Bands; or Shit I Do to Pass Time

Yes, I have resorted to doing this kind of shit to pass the time. Anyway, these are some bands or artists that are often compared for whatever reasons and some of my thoughts on the matter.

The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?

Without a doubt, The Rolling Stones. The Stones seem to be tied to reality a bit more than The Beatles. Something that I find very attractive. Case and point, lyrics like “let’s spend the night together” obliterate dreck like “I wanna hold your hand.” It was dorky then, and it’s dorky now. The Stones went to places the Beatles would never go. Metaphors are great and all, but The Beatles always seemed to hide behind them. The Stones would just bluntly tell you what they were thinking. For this reason, their songs are just stronger, more interesting, and are more applicable to situations, moods, and mindsets I find myself in constantly. Would you rather listen to something exploring the concept good and evil in society, the very idea of having sympathy for the devil, or a song about holdin’ hands, meter maids, and shit? I want something with teeth.

Pearl Jam or Nirvana?

The teenage me would say Nirvana, but the forty-year-old me says Pearl Jam (it’s not even close). When I look back at interviews with Nirvana, they annoy me. They spend a lot of their interviews purposely being dicks (and not even funny ones – that is what makes it unforgivable). I remember one interview where they were as annoying and unfunny as Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, and Chris Farley combined; this takes some effort. I’m sorry. I meant as pleasant and hilarious as Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, and Chris Farley combined. Both bands had members that were around the same age, but the differences in maturity levels were off the chart. Other than Mike McCready, I don’t think Pearl Jam had any other members with addiction issues. Even then, McCready was never fucking annoying during interviews or public appearances. Over the years, I have been around a lot of drug addicts. Yes, I understand they need help, but goddamn, they are terrible company (and will rob you blind every chance they get). I always felt like telling them that I don’t think you’ll ever meet someone with a more negative view of life than myself, and I don’t have a drug problem — so, just shut the fuck up. To be honest, I haven’t seriously listened to a Nirvana album since Cobain’s suicide. I still like a lot of their catalog (at least, I think I do), but I never actively seek their music out. Pearl Jam, on the other hand, is listened to quite frequently. I find the band’s lack of irony a much-needed thing. In short, concerning the case of Nirvana versus Pearl Jam, sincerity with raw emotion trumps absurdity with raw emotion.

U2 or R.E.M.?

This one is tough. For a certain type of Boomer or Gen Xer, these were the two important bands. I am cut from this aforementioned slab of Gen X meat. I just saw U2 last month. While their albums haven’t been great (or even good) lately — with the exception of the wonderful song “Moment of Surrender” — they still deliver live; in this setting, they are hungry — very hungry. Visually, it was the most impressive media-related thing I’ve ever seen. While Achtung Baby is still my favorite album of all time, I’m going to have to go with R.E.M in this pair up. The fact they wrote a song about the mugging of Dan Rather by time travelers (based on a true story) and turned it into a song about the communication gap among generations is an impressive feat. They were good at writing songs about subjects that are not normally written about in pop music. That’s always been my favorite thing about them. Also, they knew when to hang it up (even though that should have been sooner than it was). That being said, it’s close to a tie for me, and the outcome would be different depending on my mood on any given day.

Weezer or Pavement?

These bands have not aged well, but I grew to hate Weezer. I really did. I see them as the soundtrack for people that watch The Big Bang Theory and genuinely laugh at it. Yes, they exist. I’ve met them. They smell like soured milk and buttholes, and they wear giant-ass glasses (just like “Weezer” himself) and have tattoos of stupid shit that make people who had tattoos before people who shop at J. Crew had tattoos feel much worse than the realization that people who shop at J. Crew have tattoos. My dislike for Weezer does have something to do with fashion. Before Weezer, if you were into a certain genre of music, you wore your hair long, modified your clothing, and really stood out among the mainstreamers, making the more fragile, sensitive ones a little uncomfortable. Post-Weezer, it was giant-ass glasses, a sweater, and short hair (short hair in the ‘90s! — not cool, man), making you look like a harmless nothing and chubby, religious girl on the honor roll magnet. It was so safe. I also hate Weezer’s faux meekness. I hate songs about males being uncomfortable around women. Jesus fuckin’ Christ, this is a tired trope. Someone kill it. Like R.E.M., Pavement could write songs about subjects not normally explored in pop music. My problem with them is, the irony is so thick … so very, very thick. Also of note, Stephen Malkmus learned how to play the guitar throughout Pavement’s run. He became quite good, too.

Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen?

No snark here. I really can’t decide. It’s a question for the ages. It’s beyond my understanding.

Bruce Springsteen or John Mellencamp?

While Mellencamp wrote one of my favorite lines: “Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone,” I’ll have to go with Springsteen. He has been much more consistent. I don’t think this one is even subjective. You could probably prove this scientifically. What I do miss is, during the ‘80s how every single these guys released was used in some clueless Republican’s political ad. That was some funny shit.

Van Halen (Roth) or Van Halen (Hagar)?

I don’t like Van Halen — not my thing, but I do kind of like “Jamie’s Crying.” Therefore, it goes to the David Lee Roth version of Van Halen.

Poison or Motley Crue?

This is like asking me if I would I rather have lung cancer or brain cancer.

Joy Division or New Order?

The voice of Ian Curtis bothers me more than most things. Seriously, it’s one of the most horrible things I’ve ever heard. Moreover, I find Joy Division songs meandering, dull, and lifeless. Perhaps that’s the point, but man, it doesn’t gel with me. Also, the fact that Ian Curtis got married at nineteen and had a child very young is lame as shit. Hear me out. If you’re a regular-ass person that gets married as a teenager and then cranks out some kids before you’re off of your parent’s health insurance, you’re not cool, like, at all. Just because you’re a rock star doesn’t negate this; it makes it worse. Anyway, Curtis had to die, so New Order could live. In my opinion, no one has made better music to dance to than New Order. The clear choice, New Order.

Metallica or Megadeth?

Not really my genre, but I did experiment. Overall, I think Metallica is rather weak in the ol’ lyric department, and Megadeth really shines in comparison. Dave Mustaine actually writes songs about things that don’t involve the sandman, gripping your pillow tight, and going off to never-never land. Even though he has turned into an Alex Jones-style conspiracy theorist (I’ll blame the years of alcoholism), he’s kind of like the Dylan of metal. However, I can’t really do the metal stuff. It ain’t me, babe.

Rage Against the Machine or Audioslave?

Years ago, while waiting in line at a grocery store, a guy in an Audioslave shirt started a conversation with me out of the blue. I was quite young at the time, but he was even younger and started talking about his kids, again, never a good sign. I really wanted the conversation to be over as quickly as possible, and luckily, I forgot something and had to step out of line. (I lied. I didn’t forget anything.) I’m a lefty, so it’s Rage Against the Machine for me. Audioslave just doesn’t sound like anything I would ever listen to. It’s like Rage Against the Machine without the politics, which is the only reason I can tolerate Rage Against the Machine. It’s not a musical style I’m naturally drawn to.

Porno for Pyros or Jane’s Addiction?

Perry Farrell and Dave Navarro have turned into caricatures of themselves. I don’t think either band has really stood the test of time. They have their moments, but Jane’s Addiction had better output. The only way these albums work for me now is, I really have to pretend I’m back in high school while I’m listening to them. Overall, I don’t think their lyrics really probe deep enough. It’s almost there, but not quite. Also, something just feels wrong when I really think about it. I can’t tell if it’s the music or the fact that those responsible ended up on reality shows. I think it is the latter. They tainted themselves. Also, the inclusion of Perry’s wife in everything they do now is lame. Stop! Get it?

(Update: Since writing this, I listened to Nothing’s Shocking. It was working for me, and I wasn’t even pretending to be young. I really like the album’s art and title. Nothing is shocking to me, so there’s that.)

Radiohead or Pink Floyd?

I assume this is generational. It’s Radiohead for me, but as much as I listened to them back in the day, I rarely seek them out now. I find a lot of their newer work to be tedious and boring, but I find all of Pink Floyd’s work tedious and boring. However, for both bands to make music that I find tedious and boring — yet kind of enjoy — takes some kind of space rock magic.

