HOW TO DEBATE YOUR RELATIVES ON THE SUBJECT OF DIE HARD BEING A CHRISTMAS MOVIE.

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Holidays can be tense these days; there are certain subjects that dredge unwanted tensions, dark secrets, and myriad of other unpleasant situations.

Few subjects, however, draw as much ire to the age-old debate that has been tearing us apart for over 30 years: is the 1988 Bruce Willis movie Die Hard a Christmas movie?

Obviously, the answer is yes, but like flat-earthers, creationists, and people who say The Beatles suck, some people are unwilling to embrace reality and accept this proven truth.

Thankfully, I, the Neil Degrasse Tyson of this argument, is here to provide you with the tools to shut down the myths the uneducated use to further their ridiculous point of view.

Listed below are the three myths people on the wrong side of this debate throw in your face, along with a series of quick, easy and most importantly fact based refutations that will leave your opponents feeling like Ellis when his plan to get McClane to give Hans the detonators by pretending to be his friend backfired spectacularly. 

MYTH 1: ‘Die Hard would be the exact same movie if you set it on any other day of the year.

Congratulations, you payed absolutely no attention the plot of the movie whatsoever. For Hans’s plan to be successful, two things needed to happen:

  1. Nakatomi Plaza had to be almost completely empty.
  2. Police response had to be incredibly slow because most people would’ve taken the day off and weren’t expecting any sort of emergency call-in.

Remember, Hans and his men weren’t really terrorists; their ultimate goal was to break into the vault and steal the building’s money. They needed just enough hostages to cause a distraction, and the 30 or so people at the Nakatomi Corporation’s Christmas party was perfect. By only taking the 30th floor hostage as opposed to multiple floors, it gave them ample opportunity for them to move freely throughout the rest of the building and cut the computer systems for the vault while Hans dicked the cops and the FBI around.

Of course, Hans didn’t account for John McClane, ‘the fly in the ointment, monkey in the wrench, pain in the ass,’ to completely fuck his plan to all hell.

MYTH # 2: The spirit of Christmas is completely absent.

While this argument might work when discussing the visuals of the film, it doesn’t really apply to the film in regards to plot (which we’ve discussed), the events, or the character development.

The general archetype of any the more ‘traditional’ Christmas movies are usually amalgam of the following tropes:

  1. A man trying to get home to his family and encountering a series of obstacles.
  2. Achieving some sort of redemption that renews their faith in love, the holiday, and / or humanity in general.

Die Hard fits the bill just fine in these regards: John McClane is estranged from his family due to his own arrogance and rigid adherence to his job. He’s cynical, angry and edgy when we first meet him, albeit with a likable wit and nonchalant demeanor.

The onus of this rift isn’t entirely on John: Holly doesn’t seem to sympathize with the fact that John really doesn’t a ‘pick up and go’ sort of job, and that his reasons for not coming to Los Angeles with her had little to do with jealousy or lack of support. Both characters need a sort of Christmas Carol-esque ‘dark night of the soul,’ and boy do they get it.

Beyond that, the general sense of family, love and togetherness we associate with Christmas adds both emotional heft and tension to a lot of the movie’s most nail biting moments. When Hans Gruber mentions that George Takagi is a father of five and kills him minutes later, we can’t help but think of his family waiting for him to come home for Christmas, unaware of his fate.

There’s also Al Powell, the hapless cop who becomes McClane’s best friend; he’s got a kid on the way, and is missing Christmas and possibly the birth of his kid just because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. As John and Al grow closer throughout the film, we bite our nails in anticipation if they ever get to meet face to face. The development of their friendship throughout the film is one of its most powerful and moving attributes, and is a major step in McClane’s own journey to make things right with his family. (Powell achieves his own redemption when he gets over his guilt for shooting a kid by accident, drawing his gun and killing the last remaining terrorist).

Even seemingly less important moments like the FBI cutting the power on thousands of families, or Argyle the limo driver helplessly waiting in the parking garage, become empathetic moments for the audience simply because of the vibe we associate with Christmas.

