No mo is forever…

January 16th, 2016

After two months and a bit with a Lemmy…

IMG_2322

…I got rid of the Lemmy; got me a Clark Gable instead, for my first day back at work on January 13th…

IMG_7444

…but by January 15th I was already sick of it and off it came. Took this picture just five minutes ago…

IMG_7539

See ya next Movember!

My amp

January 15th, 2016

Got myself a nice little Vox amp in December. This is working out real well…

IMG_7441

A night at Sportsman – oh Lord yeah!!

January 14th, 2016

Had a great Thursday night out this week checking out the open mic jam session at Sportsman. Wow – loads of fun, with so many friends coming out to jam!!

Hangin’ out with Farid – must be the first time in ages and ages!!
IMG_7454

Luke Buirski givin’ it a whirl.
IMG_7458

Oh Luke, yeah!!
IMG_7460

Chillin’ with the Buirski.
IMG_7464

Fantastic Faz!!
IMG_7470

Retro Groove power!!
IMG_7471

Farid killin’ it!!
IMG_7474

Stuart!!
IMG_7484

Gerry on drums!!
IMG_7490

Eddy givin’ it the rock star treatment.
IMG_7494

Eddy and Luke thrashing it!!
IMG_7503

Power!!
IMG_7512

Near the end of the evening.
IMG_7518

A bit of “Zombie”.
IMG_7525

Huxley and Amanda at Hood

January 13th, 2016

Wednesday night we had an office party, and after that I went out to see some live music at Hood Cafe in Bugis. Pretty cool – Huxley’s 19 years old, studying music in the US and is gonna be a big star, and Amanda Tee’s a talented local Singapore musician (and a fellow lefty) who plays most nights a week. Great music!!

IMG_7422

IMG_7424

IMG_7427

IMG_7430

Two lefties. Amanda always makes a funny face when she takes pictures…

IMG_7433

Full health recovery

January 11th, 2016

Went to the doctor today and got great news – recovery from my hernia surgery from last week (January 5th) is going very well, and I’ll soon be fully recovered. I’m also told that I can go back to the gym in March, which is great news for me – I used to go five times a week, and was as physically fit as a teenager, when I found out that I needed back surgery in August 2014 and had to stop going to the gym altogether.

IMG_2222 - Version 2

Hernia surgery

January 6th, 2016

Yesterday I had hernia surgery. It wasn’t a lot of fun, but I was only away from home about 30 hours and only had to spend one night in the hospital. Not bad!

The hospital took great care of me, and even the food was pretty good! I’m glad it’s taken care of, I feel 20 years younger!

First day of school

January 4th, 2016

Zen had his first day of the new school year today – he’s now in the third year of high school, which I guess would be “grade 9″. As such, the kids no longer go to school in short pants now, but in long pants. Pretty snazzy!!

IMG_2305

Appetite For Illusion? Use Your Appetite?

January 2nd, 2016

Recently I was listening to all the Guns N’ Roses albums, re-assessing my opinion that they only have one good album – Appetite For Destruction, of course (you don’t even need to listen to the music to figure this out – just look at the album covers!!). Lies is not bad, Use Your Illusion is patchy (some moments of genius mixed up with way too much filler, and a terrible cover), The Spaghetti Incident is awful (matches the album cover quite perfectly – was this mess just as intentional?), and Chinese Democracy is a bit too sophisticated (while lacking any identifiable character other than Axl’s vocals) to be a proper, edgy Guns N’ Roses album – it’s basically well-stewed Axl Rose on a solo album that took so long to make that it lost all inertia, and can never have a follow-up.

But I still think that Use Your Illusion could have been nearly as good as Appetite For Destruction if it had been trimmed to one third of its 152-minute running length, removing icky pop ballads like “Don’t Cry” and “November Rain“, with its orchestral arrangements and background singers, and quirky covers like “Live And Let Die” and ”Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” that diminish and distract from the power of the best tracks by the world’s most dangerous band. Also, I’d like to cull the tracks that have too much Axl Rose weirdness on them (the nutty Nixon voice at the beginning of “Pretty Tied Up“, the weird Mel Blanc sound effects at the beginning of the otherwise-decent “Don’t Damn Me“, or that horrible, endless multi-wail at the end of “Don’t Cry“) or songs with shitty lyrics, like “I’m a son of a gun and the gun of a son”, from “Dead Horse“. Funnily enough, “Dead Horse” is actually  a pretty decent song, but it just has too much Axl Rose weirdness with the stupid “Then when she said she was gonna like wreck my car… I didn’t know what to do” intermission, and other unforgivable oddities.

