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Committing Idolatry: Duff McKagan’s “It’s So Easy (and Other Lies)”

12 Jun

Wow. Talk about idolatry. Here are just a few adjectives to convey how I feel about Duff McKagan’s It’s So Easy (and Other Lies):

Touching

Inspiring

Honest

Present

Human

But don’t put rock star up in there. McKagan makes clear that he doesn’t love the term and does well to paint the perfect clichéd image of two words he despises but knows describe him to a T and shatters that clichéd image into a million pieces.

Writer. There’s another adjective to describe him, and McKagan crafts a killer story.

Cautionary tale? Absolutely.

All the sex, drugs and debauch you’d expect in a biography about a famous rocker from the 80s? Yup.

The story of a man who falls from grace, and rises from the brink of death to overcome trial after tribulation after trial only to come out the other side smarter and wiser for it? Paging Joseph Campbell…

To borrow a phrase from another Seattle-ite (Cameron Crowe) taken from a movie set in Seattle (Singles) steeped in the Seattle-based sound (grunge), Duff McKagan, you are Mr. Sensitive Ponytail Man. And that would be scratching the absolute surface. McKagan’s also a finance guy, passionate academic, mountain biker, mountain climber, marathon runner, sports columnist, self-proclaimed dorky father of two, and oh, yea, he plays music from time to time, too.

My inability to get my nose out of a biography such as this usually hinders on the ordinary element extracted from these extra-ordinary lives. I know that may not make much sense, but the whole sex, drugs and rock & roll motif has always been very intriguing, and with pop culture serving as a totem I’ve always been drawn to, the human, average-Joe element is how it becomes relateable. McKagan does that with a such a present, self-awareness, I was a bit awe-struck.

McKagan used drugs and (mostly) alcohol to quell his panic disorder and tamper his insecurities while also serving to perpetuate an image he felt he needed to feed and uphold. In a heavily diluted way, that resonated with me. I could definitely connect the dots to my own journey as I wade through my own issues and insecurities and trying to get away from an image that no longer fits. McKagan overcame his issues, in part, through martial arts and meditation, and I’m now doing so through yoga and meditation. It’s a never-ending process, and it is fucking work, something else McKagan seems to understand and explain in unabashed detail.

I think it’s important and almost a responsibility for celebrities to tell their stories with the most bare bones truth and great detail, especially when they’re suffering from something like bipolar or panic disorder or addiction. That is why I loved It’s So Easy, and why I loved Fall to Pieces by Mary Forsberg Weiland. It’s also why Not Dead and Not For Sale by Scott Weiland fell flat.

Speaking of and to put this into a slightly less-biased context, I was never a huge Guns N’ Roses fan. Of course, how could one avoid the band’s grandiose “Don’t Cry” and “November Rain” videos, especially when my career goals at the time were to direct music videos. How could one avoid their grandiosity, period.

Axl Rose’s antics tended to wear thin with me, which is funny because it recently dawned on me that Jim Morrison pulled some of the same shit, and I tend to hold him in a very different light. While Rose and his ego annoyed me, I always liked McKagan, Slash and later, Matt Sorum and Gilby Clark. Naturally, and given my love of Scott Weiland and STP, I latched onto Velvet Revolver. And then I grew increasingly intrigued by McKagan’s journey after surviving a near-death experience when his pancreas exploded, hearing murmurings that he’d gone back to college in pursuit of a finance degree. Wha-? That sounded more like the trajectory for someone who’d been in a band that only achieved mid-level success before fading into the ether. Not a guy who played bass in not one, but two of the biggest rock acts the world had ever known.

If you’re into rock bios, It’s So Easy (and Other Lies) is a must read. I laughed, I cried, I loved this book. Read it: ASAP.

Committing Idolatry: Foo Fighters

16 Jun

I don’t think this has ever happened before. I don’t think I’ve ever fallen more in love with a band seven studio albums into their career. Isn’t the lust phase supposed to end after a few years? But it has happened – I am head over heels for the Foo Fighters as much now as the first time I laid ears on them. Alright, sorry – I know I can afford to tone down the cheese factor, but for real – their most recent, Wasting Light, is, without a doubt, the Foos’ finest.

I will admit, for a brief moment, I was skeptical and curious to see whether the drummer of Nirvana could pull of a lead singing gig in a brand new band.  I remember seeing one of their early videos on Mtv, back in the glory days when Mtv played videos, and thinking, “Hmm, how’s this gonna work out?” Quite well, it would seem.

The Foos still have it. So many bands mellow with age, but the Foos are still clearly evolving as a rock band. They’re rocking it harder than ever. I waited with bated breath for the CD to arrive in my hot little hands, as there are only about three artists left who I need to have their actual CD, to still enjoy that experience of looking through the liner notes and slipping an actual disc into my car stereo. Of course, in this day and age of maximum accessibility, I’d already heard the entire album front to back and back to front weeks before its actual release date, due in large part to James Molls’ documentary Back and Forth.

