Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rush - Beyond the Lighted Stage, DVD Review

Friday, June 29th 1984 – I remember this day like it was yesterday. This was one of the turning points in my life and there was no question about it. I was 13 years old and on this very night I was going to go to my first concert. My sister and (future) brother-in-law had an extra ticket for RUSH at the (then) Rosemont Horizon that evening and although I can’t remember how the extra came about (someone dropped out, I’m sure) but that’s not even a side note today. The important thing is it was now mine.

Again, the memories are foggy but a year or so earlier I had obtained a cassette version of the ‘Exit Stage Left’ album and it was the greatest thing I’d heard up until that point. Up until then it was all about radio rock from WMET, the Police and Van Halen and later Motley Crue, but there was something way different about this tape. The music was the sound of three virtuosos’s who understood the power of the song! Musically it was above and beyond anything I’d really ever heard.  Lyrically while mostly way confusing, some were blunt enough to hit home. Those words spoke to me when no one else would or could. Vividly I remember some dark times when this same tape felt like it was my only light. 

Exit Stage Left

My brother-in-law Mike was and remains a huge RUSH fan. He was a drummer in a garage band called Equinox and I can remember seeing him play in someone’s garage one time. Anyway, I’m sure the tape came from him and while I may have originally wanted to see/hear what this RUSH thing was all about due to his influence, as well as the influence of MTV who played the shit out of the "Tom Sawyer" live video. But something clicked and a year or so later when June 29th of 1984 came around I was going to really get to see and hear what this RUSH thing was all about. This night would change everything for me. 

I remember so many details about this night. I remember where we sat (Alex’ side) I remember that right after the show Mike and his friends were headed to Indiana to purchase fireworks for the upcoming 4th of July holiday. I remember the smell of marijuana and the freaks using hairspray cans and other assorted aerosols as torches. I remember Gary Moore as the opening act; I didn’t really care for him back then. I then remember the set-change, walking around the arena and seeing the merch stands and then re-taking our seats in anticipation. In anticipation of what, I had no idea but there was definitely that feeling of electricity in the air.

As the lights went down, the roar of the crowd was deafening. If I closed my eyes you could have told me a 747 had just landed next to me and I wouldn’t have second guessed you. It was that loud. It was that intense. It remains my favorite part of any big show I’ve been to since. At the start of a concert, everyone is “happy,” everyone is excited, everyone is optimistic that this performance, the one that (back then) you had the tickets for months and months will be the one that exceeds your every expectation. When it’s your first - it’s almost like everything you’ve experienced up until that point in one huge, sonic blast.

RUSH opened with “The Spirit of Radio” and my life has never been the same.

I wish I could tell you that because of all this I became some RUSH uber-geek and have religiously followed them and all the things associated with that. Truth is, I saw them at a weird period. 1984 was the ‘Grace Under Pressure’ tour and the official start of the massive electronic era of RUSH, which to anyone at the time over the age of 13 would know ‘GUP’ was a rather challenging listen. I continued to adore the period of RUSH I was most familiar with until much later in life when my wife opened my ears to some of the earlier studio stuff I’d missed.

All of which brings us to today and the recently released RUSH documentary ‘RUSH, Beyond The Lighted Stage’ by filmmakers Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen, the guys behind the ‘Metal: A Headbangers' Journey,’ ‘Global Metal,’ and ‘Iron Maiden: Flight 666’ films. I have much respect for their work and was more than thrilled to hear of them tackling a project as important as this. Similar to my review of their ‘Flight 666’ film, Sam and Scot are borderline genius in getting their subjects to “open up” especially when these subjects appear to be very “un-openable!” 

 I know the point of a documentary where the main subject or subjects say or reveal nothing would be a disaster, but like the Maiden movie ‘Beyond The Lighted Stage’ is the closest thing to sitting backstage with the Canadian power trio most of us will ever get to.

The film begins with the Page/Plant, Tyler/Perry, Abbott/Costello Mick/Keith of RUSH, Guitarist Alex Lifeson and Bassist-Vocalist Geddy Lee. The two of them take you back to the beginning, I mean way back to when a friendship was formed in grade school and how it blossomed into one of the most important cores in Rock and Roll history. The story is peppered with archival photos and video and watching it all unfold really takes you on a journey. Just seeing some of the earliest footage really reminds us of how ground breaking and unorthodox the band truly is and how their vision has remained intact for over three decades. 

Original Drummer John Rutsey, who performed on the first album before being replaced, is given a respectful nod via stories and brilliant video flashbacks. In retrospect his departure and the guy they got to replace him was probably one of the most important things to ever happen to the band. When Neil Peart joins the band in 1974, in time to tour on the back of the self-titled debut the union subsequently alters the Earth’s axis when it comes to the art of percussion as well as the lyrical themes and concepts to come. 

