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I haven’t thought of myself as a musician in a long time. My Pearl Export II kit collects dust stacked in a dark corner of my garage, and has for more than ten years now. One day, when my studio “clears”, I will pick up the sticks again, but until then I am a consumer and a critic, just like everyone else – but maybe a little wiser and slightly more entertaining.
Music is more than entertainment to me. It occupies both little and big moments of my life in meaningful ways. The soundtrack of my wedding consisted of hand picked songs by bands that my wife and I had seen together from Metallica to the Goo Goo Dolls. It made the ceremony even more meaningful to us. Every time I listen to Rush‘s Hold Your Fire, it takes me back to the days of my bright yellow Sony Sports Walkman and flying down the icy packed power slopes of Song Mountain or Greek Peek.
An up tempo pulsing beat and baseline gives me energy. The grinding metal of Five Finger Death Punch In the gym pushes me harder. These mornings, I use SIXX:AM. They wake my ass up, get my blood pumping, and lift my spirits to face a new day.
My favorite moment’s in life comes from the doldrums of driving kids to school on soul crushing commutes in stop and go San Diego traffic. My oldest daughter bonded with me over the years singing songs like Linkin Park’s Waiting for the End at the top of our lungs. And when my younger daughter and son joined in the misery of those long drive’s, we turned it into a blast by singing along, word for word, with Brent Smith – on Shinedown’s rendition of Leonard Skynyrd’s Simple Man. I’m smiling and the words flow through my mind as I write this.
Words matter. They inspire. Neal Peart isn’t just the best drummer that ever lived, he’s an amazing lyricist.
How music can inspire me, touch my creative soul and stir my lazy ass into a creative frenzy at times continues to surprise me. I once wrote a short story after two Genesis songs randomly played back to back while home sick one day convalescing in a Rochester apartment. Dreaming While You Sleep and Home by the Sea lyrical storylines melded to become my own “ghost story” Dreaming by the Sea. The novel I’m currently writing has scenes that span the book and tie together both words and themes from two songs, State of My Head and Dangerous, off Shinedown‘s latest album. I wanted to pay homage to the inspiration they give me, headphones on, while turning a shitty chore like washing dishes into an almost tolerable experience. That would make for an embarrassing Facebook video post.
Some music, musical mistakes driven by ego, sloppy play, Fanboys, Haters, and Know-it-alls can just as easily foul my mood.
The first time I listened to Linkin Park‘s A Thousand Suns Album, I thought “oh, how interesting. They’ve worked in audio recordings and bits of speeches from culture changing icons.” The second time, I thought “OK, it was interesting the first time, but now I’ve heard it.” Every time after that I thought “Jesus, this is like walking barefoot, in the dark, across a hardwood floor littered with legos” (trust me, it hurts) and skipped it as often as I could manage to get to the couple of songs I really liked from that recording. Artists, make music please. Don’t put that shit into something your fans have to listen to repeatedly. It doesn’t work.
One of my favorite things is to “find new music”. FM radio, musical apps like iHeartRadio, YouTube and best of all – live shows, occasionally deliver up something I haven’t heard before and latch on to. Shinedown, which is my favorite band of the last decade, I ran into on a random rock station while on a long road trip some time in the mid 2000’s. 45 (which they didn’t play in Anaheim last Saturday, dammit) sucked me in. I quickly discovered that they didn’t have a bad song on their album, and haven’t since. They are great live, see them if you can. Similarly, I found a band on Rochester’s 96.5 WCMF – Candlebox – that had me scrambling to by their album, which grew to love. When they opened for Rush I thought: “what an opportunity! My favorite band, and something new I was getting into. Rush was perfection as always but Candlebox was horrific. It sounded like Joe Dirt and his Drunken Family Band was covering the Candlebox material from the album. Fans tried to boo them off the stage. That was the end of them for me too. Artists, practice your stuff. Perfect it. Perform it like you love what you are doing, with passion and excellence. Don’t get drunk or high before you come on stage. Be professional and give every music fan like me their money’s worth. Every time you mail it in, play sloppy, do or say stupid shit you blow an opportunity to grow your business. You have the best job in the world, don’t take it for granted, and don’t suck.
