11 Things You’ll Learn When Your Band Goes On Tour

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Artist’s rendition of what you’ll be hallucinating from sleep deprivation after two weeks on the road

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It may have a waterbed and a bitchin 8 Track Stereo, but a 40 year old van might not make the best tour vehicle.

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Also probably not the most practical tour vehicle choice.

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The “Rocker Stare” is important to cultivate. It stuns groupies, fans, and promoters trying to bleed you dry.

Your band Death Hippie has been paying its dues locally for awhile, and the time seems right to take the act on the road. Almost any musician that’s ever played live has wondered what it’s like to go on tour. It seems like the next logical step toward world domination for any band bold enough to head out on the highways in search of fame.

Like many things involving playing in a band, there are lessons to be learned about planning and executing your own tour, and some of them are tough lessons.

1. Your Tour Vehicle is Very Important. Choose Wisely (You Probably Won’t).

Whether you’re just playing a week’s worth of cities in your own state, or going across country for three months at a time, any touring band will be depending on their vehicle. In rock music lore, there’s the legendary “Tour Bus,” but no one starting out is going to have one of those rolling clubhouses sitting in their garage. Tour buses and the professional drivers that shuttle larger bands around are very expensive.

Most bands end up touring in some form of van or a similar vehicle. It’s a good idea to buy a dependable one, and renting might be a better option.

That thirty year old Chevy van that’s for sale down the street might seem like a great deal at $2,000 with its wizard mural and waterbed, but it will quickly lose its appeal when Death Hippie finds itself broken down in a mountain pass 700 miles from home, drawing straws to see who gets to eat the others to survive.

It’s also important to try to find a vehicle that’s not uncomfortable to ride over long distances. Four or five (or more) people forced to be around each other for long periods of time are going to get on each other’s nerves anyway, so any features that make those journeys less pleasant will quickly lead to the singer stabbing the drummer with a salad fork (all bands travel with a full set of dueling silverware, it’s a requirement of the “rock code”).

2. Your Band is On Its Own.

This may seem obvious, but any band members hitting the road for a tour are leaving behind most of their individual safety nets. We may be more connected than ever – I’m sure a band that’s sitting by the side of a country road watching their surrounded van get closed in on by cannibalistic mutants will have time to post a status update on Facebook or Twitter before merciful death finally takes them, but the only people you’re going to be able to count on to help in an immediate crisis are the people you’re with, i.e. your bandmates (and that includes the bass player who eats his own snot when he thinks no one is looking).

It’s true most of us will have people that we can call back home if there’s a problem, but short of sending money, there’s not much they’re going to be able to do fast in a pinch. By the time any of them can come to the rescue, those cannibals will already be wearing pants made out of your beautifully tattooed skin.

No matter how well a band plans their tour, there will be problems that crop up unexpectedly, and sometimes those problems are serious ones. Any band that can’t come together as a solid unit to solve those problems needs to safely stay in their home town.

3. Any Bad Habits or Issues Your Band Members Have Will Be Amplified.

Let’s say that Death Hippie’s rhythm guitar player likes to get drunk after every show, and occasionally makes an ass of himself sloppily hitting on women. Sure, that can be irritating when your band is playing local clubs, but imagine him doing that repeatedly on a tour when everyone in the band is accountable for everyone else’s behavior.

All it takes is for that rhythm guitarist to drunkenly put his hand on the wrong woman’s butt, and the rest of you end up tied naked to metal chairs in some psychotic guy’s basement, wondering why the drummer’s screaming stopped in the other room, and who will be next.

Even if no one’s personality quirks or problems get the band in trouble, they’re still likely to cause trouble among the members themselves. Members of the band will be spending a lot of time together in close quarters, and any irritating behavior is going to get a lot more annoying than it might back home. At least there, you can always get away from your bandmates if you want to. Try getting away from someone when they’re two seats down from you, and there is still 400 miles to go before you get to the next venue.

4. Touring is Physically Grueling.

Unless you’re already famous, or happen to be independently wealthy, no one is likely to hire you any helpers for your tour. Rock and roll is full of legendary lore about “roadies,” but you won’t have any. YOU are your roadie.

