the music career that wasn’t (part one)

In 1999 I joined my first band, Fromandafly. There was a lot of things that led up to that moment and a lot that has happened in the twenty years since. These are the stories of the music career that wasn’t:

I always thought of myself as a performer. I liked crowds. I liked telling bad jokes and doing dumb things for a laugh. I liked it so much, my brother told me I enjoyed getting into trouble because it meant I got attention. So, it seemed natural that I would sing for a band, right? My first tryout happened at a friend of a friend’s house when I was, I think, fifteen. There were three of us set up in a basement; guitar, drums, and me. The guys, Ben and Andy, started right up, playing Metallica and other 80’s thrash. This must’ve been like ’94. I didn’t have a metal background at all. I was deep into Faith No More, Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, Mr. Bungle, and, I dunno, Beck.

Beam me up the microphone, I’m too lazy to grab it myself.

Anyway, the point is, when they started playing “Sanitarium” and I didn’t know the words, that was basically the end of the try out. I had come thinking we would jam out new things together, but I get it…you need some common ground. We played more and I tried to sing, but I wanted to write down lyrics mid-tryout and they weren’t looking to wait around. I tucked my tail between my legs, got on my bike, and pedaled home. I questioned all my dreams and plans of performing live and went back to writing stories for a while.

My brother, Craig, joined a hardcore band called, Skipline, at some point in ’95. Watching him face his fear of crowds with reckless abandon got the juices flowing again. He owned the stage and the crowd. He was a force. He was T’n’T up there because he would say or do anything even if it hurt him. I was proud and jealous and itching to get a chance for myself.

One day Craig came home after spending the day in the studio. He popped in a cassette to play an unfinished version of a song called, “Can’t Deal With It.” Whoa, they had the ability to record multiple vocals tracks, so Craig and Mark, their guitarist, could do a call and response chorus. The guitars shredded and the drums thundered. I loved it.

They released a tape and started playing out of town and out of Ohio. I started to see their name in zines (this was before the internet came to my house, folks) and people wore their shirts around town. My friends started telling me how cool my brother was and other band’s started talking shit about Skipline, the surest proof that they were catching attention.

I shopped at Perry’s Rockpile, a local music store run by a unique dude. He had Skipline shirts hanging up and cassette tapes for sale right next to Ringworm and Integrity seven-inches. Skipline played a bill at the Odeon with a dozen other bands, and they had a song called, “You Can’t Win”, included on a compilation called, Industry. The comp was organized and released by Jason Popson (Mushroomhead, The Alter Boys, Unified Culture, State of Conviction, CrossFader, Integrity 2000, (216), Pitchblack Forecast, and others) under his Dog Collar label. Here, give the song a listen:

Skipline played a lot of shows until their van got stolen in the northeast of the USA while on tour. They hitchhiked home. They lost their van, the merch, their luggage, and a full head of steam. The band fractured due to this and to issues with my brother’s work ethic and his ability to help pay for stuff. Mark, Ben, and Jim were all serious about where music could take them, but my brother saw it more as a fun time with friends. By the time their 1996 Demo cassette and bio was ready to send to labels and radio, the band had split from my brother and Mark had taken over vocal duties.

The only song I recall them releasing from that time was called, “Refuse To See”, on the Uprise comp. They had originally played the song live with my brother on vocals, but the recorded version took the band in a vastly different direction. They sharpened their edge, favoring metal screams over hardcore yells. Ultimately the band split and the members moved on to new projects.

I met a bassist who was in a band looking for a singer. He liked Faith No More. In fact, we met at Ozzfest when I stopped to listen to “Last Cup of Sorrow” being played by a rock station that had set up a tent. It was June 3rd, 1997 the day Faith No More released Album of the Year in the USA. Their drummer, Mike Bordin, was in Cleveland that night drumming for Ozzy. At the time I was interning at a competing radio station so I had a media badge. I bullshitted my way backstage by telling everyone who asked that I had gotten sent to the show by my station to interview Mike Bordin. Anyway, the bassist gave me his card and we set up a tryout. After two years of self-doubt from failing my first audition, I felt poised to kill it.

I met the band at a bowling alley parking lot in Parma Heights, Ohio. I followed them to their practice space, a warehouse on the near west side. The band started playing me stuff, but a friend of theirs took the mic and began singing along. He sounded okay. I mean, he at least had heard the tunes and knew when changes happened. His style varied sharply from what I was hearing in my head, so I started to second-guess singing. The guys pushed me forward a few times, but I offered lame excuses. The drummer, Sean, peered at me from his kit, annoyance clear in his disappointed gaze. I knew if I didn’t try something, I would lose my chance…possibly my last. I went to the bathroom. When I returned, I strode to the mic and took charge…by telling the guys I had gotten a page (yes, a page) from work and that I had to go in early. The bassist asked if I could just spare another few minutes to at least try one song so they could hear what I sounded like. I could not. I tucked my tail between my legs (again) and sped off.