I hope this article is informative and helpful, and convinces at least one poor soul out there to embrace what we’ve all known for years: Die Hard is the best Christmas movie of all time.

REMEMBERING TOM PETTY

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Where does one begin in writing about Tom Petty’s death? Do you talk about the shock of it, how he had just finished a tour two weeks ago and seemed to be still very much at the top of his game as a writer and performer? Do you jump straight to his incredible body of work, one of the strongest and most consistent in all of rock and roll? Or do you talk about the man himself, who by all accounts was a down to earth, straightforward and caring man to his family, friends and fans?

Losing someone as omnipresent in the cultural landscape as Petty is never easy to grasp; there are gonna be a day or a month or a year from now when you’re singing along with “American Girl” on the radio and you say to yourself, ‘Is he really gone?’ It happened with Prince, with Bowie, with Chris Cornell, all of whom were active literally until the day they died. Musicians, more than perhaps anyone on the planet, have a way of becoming our friends without ever actually knowing us, because their ability to communicate basic emotions and relatable situations resonate with us is so unqiuely visceral. I know the characters in “American Girl,” in “Free Fallin’,” in “Refugee”: they’re desperate, rebellious and incredibly complex, dealing with the harsh light of reality as only they know how. I’ve been there. Currently, and for the foreseeable future, I’m the love struck guy in “The Waiting,” in “Here Comes My Girl,” in “Angel Dream.” My girlfriend is a huge Tom Petty fan and we’ve bonded over this shared quality as much as any of our other commonalities.

Petty’s career began in 1977, when he and the Heartbreakers released their self-titled debut album, which yielded classics like “Breakdown” and the immortal “American Girl,” which has been the soundtrack to everything from super bowls to The Silence of the Lambs. It wasn’t until 1979’s Damn the Torpedoes that Petty cemented his success, perfecting the laid back image and breezy sound that would define the rest of his career. As a writer, Petty combined Springsteen-esque cinematic detail with a pop sensibility similar to the great Brill Building writers; it was this combo that made Petty both a critic’s darling and a commercial juggernaut, a tightrope very few artists have managed to walk as easily. “Free Fallin,” “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” aren’t just catchy hits, they’re excellent songs with memorable characters and meaning that resonates with all of us.

The song of Petty’s that resonates most with me is “Learning to Fly,” a song all about getting up and keeping on despite the hardships life throws at you:

“Well some say life will beat you down

Break your heart, steal your crown

So I’ve started out, for God knows where

I guess I’ll know when I get there.

I’m learning to fly

But I ain’t got wings

And coming down

Is the hardest thing.”

I know you got there, Tom.

MUSIC IN THE AGE OF DRUMPF, PT. 3: SOUNDGARDEN’S “JESUS CHRIST POSE.”

Exploitation of religion for personal gain did not begin with Donald Trump or the current Republican party. It goes back to the time of Christ himself. But it’s become an American pastime as rich and widespread as baseball or systemic racism, thanks to the likes of such charlatans as Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell, and Joel ‘my teeth are so bright they’re a road hazard’ Osteen.

Over the last year and a half, Donald Trump has been suckling at the teat of the religious right with aplomb, from appearances at anti-LGBTQ organizations to constantly reminding people that The Bible is his favorite book (and that he doesn’t know a single passage by heart) to choosing a man who caused an AIDS epidemic in his own state when he was governor as vice president. Trump played the religious right like a harp from hell (to borrow a rather biting quote from Danny DeVito in Batman Returns), convincing them that a conniving, vagina-grabbing, misogynist adulterer was somehow the better choice for president than the woman who’s currently becoming a pastor. Trump may not know how to quote The Bible, but he sure knows how to exploit it.

Soundgarden recorded “Jesus Christ Pose” in 1991 for their breakthrough album, Badmotorfinger. Only a few years had passed since incidents such as the Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart scandals were top stories, convincing the public that televangelists were hypocritical and disingenuous in their faith, concerned primarily with bilking their viewers, which consistently largely of the Midwest working class and little old ladies who wanted something to do with their retirement funds. Whether it was their devastating hateful homophobic rants about AIDS or their numerous extramarital affairs, t.v. preachers were rightfully considered a stain on the moral fabric of America. And yet, they still found and are finding audiences.