 The chapters of the film take you through the RUSH discography where the band members as well as their longtime manager Ray Daniels, take you on a trip through time describing what was happening at certain points in their career. What was influencing them and what was driving them both musically as well as, especially in Neil’s case, spiritually to create. What their lives were like during this or that time and the inter-band dynamics that shaped the collectively massive thing RUSH were becoming.

The interviews throughout the film are just gold. Of course the band themselves are completely natural in front of the camera and come across as not only revered musicians but as people too. The past business associates, family members as well as the cameos, each have a certain something in their voice that let’s you know this isn’t just someone speaking about “some band.”

As is the nature of the band itself, this is above Rock and Roll, it’s above lip service and the adulation from people like Kirk Hammett, Trent Reznor, Les Claypool, Jimmy Chamberlin and Gene Simmons speak volumes like you rarely hear. In fact, the Billy Corgan interviews are probably my favorite. Never a huge fan of the guy in any capacity, but when he speaks about RUSH there’s a gleam in his eye and a sound in his voice that tells you, without a doubt what RUSH has meant and continues to mean to him. I fucking love fandom!

Breaking down the barriers between band and fan is often a delicate line. Not sure why, but it’s always been that way. Some think it’s a leftover from the early to mid 70’s era of stadium rock and a lot of people think the aesthetics of Punk Rock were a direct reflection to help destroy that invisible barrier. RUSH on the other hand speak at length of their relationship with their fans. The pros and cons of living in the “limelight” and how members handle that part of the “job” and more importantly why. 

Followers of the band are well aware of the trials and tribulations of Neil Peart and how they’ve come to shape his before and after. The interview footage based around this time period does more to reinforce the family aspect of the band than anything I’ve ever seen. The way the band handle themselves during the heaviest times they’ve ever faced is nothing short of miraculous. Their return to the stage is covered and even though it seems impossible to garner even more respect for the guys, somehow you do.

Bringing everything into the present is a nice wrap up to an ever evolving story. One that, due to the very nature of RUSH’s existence continues to be about an extraordinary friendship, is as memorable and heartwarming as any Rock and Roll film you’ve ever seen. ‘RUSH, Beyond The Lighted Stage’ is a must see, must own simple as that. DVD wise, excellent bonus footage, deleted scenes and more. The extended dinner scene included in the bonus footage is worth the price alone. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Slayer, Fucking Slayer.

Where'd July go?  

Here's some time-killing from Metal Mania from 1986.  Dave Lombardo leaves, TJ Scaglione from Whiplash joins.  Dave Lombardo returns shortly after and the rest is history.   Hard to believe Dave has been back in the band for over 8 years now but home is home.  He is THE Drummer for Slayer.  So anyway, here's a piece from the brief Tony Scaglione era of Slayer.

(Click image to enlarge)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Book Review: I Am Ozzy, by Ozzy Osbourne and Chris Ayres

As a teenage Metal head I loved Ozzy Osbourne. My entire generation loved Ozzy and during the early to mid 80’s Ozzy was like the New York Yankees as far as production goes. It was hit album after hit album, killer song after killer song and that was just the musical end of it. If we want to talk about his image and the antics? Forget about it! There was no one like him. Maybe it’s just a sign of the times, but is there anything truly shocking about Rock And Roll these days? If there is, it existed in the Heavy Metal underground via Scandinavian exploits where death and music collided in the mid 1990’s. But as far as a mainstream threat? Sure there was the Marilyn Manson stuff in the late 90’s, but he was more of a scapegoat than an actual threat.

So when the announcement came that there was to be an “official” Ozzy biography I wanted nothing to do with it. At the time I had just finished reading Rudy Sarzo’s brilliant ‘Off The Rails’ and I felt there was no way anyone could even come close to delivering what Sarzo did. Not even Ozzy himself. I just had no faith in him being able to tell a story so magical yet disjointed, polluted and controlled. What would be the point?

On top of that, I still have fond memories of reading Mick Wall’s original Ozzy biography, ‘Diary of a Madman’ back in 86/87. This was long before I became the jaded, disgruntled and highly opinionated asshole writing this to you. So because of the time, what I read was pure as my mind wasn’t clouded with the realities of life and the music business. So that being said I was given the ‘I Am Ozzy’ book for a look over and here’s what I found.

From the first chapter I was hooked. Other than the incredible music he created, one of the things I fell in love with about Ozzy was his sense of humor. Within the first several pages of the book that Osbourne charm was in full effect and it helps give ‘I Am Ozzy’ a strong identity where as some/most ghost written biographies do not.