If memory serves me, I drove to Chris’ Warped Records in Lakewood, Ohio for a Mushroomhead in store appearance. I think it was the release of their remix album or maybe it was that live video they put out, maybe both…I remember going to the Grog Shop for a release around the same time, so I can’t recall. I think the Grog Shop was the vinyl release and Chris’ was the cd and video release. I drove out east, getting lost as always when trying to find Coventry, and was relieved when I wasn’t carded for entrance. The band was passing a nasty flu around to each other. It was the only time I remember seeing them at the old Grog Shop. The stage was way too small for their show. Anyway, I never tried calling the band to ask for a second chance.

Though my brother’s band only had a short shelf life, people had connected with it. Skipline set up a reunion show, requiring my brother to make a rare visit home from college. It happened on February 14th, 1998 and is now known as the Valentine’s Day Massacre… to be honest I’m not sure anyone actually called it that until right now, but I like the name.

The band, full of nerds, had recorded a Star Wars themed song as a joke/hidden/bonus track on their tape and it always got a big response from the crowds. During the song’s breakdown, Mark had a death metal growl verse that proved difficult to pull off live while also playing, so they asked me to come up and fill in. I don’t know if there was any logic behind the decision other than, “oh, you’re here and clearly have nothing more important to do.” Which was totally legit.

Skipline had a flare for the dramatic, so they cooked up an intro including KISS drums loops, smoke machines, ambient/heavily effected bass and guitar, and they wore KISS make up that night. The guitar intro was played by my buddy Pooch, while I “handled” the bass. The two of us fumbled across the pitch black stage to find out instruments. I kneeled in front of the bass, having never played one, and scraped my fingernails up and down the strings, plucking random notes from time to time. Jim, the bassist, had engaged pedals that gave the thick strings a haunting, echoey sound. The band started to play. Pooch and I ran to the front of the stage and as the song kicked in the lights flipped on and we went airborne. I have only stage dove once, and this was it. Why? Well, I am not skinny or small. I leaped over friends and strangers in the crowd and saw the panic in their eyes.

Skipline 1998

The last song in the set was called, “Louie”, the secret Star Wars song. It had a gang vocal chorus, so the band gathered a few other friends to join them, including Brian, who actually wrote the lyrics and sang the verses in the studio. It would be my first time onstage…and the band asked me to wear a Yoda mask. For reasons unremembered, took my shirt off before I went onstage. This also was the one and only time this should ever happen without people holding singles up for me.

My first duty in the song was to imitate R2-D2 when…well, here have a listen to a recording of the event:

As we are playing, I am singing and holding the microphone out to crowd members to add their two cents as hardcore singers do. Someone reached out to grab the mic, but they latched onto my belt instead and as the crowd pushed and pulled them, my shorts got yanked down. No shirt, no pants, nowhere to hide. Of course my parents had attended to see their two boys sharing a stage. From their point of view, all they could see was one second shorts…the next second…no.

The song ended before I got my bearings, leaving me buzzing with excitement. I was hooked. I wanted more.

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The Tent In North Ridgeville

The first time I remember seeing the tent was during the summer of 2007.

My wife, Michele, and I were newlyweds living in a duplex in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. We worked our tails off, but week-to-week we were just managing to pay the bills. Who needed money when everything was new and exciting though, right?

The Browns were back, but they had been awful for years. The Indians had struggled through several seasons. Long gone were the powerhouse Tribe teams of the 90’s. The focus of Cleveland sports nation fell squarely on the shoulders of Lebron James and the Cavaliers, who were finding a rhythm in the playoffs.

For twenty bones, I managed to get my wife and I into a first round game against Washington at halftime. The Cavs had battled the Wizards in the playoffs the previous year, but this time it was all Cleveland. Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler were both injured. So we reveled in putting that dirt mcgurt, Deshawn Stevenson in his place. And don’t get me started on Brendan Haywood.

During the conference championship round, Lebron single-handedly faced those thugs from Detroit and refused to lose. Not this year, Pistons. The entire city cheered as Rasheed Wallace purposely got kicked out of the game to avoid being on the court as the clock struck zero. #Dontletthedoorhityou

Not since Albert Belle slammed home runs and doubles at a Hall of Fame pace had we witnessed anything like this.

A day or two after the Cavs advanced to the Finals, I saw it. Someone had set up a merch tent on the corner of Lorain and Lear Nagel in North Ridgeville.

The tent was bright, though obviously well-worn.

A woman hung shirts, jackets, and other Cavaliers inspired merchandise on each side. Large signs, black marker on neon paper, offered pricing info.