That means that the members of your band will be unloading all of the gear for the show themselves, and also breaking it down later that night, and packing it back up. This is a huge task, and a lot is on the line. If you forgot some important piece of equipment at the last gig 500 miles back that’s a problem. Under the best of circumstances, most bands will be carrying a lot of heavy equipment around on a daily basis. If a club is up or down any stairs, that chore becomes much more difficult. Your awesome steel “Death Throne” prop that looks great on stage will become a lot less appealing after you’ve had to carry it up or down three flights of stairs twenty days in a row.

A busy tour schedule will also ensure that you’re not getting very much sleep. Unless you’re good at napping in a moving van, and are not the person driving it, you will probably go for days without getting a real night of sleep. The hectic pace of touring just doesn’t allow everyone to settle into a nice comfy bed for eight hours at a time. Not to mention, most bands starting out aren’t going to have the money to consistently stay in a nice motel room anyway.

Whenever my old band went out on the road, I felt like a zombie after a week. You learn to adapt. You learn to live off of caffeine. You learn to hate clowns, because the lack of sleep will have you hallucinating those white faced bastards in no time.

5. “Hurry Up and Wait”

So finally your band arrives at the venue they’ll be playing later that night, and no one has killed anyone yet. That’s good, that’s very good.

But now it’s time to face the tedium of waiting for the show. Any small band that tours will be familiar with this routine. The band has to rush to get to the club and meet whoever is opening the doors for them. This usually happens in the afternoon or early evening before the place opens. If there’s a long distance between destinations, there can be a frantic scramble to get there on time, just to be met by some unenthusiastic club manager, and then after the band loads in, hopefully a sound check.

Then the wait.

Nothing is more boring than an empty club or bar in the daytime. It’s no wonder that some people in bands develop drug or alcohol habits, hours of waiting around bored in a bar will drive people to drink (or worse) just to have something to do.

If you’re lucky, the club is in an area of town that has a few interesting things to do and see to kill time. Otherwise, it’s a lot of hanging around a dressing room (if there is one) until show time. If you’re unlucky, and that is more likely, the venue will be in some awful “warehouse district” or equally dismal area of town, and you’ll have to amuse yourself for several hours by naming and racing cockroaches with the hobos living in the alley.

6. You Will Rarely be Comfortable For Long.

This is related to the “grueling” aspect of touring in a unsigned (poor) band, but is it’s own challenge. It is likely that such a band won’t be rolling in dough early on, and might actually be losing money while on tour, spending more than they take in. At the very least, money will probably be tight, particularly if the tour goes on for several weeks or longer. So the fantasy of staying in awesome hotel rooms while beautiful groupies lavish attention upon your groin area are probably going to stay in the realm of fantasy.

What’s more likely to happen, is a lot of crashing with shady promoters or fans, sleeping on couches or floors, or even in the van. Maybe you’ll get lucky and get to stay in a motel room once a week, but that gets expensive, so you might be sharing a bed with your bass player, “Farting Charlie.”
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Wherever you’re staying, things like showers or having the bathroom to yourself for more than a few minutes will become complicated maneuvers, where you try to get in line before all of the hot water is gone, or the singer’s back hair has clogged the drain. Routine things like washing your clothes can become rare treats, and you’ll have to adapt. Did you know you can make dirty clothing wearable by spraying them with Febreze? That’s a pro tip. Enjoy.

7. You Will Have to Deal With a Lot of Weird People.

Sure, fans can be weird. Goes with the territory, right?

Yes they can, and yes it does, but you’ll be getting constant exposure to some weird folks. You will be hanging around and sometimes depending on lots of people you don’t know and have just met. Any touring band will have to rely on numerous strangers at every town they play in. Besides the people that run the venue, they’re also likely to have a local promoter or two at each stop, and others. I can’t count how many floors and couches I slept on, offered at the last minute by a fan or friend of the promoter.

What happens is that a small-time band ends up depending on the goodwill and treatment of a lot of people they just met. This will give you a feeling of vulnerability at times. As you wonder if your new “friends” are going to treat you nicely, or are serial killers that want your heads for a special art project they’re working on. You end up in the strange cycle of meeting new people, rapidly forming some sort of bond or at least mutual goal, and then the band leaves town, and you might never see those people again. Repeat. It’s a weird way to interact with folks.

