Strangely Enough, I’m Becoming a Metal Fan Thanks to a Cartoon

Metalocalypse

I mean seriously, all good humor comes from truth, right?

Well, the title just about says it, right? I started watching Metalocalypse when it debuted a few years ago, and enjoyed it because of its absurdity and the fact that I could understand some of the humor from having been friends with tonbabydc for many years.

If you haven’t seen it, even if you aren’t a particularly big Metal fan—like me—the show winds up being a pretty clever commentary on the divide between the perceived “importance” of a band/act and the reality that they may just be oblivious sometimes–incompetent people buoyed by excellent management. It also takes the occasional pot-shot at clearly recognizable figures like David Lee Roth, but in a really slick way.
Read More About Metalocalypse and My New Love for Metal »

Why Van Halen Was Better with Sammy Hagar

Pound for pound, Van Halen was at one time one of the greatest musical groups alive. They helped lead America out of the Disco era and into the eighties, when tremendously talented acts like Journey, U2 and Ozzy Osbourne roamed the arenas with abandon. It was back when Bruce Springsteen was still relevant and at the top of his game.

People often make the mistake of thinking that I dislike the “early years” when David Lee Roth was the lead singer. This is untrue. I’ve loved the music of Van Halen from their self-titled debut album to Balance. Not every effort was perfection, but every one was worth a listen.

David Lee Roth

Really?

For goodness’ sake, 1984 was literally the first album I continually stole from my brother’s record collection. It’s not my fault he couldn’t find a better hiding place. I was a nine year old boy hungry for music more expansive than the Ghostbusters theme. My older brother, whom I idolized (and some might argue I still do), feathered his hair and wore parachute pants. Maybe this music he listened to all the time was the key to understanding why that was cool.

Needless to say, my grubby little hands found Van Halen and suddenly the world was an open, fresh summer day. I would put the tape in the tape deck I stole from his room whenever he went to work, go out to the front yard and play with my Star Wars action figures as Eddie Van Halen screeched his guitar across the scales.

Of course I’d pretend I didn’t steal it and then use Mom and Dad (especially Mom) to defend my innocence. It’s not my fault I was a little douchebag, David Lee Roth had shown me that it was all right to be a douchebag.

Limits of Love

But the love I have for the early Van Halen has its limits. When I listen today to a song like Everybody Wants Some or even Panama, those spoken-word ramblings from Roth often make my skin crawl. The music was plenty fine, there was no need to hear the feather-haired spandex-clad lead singer adamantly proclaim his heterosexuality. Constantly. We get it, dude. You like to go pick up chicks and have sex.

This doesn’t mean I dislike the David Lee Roth ramblings. I just like them in a certain context, the same chord struck as watching an old movie you might have a reason to love despite its limitations (I’m looking at you, Star Trek V.) David Lee Roth’s Van Halen belongs to yesteryear. It doesn’t age like Journey’s rocker ballads or U2′s anthems. Unlike Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love, I won’t play it a little too loudly when the kids are home.

It’s not just because I have daughters. It’s because I’m not a teenager anymore.

Deeper Meanings

When 5150 came out, the first album with Hagar, I was no longer a nine-year-old douchebag, I was a twelve-year-old jackass. But I was a questioning jackass, trying to make sense of the new emotions and experiences I was having. I was, as anyone going through that time is, confused and overwhelmed. I switched schools, an outcast in a very tightly-knit group of kids. My Grampy and Grammy had died, my first experience with all of those confusing feelings. My dad had suffered a heart attack and had heart surgery, and that one’s tough to get through even though he survived.

I needed something hopeful on which to hang my hat.

5150 was that thing. To this day, I can put on that album and every care drifts away. It’s OK to listen to that music loudly, too, as its libidinous drive is couched in questions about love and destiny. Deep, meaningful questions that lifted it out of the simple chasing-for-action sensibilities of the late 1970s and into more relationship-focused thoughts. There were songs about keeping love alive and compromising for the sake of it.

Dreams, of course, remains one of the unassailably perfect rock songs of all time.