“Jesus Christ Pose” is one of the angriest songs I’ve ever heard; the guitars and drums are fast and furious, like the musical equivalent of a stampede. And then, after a minute or so, comes the voice from on high, like a freight train running through your senses:

“Aaand you staaare at me in your Jesus Christ Pose…”*

Chris Cornell was renowned for the authority and intensity he could conjure in his vocals, his well-honed distortion and grit skills adding power and weight to his already commanding voice. On “Jesus Christ Pose,” he sounds like he’s trying to level a small town with his voice. The anger is palpable. I don’t know if Cornell was necessarily a Christian, but he did speak highly of Jesus Christ, and is certainly incensed at what’s going in his name.

Most of all, “Jesus Christ Pose” is about calling out the martyr complex used to gain sympathy with the gullible, who beg for money in the name of God so they can fuel their hedonistic lifestyle under the guise of piety. Chris is having none of that shit.

The most biting passage in the song’s five minutes comes in its final verse, where Cornell asks pointedly whether these heretics are willing to make any real sacrifice:

“Arms held out

In your Jesus Christ pose

Thorns and shroud

Like it’s the coming of the Lord

Would it pain you more to walk on water

Than to wear a crown of thorns?

It wouldn’t pain me more to bury you rich

Than to bury you poor.”*

The song ends with one of Cornell’s most insane screams, a culmination of the anger and rage he’s been conveying throughout the song.

“Jesus Christ Pose” became an instant classic, perhaps second to “Black Hole Sun” as the band’s most recognizable song. The controversial video, which featured the band performing in a desert amidst flashes of subliminal religious imagery, was banned from MTV, giving the song even more notoriety.

“Jesus Christ Pose” is a song the band performed regularly right up to Cornell’s tragic passing in May; he never did a version where he didn’t sing the lyrics with conviction and venom, probably because the song has never stopped being relevant. Thanks to the current political climate, it will likely be for another 25 years.

*All credit goes to Chris Cornell, Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron, and Ben Shepherd, Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, BMG Rights Management US, LLC

REVIEW: Netflix’s ATYPICAL.

CAST: Keir Gilchrist, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Amy Okuda, Michael Rapaport

Me and my girlfriend both have Asperger’s syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. We also love watching t.v. and movies. These two commonalities combined when I first saw the trailer for Atypical, a Netflix original series about a young teen with autism who starts dating for the first time in his life.

Autism has been portrayed fairly often in recent years in pop culture; from the obvious entries such as Rain Man to the unconfirmed theories that Sheldon Cooper is an aspie, the spectrum has become a common motif. It has been tackled with various degrees of success in terms of accurately portraying it, but also as being sympathetic to those in real life with the condition. The latter was my big worry with Atypical.

Atypical is the story of the Gardner family, and how their dynamic often hinges on the progression and regression of Sam (Keir Gilchrist), a teenager with high functioning autism who needs constant attention. His mother, Elsa (Jennifer Jason Leigh, in an Emmy worthy performance) has spent her whole life monitoring Sam’s behaviors and quirks, to the point where she almost lost almost any sense of freedom or identity of her own. By contrast, his father, Doug (Michael Rapaport, equally affective and moving), has never been able to forge a relationship with him, due to his inability to grasp the complexities of his condition and never being able to do typical ‘dad’ stuff with his son. Finally, Sam’s younger sister, Casey (Brigette Lundy-Paine), is Sam’s caregiver, providing him with lunch money at school and defending him against bullies; it’s not a role she necessarily relishes, as it interferes with her relationship, her social life, and her promising career as a track star.

When Sam’s therapist, Julia (Amy Okuda), suggests that Sam start dating and form a relationship, the Gardners’ lives are thrown into a tailspin. As Sam begins to become more comfortable with being on his own and developing his independence, Elsa is forced to confront her own lack of independence, as she has attached her entire purpose in life on her vigilance for Sam. This leads her down a path that threatens to shatter her family irreparably. By contrast, Doug begins to finally bond with his son, as Sam’s constant questions about girls and relationships allow him to finally find a subject to relate and help him with. Casey is finally given breathing room to not have to worry about Sam, although her mom’s attempts to replace Sam’s issues with hers drives a wedge between them and occasionally leads to rebellious and poorly thought out retaliations.