More importantly, you will learn just how much your band depends on the promoter and other people they barely know. If your band is booking their own tours, chances are you’re relying on some stranger, maybe someone you have emailed a few times, to help promote your show. It’s not like a band driving across the country can really do much to promote a gig hundreds or thousands of miles away. That’s where the promoter comes in, and promoters tend to be a weird bunch of people. They come in two basic models – people that promote for a living, and people that do it for fun. Of course, there is usually some grey area between these two extremes, but generally they trend one way or the other.

Either scenario can turn out good or bad, but it’s definitely not a good sign to discover huge piles of flyers that you sent the promoter laying on his desk, never having been distributed, or discovering that he’s a local drug lord.

8. You Will Probably be Broke.

The sad truth is even if you start out a lengthy tour with a decent amount of money, you will probably soon be nearly broke. It costs a lot to travel around the country, and unless your band is making serious coin at each show, the members will quickly burn through any funds they brought along. It’s not uncommon to be barely scraping by, limiting yourselves to a $10 a day budget or something equally spare, and hoping that Death Hippie sells enough t-shirts that night to fund truck stop sandwiches for everyone (except the drummer, he seems to live off of cigarettes and hatred).

It’s a tough way to travel, but the plus side is you’ll soon be able to squeeze into those old leather pants that you’d gotten too fat for. Bonus!

9. Speaking of Truck Stops…

You’ll probably come to look forward to them. They are Meccas of convenience for weary travelers. That’s a weird thing about touring, you learn to go where the truckers go. If you see a stop with no big rigs outside, keep on going. They probably use dog meat in the burritos or something. What you want to see are the big, modern truck stop centers. Huge places with comfortable bathrooms and a restaurant inside, preferably some kind of inexpensive buffet. The people that work in those places are used to seeing all sorts of freaky stuff roll through, and that probably includes other bands. If you’re still in your stage clothes from the night before, covered in the fake blood that Death Hippie famously bathe in on stage, the people at a big truck stop probably won’t bat an eye. Whatever you’re likely to need can usually be found at such a place.

10. The Fans.

Yes, the people you’re (hopefully) enthralling with your nightly performances. You’ll be interacting with a bunch of people that come to see you play, and it can be a lot of work. Unless your band is already somewhat famous, it’s not like you’re going to be insulated from the people that come to watch you perform. Huge bands never have to personally meet and mingle closely with their fans unless they want to. They’re shuttled to and from the venue, whisked backstage while an army of minions attend to their needs, and then play the show, and are whisked away again. Unless they actually want to meet their fans, they never really have to.

Your band, on the other hand, is likely not in that position, and will instead be hanging around the same club with your audience members until your show begins. Yes, most places will have some rudimentary backstage area where the bands can hole up before the show, but some don’t. So unless you want to stay in the van until show time, you’re going to end up mingling with people that came to see you play, or maybe just showed up to see anyone play, and don’t care about your band at all.

Some musicians I’ve known love hanging out with the folks that come to their shows, and others do not. Obviously, these people will cover all sorts of personality types, and some will be easy to deal with while others won’t be, but you’re going to have to take the good with the bad. Becoming famous as a stuck-up prick isn’t going to be doing your band any favors. So when the ugly guy that’s been following your band around the Midwest shows up AGAIN, and wants the members of Death Hippie to sign his pimply ass AGAIN, keep that in mind.

11. You Will Not Be ABle to Escape The People in Your Band

Traveling across the country in a rolling metal box with four or five (or more) other people doesn’t allow a person much personal space or private time. My old band would go on three month national tours, and in that whole time, I might have a few minutes each week where I felt like I was alone.

Since a tour is a group effort, your group will be around you constantly. It’s not really conducive to band business for members to disappear for hours at a time, and it can be really disruptive if that member goes off on his own and then runs into some kind of trouble in an unfamiliar town. If you’re lucky, you might get a few minutes of alone time when you take a shower or use the bathroom, but even then, the rest of the band is probably right outside the bathroom door, possibly plotting to throw you out of the band for using up all the hot water.

