Saturday, January 31, 2009

Not So Fast, Springsteen!

In an interview appearing in today's New York Times, Bruce Springsteen says "it was a mistake" to release a greatest hits package exclusively through Wal-Mart.

Not so fast, Mr. Bossman.

A friend and I were talking about it, and he said: "He's playing career coyote - he woke up with Wal-Mart, now he wants to chew his arm off."

Problem with that analogy is, you usually don't go home with the ugly girl (or guy) at the party unless you're drunk or desperate. Bruce isn't Keith Richards. And he's not desperate.

At last night's Pollstar Awards at the Nokia Theatre in Downtown L.A., they were reading off the nominees for Personal Manager of the Year. The names weren't a surprise, and you could make an argument for any of them: Bill Silva, Coran Capshaw, Irving Azoff, Jared Paul, John Silva, Jon Landau and Paul Korzilius. I turned to my wife and said, "I'd go with Landau... Who would have thought Springsteen could get any bigger than he already was?"

Think about it, not only does he release another great album and go on another blockbuster tour, but he headlines the Super Bowl and releases a bargain-priced $10 hits album in an exclusive deal with Wal-Mart to correspond with the performance. Two moves that only further cement Springsteen's status as quintessential Americana.

But, fans argue, Wal-Mart's labor history doesn't jive with Bruce's ideologies. Please! This is a guy who signed a seven-album, $110 million deal with Sony Music. If he didn't stop to think about how many employees would be losing their jobs down the road while he collected more interest on his millions than they'd make in a decade, are we really supposed to believe that he's that worried about the unions?

I'm not saying the man has no soul. Quite the contrary, all he'd need to say to satisfy me is: "My fans shop at Wal-Mart, and we're giving them the value they deserve in today's hardened economy." Which is, more or less, what Landau almost said in an interview with Billboard: "We’re not doing any advertising for Wal-Mart. We haven’t endorsed Wal-Mart or anybody else. We’re letting Sony do its job."

And after cashing the check for $110 million, they better.

"We didn't vet it the way we usually do," Springsteen said of the decision in the Times article, "we dropped the ball on it."

Sorry, but I don't believe, at this stage in his career, that the Boss and his handlers are glossing over details like a Super Bowl performance and a Wal-Mart exclusive haphazardly. There's a plan, and the plan was executed. Very well, at that. What they didn't "vet," was the reaction from an internet community that, while vocal, doesn't speak for the vast majority of Springsteen fans.

This is the music business. Springsteen and his camp have made a number of exceptional business moves. Now that one or two aren't particularly popular, they're trying to backpedal.

If Bruce really wants a do-over, giving the $110 million back to Sony Music might be a good place to start.

Talk is cheap, that deal wasn't.

# # #

Click here for a review of Bruce Springsteen's new studio album, Working On A Dream.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Emerging Artist: THE LAST VEGAS

The '80s are over. The days of needing little more than perfectly primped hair, a precocious pout and a pinup in a magazine to go platinum are long past. Likewise, the '90s are long gone. Quit whining about how miserable your life is, we've all got problems. I listen to music for a distraction, not because I need a two-by-four across the temple. The new millennium, meanwhile, has served us a forgettable array of dime-a-dozen basement brats that think all you need to get a record deal is a massive mound of MySpace friends. Too many people today think they're rock stars, and too many people today want to be treated like rock stars. But it takes more than that to truly be a rock star.

The Last Vegas have what it takes to be rock stars. Starting with the music, rooted in their pedigree, and sparked by their attitude.

Winners of the Guitar Center On Stage competition last November, their grand prize was a dream package for any rock and roll band. In addition to a $25,000 cash prize and $20,000 in gear, they got signed to a management deal with 10th Street Entertainment (Motley Crue, Buckcherry, Blondie), a recording contract with Crue bassist Nikki Sixx's Eleven Seven Music record label, and an opening slot on the current leg of Motley Crue's "Saints of Los Angeles" arena tour, which kicks off Monday in San Diego, CA.

Not a bad haul for the Windy City band that wasn't even supposed to be one of the finalists.

A bumper crop of 8,000 bands entered the open competition last fall and were narrowed down to 30 finalists, all of whom were flown to Hollywood and given a one-song chance to make their rock and roll dreams a reality. The six top bands then made it to the finals, where they would perform in front of Motley Crue at the legendary Whisky A Go Go on Hollywood's Sunset Strip. The Last Vegas didn't make the cut. Bassist Danny Smash - it's a safe bet he and frontman Chad Cherry aren't going by their birth names - didn't make excuses, instead saying that they had one chance to make a lasting impression with the judges, and they didn't. It was still a great experience.

What makes Smash and his band smarter than the next guys? They didn't make the same mistake twice.

When one of the six finalists was eliminated from the competition at the last minute, The Last Vegas got the call. Apparently they finished in seventh place, so the backdoor opportunity became theirs. "We had to go onstage first, and I was nervous as hell. I said to the guys, 'We're not getting another chance, this is it - we need to raise the bar so high, none of these other bands are going to be able to reach it...'" And that's exactly what they did. Smash says that after his band left the stage and returned to the balcony to watch the rest of the competition, Nikki Sixx gave him a wink and nod. He knew right then the bar was set.

The Last Vegas won, and it's been a whirlwind ever since.

Cherry, Smash, brothers Adam (guitar) and Nate (drums) Arling, and guitarist Johnny Wator had exactly one week from winning the contest to record their first single, but they got some help in the process, being joined in the studio by songwriting hit machine Marti Frederiksen and DJ Ashba, one of the main cog's in Motley Crue's Saints of Los Angeles writing wheel, and a guy who knows his way around sculpting a ball-breaking rock and roll track like Mario Batali knows his way around a kitchen.

"They took what they thought was one of our best songs, and did what they do best," says Smash. "It was so amazing to be a part of, I just sat there and took notes in my head the whole time, watching these two guys that are so great at what they do, work their magic on something that we did! I just tried to soak it all in - I knew that we were getting a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and I wanted to make sure I took as much as I could from it to make myself a better writer and musician."

Wow. You don't hear that everyday. If at all. Most people will tell you how they hung out at all the Hollywood hot spots, got laid six times before the sun went down, drank till their liver bled and lived the dream, man. Not these guys. I'm sure they had their share of rock and roll excess, but they've been around long enough to know that their shot at immortality was only going to be what they made it once the door was opened for them. Nikki Sixx may be Willy Wonka in this equation, but The Last Vegas still need to make it through the chocolate factory intact.

They've got the chops, the presence, the smarts and the savvy, and that's more than enough to get my vote.

That song they had one week to turn into their first single? "I'm Bad" is a fist-pumping anthem so deliciously depraved, strip clubs are going to be owing them a percentage of their profits. "I'm bad, it's true, there's a little bit of me in every one of you..." squawks Cherry, giving the devil his vocal due. Guitars grind, the bass bumps, and the drums form a pocket so inviting, you want to curl up and spoon in it.

Remember what "Lit Up" did for Buckcherry? Brace yourself...

Motley Crue's Saints of Los Angeles 2009 Tour starts Sunday, with Hinder and Theory of a Deadman in direct support and The Last Vegas kicking the festivities off.

There's never been a better reason to get to an arena early.