Over the next couple days, I passed that tent several times without stopping. I thought even though I was tall and fat this place might have my size. A t-shirt, a jersey, or anything else I could wear to show my love for the team.

But still I didn’t go.

The Cavs looked overmatched against the San Antonio Spurs. That’s as positive a spin I can put on the first three games of the series as a total Cleveland homer. They had no answer for Tim Duncan or Tony Parker.

While picking up lunch in the Coventry area, NBA great, Grant Hill, passed right by me on the sidewalk. I didn’t interrupt him, but I thought it was cool to see celebrities hanging in my neighborhood. Look, Cleveland doesn’t get much attention or respect on a national scale and we have a complex because of it. We aren’t flashy. We aren’t used to the spotlight. Our beards aren’t trimmed, our clothes aren’t in style, and we don’t care. Tony Rizzo, a sportscaster on WKNR disagrees with my blue-collar Cleveland take, but I can only go with what I see, hear, and smell around town. Grab your thermos, lunch pail, and for goodness sake, don’t forget your hardhat!

Before the fourth game I found myself in North Ridgeville again. This time the tent had a new sign, “50% OFF EVERYTHING.” Apparently, they didn’t have any confidence that the series would extend beyond the next game. I laughed. There was no way Lebron would allow the series to end so quickly, especially at home.

I approached the tent. A few other patrons were picking through what was left, which wasn’t a lot. I left with a pair of junior-sized overalls and a cheerleader outfit for the son and daughter we didn’t have.

Before you could say, “Bad prediction on the comeback, Doug,” the finals were over.

The tent remained for another week, now emptied. One final reminder of what could’ve been.

Later that year my wife and I bought our first home in Brook Park, setting in motion the biggest housing market crash in a century. Everything we saved for got swept away quicker than the Cavs in the ’07 Finals. We would’ve been better off buying the tent.

In 2008, 2009, and 2010 the tent made brief visits as the Cavs failed to advance into the Finals.

Rumors of Lebron leaving town swirled through the newspaper, TV, and radio shows every day, all day. When the Cavs fell behind the big-three-fronted Celtics and Lebron developed a phantom elbow injury, it was painful to watch. Lebron left the court and tore off his jersey as all the pressure to break our curse fell off his back.

On the night of The Decision I was at my buddy Adam’s house to listen to new snippets of songs he had cooking. We have a music project together, called Indoria, which we have worked on (and off and on again) since we met, back in ‘98. One of the songs had a folk-pop feel that intrigued and intimidated me. I tried a few patterns but it wasn’t clicking.

Adam didn’t have cable, so when it came time for Lebron to announce where he would play the next year, we had to shuffle to the bar next door to witness it.

We ordered beers and shots…Cleveland.

As number twenty-three spilled the beans on where he had decided to take his talents, we downed our shots. We then joined in with the bar patrons to boo, jeer, and vent our frustrations. Here was Cleveland getting shortchanged again. Here was a homegrown guy leaving for greener (or at least sunnier) pastures. Here was a kid that I had taken my dad to see play in a high school game shunning our city. Adam bee-lined for the entrance. He yelled, “(edited for the younger readers)”, and slammed the bar door.

I drank my beer, listening to that smarmy Jim Grey spewing whatever nonsense, rat poison he wanted. Then I drank Adam’s beer and stewed before stumbling back to his place.

“Put on that pop/folk song again,” I told him, adjusting the headphones and stepping to the mic.

I didn’t have lyrics, but I had a theme. It wasn’t abandonment or betrayal. It was the weight of expectation and doing something despite feeling torn, exhausted. It was about frustration. It was about needing to leave the nest to experience the world at large. It was a coming of age tune for college freshman, which in a way, Lebron had become. Within a couple of weeks my wife and I recorded our vocals for, “South Bound”.

The song wasn’t perfect, but it made me feel better, and I never turn down an opportunity to hear Michele sing.

In January of 2011 my wife and I welcomed our son into the world. I knew someday Owen would proudly don the overalls I got in the tent.

The Cavaliers plowed through their first season sans Lebron. Draft talk was already the media’s focus during summer league. We cheered on the “Maveliers” in the Finals. We delighted in watching them defeat our former hero. Petty? Yes. Deserved? Hell yes. Would I do it again? Hopefully, I don’t have to find out.

I didn’t see the tent that year. Or the next. Though, we did welcome our beautiful daughter, Mara, to a life of Cavaliers fandom. I knew one day she would rock the cheerleader outfit that I found in our tent.

2013 brought no kids or tents.

Adam and I started to discuss the next Indoria release. I told him I wanted to redo one of the songs from our previous CD. “Southbound” no longer sat well with me. It was bitter. Not that it sounds angry, but the memories tied to it certainly were. I’d never seen Adam slam a door, before or since. I’d never seen Adam abandon a beer before or since. That day was dark, man, dark.

