I'm pretty dumb. Just passed through security at LAX and grabbed a seat in the terminal's underwhelming sports bar. Affirming my suspicions that I may be financially retarded is the fact that I just paid $8.50 for a damn 20 oz. Bud Light, which seemed like the cheapest option. But now it's time to fly and I need to get a buzz on before the red eye flight; maybe if I drink this really fast, I'll sleep through the fight's duration and wake up on the other side, refreshed and relaxed for a short holiday break. So this will be my last Bud Light of the year. At home, it'll only the finest BevMo wines and White Russians on my sweet mother's dime. Needless to say, I'm excited for the holidays.
But holy crap! 2011 is about to end! That's just nuts. Honestly, the older I get, the faster each year seems to go by. I figured since I like to neatly wrap up the news events of each week, now's a good time to examine the blur that was 2011.
Coincidentally, this year-end wrap up is the 30th installment of my weekly blog series. I can't believe that I'm still writing this thing after six months. The process of critiquing music news, realizing how absurd rock culture tends to be, and trying to place everyday music news into the bigger picture has been an amazing experience, and I have to thank the encouraging editors at Ultimate Guitar for allowing me to write for you guys on a weekly basis. Honestly, I cannot begin to express how grateful I am to write for you every week and talk music. I read all of your comments and love hearing your insights and opinions. For those of you (many of you) who have lent some truly kind and encouraging words to me over the past several months, I have to give my sincerest and heartfelt thanks. Writing can be a tough gig; it has a strange way of f-cking with your confidence, and sometimes you wonder whether or not anyone will give two sh-ts about what you have to say. However, reading your kind comments every week has not only helped me improve my writing, but has also been invaluable to my confidence as a writer and musician. Honestly, you guys rock in every sense of the word.
Now, as some of you may know, I'm all about reflection. Figuring out why things are the way they are through crystal-clear 20/20 hindsight is an activity that I find worthwhile. So why not use this time at the end of the year to reflect on the past 12 months and figure out what we've learned?
For me, one of the biggest learning experiences this year was touring. Thanks to my growing friendships with the fellers in The Human Abstract, I was given the amazing opportunity to experience the touring life from two very different perspectives: one through nave excitement and the other through a more realistic lens.
Last March, my roommate Taso and I flew up to San Jose to join the band on the road for a few days a little Spring Break of sorts. Wide-eyed and ready to party, we pounded Four Loko, Jager Bombs and cheap beer, ready to live out what we both believed was the crazy rock and roll lifestyle we grew up longing for. And those few days on tour were intense and fun although we started to see the underlying down time each day handed out to the band and crew, we mostly partied. With the brevity of our stint on tour, plus hazy memories, we were left with a semi-focused snapshot, a general impression of what the road has to offer.
Fast-forward several months to the Frak The Gods Tour. This time I joined THA for a full national tour to mainly work lights and merch. This helped me see touring in a different light. Now, I can go on and on about how eye-opening and valuable the experience was (and I did, check out EOTWAWKI: Parts 14-19 and the Tumblr blog I managed while on the road) but if I had one thing to take away from the tour, it would be that touring, although fun, is still a job with positive and negative aspects. Being on the road for over a month helped me separate the cool factor from the actual reality of living on the road. I won't say that touring isn't all that it's cracked up to be, but it isn't a constant party. It can't be if you want to live well. So could I see myself as a touring musician? Absolutely. I can handle night drives, several days without a shower and resultant vinegary balls. Even diarrhea caused by Waffle House stops at 3am has it's own charm. But do I want to be 37 years old, in a thrash band still playing small venues and touring in a white van that was probably previously owned by a rapist? Probably not, But we'll see what happens in the future. If you have the time and know the right people, I highly recommend joining a band on tour, even if you're not playing; you really learn about how bands, shows, audiences, and the touring life operate.
But as far as guitar practice is concerned, a question we can ask ourselves is how did we progress on the guitar this year? Did you reach your personal goals? Are you better than you were a year ago? Technique and music theory aside, I've realized two valuable aspects to guitar playing that don't necessarily have to do with memorization or exercises.