# # #

The Last Vegas MySpace

Paul McCartney, The Killers and The Cure
to headline 2009 Coachella Festival

Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival
April 17-19, 2009

The lineup for this year's Coachella (as of 1/30) is as follows:

Paul McCartney, Morrissey, Franz Ferdinand, Leonard Cohen,
Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, Beirut, The Black Keys,
Girl Talk, Silversun Pickups, The Ting Tings, The Crystal Method,
Ghostland Observatory, Crystal Castles, The Airborne Toxic Event,
We Are Scientists, N.A.S.A., Patton & Rahzel, M. Ward, The Presets,
The Hold Steady, A Place to Bury Strangers, Felix da Housecat,
Buraka Som Sistema, Ryan Bingham, Bajofondo, Peanut Butter Wolf,
Noah & the Whale, White Lies, The Bug, Los Campesinos!,
Alberta Cross, Craze & Klever, Molotov, Switch, Gui Boratto,
Steve Aoki, The Aggrolites, People Under the Stairs,
The Courteeners, Cage the Elephant, Dear and the Headlights.

The Killers, Amy Winehouse, Thievery Corporation, TV on the Radio,
Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes, MSTRKRFT, Mastodon, TRAV$DJ-AM,
Michael Franti & Spearhead, Atmosphere, Henry Rollins, Crookers,
Turbonegro, Hercules and Love Affair, Superchunk, Glasvegas,
Dr. Dog, Drive-By Truckers, Booker T & the DBT’s, Amanda Palmer,
The Bloody Beetroots, Surkin, Para One (Live), Calexico, Liars,
Bob Mould Band, Zane Lowe, Electric Touch, Blitzen Trapper,
James Morrison, Drop the Lime, Glass Candy, Thenewno2,
Gang Gang Dance, Billy Talent, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti,
Ida Maria, Zizek, Cloud Cult, Tinariwen.

The Cure, My Bloody Valentine, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Throbbing Gristle,
Lupe Fiasco, Paul Weller, Peter Bjorn and John, X, Public Enemy,
Antony & the Johnsons, Roni Size, Jenny Lewis, Groove Armada,
Paolo Nutini, Christopher Lawrence, Lykke Li, Okkervil River,
The Kills, M.A.N.D.Y., Clipse, Sebastien Tellier, Fucked Up,
Perry Farrell, The Horrors, Late of the Pier, K’naan, Junior Boys,
Brian Jonestown Massacre, Supermayer, No Age, Vivian Girls,
Shepard Fairey, Themselves, Gaslight Anthem, The Knux,
Mexican Institute of Sound, The Night Marchers, Marshall Barnes.

Official Coachella Website

# # #

Click here for an archived preview of Coachella 2008.

Click here for an archived review of Coachella 2008.

Click here for an archived review of Coachella 2007.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Working On A Dream

Working On A Dream is the perfect album at the perfect time for Bruce Springsteen.

There's been more written of the Boss than there has been of Ben Roethlisberger in the past week, no doubt because most of the anticipated 150 million people who will watch Sunday's Super Bowl care more about the pageantry than they do the game, and of the people that do care about the game, few could probably spell the Steeler quarterback's last name. To Springsteen's credit, he's the perfect star to sell the halftime show, and the NFL couldn't have asked for a better match-up to bookend their marquee musical performance: God loving, clean cut, all-American boy Kurt Warner, complete with his "you can get a dog if we win the Super Bowl" promise to his daughters, leading his champion of western expansion Arizona Cardinals against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the champions of blue-collar America, the team that brought the steel curtain to the steel city, and a team bred on the ideals of a gritty work ethic and staunch determination.

Just as remarkable is how well the two teams represent Working On A Dream, an album that expertly blurs the lines between the heartland core of the E Street Band's classic rock foundation, and the folk aesthetic of Springsteen's more Americana and activist-minded recent body of work. It's in that spirit of heading west in search of the American dream, but never forgetting the foundation and deeply-embedded roots that give us the strength to leave our home, that the new album shines so bright. And it doesn't hurt that when Springsteen steps into the biggest spotlight of his career, he'll be touting an album that has more commercial appeal than anything he's released since Born In The U.S.A. a quarter-century ago.

The beauty is, the album is Bruce Springsteen through-and-through. Not once in the 13-track offering do the proceedings feel forced, phony, or even the slightest bit strained for the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer only six months removed from his 60th birthday.

"Outlaw Pete" opens with a sprawling tribute to the old west, the staunch bravado of Springsteen's man in black vocals driving the stripped-down orchestration of the eight-minute track. "My Lucky Day" follows like a surging stampede, driving guitars, flailing piano, wailing saxophone and all, and the title track meets somewhere between the two, a quintessential mid-tempo Springsteen jaunt as proud and hopeful as it is endearing and resolute. There's a muddy blues hue to the swampy "Good Eye," a backwoods finger-pickin' pluck to the more Pete Seeger-inspired "Tomorrow Never Knows," and the infectious "Life Itself" rumbles with a slow and steady tumble.

"Kingdom of Days" and "Surprise Surprise" tread dangerously close to the sing-song danger zone where folk flirts with camp, but Springsteen seems to know just how far to creep before getting stuck in the tacky sap. Whether he's telling a simple story of love and acceptance in "Queen of the Supermarket" or painting a more stark, pained picture of self-doubt in the album's closing track "The Wrestler" (the Golden Globe-winning title track from the movie of the same name), the lyrics do more than pine for the more wistful days of old, offering a reason to stand tall in troubled times and the hope to find glory in the days that come.

Woody Guthrie. Bob Dylan. Johnny Cash. You hear a bit of them all throughout Working On A Dream. But most of all you hear Bruce Springsteen, a man who's come a long way since releasing Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. some 36 years ago, and a man who's singing like he's got a long way left to go.

Working On A Dream is the soundtrack of a voyage well-worth taking.

RATING: * * * *

Bruce Springsteen MySpace

Bruce Springsteen Official Website

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Merriweather Post Pavilion

Don't try and make sense of Animal Collective's ninth studio album, just dim the lights, lie down, and let it all soak in. Let the salty spray of their psychedelic splash make your senses tingle like ecstasy for the ears, their sound swirling from the speakers like pixie dust. The avant-guard art-rock trio - who go by Avey Tare, Geologist and Panda Bear - combine equal parts ambient trance, Beatles pop and Beach Boys melodies on Merriweather Post Pavilion, creating an atmosphere of spastic calm and disarming ease. It's the anti-soundtrack to today's troubled times, a veritable joyride of musical experimentation and sensual sonic manipulations.

"My Girls" unfolds a lush tapestry of tinkering bells, claps, booms and chants, eliciting a campfire of dancing blue flames that pulses as it plays out like a peace-nick tribal ceremony. "Summertime Clothes" swings like a free-wheeling revival of John, Paul, George and Ringo, big vocals embraced by pronounced musical arcs, and "Bluish" is a tender swoon with a soulful swagger. "Lion In A Coma" whips up a bouncing blend of Paul Simon world beats circa "You Can Call Me Al" and the Police in all their minimalistic, body-shaking glory.

For those who like their music off the beaten path, Merriweather Post Pavilion is more than just Album of the Year material - it's the stuff obsessions are made of.