I decided the hook should change from, “I’m headed Southbound,” to, “I’m headed home now”. I wanted to focus on redemption, rebirth, and second chances.

On July 11th 2014 I got in my car, flipped on the radio, and heard breaking news. Lebron and Lee Jenkins penned an essay in Sports Illustrated titled, “I’m Coming Home”. The radio buzzed from Cleveland to Tokyo. Aaron Goldhammer read the essay over the airwaves. I teared up as I heard, “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned.”

I got chills.

I told my dad, “Lebron is coming back!” to which he replied, “There’s no way.”

I waved him over to my car so he could listen. We nodded at the maturity and respect and cold hard truths Lebron had spun.

The essay is stunning. Go read it. I don’t care if you’re a Cavaliers fan or if you hate Lebron, it strikes a chord. As a sports fan, a son, a father, and as a Clevelander, I beamed with pride.

Within two weeks, “Home Now” got recorded. This time we celebrated renewal, forgiveness, and the hopeful return of our tent. The lyrics reflected the spirit of the essay, sometimes verbatim.

My wife and I bought a bigger house, in North Ridgeville. Every time I went to and then returned from work I passed the tent’s spot.

The Cavaliers did indeed reach the Finals in 2015, minus two of their best players. My kids sported the gear I bought them eight years before. The Cavs came up short. I didn’t ever see the 50% off sale, but I did visit my tent a couple of times.

In 2016, I joined Chuck Mosley on a rock tour headed all over the country, the United Kingdom, and to France. The Cavaliers got back to the Finals, but I wasn’t home to see the tent. I purchased my family (officially licensed) Love, Thompson, and Kyrie jerseys. I bought myself one with Shumpert’s name on the back. I rotated wearing it with my Larry Hughes jersey in every small club we played from San Francisco to Paris.

Before playing a concert in Seattle I walked around the downtown area to find a bar to watch Game Seven, but no one had it on. The city had a team stolen from them, so nobody wanted to give the NBA any attention. Luckily the club we were playing put the game on. I watched with a great couple from Beaumont, TX. They had no skin in the game, so they cheered with me.

I stood as Lebron made, “The block”.

My heart stopped as Kyrie drew up and shot the eventual game winner.

My jaw hit the floor as Kevin Love shut down Curry.

I peered around in disbelief as the seconds ticked away. Those weekend Warriors couldn’t get the ball out of the corner in time to do anything.

Cavaliers win. Cavaliers win.

The world stopped dead in its tracks as the overwhelming truth of the joy I felt washed over me.

The Cavs defeated that ball-kicking caveman Draymond Green. They silenced that boy band cast-off Klay Thompson. And best of all, that kid with super-glued hairs on his chin hid under a towel. Hey, Steve Kerr (a former Cavalier), take your smug grin and your goon squad of Zsa Zsa, Iguodala, and West, and go home.

For once, the good guys proved victorious.

Lebron announced, “Cleveland, this is for you!” on national television.

My wife and her friend Donna, screamed, cried, and from what I gather, doused a downtown bar with a shower of beer. They FaceTimed me from inside a parade of thousands of the happiest people that ever lived.

Chuck and I drove forty-nine straight hours home, the tent greeting us as we exited the turnpike. Over two million people gathered downtown for the official celebration. Most of them, like J.R. Smith, went shirtless.

Another tent got set up near where we were recording the next Indoria. Instead of two times, I started passing a tent four times a day. And they stayed, boy, oh did they stay in business. June turned to July turned to August and still, as the school year began, we had championship fever. And tents.

A few short months later, the Indians took us to the series, and yes, the tent returned. The Tribe battled the Cubs to a thrilling game seven. My father came over to watch and I had convinced him to stay, even after the Tribe got belted in the early innings.

On my deathbed I’ll remember the moment Rajai Davis belted a home run with two outs in the eighth inning. I glanced at my dad with dumbfounded disbelief before we cheered our heads off. The home run tied the game and gave the Tribe all the momentum. The contentment I felt at having my dad there to share the moment with felt as great as winning.

And then it rained.

The Cavs failed to repeat in 2017. Kyrie appeared to have better things to do than fight for the win. It was no surprise that he requested a trade not long after.

I had to witness those fleabags from the Bay Area win due more to our inner turmoil than because they earned it. Adding insult to injury, a hotel we stayed at in Oakland hosted a championship trophy event that day.

Good grief.

All six of the fair weather fans showed up. I wore a Cavs jersey and held my head up high.

The next season boasted an amount of drama that I hadn’t experienced since high school. Players came and went, rumors flew, and the team never gelled. Thompson and Love battled injuries. J.R. waged a war inside of himself. Our new point guard missed the first half of the season and appeared clueless when he did take the court. Hood and Clarkson joined the team. Both players can score, but something held them back.

