Sunday, July 28, 2013

Why I Don't Love Neil Peart

When people find out I play the drums, one of their most common follow-up questions is:

"Do you love Neil Peart?"

Neil Peart is the drummer for the Canadian classic rock band Rush, and on the short list of "drummers casual music fans know by name." The reason he's known is because of his legendary multi-piece drum kits and the elaborate drum solos he plays on them.

My answer is no, I don't love Neil Peart.

This is nothing against Neil. I'm sure he's a great guy. And frankly, the idea of me criticizing a drummer of Peart's stature is like a four-year-old with a set of Legos griping about Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture style. Rush is an internationally beloved rock trio; Thunderlips (my band) is beloved by a few dozen kids at a local charter school.

The Peart question presumes I automatically favor music that features dynamic drumming. This is not true. I may play the drums, but my appreciation of music began many years before a heavy-set Elvis impersonator taught me to use the sticks. Just because a drummer has a high skill set doesn't mean I like him or his band. With all due respect, I'm not a huge Rush fan; Geddy Lee's voice really bugs me (like the vocals of most late '70s bands, if I'm being fair), and though Peart's drumming abilities are tremendous, they aren't really "my style."

But like I said...Legos, right?

Now if we're going to talk about my favorite drummers, we've got to talk about Keith Moon. John Bonham. Animal. And not just old classic rock guys. I love Steve Gorman's work with the Black Crowes, and watching Darren King play with Mutemath last year was both inspiring and devastatingly depressing.

In all his years with The Who, Keith Moon sounded like a guy fighting the simultaneous effects of alcohol and speed, falling all over his kit with a chaotic abandon that somehow managed to keep time even though it sounded like he was just playing one continuous fill. Plus he was crazy. His is the most distinctive drumming style I've ever encountered, and I wouldn't even bother trying to emulate it. I'll never be as good as Led Zeppelin's John Bonham (as much for a lack of practice as a lack of talent), but his Hammer of the Gods style is at least fundamentally recognizable enough to aspire to.

I actually became a fan of Gorman's work while listening to his interpretations of Zeppelin songs during a tour the Crowes did with Jimmy Page, but that appreciation spilled over into the Crowes' original work, too. King introduced himself to the Salt Lake audience two Valentine's Days ago by walking out on stage and duct taping a pair of headphones to his skull. I thought this was a little weird, but after watching him thrash around his kit for 90 minutes, I can understand the reason why. His style echoes the barely-controlled chaos of Moon, but with a more down-to-earth kind of rhythm (meaning I can vaguely follow what he is doing).

Even if he's not my favorite drummer in terms of playing style, the coolest drummer of all time would have to be Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones. Not only has Watts been faithful to his wife throughout his decades of touring with The World's Greatest Philandering Rock and Roll Band, but every story I read about him suggests he doesn't even want to be a rock drummer. He's a jazz nut.

My favorite Charlie Watts story goes like this: one night after a show Mick Jagger was partying somewhere in the band's hotel, and in a drunken stupor he called Charlie's room, where the drummer was trying to sleep, demanding, "where's my (expletive) drummer?" Watts got out of bed, stormed into Mick's room and either punched him, grabbed him by the neck, or beheaded him (I can't quite remember for sure...but this version seems kind of watered down), and hissed, "I'm not your (expletive)'re MY (expletive) singer!"

I don't know...maybe if I heard a similar story about Neil Peart, I might like him more.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Enigma of Facebook Friendship

Confession #284: It bothers me when someone drops me as a friend on Facebook.

Every once in a while I'll notice I haven't seen any recent updates from someone on my Facebook wall, and when I look up their profile, I'll see that the little magic box that used to say "friends" is now labeled "Add as friend." Then I immediately decide that person is a jerk.

Saying this may seem silly, since Facebook "friendships" are so insignificant that they've almost managed to render the term meaningless. But that is exactly why it bothers me. I have plenty of friends who were a lot more important to me in years past, and I understand when those relationships become thin. But a Facebook connection is about as tenuous and low-maintenance as you can get, and when someone goes out of their way to sever that...well, I struggle to not take it personally. Like most people, I've encountered all sorts of social and professional rejection in my life, but a Facebook rejection seems all the more insulting for how penile it is.