RATING: * * * * 1/2

Animal Collective MySpace

Animal Collective Official Website

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Live Review: SNOT


The Roxy

Hollywood, CA


I admit it, I had my doubts when I heard that Snot was reuniting with a new singer last year. I had even more doubt when I heard that the singer was Tommy Vext, a pitbull of a metal presence whose recent resume includes a tumultuous stint in former Fear Factory guitarist Dino Cazares' Divine Heresy and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, an appearance on the latest album from electronic mastermind Junkie XL. So I had my reservations heading into Wednesday night's show at The Roxy, on Hollywood's Sunset Strip.

Those doubts were decimated. Quickly.

Tommy Vext is nothing like Lynn Strait, but that's why he works so well alongside returning original members Mikey Doling and Sonny Mayo (guitars), Jamie Miller (drums) and John "Tumor" Fahnestock (bass). Time has done nothing to temper the band's core. If anything, the decade since the tragic death of their singer in a December 11, 1998 car accident has poured fuel on their fire. They've all been around in various incarnations, Miller in theSTART, Tumor in Lo-Pro, Amen and Noise Within, Mayo in Sevendust and Amen, and Doling in Soulfly, Invitro and Abloom. But nothing truly conveyed the attitude or quake that resulted when the four of them made music together.

The Roxy experienced that quake, and the packed club shaked. For an hour, the main floor was consumed by a pit that fed off the energy emanating from the stage. Not one of those lame pits with two cross-eyed, overweight and shirtless lugs in the middle eying down anyone half their size, but a pit that swirled and spun with the infectious fray of the blessed metal-punk-funk hybrid exploding from the stage.

Miller, long hailed as one of the seminal drummers on the modern heavy music scene, delivered a clinic in compact power and precision, his arms stretching high over his head and crashing down with deliberate ease. He looked like he was playing in slow motion, but constructed the band's backbone of sound masterfully. The wild-eyed and hair-whipping Doling was a study in contrast to fellow guitarist Mayo, who offered a more business-as-usual approach. Together, thunder and lightening shred from their strings. Fahnestock anchored the stage under a heavy head of hair and a heavier crunch of bass.

Where Strait was equal parts surfer and street punk, a whirlwind presence that wove between the members, Vext is more of a tornado. A Tasmanian devil bolted to the front of the stage like a junkyard dog with a chain that is a few feet too short. If that chain broke? God help us all.

That combustible combination is what made The Roxy the perfect venue to celebrate the band's new lineup. There was an element of danger in the air. Not a fear-breeding danger, but the danger that results when you combine a molotov cocktail of ingredients with giddy anticipation of the results. The hour-long set featured about half of the band's 1998 album Get Some, as well as new tracks "CouldaShouldaWoulda" and set-closer "The Band Played On," two heavy-metal heart attacks that plaster the band's syncopated rhythms and abrasive melodies with melodic thrusters set to stun.

Rest assured, Lynn Strait was looking down on The Roxy with a smile on his face.

# # #

Snot MySpace

Snot Official Website

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Obama Years: Day 1

"With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."

And so concluded the Inaugural Address of President Barack Obama. There hasn't been a more anticipated President in my lifetime, or a more embraced change of power. The 44th President of the United States is already being hailed as a hero, his image is already iconic and his place in history already cemented.

But what does this mean for America?

When I say America, I mean the people that constitute this great country we live in. The people who are (both figuratively and literally) dancing in the streets and singing at the top of their lungs, celebrating the new world ushered in little more than five hours ago. Are they excited to know that when the final piece of confetti falls and the streets of Washington D.C. return to business, they will be prepared to work harder than they've ever worked before to make President Obama's vision a reality? Or are they excited because they believe America has finally elected a President who will assure that they can increase their get from life, without having to increase what they give to life?

CNN interviewed a group of teenage students on the street, blocks from the inaugural parade. They were from a private school in the Bronx, NY, and their trip was funded by the New York Yankees and a local law firm that they had trouble remembering the name of. When the reporter asked them what they were looking forward to most in the coming years, one answered "President Obama's immigration reform." Two just giggled for the camera, saying that they didn't know and weren't sure. The reporter changed the subject, asking what had been the highlight of their trip to Washington D.C. for the inauguration. The responses were "I don't know," "nothing, really," and "singing." With the one exception, nobody said anything remotely intelligent, inspired, or inspiring.

I hope that the next person who criticizes the New York Yankees' off-season spending spree cites that video as evidence. It's unfortunate they couldn't find a more appreciative (or deserving) group of students to send to one of the most celebrated days in our country's recent history.

The historical relevance of President Obama being the first black President of the United States is massive, and deserves to be celebrated. But I can't help but cringe, just a little, when I see shirts that say "America the Black and Beautiful," "United States of Obama" and "Finally, OUR President." Does this mean that he's not my President, too? I hope not. I hope it means that after generations of strife, struggles and injustice, America can finally unite as one people, not a country divided by color, creed and ideological differences. I hope that is the case, because that needs to be the case. We, as a country, do not have another option.

Everyone will have a different highlight from President Obama's inaugural address earlier today. This is mine:

"In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom."

I remain cautiously optimistic about our country's future with President Obama at the helm. Optimistic, because I agree that it is time for change, and I truly believe he has the vision to help America move in the right direction as a people. For that I am excited, and proud to be an American in these turbulent and uncertain times.

Why the caution? Because President Obama has been elected on the heels of a machine that has taken public-bred propaganda to all new heights. So many people voted for Obama not because they truly knew what he stood for, but rather, because they stood for who he wasn't. Or, even worse, because they glamorized what he was, indifferent to what it was that he stood for. People, justifiably, wanted to believe that their hope could still result in change. But are they prepared to do more than hope and actually work for change?

I hope so.

"Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

Hope may have gotten us here, but now the real work begins. Change needs to be more than a slogan on a postcard, trampled underfoot by an inaugural parade. It needs to start at a grass roots level. Change needs to start with us.

We, the people...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Obama's Vision, America's Hope

--Hope, George Frederic Watts (1885)

The following is an excerpt from President elect Barack Obama's first book, "Dreams From My Father." The book was written in 1995, and the sermon he is writing about was, judging by the book's chronology, witnessed in early 1988. While the book leads us to believe that this Sunday morning service was a point of spiritual awakening for our next President, in hindsight we can see that it was much more. This passage was written before Obama would write his second book (which is named after the homily), and more than a decade before he would be elected President of the United States after running a campaign centered around Hope. While the Hope that Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr. preached of that day was one of prejudice between black and white America, Obama was elected on the shoulders of a Hope he preached to be colorblind. First the passage, then my observation:

The title of Reverend Wright's sermon that morning was "The Audacity of Hope." He began with a passage from the Book of Samuel-the story of Hannah, who, barren and taunted by her rivals, had wept and shaken in prayer before her God. The story reminded him, he said, of a sermon a fellow pastor had preached at a conference some years before, in which the pastor described going to a museum and being confronted by a painting titled Hope.

"The painting depicts a harpist," Reverent Wright explained, "a woman who at first glance appears to be sitting atop a great mountain. Until you take a closer look and see that the woman is bruised and bloodied, dressed in tattered rags, the harp reduced to a single string. Your eye is then drawn to the scene below, down to the valley below, where everywhere are the ravages of famine, the drumbeat of war, a world groaning under strife and deprivation.

