction picture that may have stumbled a couple of times, but for the most part made the nearly three hour run time seem like a paltry not-even-two-hours. The entire cast works well together; I’ve never really had much of an opinion on Matthew McConaughey, mainly due to not really having watched many of his films outside of his run in Dazed & Confused and the gloriously bad Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, and you can’t really count those two movies when you’re making an assessment of someone’s ability. Here, he’s perfect as the everyman trying to make the best out of some pretty crappy situations, along with a couple of child actors that I didn’t really find all that endearing. Whiny, maybe, but not endearing. Especially the daughter. “Ooooo, daddy is abandoning me to save us all from imminent extinction! I’m gonna hate him until well into my young adulthood!” Annoying brat. Anyway, all the regulars shine here: John Lithgow as McConaughey’s father-in-law, Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentley and David Gyasi as the other parts of the crew, Michael Caine as the head of NASA…and I think there was a Topher Grace in there as well. But the greatest part of the cast goes to the two androids, TARS and CASE. Especially CASE, for obvious reasons. Their designs were simple yet slick, and they have some of the best lines in the movie. The fact that they weren’t CGI’ed at all–they were puppets, all practical effects–made them even more awesome. Speaking of obvious segue…

The overall visual effects were gorgeous. The movie relied mainly on practical effects mainly, from the dust storm to the robots to even the all-ocean planet itself to that ending inside the black hole sequence, you could tell that some work went into making this come alive without spiraling into unintentional Uncanny Valley territory. The story, though, is what makes me think of Interstellar as one of the better movies I’ve seen in a while: it strikes that good balance between hard science fiction and slice-of-life drama that is the blend of most of my favorite sci-fi fiction in any media. Mind you, I was more than a bit dubious with the conflict resolution, especially what McConaughey experienced within the black hole, there–and no, I’m not going to delve into that one, as this review is already going much longer than I had intended…sufficed to say, they just tried to out-weird the ending to 2001: A Space Odyssey and, well, fell kinda short–but overall, I found Interstellar a much satisfying science fiction movie that I was glad I managed to watch on the big screen, rather than discovering it as a rental. Highly recommended.

The 101 Rules of Progressive Metal

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download1. Insist that your definition of prog metal is sacred and that the only progressive bands are the one you deem to be so.

2. Accuse anyone who disagrees with you regarding rule 1 of lacking musical intelligence and not being a true prog fan.

3. Have contempt for mainstream music.

4. Insist that most people listen not to the music, not to the lyrics but only the chorus and that is why prog metal is not mainstream.

5. Accuse anyone who disagrees with you regarding rule 4 of lacking musical intelligence and not being a true prog fan.

6. When showcasing a new prog metal band to a non-musician friend, put on the most technically difficult song, and skip directly to the solo part.

7. If your friend says that it is cool, tell him that he has grasped the grandeur of prog and shown that his intelligence is superior to that of the mainstream sheep.

8. If he doesn´t, accuse him of lacking musical intelligence and not being a true prog fan.

9. Renounce all contact with friend in rule 8. Racial purity isn´t all bad.

10. Make sure your drummer has a double bass pedal.

11. If he hasn´t, kick him out and get another one who has. Single pedal is NOT prog.

12. Own every side-project a member of Dream Theater has been involved in. Listen to approximately none of them regularly.

13. When a mainstream fool asks you what prog metal is, tell him something along the lines of “prog is the evolution of musical expression and experimentalism in rock.” In any case, make sure that the person in question is left with no idea of what prog metal is. He wouldn´t have understood anyway.

14. Insist that music should always progress, although as long as you write an album in the prog vein, you don’t necessarily have to.

15. Accuse anyone who disagrees with you regarding rule 14 of lacking musical intelligence and not being a true prog fan.

16. Refer to progressive metal as intelligent music for intelligent people, preferably at every occasion where a mainstream group or genre is mentioned.

17. Note that the above does not qualify as arrogance any more than pointing out that wine is drink for the more sophisticated.

18. A song under four minutes is NOT prog. If you are stuck with a song under four minutes, insert a phrygian solo trade-off between the guitarist and keyboardist as long as needed.

19. If a mainstream fool tells you that shredders are mindless wankers, tell him that “at least they can tune their guitars, har har”, and walk away defiantly.

20. Spocks Beard is NOT prog. If anyone disagrees, kill them.

21. Humming along with the melody to a prog metal song is forbidden. Burn all albums you own with hum-along melodies.

22. Loathe all music you used to like before you got into prog. This is not optional. When asked why, tell people that “I am into GOOD music now, why would I go back?”.

