I’ve heard people say a lot of stupid things in my life. Some of them came out of my own mouth. I hear ridiculous things all the time like, “Can I save the internet at work to use at home?” “What happened to Pluto now that it’s not a planet anymore” and one of the most mind boggling: “I’m not racist at all, but Obama is a lazy nigger.”
One of the things that really makes me scratch my head is when people tell me “You know what, GWAR is actually a pretty good band.” No shit? I have about 10 of their albums, I never would have guessed. And even if I wasn’t a fan, they’ve still managed to stick together for 25 years and become one of the biggest underground acts of all time.
I suppose a few of my acquaintances live in an alternate universe where shitty, awful morons with no talent are able to sell hundreds of thousands of albums. Sure, there are a lot of truly horrible bands that grace the top 40 every week. But it could be argued that all of them possess some modicum of talent, strong will and/or hard work ethic. Even those tools who use auto tune and choreographed dancing have learned something I never have: how to be really good looking.
GWAR is actually one of the things that got me into writing about music. It’s been a dream of mine to write the authorized biography of the band. I’m pretty sure this would be the greatest book ever. Think about it: On one side you have the story of a bunch of dudes from Richmond, VA who got together, formed a band, released a whole bunch of albums, appeared on numerous talk shows and became legends in their own time, and the other story is that a group of intergalactic warriors came to Earth to enslave the indigenous population. Either way you slice it, it would be a great read!
I’m not sure if that dream died with Dave Brockie (Oderus Urungus) last year. It’s sad that such a huge part of the GWAR team, their voice and their leader, is gone. But I give props to the band for continuing on. I haven’t seen their new show yet, but I hope to. A world without GWAR is not a world I want to live in. And if any of you guys like my idea of a biography I can be reached via the comments section below. (I actually pitched this idea to Todd Evans of Mobile Deathcamp who used to be in the band, but I was told he’s not really in contact with the GWAR camp any longer.)
I did manage to meet Oderus at Sounds of the Underground 2005 when he was signing autographs. I’ve never been so nervous about meeting a rock star. This was probably because he walked around the table and dry humped the girl in front of me while singing “White Wedding.” It also probably has something to do with the way he scribbled ODE on my album cover, tossed it aside and then tossed the table aside before retiring to the corner of his tent while merch people cleaned up the mess. It was definitely an experience.
I suppose the thing that really miffs me about the “GWAR is actually a good band” comment is that the people who have said that to me were in a band just like GWAR! They wore elaborate costumes and had an intricate back story. Their main goal seemed to be to shock. Yet, they had never looked at the kings of shock rock who lorded over the genre so high no one has ever been able to touch them, and likely never will. It’s like if a punk band never listened to the Ramones, a metal band never listened to Black Sabbath or GWAR had never listened to Alice Cooper or KISS.
Platinum Anniversary Album Series
(14 March 1995 Columbia)
This post is not about the Matchbox Twenty album Mad Season, but about the grunge super group Mad Season.
I seem to remember liking the album Above a lot more when I was younger than I do today. That could be due to a number of things. The most probable is just a change in musical taste.
Of course, I believe I also got this album before the passing of singer Layne Staley. I think the opener “Wake Up” is probably the best song he ever penned. It’s a slow number with Staley telling someone to wake up from the struggles and pitfalls of drug addiction. The line “slow suicide’s no way to go” is made even more poignant by the fact that slow suicide is just the way Staley met his death. Heroin overdoses have killed far to many rockers people over the years, including the bands bassist John Baker Saunders, but I think the story of one of rocks biggest stars of the 90’s becoming a recluse and poisoning himself over a decade until his body couldn’t take any more abuse is perhaps the saddest story in rock.
Mad Season began when Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready met Saunders in rehab. They recruited drummer Barrett Martin from Screaming Trees to start a side project and thought it would be good for Staley to spend some time with sober friends. The results are a much more mellow and bluesy record than any of them produced with their main bands.