Another band I really like and have seen many times in venues large and small, is 3 Doors Down. They’re a group of hard working dudes who really strive to give their best, tour after tour, show after show. I feel like every time I see them, they play to the limits of their ability. When their latest album, Into The Night, had been out for a couple of weeks, I went to buy it online – but got distracted by reviews of it. There’s three types of people that tend to post reviews on music and they all drive me insane.
First there’s fanboy. Fanboy (the boy in fanboy is meant for you too, girls) wrecks the online ratings given to music. I swear I saw fifty consecutive five star reviews posted about the album dated well before it was released. They had comments like “I love you guys” and “this is going to be great, can’t wait”. Please listen to the album first, at least, idiots. Amazon, Apple, etc., please don’t allow people to rate and review before the release date.
The next is the Hater. This guy, and it’s ALWAYS a guy, hates everything but Slayer. He spends his free time trolling other bands and their fans applying 0 stars for ratings and leaving comments like “bunch of pussies” and “this band sucks”. Amazon, Apple, etc., needs to apply logic to their rating and reviews systems. Eliminate the 0 stars reviews if they contain less than a complete sentence, and/or if the reviewer has buying history that is predominantly death metal.
The last, and my personal target for a Wiley E. Coyote inspired death, is the know-it-all. The know it all is that person you remember from high school who thinks and acts like he knows everything about everything, that his opinion is the only one that matters, and shows massive contempt for anything and anyone who disputes his opinion. Know-it-alls go to great lengths in a bullshitty explanation to prove that they are brilliant and superior, and in the process, prove the opposite. The one line that ALWAYS gives them away exists in every diatribe: “Their first album (The Better Life) was good, but since then they’ve become a sell-out, making mainstream music to sell records.” To keep this post non-sexist I’ve know a couple of “shes” that fit the bill too. Amazon, Apple, etc., I have no idea what to do about these assholes.
That brings me to my last point, and the amazing show that could have been one of the best I’ve ever seen if it weren’t for the stupidity of the headliner. I went with my oldest daughter to see Shinedown at the Honda Center in Anaheim. I got a wonderful surprise. SIXX:AM opened for them. I’ve seen Motley Crew twice in my youth, and I’m a fan, so I know who Nikki Sixx is.
Then Shinedown came on. They are amazing every time I’ve seen them. I’m still mad they didn’t come to San Diego on the Amaryllis tour. Brent Smith is totally dedicated to his craft. His voice is amazing and he hits every note. Zach Myers is a guitar perfectionist. I have never heard him slip or get out of sync, and if you watch him, you can tell he enjoys what he does and that makes it special.
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There were two minor flaws to their show. Brent spent too much time talking to the crowd, and it was a FFDP crowd so he didn’t connect that well. If he cut out ¾ of it, they could have got in another song, say… 45! Cyanide, Crow, Amaryllis… I digress. The second: They should have been the headliner, because they didn’t get to play enough material for us, AND…
Five Finger Death Punch sucked. Ooooh, that sounded hater-ish. It’s not. My iPhone is loaded with FFDP material that spans eight years. I love them. I wanted them to be great. They sucked because Ivan Moody walked out on stage and proceeded to break every bit of advice I’ve highlighted here.
I’ll add a last bit of advice, and this goes to out to all live performers, not just Moody. It’s very simple. If you are going to talk, tell a story. Moody’s bit about sleeping on his sister’s couch, that was a step in the right direction. If there’s a story behind the next song you are going to sing, tell it! Introduce the song and give us an insight that we don’t have about what inspired it. We eat that stuff up!
Maybe there ARE bands that cave into the pressure put on by record producers who feel that they can make more money if they “soften the edge” of their music, or mimic whatever is trending. I have a lot of trouble imagining that. In fact, I choose not to believe that. I’m glad that bands I love like Linkin Park and Shinedown continue to evolve and try new things and stay fresh. It’s part of what makes them exceptional. Every artist should tap into an emotion, tell a story, capture a feeling, or use something that has moved them in some way, when creating a song. When done well, we will be entertained and moved by it, too. That way, when they have to perform it hundreds of times, it will have meaning to them and it will be that much easier to render it with passion and excellence, every time.