Friday, November 18, 2011

Quadrophenia: The greatest album ever made

Don Woods (Mr. Jim): One of my favorite party tricks involves my friend Tom. You see, I become a bit out of depth when the subject of music comes up in party conversation. As I've admitted before, I've always appreciated music but to call myself a music-person would seem obscene to those that make it their life. But during these conversations I try and steer the direction of discussion to great albums. I state my case as to the best album of all time, get met with disbelief, and instantly grab a random member of the party to back me up. Grabbing my friend Tom (he is tall, you can't miss him in a room), we immediately babble on about the greatest album of all time: Quadrophenia. Then me and Tom get wrapped up talking about The Who and forget there is a party around us. With last week's re-release of Quadrophenia, it seemed a good time to finally talk about it on here.

It's not an album, it's an experience.

(Aforementioned friend) Tom Henry (Dr. Jimmy): Every year Guitar World releases a review of the best concept album of all time and year in and year out the winner is The Who’s Tommy. All I have to say to that is: bollocks. Tommy revolutionized rock n’ roll when it came out in 1969 and became The Who’s first commercially successful album. Until that point, The Who was an immensely popular Mod band trying to make it big. Most of the money they made on album sales and touring was spent to pay for damages the band made to concert venues and hotel rooms.

Keith Moon taking a break between wrecking hotel rooms.

Tommy eventually led to a movie and Broadway play which made the band economically viable, thus allowing them to explore further into rock. What followed are four of the greatest albums of all time: The Who by Numbers, Who’s Next, Who Are You and of course the single greatest album of all time, Quadrophenia.

DW: It's a completely lazy comparison, but I see Quadrophenia as being like an album version of Catcher in the Rye. It's a violent, seedy, coming of age story. Jimmy, the protagonist of the rock opera, represents all of us frustrated with life. Thank god Pete Townshend has such a large nose, or else the frustration that sells the album would never be there. The sound and fury of Townshend's guitar and Roger Daltrey's wail speak out for generations of disillusioned kids. By listening to this album we know that we are not as lost as we think we are. And though we maybe stuck on a rock, we can still find redemption in the rain.

Here is the soundtrack of the film based on an album.

I found Quadrophenia in my senior year of high school. Senior year is obviously trying for any adolescent, and my existential crisis seemed more severe than most. Through my lows during that year and summer, I knew I could always turn to The Who. And though I'm sure it's trite to say, I owe a lot to Quadrophenia. That album consoled me more than anything else.

It's not emo if you kick ass at the same time.

TH: While I have never been particularly plagued with angst, Quadrophenia has struck a cord with me ever since I first heard it. My uncle is responsible to introducing me to my Who-obsession. While I have always been a big Who fan (the first album I bought was a greatest hits album) I was a little late in discovering Quadrophenia. What can I say, I was a traditionalist. I believed in the Tommy/Who’s Next paradigm. What could be better? Then a rude awakening came in the way of the songs 5:15 and Love Reign o’er Me. Over the last four years my liking of Quadrophenia has blossomed into love. And not just fleeting infatuation as happens with modern Top 40 songs. Real, full on love.

Tom's favorite song.

This album is perfect. It features the flawless writing of Townshend and one of the greatest hard rock vocalists of all time in the form of Daltrey. John Entwistle is the little appreciated hero, who competes year in and year out for the greatest bassist of all time [only competition being Flea and JPJ (DW: and Les Claypool)]. And, of course, the greatest drummer of all time in Keith Moon.

Bassist never get much love.

DW: I admit The Who aren't as great as they once were. Bad Super Bowl shows and reliance on CSI royalties have showed that they aren't the hard rocking band they once were. But that's fine because the albums from their prime still live up to this day. It means a lot for an album to still have relevance this far down the road. Quadrophenia, however, is not just an album. For me, Quadrophenia was a lifeboat during turbulent times. And I know I'm not the only one that feels that way. My general taste in music might lean more towards the garage-rock revival of the double-0's and Radiohead, but my favorite album will always be Quadrophenia.