Arguably the most important tool you have for guitar is your ear. I've found that attempting to develop a discerning and critical ear benefits many areas of your playing. Record yourself and be honest with where your shortcomings are. Closely listen to your favorite guitar players and determine what's so unique about their style. The main goal of music is to please the ears, so strive for the best possible sound you can. In other words, don't settle for 95%. Make every note you play sound as good as it can, and if some of them don't, practice until they are.
Also, listen to as much music as possible. This, I guarantee, will benefit your playing. Try stepping out of what you normally like guitar wise, listening to, say classical guitar or gypsy jazz, can increase your awareness of what's physically and musically possible on the instrument, giving you more ideas to contribute to your own playing. Listening to non-guitar music has its benefits too; say you find a melody from a wind instrument that perks your ears up how was it phrased? Can you imitate the tone on guitar? From there, you can get ideas for solos and even adapt your technique to achieve some cool, new sounds.
All this stuff becomes the inner workings of developing into a well-rounded and seasoned playerthe focus lies less on how many notes you can play or how fast you can sweep, but how you go about executing musical ideas that sound great.
So there's some stuff I've learned this year. Just thought I'd share that. But now, as always, let's get to some music news, even though it's all old news by now. Plus, most of it has already been beaten into the groundso, let's visit 2011 music news one last time and finally lay some of these stories (especially "Lulu") to rest.
Top News of 2011
Overall, it was a solid year in music. Some truly exceptional albums were released (my personal favorites were from Mastodon, Megadeth, Dream Theater, Radiohead, Textures and, of course, The Human Abstract), the Foo Fighters pretty much grabbed 2011 by the nuts and refused to let go, Corey Taylor hurled a great deal of offensive (yet funny) insults at some big names in music, and most of us hated on Nickelback, although that happens every year. While it's definitely impossible to include everything that went on this year, I'll try to go over the big events and recurring characters in the music news headlines.
Dream Theater Drama A Year of Dispute
Although drummer Mike Portnoy officially left Dream Theater last year, we were unable to escape the verbal aftermath following his departure in 2011.
After Dream Theater quickly started the process of finding Portnoy's replacement (in a cheesy reality TV fashion), Portnoy couldn't help but wear his emotions on his sleeve, a move that was met with much criticism.
Personally, I think the back-and-forth news got a little out of hand, and reflected poorly on Portnoy. Each week, it seemed like he'd go the blogosphere and candidly respond to fan criticism or inner-band details, trying to smooth out the drama attached to the split. Not only did it lack tact, but the problem with this also lies with the shrinking barrier between fan and musician due to the Internet.
I could write an entire article on the pros and cons of Internet interactions between musicians and fans, but in the Dream Theater case, I'll just say that Portnoy could have helped the situation by keeping his mouth shut, rather than trying to justify his actions through forum posts and blogs. Mike Portnoy, for many, seemed like a badass drummer in a great prog band, who many people, I'm sure, wanted to emulate. That's the magic of playing on stage to millions of fans; you get to look larger than life. But when you engage in online arguments with Internet readers, that mystique is taken away, and there's the potential to dig yourself into a hole and seem like a middle school girl.
But now, things seem to be back on track; DT is touring in support of "A Dramatic Turn of Events" (they say that title doesn't have anything to do with the Portnoy thingright) and Mike is jamming away in 4/4 with the cock-rock outfit, Adrenaline Mob. We'll see if Mike's cred will increase in the years to come.
2011 Deaths in Music
So, kind of like the Academy Awards ceremony, it seems fitting to have an "in memoriam" segment to acknowledge those in the industry that passed away this year.
Two big figures in the music world died this year, although they weren't exactly everyday names in our spectrum of musical tastes. Amy Winehouse, a pop-jazz singer with a troubled past and very public battle with drugs, died at 27, further continuing the popular idea of the "27 Club" in rock lore. Apple CEO Steve Jobs also passed away in 2011. Over the past ten years, since the release of the iPod, Jobs's technological developments arguably changed the music industry and method by which the world purchases music.
And as with any year, some musician deaths in 2011 were drug-related: Jani Lane, ex-singer of Warrant; Mike Starr, ex-bassist of Alice in Chains, and Mikey Welsh; ex-bassist of Weezer. Some were surprising and unexpected, like guitar legend Gary Moore, and Cory Flattus Maximus Smoot from GWAR.
And let's not forget those damn stages falling down this past summer. Remember that crap? Unfortunately, many died or were injured, simply from attending a concert.