"It is this world, a world where cruise ships throw away more food in a day than most residents of Port-au-Prince see in a year, where white folks' greed runs a world in need, apartheid in one hemisphere, apathy in another hemisphere... That's the world! On which hope sits!...

..."And yet consider once again the painting before us. Hope! Like Hannah, that harpist is looking upwards, a few faint notes floating towards the heavens. She dares to hope... She has the make music...and praise God...on the one string...she has left!"

Reverend Wright spoke of the black man's place in a white man's world, a concept Obama struggled much of his life with, being raised by his white mother and white grandparents while trying to come to terms with his own ethnicity. It's a struggle that, regardless of one's political inclination, makes for a fascinating and insightful read. While the book is subtitled "A Story of Race and Inheritance," it lacks the racial grandstanding one might expect. In fact, it offers quite the contrary, Obama's immersion into black America providing jarring parallels to today's economic and social divide in our country.

What I find most profound, reading Obama's account of Wright's rousing sermon more than a decade later, is how the white man's world the preacher described has evolved into a world where economics have become as divisive a factor as color. With America's dire financial straights growing nothing but deeper, Obama's message of Hope is one that we all can cling to. Is it audacious of us, regardless of the color of our skin, to want to believe in a man whose vision of making the world a more balanced place has been constant for more than a decade?

While I still find a mantra of Hope a bit too nebulous to hang a campaign on, in this case, the ambiguity of the word is eclipsed by the singularity of Obama's vision. Politics is just that, politics. I do believe that Obama transcends the political realm that we're accustomed to. He wasn't born into money. He doesn't have vested interests in oil. He doesn't have a family legacy. He's forging his own legacy. Yes, he's still a politician. Yes, he still has outside interests that he needs to satisfy. But he's different. He plays the political game well, but plays the social and cultural game, as well.

Do I agree with his politics? No, not particularly. But politics is a game of give and take, and his early decisions have indicated that he's more willing to practice that than many of America's most recent leaders. Where have politics gotten us lately? In an economic free fall. I'm ready for a change. If it doesn't work, well, we address that fact in another four years. Eight tops. I will say this much, I have nothing but respect for the fact that he's not afraid to admit there's a problem, and he's even less afraid to tell America to pony up and prepare for things to get worse before they get better. I'll take a straight-shooter over an ostrich with their head in the sand any day of the week.

I don't need to believe in everything that is said or done, I just need to respect the vision and hopefully understand the thought process that helps lead us there. America needs a drastic change right now. An audacious change.

An audacity of hope that all of America can get behind, and a foundation we can Hope to build upon.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Chesley B. Sullenberger III

For all the negativity we hear about the airline industry these days, I don't know that there are enough accolades to shower upon the pilot who successfully splash-landed his US Airlines jetliner into the freezing waters of New York City's Hudson River yesterday. Not only did all 155 people on board survive, but the only significant injury at all was to a person who suffered two fractured legs.

Yes, pilot Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III was only doing his job, but if everyone in the world did their job that well, automakers wouldn't be in trouble, the economy wouldn't be in shambles, and the shower in my master bathroom would work.

Chesley's wife says that talk of her husband being a hero is "a little weird." Weird for her, maybe, but inspiring for others. He's the type of guy this country needs more of. He's not Jack Bauer, he's a real hero. He's the type of hero that makes a difference just by doing his job, and doing it well.

On Tuesday, President elect Obama is going to be sworn into office and his mantra of "hope" will become something America clings to with anxious anticipation. Before we can hope, however, this country needs pride. Sully had pride in himself and took pride in his job, and look where it got him. Look where it got the other 154 people on board his aircraft. And look what it got the families and friends of those people he saved.

Hope is little more than a word that might help us sleep at night, no more tangible than any other wish or dream. Why do, when you can hope? Accolades shouldn't stop with Sully. The crew did their part. As did the people sitting in the emergency exit rows. As did the rescue teams. And as did everyone on board, who ensured that calm was maintained as they evacuated the sinking plane.

It wasn't hope that saved 155 lives, it was the preparation of a pilot and the level-headed response of the crew and passengers. There was no time to hope, just time to pull together and make things happen.

Hope is nice, but so are puppies, kittens and rainbows. Pride? Now that is something that we can really build our future on.

Just ask anyone on US Airlines flight 1459.

Week In Review: 01/16/09

I'm going to blame my inability to think in anything more than short, stumbling grunts this morning on my last glass of Chianti last night, because I know it didn't have anything to do with any of the glasses before the last one. What does that have to do with "The Karate Kid"? Nothing, but I'll get there...

Last night (pre-Chianti) one of my contact lenses ripped in half... Strange thing is, it happened while it was in my eye. This morning, my glasses broke. Strange thing is, it happened while they were on my face. Common denominator to both incidents? Me. Strange things happen to strange people, I guess. Fortunately I had a spare pair of contact lenses and was able to fix my glasses. Unfortunately, I don't particularly like wearing contacts, and the Super Glue it took to repair my glasses isn't really making a fashion statement. It's not exactly tape on the bridge or a shattered lens, but it's definitely more Bakersfield than Beverly Hills. Not that I'm ever Beverly Hills, but if I ever make it back to Bakersfield, it'll require a lot more than Chianti.

No matter how awkward I feel, it can't compete with how Ryan Seacrest must have felt after trying to high five a blind guy on "American Idol" Tuesday night.

Speaking of momentarily losing one's self, a study was released this week and the findings suggest that drinking coffee decreases the probability of Alzheimer's and dementia in later life. I drink a lot of coffee. I guess I'll have to wait few decades for the dementia to go away. If you clicked on the link to the findings above, you no doubt saw this picture (and recognize that cup as espresso, not coffee):

I'd like to report my own findings: Smoking cigarettes with your coffee also decreases your probability of Alzheimer's and dementia in later years. How? By decreasing your chance of making it that far.

NAMM is this weekend in Anaheim. I'm doing what any logical person should do: Leaving the state of California altogether.

And on to "The Karate Kid"... If you think I'm long in the tooth, try ESPN columnist Bill Simmons on for size. Or you can just let me cut-and-paste a brilliant analysis he made in his column this week. He was watching the Eagles/Giants playoff game last Sunday and, in the waning minutes, was clearly about as into it as I was when he found a "Karate Kid" marathon (yes, all four movies!) on the ABC Family channel. We'll now join his story in progress...

"Just as it was becoming apparent Eli [Manning, Giants quarterback] had a better chance of eating one of the goalposts, digesting it and crapping it out than of throwing a decent pass in the Giant Stadium wind, 'Kid II' was finishing up and 'Kid III' was looming. So all wasn't lost. I spent the next hour trying to find similarities between Eli and Daniel-San, ultimately coming up with seven: Both wanted to live in Jersey over California; both possess the hard-to-explain ability to tick people off (even complete strangers); both won championships as huge underdogs that, in retrospect, make absolutely no sense whatsoever; both received serious officiating help during those titles (Eli for the various holding infractions during the Helmet Catch that weren't called, Daniel-San for winning the All-Valley Karate title on an illegal kick to the face); both have terrible body language when things are going badly for them (to the point that you lose all hope pretty much immediately); both had signature moments that were surprisingly similar both in stature and surprise (the Helmet Catch and the Crane Kick); and both eventually found forbidden love with a 65-year-old Japanese war veteran. Oh wait, that was just Daniel-San. Sorry, Eli."