Donny's favorite Quadrophenia song.

TH: While I am unabashedly in love with this album I am not the only one nor am I its biggest fan. That proud honor belongs to Eddie Vedder. Yes, the Golden Baritone himself (DW: I'm not the biggest Vedder fan). Vedder covered Love, Reign O’ver Me for the 2007 film Reign Over Me; however he needed Daltry to coax him into recording it. Vedder initially turned down Adam Sandler’s request because Vedder, like me, believes that you can’t outdo perfection. On multiple occasions Vedder has spoken about the role that the Who played in his life and, specifically, how Quadrophenia influenced his work. Like Donny and I, Quadriophenia played an important role in his life. Pearl Jam really did a nice job of paying tribute to those that came before them and it was really special to see them pay tribute to the Who at VH1’s 2008 Rock Honors performing songs off of Quadrophenia.

Pearl Jams are the only other people that can ever do Love Reign O'er Me justice.

All in all, Quadrophenia is a tour de force. It's not so much music as much as it's pure raw emotion. You can feel it. Even after the music stops it resonates with you. It really is a masterpiece of writing that you just do not expect from a rock band. With Quadrophenia, The Who transcend the hard rock genre. They give us something real. Quadrophenia is a culmination of everything The Who stands for. If the band was judged solely on this album, than they should be so lucky.

The Who?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Extreme sword-and-sandal flicks suck

Myths have never truly been high art. Their age may lend a semblance of class to these stories of old but, in all honesty, they're just nice stories. And that's why they've survived for so long. Oral histories and blind poets spread these stories because they were cool. The stories are a witness to a long dead society, and by being passed on that society is still made full. Its character lives on despite the ruined columns and empty temples. Being mostly passed on through oral histories, these stories lend itself to alteration. No two collections of myths seem to have the exact same story. Yet, while the stories lend themselves to change, it's a bastardization to revamp these stories to fit the extreme attitudes of today.

Just one more insult in a subgenre of mediocrity.

The sword-and-sandal genre was largely forgotten until 2000's Gladiator. A brilliant and epic film, Gladiator is, to me, one of the great movies of the last decade. Gladiator is the kind of movie that lends itself to a type of grandeur rarely seen in today's cinema. It does not ask for this reverence, it instead earns it. Gladiator is one of the few films I can consider new classics (Shawshank Redemption can be another example). These are films that, ten years from now, we'll see them running on TCM (the pinnacle of film channels) instead of reruns on Spike.

Are you not entertained?

Less successful attempts at the genre include Alexander and Troy, two 2004 movies that tried to ape Gladiator's greatness yet missed out on its class. While they may be entertaining in their own right, they do nothing to benefit their genre or their audiences. Instead you get Brad Pitt with a ridiculous accent and Colin Farrell lost in a mess of a movie. After such overbloated failures the genre grew stagnant. There were no more attempts at strapping sandals on overpaid actors. That was until two years later when Zack Snyder took a Frank Miller graphic novel and tricked it out in a glorious fashion.

Glory and gory.

The transgressive sword-and-sandal subgenre first really emerged with the God of War video game series. With the idea still new and fresh, Kratos' bloody revenge on Greek mythology made for an excellent video game experience. A visceral hack-and-slash game that both recognized its shallowness and overcame it. A little after God of War rocked the Playstation 2, 300 premiered in theaters. Taking the idea of mythological epics to new heights, 300 took the fictional part of historical-fiction in an extreme direction.

Step one: Cast Vincent Regan (See Troy, 300 and Clash of the Titans).

And while critics were not huge fans of the film, testosterone fueled frat boys ate it up, if only for them to now have an idea for group Halloween costumes that let them wear a cape. While charming in its style, which has become somewhat of a cliche now, 300 because an archtype. Its slow-mo fight scenes and desire to prove its masculinity has been both spoofed and imitated since it came into theaters. But while 300 was a somewhat fresh take on Greek myth, it has since become stale.

