“The Best of Them” by Jay Moody, March 2022
“The Best of Them” by Jay Moody, March 2022
Ramone, Johnny (2012) Commando, The Autobiography of Johnny Ramone, New York: Abrams Image
Commando, the posthumously published autobiography of Johnny Ramone is 176 pages of fun and insight into the lifespan of the guitarist from one of the most influential bands in the history of rock and roll music. It’s almost indisputable that the Ramones invented Punk Rock and Johnny makes no bones about that in his autobiography.
Commando is just like a Ramones song, fast paced, fun, furious, sometimes sad, sometimes silly and a bit cynical. It’s full of dozens of photos and images from throughout his life and career. Many of these had never been published before. At the end Johnny rates each Ramones album from best to least best.
Johnny’s early life and upbringing come across just like classic Americana at least until the rebellion kicks in, but that’s probably just as American as any of it. He was born John Cummings in Queens, New York on October 8, 1948. His father was a steamfitter. He loved baseball, the New York Yankees and Mickey Mantle. He played on teams well into high school before the rebelliousness kicked in.
Johnny was raised Irish Catholic and attended Catholic schools as a child until he showed his mother the marks from where the nun had been hitting him. He changed schools and quit attending church, but still considered himself Catholic to the day he died. He voluntarily went to military school during first half of high school, but just as with baseball the rebellious spirit growing inside him brought this to an end and he returned to public school where he was more comfortable.
Johnny originally became interested in rock and roll through the man who changed the records on the juke box at his parents’ bar and would give him the old 45s. Back then he was into Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard.
In his late teens he started drinking heavily and getting into fights and vandalism. He was on a bad path to nowhere, and then one day just changed his mind. He quit drinking more than two beers a day and otherwise would just smoke a bit of cannabis and went out and got a union job with the company his father worked for. Eventually he started the Ramones, mostly on a bet with future drummer Tommy because he bragged about how he could play guitar in a successful band.
Johnny’s anger and violence is an early theme in the book. Johnny had a temper and could be easily irritated. By page 10, which is only the second page of Johnny’s actual text, he describes punching his future band mate and singer Joey because he showed up late to leave for the movies. He smacked bassist Dee Dee in the head multiple times while on tour for dawdling at road stops. He also punched former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren at the Whiskey a Go Go in Los Angeles in 1988 for talking to his girlfriend.
Johnny confirms one of the many amusing Ramones legend from the early days of the band and how they often had fights on stage over various performance issues. He describes their earliest days in a manner that illustrates a group of poor working class street kids who didn’t have much in the way of diplomatic skills, but a lot of passion. The Ramones certainly were punks. Johnny summed up the Ramones image by saying “The Ramones hinged on aggression, and balanced with the cartoon-like fun that so many seemed to see in us.”[p11]
Johnny mentions that he always felt like people were uncomfortable around him. He later decribes how he liked to irritate his band mates by playing Rush Limbaugh loudly over their tour van’s radio. Johnny was pretty conservative especially for a punk. He loved Ronald Reagan and was instrumental in developing the very American identity that was part of the band’s image. He hated foreign travel, especially in France, but he did enjoy Spain and Italy. He eventually enjoyed touring South America when the band became extremely popular there.
Tensions ran high in the band from the beginning. Johnny seemed exasperated as he expressed that he could not relate to Joey, and called him a pain in the ass and a hippie. Even after retirement when Joey was diagnosed with lymphoma, Johnny says he called Joey to check on him, and the former Ramones singer acted flippant about it, so he didn’t try reaching out again. He would go weeks without speaking to drummer Marky even while on tour and traveling in a cramped van. Looking like a brotherhood was part of the image of the Ramones, but the reality was a little less romantic.
Johnny was serious about the music and the image of the Ramones, but he didn’t take his own fame and legendary status too seriously. That was in large part due to the fact that he didn’t even realize he was such an inspiration to so many bands until he was close to retirement in the early 1990s. He seemed surprised that musicians from bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and the Red Hot Chili Peppers looked up to him. As these then up and coming bands were on the same tours with the Ramones they would come up to him at shows and profess their admiration. At first he was perplexed. Then he was amused.
The Ramones retired 1996, and Johnny was the only member who didn’t go on to doing anything else musically. He couldn’t see playing with any other band than the Ramones. A year later he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He hated how retirement, aging and his illness had softened him up to the point he didn’t even have the energy to be angry anymore. Johnny Ramone, a true punk. The last few pages of Commando become very poignant as Johnny states the likelihood that the he would be dead before it is published. And so it was.