The most crucial and impressive element of Atypical is how much it gets right; while my own position on the autism spectrum is higher than Sam’s in terms of overall functionality and social skills, I still find myself relating to the struggles he faces early on the series: I found it impossible to smile properly at girls without looking deranged, I made grand and often inappropriate statements of affection to women who either didn’t like me back or could never be with me for practical reasons (age, etc.), I bragged about sexual misadventures at inappropriate moments. Furthermore, Sam’s relationship with my parents mirrors my own. My mother was very hands-on until I finally had to assert myself that I was capable of being independent and handling the difficulties of life and relationships, as well as basic tasks I struggled with when I was younger. My dad, like Doug, struggled for years to find common ground with me, but eventually we developed a healthy, loving and thriving relationship. And my younger sister has always looked out for me, often to chagrin of my ego and the idea that a little sister shouldn’t have to look out for her older brother.

Special credit must go to Gilchrist, who portrays Sam with a genuine sense of understanding and sympathy. It is very obvious he did the homework for the role, so to speak. His performance is up there with Hoffman in Rain Man as one of the most accurate and touching portrayals of those on the spectrum. The show’s creator, Robia Rashid, also gets huge plaudits from me, as she is largely responsible for the show’s success in handling its subject matter.

Atypical is essential viewing for families who have relatives on the autism spectrum, or just for people looking to understand the complexities of it with a better understanding.

GRADE: A

WHY BORN IN THE U.S.A. IS THE ESSENTIAL PATRIOTIC ANTHEM (FOR THOSE WHO UNDERSTAND IT).

Perhaps no hit song in the last 40 years has been misinterpreted, misrepresented and misused as much as Bruce Springsteen’s signature anthem, “Born in the U.S.A.” Every July 4th, you will hear that cannon blast synth riff and defiantly sung chorus, as millions of beer drinking yahoos sing along beating their chest thinking the song is about how flawless America is.

The misconception of “Born in the U.S.A.” began shortly after the song’s release in 1984. The album of the same name, featuring the now iconic image of Springsteen standing in front of the American flag in a pair of blue jeans, launched Springsteen to super-stardom and made him a household name; that included the White House, as Ronald Reagan decided to play the song at his various re-election campaign rallies around the countries. By putting emphasis on the chorus, which simply features the title repeated over and over again, the song lost context and left many to see it as a sort of modern day pop Star Spangled Banner.

Of course, it’s anything but. “Born in the U.S.A.” is the story of a Vietnam veteran recounting how his country failed him upon returning home, refusing to provide him with employment, benefits, or anything to help him with live with the scars of war. The song began life as a haunting acoustic number during the sessions for Springsteen’s now legendary Nebraska album in 1982, a record in which The Boss explored the darker side of the American Dream by embodying those who never attained it. The song ultimately didn’t make the final cut, leaving it to be revisited in the sessions for Bruce’s next record, which was intended to be more commercial.

The album Born in the U.S.A. was intended to be more commercial, as Nebraska failed to win mainstream success despite performing brilliantly with critics. Bruce began experimenting with more hook based melodies as well as modern drum machines and synthesizers, giving way to songs such as “Dancing in the Dark” and “Glory Days,” as well as five other Top 10 singles from the album. Over the course of the sessions, “Born in the U.S.A.” grew from a quiet acoustic dirge into a powerful, bombastic rocker, punctuated primarily by Bruce’s aggressive vocals, Roy Bittan’s iconic synth hook, and Mighty Max Weinberg’s explosive drumming; the final song was a violent masterpiece of sound and fury.

Anyone with ears and a brain can see from the first lines that the song is an indictment rather than a love letter:

“Born down in a dead man’s town

The first kick I took was when I hit the ground.

End up like a dog that’s been beat too much

Till you spend half your life just covering up.”

