Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Three Kings

I entered the Kingdom of Metal through the Hair Metal Gateway.  Back when I was falling in love with music, hair metal was the biggest music in the world, and I loved it.  It was loud, melodic, and my parents hated it.  And like Lemmy said, if your parents don't like your music, it's good.  All these years later, I very rarely pop in the hair metal.  Most of it is lame, vapid music with too much fluffy production and not enough guts.  But there are a trio of bands that stand out to me today: Ratt, Dokken, and Extreme.  These three bands have one thing in common, an incredible talent on guitar.  After all these years, Warren DeMartini, George Lynch, and Nuno Bettencourt can still take my breath away with their mind-bending licks and get my head banging with their hard-rocking riffs.

DeMartini came out of the same San Diego scene that birthed former Ozzy shredder Jake E. Lee.  DeMartini even replace Lee in Ratt.

DeMartini stood apart from the poodle-haired shredder crowd with his gutsy, bluesy lead style.  For evidence of that, check his wailing leads on "Way Cool Jr.".  But, Warren was no one-trick pony.    He could shred with the best of them.  Listen to his blazing solos on "Round and Round" or "You're in Love" for proof.

DeMartini rocked out with Ratt until the band's break-up in 1992, then served short stints in Dokken and Whitesnake.  He also put out a couple of solo records.  He briefly played with Dio before leaving due to musical difference with Ronnie James Dio.  He returned to Ratt in 2007 .

For the best taste of Warren DeMartini's skills, I recommend searching for Out of the Cellar or Invasion of Your Privacy.  The man wails with guts and soul that few guitarists possess and he may well be one of the most underrated rock axemen of all time.

George Lynch is another great hair metal axeman.  Lynch played with a graceful, fluid virtuosity that can be jaw-dropping at times.  Ranked as one of Guitar World's 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, Lynch twice auditioned for Ozzy and even won the opportunity to join the Ozz man after Randy Rhoads' death, although he only lasted a very brief time.

Dokken is where Lynch's talent really bloomed.  Lynch wrote some of the most iconic riffs of the 80's metal era.  Stuff like "Tooth and Nail", "It's Not Love", "In My Dreams", and "Heaven Sent" has Lynch's finger prints all over it.  His soloing fused graceful speed with a tasty sense of melody.  He also employed a wide vibrato that shakes the soul.

Lynch is also the first player to show me that how you sound is as important as the notes you play.  Lynch's tone is downright scary.  He also was very skilled in employing harmonics in his playing.  Put it together, and you've got a tangy hard rock mixture with a bit of a bite.

For Lynch's best work, I'd recommend anything from the Under Lock and Key record.  Lynch's signature tone and riffage is in fine form there, and his soloing was never better.

Finally, Nuno Bettencourt, who for my money is the coolest hair rock shredder of all time.  The dude can do anything on the axe.  He shreds like an unholy fusion of Eddie Van Halen, Brian May, and Joe Perry.  His playing had a genuine funk edge, an emphasis on rhythmic feel, with muted riffs and dead string hits.  As a soloist, Nuno played with a semi-classical feel and fluid, breathtaking speed.  He could leaven his licks with bluesy grit or blazing, technically metallic skill.

Bettencourt came to the forefront with Extreme.  Though they hit the big time with acoustic hits like "More Than Words" and "Hole-Hearted", Nuno's skills are best displayed on tracks like "Mutha (Don't Wanna Go to School Today)", "Warheads", and "When I'm President".  That's "Play with Me" playing over top of the mall chase sequence in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.

If you want to hear Nuno's best work, try Extreme's second record, Pornographitti.  And Three Sides to Every Story shows the range and scope of his skills.  Nuno even wrote the score for the movie Smart People.  As I said, the guy can do anything, but his stuff with Extreme is what I like the best.

Warren DeMartini, George Lynch, and Nuno Bettencourt all wrote and played stuff that made me wanna pick up a guitar.  For me, these three dudes legitimized a whole decade full of silly, loud, big-haired rock.  If you want to hear some excellent guitar playing, do yourself a favor and find some music by these three dudes.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Jake E. Lee is Back!!