Johnny was good friends with Lisa Marie Presley and almost walked her down the aisle when she married Nicholas Cage, but instead stood beside Cage as the Best Man. And like a true king of rock and roll, the daughter of the late, great Elvis was by his bedside when he died on September 15, 2004. Other friends in attendance included Eddie Vedder, John Frusciante, and Rob Zombie.
Lisa Marie Presley wrote the epilog to Johnny’s autobiography. She described the events around his final hours and his cremation as “very much like an Irish Wake and exactly the way Johnny would have wanted it to be.”
She said he was a good friend, a legend, loyal, “and well … he was grouchy :)”
Commando, The Autobiography of Johnny Ramone is a must read for any fan of the Ramones, punk rock, or rock and roll.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been playing at the House of Henry Irish Pub in Panama City, FL. I like the place. It’s nice and new, only established in 2019. It has all of the hardwood, stained glass and bric-a-brac I’ve come to expect from a good Irish Pub. They have a full menu and two rooms with separate bars, a dining room and a pub area with a stage. It’s a cool spot and I’m looking forward to playing there often.
After a recent gig Jake, the booking manager met with me in the loft above the pub and we recorded an episode of House of Henry Loft Sessions.
The Washington DC football team announced on Monday that it would be retiring it’s racist mascot causing nation-wide discussion. Yours truly has certainly been well into the fray.
A young lad has sought to question me on my stance and impugn the validity of Native American concerns on this subject. As is a standard practice of mine, if it takes more than a couple paragraphs to make my point online, it goes on the blog. So, here we go.
“Yeah that’s some who are offended, I know some indigenous people who aren’t. Aunt Jemaimahs family begged for the company to not issue a rebranding, apparently syrup is now racist too. I’ve never understood why anyone other than a white guy with a sunburn would be offend of the term “redskin”. OUR skin isn’t red. Who cares.”
It helps to have taken the time to learn the history of that term and Native Affairs in this country. One who has would be less likely to conflate different unrelated issues while repeating sound bites and talking points from conservative media.
It’s not simply “some who are offended.” It’s the National Congress of American Indians, the oldest, largest and most representative Native organization in the country which has advocated for the interests of Indians for nearly a century. It’s the American Indian Movement, Idle No More, countless tribes, and nations and virtually every native activist movement in this country for 50 years who have recognized the ill social affects of caricatures being the dominant representation of native people in media while rich white people make millions of dollars from it, despite what your buddy on the street might think.
It’s not that the r-word is offensive as in it hurts little snowflake feelings. It is literally the Native American equivalent of the N-word. It is a word used historically as a means to dehumanize Indians.
Throughout the 19th century that term was used to designate Natives as wild savages who were only suited to be killed, hunted down like rabid animals. Bounties were paid for “redskins.” Often times scalps were taken as evidence for the number of “redskins” killed to fetch a higher payment. Be assured when someone called us redskins they were not “honoring” us. They were saying we were less than human and just in the fucking way.
Indians are not honored by a dehumanizing term historically used to encourage and promote our genocide. This is a genocide that continues today by definition as per the UN Council on Genocide, and Raphael Lempkin who coined the term. Natives are still fighting for basic rights and amenities as human beings while mostly white millionaires continue to get rich off the legacy of genocide and colonialism, portraying Indians as the things of their fantasies.
This all gets into media representation and how it impacts the quality of Native life. Indians are only about 1% of the US population. Most of those are concentrated in a few states and mostly in remote communities. So, the average American does not have any meaningful interaction with a Native American on a daily basis, much less a native community. These people get the majority of their perceptions of Indians from media and sports. This includes some natives as well who have been acculturated, are often urban and do not interact with a native community.
How Natives are represented in media affects how we are viewed by the majority of the population. How we are viewed by the majority of the population matters when we need our issues to be taken seriously and acted upon in an appropriate manner.
If we are viewed as impish caricatures, savage beasts, or even romanticized relics of a bygone era, we are not seen as real human beings. That affects the socio-political environment which we as 1% of the population are powerless to overcome on our own.
If we’re not viewed accurately as real, modern humans then our tribal sovereignty is not viewed as something to take seriously. Our land rights are at risk, our religious rights are at risk (did you know Indian religions were outlawed until 1978?), our very existence as Indian people is at risk. And when these harmful stereotypes infect our own youth it has been shown to negatively impact their self perception and limit their imagination as to what they’re capable of achieving in life. This has long-term negative implications for individuals as well as for tribes and nations.
There is far more at stake here than simple hurt feelings about the color of our skin.
Today was a good day for Natives.