Broader Horizons

Even though it doesn’t get as much love as other efforts, OU812 asks questions about life, love and the world. When the songs talk about getting away or resolving problems, it’s about staying with that special someone, not picking up stakes and moving to greener pastures.

It also opens with my favorite song that Van Halen ever released. Mine All Mine, a song about self-reliance and perseverance through the questions you’ll face about faith and life, remains a song that deserves a lot more love than it gets.

For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (see what they did there?) is one of those rarities in early 1990s rock albums: nearly perfect. Balance might be an acquired taste, but it still has more hidden gems on it than Diver Down and Fair Warning.

The Final Question

Sammy Hagar

To be honest, I have a hard time recalling a picture or a concert where I didn't see this guy smiling like he was just happy as all get-out to be doing what he was doing. I think the only times I saw him unhappy were on the cover of OU812 and when Eddie kicked him out of the band.

The final question for me is personality. Maybe I should be “better” than this, but it matters to me if the singer leading the band seems like someone I’d like to know, or at least go out to get a beer with him. David Lee Roth fails that test. The guy just comes across as a self-obsessed jackass, who’d c-block you every chance he got until he went home and stranded you at closing. Sammy seems like the kind of guy who’d take you out, pick up the check and make sure that everyone had a good time.

Yeah, that matters to me. Sammy seems grateful to the world for his good fortune, whereas Roth seems like someone who thinks it was owed to him. Maybe that’s the key to the personality shift in the band after Hagar joined. Maybe that’s why I’ll always be more likely to be listening to Carnal Knowledge at the gym than Van Halen II.

This One’s for You, Tom

My friend Tom got married last night. He and his long-time girlfriend, Jenn, tied the knot in a beautiful ceremony at a cathedral and then had a warm and fun reception that went well into the night. I wish them nothing but the best, and endless years of happiness. Also kind of hope they have a kid, because I think they’d create an awesome kid.

I’ve known Tom a long time. Since High School, in fact, I’ve been happy to call him my friend. That’s not really the whole story, though; only the easiest way to introduce each other to people.

See, Tom and I were friends in High School primarily by virtue of the fact that I was very close with his younger brother, Kevin (who unfortunately later became known as Bacca Strap). We therefore traveled through similar circles and did many of the same things like Speech & Debate and Drama. He cast a long shadow in both as he was also a member of the band and kicked a little ass with a drum kit.

Tom and I grew closer through the lost art of letter writing after he went to college. I’m not entirely sure how that started, but I’m fairly certain he was the one who started it.

Over the course of those letters started a game of one-upmanship that didn’t relent for many years. I also lost virtually every round.

(Funny side note: the best letter was actually written to our mutual friend Scott, wherein Tom managed to convince him that he’d been stabbed in the leg while out walking. For some reason, the fact that the letter was dated for April Fool’s Day and Tom said he required more than 100 stitches didn’t set off any alarms in our puerile brains.)

So anyway, the letters continued. Tom and I were next paired up in the now-infamous trip to Canada in 1993 that gave birth to the “Pasty Seven.” By this time I’d say his friendship began to matter more to me than it had before. All seven of us on that trip bonded in a special way, too. I know that I count it as one of my favorite experiences from my youth and I’d like to think everyone else who went does, as well.

There are a lot of laughs between then and now that I could recount. I remember an incident where I got into a huge argument with an anonymous AOL user in the 1990s (when AOL was king!) about the musical heritage and value of The Doors. To shorten the story and lessen my own embarrassment, let’s just get to the point that it was Tom yanking my chain the whole time. Tutball@aol.com, I salute you.

I remember a very special trip to see a revival of Jesus Christ Superstar that had gotten virtually no press, to which Tom commented while we were driving to the show, “Watch it be the homo-erotic S&M version.” The house lights dimmed, the music started and the Roman Guards came out in very interesting outfits…that made Tom turn around with that trademark half-smile that said, “Looks like…”

And let me say, I’ll never be stupid enough to play “Never Have I Ever” with Tom at a party again, under any circumstances. Because he’ll go there.

