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Movie Review: Anvil: The Story of Anvil

AnvilThose who know me know that I grew up on 80’s metal. Mostly because that’s how I learned how to play the guitar…and partially because it was the coolest thing going (sorry, INXS / Depeche Mode / Whatever Other Pouty Band You Can Name Next). I thought I had heard of every 80’s metal band, but I had not heard of Anvil. Now that I’ve watched Anvil: The Story of Anvil, I understand why.

Anvil, founded in Canada in 1973 by Steve (Lips) Kudlow and Robb Reiner (no, not that* Rob Reiner), shot to fame in 1982 with their first, and most influential metal record, Metal On Metal. Cited by Metallica, Megadeth, Guns ‘n Roses and many other 80’s era metal gods as one of the original groups to forge the “Heavy Metal” template, Anvil rapidly faded into obscurity, thanks to the now-typical laundry list of music industry landmines: shitty management, horrid tour booking and awful follow-up record production. Take those three ingredients and repeat them for the next 20 years and you have Anvil.

The story doesn’t dwell on their fireball start in the industry but quickly humanizes every member by documenting their present-day worlds. Unfortunately for them, they are unable to make ends meet purely by their music, and we’re taken along for an intimate, sobering and sometimes lighthearted tour of their shitty jobs and broken dreams. Miraculously, the core of the band (Kudlow and Reiner) remained best friends and refused to stop rocking.

Luckily, after a terrible European “tour” that was booked by a rabid, incoherent female Czech fan, inspiration strikes Kudlow on the lips. He decides to send a demo CD of their latest tunes to the original producer of Metal On Metal. To their surprise, the producer gives it a go (with the appropriate amount of funding from the band, of course) and pulls the band together to complete their 13th studio record, aptly titled “This Is Thirteen.”

Anvil then tries to go the old-school route by sending out CDs to record labels for distribution deals. It takes a few rejections before they turn to the power of the Internet and social media to get the word out. Luckily things take off and they triumphantly return to Tokyo, Japan to play a festival, and they kill. And that, my friends, is just the beginning of Anvil’s new lease on life.

With a strangely compelling and charismatic band and blindly supportive yet weary and sympathetic family members, it’s hard to imagine how Director Sacha Gervasi couldn’t make you hope for Anvil to pull it out of the fire. With great editing, great pacing, and just enough drama without seeming like it’s from a reality tv show, it’s no wonder this film won so many awards.

Anvil: The Story of Anvil, is one hell of a story. Forget that it deals with an 80’s metal band. Or they’re from Canada (not that there’s anything wrong with that ;-)). Any sympathetic human being would find this film to be moving, uplifting and inspiring. Said person might even venture to iTunes and buy their music after hearing their latest stuff. Go see it and turn it up!

Final verdict: 4 out of 5 beers. I dare to say this is the all-around best rock music film ever made. Better than It Might Get Loud, better than Spinal Tap, and better than the U2: Rattle & Hum. I would have given it 5 out of 5 if it had an amazing live guitar solo moment, but it didn’t.

Greener Pastures

As it turns out, I did find a new job. I’m at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, Missouri. Technically, the company is located in Missouri but we now live in Kansas. On this side of the road, it’s Kansas. The other? You get the idea.

Anyway, we’re slowly adjusting to this new environment. We chose to lease a place for 2 years instead of buy. Hmm, Matt’s not motivated to buy* a house lately? Go figure!

Realistically we only had 4 days to find a place, and this was the best of the lot. It’s certainly a nice house and neighborhood, but we’re just not able to determine if this is the final destination.

The job is good and nuts at the same time. Tons of massive corporate change plus a bad economy makes for alot of freaked out people making interesting decisions.

Melissa and the kids are trying their best to assimilate and meet as many neighbors as possible. It’s not easy but luckily they are all quite cute, which I’m certain helps in their efforts. 😉

When I explain what I’m doing in Kansas, I say imagine if a big tsunami rose up out of the Great Lakes and just washed us to Kansas. That’s what it feels like. We had to sell our house in a short sale. We said goodbye to the investment we put into it, all of our friends and family, and fled the flood.

