Archive for November, 2008

Michael Crichton, who passed away yesterday at the age of 66, was not someone who had an impact on my interests until the ’90s but I felt compelled to offer my condolences in these quarters anyway, perhaps because he exemplified interests of mine that defined the next phase of my life after the ’80s and High School.

Crichton’s seminal book Jurassic Park was released in 1990 and made into a movie in 1993. The movie was probably the first great popcorn flick after Eightiesology ended. It was a perfect transition flick, helmed by Steven Spielberg with all the glorious wonder you’d expect from one of his films. There are elements of it that would make you think it DID come out in the ’80s. But alas, the thing that helped establish this movie (and story) as ahead of its time was its special effects. As good as they may have been in films in the ’80s…this film presented a quantum leap in storytelling that upped the ante for films of its ilk. And despite being one of the first to utilize certain technologies, the movie even today looks remarkably more realistic than some of the dime-store crap that’s put out today.

Around this time, the film also helped nudge me in the direction of novels. Up until this point, I hadn’t enjoyed reading. For school or my own entertainment. But during my first year of college, I discovered the works of Crichton, Tom Clancy and John Grisham. From that day forward, there haven’t been many nights that I’ve gone to sleep without first reading a chapter from a book. Sure, some will scoff at my presumptions of literature but it’s my personal philosophy that if you can get anyone reading books, you’ve already made the world a better place. This helped pique my imagination in new ways and led me to establish my dream of becoming a writer myself. This was my new sand box, my new toy box. The ’80s were over and I was anxious to develop.

Crichton also created the television show ER, which arrived in the mid ’90s. This was one of the first real dramas that I regularly watched. Up until this point it had been mostly sitcoms and escapist fictional dramas like Quantum Leap. But with ER and The X-Files, my interest was elevated into more serious fare, both of the realistic and the alien kind. The latter paved the way for my absolute affinity for serial mythological dramas like Lost and 24. But ER was my first grown-up show, the first episodic fiction that caught my curiosity without flash and wonderment but with the often brutal reality of life in the emergency room. (As well as the lives of the doctors and nurses working the ER.) This was another facet of maturing in the ’90s

I still watch ER and have read most of Crichton’s books. Jurassic Park remains one of my favorite stories. I didn’t know the author was even sick until I read that he’d already died. It’s shocking to lose such an imaginative intellectual. Eightiesology offers its condolences to Crichton’s family and friends. But first, I offer my heartfelt appreciation for telling me such wonderful stories and helping an Eightiesologist grow into a Ninetiesologist. Rest in Peace.


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Days of Guns n’ Roses

Duff, Slash, Axl, Izzy and the uncleverly-monikered Steve

Duff, Slash, Axl, Izzy and the uncleverly-monikered Steve

It was announced this week that Guns n’ Roses’ new album will finally be released by the end of November. Chinese Democracy is now legendary for its 14-year birth and its many rumored release dates. What it will be is the first new studio album from the band since Use Your Illusion I and II were released in 1991. For all intents and purposes, Guns N’ Roses is now an Axl Rose solo venture since the original band all departed by the mid 90s. It remains to be seen how relevant the band will be 15 years after its last recorded product and 17 years after its last original albums. The band’s fans have grown from angry young teenagers into middle-aged mothers, husbands, managers, and maybe even a stray grandfather. And in that time we didn’t watch Gn’R grow up with us. But for some of us, all we ever really needed was Appetite for Destruction.

The stars of Pirates of the Caribbean!

The stars of Pirates of the Caribbean!

Released in 1987, Appetite for Destruction is an absolutely essential album on so many levels. It is a turning point for rock n’ roll in the ’80s. In retrospect, it ranks as a great album in the pantheon of all-time hard rock. And for Eightiesology, it ushered in a new era and nudged this Eightiesologist into new musical realms. Make no mistake, I still found a way to balance the pop and R&B with hard rock. And many of Guns n’ Roses supposed contemporaries became crossover artists dabbling in power balladry, a genre I indulged in to its very end. But in ’87, I started thinking about the rougher edges, oddly enough when a band called Guns n’ Roses skyrocketed up the chart…with a ballad.

