Thursday, February 26, 2015

Return to the Joshua Tree

I spent the morning listening the U Talkin' U2 to Me podcast hosted by Adam Scott (Parks and Rec) and Scott Aukerman (Comedy Bang Bang) and their discussion about The Joshua Tree. I initially turned to this podcast to listen to the late Harris Wittels contributions to the show, but he left halfway through the recording. That's fine because the latter half of this particular episode touched upon side 2 of The Joshua Tree and the lesser known songs from the album (lesser known by anyone unfamiliar with the band besides their radio hits).

Man, that second side is almost perfect. It doesn't contain any of the anthems that side 1 does, and that makes the success of The Joshua Tree all that more remarkable. New fans of the band may have expected a full album of rousing songs that shook the rafters of baseball stadiums. Instead, beginning with the last track on side 1, the heroin tragedy, "Running to Stand Still," the rest  of the songs have a shade of darkness to them, especially the closing tracks, "Exit" (which was one of my late friend Matt's favorites) and the heartbreaking "Mothers of the Disappeared."

I'm listening to The Joshua Tree, as I write this and wait for the nebulizer cups to boil. I wonder what kind of dreams I'll have tonight. Will the ghosts of my dead friends dance with the memories of the friends I've lost touch with? The Joshua Tree was such a high school album, but most of the album has transcended that era. Perhaps someday my kids will discover it and fall in love with the music. One can only hope that such bright, smart and empathetic children will discover this haunting, spiritual record and claim it as their own. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Journey "Frontiers" Reimagined

It's no secret that I'm a diehard Journey fan. Besides growing up listening to their music, the song and story behind their hit from the Vison Quest soundtrack, "Only the Young," has a special meaning to me and the cystic fibrosis community. I frequently go back to their studio albums featuring Steve Perry, although I tend to listen to the first four with Perry (Infinity, Evolution, Departure and Escape) more than the others. Although 1983's Frontiers came out at the peak of their world domination (stadium tours! music videos! two video games!), and although I saw them for the first time on the tour to support that album, I've rarely listened to the LP in the past 32 years. It's not that there are bad songs on Frontiers (mind you, I'm speaking as a Journey fan; Journey haters keep your snide comments to a minimum), it's just that the album is so front heavy with the hits and ballads, and there is a cold bitter tone throughout the record, that returning to has never given me the thrill it did when I was 13.

A few years ago, I wrote a comprehensive overview of the band's history in my Popdose Guide to Journey, reviewing every album by the group. It's an exhaustive read, but I had a good time doing it. One reader commented on Frontiers recommending changing the sequencing of the songs and swapping out one of the lesser tunes for "Only the Young." That song and another soundtrack song, "Ask the Lonely" (featured in the John Travolta/Olivia Newton John movie, Two of a Kind) were recorded during the Frontiers sessions. They were cut at the last minute in favor of "Back Talk" and "Troubled Child" (according to Wikipedia).

I've considered this reader's comment many times over the years (and if you're the person who wrote it, please chime in and take credit), and can only recall a couple of changes he suggested, in particular moving "Frontiers" to the top of side 2 and placing the power ballad, "Faithfully" into the second to last slot on side 2 (where "Frontiers" had been placed).

Over Christmas I gave this a try, and then began toying with the album even more. In addition to "Only the Young," I wanted to find a way to include "Ask the Lonely," which is one of my top 10 Journey songs. This week I came up with a track order that not only included these songs, but gave the record new life, bringing attention to songs that were buried on the second side and omitting two inferior tracks.

Here's how my reimagined Frontiers album looks:

Side 1:

1. "Separate Ways (World's Apart)" - No need to mess with perfection here. This is a great song to kick off any record.

2. "Only the Young" - Originally, "Send Her My Love" filled the second slot. Moving it down one and placing "Only the Young" here gives the record the flow of a concert. Two fast songs in a row keeps the energy up before moving into the first ballad on the record. "Only the Young" is also less angry that "Separate Ways," and a nice break before getting into the bittersweet "Send Her My Love."