23. Accuse any prog metal musician that cuts his hair of selling out.

24. Often state that you don´t only listen to prog. Jazz is a good choice.

25. Yeah…like you have more than 3 jazz CDs in your collection…

26. Never accept ANY Berklee graduates. The drop-outs are so much better.

27. Riffs in 4/4 are not progressive. If you happen to come up with a cool riff in 4/4, alternate between 4/4 and progressive time signatures like 7/8 every other measure to ensure the musical complexity synonymous with prog metal.

28. Be able to mention 20 bands noone has heard of, not even true prog fans. Own no releases of these bands.

29. Get an Ibanez. This is not negotiable.

30. Spend 5 hours every day critiquing other musicians on forums.

31. Spend 5 minutes every other day actually practicing your instrument.

32. Yell at people who headbang at concerts: They`re not prog enough to get the music, what do they expect?

33. Sus4 is your friend. To ensure that your album is a true progressive release, include at least one part where the keyboard plays ascending sus4 chords over a single-note broken rhythm in 7/8.

34. Make sure your bandname is either a
a) Oxymoron
-Silent Noise
-Tender Harshness
-Healing Gun
Some geeky sounding name ripped from some obscure book.
-Deitronus
-Tarakoch
-Fentaran
or
c) Random combination of at least 2 three-syllable words.
-Eternal Twilight Tranquility (Can`t get much progger than that)
-Redolent Arithmetic
-Evolution of Vernacular Domesticated

35. Don`t worry about if your band name makes any sense or not. Since 90% of your fanbase is from Brazil and Japan, you can safely ignore conventional English grammar and instead focus on what´s really important: The lyrics (see rule 36).

36. Write deep and ambiguous lyrics.

37. If unable to write deep and ambigous lyrics, include at least one of the following phrases to ensure recognition as lyrical genius in prog circles:
“I`m staring towards ascension divine, caught in my own revelation, a nightly mystery of soulburning apparition”
“Mornings` gentle caress, a ray of sunlight enveloping the spirit of the sleeper ventriloquist”
“A timid, palatable genocide, turn towards the decline of mankind, the festering wound of ages past changes into the soul-spirit of vestigial sentences.”

38. Use a non-standard instrument like violin, saxophone or kazoo, regardless of how idiosyncratic it turns out to be. This constitutes being prog.

39. Make sure your bass-player has as many strings as possible. Don`t worry if he uses approximately three of the 11 strings on his custom Carvin 30 kg bass regularly, just give him a bass solo in the middle of your mandatory instrumental tune(more on that later)where he can really show the extent of his instruments capabilities. Imagine the range of scales on an instrument like that!

40. Release a live-album called “Live in Tokyo”.

41. Change time signatures. Constantly.

42. Accuse anyone who does not do so of lacking musical intelligence and not being a true progressive musician.

43. Your amp MUST be a Mesa Boogie. If a friend of yours tries to convince you´re wrong and you should check out his Marshall tell him that his tone is thin and buzzy.

44. State that Metallica can´t properly tweak the boogies. They´re so… unprog!

45. Start a Dream Theater cover band with friends just starting out playing instruments. Spend half of the rehearsal talking shit about punk bands and how people don`t understand your music.

46. Play a shitty version of a humongously difficult DT song at a Battle of the Bands-type contest. Metropolis Part 1 or Dance of Eternity are both good choices, as is Erotomania.

47. When your band ends up last, shift all blame over to the judges; hey, they have no idea what good music is! Why else would they let that boring pop band win?

48. Talking about starting playing an instrument; always start with the most technically difficult song you know. Remember, this is a testament to your immense talent, so be sure to mention this on every internet community you happen to frequent.

49. When are you able to play something at half speed very sloppy, proudly state that you “nail” the song in question.

50. People are bound to ask for a recording of the feat mentioned in rule 49. However, you are not able to provide it to them, because a) your recording equipment got dissolved by digestive acid yesterday, you don`t need to prove anything to people. Your word should be good enough c) you don`t know anything about computers (even though you sit by one most of the day), as you spend most of your day practicing your instrument.

51. Tool is NOT prog. If anyone insists they are, kill them.

52. Hate Falling into Infinity. If the feeling that you actually enjoy FII(even the “proggier” songs like TOT)sneaks up on you during a glitch of concentration, remind yourself that DT sold out.

