It's The End Of The Year As We Know It: 2011

But holy crap! 2011 is about to end! That's just nuts. 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.

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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.

It wasn't.

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 @zacharypino@gmail.com 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

30 comments sorted by best / new / date

    SuicidalFreak
    For 2011 Deaths in Music, you forgot Wurzel from Motorhead, he died last July.
    Joost1795
    On the next End of the Year: "Courney Love(That crack h00k3r) dies from an overdose she took after getting kicked out of her house" "Rush' album Clockwork Angels received 2 grammy's and was the best selling album of 2012" "Black Sabbath gone touring again and their new album hits the charts like a bomb" "Lou Reed kills himself after getting stalked by more than 500 12 yr old kids" "Justin Bieber dies in a plane crash caused by the pilot who was a terrorist muslim send by allah"
    Cavalcade
    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?
    Well, it's not hard when your goals for playing are "practice enough to stay where you are". The things the average UGer needs to worry about are finding a band, writing some material, and making connections- the stuff you covered at the beginning. Me, I'm putting a demo together, and having to learn a different set of not-really-guitar-related things, like the mixing/mastering process. Oh yeah, and making an album cover that isn't complete shi'ite. So UG, try to make 2012 the year you branch out into the world outside guitar.
    Finn666
    So you mention steve jobs in your MUSICAL deaths, but not honeyboy edwards? Seriously? I love your article every week, but that's just wrong.
    Ivox_Deicide
    Come on, let's be honest. I don't undertand all the excitement around Th1rt3en. It's just mediocre, boring modern Megadeth.
    Countsluggo
    Lou reed and fred durst. HAHA. I always look forward to your column. Keep it up in 2012
    blackbird51
    Joost1795 wrote: On the next End of the Year: "Courney Love(That crack h00k3r) dies from an overdose she took after getting kicked out of her house" "Rush' album Clockwork Angels received 2 grammy's and was the best selling album of 2012" "Black Sabbath gone touring again and their new album hits the charts like a bomb" "Lou Reed kills himself after getting stalked by more than 500 12 yr old kids" "Justin Bieber dies in a plane crash caused by the pilot who was a terrorist muslim send by allah"
    Just no...
    queenslander47
    Its 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 Dursts collaborative album of slam poetry, loosely based on Shakespearean sonnets. The world didnt see it coming.
    You've had some really good ones of these over the year, but this one I think made me laugh the most. A Fred Durst/Lou Reed colab hahahaha the world really would end. Great blog, enjoyed reading it every week. Keep them coming in 2012.
    DanielN
    Mike Portnoy is officially allowed back into Dream Theater, under the condition that hes only allowed to play the cowbell.
    if only...
    xShade
    Its 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 Dursts collaborative album of slam poetry, loosely based on Shakespearean sonnets. The world didnt see it coming. Mike Portnoy is officially allowed back into Dream Theater, under the condition that hes only allowed to play the cowbell.
    LMFAO xD
    Time Bomb
    "Mike Portnoy is officially allowed back into Dream Theater, under the condition that hes only allowed to play the cowbell." "On the upcoming Black Sabbath reunion tour, its revealed that Ozzy Osbourne lip-syncs when a Ronnie James Dio track is mistakenly played. Nobody seems to mind." You sir, have made my weekend!
    peachesenregali
    Joost1795 wrote: On the next End of the Year:"Courney Love(That crack h00k3r) dies from an overdose she took after getting kicked out of her house""Rush' album Clockwork Angels received 2 grammy's and was the best selling album of 2012""Black Sabbath gone touring again and their new album hits the charts like a bomb""Lou Reed kills himself after getting stalked by more than 500 12 yr old kids""Justin Bieber dies in a plane crash caused by the pilot who was a terrorist muslim send by allah"
    Why?
    WholeLottaIzzy
    Ah you actually did it? My idea guys! AWESOME. Despite you would probably do this without my input...