That racist mascot is finally gone. Of course there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth about losing another flagrant display of their beloved white supremacism. They can’t profit from Native dehumanization anymore and they’re sad. Let’s bask in those tears right now.
More importantly, let’s celebrate our success and reflect on how far we have come since the Era of Termination as fuel for the battles ahead. And let’s remember our allies in this.
Today is a result of half a century of grassroots activism, education, demonstrations and building our own media outlets that created enough non-Indian allies in the country to hurt a market for racism.
We’re not fooled that this was some benevolent act by a newly enlightened class of “elites.” We know it is only because enough avenues of income were obstructed that Dan Snyder was losing the only thing he really cares about, money.
And THIS is the real symbol within this multifaceted victory. The word they used to create a literal market for dead Native bodies no longer makes them money. They can no longer capitalize on our dehumanization like that.
While they whine and say goodbye to the “legacy” of their little racist sportsball club, I wish we could truly say goodbye to the legacy of colonialism and genocide in this country. This is a step in that direction. There is still a lot of work to be done.
Today was a good day.
Today would have been Bob Marley’s 75th birthday if he had lived. Tragically, he died of cancer on May 11, 1981 at the age of 36. Most people know that Bob Marley and the Wailers put reggae on the map, taking it from obscure local Jamaican music and turning it into the international phenomenon it became. But for me, Bob Marley isn’t just another name among the many other ground-breaking musicians of the 1960s and 70s. When we talk about Bob Marley we’re not just talking about music anymore; we’ve crossed into the subject of mysticism and religion. Bob Marley is less like a rock star and more like a biblical messenger.
I grew up in coastal and beach towns, so I always knew who Bob Marley was, but through a lot of my early teens I was more into punk rock and heavy metal. Then in 1993, I was the president of my church youth group at St. Anne’s and we took part in an annual Diocesan Youth Camp Out. This was two nights at an outdoor coastal retreat which brought high school kids together from Catholic churches over the whole Florida Panhandle. The theme that year was “One Love, One Life” and Bob Marley’s hit song was played at all the activities throughout the weekend. The t-shirts had red, green and gold on them. It was a genuine religious experience on a Florida beach with Bob Marley’s message front and center.
I was captivated by how much of Marley’s music was religious in its nature. It may as well be gospel music. Listening to Marley’s lyrics is like listening to a hymn, and that one-drop beat and the rootsy melodies are infectious. It wasn’t a stretch for Marley’s music to become an influential part of my ever-growing spiritual life.
As I grew into my late teens, I became more disillusioned with modern life. I’d had a miserable experience in public school. I came to realized that the Church is full of vipers, but only after I had been bitten. I became aware of the corruption of government. The ongoing and almost unconscious genocide of Native peoples weighed on my mind and my soul. I felt like I had been lied to my whole life, and that everything I thought I knew up to that point was propaganda. I didn’t know who I was. What does any of it even mean? I became angry and a little bit radical. I learned that thinking for myself is an act of rebellion.
I could have gone bad at this point, but I didn’t. Instead this is when Bob Marley’s music became most important to me. It captured my frustration and soothed what it could, and redirected what it couldn’t into a positive fire. This was real rebel music. It was rooted in positivity and righteousness, rather than the negativity found in so much of other rebellious music. Rather than being angry, self-destructive and nihilistic, I learned to be impassioned about injustice, and constructive while invigorating my faith and maintaining a sense of wonder about the world. This is what held me together. The message I learned from Bob Marley and through him from other reggae artists and the Rastafarian movement is something that has continually been a guiding light for me over the years.
It encouraged me to embrace my roots.
It helped me bridge the gap between my indigenous traditions and my orthodoxy.
It helped me understand the significance of my place in the greater movement of history.
It helped me to see that each native struggle as another front of the same global struggle for freedom, and sovereignty.
It helped me to understand that I have a role to play in this struggle and how I can fulfill that mission through education, prayer, and service to my people and revitalization of our traditional cultures.
I can’t stress enough how important it was for me that this message of reggae didn’t just want to teach me rules and ethics and tell me to be a good boy, and it didn’t just encourage me to rebel without a cause. The Rastafarian philosophy freely recognized and validated my grievances with the modern world and gave me positive means to deal with negative realities.
So today isn’t just another birthday of another popular musician to me. It is the anniversary of the day a great man came into the world who would have a positive spiritual impact on many disillusioned youth throughout the world for over five decades now. He may have saved my life. While Bob Marley should be remembered for his groundbreaking music, he is also remembered for his role as an emissary of the divine, a messenger for the revolutionary word of God – Jah Rastafari.