53. Actually, state that DT sold out on every good occasion. This means every time their name is mentioned.

54. Don´t be John Arch. Insist that any pre-Alder Fates is 100% not prog.

55. Do not move on stage. Don`t under any circumstances forget that nobody at prog concerts pays attention to the audience, including the band.

56. The best songs are those that are over 15 minutes, have multiple named sections, and have solos by everyone in the band INCLUDING the drummer.

57. Accuse anyone who disagrees with you regarding rule 56 of lacking musical inteli…Yeah, you`ve got it now, haven`t you?

58. Never ever under any circumstances say “Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence ruled.”

59. Never let anyone tell you that Dave Weckl is better than any prog metal drummer. If they still insist, don`t kill them, but rather put on the Mike Portnoy drum solo from 1993`s “Live in Tokyo” vid, which still today is the benchmark for good drumming, REGARDLESS of genre.

60. It would still be a good idea to have that gun ready, though.

61. Drummers: Huge kits are MANDATORY!!!! If all you have is a 4-piece with 3 crappy cymbals, then you don´t belong on stage. A 5-piece single bass drum kit is the bare minimum and even that´s on the edges of bare bones. If you have a tiny kit BUY MORE DRUMS AND CYMBALS!!!!!!!

62. No, 6 toms are not enough, MORE DRUMS AND CYMBALS!!!!

63. Reform with old members and release an album intended to make up for years of bad reception from fans (see Yes) or claim your next album will be a return to past glory (see Queensryche). If it flops, be sure to blame a producer or record company.

64. When someone asks you why prog metal isn`t more popular if it is so darned good, tell them that it is because “it is over the mainstream peoples heads”.

65. Talent = Technical skill. Hail any band with lightning-speed solos for their immense talent.

66. Publicly state that your band is non-religious, then make many religious and/or spiritual allusions in the lyrics.

67. Stress your openmindedness. State that you like all forms of music, except lower forms of music like pop, rock `n roll, blues, techno, trance, rap.

68. Accuse fans of the aforementioned genres of not being openminded.

69. Get a Kurzweil. As the undisputed <<>>, Jordan Rudess plays it, you have no choice but to get one yourself, no matter what synthezisers you actually like. ALL BOW TO THE MIGHTY 88-KEY <<>> KURZWEIL!!!

70. ALL GLORY TO THE HYPNO-KURZWEIL!!!!(Futuruma fans will know what I`m talking about)

71. Show off with your equipment. Show off with your playing/singing. Show off with your *ahem* length. Show off with your girlfriend. Show off with anything you can think of. Show off with your DOG for god´s sake.

72. Get a dog.

73. Play air-drums or air-guitar at concerts. This will make sure that other prog fans recognize your immense talent.

74. Stuck in song-writing? Insert a part with a slow single-note gallop rhythm where the singer yells “ENTER THE SUUUNNNNNNNN” several times.

75. Note that you can substitute “ENTER THE SUUUNNNNNNNNN” for either of the following: “FATHER, MY ADOLESCENCY IS AGONNNNNYYYYYYY” or “THE APPARITION DIVIIIIIINNNNEEEE”. All three are suitable choices.

76. What do you mean, you haven`t trigged your bassdrum?

77. Remember, faster=more progressive. Slow songs cannot be progressive, best example would be Pink Floyd.

78. If anyone says PF are prog, kindly refer them to rule 1 while you prepare to do a “Varg”, so to say.

79. During recording, make sure that you accuse the producer, the recording engineer and half of your band of not playing the song properly at least once.

80. Make sure your album cover contains either a psychedelic computer-drawn image, a lavish painting with mythological figures, or is illustrated by Travis Smith.

81. Write epics.

82. In case you didn`t know, epics must be about adolescence, concerning a legend, or a deep dystopian tale where a cheesy fictional city/world/pizza shop serves as a metaphor for this world.

83. Have racks with loads of equipment.

84. Have racks without equipment. Who is going to see them if you don`t display them?

85. No intro for your song? Insert a single-note broken rhythm accented on the snare, with shifting keyboard chords underneath.

86. Refuse to lend prog CDs to mainstream friends. When asked why, tell him/her that (s)he “will understand when (s)he matures”

87. When playing ANY gig, from the lowliest bar to the most gargantuan arena, be sure that no member of the audience will leave without having heard every lick you are able to play.

88. Have at least 5 solo spots during a concert.

89. In case you have forgotten while reading this, prog metal is intelligent music for intelligent people.

90. No, Marillion is not prog. I kindly refer you to rule 20.

91. BOOOM!!!

92. Buy new albums from past prog-greats.

93. When they turn out to be crap and nothing like the old albums, hit yourself in the head with a hammer until you like them.

