Category Archives: Thoughts on Music

“If I Stay” by Gayle Forman: a book review (and a personal introspection)

“…Dying is easy. Living is hard.”

This is one of the best books I will ever read in YA. Read it in a day, by yourself, and then let this one simmer. Girl gets in horrific car accident in chapter one, most of family dies, she has an out of body experience following her body and loved ones around the hospital, and using a potent flashback device we relive with Mia the years leading up to this point.

Her choice is this: leave this world, or stay?

Wow.

It’s not with out minor faults, but when you read it cover to cover, you’ll understand the high rating. Forget the cover art, forget the stupid “Twilight” quote from USA today for marketing purposes… just read.

A heavy tale that exemplifies great modern meta-fiction done right to connect with its target audience. “If I Stay” (released in 2009) houses references to rock-and-roll magazines, CBGBs in NYC, a plethora of 70s and 80s figure heads like Patti Smith and Debbie Harry, and punk rock bands like Weezer, Nirvana, and the Ramones, Batman, television shows, celebrities, movie references, and Harry Potter, The Great Gatsby, and Lord of the Flies. But ultimately, it’s about family, love, and why you should live your crazy life.

Yes, making too many modern pop-culture references in your story can often promise the novel will age poorly or just always hearken back to the time period in which it was written in, but when dealing with the Young Adult genre, it’s wise when doing realistic and dramatic teen fiction to put the characters firmly in the here-and-now; to force the reader to reflect and empathize with the characters in the novel who seem to be inhabiting their own familiar world. Yes, as the years pass, tales using this ploy may not be as affective or relatable for future generations, but in the case of “If I Stay” by Gayle Forman, not only is it crucial, but it’s done masterfully and balanced and graceful. It’s a book for today’s cultural environment and youth and makes no excuses or apologies for it. It’s done well.

Another book will be written by another author years from now for the next generation. This one is for the kids born roughly between 1980-2000. Awesome, awesome message of hope and love that never, ever feels forced. Gayle, fucking bravo, girl!

On the down side (and there is very little to criticize about this book): three issues. One: The early description of the car wreck and the graphic details are a bit much and not necessary. Two: the elitist, scene hipster character, Brooke Vega, though not in the story for long, was an unrealistic personification of the punk landscape, thrown in specifically for humor and stood as a cheap, lazy construction of a very dead part of early seventies era glam-punk. Young teens in Portland, Oregon would never have and don’t have rock gods like this anymore. The descriptions and the dialogue this character spouted pulled me out of the story and rang untrue.

Which leads us to the final complaint: in a story that is so short, there may be too much “insider-type” referential material, two or three too many call-back and shout-outs to obscure sub-cultures which most 15-23 year olds would never know about in any way, shape, or form unless they harbor very curious niche tastes or their parents were born in the seventies, grew up in the eighties, and pummeled their kids in the nineties with tons of rock trivia. I know about it because I’m a punk rock junkie, but not everyone might. I’m turning 27 soon, and I listen to punk from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s; I pride myself on being the person in my group of friends who knows everything about punk rock’s evolution. I even own some of the better documentaries on DVD on the subject, okay? Me. Dork.

Part of this story was very cathartic for me on a personal level. Yeah, I’m gonna get personal on you now. The dad of Mia and his story closely mirrors my own. The parents are in their thirties, and that’s where I’m headed in less than five years, and the dad’s whole back story (the localized popularity while never getting big famous, releasing the CDs, doing the summer tours, then giving up, putting on a tie, and getting a real job) is exactly what I am. Even down to the eerie detail of how the dad’s bands were somehow popular in Japan and fans offered up their houses if they would fly from America to play in Japan. This happened to my band “Flash Grenade” except with fans in London and, strangely, Australia. I honestly thought Gayle Forman read my diary.

 

circa 2006

circa 2007

circa 2006 again

To make it doubly freaky, I too have considered becoming a teacher since my wife and I are talking about having kids in a few years. Then Gramps says how Mia’s father wrote lyrics like poems and he thought he’d be a writer someday. I have a book on Amazon. I wrote lyrics for my band like short stories. Mind-fudged… that’s what I got. Never has a book done this to me. Page 152-160 shook my soul.

circa 2009

It was tricky to read some of these parts. I’m a push-over to begin with: I’m a hopeless romantic, I don’t shy away from sad thoughts or introspection, so when I saw what I could be in a few years, I was struck with a volley of contrasting and opposing ideas, stirring up long buried philosophies about my life and my choices. I still secretly breathe the punk scene. It made me think: would it be sadder to leave those hard decisions of “moving on” in the past, or is it sadder for a librarian and shoe salesman to reattempt slam dunks when he hasn’t touched a court for years?

From 2004-2010, during the reign of Flash Grenade, (yes, on iTunes) I was sure music would be my life, and then, suddenly, it couldn’t be and wasn’t for several reasons. We made thousands of dollars and hundreds of memories in a few short years. Now it’s over. One day, I was going to open for Green Day, right? Of course I was. Just a matter of time, right?

