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Read, Watch, Listen #3

Read, Watch, Listen #3

Geddy Lee, J.G. Ballard, Club Random with Bill Maher, Blue Oyster Cult


         I received Geddy Lee’s autobiography, My Effin’ Life, for Christmas and dug right in. The distinguished bassist and vocalist for Classic Rock giants RUSH tells his life story in candid style, recalling his youth in Toronto, best friendship with guitarist Alex Lifeson, and decades of relentless touring and recording with one of the world’s most influential and adored power trios.




         The chapter on his parents falling in love during Nazi camp imprisonment and fleeing The Holocaust to raise a family in North America stands out as not only a harrowing lineage history, but a triumph of the human spirit.


         Geddy doesn’t hide from who he is – his flaws as a husband in an all-but estranged marriage for most of the band’s run, the trappings of cocaine and reckless rockstar living, and his divisive “Mr. Bossypants” attitude in the recording studio are all addressed (with Alex Lifeson rebuttals regarding the “keyboard years” and other milestones.)


         RUSH fans love the band for their music, surely, but it’s also their dedication to vision and commitment to doing things their way that inspires. My Effin’ Life details a career shared by three stubborn artists who chose the risk of integrity over the comfort of compromise every time.  


         The legend of Neil Peart is told within the story, from the time a weird, lanky guy sans shirt crushed the audition to replace original drummer John Rutsey, to his untimely death just a few years into retirement.


         The tale of three Canadian high-school dropouts, with a penchant for the innovations of music in the late 60s and early progressive rock unfolds in an exhaustive 512 pages. Ultimately, My Effin’ Life is the story of friendship and a deep reflection of ups-and-downs, trials and tribulations, of shapin’, sharin’, and chasin’ down a dream.



         J.G. Ballard’s Concrete Island, is a typically provocative story by the English author. The 1974 novel follows architect Robert Maitland who, after crashing his Jaguar down an embankment off a road construction site, finds himself stranded on a stretch of desolate land beyond intersecting highways.


         Ballard’s work is always layered, and what ensues begs ponderance of our isolation as individuals. The oft-cited English poem by John Donne, “No Man Is An Island,” proposes every human being is connected. In contrast, Concrete Island posits every man is an island; alone to survive within the whimsy of fate, whether circumstantial or self-inflicted. We are islands surrounded by our pasts, present situations, and the unrevealed future.      

A bizarre read, for sure. Ballard gives us a lot to think about as we trudge day-to-day with our protagonist Maitland and two additional characters who show up midway through the story. Who are these people and how do they affect the island – our island?


Allegorically, we can see these late arrivals in the story as archetypes that plague every life: the psychic vampires who manipulate our plans and the ignorant who impede our progress. Maitland finds himself enslaved by the deception and violence of the peripheral characters, and his ennui transforms from desperation to dominance.


         Imagine, if you will, a Twilight Zone episode with sex, drugs, and violence, written by speculative fiction’s cyberpunk grandaddy and you’ve got Concrete Island. Enjoy your stay!



         I’ve always been an admirer of Bill Maher. I was a fan of his Politically Incorrect show of the 90s and have enjoyed many viewings of his current political news-fest Real Time with Bill Maher. I figure I agree with about eighty percent of Bill’s views. He’s always come across as an honest guy and a clear thinker. He’s a “classic liberal”, as am I, and holds centrist views for the most part. While our shared centrism may lean in different directions, Bill is my go-to guy when I need to be reminded I’m not alone in seeing our nation careening toward catastrophe.


Bill remains an essential voice of reason and common sense in our current state of chaos. When I do disagree with him it’s in a big way, but overall, I find him to be a genuine and level-headed commentator and a creative comic mind.


         According to Mediaite in December, a new poll conducted by WPA Intelligence found Maher the most trusted name in media, followed by Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan, and Jake Tapper. (For the record, I do not know Tapper’s work, as I avoid CNN, but do find Carlson and Rogan dedicated and reliable in their reporting.)