So, if I were to put together a very tight (by Gn’R standards) 53-minute version of Use Your Illusion (tighter, even, than Appetite For Destruction, which has 12 songs and runs 54 minutes), I’d include these three songs from Use Your Illusion I and five songs from Use Your Illusion II (which backs up the theory that II is better than I):

Guns side:

  • Civil War” – fascinating song, great message, with all the right bits and pieces (we’ll just have to forgive Axl for that weird mile-a-minute “we practice selective assassination…” speech, attributed in the lyrics sheet to “Peruvian guerrilla general”). Maybe the verses are a bit too mellow, but they pick up nicely into a sinister chorus. Neat-o (from Use Your Illusion II)!!
  • Double Talkin’ Jive” – Nice boogie stomp to this Izzy Stradlin number, sung by Axl with Duff and Alice Cooper providing background vocals, and a set of great lyrics that reflect the themes of Appetite For Destruction near-perfectly. Love the guitar sound and the flamenco at the end. Hey – it works!!” (Use Your Illusion I)
  • Locomotive (Complicity)” – I only discovered this song on a recent re-listening, but it’s definitely something unique and special, with great lyrics, plenty of the surprising sinisterness that is characteristic of Appetite For Destruction and plenty of musically inventive “how did they come up with this” parts to it. It also has moments of weird sloppiness to it, like some of the drum parts that don’t match the rest of the song, but in this case maybe that is a good thing. I also like the funky stomp at the end of the film. Sure this is a relationship song of sorts, but Side 2 is already full, and this song is where you find the phrase “Use your illusion” among its endless stream of inventive lyrics. Nice. (Use Your Illusion II)
  • Garden Of Eden” – I didn’t like this song a lot initially, but it’s got a wild video, and is pretty fun blistering rock ‘n ‘roll (too bad about the weird video game sound effects sprinkled throughout…)! Cool lyrics too – “This fire is burning and it’s out of control, it’s nothing you can stop – it’s rock ‘n’ roll!!” Definitely lives up to the original spirit of the band. (Use Your Illusion I)

Roses side:

  • 14 Years” – Sure, I could have also picked “Dust N’ Bones”, since “Dust N’ Bones” and “14 Years” are basically the same song and both are sung by Izzy, but “14 Years” might have the better lyrics (interesting how they are both Track 2 on their respective Use Your Illusion albums). This song appears after “Civil War” on Use Your Illusion II, but it’s appropriate to split them up for thematic reasons onto the Guns side and Roses side.
  • Estranged” – Appetite For Destruction has one ballad (“Sweet Child Of Mine”), and this will be the one I’d chose for this set. Sure, it has way too much Dizzy Reed on it, but there are about 10 Slash solos, which seems just about the right number. (Use Your Illusion II)
  • You Could Be Mine” – A bit of a bombastic mess, but still a great song. And who can forget how it was featured in the magnificent Terminator 2, or the excitement we felt hearing it as the first single nearly three months before the albums themselves were released (up to that point, the only Gn’R we could listen to were Appetite For Destruction and Lies)? Nice, also, for an opportunity to retain song order from the original disc, as this song follows “Estranged” quite nicely on Use Your Illusion II and can also do so here. Also, this is the only one of four Appetite For Destruction-era songs that I consider good enough to keep (the others are “Back Of Bitch, “November Rain” and “Don’t Cry”).
  • Coma” – A very simple, killer riff that the band somehow extends for over 10 minutes, a masterpiece of tension, with blistering Slash pyrotechnics! Sure, there’s a bit of weirdness, but hardly as much as some other songs, and with its very long stream of lyrics it’s quite a tour de force for Axl.  (Use Your Illusion I)

Like Appetite For Destruction, this one can have Side A as “Guns” (songs about social issues) and Side B as “Roses” (songs about relationships); Of course, nearly every song on Use Your Illusion is either a relationship song or it’s slagging someone off, and even among these eight there are more than half a side of relationship songs, but you get the picture. Interesting that the opening two songs from Use Your Illusion II make my cut, whereas you have to go past half way to get to the first really good song on Use Your Illusion II.