    darkwolf291
    SGofawesome wrote: SuicidalFreak wrote: For 2011 Deaths in Music, you forgot Wurzel from Motorhead, he died last July.Who?
    :eek:
    SGofawesome
    SuicidalFreak wrote: For 2011 Deaths in Music, you forgot Wurzel from Motorhead, he died last July.
    Who?
    Skullivan
    Best "On the Next..." section yet. Fred Durst and Shakespearean slam poetry. Mike Portnoy, always wants to play "Don't Fear the Reaper." Ozzy lip-synching to Dio.
    Fuzzface16
    Mike Portnoy is allowed back into DT only playing the cowbell hahahaha! Zach that made my day. But dude I enjoyed wading your threads here on UG, can't wait to read more of your essays next year. On another point though if I had to look at this year in retrospect I would say the Black Sabbath reunion was the biggest news to me. Hearing that I knew instatnly that 2012 is gonna be a good year. But reading UG today and with them thinking that next year Black Sabbath, Metallica, and Slipknot may tour together in the summer that really bummed me out, I just hope that's a speculation that isn't gonna be true. And for those of you that ask me why? it's because I cannot dread to think how much the corporate offices of Ticketmaster or Live Nation are going charge for tickets for a gig like that. Plus (with no disrespect to Metallica or Slipknot whatsoever) I'd rather just see the Black Sabbath REUNION TOUR with just Black Sabbath, nobody else. Just a night of pure old classic kick a** Sabbat tunes with the 4 guys that started it all off. I mean Metallica and Slioknot are good musicians and all and they have themselves a good name in the music industry for a good reason but to me there just isn't a point why the one and only Black Sabbath should bring any other band on the road with them on their reunion (and probably farewell) tour. That's just what I think about that
    RAWRbotdfXx
    I feel really bad for the people who have died this year. One of the girls I knew at school died this year as well. I wish them happiness and love...RIP. And for all you people out there, happy holidays! I hope you have a wonderful 2012!! Rock on and live every moment to the fullest!!! LOVE YOU ALL!
    monkeysintheday
    I 100% agree that Portnoy should have kept his mouth shut. Being a drummer and a huge Dream Theater fan, I wanted nothing but to play like Mike Portnoy a year ago. When he left, I still respected him fully (I even saw him with Avenged Sevenfold) and still wanted to emulate him. And now I would be happy if I never heard a news story about Mike Portnoy again.
    blakeT
    Great Article. Now that Lulu is laid to rest, let's talk about something else... How is Courtney Love doing these days? :\
    Minivirus2
    Keep it up man! Looking forward to readin on in the new year. Enjoy the holidays.
    Masta' Exploda'
    An other great release this year is The Here And Now, by british metalcore/deathcore band Architects... sad thing Nickelcrap took the same title (without the the)...
    Sic_maggot_H
    'Tallica said St. Anger was a test like you were thinking Lulu could have been. James is an Angry Table.
    GNR4life425
    If you are correct about lou reed and fred durst...I will rip my balls off and throw them in a river hahaha
    jurnag12
    hell, in theory, it sounded like it could be pretty sick. It wasnt.
    Well, it was a kind of sick. The kind you get from 3 am Waffle House stops.
    Lion_Slicer
    But as far as guitar practice is concerned, a question we can ask ourselves is how did we progress on the guitar this year?
    I'm happy with myself. I learned Colors. Obviously I'm horribly sloppy, but I still really impressed myself. My goal for the new year is to actually start playing shows--my roommate's a drummer and we actually found some cool guys to jam with. Hopefully my last semester of chemical engineering will give me some free time... sure. You should mention how great a year this was for new music. Opeth, Machine Head, Between the Buried and Me, Amon Amarth, and the almighty Mastodon all had very worthy albums. Oh yeah, The Human Abstract too.
    Now if youll excuse me, a few White Russians and Cohen Brothers movie marathon is in order. Have an amazing holiday, UG community, and Ill see you all next year!
    This is the best idea ever, I know from experience. Great column Zach, keep it coming!
    Skilz
    Also Seth Putnam (Lead singer of Ana.l Cun.t) died this year!