Friday, November 28, 2014

CM Punk finally breaks silence on leaving WWE



Professional wrestler CM Punk, real name Phil Brooks, shocked the wrestling world when he abruptly left WWE in January of this year. He gave no notice and stayed out of the public eye for months. He kept silent on the subject until Thanksgiving Day, appearing on the popular "Art Of Wrestling" podcast, hosted by veteran journeyman wrestler Colt Cabana. Both Punk and Cabana are best friends, having begun their wrestling training together in the early 2000's.

I wrote about this subject in early February. Click here to read that. It looks at all of the popular rumors at the time about why Punk walked out on WWE. Long story short (or in this case, 2-hour podcast condensed into a couple sentences): all of the rumors played a small role, but the biggest reason was Punk's health and mental well being.

Punk was creatively frustrated with what WWE was doing with him, in addition to what they weren't doing with others, such as Daniel Bryan. He had an accumulation of injuries that would not heal: knee problems, elbow issues, broken ribs, and a concussion he suffered during his last WWE match.

Punk notes that he doesn't want the interview to come off as a bitter, "fuck WWE" piece, but admits that he has anger and bitterness toward the company. He tries to see both sides to the story, but gives his honest thoughts about his dissatisfaction with working for the largest wrestling company in the world.

Some highlights:

- Punk was offered the lead role in a WWE-produced movie, but when he brought up a scheduling issue with him being WWE Champion at the time they took the movie away from him and gave it to Randy Orton without letting him know.

- Punk asked Vince McMahon if he could switch to wearing UFC-style fighting shorts with sponsorship deals on them. Vince said no, then allowed Brock Lesnar to do just that when he returned to the company.

- He calls the WWE doctor, Chris Amann (who was a recent guest on Chris Jericho's podcast) lazy and incompetent. He refused to properly diagnose his medical issues, noting that he wrestled with a staph infection for nearly 3 months. 

- He called the wellness policy a joke, referring to wrestler Ryback as "Steroid Guy" and mentioned multiple times that Ryback injured him. He confronted Ryback about it, asking if he did it on purpose or was just "fucking dumb."

- When he left WWE, he was alone in a room with Vince McMahon and Triple H. He ripped into all of them, particularly Triple H for ruining his momentum in 2011 (aka the "summer of punk"). He said Vince McMahon hugged him with tears in his eyes and said they would always be family. He shook Triple H's hand as he walked out.

- Punk was initially suspended for two months. After a few more months, Triple H texted Punk asking if they could talk. Punk replied that his wedding was in two days and if they could talk after his honeymoon. Two days later, on his wedding day, Punk received papers stating he was fired from WWE. He does not believe it is a coincidence.

This is something that needs to be listened to. If you are a professional wrestling fan, this is the biggest, most shocking, hard hitting interview of the year. Even if you don't like wrestling, it is a fascinating look at how Corporate America ruined a man's passion for the one thing he loved. Personally, I liked working in the pizza industry, but I hated working for Pizza Hut. It ruined something that I thought was fun. WWE does the same thing to professional wrestling with CM Punk.

Additional reading:

CM Punk pipebomb promo

CM Punk GQ Magazine interview

CM Punk - Chris Brown feud

CM Punk DVD review

Jim Ross interviews CM Punk and Steve Austin

CM Punk pipebomb II, Rock confrontation

Friday, November 21, 2014

Top 25 Red Hot Chili Peppers songs

One of my favorite bands since the late 1990s has been the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I had been aware of them for years before, as they became a mainstream chart-topping act in the early 1990s and had been making albums for most of the 80s as well. But it wasn't until the end of the 20th century that I really got into them. 

I've gone back and discovered their early discography over the years. I'm going to admit, I'm not a huge fan of their earlier stuff. They were very heavily influenced by Funk music and I don't really like that as much. While I have heard a complaint that all RHCP songs sound alike, I don't feel as though that is true. While they do have a very distinct sound, they have very different styles that they take their music on. They can go hard, they can go soft, they can sing about serious issues like drug abuse and failed relationships, and they can also release songs called "Party On Your Pussy" and "Yertle The Turtle."

With that said, here is my list of the Top 25 Red Hot Chili Peppers songs. It leans heavily toward their later albums. 1999's "Californication" is their biggest selling album and Rolling Stone magazine placed it at 399 on their "Top 500 Albums of All Time" list. And I think their 2006 "Stadium Arcadium" double album is artistically, one of the greatest things they've recorded. On opposite ends of the spectrum, I love how angry 1995's "One Hot Minute" is and I really enjoy how easy and mellow 2002's "By The Way" sounds. And if you want to know what I think of their last album, released in 2011, then check out the review I wrote.