3. "Send Her My Love" - Although technically a ballad, I'd call this song a mid-tempo rocker, similar to "Who's Crying Now" from Escape. Although it has quiet moments and is driven by Jonathan Cain's piano playing, the song moves at a fast pace and Neal Schon has an soaring guitar solo at the end.

4. "Edge of the Blade" - My toughest decision was to cut "Chain Reaction" from the album completely. While it's a fun, hard rocking song that appealed to me as a 13-year-old, it really doesn't add anything musically to Frontiers that isn't already covered by other songs. Following "Send Her My Love" with a blistering rocker is still the way to go, though, and shifting "Edge of the BLade" (which originally kicked off side 2) is a great way to achieve that. Additionally, it pulls one of the songs that were relegated to side 2 (often never listened to by casual fans because of the front loaded first side) into the spotlight. In a way, it replicates what "Keep on Runnin'" does on Escape.

5. "After the Fall" - This sometimes forgotten hit is a good way to close out the first side. It brings you down nicely from the assault of "Edge of the Blade," and has an excellent fade out that you can imagine ending with a needle lifting off of vinyl or a cassette deck snapping off.

Side 2:

1. "Frontiers" - An odd, experimental song, I never understood why "Frontiers" was shoved to the end of side 2. It has a really interesting percussion pattern by Steve Smith, Journey's excellent drummer. The way the song opens with the sound of wind and ends with the band a capella makes it a fine way to begin the second side.

2. "Ask the Lonely" - Inserting this great rocker as the second song of side 2 brings you back to the trademarks of Journey. It features the band's great harmonies, an impassioned vocal performance by Perry, and one of Schon's most succinct and melodic guitar solos. It also replaces the inferior "Back Talk", which was never a good song. Aside from the great drum beat on "Back Talk," the song does nothing for the album.

3. "Troubled Child" - The original track number two is nudged into the three slot. This is an overlooked slow rocker that also uses an unusual time signature for a rock album. I wonder if this could have been a single if the band had continued touring into 1984.

4. "Faithfully" - One of Journey's most enduring songs. Placing it as the penultimate song would have given listeners reason to listen to most of Side 2. And with this new song order, which I believe is stronger, it could have made Frontiers an even bigger success than it already was.

5. "Rubcion" - The original album closer and still the best way to wind down Frontiers,

I've been listening to this new version of Frontiers for awhile now. After getting my mind to adjust to not hearing certain songs following others (especially the original side 1), I've grown to love the reimagined Frontiers and actually look forward to listening to is when I'm in the mood for some Journey. In my mind, this song order flows better and provides the listening experience of Escape, which is a near perfect melodic rock album. Besides reconfiguring a Trevor Rabin album back in the late 80s (using a cassette deck), I've never toyed with an artists work like this before. I don't know if it's a challenge I'll continue with other albums, but I think this experiment was a success.

Give it a listen and let me know what you think.


Monday, May 26, 2014

Bonus art from "Legendary"

When I asked my old friend, Villamor Cruz, to create the first pieces of art for Legendary, my thinking was that by having three images by the same artist, the opening of the book would have some uniformity to kick things off. Vill came back  with a wonderful drawing that was, in his words, "like a movie poster."

It looks frickin' awesome. But, I wanted to have individual drawings for the chapters. Vill was kind enough to revise his drawing to make it into three solo stills of Allison, Brian and Kate. I didn't want his original art to go unseen, so here it is. I'm sure by looking at it, you can imagine a title above the image and credits down below, like typical teen movie from the 80s.

Thanks, Vill!

Jody Watley in "Legendary"

Here's a song that was on and off of the soundtrack numerous times up until the last two weeks before publication began. It was originally going to appear later in the book, but I pulled it off in favor of Janet Jackson. The Bangles held this spot in chapter 4 until I decided to move their song to late in the book. This opened up a slot for Jody Watley to come back into the mix.

I always liked this song and the kind of pop R&B it represents. Even though that may be a drum machine playing behind Watley, it sounds like it was programmed by someone who knows a thing or two about percussion. Watley's song was a smash hit back in the 80s, and I think that it holds up pretty well nearly 30 years later.