These are not the words of a man standing in front of his barbecue, shotgunning Coors Lights and wearing a bald eagle shirt; the narrator has clearly been neglected by his country. As his identity becomes clearer throughout the song, so does the meaning behind it:

“Come back home to the refinery

Hiring man said ‘Son, if it were up to me…’

Went down to see my V.A. man

He said ‘Son, don’t you understand?’

The song is one of many of Bruce’s sympathetic ballads devoted to the plight of the Vietnam Vet; “Shut Out the Light,” “The Wall,” “Brothers Under the Bridge,” and numerous others present a similar tale of frustration and sadness, putting a light on one of the most shameful periods in our country’s history. Through these songs, Bruce managed to give a voice to these veterans on a national scale, something they not have been achieved without him; that’s not hyperbole, Vietnam Veterans for America founder Bob Mueller has said it himself.

Unfortunately, the song became lost in translation almost immediately thanks to Reagan’s co-opting of it. The song’s chorus became a shout of pride rather than ironic detraction, and the song’s violent riff became a sound of excitement rather than fury. Of course, the blame can’t fall solely on Reagan: Bruce opening each concert on the tour – his biggest ever – standing in front of the American flag, decked out in an all American outfit consisting of ripped denim and a star-spangled bandana, looking like Rambo with his newfound muscular physique, no doubt had something to do with it.

Since its release, Bruce has worked tirelessly to re-educate Americans on the true meaning of the song, often performing it in its original acoustic form, or including PSA’s about the Iraq War before the song during the Rising Tour, or simply not performing it for many years. Despite these efforts, “Born in the U.S.A.” remains a staple of July 4th weekend.

And you know what? It really should be. If anything, “Born in the U.S.A.” becomes even more fundamentally American when you understand the song, because it speaks to the greatest freedom we have as a country: dissent. It is a song that takes it country to task for its sins, a rallying cry for us as a nation to decry jingoism and fix what’s broken. In the age of Donald Trump, where are our flaws are more apparent than ever (especially our president’s failure to provide meaningful benefits to veterans), the song’s message rings louder and clearer than ever to those willing to listen to and really understand it.

No artist in music has done a better job at analyzing the American Dream vs. the American Reality than The Boss, and “Born in the U.S.A.” is truly his magnum opus when it comes to his ability to create an honest, ‘warts and all’ portrayal of what’s good and what’s terrible about our country. Remember this when Ted ‘I Shit My Pants to Get Out of the Draft and Then Insulted Vets in An Interview’ Nugent rambles on about supporting the troops.

REVIEW: Baby Driver

baby-driver-1200-1200-675-675-crop-000000_zpsoujtutkgBaby Driver

Director: Edgar Wright

Cast: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Eiza Gonzales

Rating: R

Genre: Action, Thriller, Comedy

I can’t remember the last time a film intrigued me just based on a trailer as much as Edgar Wright’s latest, Baby Driver. With its solid cast, original plot and characters, and killer soundtrack, it had all the makings of a new favorite. Having finally seen it last night, I can safely say Wright not only met my expectations but exceeded them.

Ansel Elgort stars as the titular Baby, a highly skilled getaway driver for a revolving door of bank robbers employed by crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey), whom he owes a significant amount of debt to. Baby’s driving prowess is powered by his love of music; his trusty iPod is always on hand during a job, drowning out a bad case of tinnitus he acquired in a tragic car accident as a kid. He lives with a foster parent, Joe, who is wheelchair bound and unable to speak except through sign language. It is Joe’s concern for Baby’s life of crime that is the primary motivation for him to go straight after one last gig. That is, until he meets Debora (Lily James), a diner waitress with a heart of gold and a voice like silk. Baby and Debora bond over their love of music and need to drive away to a better life, the latter unaware of Baby’s occupation.

When Doc ropes Baby in for one last job, things begin to shift into high gear when he’s introduced to Batts (Jamie Foxx), a genuine psychopath with no respect and a willingness to kill just for the fun of it. Batts’ ‘loose cannon’ attitude creates tension with Baby as well as the two other constants in Doc’s crew, lovers Buddy and Darling (Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzales), the former of whom is the only member who seems to have some level of respect for Baby. This tension ultimately leads to Baby’s work life, home life, and love life coinciding in the worst way possible, leading to an explosive finale that words cannot do justice to.