These are but a sampling of the scenarios that a small-time band will likely become familiar with when hitting the road seeking fame and fortune. There are many more lessons anyone with that ambition will soon discover, but I’ll save them for another day. Just remember, you may be the main talent in the band, but you’ll need your bass player. He can drive for hours without a break, and he doesn’t smell too bad after five days without a bath. He also looks like a fitting sacrifice to the cannibals if such hard choices should become necessary

Drunk Irish People Fight Monsters From Space – “Grabbers”

I caught this film on Netflix the other night, based on a reference from a friend of mine. It’s a recent Irish horror film, although I never know how to classify movies like this. It’s about monsters that eat people, but the monsters are from space, does that make it more of a science fiction story or a horror tale?

I guess it doesn’t really matter, what matters is that monsters from space have crashed into the sea just off the shore of a remote Irish island. In short order a bunch of dead whales have washed up on shore, fisherman have caught something weird instead of lobster, and an odd couple of cops start to realize something very strange is happening.

Early on we’re introduced to the protagonist cops. Ciaran (Richard Coyle) is a barely functional alcoholic who is fortunate to have an easy gig on an island where nothing particularly cop-worthy ever seems to happen. He is begrudgingly partnered with Lisa (Ruth Bradley) who has signed up for extra duty to impress her superiors back at her job on the mainland. She’s as much of an ambitious workaholic as Ciaran is a drunk.

In typical “meet cute” fashion, they start off on the wrong foot with one another, but there is little doubt that they will end up together by the film’s end. We’re also introduced to several of the island’s more colorful characters, notably Paddy, a drunken fisherman, and the local marine ecologist Dr. Smith.

Weird things quickly begin to take place on the isle. Something seems to be attacking people, leaving only a severed head behind in one attack, and that’s just not a common occurrence. After some basic investigation, the responsible parties are discovered – “Grabbers”, monsters that are so named because they have enormously long tongues that they shoot out to suck the blood from their victims. Turns out that all these Lovecraftian horrors need to survive is human blood and lots of water. Fortunately for them, they landed near an island and a tropical storm is about to hit town.

It’s also soon discovered that the one thing these creatures can’t stand is the blood of drunk people. Alcohol is poisonous to them. That’s good for the humans living on the island, as it seems the local pastime is getting shitfaced every night.

After realizing that the Grabbers are about to be handed the perfect situation in which to eat everyone on the island, the film’s heroes decide to trick everyone in town into getting wasted at the local tavern, essentially hiding out, and rendering their blood into space monster poison.

And so it goes. The film itself is a simple one, and there aren’t any real surprises in store for anyone that’s seen a few formulaic monster-from-space flicks. In a movie like this, it’s not really the simple plot that makes or breaks it, and that’s a good thing, because “Grabbers” is a lot of fun to watch.

First, all of the acting is good, and the characters are likable. This is especially true with the main protagonists Ciaran and Lisa. Ruth Bradley is particularly interesting, and she owns the scenes where she is forced to get loaded for the first time ever to foil the anti-drunk space aliens.

The aliens themselves are well rendered, if not especially original. They’re realized through CGI, but the effects are well done and convincing, and the creature design reminds me of the types of tentacled horrors that H.P. Lovecraft was so fond of writing about. The island location itself is a good one, and adequately gives us the sense that the islanders are effectively cut off from any help from the outside world. “Grabbers” is played straight, but there is ample humor throughout the film, reminiscent of films like “Shaun of the Dead,” although this film tilts a little more towards horror than humor. In a way, I was reminded of formula monster films like “Lake Placid.” A good mix of characters and their chemistry makes films like these seem a lot “better” than they might be without that dynamic. The violence is pretty standard for a film like this, if a bit more restrained than one might expect. Several heads are bitten off, but none of it is extremely gory or graphic. I’ve seen about the same level of graphic violence on an episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

There is appeal in watching the straight-laced Lisa get drunk in order to thwart the monsters, and in seeing the normally drunken Ciaran stay sober enough to save the day. “Grabbers” is a simple monster movie, but it has enough laughs and charismatic characters to make it an entertaining film to watch. It’s not frightening at all, but it’s fun enough.

I’d give “Grabbers” six shots of Irish whiskey out of ten. It’s worth checking out on a rainy night.