This type of R&B, as well as a lot of pop music from back in the day, are the material I listened to when writing Kate. Even though she likes things that are polished and slick, Kate still has a backbone and doesn 't take any crap from anyone, including her boyfriend.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Van Halen in Chapter 2 of "Legendary"

Chapter 2 of Legendary is up on Popdose. This chapter features Van Halen's "Dreams," from their 1986 album, 5150. This was one of the first songs I considered for the Legendary soundtrack. 5150 was a huge triumph for the band. Not only was it a huge hit, with four popular singles, but it shut up the naysayers who thought that Van Halen would collapse without David Lee Roth as lead vocalist. When Roth quit Van Halen (or was shoved out - depends on whose story you believe), many believed that Van Halen was done. Enter Sammy Hagar.

Sammy is an everyman rocker who doesn't treat his audience as if they're beneath him. Roth, to me, always comes across as "I'm cooler than you," while Sammy is "You're as cool as me." This includiveness won over the Van Halen diehards, as well as new fans.

5150 may have had some half-baked electronic drums, but all of the songs rock, thanks to the combined efforts of Eddie and Alex Van Halen, as well as the impecible harmonies of Michael Anthony. No one sings better together than Sammy and Michael Anthony.

In Legendary, Brian and his suburban friends are guys who dabble in the burgeoning college radio music, but primarily stick with the blue collar, AOR/classic rock bands that maintain popularity despite the rise of hair metal and teenie bopper pop like Debbie Gibson and Tiffany. "Dreams" was a logical selection for the book, as it's a great summer song, and it wouldn't be surprising to hear it  being played on the radio a year after it was released.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Pretenders in Chapter 1 on "Legendary"

Chapter 1 went live on Monday. I'm sure you've already read it, otherwise why are you reading this post?

One of my favorite bands from the 80s, the Pretenders appear in this chapter. Seems that if you grew up in Cleveland during that decade you were bound to hear the Pretenders on any radio format, be it AOR, top 40 or Classic Rock. Chrissie Hynde, the leader and focal point of the band, hails from Akron. Because of that city's close proximity to Cleveland (it's about a 42 minute drive), Cleveland stations liked to claim Hynde as one of their own. I'm not so sure she wanted any part of that, but it worked in her favor as the Pretenders developed a loyal fan base in the Rock and Roll Capital of the World.

The Pretenders had their major breakthrough with 1983's Learning to Crawl, which features the haunting "Back on the Chain Gang," one of my favorite songs of all time. I considered using that song to open the book, but changed it to "Don't Get Me Wrong," the band's hit single from their 1986 LP, Get Close. I felt that this song fit the opening chapter much better because a) the song was current for that year, and b) the upbeat sound of it has a peppiness I'd associate with the mall. There is an optimism to "Don't Get Me Wrong" that places you in the mind Allison. She's ready for new and great things to happen, and this song conveys that feeling.

I made a concerted effort to include as many female artists as I could in the soundtrack to Legendary, With two female protagonists, I thought it was important that all of the music wasn't testosterone driven. That doesn't mean the songs aren't bad ass and don't rock. In the coming weeks, the Go-Go's and Joan Jett have some ass kicking songs featured in the book. Using the Pretenders was a no-brainer, and turned out to be a perfect way to begin the book.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The "Legendary" Introduction is live today...

In case your only resource for Malchus news is this website...first of all, God bless you. Second, as I reported on Facebook and Twitter this morning, the Introduction to Legendary went live this morning on Popdose. Below is the link.

Throughout the summer, as the chapters go up, I'll try to post info about the book and some of the music I chose. At the very least, it will give you a reason to return to the site on a regular basis.

Tomorrow, chapter 1 and the Pretenders. See you then!

Here's the link:

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Backstory of "Legendary," Conclusion

I began adapting my 1980s high school screenplay, "Finding the Way," in the spring of 2010. I discovered that my train rides to and from work were my favorite times to write. The 45 minutes there in the morning, and the 45 minutes returning home gave me enough time to write 8 - 10 pages at a time. The year I spent writing the first draft of the book was the most enjoyable and freeing 12 months I'd ever spent as a writer. For the first time in my life, I didn't give a damn about what anyone was going to think about my work. I kept telling myself, "This is an experiment. I'm a screenwriter, not a novelist." I believe it was that lack of concern that allowed me to be so loose and to write so fast. I've been chasing that feeling ever since.