Top 25 Red Hot Chili Peppers songs. Loosely ranked, very subjective. If you agree or disagree, let me know.

This Is The Place ... I love the bass in this song. One of their more serious songs, Anthony Kiedis wrote this about the death of his childhood friend and original RHCP guitarist, Hillel Slovak. He was ashamed that his friend died of a heroin overdose and he didn't immediately clean up his act.

Dosed ... Such a beautiful love song. This sums up everything that is good about falling for somebody.

Californication ... When the Miley Cyrus VMA "twerking" mini-scandal was all over the news, I was listening to a friend go on about it. "Can you believe she did that" and whatnot. My response really confused her. I said, "You do know nothing is real, right?" That wasn't some off-the-cuff random moment that happened to cause some controversy. It was a carefully-choreographed stunt approved by a multitude of executives who were looking for attention. That's what this song is about. Nothing is real, everything is phony. "Space may be the final frontier, but it's made in a Hollywood basement."

Especially In Michigan ... Kind of the opposite of "Californication." Anthony Kiedis wrote this song about his childhood growing up in Michigan. It's just a fun little song with a lot of random Michigan references thrown out there. John Frusciante was very experimental with his guitar playing on this album and it shows here.

Otherside ... Another deep song about drug addiction and suicide. It builds slowly and then explodes at the end.

I Could Have Lied ... From their "BloodSugarSexMagik" album, this tells the story about how a guy did the right thing by telling the truth but it messed up the relationship. He could have lied and he would still have the girl he loved. But would it have been for the best?

One Hot Minute ... Dave Navarro brought a heavier element to RHCP during this time. And the drug addiction rampant among several of the band members brought darker lyrics to the group. Song about how short life is, how all we have is "One Hot Minute" and we need to enjoy whatever it is we're doing.

She's Only 18 ... You're dating a younger woman, trying to present a different/cooler version of yourself, and she sees right through it.

Emit Remmus ... Stare at the title for a second. It's "Summer Time" backwards. It's a song about spending a summer in London with a girl. Unofficially, it's believed to be about the member of the Spice Girls that Anthony Kiedis was briefly involved with: Melanie Chisholm, aka "Sporty Spice."

Savior ... The drums take over a little more in this song, as opposed to fading in the background to the bass or guitar. "Savior" is about Anthony Kiedis reuniting with his father after a period of estrangement.

Happiness Loves Company ... Upbeat song from their 2011 album that features a fun piano opening. Makes you smile when you listen to it; it's good.

Strip My Mind ... Very trippy track off of "Stadium Arcadium." Looking back at past times in your life and realizing that you can't recreate them.

Around the World ... Vintage RHCP. If you want to take a song that embodies what the band is all about, it would be one like this. It's got the hard bass line, the catchy hooks, the subject matter of loving women around the world, and it rocks.

Can't Stop ... At times it seems nonsensical, but it appears to be about looking back at a life of drug addiction. Catchy song with a great guitar solo in the middle. Weird, weird music video.

Whatever We Want ... Never officially released as a single or on an album, this b-side from the Stadium Arcadium sessions is awesome. It's about breaking up with a girl you didn't really care about and how you sort of strung her along. From reading his autobiography, I know Anthony Kiedis had a girlfriend with short blond hair. He later had short blond hair himself. That might explain the opening line of the song, "I stole your haircut and your boring personality."

Snow (Hey Oh) ... Really introspective song about looking back at years of drug abuse. Sounds different than a lot of their other songs, if that makes any sense.

Under the Bridge ... The one that made them worldwide stars. A soft ballad about heroin addiction. He would go underneath a bridge and shoot up. The ladies at the end are John Frusciantie's mom's church choir.

Transcending ... Written about River Phoenix, a close friend of Anthony and Flea. Flea was present at the night club where River died. The line "Said your brother's a real punk" is about Golden Globe winner Joaquin Phoenix. It has a nice, mellow groove... until it descends into anger and madness. It kind of shows how they were dealing with the death: cool on the outside, but struggling on the inside.

Desecration Smile ... The dark side of love. He's keeping a smile on his face, but it's not real. "All alone, not by myself. Another girl bad for my health." John Frusciantie's falsetto background vocals add another element to this song.