As an action film, a love story, and even a black comedy, Baby Driver succeeds on every level. The car chases are filmed beautifully, giving the audience a vicarious adrenaline jolt without resorting to the fast paced, seizure inducing editing that highlights Michael Bay debacles. The relationship between Baby and Debora is unconventional and endearing, making you root for them from start to finish. Finally, the film is frequently hilarious, from Baby’s never ending supply of sunglasses to a mask purchasing expedition that gets lost in translations to just about every one of Foxx’s lines, few films blend together genres so beautifully.

For all the great writing and direction, what really makes Baby Driver crackle is the cast: Elgort plays Baby with the perfect mix of ‘aw, shucks’ naivety and James Dean-esque swagger, often having to rely on facial expressions and gestures as opposed to heavy dialog to make the character come to life, and doing so effectively. James is perfect as Debora; while it’s essentially a damsel role, James plays her with such a purity that it’s impossible not to endear yourself to her when her affair with Baby becomes a life threatening situation. Spacey, of course, is his usual dynamic self, playing Doc as cold and stoic, but also managing to convey a subtle layer of genuine concern for Baby’s well-being. Gonzalez plays Darling with the perfect sort of grimy sex appeal needed to counteract with James’ innocence.

Finally, there’s Jon Hamm, who simply steals the show as Buddy; aside from Baby, Hamm’s character has the most depth of any character in the film, pivoting seamlessly between friend and foe on a dime and really endearing you to him even in his sleaziest moments. His relationship with Darling, along with Hamm’s natural charisma, make him a complex antagonist rarely seen in action films these days. Though Hamm has won acclaim since his Don Draper days, his performance in Baby Driver truly shows the profundity of his skills, giving an Oscar worthy turn.

In what has been a largely hit-or-miss year for non-franchise films (Logan, Guardians Vol. 2, Wonder Woman), Baby Driver stands out as an exciting, original and instantly memorable film. See it yesterday, it’s that good.

GRADE: A

It’s Only a Victory If We Let Them Win.

I have been going to concerts since I was 8 years old. I’ve been fortunate to have seen some incredible acts put on amazing shows over the years.
 
At their best, concerts represent what music is all about: coming together, uniting us under a shared passion for a particular artist or song that has impacted our lives exponentially. Some of my fondest memories as a concert goer are those communal moments: chatting with strangers about past concerts and favorite songs as if we knew each other forever, the high fives being passed around as the lights went down, the artist-goaded audience singalongs of “Born to Run” or “Hey Jude.” It’s what great art is all about.
 
I’m sure those seeing Ariana Grande last night were looking to share the same experiences. Many may have been kids going to their first concerts.
 
When news about the bombing ripped through the headlines last night, my blood ran cold. I thought about how scary it could be to be in that environment, how dumbfounding it must have been when the mood changed from joyous to terrified in an instant. I thought back to 9/11, where security at Madison Square Garden was at an all time high and we lived with our own fears. To see them come to life is surreal.
 
The natural response to this is fear. It’s what they want. It’s what they thrive on. We can’t let it win. We can’t let them win.
 
My heart is sick this morning: for those killed or maimed, for their loved ones, for Ariana Grande. An attack on music is an attack on art, which is an attack on the human spirit. The proper response is to fight back.
 
Go to concerts, go to festivals, revel in that communal spirit. Remind yourself of how music is there to bring us together. Dance, sing, embrace. Laugh, cry. Do it all and do it together.

REMEMBERING CHRIS CORNELL, THE DEFINITIVE VOICE OF ROCK AND ROLL.

The first time I heard Chris Cornell’s voice, it was like getting a high five from God: the force and might that it hit with you with seemed something otherworldly. As a singer, Cornell was a sort of Frankenstein in the best possible sense: he could wail like Robert Plant or Steven Tyler, belt like Freddie Mercury or Paul McCartney, croon like Smokey Robinson, and emote as convincingly as Sinatra; his stylistic range ran the gamut from his signature rock belting to soul to blues to folk. Best of all, Cornell used these traits to create a style distinctly his own, an imitable instrument that influenced the future and forced the past to step up their game.