Kurt Cobain, the front man of the groundbreaking 1990s Seattle grunge band Nirvana has been considered the “spokesman for a generation” though his fame only lasted for roughly two and a half years before his inevitable 1994 suicide. His music was revolutionary and his fashion quickly became imitated by the mainstream, but Cobain was far from worthy of adulation. He was an extremely troubled person. He was depressed and angry, narcissistic, hateful, antisocial, poorly educated, hypocritical and self destructive with a major drug addiction, but a knack for writing catchy tunes.
I’ve always liked Nirvana’s music, but I’ve never cared much for Cobain as a person. I did eventually acquire all five Nirvana albums, but I have never worn their t-shirt. I say this to illustrate that I’m not just some Nirvana hater. I can separate the man from the music, and this article is about the man as he chose to present himself, his thoughts, ideas and values in his own words. I just don’t think there is much to admire about Kurt Cobain outside of his musical success. That was my opinion at the height of his fame, and after reading his “Journals,” published in 2002, that opinion wasn’t changed. It simply provided more evidence and details to confirm my earliest thoughts.
I’ll begin with a positive note regarding what was admirable about Cobain. He was driven and he did seem to have a plan which he followed unwaveringly to eventual commercial success. He did what a lot of musicians and bands don’t do but should; he wrote out his vision for Nirvana. He crafted his business mission statement as it was – he thought out his distinct musical identity, his image and the values he wanted to project. He clearly identified his influences and what he wanted to influence his music. He wrote out steps and tactics in his journals. He thought about distribution, exposure, and reaching fans in an era before the internet made this much easier. He didn’t just do this once; as time went by he revisited and revised his plan as he figured out more about his tastes, styles and abilities instead of just drifting aimlessly in a chaotic musical landscape. Sadly, however this one paragraph is all that I found admirable in Cobain’s journals. The rest of his character was tragically flawed, and ventured into dark and evil places.
Obsessed with Grief
The most noticeable character trait displayed in Cobain’s journals is his overwhelming obsession with grief. His early preoccupation with suicide is evident by page 5, written no later than 1989, exclaiming “kill yourself,” a sentiment that is repeated multiple times throughout the Journals. He was fixated on everything “bad” to the point it seems he had no room left in him for joy. He hated everything. He hated himself. He was ashamed to be white, ashamed to be male, and ashamed to be American. I think this grief and self-hatred is the root of all his many other issues. When a person hates himself it leads to an inability to enjoy anything. It leads to nihilism, self abuse and eventually if left untreated to complete self destruction. Kurt Cobain eventually became dark, uninspired, and hopeless.
Obsessed with Division
Cobain was obsessed with creating division in the world. Though he portrayed himself as an advocate for love, tolerance and inclusion, it’s obvious he thrived on strife and division. He was especially preoccupied with creating division between the generations. This seems to originate from his personal issues with his own parents and upbringing. He wasn’t satisfied with his own sense of isolation; he wanted everyone else to feel that isolation too. He hated his parents therefore everyone of his generation should also hate their parents. Misery loves company.
Cobain was obsessed with rape, conflating it with traditional masculine sexuality to which he claimed to be opposed. He mentions rape repeatedly. He even imagines himself as a rapist, and writes about a time in high school when he tried to take advantage of a young girl who was considered “retarded,” though supposedly undiagnosed. At a later point he decided it was Nirvana’s job to “teach boys not to rape.” Apparently his method was to write songs like “Polly” and “Rape Me” that are so ineffectual they sound as if they are romanticizing rape. He later acted perplexed when listeners didn’t comprehend these were supposedly “anti-rape” songs.
Between pages 90 and 95 Cobain wrote the most bizarre part of his journals, a story about a fictional serial murderer, rapist a child molester he named Chuck Taylor. Apparently Chuck became this monster due to his father’s influence. It includes a very graphic scene in which Chuck is forced to watch as his father beats, rapes and sodomizes his mother while extolling the virtues of being a “man” and abusing women. In another entry (pg 109) he says he likes to make incisions on an infants’ stomach and then “fuck the incision until the child dies.” It’s another peek into Kurt Cobain’s grotesque dysfunction.
I got the sense that Cobain had a rape and murder fetish that haunted him, contributing to his self-hatred. He related this to himself “as a man,” and projected that upon the idea of masculinity. Since he saw “right wingers” as representing traditional masculinity he could project his sickness and self-hatred onto them as an “other” thereby gaining a false sense of virtue and self-righteousness for hating them instead of addressing his own demons.