Scar Tissue ... In his autobiography, Kiedis talks about finally getting clean after a very bad drug bender. He walked outside, looked up, saw some birds flying overhead and came up with the line "With the birds I share this lonely view." With that, he started writing what would become RHCP's comeback song, after most thought their career was finished.

Parallel Universe ... Really cool song that builds slowly and then gets loud for the chorus. Odd subject matter, kind of out there. Is it a literal parallel universe? An out-of-body experience? Is the parallel universe a figurative one? None of that really makes sense. But it's still fun to listen to.

Give It Away ... This is actually a much deeper song than it appears on the surface. It is literally about giving things away; it's about charity and how it makes you a better person. It's catchy. It's high energy. It's fun. It's a hit.

Look Around ... Off their last album. Follows a similar theme of some of their other songs: a man who thinks he's something bigger than he really is, only to be discovered as a sham by his lady friend. Opening sounds go back to their funk roots, but it settles into a nice rock rhythm.

The Righteous and the Wicked ... Brooding song with some guitar distortion. One of RHCP's more political songs, as it looks at issues surrounding politics and religion and war and how humanity is destroying Earth.

Fight Like a Brave ... Positive song about standing up for what you believe in, with Anthony Kiedis using the lyrics to describe getting over drug addiction. A minor hit for the group in the late 80s before hitting it big a couple years later.

* * *

And there we have it. Twenty-five songs that I loosely organized and ranked. There are a lot more that I like, and also several more that I don't really enjoy. I could very easily make a "25 Least Favorite" songs list and it would mostly be songs from their first few albums. And "Purple Stain" from Californication, "On Mercury" from By The Way, and "Warlocks" from Stadium Arcadium.

Let me know what you think, if you agree or disagree or whatever.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

10 Years Later: Looking at American Idiot

Picture it: Sicily, 1921. No wait. Concord University, 2004. I was 18-years-old and a wide-eyed, naive freshman. I was sitting in my girlfriend's dorm room watching MTVu, the MTV channel just for colleges. They were showing music videos.

A new video comes on. "Hmmmm... Green Day has a new song," I think to myself. In minutes, my life has changed forever. I just didn't realize it yet.

The title track from "American Idiot" really resonated with me. With his recent forays as a painter, author, and attempts to become a media darling, it's very easy to forget how horrible George W. Bush's America really was. I was fed up with it and I now had an anthem with which to express my dissatisfaction. 

My mom and I went to the FYE at the mall. I ran to the display of Green Day albums and grabbed my copy. My mom got a Guns N' Roses greatest hits album. We listened to that one on the way home. I don't care much for their bigger hits, but "Patience" and "Mr. Brownstone" are good GNR tracks.

Back in the day, people talk about getting their favorite cassette tape and wearing it out from playing it so much. Ten years later, my CD is in very good shape because I took care of it. But, the "wearing it out" hyperbole works here. That CD became my companion. I listened to it in my alarm clock/CD player combo. I found out you could put a CD into a DVD player and it would work, so I listened to it on my roommate's TV. If you saw me walking around campus in 2004 with headphones on, you saw me listening to American Idiot on my portable CD player.

It was loud. It was angry. It was sad. It was complicated. It was me. I felt such a connection to the words and sounds coming into my ears.

It inspired me creatively. When I needed that extra spark, I put my headphones in, cranked it up, and my fingers got to doing their work.

Green Day had that rare creative and commercial success. The singles were all over the radio and it was selling a lot of albums. But the critics also loved it. A few years ago, Rolling Stone magazine named it the 23rd greatest album of the "aughts," 2000-2009.

It took me a little while to really get into the story. American Idiot is what we call a "rock opera." It tells the story about a cast of characters throughout the course of the album. Green Day is not the first, nor the last. Arguably, The Who did it best with "Tommy" (the "deaf, dumb, and blind kid" who can play pinball in one of their most popular songs) and "Quadrophenia."

There are three central characters in American Idiot: The Jesus of Suburbia, St. Jimmy, and Whatsername. The Jesus of Suburbia is your average kid growing up in George Bush's America, on a diet of "soda pop & Ritalin." St. Jimmy is the bad kid, "Here to represent the needle in the vein of the establishment." Every good story needs that female element. Whatsername inspired the album art ("she's holding on my heart like a hand grenade").

Throughout the course of the album, they get disillusioned with life, meet up, try to change the world, it ends horribly, sadness ensues, then the album ends on a poignant note of reflection.

Let's take a track-by-track look and watch the story unfold.