We feel eternally grateful for Hallmark lining up at the right time like it did. It really was an amazing feat and we will never forget it.

Luckily I’m in a great position to bring my expertise to bear in ways that I didn’t imagine prior to accepting the offer. Many things are in the works and I can honestly say that I can see some really impressive developments coming from Hallmark.

I’m excited, inspired, and most of all, tired.

I wish my Detroit comrades only the best and consistently say great things about the auto industry when asked. We truly didn’t bring this cataclysmic change upon ourselves and the outside world needs to understand that. They like to think the domestics just weren’t selling well, therefore they are having hard financial times. The national media has done an amazing job casting this as a sales issue rather than a complicated financial industry chain effect.

Other than work, I’m listening to the audiobook of Craig Ferguson’s “American On Purpose” and it’s great stuff. I’m hoping to set up a band here, but I know that’s really just crazy talk. I can’t even imagine the logistics of such an effort with everything else I have going on.

Adam Lambert

I’ve only seen Adam Lambert sing a handful of songs now on American Idol but I’m starting to hear a pattern. Starts low, jumps into jazzy broadway-esque musical theater only to push the upper register throughout the last third of the song until he unleashes that god-awful failed 80’s metal band screech. Too predictable and seriously, when he hits that high note where his tongue falls out of his head, I literally have to look away because my ears react like a dog to a dog whistle. I can’t stand the sound.

I wonder if Adam got the huge review last night because the judges know people actually don’t want to vote for him and they want to keep him in the competition. My wife doesn’t think so. She actually likes him.

12 Notes

I just read a so-so interview with Eddie Van Halen and he had one interesting response to a question that I think really sums up his entire approach to music:

“You only have 12 notes. Do what you want with them.”

I love that notion.

In my college band days, I never wrote the lyrics but loved writing music. One night in my apartment, I was trying to write some new stuff. I became annoyed after a little while because I kept starting with chords that I already knew so I grabbed a 20 sided die that I had laying around in a junk drawer.

I started to roll the die and write down each number in the order they were rolled and tried to make a song from it.

Here’s the result of that night. This track was recorded in a studio in one take:

Driven

50 Things About Me

This blog, founded on June 1, 2004, is written and produced by Matt Binkowski.

Matt and baby Elise

1. I have been happily married for 14 years to my best friend, partner in crime, and all around love of my life.

2. My daughter Elise is perfectly cute, funny and smart as a whip. My baby boy Miles crashed the party on November 29, 2008.

3. I collect old Apple hardware:
– 1 Apple Pippin (Developer’s Edition)
– 1 Emate
– 2 Newtons (130 and 2100)
– 1 Interactive TV Prototype.

4. I started playing guitar when I was age 15.

5. My hollow-body aluminum strat was hand-built by a gifter luthier, Tom Murray.

6. I’ve driven a Wrangler over log piles, shale beaches, large boulders, through flooded trails, on the Rubicon Trail and the Chrysler Proving Grounds.

7. I like to think I’m a good painter and draftsman.

8. My dog lives on a 20 acre ranch in California and I miss him every day.

9. I lost my home, job, friends and savings thanks to the financial collapse in 2009 but somehow we were rescued and my family is okay.

10. I need to be challenged wherever I work.

11. If I’m watching a band is playing at a bar, I get nervous because I’ll feel like I’m up next.

12. My favorite color was blue and now it’s red.

13. I am an Eagle Scout and once won the Summer Camp-wide Archery competition.

14. I think Flash is the least usable application a designer has to deal with.

15. I used to live in California during the big internet boom and I miss that optimistic culture.

16. I rarely use my iPod Newton.

17. I love my iPod iPhone.

18. I find my Newton iPhone more useful than my iPod Newton.

19. I once fell from the roof of my Mom and Dad’s house and I didn’t get hurt.

20. I’ve never broken or sprained anything.

21. I once camped outside for 24 hours while it was 10 degrees below 0.

22. I once played in a band described by the Metro Times as “Detroit’s most offensive hardcore band.”

23. I took that as a compliment.

24. I loved playing in that band because our live shows were so crazy.

25. I painted three life-size oil portraits of my friends for my senior thesis in art school.

26. My college band performed a show in front of AC/DC’s lead singer and 800 high school kids. (it was so odd to see Brian Johnson just 30 feet away from me watching us play.)