If you follow metal guitar playing at all, you're aware that Ozzy Osbourne's backing band has been a spotlight gig for great guitar playing.  From the legendary Randy Rhoads to current Ozzy shredder Gus G (also from Firewind), Ozzy's always had a screamingly excellent talent handling the six-string.  You may not remember Jake E. Lee, though.  Lee, whose tenure with Ozzy fell between Rhoads' tragic death and Zakk Wylde long campaign with the Ozzman, is a bit of a forgotten guitar god.  He riffed for blues rockers Badlands following his time with Ozzy, and when that group disbanded, he slipped out of the the public eye for the most part.  But now he's back kicking ass with a new band, Red Dragon Cartel, and he sounds as badass as ever.  Here's their debut single "Deceived".  I'm not sold on the singer, but just listen to that guitar!

Friday, January 24, 2014

An Announcement...

If you were familiar with Stranded in Hickville in its first incarnation, you know that two of my favorite features to write were Soundtrack of My Life and The Greatest Movies I've Ever Seen.  I'mma drop dime by saying I'm resurrecting those two features, mainly because I miss them.  Problem is, since I lost all my old posts here, I don't exactly remember which records and movies I covered.  That means I may write about stuff I've already written about.  So what?!  This is my blog.  If you don't like it get your own blog to bitch and moan about my blog.  Besides, maybe I'll come up with some new observations and that'll make the double coverage worth it..... (Though, probably not.)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Falling in Love is Hard on the Knees (and Everything Else...)

Word of warning: It's about to get pretty mushy up in this bitch.

If you ever wondered if Fatty has feelings, here's your proof: I've spent a good chunk of the past three days weeping like a female with unrealistic romantic expectations at the end of The Notebook.  My friends have heard this story a few too many times (Sorry Clifton and... well... Clifton), so I won't go into details.  But basically, the story goes like this: I developed a friendship with a woman.  The better I got to know her, the more smitten I became.  Then one night, I realized that seeing her happy made me really, really happy.  I realized that I was in love.  It was scary and exhilarating and depressing all at the same time.  Cuz I've danced this dance before.

It took an enormous effort for me to convince myself it was okay to feel like this about a woman.  But, I couldn't help myself.  This person wasn't exactly what I thought I wanted.  She was way better.  I finally told her how I felt and admitted I'd thought about what it'd be like if we started dating.  She said that wouldn't work for her.  Cue the crying.

As I said, this ain't the first time I've been through this situation, and I think the worst part of all this is the feeling that I've not learned what I need to so I'm doomed to keep reliving the same agonizing scenario over and over and over.  However, I learned a holy sh*t ton this time around.  Here's a sampling of the lessons this experience has taught me:

All of this is my fault.  When I realized what was going on, I had a choice to make.  On one hand, I could shut myself off, lie to myself, and try to kill what I was feeling by suffocating it deep down in my guts.  On the other hand I could give myself permission to feel what I was feeling, knowing full well that the outcome could be completely crushing.  I chose to try to embrace what I was feeling, and you know what?  For a short span of a few days, I was really, really happy.  Even though the girl wasn't mine, I loved knowing I could feel that way about her.  So, yeah, if I didn't choose to be okay with my feelings, I wouldn't be this sad right now.  I'd be worse off, though, from swallowing my emotions, and I'd never have had those few wonderful amazing days of sheer bliss.

The heart really does want what the heart wants.  Nothing about my feeling for this woman made sense to me.  She was way too young for me.  She was way too pretty as well.  I just couldn't see any reason we'd have anything to talk about. It made no sense to my brain to ever feel anything more than respect for her as a human being.  My heart told my brain to go eat a full bag of sh*t.  Although it felt completely insane, I've come to realize that love isn't some quantifiable scientific variable.  Who you fall for often doesn't make sense.  Maybe it's not supposed to.

Pain makes everything seem eternal.  Physicists theorize that black holes are so massive that they drag on time and slow it down.  Pain kinda works like that, too.  It makes you feel like you'll never be whole again.  It makes you feel like things will never be better.  Even though the time period you're dealing with your pain is fairly small, like a few weeks or months, when you're going through it, the shortest time span seems like an eternity.  Therefore pain = a black hole.