Michael Jackson or Prince?

Prince was far stranger than Michael Jackson. So, he gets the edge just for that. Yeah, I’m just more of a Prince person. Other than a handful of songs, I never got into Michael Jackson. Overall, I thought his lyrics were pretty sappy. He had nice melodies, arrangements, and production, however. To be fair, Prince really wasn’t all that consistent either, but when he was on, he was really on. I have a theory that back in the ‘80s you either grew up in a Prince household or a Michael Jackson one. If you were neither, you probably grew up in a joyless, religious fundamentalist household and missed out on culture in general, making you a really fucked up teenager and an even more fucked up adult (okay, perhaps Porno for Pyros is better …). I definitely grew up in a Prince household. I wonder if this holds any kind of significance in how I turned out.

Sonic Youth or My Bloody Valentine?

The tastemakers of the era pushed me toward this movement and these bands. While I was influenced by certain publications and people, I was enough of my own person to not go along with everything they would recommend. The swing music revival got a great big “no” from me (this crowd was far worse than the Weezer scene). However, the no wave, shoegaze shit worked. I dug it, but I can’t listen to more than three songs in a row from any of these bands. It seems to be too emotionally draining or something. I also tend to skip any song Kim Gordon has lead vocals on. Her voice is terrible (still not as bad as Ian Curtis). It’s close, but I’m going with My Bloody Valentine only because I was hit in the face by a drumstick at a Sonic Youth show; it knocked me to the ground and caused nose bleeds and headaches for hours after the incident. I’ve never forgiven the band for this. It was purposely — but randomly — thrown into the audience. Stupid. Don’t throw things into crowds at an incredible amount of speed, assholes. Surprisingly, I can still listen to this stuff from time to time.

Roxy Music (with Eno) or Roxy Music (without Eno)?

Everything is better with Eno, even Bowie.

Alice Cooper or Marilyn Manson?

Alice Cooper has actually made a couple of very solid albums, and Marilyn Manson has made … things. I do like how out of shape and fat Marilyn Manson has gotten. Nothing is sadder than aging goths, pseudo-goths, or whatever the fuck he is. I witnessed this first-hand at a club in Cleveland last week. Seriously, it was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen, and I’ve watched relatives die.

KISS or a pile of shit?

Aren’t they the same thing? If not, I’ll definitely take the pile of shit.

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Instruments of destruction/ Tools of foul play/ It’s a vile interruption/ Existence drifts away; or “Oh shit, what are we gonna do now!?”

On August 10, 1986, I saw Transformers: The Movie. It immediately had an impact, but over the years, judging from its position in pop culture, I think it was a more profound experience than what I remember. Here is my brief recollection.

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During the last week of July and the first week of August of 1986, I found myself in Florida. It was a family vacation. I was nine. I was really into certain cartoons, television shows, movies, video games, etc. Now, of course, at this age, most kids are probably into this kind of stuff, but when I say I was really into things, I was REALLY into things. If I’m into something, it’s never casual. I really try to know as much as I can about whatever it may be. This has been by M.O. ever since I can remember. Anyway, enough of this shit.

The trip took us from the Atlantic coast (to some goddamn real estate pyramid scheme thing — more on this later) to Orlando (gee, I wonder why) and, finally, to the Gulf coast. Overall, the trip was memorable. My family is pretty fucked up, but in a good way. I hear so many people say this about their families. Then, after meeting these proclaimed crazy-ass, eccentric families, I’m completely disappointed; they always come across as fairly bland and not funny in the least, much like a family that would be in one of those goddamn fake documentary sitcoms. Lame. People tend to think they are more odd, strange, and fucked up than they really are. It kind of pisses me off. Okay, once again, enough of this shit. Let’s get back on track.

We got two free nights in a hotel if my parents attended some conference about buying real estate and investing in some company. My mom and dad’s combined income was probably around $30,000 per year. They didn’t play the goddamned stock market, and they sure as hell didn’t have enough to buy a fuckin’ condo. It was a total scam anyway. My parents went to the meeting, and we got the two nights in the hotel. They weren’t falling for this shit. The Atlantic side, in my opinion, sucked. I wasn’t feeling it, and moreover,  my mind was definitely on other things to come.