I completed the first draft around Thanksgiving of that year. Now entitled Legendary, I sent it to my friend who worked at Simon & Schuster. At Christmastime, we met for coffee to discuss the book's potential. She had general notes on how to make the book better, and felt that it was worth pursuing. Her two biggest suggestions were 1) changing the time period from the 1980s to the present day. This way, the book might have a better chance of getting read, and I might get a literary agent. And 2) reducing the number of main characters/narrators. In adapting the screenplay, I'd come up with seven different narrators for Legendary. The book may have captured the ensemble feel of a Paul Thomas Anderson film, but it was hard to follow.

I had no problem with any of what she said. On the spot I decided I would rewrite the book to follow the love triangle that made up one third of Legendary (the other two stories might make it into another book someday. Who knows?) The feedback I received got me excited to dive back into the text.

Throughout 2011, I revised, revised, revised. Some writers hate the editing process, but I find it thrilling. It's like a puzzle and you're trying to find the exact word or phrase to fit the sentence or paragraph. Maybe you cut entire passages, things you love, but it's all for the betterment of the book.

By the end of 2011, I had completed the new version of Legendary. My friend reread it and was enthusiastic. She even offered to submit it to her bosses, and to allow me to use her name in some of the query letters I sent to literary agents. This was how I knew that she wasn't just paying me lip service that Legendary was pretty good. If she was afraid that Legendary would have embarrassed her, she wouldn't have offered what she did.

I did the query routine, sending the book to a long list of agents. Unfortunately I was turned down by all. Maybe I shouldn't say that, but I'm not ashamed. That's part of the game, right? Rejection is how an artist grows. I actually received some very kind feedback from several agents. Most of them really liked the character of Allison (one even suggested rewriting the book entirely from her point of view), but almost all of them said that trying to get a book with a male protagonist as the central character would be too difficult.

It was disappointing, to say the least, but I didn't let it get me down. The experience of writing Legendary gave me the confidence to continue writing prose. For the second time in its life, "Finding the Way," now known as Legendary, was put to sleep in a file cabinet, or rather a hard drive.

In 2012, while sending out all of those queries, I self-published Basement Songs, the book that collected some of my favorite posts from Popdose (but you know that because you're here and you own a copy, right?). In editing that book, I pretty much put to rest the "Basement Songs" column. It had run its course. I attempted two other columns for Popdose, "Scotty's Jukebox," which was supposed to be a look at all things pop culture, and "Goin' Country," an attempt at exploring country music. Neither gained traction. Or rather, neither got me thrilled the way "Basement Songs" used to do.

As 2014 began, I started thinking about what I wanted to write for Podose in the coming year. I was working on two spec TV pilots and a feature length screenplay, but these things wouldn't work on Popdose. Then it struck me: What if I published Legendary as a serial novel on the site? The book was complete, so I wouldn't have to worry about writing deadlines, and I could include music, like I did with "Basement Songs." But what music? And would a contemporary teen driven story connect with Popdose's audience.

Then I thought, "What if I returned the story back to its 80s roots?"

Within days, I worked out the details with Jeff and began revising the novel. I made 10 separate playlists of songs to include in the posts. And I came up with the idea to include original art with each chapter.  There may not have been writing deadlines, but I have a spreadsheet charting everything that needs to be done for this summerlong project.

You know what? I'm stoked. In placing the story back in its original time period, I believe Legendary got better. For anyone who read the original final draft, this story will be familiar, but different in enough ways that I think you'll get a kick out of it. Plus, it has music and art, people, music and art!

So that's the general backstory about Legendary. I could write more, but the history isn't important, not in this case. What's important is that Legendary is out there, and that you enjoy reading it throughout the summer.

Check out Popdose tomorrow for the official introduction to Legendary.