So RIP to those who passed away in 2011, their music will continue to live on. Hopefully, 2012 will contain fewer musician deaths and more sturdy stage structures.
More Big 4 Thrashing A Year of Amends
Fans of classic 80's thrash metal were overjoyed to see that their favorite titans of the genre Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax were giving a string of European and North American shows, following the success of the initial Big 4 reunions in 2010.
The only problem, especially for non-costal American fans wanting to catch a glimpse of the metal package, was the hefty ticket price. But despite the arguably overpriced event, it seemed like the shows went swimmingly, resulting in a string of news, press releases and YouTube videos covering the shows. I just wish they picked a better song than Am I Evil? for the final jam with all the bands.
And fortunately, the longtime Metallica and Megadeth spat seems to be officially over. The bands seem friendly now, and Dave Mustaine seems to have let every ounce of anger go. Dave even played onstage with Metallica during the Big 4 shows and at Metallica's 30th Anniversary celebration. That's pretty huge, seeing as the Metallica/Megadeth feud spanned decades.
I'm pleased the aging thrashers were able to bury hatchets and make amends. Since I'm a pretty peaceful dude, I'm always down for some peace, love and heavy metal.
In that sense, the classic thrash bands, including Metallica, had a successful year. On top of that, Metallica's new EP, "Beyond Magnetic" suggests something promising for the future, especially when compared to
The Misstep That Was "Lulu"
The year's biggest joke! Earlier this year, we learned that metal veterans Metallica would be teaming up with The Velvet Underground frontman, Lou Reed, for an upcoming album. Some of us were hopeful, because, hell, in theory, it sounded like it could be pretty sick.
Unless you dwelled in a bomb shelter or lost the ability to hear this year, you surely know that the record turned out to be utter crap. I've written about this record many, many times, attempting to make sense of it all. It's just too puzzling; the it's-too-artistic-for-the-layman-to-understand defense from Lou Reed, the quotes from Metallica hailing it as their most satisfying release and now, as the year winds down, I'm left with one final theory as to why "Lulu" was released and why it's so damn awful.
Maybe, just maybe, Lou Reed and Metallica were conducting a grand social experiment, similar to Casey Affleck's recent film, "I'm Still Here." In the film, real-life actor Joaquin Phoenix begins acting bizarre and erratic, publicly boasting that he was going to start a rap career. The public responded with a collective "WTF?!" and shunned him from the spotlight. It turned out that after the film's release, Affleck and Phoenix admitted that the whole thing was a hoax; an experiment meant to illustrate how quickly the public can turn on a celebrity when he or she drastically alters their public image against what they are known for. Effectively, a mirror was held up to the public. Maybe the same thing is going on with "Lulu." Perhaps the "artistic" aspect of "Lulu" isn't the music itself, rather the public's reaction to it. Maybe, sitting atop Mt. Olympus, the almighty Metallica and Lou Reed wondered, "how quickly can our fans turn on us if we essentially defecate in their ears?"
So if Metallica and Lou Reed say that "Lulu" was a huge joke and an attempt to sociologically analyze how the public consumes music, I wouldn't be surprised. If that's the case, then maybe they are geniuses after all, Metallica still rules, and Lou Reed isn't the crotchety old man that he now seems to be.
Final Words for 2011
So that's the year as we know it, and it has been a great one. I'll say it again: thank you all so much for reading this blog every week! If you have any comments, questions or suggestions for this blog, feel free to email me @firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter.
Now if you'll excuse me, a few White Russians and Cohen Brothers movie marathon is in order. Have an amazing holiday, UG community, and I'll see you all next year!
On the Next It's the End of the Year as We Know It:
It's revealed that the Mayan prophesy predicting the end of the world is, in fact, true; however, the official end of the world comes one month earlier with the release of Lou Reed and Fred Durst's collaborative album of slam poetry, loosely based on Shakespearean sonnets. The world didn't see it coming.
Mike Portnoy is officially allowed back into Dream Theater, under the condition that he's only allowed to play the cowbell.
On the upcoming Black Sabbath reunion tour, it's revealed that Ozzy Osbourne lip-syncs when a Ronnie James Dio track is mistakenly played. Nobody seems to mind.
By Zach Pino