Hypocrisy, Self-delusion and Terrorist Advocacy
Hypocrisy was another of Kurt Cobain’s worst traits. In multiple entries, Cobain says that to him “punk rock means freedom.” It’s another recurring thought in his journals. This would seem to be a motive for his hatred for “right-wingers,” because he saw them as trying to restrict his freedoms through pro-life and other religiously based legislation. But he wasn’t very considerate of other people who chose to live in a manner in which he disapproved.
There are multiple entries in which Cobain expressly advocates for and glorifies Left-wing terrorism. Amongst the many examples of people Cobain said he wanted to kill, he wrote a disturbing passage describing how he wanted to go through high schools and put guns to the heads of popular kids and force them to renounced their “gluttonous” lifestyle or be killed (132). He didn’t write this as a frustrated teenager. He was a grown man well into his twenties expressing a desire to murder kids who simply used their freedom to make different choices than he made. Here, Kurt Cobain’s reoccurring hypocrisy is on full display in one of the most disgusting of ways.
Cobain’s writings also show a strange obsession with the KKK and outlandish caricatures of “right wingers” and misogynists. He really was a product of the west-coast’s socio-political atmosphere and ideology which helped warp him into someone who seemed to be barely clinging to his humanity.
Cobain’s self-delusion is most evident when he wrote about his place in the music industry. Of course he wanted to be successful as a musician, but he felt guilty for that so he tried to rationalize his ambition to fit his radical ideology. Rather than honestly admitting he was desirous of fame and fortune, he instead tried to portray his major-label aspirations as some form of punk-rock Trojan horse strategy. He liked to say he was working on the inside to “rot” and destroy the industry, while in reality he was sitting as the cherry on top of Geffen Records, raking in all that gluttonous money he wanted to shoot children for enjoying.
He liked to pretend that he was in polar opposition to the rockstar excesses of the 1980s, but that was really just his form of gluttonous stardom. He wasn’t the wild, pussy slaying, private jet flying party animal. Instead he portrayed himself as the neopunk rock star; prepackaged rebellion, and feigned social consciousness. He knew he was playing a role that didn’t align with his real identity, and he felt pressured by the image he constructed of himself. That kind of cognitive dissonance must certainly be hard to live with.
Lack of Depth
There was a common misconception in the 1990’s that Cobain’s lyrics were mystical script of otherworldly genius that had to be decoded in order to truly perceive their great depth. I never bought it. While I could enjoy the energy of his music, I always thought his lyrics were haphazardly written, sloppily thrown together into a reckless word-salad. In his journals and other interviews he clearly reveals that his lyrics were quite often retched out at the last minute or adlibbed onstage until something stuck. He was frustrated by people who tried to analyze his lyrics because he knew there was nothing there worth analyzing. Cobain’s lyrics seem disjointed and jumbled because they are disjointed and jumbled. He mumbled and slurred a lot of his words because it really doesn’t matter if you understand them. Don’t look for depth and insight in Cobain’s lyrics because there is none.
He Loved His Ignorance
One of the more disappointing aspects of Cobain’s personality is that he preferred to remain ignorant. He mentions repetitively that he is not particularly well educated, and the grammar, and spelling throughout his journals is evidence enough of this. He wrote “I purposefully keep myself naïve and away from earthly information because it’s the only way to avoid a jaded attitude” (pg 125). That’s just dumb. Cobain liked to have strong opinions that resulted in a radical ideology and violent attitude, but didn’t want to actually have the knowledge by which to evaluate those ideas. He preferred to keep his miseducated opinions that fueled his desire to murder children because it made him feel good. Kurt Cobain was an idiot.
To go along with his multiple displays of ignorance and irrationality, Cobain liked to disparage musicians who actually bothered to learn music. He specifically ridiculed Eric Clapton who not only helped to forge modern rock and roll, but also managed to survive the test of time even while battling the same vices (heroin) that Cobain was too weak to overcome. Cobain regurgitated the same clichéd wannabe punk rock jargon that music theory is “bullshit.” The irony seems lost on him when he also complains about not being a very prolific songwriter. He never made the connection that music theory gives a person more tools to work with to create more original music instead of rewriting the same song over and over again while feeling like a fraud. Cobain’s inability to write new, significant music after “In Utero” contributed to his final mental breakdown and eventual suicide. It’s an example of how Cobain consistently made decisions and embraced attitudes that lead him steadily down a path of self-destruction.
To his credit, I suppose, Cobain knew all this about himself and through all his ignorance, hypocrisy, self-deception, delusions and his antisocial personality he freely admitted it. He told us as much in his lyrics.
“I’m a negative creep”
“I’m a liar and a thief”
“I think I’m dumb”
“I hate myself and I want to die.”