There are still a couple of very good songs that could also work nicely as B-Sides, or tacked onto the Japanese CD release (which would stretch the running time to 64 minutes):

  • Breakdown” – A great song that is marred a bit by the wonky “let me tell you ’bout” baritone parts, and the goofy “if the evil spirit arms the tiger with claws” speech at the end taken from the film Vanishing Point. (Use Your Illusion II)
  • So Fine” – A slightly strange song, but with a great vocal by Duff McKagan, it makes a decent curiosity, especially considering that Duff wrote it for Johnny Thunders… (Use Your Illusion II)

Of course, many of the songs are just terrible and can be jettisoned, like the silly bluegrass of “You Ain’t The First” (is this the same band that wrote “My Michelle” and “Rocket Queen”?), the gonzo sensationalism of “Get In The Ring” (although it is funny at times, and a decent rockin’ number – might still be okay for a B-Side), the endless boredom of “Bad Obsession“, the weird, chunky jazz-funk of “Bad Apple” (lot of songs with the word “bad” in the title), the fluffy “Yesterdays” with the Axl screech, the bombast of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” (what is that weird telephone call that Axl adds to the middle?), the pointless nastiness of “Shotgun Blues“, especially at the end (good solo, though), and the endless Alice Cooper part of the icky ballad/horror chant “The Garden“. Then, of course, there’s the atrocity of “My World“.

Use Your Appetite, or Appetite For Illusion

Happy New Year, everybody!!

January 1st, 2016

Happy New Year, everybody!!

HappyNY2015 - English

HappyNY2015 - Japanese

MegalomaniANewYear2016

The Force Awakens

December 31st, 2015

So, the day after we arrived back in Singapore from Sri Lanka, December 27th, the three of us finally got our look at The Force Awakens, Episode VII in the Star Wars series of films. Zen and I, big Star Wars fans, enjoyed the film tremendously, and even Naoko said that it was great (and she normally doesn’t like science fiction films). I was a bit troubled by a small number of things in the film; but Zen and I watched it a second time on December 31st, and those troubles were basically forgotten. I’m glad I saw it twice – it’s definitely a great film!

The film starts off (like they all do) with the heart-stopping opening blast of trumpets, then the classic intro scroll – and nothing beats the feeling of seeing that for the first time (I’ve seen all of the Star Wars films in their original runs in the theatres, and that moment took me right back to the Sheridan Mall theatres in Mississauga, 1977, when I was eight years old, watching A New Hope with my 6-year-old brother and my dad, who took us there with great reluctance), it’s a great way to start a film off quick. We quickly find ourselves on Jakku, a Tattooine-like planet (and the first of many parallels to the original Episode IV-VI trilogy). There are a series of interesting battles, reunions, new encounters, Millennium Falcon chases, dogfights with TIE fighters, hints to the past, and ultimately another attack on another Death Star. Some have complained about this (one friend even expressed disappointment of the second Death Star in Return Of The Jedi, something I thought was pretty badass), but I was okay with it – after all, how do you top the ultimate weapon but to make an even stronger weapon?). Also, sneaking-around-Death-Star scenes always work well – spooky, haunted house, enemies-all-around-us kind of stuff – and the scene of the Millennium Falcon warping right into the shields was pretty darn cool after all. The scene that really won it for me was the final sequence showing the search for Luke, with its reference to the Earthsea stories of Ursula K LeGuin, and the fact that he doesn’t utter a word. I wonder how Episode VIII will pick this up!

The movie is full of thought-provoking questions. Who is Lor San Tekka, described only as an ally of the Resistance, and what is the significance of his very few, cryptic but seminal lines of dialogue? What is Rey’s full name and parentage? And, since no one in the Star Wars universe meets randomly, what is Finn’s parentage for that matter? Who is Snoke? And why are there so many parallels in the Star Wars universe (there’s many in this film, but also others – both Luke and Anakin losing hands, for example… I’m just waiting for Kylo Ren to lose his – hasn’t happened yet, though)? Why does Rey get visions in Maz’s cantina on Takodana… and why does Maz have Luke and Vader’s light sabre anyway? Finally, why is Rey chosen to be the one to go find Leia’s twin brother (sure, it’s implied, but it also feels very rushed)?

We also must wonder – what will Mark Hamill sound like once he opens his mouth (he could be perfectly awful!)?

But the series has a lot going for it, based on the stuff established in The Force Awakens, and I’m picturing two tense new movies that take the series to a new level of depth – perhaps with Snoke as an ancient evil being to whom Darth Sidious and the Galactic Empire is a mere footnote. I’m not sure I really like Finn’s flawed character – he’s a turncoat, a coward (of sorts), a bit vain and a casual liar, and I don’t quite buy his blood brother-like friendship with Poe given their brief time together, but I’m optimistic that he’s going to turn out all right over the next movies. Finally, we will need to get closer to the answer to the real Star Wars question – who is Anakin’s father (forgot about that one already?)!?