In the end, I guess I’m saying this book hit home on a personal note and made it really real for me – I could honestly relate to at least half the characters and empathize with them.

And then I continued to the final fifty pages of this novel and was blown away by how powerful and honest it was. This book is surely one of the best in recent years. Period.

This YA book for older teens (15+ I’d guess) is not even 200 pages long but pack a punch, keeps those pages turning, and has some wonderfully fleshed out and dimensional characters—further proof that size and page-count of the book isn’t everything when crafting excellent fiction. It’s haunting; it’s true to life, honest about punks and alternative culture (for the most part) and portrays self-doubt and first loves realistically.

The ending of this book is incredible. Must-Read, not just for girls, but for all. I will be reading the sequel, Where She Went (last year’s goodreads.com winner for best YA novel).

5/5
MH

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Thoughts on Music: Green Day circa 2009-2012

A band I loved finally fell into everything they used to stand against. They are unrecognizable. Blame aging, having families, “growing up”, maturing as an artist—but something rubs me wrong. Maybe it shouldn’t because this band was at it for so long and deserve the recognition more than most, but they deserve the recognition for what they “did”, not what they “are” doing now. They made it for more years than most with my undying love, but alas, now my fondness is a memory for a trio of men at a certain time of their career, not the entire expanse of it.

It happened in 2009, NOT 2004 according to popular belief.

When I say “Rock opera about How The World Is A Bit Messed Up And Stuff And How America Is, Like, Evil”, what band do you think of? Hint: It rhymes with Green Day.

“21st Century Breakdown”, for me, was their big chance to show they didn’t need to ride the coat tails of “American Idiot” and write something radically different. I don’t know why they didn’t.

Like all albums put out by this important and well-known band, they were all different and pushed their sound in new directions. Even when they weren’t popular from 2000 until most of 2004 they always did exactly what they wanted (i.e. Warning and Shenanigans). I saw them perform in 2001 and I really believe that was the last time they were “them.” I am 26 now.

I own all the albums and can stand by the claim that they always tried new things… until “21st Century Breakdown”. To put it politely, some of it is salvageable, some of it is creative, but mostly, it’s the first album where they didn’t change anywhere near enough from the last album. Seriously, the majority of people I talk to find it exhausting to listen to this very long, droning, too-much-piano, songs-built-the-same, album. Individually tracks are great to put on a long-drive-mix-CD-for-your-car. But, who has an hour and ten minutes? It’s like they refused to trim it down and threw in all the B-sides when it could have been a tighter, shorter album. Seriously, take out five of these tracks.

in hollywood CA 2004 tour

I remind you, I built my life around this band for a decade, from the age of 11 until 21. I sung like Billie Joe for years, and I had a band “Flash Grenade” (one of the three albums now on iTunes) make thousands of dollars from 2004-2010 because of the inspiration I got from them. We played their covers. I respect these guys. But they’re wearing me thin.

I’m writing this because of two things. One: I read a blog by another guy about how they’re sellouts. Well, people have been saying that about a bunch of huge bands for years. That argument can’t be won no matter who you are talking about or to. It’s not worth having or listing reasons. The second reason I’m writing this is I’ve just gotten wind that they are writing a new album. No doubt it will come parading into all of our radios whether we like it or not, like “Boulevard of Broken
Dreams” which the replay frequency made me hate. My biggest issue is that, simply, there are other bands out there now and we should spread our attention around to them. The next album will be a big deal… well… just because we all expect it to be.

So first things first, here’s a few blurbs from the “haters” site I’m having a hard time disagreeing with:

“Then ‘American Idiot’ suddenly ate the world and within what felt like the space of a few months, Green Day had reinvented themselves. A whole new generation of kids – who went to their shows for ‘Holiday’ and ‘American Idiot’ and remained silent for ‘When I Come Around’ because they didn’t know it, which is pretty cool if you think about it – discovered them and the really, REALLY big leagues came calling.”

“It’s that the Green Day of 2009 are eminently hateable, three self-proclaimed spokespeople for a generation that didn’t ask to be spoken for who ramble in broad strokes and who’ve turned into as much of a commercialized product as everything they used to rail against. Hell, if The Killers acted in the way Billie Joe and co do, no one would bat an eyelid. And there’s no doubt that ‘American Idiot’ was, on the surface at least, a brave statement in a time when they didn’t have to make one.”

“America has changed, the world has changed. There’s nothing worse than a band who believes their own hype, and that’s exactly what Green Day appear to be doing. Like a reformed drug addict who can’t shut up about how much better life is now they’re clean, Billie Joe seems to think that after writing a couple of socio-political couplets he’s now qualified to pass judgment on an entire generation.”

For the whole article, which gives a fair assessment and opinion, click here: http://www.nme.com/blog/index.php?blog=134&title=green_day_are_back_yawn_yawn_yawn&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1

So now let’s talk about this album they’re working on. I first heard about it on one of my favorite sites, www.punknews.org . Again, they are describing it in the vaguest of ways and I am terrified. Plus, who knows how many years this one will take. I was disappointed when I waited just over four years for “21st Century” and felt only “so-so” about it. Some good songs, some bad.