27. There’s something comforting to me about a buddy list that makes me think I’m able to keep up with friends.

28. I take other people’s old Macintosh computers when they mention throwing them out because in some weird way it feels wrong.

29. I am determined to create my own OS X iPhone app.

30. I bought a Jeep so I could learn how to take it apart.

31. I hate being bored.

32. I have a good way of being calm in hairy situations.

33. I can’t cook anything except Crazy Pancakes.

34. Even those don’t turn out very well every time.

35. I wish Google Maps was able to send info to my Newton.

36. I’m somewhat addicted to the news, especially during election years.

37. I can’t watch CNN for very long before it stresses me out.

38. I once hiked over 100 miles in 1 week in New Mexico while carrying a backpack that weighed over 40 pounds.

39. I only drive the speed limit when I drive with my family.

40. I can draw Dora the Explorer.

41. I really can’t stand Dora the Explorer. I’m really learning to like Dora now that my daughter is so caught up in the Disney princesses who need to be married in order to “be complete.”

42. I can do all of the Winnie the Pooh voices.

43. I drink too much coffee and not enough water. Too personal? Maybe…

44. My first guitar teacher taught me Puff the Magic Dragon. Then I quit and learned how to play by listening to the radio.

45. The first record I ever bought was Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger.

46. The last record I ever bought was Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger.

47. My favorite movie is Better Off Dead.

48. I have a bad habit of rejecting bands the first time I hear them…and then reject them again a few months later…eventually listening to them religiously about a year down the road.

49. I’ve taken over 8,000 photos and 300 movie clips of my family.

50. I am amazed you made it all the way to the end of this list.

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How Zune Before You Sell Yours?

With user generated content sharing all the rage, along comes Microsoft and their interpretation of “sharing” as it applies to their new “Zune” MP3 player. New York Times tech writer David Pogue took it for a spin and wrote this:

“Microsoft is leaving nothing to chance here. The Zune will be available in 30,000 stores nationwide — versus 10,000 for the iPod, Microsoft says. Zune commercials will run several times during each episode of popular TV shows, bearing the slogan “Welcome to the social.” (Either there’s a noun missing there, or they’re using “social” as a noun, as in “ice cream social.”)

The bigger problem, though, is the draconian copy protection on beamed music (though not photos). You can play a transmitted song only three times, all within three days. After that, it expires. You’re left with only a text tag that shows up on your PC so that — how convenient! — you can buy the song from Microsoft’s store.

This copy protection is as strict as a 19th-century schoolmarm. Just playing half the song (or one minute, whichever comes first) counts as one “play.” You can never resend a song to the same friend. A beamed song can’t be passed along to a third person, either.

What’s really nuts is that the restrictions even stomp on your own musical creations. Microsoft’s literature suggests that if you have a struggling rock band, you could “put your demo recordings on your Zune” and “when you’re out in public, you can send the songs to your friends.” What it doesn’t say: “And then three days later, just when buzz about your band is beginning to build, your songs disappear from everyone’s Zunes, making you look like an idiot.”

[ORIGINALLY POSTED HERE]

And Just Like That

I’m in a band again. Sorta. My bro called yesterday and asked if I’d like to be the rhythm guitarist for a fellow Tribute Night’er who’s recording some new stuff. So, off to the music store I go trying to get my guitar setup again. This should be cool. It seems the drummer is out of the country but will return in a month and record his stuff first, then maybe I’m next. It’s nice to be part of another music thing again, no matter how long it lasts. Off to learning new songs!

Catchin’ Up With Google

This isn’t what you think. For some reason I went to youtube.com and looked up Hot Water Music. They used to play with my band in college and I just wondered if there was anything “out there.”

Well as the internet naturally leads you from one odd place to another, I thought for old time’s sake I’d put some links to what my college band friends are doing today:

Michael Knapp is a successful freelance illustrator living in NYC. He used to be our singer and rhythm guitarist. His style was more pop-alt, which always proved to be a challenge for Casey and myself since we loved writing odd time signatures and melodies.