Larry Nance Jr. came via trade. It was a treat for Clevelanders and for his father, a former Cavalier who still lives in the area.

They limped into the postseason and almost got bounced by Indiana. Toronto folded in four. Boston came out swinging. No one gave the Cavs a chance. The tent still wasn’t set up as the series evened to three games apiece.

But then, the Cavs found something. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t sustainable. It wasn’t…it didn’t matter. Lebron lifted the team onto his shoulders and repeated the run he had had in 2007, all those years ago. Down went the Celtics. Down went the hurt from 2010. Down went any doubt that Lebron wasn’t the best I had ever seen.

I came home from work two days later and there it was, the tent. It stood in the same spot, as always, though the merchandise now featured the slogan of the season, “Whatever It Takes”.

On the night of Game One we watched the referees destroy any chance the Cavs had to win the series. You could see it in the player’s eyes even before the game went into overtime. Lebron played a game for the ages, but the men wearing whistles ripped victory away from him.

With the Cavs down three games to none, I decided to pick up a discounted rally shirt at the tent. I wanted to cheer their comeback. I wanted to show, again, that I’d never give up on them.

The tent was empty, already abandoned.

It was a punch to the gut. How dare they? The Cavs still had a chance. That night they would defend the land in game four. Sure, victory in the series would take a miracle, but, wasn’t it our team that came back from down 3-1 only two years earlier? I passed by the empty tent caught off guard by the feelings it brought up. The last sweep in the NBA was in…oh yeah, 2007, the first time I set my eyes on this failed camping accessory.

Unfortunately, many of the Cavaliers had already joined the tent operators ‘in Cancun’. Game Four was a sloppy affair from the opening jump. I watched until the bitter, bitter end.

The tent is gone again. The frequency of times I’ve seen it is a testament to Lebron’s elevation up the NBA hierarchy. He stands with only the best of the best of the best as peers.

He’s a free agent again.

I saw Lebron play for the first time shortly after I turned old enough to drink. Now, I’m thirty-nine. My wife and I started dating during Lebron’s rookie season. We got hitched over eleven years ago. My kids are seven and five. We’ve gone through several cars, a few jobs, three apartments, and two homes since Lebron joined the NBA. We’ve recorded over thirty Indoria songs since I first saw the tent. I’ve written three novels, a nonfiction book, and a couple dozen short stories since, “The return”.

As I type this at a bar in Tremont, the trio at the next table is talking about Lebron, stay or go. The bartender and five or so patrons are discussing it too. The folks on the TV are dissecting rumors and theories of why Lebron could remain a Cavalier or relocate to Los Angeles. Read the paper, turn on the radio, or visit any sports website and you’ll find the same story.

If Lebron goes, the team will have a lot of work to do to succeed in a post-James era. If he stays, the Cavaliers may not acquire enough firepower to earn more Finals appearances before he retires.

So, no matter where Lebron plays next the tent might stay gone for a while. I may have to search out a new landmark to document the passing of time in my life. At least for the next few years, until Lebron’s eldest gets drafted here in Cleveland…

 

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Primus and Mastodon concert review

Like the post’s title suggests, I recently reviewed the Primus and Mastodon show I caught last week in Columbus, Ohio

The review was published by DomainCleveland and can be found here.

In other news, I have completed the first round of edits and a rewrite on my third novel, Antichroma, which is book one of a series of young adult adventure stories. I am looking for a few beta readers (especially teenagers) to give the book a read and offer feedback. interested? message me on Facebook or Twitter and I’ll send it your way.

I also submitted my rough draft of the book about my time with Chuck Mosley to a publisher and I am (In)patiently awaiting their feedback.

My vocals have been underutilized the last few years, so keep an eye out for new music from The Firmary and from a few projects i have been developing this year. Can’t wait to get new music out in the world.

What’s new with you?

 

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A Really Boring Post!

The title should’ve tipped you off that you could skip this one, but i wanted to give you all an update on my various ventures. It’s probably as much for me as it is for you seeing as how scatterbrained I am feeling currently.

 

Chuck Mosley tour book: The rough draft has been edited, though I am still waiting replies to some questions I sent to various people who were a part of our tour. I think its important to add different POV than my own in this narrative, so I’m going to wait longer. When I start getting them back, I’ll input them into the book and send along to a few beta readers for feedback and then on to the publisher.

Chuck Mosley Documentary: I will be interviewed soon for this film. I’m nervous, I’m sad, I’m mad, but I’m ready to face the camera. Matt Wallace was already interviewed and there are many other great people to come.

Mystery/Thriller book: I’m making a few changes to two characters, so I’m scouring the pages for continuity errors. After that, I’ll be shopping the bookend hoping to find the right home for it.