The right person can facilitate change in you.  I know I've railed loud and long about women trying to turn me into something I don't wanna be.  But this experience has changed my forever.  I still love metal, and movies, and being a goofy dumbass, but I'm so much more open to experiences and feelings than I was before.  I feel like I'm such a better person than I was before.  I think more about what I say before I say it.  I've even made a big-time improvement in how much I bash on myself.  Those are all great things that needed to change and it never would have happened without the influence of a very special person.

Friendship is the most thing someone can give you.  I know a lot of people think romantic love is the most precious commodity on Earth.  People write novels and make movies and sing songs about the importance and power of romantic love.  I respectfully disagree.  After this experience, and watching the way my love grew out of friendship, I'm more convinced than ever that romantic love can't exist without friendship.  It would seem counter-intuitive, especially considering only times I've actually dated someone were times when I didn't know the girl real well.  But we weren't friends and it didn't work out.  Friendship is important.  If someone is truly your friend, you should cherish that, because that's something unbelievably valuable and incredibly special.

Some things are worth fighting for.  Like friendship.  Dunno if I need to say anything more than that.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

January Thaw Haiku

This time of year, my home turf usually looks more like Hoth than any place habitable.  You know: horizontal snow, colder than a witch's titty, strange hairy monsters afoot looking for supper.  Stuff like that.  But the past three or four days have actually been pretty mild.  So, I wrote another stupid haiku about it:

Warm January
It would be such a nice day
If the wind would die...

Friday, January 10, 2014

When Choosing Wisely Doesn't Work Out

We make choices everyday.  Most of them are banal and inconsequential, like where to eat lunch, what music to listen to on the drive into work, or what pair of underpants to wear.  (I vote for the clean ones.)  No matter what our are choices are, we all have to deal with the repercussions, no matter how unpleasant they may be.  Lone Survivor is a movie that renders that point in beautifully bloody fashion.

The Lone Survivor story goes a little like this: a team of Navy Seals (played by Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, and Emile Hirsch) go on a op deep behind enemy lines.  Things go pear-shaped when a trio of goat herders stumble across them.  Our heroes are left with a choice: kill goat herders and violate the rules of engagement or let them go and get swamped by hostiles.  They let them go, and soon the bullets are flying as the Seals battle for their lives.

First things first: I don't really care for war movies.  A lot of them seem (at least to me) to be more about how the American military kicks ass because they can blow their enemies to tiny bits than about anything actually important.  Thankfully, Lone Survivor turns out to be about more than violence and blowing sh*t up and looking all bad ass doing it.  It's about getting cornered in an impossible situation and having to Make a choice.  It's about how making the right decision doesn't always lead to happiness.  Sometimes making the right choice leads to an ocean of crap.

I was pretty impressed with the acting in Lone Survivor.  Not so much Mr. Wahlberg and Mr. Foster.  I've seen those guys be excellent in other roles.  But Mr. Hirsh and, especially, Mr. Kitsch are particularly impressive cuz I haven't seen them pull something like this off.  I've only seen Hirsch in stupid comedies, so it's nice to see he's got range.  And poor Mr. Kitsch has been in so many lame roles (Gambit, John Carter) it's nice to see him get a good character and kick ass playing him.  Hopefully, this is the beginning of something big for him, cuz I have renewed faith in his abilities.

The action was crushingly tense.  Director Peter Berg chooses to keep us with our heroes and turns the enemy into ominous, rapidly moving shapes.  While dehumanizing the enemy usually robs a film of depth, in Lone Survivor we're supposed to be in the heads of the Seals, seeing what they see, and feeling what they feel.  The sound design helps a lot with that, leaving us in a fog of pinging bullets and booming RPGs (not role playing games, guys).  There's an awesome moment that made me jump and, if I'm honest, I'm still a little shaken by it.  That's all I'mma say about that.

I loved this movie, but it's so shatteringly intense that I'm not in a hurry to go see it again.  Don't let that stop you from seeing it.  It's the best war movie I've seen since The Hurt Locker, and it's about a lot more than just blowing stuff up.  Horns up, guys.  Way, way up.