My fascination with rock stars is and always has been that they are ordinary people living their lives with an extraordinary backdrop. Back and Forth completely feeds into that. Grohl has been labeled “the nicest guy in rock,” and that comes through in Back and Forth, even among band re-orgs and Grohl re-recording all the drum tracks behind early drummer, William Goldsmith’s back. Seeing these five seemingly average guys (albeit wealthy and famous beyond belief) cutting an album in a garage (albeit a garage the size of a house) feeds right into my fascination.  

The doc not only chronicles the making of Wasting Light, but the timeline of the band, from Grohl’s time in Nirvana to the present day with the Foos. And for a band that doesn’t divulge or indulge in gossip and tabloid fodder, especially when the lead singer is constantly bombarded with, “Is that song about Kurt Cobain?” it definitely whets the appetite for any fan. And it whets the appetite for those Nirvana fans, too (of whom I am not especially), as Butch Vig produced the album and Krist Novoselic plays bass on the serioulsy kick-ass track, “I Should’ve Known,” which one cannot help but listen to and wonder, “Is that song about Kurt Cobain?” It’s a vicious cycle.

And, of course, there’s the direct hit of the arrow straight to my heart – the clincher, the thing I find most exciting about Wasting Lightit was recorded on analog. There is a moment in Back and Forth where the engineer marks and splices the tape…I am such a little analog geek that I get a little wanderlusty for the days when I wanted to make films…on film. Slightly different mediums, but the concept’s the same. The resulting sound is different, as well, and it’s noticeable on Wasting Light. Analog is richer, it’s fuller, it’s…Filet Mignon. Digital may be convenient and malleable and able to achieve near perfection, but I liken it to a much cheaper cut of meat, like…brisket. I don’t much care for brisket.  

What I do care for is the Foo Fighters, Wasting Light and Back and Forth. Check them out – check them all out.

Committing Idolatry: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

25 Mar

In  honor of Elizabeth Taylor, who passed away earlier this week, I just had to watch Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was another option, but it seemed a bit too acerbic and not too uplifting since the film is largely a two-hour sparring match, pitting Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor against each other and saying such vicious and incorrigible things to each other it’s difficult to believe anyone could recover from such ugliness. There’s a bit of that going on in Cat, but the underlying sense of love, and hurt as the source of the anger, is there from the get go.

IMDB’s summary of the film is, “Brick, an alcoholic ex-football player, drinks his days away and resists the affections of his wife, Maggie. His reunion with his father, Big Daddy, who is dying of cancer, jogs a host of memories and revelations for both father and son.” Really, that’s just scratching the surface.

The film, an adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play, heaps layers upon layers of insinuation and double meaning. So often, I think plays and musicals can translate poorly to film, proving over dramatic and almost caricature. Not so here. Cat is the perfect mix of melodrama, sarcasm and heart. When Maggie, played by Taylor, wails her first of many, “No’s”  to Brick, played by Paul Newman, it’s a deep and gutteral, three dimensional opposition – you’re ready to stick this out, fight the fight with her to get her marriage back and watch just how long Maggie the cat can stay on that hot tin roof.

Not that you’re unsure – I think Brick’s love for Maggie is obvious from the minute they appear onscreen together, but when Brick locks himself in the bathroom and clings to Maggie’s nightgown hanging on the door: you know for sure all love is far from lost between them. This is a love story with a lot to it. How could this couple have drifted so far apart but still agree to exist together, Brick pretending not to love Maggie and Maggie pretending to be okay with it? Layers. I love it.  

Then there’s Maggie. Maggie the Cat. At first glance, she’s set up to play the classic vixen. In the film’s opening, she pushes ice cream into an innocent, albeit annoying as sin, child’s face. What kind of woman does that? An honest one, that’s who. What’s really being said with that acid tongue of hers is genuine, originating from a well thought out, well-intentioned place, though it doesn’t always seem it, especially if you buy into what everyone else in the film is saying around her. If you really listen, which you must do throughout the film, Maggie is all about getting what she wants and you can’t really blame her.  

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof hits me on many levels. The insinuations, what’s really going on, what’s not going on portrayed in the action and relationships and dialogue are simply awe inspiring. “I’m not living with you, we occupy the same cage – that’s all!” Maggie spats at Brick. Everytime I hear that line it causes me to draw in a breath. Why can’t I write lines like that? When I die, I want to come back as Tennessee Williams.

I recommend everyone watch Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at least once in their lifetime. I know, I know – many people hear the words ‘old’ and ‘classic,’ and they’re already onto something ‘new’ and ‘modern.’ But this one stands up, I promise. It’s engaging, fast paced and not a three hour mosey along epic like Gone With the Wind - another classic must see, but that’s a conversation for another day. Point being, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is one of those timeless classics that still works today. Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor are stunning and amazing, have great chemistry and create onscreen sparks if ever there were some. The movie may be an oldie, but it is certainly a goodie.

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