JJ Abrams has done an interesting job, blending the familiar (same actors, same must-stop-the-Death Star concept, same desert planet, same hiding of secret plans inside a droid, hiding in the floor of the Millennium Falcon, stalking the Death Star in order to disable it, observing the death of a beloved character from afar and screaming “NOOO!!!”) with the new (female protagonist, art film-ish intro to Rey’s life on Jakku among ruined Star Destroyers and AT-ATs, cliffhanger ending). It’s also interesting that he’s reunited two of the cast of the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewin Davis – title character Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), and Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), who had a small part in the Coens’ film.

There’s been a lot of backlash to the film, with people calling it a re-boot, and others calling it the least interesting film in the series (the entire first three films are less interesting, in my opinion, since we know how it all turns out); plenty of this stuff is click bait, and the articles don’t make compelling arguments. A lot of people also think that Maz Kanata is the worst character in the film and despise the new cantina scene, calling Maz an orange Yoda, or comparing her to the Oracle in the Matrix trilogy. Personally, I was more disappointed with Carrie Fischer, who couldn’t have been more stiff. As hot as she once was, she hasn’t taken care of herself over the years and is clearly in very bad shape. Harrison Ford, by comparison, hops around the set and has a lot more spark left, which is great – we get to see quite a lot of him in this film, and I have a feeling he’ll turn up in some form in following films!

Some have complained that they don’t understand why there’s still a rebellion (now called the Resistance) against an evil Galactic Empire (now called the First Order), but I don’t have a problem with this – just because Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader died at the Battle of Endor, doesn’t mean that the Empire they build immediately collapsed; instead, it’s most likely that it splintered under various generals until the most brutal faction rose to the top, boring background stuff that can be explored elsewhere. So we get a galaxy divided into an established democracy in certain worlds and star systems, and a resistance in areas controlled by the First Order (along with bloodthirsty, evil generals with British accents who must rally their troops in corny A Triumph Of The Will-like scenes). Other have mentioned the lack of clone troopers here as another problem, but that’s referred to in the movie – seems that the nefarious Grand Moff Tarkin replacement called General Hux,

After I saw the film for the first time, I was quite annoyed at the crappiness of the chrome stormtrooper Captain Phasma, the wimpiness of Kylo Ren and the resurrection of yet another Death Star; but none of this mattered the second time I saw it, and I found the story flowed well with hardly a bump. I also came to realise the silliness of the conclusion of some that Finn and Rey could never have fought Kylo Ren to a standstill at the end – well, wasn’t he weakened and badly injured after taking a hit from Chewie’s laser crossbow? However, one thing still annoyed me – how is it that Rey can just try her luck and succeed with the Jedi mind trick, never having tried it before!? That’s quite a stretch, I think, of anyone’s suspension of disbelief. I was also quite captivated with Adam Driver as Kylo Ren – initially, I thought of Kylo Ren as a silly, but talented, adolescent prone to temper tantrums who fails more often than he succeeds, but now I see him as a complex character who is likely to ultimately sacrifice everything to become a Sith lord even more powerful than Darth Vader. He also seems to be a fine actor, as witnessed by the strange scene when Daisy Ridley resists his attempts to extract information from her (kudos to Daisy Ridley as well, of course), but we need to find out more about the source of his anguish before we can really tell about him as a character.

My sense is that this is a relatively un-dynamic “foundation” film, sort of like the first Batman/X-Men/Iron Man movies, that need to get stuff behind it in order to get things moving with plenty of surprises in store for Episodes VIII and IX. Sure, Star Wars is now a Disney property – this can be a problem in the sense that there will be a big corporate tendency to maximise profits playing it safe, but the advantage of having big Disney money behind Star Wars is that continuation of the story will be at the hands of a publicly listed company with a strong management and access to a massive range of talent, and not based on the energy and whims of one man (George Lucas) who once envisioned nine films, but retired after three; the series, of course, was doomed to retire with him… until Disney came along. I never thought I’d say it, but… hooray for Disney!

Of course, the problem with all of this is that building on all of these grand ideas will be a tricky task, and it could easily get very, very silly; however, there’s no doubt that Disney has its ear to the ground and has the opportunity to learn from fan feedback as it embarks on the next one. And, with Lawrence Kasdan’s involvement, the series is in good hands – Mr Empire Strikes Back may actually have the best track record of anyone in Hollywood for being attached with quality films (Body Heat, The Bodyguard, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, The Big Chill, etc).

IMG_2269

IMG_2270

IMG_2281