Vocally and as a writer, Cornell stood head and shoulders above his compatriots in the grunge scene: Weiland sang as good as him, Vedder wrote as good as him, and Cobain and Staley captured emotions as well as him, but no one could do it all like he could. To hear Chris at his absolute peak, one needn’t look further than 1991, when he released Badmotorfinger with Soundgarden and Temple of the Dog with the short lived supergroup of the same name; songs like “Slaves and Bulldozers,” “Jesus Christ Pose,” and “Say Hello 2 Heaven” rank among the finest vocals the human voice has ever produced, filled with soul and power. The next five years were filled with incredible highlights showcasing his talent, soul and versatility: “Birth Ritual,” “Black Hole Sun,” “Like Suicide,” “Pretty Noose,” “Blow Up the Outside World,” and so much more.

After Soundgarden broke up and the grunge scene faded, Cornell adapted accordingly, releasing the brilliant and pitifully underrated Euphoria Mourning in 1999; songs like “Can’t Change Me, “When I’m Down,” and “Wave Goodbye” showed a mature, introspective and quieter side to his artistry that wasn’t appreciated at the time. In 2003, he formed Audioslave with Tom Morello, introducing his beastly voice to new generations with songs like “Gasoline,” “Like a Stone,” and “Doesn’t Remind Me.” He also recorded You Know My Name for the 2006 James Bond revival Casino Royale, expanding his audience and influence further.

In 2010, Cornell reunited with Soundgarden, returning to the sound that made him famous; though his high range weakened slightly, he still sang with the same soul and verve as in his prime. The last decade of his life, however, were defined by his transcendent acoustic shows; during these, he ascended to the realm of ‘troubadour,’ commanding the stage with just his voice, his guitar, and his unique charisma, humor, and stories. Knowing what new ground he was covering and how vibrant, active and seemingly happy he seemed to be makes Cornell’s death (ruled a suicide as of now) all the more shocking and tragic. He was a once in a lifetime talent. I’m just glad it was my lifetime.

“No one sings like you anymore.”

1964-2017.

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REVIEW: HARRY STYLES – HARRY STYLES

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Is former boy band heartthrob Harry Styles the new Jeff Buckley? No, of course not, that’s silly, but you’d be forgiven for initially thinking that when hearing the opening track of Styles’ eponymous debut album, “Meet Me in the Hallway,” a somber acoustic ballad whose ethereal quality and wisp-y vocal performance would not be out of place on Buckley’s seminal Grace.

Buckley is one of several artists to whom the sonic landscape of the album harkens back to; the elegiac “Sign of the Times,” the album’s debut single, recalls the grandiose power-pop ballads of Badfinger and The Raspberries. “Only Angel” sounds like an outtake from Chris Cornell’s 1999 solo debut Euphoria Morning.

If, however, you think I’m accusing Styles of shamelessly imitating artists with richer, more dynamic careers than him in an effort to be taken seriously, I am not. While he certainly wears his influences on his sleeve, Styles still brings his own unique personality and charisma to each of the album’s 10 songs, all of which range from ‘good’ to ‘excellent.’ Some of the album’s highlight include the aforementioned “Sign of the Times,” the slinky “Carolina,” the seedy ‘girl gone bad’ blues rocker “Kiwi,” and the somber “Ever Since New York,” another song with a very Buckley-esque quality.

More impressive than the quality of the songs is Styles’ vocal capabilities; even in the slightest 1D songs, Styles showed himself to be quite a formidable singer, but here he really shows his chops, taking on a variety of tones and colors that show incredible prowess. “Sign of the Times” is probably the best example of Styles’ newfound capabilities, alternating between full throated, emotive belting and tender, Buckley-esque falsetto crooning with incredible ease.

Time will tell if Styles’ debut is a signpost for future greatness for the maturing former teen idol or a fluke; either way, he’s got my attention.

Harry Styles is available through Erskine and Columbia Records. Always support the artist.