So the articles below show the broad, generalized way they’re talking about their new songs, much like a republican candidate describes how he is actually going to carry out specific ideas and make certain plans come to fruition. It’s so vague. Billie Joe says stuff like the following, actual quotes:

“we’re literally dealing with a new sound and it’s fucking with my head.”

Click here for that story and that video update: http://www.punknews.org/article/46668

Also, he says here: 

“I think it’s so personal and so voyeuristic. I mean, this is the first time we’ve ever really sung about fucking.”

http://www.punknews.org/article/46361

All I have to say is… what…? I’m sure you can find other places online where he poetically describes shadows and dust, power chords and poor people, bananas and the importance of voting.

LOL.

Even Mike Dirnt says:

“the songs are gonna blow their fucking minds”

That’s cocky. Straight up. I would never say that at any point in my music career, which I’m kind of glad is over/in hiatus for the moment if it could gradually turn into… Green Day circa 2009-2011 if given enough time.

*shudders*

The unfortunate truth is, I feel like when I listen to them talk about politics and they make every fucking song a “message”, I just hear three kids who didn’t go to college, now 40 years old or whatever, talking about issues in unclear, indistinct, uninspired, fuzzy ways, like they get all of their information from the Daily Show on Comedy Central or what they saw in two-seconds on a subway poster. I guess that’s what I get since I went to college and their broad socio-political statements hit me in the face like a pair of balls. No one more than themselves (!) has bought into their rising-from-the-ashes-with-Pheonix-reborn-importance; especially Billie Joe. Maybe he feels like he owes to all of us to do something “important.” It’s like, gulp, Anti-Flag. I’d like a rock show, not a protest rally, unless you have really, really, really good shit to say and we’re actually going to take some fucking action after the show and not just buy 30 dollar tour shirts and go home filled with Redbull and have sex. There has to be more than that or else it’s masturbation for the soul, it is lip service for an idea that sounds nice with no follow through. And that makes me agitated.

I don’t think this band is consciously selling-out for any real purpose of increased cash flow. They just changed into something banal and benign and they seem to enjoy it. Hey, they love their job more than you or I and they seem to be having fun. God Bless them, but I’m not paying for their next $90 ticket price tour with U2 and the Black Eyed Peas. That’s just a guess.

Time will tell. Can’t wait for single numero uno, probably in Spring 2013.

Fuck it. I’m gonna go listen to “Insomniac” from ’95.

No matter how much they change, the old albums stay the same, unless you’re George Lucas.

MH

 

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Thoughts on Music: The Scene I Grew Up With and Where it is Now

Pop-punk. That’s what this unusual blog is about. I know I often do books and sometimes movies, but I’ve decided to start a new segment for the occasional music that gallops through my world. While “Harder Punk” is what I often grew up on, and while I listen to several genres within and outside of punk, I grew up with “pop-punk” (i.e. Sum-41, Green Day, Blink 182) and on this rare occasion, I wanted to share three new albums that are hitting our world this Spring 2012. For old time’s sake.

“Thoughts on Music” will be a segment I try to do once a month from now on.

MXPX:

After 7 years of mediocrity, and way too many cover albums, compilation albums, and needless DVDs, their ninth (9th) studio album marks the bands 26th, yes, twenty-sixth! release (EPs and Best Ofs and Live albums included) in 18 years. This one, honestly, is a return to some 90s sound while keeping some early 2000s energy. If you didn’t like “Before Everything & After” (2003) or “Secret Wepon” (2007) but you did like “Panic” (2005) or “Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo” (1998) — this newest release, “Plans Within Plans” is for you.

Yes, I had given up on them years ago too, but I listened and I was surprised. It has the energy of the live album “At The Show” (1999) and is thankfully nothing like the side projects Mike has been wasting time with for years (i.e. “Tumbledown”).

Enjoy.

I’ve ordered this MXPX CD after hesitation, as well as Pennywise’s new “All or Nothing”. Two old school bands I grew up with that, surprisingly, brought the goods. Even with their new lead vocalist (the original and long-standing beloved now gone) this band still captures me in someway, AND has done some slightly different stuff with aggression and song design. Again, I’m surprised. I guess I’ve been being cynical.

But stay away from Anti-Flag’s “The General Strike.” I’m tired of history lessons and bass runs. I’m too old for that shit. While once in love with them, I’m 99% sure that love is for the majority of their 2000s catalog only where they became better as musicians than the 90s and put out the cacthiest stuff. I’m a sucker for a sing-a-long. Fuck off. These days, it’s just a 30-minute preach on compact disc. And the lyric booklets are like little textbooks — homework packed with linear notes about legislation from your favorite punk band. That would be fine if they left it just in the booklets or online, but a third of their sets are talking, talking, talking. I’ve seen them three times. I know what I’m talking about.

MH

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