94. Hold that there is no bad prog, only DIFFERENT.

95. Of course, that only applies to bands you like. See Rule 1.

96. In case you wondered, Dream Theater is and will always be the benchmark for prog metal. The more something sounds like Images and Words, the more progressive it is.

97. Proclaim Rule 96 to people with a straight face in all seriousness. This is not optional.

98. Have side-projects. Make sure that all side-projects consist of pointless jamming over endless repetitions of clichéd riffs.

99. Make sure that at least one of your side-projects feature Mike Portnoy on drums.

100. If you cannot get Mike Portnoy, get someone who sounds like him.

101. You mean you have been reading this when you could have been practicing along to Metropolis Part II or composing a sidelong epic? For shame!!!!

Slacker Radio & Old Man Problems…

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downloadThe way Slacker Radio chooses songs for their “stations” make no bloody sense whatsoever. I wanted a good industrial mix, so I typed “Nine Inch Nails” in the search engine, and it brought up “Head Like A Hole” off of Pretty Hate Machine. Good start. So I settle back, take in the song on my headphones, curious as to what was going to come up next. Instead of an industrial-flavored mix, the next song was a Deftones song. A Deftones song. So I utilize my skip option. The next artist is – Soundgarden. Feh. Okay, I figure they were going for the “alternative” angle. So I type in “Ministry”. They bring up and play “Halloween Everyday”. Interesting choice, but okay. I can dig it. Song ends, and the next band is…Pantera? A-whaaaa? How is Pantera even a logical choice to follow early 80s electronic mope rock? I just…there is no rhyme or reason to the whole thing.

Never had that problem with Last FM. Only, to play the stations on my mobile device, I need to pay for the premium service or something. Jerks. When I need my fix I need my fix. At least their comedy and METAL stations are decent.

::END TRANSMISSION::

Metal Memories: SLIPPERY WHEN WET (Bon Jovi)

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Bon_jovi_slippery_when_wet

Years ago, when I was still enslaved to the will of Jimmy John and his sammich chain, the song “Wanted Dead Or Alive” was playing overhead, and while I was readying yet another delivery to go, my boss strides out of the kitchen, reading his smart phone, and asks us one of his typical pop culture quiz questions: “Who plays this song?”

I immediately respond with, “Bon Jovi. From their album Slippery When Wet. Released in 1986, on the Mercury label.” Maybe a bit more information than he was actually looking for, but I drove home my point. That being that I am the resident Metal Demigod, and none shall defeat my superior knowledge of all things hard rock and metal. It helps that Slippery When Wet was one part of the overall soundtrack that helped define my Junior High life back in the day.

Ah, Slippery When Wet. This was the album that broke the New Jersey rock band into superstardom. The first two albums – the self-titled debut from 1984, and 1985’s 7800 [degrees] Fahrenheit – were lackluster releases, as far as having massive pop radio appeal, and everything was apparently hinging on the success of the third album, which originally was going to use the working title of Wanted Dead Or Alive after one of the songs included on the album.

Essentially, what happened was, the band brought in professional songwriter Desmond Child to collaborate on the songs, and wrote a grand total of 30 songs. These they decided to demo to the local teenagers in New Jersey and New York to find out what songs didn’t suck.

The original artwork...rather glad they decided against it...

The original artwork…rather glad they decided against it…

That must have worked wonders, getting the outside opinions of the demographic they were shooting for, because when Slippery When Wet was finally released in August of 1986, that thing blew up. The first song, “You Give Love A Bad Name” was everywhere. It was hard rock awesomeness, with slick production, heavy guitars and a hook that you’d need a pair of pliers to remove from your brain. I remember remaining glued to the radio, hoping that song would come on rotation again, just so I could lip sync along to it. The next single, “Livin’ On A Prayer”, was even bigger, having a bit darker edge to it, but still catchy as all get-out. By the time the last two singles – “Wanted Dead Or Alive” and the Junior High dance staple “Never Say Goodbye” – were released, they were firmly embedded in the minds and tape players of my fellow classmates, pretty much almost everyone I knew owning a copy of Slippery When Wet. Of course, it was a while before I was able to own a copy of my own, but that didn’t stop me from taping off the songs from the radio to listen and re-listen to over and over and over.