“Sweet Child O’ Mine” is no ordinary ballad. It may very well be my generation’s greatest contribution to the Billboard charts. And it was an easy song for the band. The opening riff was a Slash joke that the band quickly fleshed out and turned into a melody. Axl wrote lyrics that read aloud would sound like a rather pedestrian poem but his voice helped transcend those lyrics into something immortal. (Don’t believe me? Try listening to the dozens of crap covers of the song, including Sheryl Crow.) Lastly, the band essentially throws in an improv breakdown at the end as a response to the producer’s request and yet it ends up not only working as a bridge between Slash’s killer solo and the empowered finale, but also helped give the song its unique identity as an antidote to the types of ballads we’d been listening to since the late ’70s. A gem almost entirely created by accident.

And that was just the beginning. “Welcome to the Jungle” had already been released months earlier to some acclaim but it only reentered the atmosphere after “Sweet Child” brightened the spotlight on Guns n’ Roses. With interest piqued, I had a newfound respect for this harder edged side of the band. And with album soon in hand, I wandered down a road that was often a lot more like the Jungle and less like a warm safe place.

To fully understand the magnitude of my appreciation for the music on Appetite for Destruction, you need only go back through this blog’s archives and read all posts about The Bangles, Ghostbusters, Disney World, Star Wars, and the song lists of my mixes and Friday Night Dances. Now scroll down to last week and watch me singing Wham! karaoke. I was the antithesis of hardcore. Growing up, I watched my brother indulge in Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and I couldn’t stand that music. So for this Eightiesologist to take a shining to “It’s So Easy” and “Nighttrain” on the heels of the opening “Jungle” was a revelation that was baffling to me. This shit had groove, man. It was heavy, drunk and dirty but underneath it all was a mischievous melody. And as a 13-year-old, I got it.

That was never better represented than by “Mr. Brownstone.” This tale of heroin and the heroin addicts who wrote it could not be further from my reality than it was and yet I could be seen bouncing around with this playing in my headphones, often as I headed off to buy baseball cards. It had an almost supersonic riff to it, overlapping its dirty groove. We used it to come out to during some basketball games in high school. I still remember the mischievous glee I had looking over at Mr. Weber during the “that old man, he’s a real motherfucker” line. Heh.

The album never ran out of songs. “Paradise City” and “My Michele” continued the sturm and drang of Sunset Boulevard life. “Think about You” and “Rocket Queen” showed the influence of classic rock on the band that would be more fully fleshed out on Use Your Illusions. And the album stayed in rotation for years never growing old or stale. In fact, it is one of those gems of the decade that I can’t say I’ve ever gone too much time without having listened to. In fact, many of the aforementioned songs have been parked on my iPod for a long time, essential for nudging me along a workout, especially after a brutal work day.

For all its sordid tales, I think the album represents an argument against censorship and influence as I never went on to a life of drugs, debauchery or prostitution. And I was hyper aware of the lyrical content I was singing along to. I recognized that it was grungey and corrupt, but it was entertainment to me. It didn’t make me want to aspire to become the protagonist of the songs. It only made me want to be in a rock n’ roll band. I enjoyed listening to the lifestyle but never came close to living it or wanting to.

There is something about rebellion that helps connect young listeners to artists and their art. At some point in our lives we all have an appetite for destruction, whether it is literal or metaphoric. We grow up from that but not away from it. We like to put these things into perspective and the music that perhaps once meant something to us on one level, now takes on a nostalgic presence. That’s a lot for some bands to stomach because the good ones abhor becoming nostalgia acts to punk kids who grew up to become lawyers or bankers. But the reality is that some of us still need those sounds because it makes us feel like we’re young and full of piss and vinegar. And maybe sometimes we wish we could be irresponsible and go punk on our bosses, unleashing a profanity-laced diatribe of truth with “It’s So Easy” playing in our heads.

“You get nothing for nothing, if that’s what you do…”

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