Rooted in self-hatred, fear, ignorance, left wing politics and drugs every decision he made was another step toward his early suicide.
Maya Angelou said “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.” Kurt Cobain showed us time and time over again. There is nothing there to be admired.
Keith Richards’ 2010 autobiography Life is a solid exposé and memoir on the life lived by the Rolling Stones guitarist. Weighing in at 547 pages of narrative, it’s clear that the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer intends for the reader to come away with a full picture of himself, not just as a founding member of one of the greatest rock bands in history, but as an individual apart from that legend.
The autobiography kicks off with a scandalous story from the road of when Keith and Stones’ rhythm guitarist Ronnie Wood were arrested with a number of illegal substances in Fordyce, Arkansas in 1975. It’s one of the more exciting stories in the book and it sets the tone for numerous tales of drugs and legal issues to follow it.
After that, Life immediately shifts to Keith’s childhood, adolescence until he meets and begins playing music with Mick Jagger (p. 77). This was the hardest part of the book for me to get through. It seemed overburdened with trivial details about Keith Richards the child. While some meaningful events and information is relayed her such as his initial introduction to music and guitar a lot of it seemed unnecessary, but then it is the story of his life, not just of his adult music career.
This makes for an autobiography that is well balanced between the author’s personal life and ideas and his superstar music career. It’s not written in a manner that tries to glorify the rock and roll lifestyle or to revel in fame, but it doesn’t shy away from it or wrap itself in false humility. Keith opens up and tells us quite a lot of personal information about himself, his origins, his philosophies, his loves, his strengths, and his weaknesses. He writes intently on the subject of music and how he came to it with passion, the origins or the Rolling Stones, his often adversarial friendship with lead singer Mick Jagger, his addiction, resulting arrests and subsequent rehabilitation.
The book is chocked full of stories and candid details. Some of the points I liked the most include the following.
The Rolling Stones didn’t write their first song until 1963 when their manager Andrew Loog Oldham locked Keith and Mick in a kitchen together in Willesden and told them to “come up with a song.” Before that, Keith thought songwriting was someone else’s job. This is easy enough to understand since up until this time in music history it was very common for the songwriters to be different people from the performers. Truthfully before the Beatles made it fashionable popular bands rarely composed any of their own music.
Keith makes it quite clear that there was never any rivalry between the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, or between any of their respective members. They were friends. Keith refers to the two bands as being a “mutual-admiration society.” He even says that they would call each other up and plan their single releases so to not compete with each other (pg 141). Any amount of rivalry that may have seemed to exist was nothing more than media hype.
As mentioned above, Keith speaks very candidly about his drug addiction. Early on in his life, Keith experimented with recreational drugs, alcohol and cannabis. He was introduced to amphetamines while on tour in the US with R&B acts including Little Richard and Bo Diddly. He talks a bit about LSD in the 60s and a particular three-day trip he took with John Lennon which was so significant that neither of them could quite remember what all had happened. His terrible addiction to heroin however came about in a far less cavalier manner. It happened the same way it seems to happen with the opiate epidemic plaguing the US today; from an injury and overmedication. He was in a car wreck and afterward was in such pain, having a nurse come to clean his wounds everyday that he was prescribed morphine. After several weeks on the drug he became hooked. When the doctor took him off the medication he had severe withdrawals which he treated with underground opiates and eventually heroin which he continues using for the next several years.
I really love that Keith talks about his experiences with Reggae and Rastafarians in Jamaica where he lived for some time. He speaks very highly of the culture, philosophy and most especially the music of the Rastas he became friends with, and how that was a major influence on him and helped him get his head straight from years of excess.
If gleaned properly there is probably a solid handbook’s worth of advice and information on beginning in music, theories on how to approach playing guitar, songwriting, performing live, recording and band dynamics. Keith doesn’t come across with any rock star pretentiousness to speak of. He does get a little preachy and high minded at points, but otherwise stays well-grounded even when telling tales of times when Keith was anything but grounded.
Life is a thorough trek through the years of Keith Richard’s history. It’s sometimes a little wordy, a bit snide, and long. It isn’t always a page turner, but it does hold a reader’s attention fairly well and it delivers all the juicy, candid details a fan of the Rolling Stones, or just rock and roll history will enjoy.
The Joker is possibly the most iconic comic book villain of all time. He has been played five times now in live-action television and film since 1966, each interpretation improving upon the previous rendition until that unfortunate thing Jared Leto did in 2016. I was a little apprehensive about a live action Joker origin movie because DC universe flicks have been unimpressive over the past few years and casting has been a major part of the problem. But with Joaquin Phoenix reprising the role, all concerns can be laid to rest. Joker is its own movie not to be conflated with other recent DCU film adaptations, and fortunately it shows.
[WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD]
As the film opens, it’s 1981. Arthur Fleck is sitting in front of a mirror putting on his clown makeup. He’s one of a half-dozen rent-a-clowns shown working for the Haha company to be farmed out for meager gigs. A broadcaster can be heard on the radio reporting the dismal state of Gotham City and the overflow of litter in the streets. Arthur is a sad case, trying to force a smile in the mirror, bewildered by his own misery.
Phoenix gets lost in the character of Arthur, bringing him to life. He’s a proto-Joker based loosely off the Batman: The Killing Joke graphic novel, but more pathetic. He’s a tragic character going through a sad transformation. He lives with his mom in a rundown urban apartment building. He doesn’t have a girlfriend, or any friends to speak of and he never gets any mail. It seems he may as well not even exist. But he does exist and he has to live with himself every day.
Arthur has an unspecified mental disorder causing him to have inappropriate and excessive emotional reactions. He has been seeking treatment from a publicly funded therapist, and even she is little more than a detached bureaucrat just putting in the time but not the effort to see Arthur’s individuality or pay attention to him. A couple scenes later we learn that the City of Gotham is pulling funding for the service and Arthur is going to lose access to his seven different medications. Arthur feels abandoned, rejected. The realization he’s coming to is communicated without sacrificing anything for poetry when his therapist exclaims “they don’t give a shit about people like you.”
Arthur is bullied and ostracized, and he’s not socially or psychologically equipped to deal with his challenges. He is faced with so little respect or empathy that even when he is assaulted and mugged on the street by a roving gang of teens who steal and destroy the sign he was hired to wave, his boss holds him responsible for the loss. When his coworker Randall pushes him to take a gun for protection he feebly tries to refuse and then winds up dropping it at another gig resulting in his being fired. Randall lies to the boss saying Arthur had pressured him for a gun.
Arthur is trying to function in the world, but he just can’t seem to make it work. Being a fan of comedy, he tries his hand at standup only to bomb miserably and to become the object of public mockery when a clip of his performance is played on the Murray Franklin Show, a late night television talk show hosted by a comedian (Robert De Nero) Arthur has admired for years.
When Arthur is assaulted again on the subway by three “wall street guys” and this time pulls out the revolver and blows two of them away it’s a bit sympathetic. After all, the only people he’s harmed so far were handled in self-defense. Then he pursues the third culprit into the station, and shoots him in the back. This is the moment the Joker begins to emerge as Arthur is shortly afterward seen dancing joyfully in celebration. Even he is surprised how easily killing comes to him without any remorse. Over the course of the movie Arthur descends further into violet retribution against the people he perceives have wronged him.
Arthur kills his mother when he discovers that she has lied to him about his father, and his past, and allowed him to be abused as a child by one of her lovers. He later kills Randall for lying about him. Then when he is invited on the Murray Franklin Show to talk about the clip of his embarrassing performance at the comedy club he chooses this moment to reveal himself to the world as Joker. He confesses his murders on the air and makes an impassioned speech about the world’s injustice, and how rich, out of touch elites like Murray Franklin are the problem just before shooting the host in the head, killing him.
Joker is about a man that an increasingly dysfunctional society not only has no use for, but openly disdains. He has a very tenuous grasp on reality, is unable to function or communicate effectively and he is floundering in a state of failure with no one to lean on for support. Media ridicules his genuine attempts to succeed and be accepted while news headlines sensationalize the murderous clown on the loose causing protesters against Gotham’s elite to adopt clown masks the way Guy Fawkes masks have been adopted in the modern world. It doesn’t take long for Arthur’s fragile mind to see where his recognition and validation will more easily be found.
I love that Todd Phillips dispensed with the classic story of Joker’s origin as a villain falling into a vat of chemicals and emerging with green hair, white skin and red lips, and instead chose a story of a troubled man working as a clown, struggling as a comedian who descends into murder and crime. Even as a child I’ve always found the chemical origin silly. This idea that Joker was a professional clown before his criminal career makes a more believable story with more depth to the character. This could really happen. Initially I was less than enthusiastic about the makeup rendering a distinctly classic clown appearance complete with a red nose instead of just resembling a clown as Joker has always been portrayed, but as the character develops this look quickly becomes the face of Joker.
Unlike a lot of superhero universe movies, Joker didn’t require a lot of special effects or CGI to keep it interesting. There were no muscle-bound heroes dominating the screen. In fact it was the complete opposite. Phoenix plays a scrawny, sickly looking character, having lost a remarkable 52 pounds for the role.