Outside of the hits, I would argue that Slippery When Wet ranks as one of the best hard rock albums released in the 1980s. At least the Top 10. Sure, there’s the issue of the keyboard player, but let’s face it: the keyboards just enhance the music, and doesn’t overpower it at all. The first song starts off with a keyboard riff, yes, but builds up to a guitar-driven hard rock anthem appropriately titled “Let It Rock”. The next two tracks are the hits “You Give Love A Bad Name” and “Livin’ On A Prayer”, two songs that still hold up to this day, but after listening to them a bazillian times on both their initial run, and later on AOR radio stations, I probably would be able to not care if I never heard them played again. The following song, “Social Disease”, is a catchy if risque rock tune that…um, starts off interesting. Yeah. Anyway, the final song on the first side (if you remember records and tapes) was the immensely popular ode to travel burnout, “Wanted Dead Or Alive”, which I have to admit, proved to me that the acoustic guitar can actually be used for rock beyond just stupid balladeering.

The second side starts off with “Raise Your Hands”, which has a guitar riff that one can argue is close to the speed metal riffs that I had yet to discover (give it a couple of years from that point). “Without Love” is the typical mournful sounding power ballad. Eh. “I’d Die For You” has a rather heavy hooked guitar and keyboard duo that recalls a lot of the style from the mid-80s. The final single hit, “Never Say Goodbye”, is usually skipped (sorry, no need for sentimentality at this stage in life), and the final song – “Wild In The Streets” – brings things to an end, a fitting “roll credits” type end song to an overall solid release.

Yeah, I know I sound like I’m just reviewing this thing, but that’s pretty much my thoughts on the album even way back then. It’s something I can still pop on and rock out to. Back then, I had to be pretty handy with the fast forward button; nowadays I can just program the player to play the songs I like. And yes, for continuity sake, I have all the songs in the MP3 copy I have, along with the artwork and such. And while my memories of Junior High isn’t exactly filled with happy days and sunshine, Slippery When Wet certainly does bring back pleasant memories of the time.

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Jimmy John’s Is Offensive…to one guy…enjoy your sammich…

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Jimmy John's Is Offensive...to one guy...enjoy your sammich...Keeping up with my brain droppings is a day-to-day shifting thing. Most of the time, I spend a lot of thought, mulling over what to say, and how to say it. Mostly jotting stuff down in a spiral notebook I always have with me. Think of a topic, let my mind run roughshod for a while, try to sweep things into a manageable pile for the posting. This process could take hours, days, sometimes weeks to squeeze into a manageable brain dropping. And sometimes – it’s rare, but it happens – something drops into my proverbial lap out of nowhere, begging to be given the ol’ blog treatment. Something that, when it happens, it causes me to raise my arms and shout, “I am SO BLOGGING THIS!”

This is one of those blog posts.

See, for those of you not in the know, I used to work at a Jimmy John’s in the town of Fremont in Eastern Nebraska. Jimmy John’s, as you may or may not know, has some of the more quirky commercials out there. It’s important that you know that, trust me. Today at work, we received a call from a guy who wished to speak to the manager. So I handed the phone to our illustrious GM, and over the course of the call the looks on his face were rather…interesting. To say the very least. After he hung up, he burst into giggles, then repeated what he went through.

Seems this particular gentleman was sitting at home, watching his television, minding his own business and having a jolly good time, when on came a Jimmy John’s commercial that he described as “All in Chinese and not translated to English”, and because of this, he was offended. To the point of no longer patronizing Jimmy John’s. Ever. Again. No, seriously, he meant it. Oh, and he also wanted my boss to pass this grievance on to the Corporate Offices.

Now, since I don’t have network television (I was one of the few who never got into the whole Digital Converter Box thing when analog TV went bye-bye last year, nor do I have cable / satellite, and probably never will), I rarely get to see any of the commercials that air for the Sandwich Juggernaut that I proudly toil for. However, I am willing to bet that, instead of Chinese, the gentleman probably meant Japanese. Mainly because, when you’re going for quirky advertising, you don’t get much more quirky than Japan. And as such, he was probably subjected to THIS COMMERCIAL HERE, as a cursory search on YouTube provided.

Truthfully, the only way I can see anyone being offended by this commercial is at the end, where the JJ logo uses “Engrish”. But, no, the offensiveness of the commercial, according to the guy calling the store, was because it wasn’t translated into English. Or, I’m just speculating here, used subtitles. Possibly to understand what they were saying. Because, as he also pointed out to our store’s long-suffering GM, we translate stuff for the illegal immigrants, but not for us proper English talkers. I’m just guessing that’s how he worded it, there. Blogger Exaggeration License.