Part of the reason this bothers me is because I maintain my Facebook network for professional reasons as well as social reasons. There are plenty of people I'm "friends" with who I haven't spoken or interacted with in several years. It might be tempting to delete them, but you never know when someone might approach me for a photography job, so I keep that avenue open. Every once in a while someone will contact me out of the blue and tell me that they look at my photography online all the time, even though they never "like" or comment on anything. So I keep the connection. After all, it's not costing me anything. And isn't the whole value of Facebook the very fact that it enables you to connect with people you don't plan to interact with every day?

My guess is that a lot of people do "cleanings" because they don't want low-priority friends to be privy to their personal lives, which makes sense until you ask why people are posting information about their personal lives online in the first place. Do you really trust Facebook or some other social website to keep your information private? Do you think it's wise to go online every thirty seconds and expose intimate details of your personal tragedies that can only backfire in miserable fashion?

I think a lot of other friendship deletions come because someone got tired of someone else posting dumb crap all the time. Just because I'm friends with someone doesn't mean I want my news feed clogged up with their seventeen daily political rants or too-personal gushings about their insignificant other. But I don't have to delete them to solve this problem; all I have to do is click the little link at the upper right of their dumb post and "unsubscribe" from them. Problem solved.

About the only friend deletions I've been able to stomach have been the ones where I dated someone and she or I moved on. If I make a Facebook connection for dating reasons and things don't work out, I'm OK if that person deletes me. But when a guy I've known since the age of five deletes me because we haven't hung out in a few years, that just seems lame.

Several months ago I was at a party talking to a friend when a Facebook "ex" of mine attempted to join our conversation. She didn't know my friend, so she either wanted me to introduce her or she just felt awkward because she didn't know anyone else at the party. Either way, all I could think of during the whole stilted conversation was, "why are you bothering me? You made a conscious decision to cut me off from your virtual network of friends. Beat it, butt-munch!"

I don't know if that says more about me or about how central Facebook and social media has become to our daily interaction. But if I'm not good enough to be your virtual friend, feel free to eat my virtual shorts.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Perks of (Not) Being a Hipster

There is a beautiful moment near the beginning of "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" where three teenagers are driving a pickup truck through a tunnel. The girl, played by Emma Watson, is standing up in the truck bed with her arms stretched out to the sky, sucking in life and all of its wonders while David Bowie's "Heroes" blasts from the stereo. None of the kids can identify the song, though, and that's what made me want to love and hate the film at the same time.

I spent the first hour of "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" trying to decide whether to finish it. I wasn't wrestling with this decision because it was a bad movie. The problem was a little more complex: I struggle to watch movies about contemporary teens who treat the '80s with the same kind of nostalgia I used to treat the '60s with when I was a teenager, because they make me feel old and alienated. Hipsters love all my old crap, and sometimes it drives me crazy.

This is just one reason I hated "Pitch Perfect," but that's a discussion for another time.

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" tells the story of a loner high school freshman named Charlie who is socially adopted into a tight group of senior misfits. Charlie is wise beyond his years, aspires to write, and has some inner demons that come into play later in the film. He also has great taste in music and a habit of putting together mix tapes that instantly endears him to his new friends.

This leads to the second reason I struggled with the film: I couldn't watch it without imagining what my high school experience would have been like if I'd been taken in by a group of kids three years older than me, gotten a crush on the one who looked like Emma Watson, and had that crush reciprocated. One of the most transcendent dating experiences I had as a teen was to ask out a girl a year older than me and have her accept with enthusiasm. Tripling that gap would have made my brain explode.

But about two-thirds of the way through the film, something weird happened. It dawned on me that none of the characters were using cell phones, or even using computers. I had assumed that the kids' affection for cassette tapes and buying each other actual typewriters as gifts was some kind of hipster thing, but slowly I got the feeling I might be wrong. I remembered that the film was based on a book, so I pulled out my smart phone (cue irony) and did a quick search.