Casey Stockdon is playing in a gen-u-wyne honkytonk band called the Gin Palace Jesters. Casey used to be my band’s bass player and, oddly enough, the most progressive when it came to music. He was always way out there and intimate with the latest stuff, and a really talented player, from whom I learned alot about songwriting and phrasing.

Hot Water Music. Chuck and George were the two main players in the band that I spoke with the most although at the time, they did have their current bass player, I just didn’t get to really know him at all. HWM were easily the most driven about their music. Partly because they were already doing it full time while we were all trying to get our degrees. I think they’ve done quite well considering the un-radio-friendliness of their music. That’s not to say that they haven’t evolved, but they’re certainly leaning more to the pop center than they were in the beginning. So far, it seems they’ve released a slew of records and toured like maniacs. I think they even have a page on MTV and iTunes, which is pretty cool.

Since our little band had a rotating drummer slot, I really can’t even begin to list all the guys we’ve played with in the past.

Just for fun, here’s a couple MP3s of some of our songs.

Burning Rain

Stray

Worth It All

——

UPDATE: Jun. 19:

Ellie Walsh is alive! I haven’t spoken to her in over 10 years now but she’s livin the life in Manhattan.

Unable to Use Your Own Image

Wow. I just made a quick search for Chris Daughtry’s pre-American Idol band, Absent Element), and found this image:

Naturally, the first thing you would look for on that page is an image of Chris to know where his bio starts on the page. Instead, this group image is in the top right corner of the page. That’s fine. What’s weird is that he’s not in it. Then you read that gray box text. This blew me away:

“Due to Americal Idol rules and regulations, we are unable to put Chris’ picture on the website.”

I heard AI’s contracts are pretty rigorous but this is ridiculous. The guy can’t put his image on his own band’s website even though he was in the band prior to the competition? Does AI use Microsoft’s lawyers to draft their contracts?

Rockstar INXS

I’ve read that many people find this show a joke, and why shouldn’t they? For MONTHS they’d held on to the premise of finding a new lead singer when the truth is, you know right away whether someone is right for your band or not. Trust me, I’ve been through many auditions and you can tell in an instant.

So last night was the finale where 3 singers had one last chance to impress the members of INXS before they get kicked back to obscurity. Correction, that also includes INXS themselves. The band had two quite impressive singers (Marty and Jordis) to choose from all along, but in the end, chose a boy band karaoke singer who really doesn’t fit in with them at all.

I find their choice revealing because instead of relying on their music to bring them back to superstardom, they think a relatively good looking young kid who can barely strike a chord with the audience is what will put them over the top.

Marty, the runner up, kicked so much ass during his final song with INXS that I honestly thought it was a no-brainer for the band. His performance was such a stark contrast to the winner, J.D., that I just couldn’t imagine him losing. He looked like he was a part of that band and didn’t seem nervous about his new role. His stage presence was powerful, the audience was paying attention to him constantly and he wasn’t “leeching off” off the other members of INXS like J.D. did.

What do I mean by leeching? Well, I speak from experience when I say this. When you play in a band and you’re not the lead singer, you do NOT want the lead singer constantly running up to you. His/her job is to pay attention to the audience MORE than the rest of the band members. That position has the most responsibility to maintain a strong connection with the crowd and to gauge how they are feeling.

J.D. spent his entire last song (prior to winning) just essentially buddying up to each guy in the group. For one split second, I could have sworn that I saw their keyboard player (who was on guitar for that song) subtly motion to him to get away and go back up front. I wish I had a picture of that facial expression and slight shrug of the shoulder nudging him back to the crowd.

I also recall thinking, man, INXS is going to play back that tape for him and say, “c’mon mate, your back was to the audience 80% of the time during that song! What gives?”

Anyways, I got hooked into the show toward the end and was shocked to see the winner be the one who wasn’t the best fit. I’m sure Marty is glad he didn’t get picked because he probably would have frustrated INXS as he can actually write songs by himself. I’m not completely aware of INXS’ band dynamics but I bet the brothers in the group were the driving creative forces.