Imitation is, after all, the sincerest form of flattery.

The art of mixing overacting, overblown special effects and thrashing guitar soundtracks have birthed Clash of the Titans and Immortals (Immortals was released last Friday on 11/11/11). Greek myth has lasted thousands of years to be made into a loud, cacophonous mess. The myths themselves are nothing but window-dressing for hollow messes. This isn't a debate about which Kraken was better rendered, the 1981 version or the 2010 version. Instead this is a question of overdoing the Kraken because you have a giant special effects budget and you just know the monster could use more teeth.

Need a Kraken? Why not Zoidberg?

So hopefully this extreme genre dies out. Because while it may of once been exciting, nothing gets boring faster than the extreme. It's just become its own cliche. It even has it's own television show with Starz's Spartacus series. Void of any real meaning, which is the complete opposite of the original myths, the movies are nothing more than quickly made popcorn flicks with tacked on 3-D to raise ticket prices. My judgement against Immortals is even more personal, considering the fact that Theseus was my favorite Greek hero. But then again, maybe I should just be happy that Immortals dethroned Puss in Boots in the box office.

Dreamworks isn't even trying anymore.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The state of the Western

To use a trite expression, the reports of the Western genre's death have been greatly exaggerated. Look no further than Hell on Wheels, the recent new premiere by AMC. Now, still in it's infancy, it is too early to say whether Hell on Wheels deserves to rank among the rest of the channel's award-winning line up. However, the fact that a major channel such as AMC is even gambling on a Western television show is commendable.

Tell me that doesn't look badass.

I admit, I used to turn my nose up to the genre. I considered the main characters in Westerns to be nothing but hicks and no good story can come of that. I was an appreciator of art and there was no way a cowboy story could constitute art. Luckily, I finally decided to sit down and watch John Wayne with my dad. While I may not be the biggest fan of The Duke, watching Westerns with my dad allowed me to get over my pretension. After getting acquainted with singing cowboys I moved on to the more exciting spaghetti Westerns. I could finally see what made Westerns so cool.

A film as epic as it is long.

You see, nothing represents Americana or the American identity more than the west. Manifest Destiny may have had some major shortcomings but the pioneer days were purely American. Fueled by the lust for gold and the racism against Native Americans, our Western expansion makes for a wonderful platform for a good story. From word of mouth stories, to Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, to dime store novels, stories of the west made up American folklore and entertainment. One early landmark film, The Great Train Robbery, was by the very definition a Western.

A film as epic as it is short.

While the heyday of the genre is over with that doesn't mean Westerns are completely dead. Hollywood just needs to put trust in the genre again. By trying to mix the storyline with other genres, like in Wild Wild West or Cowboys & Aliens, they are taking away from what makes a pure Western so compelling. Films like True Grit, 3:10 to Yuma and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (one of the most underrated movies of the last decade) prove that modern day Westerns can be incredibly engaging. The Proposition, one of the best Westerns in recent memory, doesn't even take place in America. Instead it transposes itself to the Australian Outback and, despite the location, shows everything that can be done right with the genre.

Rule: If Nick Cave writes the soundtrack it's probably good.

Westerns are the perfect way to examine the darkness of man. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy may be a Western but it's also the most brutal examination of the human spirit since Joseph Conrad. Even comics books can be an excellent home for the Western genre. Don't let the 2010 flop fool you, Jonah Hex is an awesome comic book character. The movie producers just didn't trust the character enough, resulting in the 81 minute cinematic mess.

Jonah Hex volume 3 was amazing.