YA/Middle Grade Fantasy/Adventure series: I see the finish line of the rough draft of the first book in the not too distant horizon. I have already done some editing to the first half of the book after a few beta readers offered feedback. I can’t wait to get this one ready. It feels really good to be writing this one.

Indoria: we have a few demos and songs at various stages, but we mainly remain dormant as each of us completes other projects. we put up all of our albums for sale for the price of one CD on our band camp site. A few members are also talking about getting involved in the Chuck Mosley tribute cd currently in the works from GAD! Zine

The Firmary: William and I have been passing demos back and forth and we will be getting together soon to plot a course toward an album release. It’s been a long time coming, but the timing just finally feels right.

Short Story collection: I haven’t put in the work on it that I’ve wanted to, but I have about half of the stories completed with a couple that need to be edited.

Guest vocals: I just recorded guest vocals for a song that I hope will get released later this year. I can’t tell you much about it yet, but I will say that some other Chuck Mosley band members are involved and I really dig the song.

Chuck Mosley solo disc: This is on hold until the family decides how they want to proceed. I can’t wait to hear mixed tracks.

Contests: I’ll find out this Wednesday if I advanced to the next round of the NYCMidnight short story challenge. If so, it’ll be my third time advancing to the semi-finals. Hopefully, if I do make it, I can break through to the final round this time!

 

Like An Open Heart It Shines: per the director, editing is in full swing. The main issues left are audio related. the whole crew have great things to say about the film. I have a small part and feel honored to be involved. I am keeping my eyes peeled for more acting and writing roles in cinema.

Also, I am pursuing three brand new Nonfiction stories with other parties. Two of them are sports related and another is music related. I hope they all pan out as each one contains a strong narrative that I think people will enjoy.

My online store has been updated with brand new inventory 

Stay tuned here as (I promise) I’ll keep my projects updated better in 2018

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Rian Johnson lazily lets the past die in The Last Jedi

This isn’t a review of the latest Star Wars movie. (but it DOES contain SPOILERS) This is a look back at some of the plot holes that ruin the film.

First off, if you like or love the movie, that’s great. I’m not here to argue. In fact, I’ve seen it twice in the theater and enjoyed it, when I was able to look past huge plot holes and missed opportunities due to, from my certain point of view, laziness. And to be honest I’d bet I’ll go see it again.

Look, Rian Johnson didn’t want to be tied down. He wanted a fresh slate to operate and showcase his vision. To do so, he took whatever shortcuts he could to have as much time to do so as possible before someone else came in to finish the trilogy with episode 9. In doing so, Rian has harpooned the whole set of films and left someone else to pick up his messes.

The movie carries several messages, some fresh and positive and timely, but most points are made with flaws. Here’s a couple examples:

  1. The rebellion (The Resistance) is fleeing their previous base as The First Order bears down on them to avenge the rebel attack on Starkiller base. (For those who felt The Force Awakens followed A New Hope too closely, you’ll probably notice that this film is half Empire Strikes back and half Return of the Jedi cut together.) As the small band of freedom fighters evacuate they send one x-wing, piloted by Poe Dameron, to stall the First Order. He does so with a gag aimed at General Hux. If you found it funny great, if not, I understand. I chuckled both times and thought it was a ballsy way to start the film. But shortly after this Poe attacks the ship alone, aiming for the enormous ship’s cannons. When he has stalled enough, Princess Leia commands him to return to her ship so they can jump away, but he refuses, instead deciding to lead an attack that ends with several casualties, even as it accomplishes Poe’s goal of destroying the Dreadnaught. Leia gets livid upon Poe’s return to the ship, even demoting him and berating him in front of whoever is around to hear. The rest of the film, Poe’s only recourse is to sneak around the ship trying to usurp the plans of the new commander, played by Laura Dern. The audience is bombarded with reminders at how reckless his actions were and how diplomacy and cooler heads need a chance to lead sometimes. This is a great lesson. I’m so glad that my daughter will grow up with strong female characters showing her she is empowered… but, let’s think about what just happened… the resistance jumped to light speed only to find out when they reverted to real space that the First Order somehow tracked them and were once again in hot pursuit. The First Order apparently doesn’t have any ships with powerful enough guns to penetrate Princess Leia’s flagship. Oh, wait, they had one…the dreadnaught. If Poe Dameron doesn’t disobey Leia and destroy that ship (with the help of some heroes in extremely vulnerable bomber fighters) this movie is over before we’ve made a dent in our popcorn. This fact is never mentioned as it goes against the “vilify Poe and the headstrong men” storyline.