Don't be afraid to say it, Bill Simmons is something of a genius... Not convinced yet? In said column, he also admits to counting the points, rebounds and assists of one of Michael J. Fox's teammates (#45) in the final basketball game in the movie "Teen Wolf." Gotta love it!

Finally, what's any mention of "The Karate Kid" without taking a moment to acknowledge the second installment's theme song, and Peter Cetera's first solo release since departing the band Chicago? Incomplete, that's what! Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the video for "The Glory of Love," complete with Peter Cetera's great hair, the movie's gripping footage, and more mushy lyrics than Celine Dion could shake her stick figure at:

EYEGLASS UPDATE: It's been about six hours since this post went up, and I've already had to glue my glasses back together twice. How is it that Super Glue can hold a car in midair on the package and in their logo, but can't hold the frame of my glasses to the rim of my lens?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Waxing Nostalgic

The first record I ever bought was KISS "Alive II." If you had told me then that I'd be interviewing all four of the original members on a reunion tour some 20-odd years later, you'd have lost me at the word interview. They didn't have interviews in Highlights magazine, and I'm guessing my eagerly awaited monthly subscription didn't have the exploits of Gene Simmons in mind when they tagged the cover line "Fun With a Purpose." No, life was simpler then. I didn't have thousands of CDs ripped onto an 400 GB hard drive and a mere click on the mouse pad away, it was just me and my hard plastic turntable.

I've yet to meet anyone old enough to have owned a record player that doesn't have a vinyl-coated story to tell. Your first LP actually meant something. Do you think kids today are going to remember the first album they bought on iTunes 30 years from now? Not likely. There used to be an art to listening to music. Now cynics are hard-pressed to even call today's music art. What happened? That's more than even I care to try and tackle in a single blog, but I'll throw this out there to get the ball rolling: Listening to music used to be an active process that engaged the listener. You didn't skip from track-to-track, because you needed to have better hands than Oliver Platt in "Executive Decision" to actually drop the needle at the song you wanted. No, you listened to an album side and thrilled in the ride, reveled in the pacing, and knew your LP so well that you could anticipate the skips in the grooves. Records weren't background music, they were listened to.

I remember sitting in my friend Tom's clubhouse - made behind his parent's garage with scrap wood and assorted odds and ends that wore out their welcome in his family's house - and listening to Queen "The Game," Freddie Mercury offering the sage advice to "light another cigarette and let yourself go" in the opening track. Then "Dragon Attack" punched through the calm and hit us with a surge of adrenaline that we knew was cool, even if we didn't know what the words meant (I'm still not sure, actually!). We could listen to "Another One Bites The Dust" over-and-over again, but we didn't dare disrespect the rest of the album. Records were made of one continuous groove for a reason, and who were we to defy the ridges of the sacred vinyl.

I might, on another day, make the argument that the skip button ruined music. Once it became easy to skip to your favorite song, listening to an album became passe. Remember the joy of making the perfect mix tape? Who needs that when you could just blast from track-to-track with reckless abandon? Maybe that's why I took such pride in ripping my CD collection to a hard drive a few years ago. The CD ruined records, and when records got ruined, music lost the true champion of an art form.

I sat in a conference room at Rhino Records with about two dozen of the label's employees and listened to the new Queensryche record, "American Soldier," from start to finish earlier today. When it was over, without a second's hesitation, everyone in the room broke into applause. We didn't clap because it was over, we clapped because we all knew that we had just heard something that was nothing short of magnificent. I'll be writing more about the album in the coming weeks, but today's lesson was simple: Artists haven't forgotten how to make great art, the audience has forgotten how to appreciate it. We need to rediscover the joy of listening to a record, because there are artists that haven't forgotten the joy of creating a record.

We need to get back to basics. We need to remember vinyl and what it represented.

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Other not-so-famous firsts:
MY FIRST CASSETTE: The Knack "Get the Knack"
MY FIRST COMPACT DISC: The Cult "Sonic Temple"
MY FIRST iTUNES: Justin Timberlake "Sexyback" (the single)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Unsigned Spotlight: THE STONE FOXES

Nobody could accuse The Stone Foxes of not fitting in, they just can't accuse them of fitting in this decade. Or the last two decades, for that matter. And that's what makes them so damn good.

Hailing from San Francisco makes perfect sense for the quartet, as their music crunches with a psychedelic swagger reminiscent of a Haight-Ashbury soundtrack, muscled up for the new millennium. Crazy thing is, The Stone Foxes are just kids. Kids, meaning that while they're all old enough to drink, their knees probably still shake when they go to buy a six pack. But man, do they play music with a spirit and passion that's far beyond their years.

They made their Los Angeles debut at The Mint last night, playing before a healthy crowd that hung on every note of their blues-fused throwdown. The set was short and sweet, about eight songs long, melding the jam aesthetic of Widespread Panic with the rock and roll stomp of the MC5 and the roadhouse romp of the Blues Brothers (harp and all). All four of them sing lead, but their distinctive palette of flavors never strays far from the blues. Close your eyes and listen, and you'd hardly believe that they're the same four guys that deliver their unassuming and jovial between-song banter. After the show, bassist Avi Vinocur said they never set out to have all four guys sing, but when they found out they all could, they decided they all would.

And they all should. They do it well, whether it be gravel-throated leads, half-spoken bluegrass rants or full-bodied four-man chants. Equal parts roots rock, old-school country, time-battered folk and full-spirited blues, The Stone Foxes bleed it all together for a believable sound that's as tried-and-true as it is fresh and inspired.

The Stone Foxes MySpace
Recommended tracks: "Rollin' and Tumblin'" / "Beneath Mt. Sinai"

The Stone Foxes Official Website

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hall of Fame Reaction

There were no surprises when the Baseball Hall of Fame announced its Class of 2009 today: All-time stolen base and runs scored leader Rickey Henderson made it in on his first ballot, Boston Red Sox slugger Jim Rice made it in on his last, Andre Dawson and Burt Blyleven need to wait another year or two (three tops), and the jury is still out on Lee Smith, Jack Morris, Tim Raines and Mark McGwire.

Especially given the weak crop of HOF-eligible newbies over the next three years (more on that later), Blyleven and Dawson - who received 67 and 62.7 percent of the 75 percent vote needed for induction, respectively - are virtual locks for election by 2012 (Blyleven's final year of eligibility). Judging from voter precedent, we can also expect to see Lee Smith (44.5 percent) and Jack Morris (44 percent) make a strong run at it on the next few ballots, with Tim Raines (22.6 percent) also seeing a big bump in recognition now that his prime competition for the spotlight while he was a player, Rickey Henderson, has been enshrined.

But the player I'm most curious about is former Atlanta Braves slugger Dale Murphy (pictured above). Now that Rice has made it in, Murphy shouldn't be far behind. A look at the statistics:

J.Rice: 8225 AB, .298 AVG, 382 HR, 1451 RBI, 1249 R
Murphy: 7960 AB, .265 AVG, 398 HR, 1266 RBI, 1197 R

Yes, the difference in batting average is glaring, but the peripherals speak to Murphy's favor. Rice played on a powerhouse Boston squad that included three fellow Hall of Famers - Carl Yastrzemski, Dennis Eckersley and Carlton Fisk - as well as perennial all-star Fred Lynn and three-time all-star Dwight Evans. Murphy was part of a limp Braves lineup that featured Hall of Famer Phil Niekro in the rotation, but little more than Gary Matthews, Sr. and Bob Horner helping with the offense. Want to talk about the difference a team makes? Still, Murphy won two league MVP awards to Rice's one, and five Gold Gloves to Rice's none.