So now that Hell on Wheels has premiered, maybe the genre can finally be down right. And, while Deadwood already attempted, the fact that it's on cable and not a channel like HBO is victory enough. AMC has had a pretty good track record so far, let's hope Hell on Wheels is just a continuation of that. Because the Western genre deserves a victory, if only to prove its relevance.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Forget the 5th of November

It really is strange how some things catch on. V for Vendetta was a decent hit in the box office, making $130 million. But with it's semi-modest success, V has made a peculiar impact on society. Now every Nov. 5, fans make sure that nobody forgets the 5th. But while Guy Fawkes Night has had a royalist theme for hundreds of years, misinformed fans and pseudo-intellectuals are shaping Guy Fawkes Night into their own kind of celebration. A celebration that just rings false in every way.

I'm starting to get sick of this face.

Produced by the Wachowskis, 2006's V for Vendetta was a nicely watered down revolutionist's dream. In an effort to make it more appealing and easier to swallow for general audiences, the original graphic novel was watered down to be popular but edgy enough to sell V masks. It's no wonder Alan Moore distrusts film adaptations so much. Each attempt studios have had with his work has just fallen with a dud. Instead of a gripping world of gray, the film offers the same jackbooted thugs that every other Orwellian film offers. Now that's nothing against Orwellian stories. I personally love dystopian stories. The difference with the V film is that it could have been so much more of a statement. Plus I loved the original graphic novel before the movie was made.

I liked V before he was popular.

Now, every Nov. 5, people feel the need to post about V on Facebook. These people need to realize that V is not an actual person. He is a fictional person, not a revolutionary to be idolized. The original V character in the graphic novel was practically a psychopath, something far from a role model. And those that use Guy Fawkes Night for their own futon revolutionary ideas miss the whole original point of Guy Fawkes Night. It's not a celebration of revolutionaries, it's the opposite. What they are celebrating every year on that night is the Gunpowder Plot failing and Fawkes' execution. That's why they collect a "penny for the Guy" and burn his effigy. But what was originally an inspired bit of irony by Alan Moore has led to a mass misinterpretation by fanboys. It's like if British people started celebrating Thanksgiving, but from the Native American's point of view.

The real Guy Fawkes wasn't a revolutionary, he was just Catholic.

There is no greater perpetrator of this bastardization of tradition than Anonymous, the hacker collective. When not found trolling around the 4chan website, these hackers fashion themselves as revolutionaries. By using their computer skills and love of wearing V masks, Anonymous hope to further whatever agenda they come up with on 4chan to bully anyone they don't like into submission. While they do pick some nice targets, such as Scientology, every /b/ board member I've met has been nothing more than a socially inept jerk. This may be a complete generalization but, unlike most that are against Anonymous, I've actually been around them. It all happened my senior year of high school when I was in Philadelphia.

They're not revolutionaries, they're just brats.

We were in the middle of a Philly adventure, taking pictures in front of the LOVE sign, when we noticed a large group of people amassing in front of City Hall. My friends and I, bored and curious, decided to walk over. Most were wearing V for Vendetta masks, some were decked out in cosplay like outfits. In our boredom and hoping we could get a cool V mask as well, we followed the protest. Turns out a Scientology Temple was going to be put in Philly and the local Anons decided to do something about it. While using their right to protest is commendable, hearing them talk just ruined it for me. Those that were properly informed on the subject seemed to of gotten all their information from South Park episodes. The rest appeared to just like being in a group and wearing masks. Their supposed biggest strength, their anonymity, instead turns them into faceless stormtroopers. Indiscernible from their brethren, they just seemed to enjoy joining a faceless bully organization.

Pictured: Not me (I was holding the camera).

I have no faith in Anonymous or anyone that hides behind a V mask. I'm not demonizing Anonymous like most news organizations. I just see them for what they are, confused kids who just want to do something to change the world. And while V might of had a point when he talked about the importance of symbols and ideas, hiding behind a V mask has just become trite. Statements shouldn't be made with mass market Halloween masks. And besides, as previously stated, V was a fictional character who wasn't even that much of a hero to begin with. So please, let us forget the 5th of November. Repeating the poem in a status every year is just childish.