This isn’t really a big rock record. It’s more of a laid back coffee shop record. There’s a bit of distorted guitar on songs like “X-Ray Mind,” “Lifeless Dead,” and “I Don’t Know Anything,” but the band really shines on the clean ballads like “River of Deceit” and “Artificial Red.” There’s just something about McCready’s clean jangly guitar work mixing with the heartfelt lyrics Staley wrote that produces a heartfelt vibe. When you hear the words “my pain is self chosen” on “River of Deceit” it’s hard not to feel something. It can be hard to feel sorry for the death of a heroin addict. Once you go down that road there aren’t too many options left, but I think Staley knew that by the time he made this record.
Screaming Tree’s front man Mark Lanegan guests on the songs “I’m Above” and “Long Gone Day,” but the Staley/Lanegan vocal harmonies don’t really hold a candle anywhere near the Staley/Cantrell team. “I’m Above” also suffers from some weak guitar tone from McCready. The saving grace of “Long Gone Day” is the saxophone. The saxophone is not heard nearly enough in rock music anymore.
I recently read a list of the top “drug” songs in rock and the entire Dirt album was at the top of the list. I’m sure more than a few parents would make the argument that Dirt was a glamorization of heroin and drug culture, but Above is the exact opposite.
This definitely isn’t an album for a hard rocking good time, but if you’re looking for something to chill out to on the way to or from an AA meeting I’m not sure you could do any better.
For more Platinum Anniversary Albums:
Congratulations Northern Hemisphere (and more specifically the eastern part of the North American continent),
We’ve made it through what has been the worst winter I can personally remember. It was cold, it was snowy, I was miserable, I slept too much.
But now it is over! Today marks the first official day of spring. I’ve taken some of the plastic off my windows and am not wearing three layers of long sleeves while writing this.
I’m glad that’s over… now let me prepare for a blistering hot summer.
Ripper’s Rock House; Akron, OH
Dead in 5, John 5 and the Creatures
It seemed like serendipity that brought an advertisement for John 5’s first ever instrumental tour to my Facebook feed about a month ago, but over the past week or so that’s all I’ve been reading about.
It’s hard to believe that this is J5’s first time out as a solo artist. I bought his first guitar instrumental album Vertigo when it came out back in 2004 and since then I’ve been more interested in what he does with his telecasters than with what he’s done with Marilyn Manson or Rob Zombie. But the demand for instrumental guitar music isn’t as high as it was during the shred heyday of the ’80’s or even when Joe Satriani and Steve Vai did their G3 tours in the 00’s.
Still, there were enough people to pack Ripper’s Rock House. I was expecting the place to be a professional concert venue, but really it’s more of a neighborhood bar and grill with a stage. I always like being able to say I saw big time rock stars in little dives like this though. It makes for a better story. And there were a lot of people from all walks of life who felt the same.
I’m not sure if the opening band, Dead in 5, just got on the bill because of the number ‘5’ in their name. I wasn’t extremely impressed by their 80’s influenced type of metal. They weren’t awful, but I wasn’t interested enough to buy a CD.
And after a long-but-not-excruciating wait John 5 stood on the stage with a telecaster in his hands and a grill spouting green light in his mouth. Over the next hour and ten minutes I found it hard to look away from the stage. It’s not everyday you’re 15 feet away from the greatest guitar player on the planet. And aside from shredding some great heavy metal, J5 is also a pretty talented showman. He signaled every song was over by holding out his right arm like a carnival barker saying ‘there it is.’
Most of the set was heavy metal (I’m sorry I can’t name most of the songs, I bought his first two albums but sort of lost interest after that). But there were forays into other genres. I was especially impressed by his take on Spanish flamenco music. Once he started the finger picking I grew uncomfortable that the girl dancing in front of me would brush up against me and think that my boner was for her. Sorry babe, that was a full on guitar erection!
And don’t forget J5 is an accomplished country player:
There wasn’t much talking from the stage aside from a few song intros and some gabby ‘thank yous’ to all of us for coming out. It really seems like he wasn’t sure if people would pay money to watch him play guitar!
LIke most rock shows the best parts were saved for last. A liquid filled tele proved noise and feedback for an intro to “Feisty Cadavers” from Vertigo. This is the song that really made me love John 5. Sure, there’s plenty of fleet fingered guitar virtuosity, but there’s also a chorus theme that you’re almost able to singalong to. I feel most instrumental guitarists are more interested in self-absorbed masturbation of their instruments, but J5 is actually a talented songwriter.