How dominant a force was Murphy in the '80s? No player in all of baseball had more total bases that decade, only Mike Schmidt hit more home runs, and only Eddie Murray had more RBIs. Both Schmidt and Murray are Hall of Famers.

Yet Murph only received 11.5 percent of this year's votes (62 of 539), and hasn't topped 15 percent since getting 23.2 percent in 2000.

Did I mention that he also won a Roberto Clemente Award, given to the one player each year who "best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team"? Can someone please tell me what I'm missing here? He's got four more years of eligibility - if he doesn't make it into the Hall, it will be an atrocity.

A few more notes from this year's ballot...

*Rickey Henderson's 511 of 539 votes gave him the 13th highest percentage of any Hall inductee (94.8). I'd love to hear the arguments of the 28 who didn't feel him worthy.

*The fate of Tommy John, having failed to get in on his fifteenth and final ballot, is now in the hands of the Veterans Committee, who seem to be more sympathetic to the notion that the Hall of Fame should not only include the elite players, but also the biggest names. While his stats don't merit his inclusion, he's a legend in that he's had a surgery named after him, so odds are in his favor. After the Veterans take care of Gil Hodges, of course, who is the only player to land on at least 60 percent of the ballots, yet never get enshrined.

*The following players didn't receive the five percent of votes necessary to retain their eligibility next year: Mark Grace (22 votes), David Cone (21 votes), Matt Williams (7 votes), Mo Vaughn (6 votes), Jay Bell (2 votes), Jesse Orosco (1 vote), and Ron Gant, Dan Plesac and Greg Vaughn (no votes).

2009 National Baseball Hall of Fame Vote Totals

And, finally, a few notes on the upcoming Hall of Fame classes...

I don't see any of these guys as Hall of Famers. I understand the arguments for Martinez, but I view him much the same as Don Mattingly at the plate. Yes, Mattingly only had six great years to Martinez' seven, but if I'm not endorsing Mattingly with his nine Gold Gloves in ten years, Martinez shouldn't get in as a designated hitter.

It wouldn't surprise me if he didn't get in on the first ballot, but he deserves to get there. He was the class of his position for a decade, and one of the best 1B of the modern era.

I'm leaning towards no with Bernie. He's a great Yankee, and arguably the epitome of all-around players, but he was never the elite at his position. He only started one All-Star game in his 16-season career (he was named to five), and only finished in the Top 10 of MVP voting twice, finishing seventh in 1998 and tenth in 2002. He was great, but definitely not one of the greatest to ever play the game.

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To look back at my preview of the Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2009 ballot, click here.

Friday, January 9, 2009

R-E-S-P-E-C-T Rickey!

When the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame announces their Class of 2009 on Monday, Rickey Henderson will become the 39th player to be inducted in his first year of eligibility. The only question that remains is whether or not the game's all-time stolen base and runs scored leader will break Tom Seaver's record, set when the pitcher appeared on 98.84 percent of his first-year ballots (425 of 430) in 1992. Considering Cal Ripken, Jr. only appeared on 537 of 545 ballots last year, in his first year of eligibility, I wouldn't count on it - I would also consider telling a certain eight people from last year that they are no longer receiving voting privileges. Players like Ripken and Henderson come around once in a lifetime, and if they're not elected unanimously, we seriously have to question voter motivations.

To put Rickey Henderson's electrifying career in perspective, there is only one active baseball player within 1000 of his record 1406 steals - Juan Pierre, who is 977 swipes away with 429. Johnny Damon is next with 362. And, as Dennis Eckersley recounts in this story, Henderson was one hell of a presence, too! But what about the guys on the ballot who aren't as obvious? Keeping in mind that, according to the Baseball Writer's Association of America, "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played," here's my take on the guys who are on this year's bubble, in the order that I feel they deserve consideration...

TIM RAINES is fifth on the all-time stolen base list with 808. Only five players have stolen more than 800 bases, the other four being Henderson, Lou Brock, Billy Hamilton and Ty Cobb (all HOFers). Let's compare Raines' to Brock, who was a first-ballot inductee in 1985:

LB: 938 SB, .293 AVG, 149 HR, 1610 R, 900 RBI, .343 OBP, 307 CS
TR: 808 SB, .294 AVG, 170 HR, 1571 R, 980 RBI, .385 OBP, 146 CS

Apart from Rickey Henderson, what more could you want in a lead-off hitter? The argument will be made that Raines wasn't as dominant as Henderson, since they both played the game at the same time, but where does "dominance" come into the voting criteria? In 1460 fewer at bats, Raines has essentially the same metrics as Brock, with a stolen base percentage that is ten percent higher. He scored 80 or more runs in a season ten times in his career, and was elected to the All Star team seven years in a row, from 1981-87.

ANDRE DAWSON is in some pretty elite company - Only two players in the history of the game have more home runs AND stolen bases: Barry Bonds and Willie Mays. He's a member of the 400 HR club with 438, swiped 314 bases, and has a lifetime average of .279. He won the MVP award in 1987, was awarded nine consecutive Golden Gloves from 1980-88, and made eight All Star appearances. He was one of the most rounded hitters to play the game, and was just as good in the field. SHOULD HE BE INDUCTED? Yes.

BURT BLYLEVEN raises an interesting point for Hall of Fame voters: Should you penalize a player for the team he was on? Blyleven's win totals aren't overwhelming (he's 26th all-time with 287), but his strikeout numbers are filthy, placing him fifth all-time with 3701, behind only Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton. His peripherals are similarly superb, sporting a lifetime 3.31 ERA and 1.198 WHIP. The question that begs asking is, with numbers that good, why are his wins so low? Run support. Blyleven had at least 15 wins in 10 of his 22 Major League seasons. Not great, I know. Then consider that he had double-digit losses in nine of the seasons in which he didn't win 15 games. Put this guy on a contender, rather than the Minnesota, Texas, Pittsburgh and Cleveland squads that struggled to convert his 3.31 lifetime ERA (and 242 complete games) into wins, and he'd have been a lock for the Hall years ago. Don't agree? Add 20 more wins to his lifetime totals, and he'd have more than Tom Seaver and Gaylord Perry. SHOULD HE BE INDUCTED? Yes.

JIM RICE played all 16 of his MLB seasons with the Boston Red Sox, and in the 11 seasons where he had at least 500 AB never hit fewer than 85 RBI. He hit at least 100 RBI eight times in his career, was elected to the All Star team eight times, won the MVP award in '78 and finished in the Top 5 in MVP voting six times. In terms of all around hitting talent, only 14 players have more career home runs and a higher batting average. SHOULD HE BE INDUCTED? Yes.

DALE MURPHY doesn't have the same numbers as Andre Dawson, but he was the same type of player on both sides of the ball. That said, if Rice gets in, Murphy belongs in with comparable numbers. He may not have been the all-around hitter Rice was, and his lifetime .265 average is no doubt his biggest hurdle, but Rice never won a Gold Glove award. Murphy won five Gold Gloves in a row, and was also a starter in the All Star game each of those years, 1982-86. He was named league MVP twice, and was named to a total of seven All Star games in eight years. What Murphy lacked in average, he made up for with his leather. SHOULD HE BE INDUCTED? Yes.