There was that second trip I took to Canada, too. Yes, Tom, I drank myself sober. I’ll attest to that, to my dying day. I did start watching The Empire Strikes Back at the worst possible time for anyone.

Sammy will always be better than Dave, too.

But aside from the laughs, Tom is one of those friends I’ve always been very thankful to have. He has never been afraid to challenge my convictions, call my bluff and respect our differences. I hope that, by virtue of still being his friend, he feels at least a little similarly about me.

So congratulations, Tomas Vincenzo, you seem to have found someone who makes you as happy as you deserve. All the prayers and best wishes from my family to yours.

Fandom, Fanaticism and the Question of Art

In a recent Q&A session with Nicholas Meyer, director of Star Trek II and Star Trek VI, he said, “Art is not a democracy.”

I find that to be a particularly interesting statement from a film director, considering the tremendous amount of collaborative work from set designers, production managers and assistant directors (as well as visual effects teams in a lot of cases). But it’s a great point when viewed through the lens of fandom, and it ties into a something that came up during the long–running comments between myself and Tony over the last month about Star Wars v. Star Trek.

The nature of nerd fandom is a uniquely strange thing, one that I have yet to see repeated in other fan bases. There is a level of obsession that exists that is admittedly extremely unhealthy. Trust me, I took a long, long road from the Star Wars fan I was to the Star Wars fan I am.

Star Wars poster

This poster, signed by the guy who played Dack (John Morton), was tacked up in my room.

To sidetrack onto that journey and give a little background, I was at one time the typical über-fan whom people usually mock. At least half my wardrobe was comprised of Star Wars T-Shirts. My walls were covered with posters of female singers whom I adored/lusted (Geri Halliwell, Sheryl Crow, Tori Amos) and…Star Wars pictures and posters. (Occasionally I’d mix things up with a poster from Reservoir Dogs or something like that.) I owned many, many toys and kept them on display for everyone to see. So long as they were in my room at my parents’ house.

Yes, Star Wars was my golden calf. May the angels of heaven protect you if you touched my stuff or came in with a criticism you couldn’t defend. I would spend hours trying to convert people, to convince them that it was not only perfectly normal to obsess about a fake universe of laser swords and Dark Lords, but they were somehow deficient because they didn’t.

Honestly, why my brother didn’t do me the favor of a serious ass-kicking, I’ll never know. It’s probably a testament to what a loving brother he truly is.

Anyway, like most geeks (a sub-genus of nerd) I felt that I had something of a “claim” to the Star Wars storyline. Like a jealous lover, anything that threatened disharmony within the galaxy far, far away was a matter of extreme angst.

However, this is not unique to Star Wars nerds/geeks/et al. Spend some time with a Lord of the Rings, Dungeons & Dragons, Star Trek or (if any exist still) Babylon 5 fan, and you’ll see. With some, it’s as plain as the chain mail under their shirt; others have learned to control themselves like a Zen Bruce Banner, but find the right combination of triggers and they Hulk Out on you just the same.

Star Wars Dork

This is a close approximation of what I was, with more hair and less weight. I have less weight now, but still no hair.

They’ve taken the notion of fandom and turned it into fanaticism. With this fanaticism comes a heavy price for artists.

Harlan Ellison wrote an essay called Xenogenesis about the phenomenon and delivered it in a speech in July 1984. Many science fiction writers shared stories with him that resonate today, and seem to be repeating with other sci-fi/fantasy creators through the new millenium.

Reading it (in a collected work in the early 1990s) started the change in my own perspective. It was a glacial change, but it took less than a decade to complete the journey, which was less than half the time I’d taken becoming an OCD fan, so that counts as a win.

In the essay, Ellison postulated what I came to realize, which was that sci-fi and fantasy fans take it to a whole level that causes a sort of metamorphosis in them. They feel that they have just as much ownership over the artist’s work as the artist him/herself.

If you know anything about Mr. Ellison, you know what he had to say about that. He did, however, sound the warning bell for the rest of us.