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" is about a group of high school students in the early '90s. It's not about contemporary hipster teenagers. It's about ME.

At that point, my mind collapsed in on itself, and I went from relating to a film I assumed was about somebody else to embracing a film that was supposed to be about me...a member of that narrow window of kids who were too young to be in Generation X and too old to be considered Millenials. Suddenly, mix tapes on cassette were just mix tapes on cassette, and hearing cool Bowie tunes and not knowing their names was innocent. Suddenly I wasn't rolling my eyes at today's teens...the teens of the 1970's were rolling their eyes at me.

I didn't relate to everything of course...I never dropped acid or ate marijuana brownies at parties in high school, at least in part because I never went to parties. And even though I remember thinking that "Rocky Horror Picture Show" was cool, I never actually went and saw it, let alone joined a cast of cross-dressers to act it out at a local theater. Nevertheless, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" speaks for high school me the way "Liberal Arts" speaks for me today.

And I still hate "Pitch Perfect."

But that's a discussion for another time.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

"Liberal Arts" Hits Close to Home

I never reviewed the film "Liberal Arts" for the Deseret News, and it's probably a good thing I didn't, since I don't see how I could put together an unbiased review for a film that hit so close to home. I can't think of a movie protagonist who has mirrored my own place in life as much as Josh Radnor's Jesse.

Jesse works in the admissions office of a prominent New York City college, and seems to be making the best of his mid-30s, even if he gets his laundry stolen once in a while. One day this existence is interrupted when he is called back to his Ohio alma mater to toast the retirement of his mentor after 37 years in the English department. Jesse's return to campus thrills him, injecting him with a passion and enthusiasm that seems to spring from ancient brick buildings and wide expanses of green grass and trees.

This enthusiasm is bolstered when Jesse is introduced to Libby (Elizabeth Olson), a 19-year-old freshman who is somehow connected to his mentor (a colleague's daughter, if I remember right). Like Jesse before her, Libby is an English major, passionate about books and words and poetry, and her wide-eyed innocence is endearing to her new nostalgia-drunk friend.

After the quick weekend visit, Jesse and Libby become pen pals (using real hand-written letters and everything), and they quickly develop a connection. Libby is wise beyond her years, and the driving force behind their relationship. Jesse is hesitant, but his heart gets the best of him. Besides, some quick math reveals that their age difference won't be that big a deal when he's in his '80s.

Their connection is genuine. Their friendship is genuine. But regardless of how things will look in 50 years, the present is a stumbling block. Even if the cosmos seems to be pushing them together (in the form of a mystical campus hippie played by Zac Efron, no less), somehow the pieces aren't connecting. It may have something to do with Libby's roommate and her annoying habit of showing up whenever Jesse visits the dorm.

While Jesse can't seem to decide whether the hippie is real, there is no doubt about his mentor, who is struggling to let go as much as Jesse is. He is another example of life's big secret: no one really feels like an adult. We all feel 19. Only mirrors tell us otherwise.

"Liberal Arts" isn't about English majors, and it isn't about age-appropriate relationships. It's about coming to those places in life where you don't feel the way you expected to feel, and the efforts we all make to return to or hold on to the things we wish we appreciated more the first time. Mostly it's about letting go and embracing the idea of getting older.

It was remarkable to watch Jesse wrestle with the same kinds of awkward questions and even more awkward social situations as I have in the last several years. I'd like to think it's easier to feel like an honest-to-goodness adult when you settle down with a mortgage and a wife and a family, but I'm sure my married friends have the same feelings. I know because they've told me as much. All I can say is that as a single Mormon guy in his '30s, adulthood has become a very abstract concept. And in that sense, "Liberal Arts" is batting a 10 for 10 on relatability.

It's very possible that "Liberal Arts" is not a great movie, and it's even more possible that most of the people I know won't relate to it or enjoy it at all. But I enjoyed it immensely. If nothing else, you have to love a film that above all, asks one penetrating question: "Does Zac Efron really exist?"