LEE SMITH ranks third on the all-time Saves list with 478 (with no active pitcher within reach), and fifth all-time in strikeouts by a closer with 1251 (though it's worth noting that the four relievers with more strikeouts - Dennis Eckersly, Goose Gossage, Hoyt Wilhem and Rollie Fingers - all saw time as starters in their career, helping boost their totals). Smith may not have the charisma of Gossage or the career as a starter like Eckersly, but he was a dominant force and integral in redefining the role (and status) of closers in baseball. SHOULD HE BE INDUCTED? Yes.

MARK McGWIRE will forever be linked to steroids, which speaks directly to the character criteria when weighing votes. Fine, point taken. Babe Ruth was a womanizer and hard drinker, Gaylord Perry's main pitch was a spitball (cheater), and there is no shortage of claims that Ty Cobb was a racist. Ah, those were different days, one might argue. Okay, well so were the '90s. Baseball was slumping, and the historic 1998 home run race between McGwire and Sammy Sosa revived the game on a worldwide level. Few can deny that baseball turned a blind eye to the problem of performance enhancing drugs, which in turn only encouraged the practice. We'll never know how many players that make the Hall actually did steroids, but we'd be burying our heads in the sand if we don't think there will at least be a few. Is it fair to make McGwire an example? His 583 career long balls place him eighth on the all-time list, he was the game's premier slugger for a decade, and he appeared in 12 All Star games in his 16 season career. SHOULD HE BE INDUCTED? Yes.

JACK MORRIS spent 18 years in the Majors. In his first 16 seasons as a full-time starter, he failed to reach the 15-win plateau only twice (and one of those times was 14 wins in 1981). He has four World Series rings with three different teams, was named to the All Star team five times, and finished in the Top 5 in Cy Young Award votes five times. He was clearly a great pitcher, and one of the most consistent of his era, but his peripheral 3.90 career ERA (he's got the highest ERA ever by a pitcher with at least 250 wins) and 2478 strikeouts aren't enough to truly merit elite status.

ALAN TRAMMELL had a Hall of Fame stretch from 1983-88, winning two Gold Gloves and Silver Slugger awards, earning Top 10 MVP votes and finishing in the Top 5 in batting average three times each, being named World Series MVP, and getting voted to four All Star squads. But those were only six years in a 20 year career. The reality is, those years made his name a lot bigger than his overall stats. If we let him in, we've got to open the door for guys like Don Mattingly, Dave Parker and Darryl Strawberry - As good as they were, the prolonged careers just weren't there. SHOULD HE BE INDUCTED? No.

TOMMY JOHN and his elbow should get a Hall of Fame exhibit opened in their honor, but not a plaque. He's got one more win than Burt Blyleven in four more seasons, and 233 fewer strikeouts than Jack Morris had in eight less seasons. He was a good pitcher, but not a great pitcher. SHOULD HE BE INDUCTED? No.

ALSO ON THE BALLOT: Harold Baines, Jay Bell, David Cone, Ron Gant, Mark Grace, Don Mattingly, Jesse Orosco, Dave Parker, Dan Plesac, Darryl Strawberry, Greg Vaughn, Mo Vaughn, Matt Williams.

2008 National Baseball Hall of Fame Vote Totals

Hall of Fame members, ranked by voting percentage
(Absent from the ranking is Goose Gossage, voted in last year.
He received 466 of 543 possible votes, for a total of 85.8 percent)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Rock of Love Bus (On A Steel Horse They Ride)

That ain't a pistol, it's my... Rock of Love Bus! Season 3 of Poison frontman Bret Michaels' search for love - we'll use that word loosely, with an emphasis on loose - is a rip-roaring calamity of absurd implants and sub-zero intellects so mind-numbing, it turns your gray matter into silicone (that's a good thing, I swear). If you haven't heard, for this go round (surprisingly, Michaels' first two "Rock of Love" attempts to find the woman of his dreams didn't seem to pan out) he's brought his groupie menagerie on the road, packing the girls in pink and light blue tour buses as they follow him from city to city on a solo concert tour. It is laugh-out-loud television that is so bad, it's brilliant, serving up an endless array of VH1-sponsored idiocy that takes guilty pleasures to all new lows. Yup, it just doesn't get any better than this! I lost 20 IQ points watching the first episode, but since I figure that's 18 more than most of the girls on the show had to start with, I'd risk another 20 and watch again. This time, I'm only watching for the dialogue, I swear! They say a picture can tell a thousand words. Here are about a thousand words from the season premier that just don't need pictures...

"After two seasons of coming up empty handed, I had to ask myself, 'What the hell am I doing wrong?'" -Bret Michaels, who's scored more than his share of handfuls throughout the first two seasons, so I don't know what the hell he's talking about

"I'm everything I think a guy would want, actually - I'm different, I'm cool, I'm fun, I'm a little bit not too smart, but that's okay!" -Brittanya, who's got to score some points for at least knowing exactly where she stands

"What the blonde bimbo hell have I walked into?" -Mindy (not blonde)

"I am a DJ and I am also known for doing graffiti, but then I got six months of, like, jail time, so I was like, okay, if I get my boobs done then I'm not going to climb the buildings, I might pop one, or I'm not going to climb the freeways because it's hard, so I decided to get my boobs done for that reason." -Nikki, who then rapped lyrics she wrote for Brett off sheets of paper that had information about genital herpes and gonorrhea printed on the back of them. "I'm not exactly sure what his impression might have been," she said, "but hopefully he heard the lyrics and knew a little bit more about me, at least..." Yeah, we'll see how much Bret is turned on by the fact that you recycle paper, sweetheart!

"I'm starting an escort agency out of Canada - Hi, I'm Natasha, an aspiring madam." -Natasha, an aspiring madam

"I get a man's attention with... I usually just push my boobs up - just kidding..." -Farrah, who I really don't think is kidding

"I actually get really carsick, though, that's the only thing I'm afraid of. Limos get me sick, taxi cabs get me sick, buses get me sick - so I think I would like to sit in the front of the bus." -Samantha, who apparently doesn't know the difference between a tour bus and a Greyhound. They'll be putting the drama in Dramamine this season.

"I don't want to be the first naked girl... How about I just show you my ass?" -Taya, a Penthouse Pet cover girl/centerfold who doesn't want to seem one-dimensional

"Mass chaos, it's a like a stampede of stripper heels." -Samantha, describing the scene as the girls pack their luggage on the buses

"I packed very lightly, just my Luis Vuitton bag. It's a carry-on, and all my clothes are really small and I could pretty-much fit six weeks of clothes in there." -Nikki, who saved space by not packing underwear

"I'm gonna tell you straight out, I do no illegal drugs. Everything I've ever taken and am on is legal and (burp) - excuse me, I've been drinking a little..." -Nikki, a veritable quote machine

"So we're up onstage trying to have a good time and I look over and see Farrah and Gia making out, basically swapping diseases. It was very disgusting to watch. Are you guys here for Bret, or are you putting on a show for these hillbillies?" -Natasha, who offends pretty easily for an aspiring madam, don't you think?