The next stop was Orlando. We did the Disney World thing. I remember it as being kind of fun, but I thought the amusement parks we had back in Ohio — Cedar Point and King’s Island — were superior (way better rides). Disney World had far too many cheesy performances from various high school kids across the county. Other than the parents of those involved, no one gave a shit about any of this, and there was way too much of it. I did leave the park with a Randotti skull, so that was something. However, once again, I was preoccupied and was not fully enjoying the moment (fuck, who am I kidding — preoccupied or not, I’ve never been able to be in the moment).

The Gulf side was far better than the Atlantic. The water seemed cleaner. It was less crowded, more relaxed/laid back, and, at least, during the mid ‘80s, seemingly more working class. As a family, it was a better fit for us. We somehow got a good deal renting this hotel room that was much larger than my current apartment. A private beach was just yards away. Long walks admiring aquatic wildlife were taken, elaborate sand structures were built, blue crabs were caught, stingrays were almost stepped on, and my dad’s swimming trunks split in half and flew off into the abyss while on one those high-speed waterslides, leaving him entirely nude at some waterpark near Tampa. I enjoyed this part of the trip more than the other two, but I still couldn’t wait to get back home. Why?

Yes, that’s right. On August 8th, Transformers: The Movie was going to be released. For some reason, I was worried I was not going to be able to see it if we didn’t make it back home by that date (like they didn’t have movie theaters in Florida). I don’t understand why I thought this, but I did. My theory is, up until that point, the only movie theater I ever been to was the Wheelersburg Cinema, so for some sort of psychological comfort or something, I needed to see it there. I kept on reminding both parents that we needed to get back home. They told me not to worry. We were going to be leaving and would be back home on the 9th. In my head, I was all “fuck you, that’s not opening night” but outwardly I was all “then, we are seeing it Sunday, right?” I was assured that Sunday would be the day. I was far more excited to see this film than going to Disney World.

The trip back home was met with all kinds of complications. I-75 near Atlanta was congested and took about two hours to get through. My brother had to piss, but there were no exits for miles; he pissed into a large empty Wendy’s cup, overfilling it and causing a mess. We stayed at a motel in Cleveland, TN that had bloodstains on the sheets, and I think a human turd was found under the bed. The next day there was a three-hour delay just miles into Kentucky from Tennessee. Once returning to Ohio, I went directly to bed. Tomorrow needed to come as soon as possible.

The next morning, my parents, my brother, the neighbor kid, and myself were off to see a matinee. We weren’t a religious family, so Sundays were almost always reserved for going to the theater. Sunday mornings also seemed to be the only time my parents had the same time off of work. Anyway, I can’t recall if this was the one o’clock or three o’clock showing. I’m fairly certain it was the one o’clock screening. Why is this important? It isn’t. Not at all. Fuck it.

My brother and the neighbor kid were not into The Transformers as much as I was. They were casuals and — for the lack of a better term — normal about this kind of shit. Both of them didn’t seem to get into anything with the same fervor that I did. (Looking back, I don’t think they gave a fuck about seeing it at all.) We got our tickets. My parents went to see Top Gun, which had been playing at this theater since May. I swear that Top Gun’s run at the Wheelersburg Cinema may have been a record holder. Our screens were on the opposite sides of the theater; we parted ways.

For the next hour and a half, my mind was blown. I wasn’t quite prepared for what I just saw. It fucked me up good and proper. Death was suddenly in the forefront of my mind. It wasn’t like I never thought about before, but this forced me to think about it. Before I go there, however, I’m going to discuss some other things (it will be brief — I just don’t have the time to write these things like I used to).

The movie took chances that I don’t ever think will happen again for an IP aimed at children. Let’s start with the music; none of it was recognizable. They didn’t use any of the orchestral pieces heard in the television show. Instead, we got a bunch metal songs, two Stan Bush songs, a “Weird Al” song, and a great prog rock score from Vince DiCola. Not what I was expecting. Other than the metal version of the theme song, there wasn’t a single note that was familiar. Pretty bold.