2. Sticking with the same point in the movie, the rebels are now racing at sub light speed away from the First Order and suddenly gas is a huge issue in the universe. Has a limit of gas/energy ever really been addressed in Star Wars cannon? I remember Han and Leia discussing Bespin being “pretty far, but i think we can make it” but i assumed that was more about the distance they’d have to go without the ability to go to hyperspace than about gas consumption. In A New Hope they show the x-wing ships being gassed up before the big fight, and in Revenge of the Sith Obi Wan pays for a fill up, but no one has ever been in danger of losing power before this. Forgetting that and going with the spirit of the film, we are told that a few escape pods launch and we see Finn and Rose sneak away in a small craft, and the rebels eventually gas up and fly about twenty passenger crafts off the ship. Couldn’t they have figured out a way to send ships to get some gas? Maybe? Maybe not? Either way, the lack of gas causing the tension to rise felt cheap and un Star Wars.

3. I’m not sure where Rian Johnson was on June 17th 1994, but I’d bet he was glued to the TV as the now famous white Ford bronco slowly drove down the highway followed by a legion of police as this is exactly how he decides to “thrill” the audience of The Last Jedi. Really? the rebellion has no other recourse but to drive down the spaceway, left blinker on for no reason, and block the bad guys from passing? Let’s suspend disbelief and say that somehow none of those ships chasing the rebels can in fact speed up beyond, “slow crawl”, and none of them have lasers powerful enough to pierce Leia’s ship’s shields, but couldn’t the First Order call one of its other ships from its huge fleet to come at Leia and the rebels from other angles and block them in? Or, couldn’t one of the First Order ships jump to light speed a bit and double back? This “chase” is so lazy and fails to raise the tension as if the First Order can’t figure out how to think around this obstacle I find it hard to fear them as an imposing force of evil. They come off more like bumbling idiots. This is where the opening scene of Poe messing with Hux comes back to bite the director. So far, all we’ve seen the First Order do is bicker amongst themselves, get bested by a single X-Wing, and design inept star ships. How did this chase not get laughed out of the first writer’s meeting it was pitched in? Now, take a step back to the opening battle where Poe is attacking the dreadnaught. Change that fact that he is trying to destroy it and instead have him and the bombers disable the dreadnoughts communications, large cannons, and hyperdrive and suddenly this slow chase between two ships could make sense. Think about Star Trek 2 as Khan chases the Enterprise, both ships limping along. That took/showed logic. That built tension. All the technology at their finger tips taken away and the two Captains were left with just their wits to win the day. The Last Jedi had none of that.

4. Benicio Del Toro is added to the cast as the mysterious…do they even tell us his name? I don’t recall. Not that not having a name is a deal breaker. I became obsessed with Boba Fett before I knew his name. Anyway, as Finn and Rose race to an upscale gambling city in a race against time, their plan is undone by…parking violations. They get thrown in jail just after locating the mysterious man, who always wears the same pin, who is the only one in the galaxy who could hep them. THE ONLY ONE! Except the random guy they find taking a nap in the same jail cell they happen to get thrown into. He totally can do all the same stuff too. Now, here is an opportunity to build up an awesome character. Have Benicio’s character (I just looked it up…it’s DJ) Have DJ tell them the guy with the pin works for him and is used as a frontman, while DJ does the actual work behind the scenes. He saw them approach and he snuck into the prison to hear their offer…see, that is cool and mysterious and gives DJ some credibility. It also foreshadows how paranoid he is so his betrayal later in the film plays out logically. To be fair, there is still another film and more of DJ could be revealed, but again, there’s another lazy, half-thought out idea Rian left for someone else to make heads or tails of. I don’t see why a simple line couldn’t have been added to explain how the whole mess played out rather than that they randomly got thrown in his cell. Hell, I just came up with this bit…why not have the Rose lapel guy keep his line about being a on a hot streak, but have his gaze flick to Finn and Rose and have him press his identifying pin as a signal to DJ or something. Boom, Rian, you’re welcome. Can we get that reshot for the blu ray release?