American Idiot ... The album opens with the introduction. It sets up the kind of world that we're living in and the people involved. "Can you hear the sounds of hysteria? The subliminal mind-fuck, America."

Jesus Of Suburbia ... Introduces us to the main character. "There's nothing wrong with me, this is how I'm supposed to be, in a land of make-believe." This song is composed of five parts: Jesus of Suburbia, City of the Damned, I Don't Care, Dearly Beloved, and Tales of Another Broken Home. It sets him up as a naive child from a broken home, raised by "Moms and Brads." He realizes that everyone around him are hypocrites and that nothing good can come from living in this town. He finally realizes that it's a land of make-believe "And it don't believe in me."

Holiday ... He finally left town! He's having fun, "This is our lives on holiday!" he exclaims. It's a very politically-charged song, which fits the character's outlook on life. He's tired of the status quo and not being able to trust your political leaders. "Another protester has crossed the line, to find the money's on the other side."

Boulevard of Broken Dreams ... The holiday is over. Life is harder than you realized and you're all alone looking for something, be it love or companionship or something deeper. Biggest hit off of the album; pop radio was all over this. It's a simple song with a simple message and it really resonated with a mainstream audience.

Are We The Waiting ... He wants more. He needs to change the world but he doesn't know what to do. He needs something, but he hasn't found it yet. He needs someone?

St. Jimmy ... "My name is Jimmy, and you better not wear it out!" He is a charismatic character that The Jesus of Suburbia latches onto. "Patron saint of the denial, with an angel face and a taste for suicidal." He lives life hard and fast.

Give Me Novacaine ... He's getting brainwashed. He's delving into drugs. The Jesus of Suburbia is getting into this new lifestyle with St. Jimmy. "Drain the pressure from the swelling, this sensation's overwhelming." He looks for guidance: "Tell me, Jimmy, I won't feel a thing. So give me novacaine."

She's A Rebel ... We are introduced to Whatsername. "She's a rebel. She's a saint. She's the salt of the earth and she's dangerous."

Extraordinary Girl ... The relationship has started, and it's not going well. Life isn't going the way either of them had planned. "Some days he feels like dying, she gets so sick of crying."

Letterbomb ... The Jesus of Suburbia finds a letter written to him by Whatsername. She hates where they live, she hates what they're doing with their lives, she hates what they have become and who they look up to: "You're not The Jesus of Suburbia, the St. Jimmy is a figment of your father's rage and your mother's love, made me the Idiot America." He ends it by talking about what he read: "She said I can't take this place, I'm leaving it behind. Well, she said I can't take this town, I'm leaving you tonight."

Wake Me Up When September Ends ... This has taken on several different meanings over the years. Billie Joe Armstrong, lead singer for Green Day, got inspiration for this song after his father passed away. It was a horrible month for him. Continuing the storyline of the album, The Jesus of Suburbia is in a deep depression after Whatsername leaves him. The music video was a long-form piece of work that told the story about a happy couple, with the man looking to make a difference in their lives. He joins the Army and his girlfriend is not happy at all. The video interjects scenes of him scared for his life in Iraq and her alone, crying. It was controversial because it was so relevant. That was real life for a lot of people during that time.

Homecoming ... An ending to the story. Nothing is the same and they don't know what to do. This song is broken up into 5 different parts: The Death of St. Jimmy, East 12th Street, Nobody Likes You, Rock and Roll Girlfriend, and We're Coming Home Again. It's a Homecoming atmosphere with them, as they meet up again, but it's not a festive moment for long. "St. Jimmy comes without any shame. He says 'We're fucked up and we're not the same. And mom and dad are the ones you can blame.'" Spoiler alert: St. Jimmy dies. The Jesus of Suburbia struggles with it. "Does anybody care if nobody cares?"

Whatsername ... Sort of an epilogue to the American Idiot album. Time has passed and The Jesus of Suburbia is thinking about the past. "I remember the face, but I can't recall the name. Now I wonder how Whatsername has been." He says he burnt all of the photographs of them together and has moved on with life. He ends things on a happy note looking at a lost relationship: "Forgetting you, but not the time."

Ten years later, it still holds up well. Green Day tried the rock opera concept a second time with "21st Century Breakdown" in 2009, which did not receive nearly the commercial or critical success as "American Idiot." The second rock opera looks at life in a post-Bush world and examines the themes of religion, politics, and relationship issues. I think it will probably become more well-regarded as time passes. It's a solid followup.