The tricky thing of course is how much fandom is too much fandom? Is a convention too much fandom? Putting a phaser app on my Droid phone? Recreating the entire set of the Enterprise from the original Star Trek TV show and creating a completely unwatchable fan series?

I would submit that none of those things is too much fandom, unless….

It fosters the notion that the fans somehow “own” the material as much as the artist, or that they have some sort of legitimate input to bring to the table for the creative process.

Something like Star Trek is a uniquely difficult one in this realm, though, because by its very nature it’s “art by committee,” which isn’t really art but entertainment. There isn’t some singular visionary force behind the series as a whole. However, allow me to use the disclaimer that TV entertainment can be art when you’re talking about something where a singular theme/plot/vision is in place from the beginning (I’d call this “The LOST Principle”).

In general, however, while there may be instances of singular visionary forces (i.e., the aforementioned Mr. Meyer) that produce singular cases of art within the context of the whole, Star Trek has always been the child of 1000 fathers and mothers. It remained “television” in its very nature, even after it crossed to film.

But again, if the fans had their way, Spock never would have died (there were protests when that d*ck Roddenberry leaked that plot point), robbing us of one of the most poignant and moving science fiction stories of the last 30 years. If the fans had their way, Darth Vader never would have found redemption, but rather would have turned Luke to the Dark Side and lived nastily ever after because that hard edge they earned when Suzie McAllister* turned them down for homecoming showed them how life is always rough and never ends happily.

*I made up this name. If there is a real Ms. McAllister out there, why did you turn him down, you cold monster?

Smeagol

Changed it! Changed it from the bookses they did!

(Of course, I will give credit where it’s due and say that Lord of the Rings fans managed to stop some really egregious bulls*** from going into those movies that would have completely ruined them. But that’s more of a case of the fans having spent more time with the material than the fan/guy making the movies based on the source material books. If he were the one creating the films from whole cloth, different story.)

Back to the main point, though, fans have to give up this idea that because they’re fans they have some sort of right of input. At that point it stops being art and becomes merely entertainment. Beyond that, it becomes entertainment that caters only to a specific audience.

That’s fine, though. There’s nothing wrong with entertainment either. Not everything needs to be a classic. But know how to discriminate between the two.

And if something doesn’t strike your fancy, then fine. You’re not obligated to stick with anything. Just ask Bruce Springsteen or a host of other musicians who try new things how well that’s been received by their “hard core” audiences. It doesn’t invalidate the work, nor does it invalidate the fans. If you’re only a fan of Bruce Springsteen up until Tunnel of Love (like me), that’s cool. If you liked the first Matrix but disliked the sequel(s), then that’s cool. If you prefer David Lee Roth to Sammy Hagar…well, all right then. I’ve talked about that sort of thing as well.

I guess my reaction is, if you dislike it then move along. There’s no need to stay invested in something if you dislike it. It’s like people who watch TV shows into their later seasons and bemoan how much better it was earlier. You know what I did when The Simpsons started to stink on ice? I walked away. Thanks for the memories, the stuff I liked was great and I’m sure there are people that think the later stuff is golden. That’s fine too. But I’m not going to keep watching the show and tell everyone every week how much I liked the older seasons more.

Why would I keep watching if I disliked it?

And that’s the crux of the problem with sci-fi/fantasy fans. They carry that vested interest with them, so even as they start to dislike something so much that they spew venom at it, they just stay in the relationship for no other reason than habit. And even worse, if someone else seems happy with what they now dislike then they attack that happiness too, with all the force they can muster. It’s not a matter of civil disagreement, it’s a matter of religious zeal.

Naturally, I fall into the trap from time to time of one of those pointless arguments. If you keep hanging with snarling nerds, it’s like being an alcoholic hanging out with friends who still drink. The chances of a relapse are very, very high.

But I’m pretty happy with the fact that I’ve changed my outlook from dork apostle to quiet believer. If someone wants to have the discussion, then cool. But it’s difficult to be too deeply involved in the nerd world anymore, especially when it comes to disagreements about artwork (which is what good films should strive to be). We need to remember that we’re just spectators, not participants, and not owners of the work by any stretch.