5. Phasma, Snoke, Rey’s Parents, Han’s Death, Luke, Akbar, C3PO, Nien Nunb, Lando, dirty space, and just about everything the Force Awakens built up as important…Rian cleaned house and set up a finale to the trilogy by leaving us with no idea what would/should/could happen next. That is not easy to do, but the way he erased all the tension, mystery, motivations of the Force Awakens, while also sidelining or killing off the hero’s felt so forced/lazy/insulting. The scene in which the bridge gets blown up and Leia and others are sucked out into space was intense. A lot of people are angry at how Leia finally uses the force for the first time and it’s this miraculous live saving thing. I am all for it. I was so happy we didn’t lose a character that was just starting to grow her fangs back after a very vanilla appearance in The Force Awakens, but to lose Akbar and gloss over it felt cheap. This guy was a huge part of the success of the rebellion going back to it’s earliest days. Phasma makes a glorified cameo. Just long enough to appear even less intimidating than she did in the previous film before plummeting to her (supposed) doom in a fiery mess. Now could she survive and return to fight at Ben Skywalker’s side in the next film, sure, or better yet could she pull herself from the wreckage, burned and angry at everyone to become an independent bounty hunter out for revenge? Hell yeah! But if that happens, again, it’s JJ to the rescue to clean up another fumble by Rian. Rey’s parents…Rian handled it, while really passing the buck to JJ as we know/assume we haven’t heard the last of this info. Snoke…Rian wanted to move Ben forward into the lead bad guy role so he had Snoke taken out to clear the way without answering any info on who is is/was, where he came from, how he got control/started the First Order. in doing so Rian told the audience that since killing Han, Ben has been conflicted as ever…making the death of Han Solo completely pointless and once again crushing what JJ did with Force Awakens. Rian said there was no logical room for Lando…Hello, what now? Lando is a known business mogule, gambler, and a man comfortable on both sides of the law. How on earth was he not seen in the Casino portion of the film? Either he could’ve been the owner of the place or a well-known patron of it. Imagine Finn and Rose seeing this rebellion hero hob-nobbing with (and maybe selling arms along side) these other rich folk…they confront him and show him the error of his ways. He comes back at the end to rejoin Leia and the fight and brings some of his friends along with him. C3PO spends the entire film on the bridge of the ship with Leia. How was he not sucked out into space? Maybe they addressed this, but I don’t recall it. As he and R2 have been downgraded to small cameos in each film maybe one of them dying would’ve made more sense than others. Nien Nunb…Okay, I get it, the casual fan doesn’t even know who that is or couldn’t care less what happens to him. The weird thing is we see him in the beginning and at the end, but he is missing from action for the entire film. He sort of becomes the stand in for many familiar faces from the past that are unseen/unheard from without any reason. Where was he the whole film? I know the original cut of the film was longer, so perhaps that is addressed in those scenes. Laura Dern joins the cast in an important role. Another strong female, good! But how is it that she looks like an extra from the capital of the hunger games rather than a member of the rebellion fleeing for her life in panic? Where is the dirty space mantra of previous films?And did she say, “God speed?” What, huh? Luke and Rey’s time together is good, but not great. it’s rushed to show-horn in the casino storyline and other unneeded filler. How cool would it have been to have Rey convince Luke to help and have them delve a bit into his journey to collect all the force books and fill in some gaps with a visual flashback? So many possibilities! Instead they throw in a few predictable (yet some still funny) gags  (like the green-milked teet bit)and a riff off Luke’s cave experience from Empire, this time Rey finds the mirror from The Never Ending Story.

6. This one if by my wife and I dig it. she mentioned the whole tracking through hyperspace thing could’ve been via Finn, a former stormtrooper. Perhaps he had a tracker put on him at birth, or whenever he was kidnapped and forced to join. This way, when he goes away from the fleet he and Rose realize what happens and he could’ve lead the First Order into a trap of some sort. That seems legit and cool and I like it. I didn’t have an issue with the First Order having this technology (in fact, I like that it is first mentioned in Rogue One), but I hate that Finn, Leia, Poe, or the rest of the gang can’t think their way around it. If they had gone with Finn being the cause, or a spy implant, it would’ve been cool if Finn or Poe led the First Order away to enable the rest of the fleet to escape and in doing so Finn or Poe get captured ala Han in Empire and setting up unanswered plot lines to answer in the next film.

I think by now I have made my opinions known without even asking why Luke didm;t tell Leia at the end that he was there as a distraction and that there was a hole in the cave they could use to escape. Star Wars is important to me, and even with all this, I feel it’s important to Rian as well, but damn, he had better step up his game if he has any hopes of his stand alone trilogy not becoming The Last NEW Star Wars. If the franchise is unable to crawl out from the Skywalker family now, after all he did to distance us from the past, the only thing that may be killed is his career. And look, I thought Brick was a smart film and Looper had me on the edge of my seat. I dig what Rian Johnson has done, so I know he could’ve done way better. Rian, give us logic and common sense along with the thrills and you’re golden.

The latest Star Wars trilogy has one movie to wrap up all the various story lines and now, JJ is also left with a pile of messes to address (not to mention the passing of Carrie Fisher).    JJ has to navigate a landscape where the past is poison and everything he built in episode seven is dead, or at least crippled beyond recognition.

JJ, years ago you served my childhood with The Force Awakens. Now I beg you to help me with the struggle against mediocrity and lazy writing. I regret that I am unable to present my request in person, but admission to Disney is too high, and I’m afraid bringing you to Cleveland to write may cause restraining orders. I have placed vital logic and solutions to plot issues vital to the resurrection of Star Wars into the internet. You should know how to retrieve it (even my father can.) You must see Episode 9 safely delivered to us on Earth. This is our most desperate hour. Help me, JJ. You’re my only hope.

 

dougcraigonbed

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