Obviously the story begins in Aston, Birmingham with young John Michael’s arrival into the world. Ozzy has often painted a pretty depressing picture (poverty, dyslexia etc.) of his earliest childhood memories and the stories here are no different. His relationship with his mother and father are explored throughout the book and some of the revelations are a bit on the shocking side. We get the formation of Black Sabbath and the coolest part of the Sabbath chapters is Ozzy’s recollection of all the individual qualities of the original four. Their differences and similarities and via words we get a cool connection to the initial vibe between them. Some of the banter between members when it came to group decisions such as band names, songs and business decisions are simply hilarious.

When Sabbath get cooking there’s some good stuff indeed. Sure some of the stories are repeated from the incredible ‘How Black Was Our Sabbath’ book, released a few years ago. But here’s the thing, even though they're repeated the way writer Chris Ayres has sewn these stories together they come across fresh and again, just super funny.

Ozzy’s relationship with his first wife is what seems like a pretty honest portrayal in as much as it was a big mistake. From his words, here the two of them couldn’t have been further apart from one another so it’s almost as if their union was over as soon as it started. It also didn’t help that Ozzy was a fucking lunatic. We’re talking about a guy who seemed was out of his skull 25/8 and as mentioned the humorous side exists, as does a sad one. There are a few stories of hanging with members of Led Zeppelin with the best being, of course Ozzy and John Bonham, could you imagine?

Ozzy opens up on the business of Sabbath and how detrimental their management’s handling of their career nearly destroyed them. Now, this is not some huge secret but the blunt way of describing the years of work Sabbath did and how they were left is pretty heavy. Now on the flip side, Ozzy’s always been upfront about the days of being ripped off. His take was, they (Sabbath) had all the cash, cars, drugs and houses they wanted so what did they need to follow the business end of things for?

Once Ozzy goes solo is when the book starts to teeter into the land of make believe. The Randy Rhoads years are so well covered in Sarzo’s book that it’s hard to really digest some of the stuff in this book. I’m not saying some of it’s not true, but it’s up to the reader to decide. Ozzy’s feelings and thoughts on the death of Randy seem very true, very real and for the first time in print, man you can just feel the guy losing control when that happened. Again, heavy stuff.

I have to say though; the book really skims over a LOT of details. A lot of the references are of a somewhat vague nature so if you were looking for some in-depth accounts to the ‘Bark at the Moon,’ ‘Speak of the Devil,’ ‘The Ultimate Sin,’ ‘No Rest for the Wicked,’ and the personnel (Jake?!) and beyond eras you might be disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some funny stuff interspersed that references the above LP eras, but not necessarily a semi-detailed breakdown. You might get more info on various trips to rehab centers and arrests and assorted controversies (Bat biting, dove crunching, Alamo pissing and “Suicide Solution” tragedies), but then again they’re a part of the story.

The book pretty much wraps up with years surrounding ‘The Osbournes,’ Sharon’s cancer, Ozzy’s quad bike coma and Ozzfest. Also in there are the reconciliation between Sharon and Don Arden and some of the Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake fiasco. Additional thoughts on Ozzy’s children and grandchildren are decent, but what was surprising about it all was Ozzy’s thoughts on television and “being laughed at instead of with” and just what price being a fucking lunatic has cost him.

In the end, I got a warm feeling inside from reading this book. It reminded me of why I liked and was drawn to Ozzy in the first place. It also reconfirmed that he’s human and he doesn’t come across as anything but a working class kid that through trial and error, became one of the biggest Rock and Roll stars the world has ever seen.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Book Review: James Hetfield : The Wolf at Metallica’s Door by Mark Eglinton

“Author Mark Eglinton has complied an exhaustive array of exclusive and first-hand interviews from key players in Hetfield’s story, and in doing so has constructed the definitive biography on Metallica’s frontman.”

When I first heard of this book I couldn’t control myself. I was more than excited to finally share head space in the psyche of one James Alan Hetfield the man who changed my life some 25 years ago when I first heard the ‘Ride the Lightning’ record. Since that time, I myself have become quite the rock-n-roll reader, devouring the printed word in magazine and book form in ridiculous amounts. When I added my own personal opinion I received the ability to hold a conversation about music with some of the best in the business. So with that being said, there’s quite a bit I already know about the man and maybe that’s the problem?

At first glance one might think ‘The Wolf at Metallica’s Door is yet another telling of the “you couldn’t dream this stuff up” story of Metallica. Well, it’s not supposed to be, it’s intent as the title describes is a book focusing on James Hetfield. Singer/songwriter/lyricist and co-founder of the 100,000,000 selling act and the impact his life has had on the World and those who occupy it. It’s a brilliant idea and a more worthy subject may or may not exist, but the point being, I couldn’t wait to dig in. 

There have been numerous unauthorized books on Metallica over the years. There’s been some good, some bad and then some that aren’t even worth mentioning. Their existence is the result of the die-hard fan wanting and needing to know more about the subject(s) at hand but due to several factors, wide spread appeal is nearly impossible. Impossible because there are many who, unless the book is written with the artist/band’s consent will always seem unbelievable, fabricated and thus unimportant. 