Everybody has that pivotal album in their life that helped define them. An album that helped them sort out the issues in their heads. Words and themes resonate with a young person and it helps them find out who they are. American Idiot did that with me. It is my favorite album and will always hold a special place in my heart and mind.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Fast food, lame friends, and DUI's



I almost had a panic attack earlier. They don't happen often, but occasionally I'll get really weird. Crowds worry me. And not even real crowds. Like 5 people can set me off. I walked down to Sheetz to be alone and use wifi. There were too many people in there, and I just started to freak out. I went outside and started randomly walking around trying to figure out what I was going to do. After a couple minutes, I walked to Wendy's and sat down.

I was in line waiting to get a baked potato. There were two women in front of me. A grandmother, a mother (in her early 20s) and two kids. The mother was holding the youngest, who was probably not even one. The other looked like 3 or 4.

For some reason, I cringed in disgust as the grandma leaned in toward the youngest baby and said in a high-pitched baby voice, "Give Nana some sugars!" I thought it was cute when the little baby tried to kiss her mom. But, she was too busy yelling at the oldest one for getting too many straws. The kid's logic was solid: she started holding them up saying "This one is for me, this is for you, this is for Nana, and these are if any get broken or lost."

The lady taking the order was attractive, looked to be in her early 20s. The mother with the young baby said to her, "You probably don't recognize me." The Wendy's lady had an awkward moment where she said, "Yeah, I recognize you." Which really meant "I wasn't going to talk to you."

They chatted for a couple seconds. The Wendy's girl was running on little sleep and very stressed out with school. 

I've been watching her sweep the floor. I wonder what her story is. She probably wants me to leave so she can sweep under my table.

* * *

I often wonder what people think about me. I've come to the general conclusion that people will say "He's nice, but he can get annoying sometimes. He thinks he's a lot funnier than he really is."

I've had a lot of people pull me aside and note that others are kind of bullying me or walking over me or basically taking advantage of the fact that I'm a nice guy. I often don't care to help people out or go out of my way for somebody. I felt really bad the other day when a girl I work with posted on Facebook that her car broke down and asked for a ride to work. She said it was only a 5 minute ride, but a one-hour walk. I wasn't doing anything, but I don't have the necessary license to give her a ride.

I told a friend the following story and she told me that I didn't have good friends. I spent a majority of a night trying to plan a get-together with a group of friends; mostly girls, a couple guys. A couple were down, some were non-committal, so I wasn't expecting anything too crazy to happen.

After a couple hours, I've heard back from nobody. I've already gotten the itch to go out, so I walk down the street to a bar. I text those friends and tell them to come if they can. And I usually know somebody there on any given night. Long story short, I looked like one of those pathetic people sitting at a bar by himself drowning his sorrows.

Around 1 a.m. I get a snapchat from one of those friends. It's a picture of her and another one of those friends. They and others went out without me. I felt an odd combination of sadness and anger. In a moment I really regret, I replied back "Thanks for thinking about me."

* * *

The last five Mondays, I have been attending DUI Class. People I have been talking to about it have been sending me congratulatory messages or saying that they're proud of me. I don't know if they think this is like rehab or AA or something? It's something the DMV is making me do before I can have my license back.

Like anything in life, I look at a situation and try to find out how I can exploit it. How can I turn a negative into a positive? I hate being there and think it's pointless, but what if I wrote about it? So, that's what I'm doing. I sit in each class and take notes on everything in my phone. It's going to become a 6-part series titled "Adventures in DUI Class." I've already written weeks 1-4. I have the notes for week 5, and class 6 occurs next week. Number six is the final class.

I write about the mundane aspects of it, the provocative moments, and my journey through it all. Here's a preview:


And, there's that. I've got about 8000 words written so far looking at the first four classes. As of right now, the plan is to send them to Thought Catalog as a weekly series. That should be fun.

* * *

That's all for now. I'll check back with everybody at a later date. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Shimmer



On my old BlackBerry, I have a list in the notes section titled "Top pop/rock songs with a violin." And that's what it is. I was inspired after hearing the Katy Perry "Firework" song. This song, "Shimmer" by Fuel should definitely be on the list. Maybe I'll go back to that one day. I also had a note titled "Top songs written about Kurt Cobain." The list had Red Hot Chili Peppers and Van Hagar, off the top of my head.

As I've mentioned in a few previous posts, I love moody, depressing lyrics mixed with hard music. This song fits that description. 

More thoughts on this topic at a later date.