Another thing I noticed was the quality of animation was definitely a step above the show. There were some scenes that really stood out. For example, the opening scene where Unicorn devours the planet. That looked good. Really good. However, it seemed like they were running out of money and time toward the end of the film. Some of that looked bad. Really bad. That said, I’ve always thought the G1 designs were the best. I still do.  Also, I miss hand-drawn animation so fuckin’ bad.

The voice performances were also a step above the series, particularly on the Decepticon side. Frank Welker plays Megatron as a genuine threat, a force to be reckoned with. Chris Latta gives us the definitive Starscream. Leonard Nimoy was also very good as Galvatron. These performances were definitely aided by some good writing.  I felt that was the film’s secret weapon.

The screenplay was scary good, and I’ll argue this with anyone. Ron Friedman — I believe he currently teaches screenwriting somewhere in California — wrote the script. It’s so tight. Seriously, there’s no filler. It keeps moving at a satisfying pace, hitting all of the story beats with accurate precision. If you want to learn the three-act structure of screenwriting, I think this is one of the best examples (the other being Robocop).

The movie is so bleak for a children’s film. They could have easily kept the old characters alive and simply shifted focus to the new ones, but no, they killed them off — almost all of them. The first death that really hurt was when I saw Wheeljack’s dead body for a second of two. Here was a major character that didn’t even get a death scene. He was just dead. Pretty ballsy. Again, to have death and grieving as a main theme of a children’s film in such an unapologetic way was just crazy.

The Prime/Megatron fight was handled very well. The scene really felt urgent and tense; there was a lot at stake. Having Megatron essentially win the fight by cheating was such a nice touch. It was true to the character. Also, seeing the Deceptions regroup after the fight was also great. Never unified, various loyalties begin to reach their tipping points. When Megatron begs Soundwave not to leave him, that was gold. The subsequent scene as Soundwave carries Megatron’s severely wounded body with Rumble close behind, struggling to carry Megatron’s fusion cannon was quite touching and an animation cel that I would love to own.

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The television spots foreshadowed Prime’s death, but I just thought it was marketing. There’s no way they would kill off Prime. Boy, was I fucking wrong? There has been a lot of good articles written about this, so I’m not going to go into it much. Instead of analyzing the scene, I’m going to be blunt and to the point: it fucked me up.  I was not alone.  Optimus Prime was a father figure for millions of kids (and no, this is not an exaggeration — just perform a Google search on the topic). Ultimately, though, the death of Optimus Prime had some positive effects. It put me in touch with the darker side of existence and helped me prepare and cope with every form of death.

About year and half later, in December of ’87, at age ten, I had a complete breakdown — a little young for such a thing. I can’t say for certain, but I think Transformers: The Movie may have had something to do with it. If it did, I’m all the better for it. It prepared me for the hard realities of things yet to come and shaped my taste in art and pop culture.  For example, in ’88, I saw Robocop for the first time, shortly followed by Taxi Driver. The darker the subject matter, the more I liked it. This continued throughout my life. As a teenager, I always thought of myself as a living, breathing Nine Inch Nails’ song (fuck, I still think of myself as this). As an adult, I live in a constant state of disappointment — a disappointment, not only concerning myself, but with the world in general. I don’t read, watch, play, or listen to things to escape real life; instead, I engage in those things hoping to learn something about real life. Even in my fantasy, I prefer a healthy dose of horribly reality.  I just can’t escape that.

I suppose the most important thing about the film is that it didn’t sugarcoat things.   People die and you have to deal with it.  My fictional dad died August 8, 1986. I wasn’t prepared for it. If fucked me up. My real dad died June 4, 1992. I was prepared for it. It fucked me up less. My grandmother (dad’s mom) died on November 29, 1985. She was arrogant, boring, creepy, shitty, bossy, sucky, actually just list every negative adjective in the English language and call it a day. It didn’t fuck me up all. I didn’t give a shit. See, I’m pretty dark, right? But, seriously, that death meant nothing to me. A cartoon robot meant more to me than my own grandmother. If that makes me a terrible human being, I’ll own it.

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