The quiet part on the album was replaced by a bass solo live to accommodate one more costume change before they ripped through the cover of “Beat It.” That song is so much better without Michael Jackson. Not only did J5 invite a young kid on stage to play his guitar, but he also held it out in the crowd and offered the first few rows a grab. Quite a generous offer when you consider how much that thing must have cost.
I was a bit disappointed at the announcement of the last song, but it was a medley to beat the ages. They tore from one classic metal song to the next. Of course, “Thunderkiss ’65” and Manson’s version of “Sweet Dreams” were included. But also were “Running with the Devil,” “Living After Midnight,” “Crazy Train,” “Detroit Rock City” and just about any other song you’d imagine being packed in there.
My biggest problem with the show was the shortness of the set. I could have listened to John 5 play for another hour without getting bored. The only other issue I had was that Ripper’s Rock House is a bit of a small venue not really suited to being a packed house. I’d have rather seen the show in a bigger place with a bigger stage and more room to move around.
But maybe I’ll get all that the next time he comes around. I just hope he doesn’t wait another decade before he does it.
Now that things have settled down in the Ockym’s Razyr camp and everything is getting back to normal, I thought it was time to sit down for a one-on-one chat with the man of the hour: bassist Matt Vance.
The Audible Stew: So the last time I saw you was as you were leaving the intervention. Did you head straight up to rehab from there?
Matt Vance: No. Actually, I left the intervention in a blind rage and went out and got drunk.
AS: Really? They just let you leave?
MV: No, I had to sneak out a window. But then I went to the bar and got hammered. Just falling down, pissing-on-myself drunk. Then I ran into a mailbox… or was it a telephone pole? I think I ran over a mailbox and then a telephone pole.
AS: Wow. So was that what convinced you to enter treatment?
MV: Actually it was the judge that convinced me to enter treatment. When your choice is a year in jail or two months in treatment it’s pretty much a no brainer. Plus, my dad had already paid for rehab.
AS: You were only sentenced to two months up there? But you stayed for about a year.
MV: Yeah, things were going pretty well. I took a long hard look at where my life was heading while I was down here and decided that it was really going nowhere. So I decided to stay up there and try to be useful for a while.
AS: So what was life like?
MV: It was pretty cool. You start out on lock down and not really able to go anywhere, but after the first two months when you go all the way through the program you’re allowed free rein. I managed to get a job and a…
AS: Wait. What? Did you just say you got a job?
MV: Yeah, man. I got a job and a…
AS: Where did you get a job? You haven’t worked in the entire time I’ve known you.
MV: I worked at a Wendy’s up there. I made my way up to assistant manager in only 6 months. Plus I had a…
AS: Hold on (pause). I’m just going to need a minute to let that sink in. OK. I’m back. Well, it sounds like you were doing pretty well up there. What made you move back?
MV: Things just started going south. My girlfriend broke up with me…
AS: WHAT!? Holy crap! You had a girlfriend too?
MV: Yeah, that’s what I was trying to tell you. I had a girlfriend and a job. Things were going pretty well.
AS: What was wrong with her? Was she an amputee? No, that couldn’t be it. I’ve known plenty of attractive amputees…
MV: She was a recovering heroin addict.
AS: OK. Now it makes sense. I’m still not sure anyone else is going to believe this. Have you told any of the other guys?
MV: Yeah, they had a hard time believing it too. They weren’t as big of dicks as you though. I don’t see what the big deal is. I met this girl up there, I got a good job, I got sober.
AS: So how long have you been sober?
MV: Going on 13 months.
AS: Cool. Congratulations. It’s like a whole new you. Are you feeling good?
MV: Yeah, I talked to the guys about getting the band going again and I think I’m ready. I was in a pretty dark place before I came down here. Lindsay dumped me for some other guy. I was passed over for a promotion. It just seemed like the time was ripe for change.
AS: Well, we’ve covered a lot of ground in this interview Matt. It feels like I’m talking to a different person than I met all those years ago. I wish you luck in your future endeavors.
MV: Thanks man. I’m feeling strong and I’m confident I’m going to stay sober for a long time.
Top Posts of Ockym’s Razyr
Part 11 The Christmas Party
Part 3 The Road Trip
Part 2 The Jam Room
Part 10 The Other Interview