Joker is darker than most comic book movies, but the Batman universe usually is. It alternates between gloomy, funny, and tense, providing a range of emotional experience manipulating your perceptions along the way. Sometimes we’re not quite sure who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, just like Joker himself, and we share in his insanity during the show. It seems a fair amount of the story may be nothing more than Arthur’s delusion anyway. We can never be too certain what reality actually is.
Now to the big question that every fan will be talking about; where does Phoenix rank up next to the other live action Jokers? The truth is for me it’s hard to say. The movie is about Arthur Fleck who over the length of the story becomes the Joker. The actual Joker gets very little screen time, and we never get to see the fully developed criminal mastermind that the Joker is known to be. It’s difficult to compare this Joker to the screen time of Ledger’s or Nicholson’s Joker. The character of Arthur Fleck becoming the Joker is however performed amazingly, and the few minutes we get to see the Joker realized is full of promise. I would bet if a sequel is produced Phoenix would give Ledger a run for his money.
To put it simply for me, Joker is the best film of 2019, and one of the best superhero universe films ever.
The internationally touring Irish musical duo The Guinness Brothers have been spreading the craic* from pub to pub and festival to festival over two continents for the past seven years. Consisting of Colm Kelly on vocals, guitar, and harmonica, and Roddy Carreira on vocals, mandolin, banjo, and occasional percussion, The Guinness Brothers really are the life of the party.
Based out of Albufeira, Portugal (though Colm originally hails from Kildare, Ireland), they are consistent performers at Irish Pubs, weddings and events at a nearly non-stop pace throughout Europe and the United States.
I naturally met Colm on his first trip to Pensacola as a performer at McGuire’s Irish Pub. Sometime later Roddy came along with him and brought the full Guinness Brothers experience to McGuire’s. One of the most immediately noticeable features of a Guinness Brothers show, as well as a Colm Kelly solo performance is that Colm has a natural gift for working a room and amping up a crowd. With Roddy beside him, they create a power team of sarcasm and debauchery that will have any festival ground, reception hall, or bar entertained and actively involved with all the antics they bring with them.
A Guinness Brothers show is more than a musical performance; it really is a party. The boys don’t want the audience just sitting and listening as each songs fritters by, but instead in the age-old Irish tradition they want you to be a part of the show, to interact, dance, sing, shout out responses and play along for the fun, or the “craic” as is said in Ireland.
Their sets include a wide variety of musical styles from Irish Traditionals, pop, rock, country and more, all of it delivered in the distinct high energy fashion that is a staple of a Guinness Brothers show. On top of all that, the boys are also known to boldly take requests from the audience. Even if they haven’t rehearsed the requested tune before, they’re likely to give it a shot anyway, and fake their way through it, all for the craic. It’s a bit of game to them, a challenge to which they’re eager to rise.
Speaking of games, as an audience member you might find yourself drafted into any number of games such as “left-hand drinking” during which the audience is only allowed to drink with their left hand. If someone is caught drinking with their right hand they’ll be called out, asked to stand up and down their drink all in one. This becomes a lot of fun as the audience begins to call each other out as the night goes on, and of course all for the craic.
In 2019 The Guinness Brothers released a live album appropriately titled Live Craic, a twelve song set including Irish favorites such as Whiskey in the Jar, The Wild Rover, and Rocky Road to Dublin as well as classic rock and popular covers like Folsom Prison Blues, Thunderstruck and Take On Me, with a half dozen more.
The album does a great job at capturing the spirit and the vibe the duo produces with Colm’s signature fast, percussive acoustic guitar rhythms and Roddy’s bright and lighthearted mandolin standing out ontop of the mix. Their rendition of The Wild Rover especially gives a sense of the back and forth banter the two are known for engaging in between and even during songs.
Their interpretation of the traditional reel The Moving Cloud is particularly demonstrative of Roddy’s proficiency with playing Celtic melodies. That and his dynamite mandolin lead on Whiskey in the Jar really helps to ground the disk’s versatile song selection in the Irish musical tradition from which the duo emerges.
While Live Craic is a good listen its only drawback is that you don’t get the full experience of all the antics of a Guinness Brothers live show. How could it? So, the only way to rectify this is to download this album now and make sure you catch the Guinness Brothers live at one of the various venues in which they perform throughout Europe and the United States.
* In case you haven’t figured it out by now, “craic” is a traditional Irish word for fun, joviality, or living comedy. It’s derives front the same root from which we Americans get the idea of “cracking jokes.”