A more politically minded individual would probably expound on this, either in a Conservative or Liberal standpoint. Heck, I’m pretty sure in some places in the great Blogosphere that we dwell in, this particular individual in my neck of the woods would probably be lauded as a hero of American values taking a stand for what’s right. Or, on the other side of the coin, a perfect example of how shallow and intellectually vapid these hateful Midwest dwellers are. Or something. Eh, I’m not political. I use satire and sarcasm on everything I think is absurd, political, religious, sociological, and all points in-between. And that includes this little incident that happened at my Jimmy John’s store. There’s nothing deep, nothing allegorical, nothing profound, really, about this particular Brain Dropping here. Just wanted to share, is all.

So, I thank you, sir, for bringing a smile to my and my coworkers’ face. And friends, if you really want to feel better about your own lives, co’mon down to Fremont, Nebraska some time for a brief visit, and experience the uniqueness that is Fremont, Nebraska. And before you leave, stop by Jimmy John’s, and say “hi” to the poor saps that still work there…

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Nevermind The 20 Year Anniversary

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Nevermind The 20 Year Anniversary

Back in August of 2012, I bought a copy of the Omaha World-Herald, the local daily newspaper here where your Uncle NecRo dwells. I normally don’t buy the Omaha World-Herald. Like a lot of wired heads like myself, I get much of my news from the World Wide Inter-webs, along with my much needed comics fix. But, while getting my morning allotment of caffeine at the gas station that morning, the upper left-hand corner of this long-time printed rag had a picture of Kurt Cobain, deceased singer / guitarist of Nirvana (in case you’ve forgotten), with the sub-headline “The Band That Rocked The Music World” advertising the story for the Living Section.

“Great,” I immediately thought. “More media wankering over this over-rated band.” Bad enough I had to associate with coworkers – most of whom weren’t even born when Nevermind was released back in 1991 – practically worshiping at the worm-eaten feet of this dead rock star, throwing hissy fits when even the most trivial of critical disparagement are made of the band, to say nothing of Kurt Cobain himself.

So I bought the paper, to read the articles. Blame my addiction to pop culture trivia. This time it only cost me 75 cents. And it came with comics.

This particular article – titled The Band That Changed The Course Of Modern Music, in all caps, which had the effect of making it hard to keep my just-consumed waffles settled – dealt with the 20 year anniversary of the release of Nevermind, the album that broke the band from relative obscurity to pop stardom. As expected, the pieces gushed about how awe-inspiring the album was, the genius of the band, and how its release basically changed music forever. The article did, however, stop short of saying how Nevermind ushered in a Utopian peace, bringing together everyone in the world and doing away with war, famine and the Republican party [citation needed].

It sounds like I have nothing but contempt for Nirvana and that album. I don’t. Matter of fact, I consider it a good rock album, with decent songs – mostly I gravitate to the non-single cuts. What I don’t understand is how this is lauded as the big “savior of rock” album, more so than, say, Jane’s Addiction. Jane’s Addiction took what Nirvana did, and did it better years before Nevermind was recorded.

The first to break the so-called Seattle music scene? Hardly. Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains all had major label debuts long before Nirvana. Sure, the successful sales of Nevermind helped boost the awareness of the others, but it may have had more to do with marketability than artistic exposure.

Ushered in the “alternative rock revolution”? Again, no. Since the dawn of rock music, there’s always been bands and artists that have shirked the accepted norm and produced music that was off the beaten path. Every generation has that alternative band that has had at least a modicum of mainstream exposure. For me, in the 1980s, one of those was R. E. M.’s Green album.

No, the only thing I can think of to explain the massive popularity of Nirvana and their big breakthrough with Nevermind is that, what it boils down to is that it was there at the right place at the right time. 1991 was definitely a year of paradigm shifts, at least in the music landscape. The whole hair rock and slick pop of that time was played out, and along comes this scruffy band of misfits with a different take on rock n’ roll. Nevermind was, as a friend of mine pointed out after reading the rough draft of this little blog post of mine, a zeitgeist. A general shift in music sensibilities. Something different from the tired norm.

So, happy anniversary, Nevermind. I’m probably not going to buy the box set re-release, but I do have the album on MP3 ripped from my now-missing copy. So, maybe I’ll listen to that once or twice. Otherwise, to all of you out there who consider Nevermind on-par with, say, Rubber Soul by The Beatles, well…enjoy it immensely…

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