         Bill’s YouTube podcast, Club Random with Bill Maher, has become a weekly staple in my viewing. The premise is perfect: Bill invites people of note to his mancave to have a few cocktails, partake in The Devil’s Parsley if they choose, and talk about anything and everything that comes to mind.


         A few episodes I’ve skipped due to no interest in the guest. (And I had to abandon the Tommy Lee visit thirty minutes in to protect my IQ from irreparable damage. Every time Tommy spoke, I sensed ten more of my braincells killing themselves.)


Save for a very few, every chat is wonderful, humorous, insightful, and refreshingly unrehearsed. Might I recommend the Martin Short, David Mamet, Kid Rock, and Woody Harrelson episodes to start? Furthermore, Bill’s remarkable talks with psychologist Jordan Peterson are essential. Don’t miss them, and make your older children watch them, too.


         Bill searches and finds common ground with the most uncommon of people and that has never been more necessary than today. Thanks for providing a platform for civil disagreement and normal conversation, Bill.



         Been spinning old faves Blue Oyster Cult’s 2020 album The Symbol Remains the last few days. Unlike many of their 70s peers who are still in the touring game (most of them in their seventies), B.O.C. does not rely on a Greatest Hits retro presentation. They continue to write and record new material, songs of exceptional quality that rival their best work from decades ago. Not many bands remain a cohesive unit for over fifty years. Those that do often issue new releases full of songs that pale in comparison to their glory days. Blue Oyster Cult still produces material that glows with creative spark and a continued commitment to craft.


         The Symbol Remains contains some top-notch bangers, opening with the slamming “That Was Me,” a driving rocker highlighted by Eric Bloom’s energetic vocals and Buck Dharma’s angular guitar runs.


Next up is “Box in My Head,” with Dharma singing lyrics penned by prolific author John Shirley. The trickily-worded chorus is a catchy earworm.


         The romantic (vampiric?) ballad “Tainted Blood” features strong vocals from guitarist Richie Castellano, a long-time member who made his recording debut with the band on this album.


         “Nightmare Epiphany” is a bouncy rocker that leads into the epic “Edge of the World,” that takes a sardonic look at the chaotic state of our society and the mindset of knowing the “truth.” Absolutely killer!


         “The Machine,” “Train True (Lennie’s Song),” and “The Return of St. Cecilia” are straightforward rockers that defy you to keep still. “Stand and Fight” is an anthemic pounder that rides into battle on a heavy riff and a retro 80s metal shout chorus. “Florida Man” is up next, a song whose melody belies its haunting lyrical content.


         “The Alchemist” is a progressive rock monster. At this point, you realize that most bands don’t have this many kick ass tunes in the span of five albums. Have I mentioned how much I love Blue Oyster Cult?


         At the age of nine, I was gifted their 1976 masterpiece Agents of Fortune from a cool teenage girl, Karen, who lived down the block. She was cool alright. Went to all the concerts and wore all the souvenir T-shirts.


         I’d hang on her porch and drink RC while she blasted albums from her living room stereo. She put Agents on the turntable and I was blown away. I knew and loved “Don’t Fear the Reaper” from the radio and was rapt with the other eerie, esoteric tunes that made up the album. I connected with the band, like you did back in the day. It was a major discovery in my adolescent Rock ‘N Roll journey.  


         Seeing how into their music I was, Karen gave me the album. I was floored by the kind gesture. In fact, I’ve reminded her of that day over the decades since. The album remains among my all-time favorites.


         The terrific The Symbol Remains continues with the bluesy, reflective “Secret Road,” the rough and ready “There’s a Crime” and beautiful “Fight.”


Blue Oyster F’n Cult, man. Are you kiddin’ me? This album will take you back to a time when music defined you. Killer stuff. Long Live, B.O.C.


I know, I know. I sound like an old man when I talk about how much better music “used to be.”


         That’s because I am an old man and music used to be a lot better.


  Blue Oyster Cult reminds us of that fact and carries the torch for the great music we grew up listening to, identifying with, and pledging allegiance to: virtuosic musicianship, intelligent lyrics and detailed songcraft.


Peace & Love,

 

MT

 

        

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