I know it’s not fair to compare the two, but last year the Metallica world was treated to one of the finest books related to the band in Joel McIver’s ‘To Live Is to Die: The Life and Death of Metallica's Cliff Burton which by all accounts is also unauthorized. However to all who have read it, there’s no shadow of doubt the quality exceeds and over powers any such classification. I was hoping for a similar feeling once I ordered Eglinton’s book.

Things get off to a rocky start with the inclusion of a foreword by Testament’s Chuck Billy. Chuck Billy? Of all the people in James’ world to pen a foreword to the “definitive” book on his life it’s Chuck Billy? You’d think the author would get someone who has some actual experience or experiences  (sorry but  seeing Spastik Children or being at a stadium for an impromptu gig doesn't cut it) with Hetfield to kick things off. Chuck’s references are not the kind that set the tone for something as important as this and it comes across rather baffling. 

The book’s best moments are the first few pre-Metallica chapters. There’s some good stuff in there on James’ formative years that aren’t that too widely known and the cast of interviewees from that time are about as helpful as can be. Early Hetfield friends like Dave Marrs and fellow musician Hugh Tanner’s contribution is probably the best in the early part of the book as they take the reader back to the initial rough and raw early days of Hetfield’s future dreams. 

Former bassist Ron McGovney also connects the dots in a few places more clearly than in the published interviews he’s done over the last decade. Often overlooked McGovney’s participation in the foundation of Metallica should never be downplayed. His photos are also a really important inclusion to this book. 

What derails everything is once Metallica starts. Even though the book was supposed to avoid the trap of being a Met biography I’m sorry to say this is pretty much what it is. Instead of telling the story primarily from the Hetfield point of view, which it tries, you get the same old stories and identical time lines you can find in ANY Metallica related book. Sure there might be more of a Hetfield heavy twist to a lot of the material, as well there should be, but at the end of the day it feels as if we’re left with yet another band biography. 

Even worse, the author jumps on his high horse (as we all like to do) to pick apart what HE likes and dislikes about the Metallica catalog. What songs worked, what songs didn’t, what they looked like and the horrors of the rivet-headed fan listening to ‘Load’ for the first time. This was the same thing that, IMO dragged down McIver’s other Metallica book ‘And Justice For All: The Truth about Metallica’ so to say the least, I was really put off by having to go through it again here. 

Part of the problem with unauthorized books is the sources available to speak to you. Anyone really, really in Hetfield’s circle, the ones that truly know him would ever open up, let alone speak to the author. Those people with incredible insight to the man and the way he operates through life cannot chime in to help the story along. This is where the intent of the book and the realities of the project collide. You’ll get a Rex (Down) Brown to offer up anecdotes but without divulging what people really want to know and I understand there’s a reason for that. 

Arizona Metal historian Eric Braverman goes above and beyond, especially with his specialty being the Jason Newsted years but even so, you get the feeling there’s some reservation there and rightly so. People that haven’t spoken to or seen James Hetfield in 20 years? There are a few of them here and their inclusion is important, but their views are purely speculation and if we’re talking “definitive” it’s got to be deeper than that. 

I think what’s really missing from this book is the human element of James Hetfield. While there’s an awful lot of the book that simply reiterates the same things we’re told and shown in the ‘Some Kind of Monster’ film it all just skims the surface of Hetfield. A huge part of the Hetfield story, as we all know is his transformation which was brought on by his rehab stint in 2001. I think it would’ve been beneficial to the reader if the author explored the “hidden” Hetfield. Not just the drinking/non drinking James, but the total turnaround he experienced through his recovery. Anthrax drummer/rock star Charlie Benante comes pretty close to revealing this side but again, he knows better than to say too much.

While it’s touched upon in some of the Newsted/Hetfield conflicts, they’re addressed as control issues with James. Again, something clearly discussed in the ‘S.K.O.M.’ film. The control issues are a major part of the story, but his attitude and demeanor throughout the years isn’t even approached. Let’s face it, for a good number of years James Hetfield was a drunk dick. There are plenty of stories of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of Hetfield yet at over 200 pages he comes across as almost saintly. 

I just think had some of this been covered the real core of James Hetfield would surface and ‘The Wolf at Metallica’s Door’ would’ve been a better book because of it. I know controlling people and situations totally make someone a dick, but the strength at which he operated raised the stakes a whole hell of a lot. The modern day Hetfield seems to walk the Earth as a balanced force. A dedicated family man, a dedicated band mate and a dedicated student of life and those in his inner circle regardless of their assets, are far richer because of it. 

Bottom line, while not a complete loss ‘The Wolf at Metallica’s Door’ is far from definitive but can be a wealth of information to some or just another book on the world’s biggest Heavy Metal band for others. That choice, as always is up to you.