Goodness I went off on a tangent, didn’t I?

My Time as Star Wars Ombudsman

Look, the blog is named after a Star Wars reference. You’re just going to have to accept that there’s no real escaping that I’m going to write about. I just hope you enjoy the uniquely honest perspective. I’m always going to give it to you straight.

So let me deal plainly on this matter. I have resigned as Star Wars Ombudsman. It is with a heavy heart and tired soul that I decide to put that hat on the rack and choose not to put it on again. But I have some parting words of wisdom for those that love to question, needle and nitpick these movies to the point where they leech every last ounce of fun out of it. You don’t like it, then cool. Just be civil about it and talk sense, and when it’s time to let the conversation drop, let it drop.

First and foremost, the best and nicest thing you can do with a fan is to let them be a fan. If someone declares their fandom, or even if they go on a tangent about what they love, let them be. We’ve all got our own thing. It’s not a contest to see whose favorite thing is better. Since it’s all based on subjectivity anyway, don’t feel obligated to try to poop all over something someone else likes just for the sake of it. If you do, you’re just a jackass.

Fair criticism is one thing, and it’s fun sometimes to engage in a debate about something. It’s even more fun when someone’s hater status is based almost entirely on the fact that they missed lines of dialogue or didn’t get the point of something.

This is a difficult thing I’m struggling with right now as I continue my endeavors to understand this whole Twilight thing (reading them so that my criticisms can be legitimate instead of knee-jerk). Sometimes you just have to accept that people like what they like and there ain’t a thing you gonna do about it.

To put it in more palatable terms, some people are Van Halen with Roth, some are Van Halen with Hagar. You’re probably not going to get anyone to change camps by talking about how much disdain you have for the other.

Second, let it go. In specific, about the prequels. Those of us that love them, we’re not the ones with a problem. We love them, we have fun with them, we consider them a great source of happiness. Those with the habit of apoplectically ranting about the fact that they dislike them and why, they’re the ones with a problem. The first prequel came out more than 10 years ago. Do you frequently feel the need to harp on something you disliked from that long ago?

I know that I’ve disliked a lot of things through life, but somehow I’ve learned to let them go. I mean, that would be a great trend if all we did was sit around and talk about was things we disliked in the past.

Third, be consistent with your hater-ism. You remember the Matrix sequels? I do. To me, they were pieces of completely pretentious garbage. Hey congratulations, Keanu Reeves is a bad actor in slow-motion too. Do you know what I say when someone says they really liked them?

  1. I’ll let you know, because I have yet to have it happen; or
  2. See my first point

The over-arching point is that I don’t feel obliged to tear them apart unless someone asks me what I specifically disliked about them. Also, it has nothing to do with the fact that I really liked the original. It hasn’t held up under the test of time as much as I thought it would, but it was a fun ride.

Fourth, if you ever claimed to be a die-hard fan, stop talking the talk if you can’t walk the walk. Please. Easily the most frustrating thing about Star Wars fans is that they have Lucas’ influences roll off their tongue like holy scripture — Kurosawa, Flash Gordon, silent films, pulp serials, et al. — but by and large they’re not literate in them. These aren’t just influences on the films, Star Wars is their direct descendant. They’re the definition of post-modern art: the best of the past combined in a new and fresh way that is original and exciting for the audience.

Fifth, who am I kidding? I’ll never back down from a rousing Star Wars debate/argument. In fact, one of the things that gives me greatest pleasure in life is making other geeks lose their minds when I take their own arguments apart and stymie them at every turn. See, I’ve been doing this too long. Too many people have regarded me as Lucas’ official spokesman over the years for me not to have heard every single argument you could offer. I learned from all of the arguments and just kept the responses stored in my brain.

Which is likely why I have trouble remembering where I put my cell phone every morning. This is what you’ve all done to me. It’s your fault. So let me put my hat back on and shame you with your lack of understanding.

But it’s OK because I love and forgive you anyway. See you next time. And if you have the urge, please send a note to Mr. Lucas that he owes me for 33 years back pay.