"If Farrah wants to lick my boobs, she can lick my boobs anytime she wants..." -Gia, who later places a test tube of liquor in a place for Nikki to, well, do something Bret says he hasn't seen done in all his years of touring. Having been on the road with Poison before,I highly doubt that, but I digress... Nikki was (surprise) all too happy to oblige: "I'm freaking horny right now because for three months I haven't been with a guy because I had a girlfriend and I thought this girlfriend thing was going to work out, whatever..." Says Bret, "All's I know is, thank God alcohol kills 99.9 percent of all germs."

"Your boobs are saggy, that's cute." -Ashley, to Beverly, who then tosses her shot glass and hits Gia, who throws a drink back at Beverly from about three feet away, but misses her by a foot

"I'm not a lesbian or totally bisexual, but if that's what you want, and I love you, then I would do that for you..." -Brittaney, the former porn star who's apparently only partially bisexual

"I was so angry at her, I pushed her on the couch and I choked her - you do not waste alcohol like that, that is not cool!" -Marcia, the Brazilian, after Ashley poured a beer on her

"I just specifically asked you guys not to be slutty..." -Big John, Bret's best friend and head of security, in the season previews

I know, it's just not the same without pictures! To check out the girls of "Rock of Love Bus," click here. God I love this show!

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Click here for an archived liveDaily review of Poison's 08.12.07 performance at the Verizon Amphitheater in Irvine, CA.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Album of the Year

My album of the year for 2008? Chinese Democracy.

Musically, I give a slight edge to Death Magnetic, Metallica's sprawling return to their epic metal roots. That album is to heavy metal what Coldplay's Viva La Vida is to alterna-pop. Where the latter soothes the savage beast, the other grabs it by the balls and twists until the beast sees red. Then the beast is unleashed. Without a question of doubt, Metallica have reclaimed the metal throne that many thought they'd relinquished over the past decade.

The release of Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy, on the other hand, was met by nothing but questions and doubt. The album's "pending" release has been an industry joke since the turn of the millennium. Half the album has been floating around the internet, and many of those songs have already been unveiled live on any number of Axl Rose and band's scattered tours over the past few years. The album's budget has received more press than former guitarist Slash's subsequent releases - with more alleged release dates than KISS has had farewell tours - and Axl Rose has been about as visible in the media as those weapons of mass destruction were in Iraq.

Then it was announced that the album would not only come out Nov. 22, but it would be available exclusively in Best Buy stores, much like the Eagles, Journey and AC/DC released albums exclusively through Wal-Mart. When Metallica debuted with first-week sales in excess of 800,000, and AC/DC followed suit with sales just short of 900,000 (in Wal-Mart alone, no less), the general consensus (myself included) was that GNR would splash somewhere around the gold mark. But they fell very short, with first-week sales less than a third that of their metallic brethren.

In this day-and-age of instant gratification and snap judgements, many were quick to let album sales dictate that the album was a failure. And those figures gave credence to the people who didn't need to listen to the album to argue, "It's not Guns N' Roses without Slash," or "It sounds disjointed, like it was recorded over 15 years. There's no continuity..." But those arguments don't hold water when you give the album a few serious listens. No, Slash is nowhere to be found, but lead guitarists Robin Finck, Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal and Buckethead leave their own signatures. Solos abound, and while they don't always bleed with a blues-rock squeal, the sound is unmistakably Guns N' Roses. Yes, the punk rock audacity of their legendary Appetite for Destruction debut is gone, but it was gone on their two Use Your Illusion releases, so that should come as no surprise. Just as UYI I & II took Guns N' Roses a step beyond their 1987 debut, Chinese Democracy takes yet another step - albeit more than a decade later. Was it worth the wait? Maybe not, but what in life is worth waiting 15 years for? Plain and simple, it's a fantastic record that not only holds up with repeated listens, but gets stronger.

As I said earlier, by musical merits alone, I'd place the album a hair's length behind Metallica's Death Magnetic, but I don't judge an Album of the Year by music alone. Obviously, I also don't judge an album by its sales. No, with Chinese Democracy, I'm hailing an album that not only rose to the occasion musically, but also spoke to the time and era in which it was released.

With a reported budget of more than $15.0 million, there seemed no chance of label Interscope/Geffen recouping their expenses. But they found their bailout in Best Buy, whose guaranteed payout for the exclusive rights to the release was said to be substantial enough to recoup the vast majority, if not all, of the label's investment in the album (it is reported that the retailer purchased a non-returnable 1.3 million copies of the album). With only a fraction of the retail presence of Wal-Mart (less than a fifth, to be exact - according to the company websites, Best Buy have nearly 1,300 stores to Wal-Mart's 7,400), marketing would have to be at a premium to compete with the numbers Metallica and AC/DC reported in first-week sales. And there was no marketing. At all. In fact, the album was all but lost on the shelves in many Best Buys for fans who went looking.

Guns N' Roses apologists blame Interscope, but is it fair to blame the label? Metallica were everywhere in the months preceding the release of Death Magnetic, from radio festivals to magazine covers, and nearly every website in between. Axl Rose was nowhere to be seen. Wal-Mart built a store-within-a-store to promote AC/DC's Black Ice, and Chinese Democracy was lucky to have end-cap space in Best Buy. The argument has been made that Rose has lost credibility in the eyes of many fans, but credibility is nothing more than a marketing guru away. Just ask Britney Spears. Or Tom Cruise. Or Bret Michaels. I'm not saying Axl Rose needed to star in his own "Rock of Love," but a little media presence can go a long way - Axl didn't pick the best time to go back into hiding.

Did Interscope drop the ball by not making the most of their Best Buy deal, or were they never even handed the ball to run with? You can only work with what you're given, and it doesn't seem like they were given anything more than a damn-good album, and little means by which to promote it. Welcome to the music industry in the 21st Century. It's a jungle, baby. It's not enough to have a great album, you need a machine behind that album. And in order for the machine to work, it needs fuel. The dollars and cents of the label's deal with Best Buy represented everything brilliant about the big business side of the music industry. The way that deal was handled, represented everything that's wrong with the industry today.

Bands need to work with their labels, not against them. That didn't happen with Chinese Democracy. But it's not too late. In December, Axl promised that a video for lead single "Better" would arrive soon. We're still waiting. Similarly, a tour is being talked about in Spring. That, too, will do a lot to promote sales. It's no secret that Axl Rose does things differently. And some might argue that is part of his mystique. Couple that mystique with the marketing machine responsible for more record sales than any other major label last year, and there's still a lot of potential for Chinese Democracy to show substantial legs.

Make up for the album's ill-presence at its release with a blockbuster Best Buy promotion to coincide with the tour. How about an in-store or two? It's totally anti-Axl, which is exactly what would make it so brilliant. Grant a few high-profile interviews. Make a few television appearances. Take hold of the opportunities that are made available to only someone of Axl Rose's stature, and watch how fast cynics turn tail and believe in Chinese Democracy. The sales will follow.

Once that happens, Guns N' Roses may have the Album of the Year in 2009, as well.

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Click here for an archived Hollywood Reporter review of Guns N' Roses' 09.23.06 performance at the Hyundai Pavilion in Devore, CA, and here for an archived review of their 12.17.06 performance at the Gibson Amphitheater in Universal City, CA.