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Backwards Messages on Albums Lure the Weak to a Music Festival in Hell

We’ve all heard the stories – rock bands have been hiding backwards messages in their songs for decades. At least since The Beatles led millions of teens to drugs and sex, many bands have been inserting “hidden” backwards messages on their albums to ensnare the souls of their fans for Satan.

It’s common knowledge that the act of a diamond tipped needle rubbing the wrong way on vinyl releases any Demonic Energies contained within, and those messages are then sent forth to destroy and enslave the souls of feeble-minded rock and roll fans.

Let’s examine, and try to ferret out the messages some of these Satanic rock bands have unleashed upon our world.

1. The B-52’s –  It’s commonly known that big hairdos are one method Satanists use to identity each other, and the overtly demonic band The B-52’s were definitely no strangers to back masking on their albums.

On the song “Detour Through Your Mind” from 1985’s “Bouncing off The Satellites” album they hid the following grim message:

“I buried my parakeet in the backyard. Oh no, you’re playing the record backwards. Watch out, you might ruin your needle.”

Clearly, this song speaks of an animal sacrifice, and warns listeners that they might ruin their “needle,” either a command to do heroin, or a cryptic reference to ruining their souls.

2.  The Bloodhound Gang – With a name like that, it’s hardly surprising that this band would put a backwards message on their “One Fierce Beer Coaster” album. On the song “Lift Your Head up High (And Blow Your Brains Out)” their evil is revealed with these words:

“Devil Child will wake up and eat Chef Boyardee Beefaroni.”

The members of this band obviously work at some sort of Satanic daycare service, or are the cooks for one. They will be feeding Satan’s kid some hellish pasta dish when he wakes from his nap.

3. The Electric Light Orchestra –  Fruity orchestral band “E.L.O.” proved that they will be playing in Lucifer’s symphony when they recorded a hidden message on the song “Fire on High” off of 1975’s “Face The Music” album. When played in reverse, the band reveals the following:

“The music is reversible, but time (violin part) is not. Turn back! Turn back! Turn back! Turn back!”

Another warning perhaps. After telling their listeners to listen to the music in reverse – diabolical since they have already done so if they’re hearing this warning – they warn that it’s too late to turn back after your soul is in Hell with the devil and his fiery torment.

By the time any E.L.O fans received this message, they were already consigned to the bottomless pit of Hell’s ninth level and didn’t even know their fate had been sealed.

4. Green Day – Long the poster boys for rebelling against…something…this pop trio finally tipped their Satanic hand on the 2009 release “21st Century Breakdown.” On their song “East Jesus Nowhere” a hidden message awaits:

“Second guess me, don’t test me.”

Considering that it is in a song mentioning the Savior by name, it can only mean that the band and all of their listeners fall short of passing the “test” that God will be giving them. And the penalty for failing is eternity in a slime-filled cave where multi-cocked demons will sodomize the damned endlessly, while Green Day’s music is played in the background forever.

5. Insane Clown Posse – This evil duo makes music almost entirely geared to the intellectual level of a mentally challenged 14 year old boy. Slathered in hideous clown makeup, they lead an enormous cult of revolting sub humans called “Juggalos,” and it’s clear those folks are all degenerate Devil Worshippers.

On their album “The Amazing Jeckel Brothers,” the demonic clowns put a backwards message that says:

“Fuck the Devil! Fuck that shit! We believe in life legit. If you diggin’ what we say, why you throw your life away?”

The answer to this contradictory message is simple. I.C.P. fans threw their lives (and immortal souls) away the moment they bought an “Insane Clown Posse” album. The monstrous rappers yell “Fuck the Devil!” but it’s the Devil that will be fucking their fans for eternity.

6. The J. Geils Band – the same band that brought the world “Centerfold,” a song about sexual deviancy and pornography, showed a willingness to communicate with their fans via back masked messages on their albums. The 1980 record “Love Stinks,” has a song called “No  Anchovies Please” where this nightmarish line is hidden:

“It doesn’t take a genius to tell the difference between chicken shit and chicken salad.”

No, no it doesn’t. Sadly, when the J. Geils Band and their fans are floating together in the Lake of Fire, the only thing that will be on Hell’s cafeteria menu will be chicken shit salad sandwiches. No fries either.

7. Oasis – A band held together by the shared hatred of two egotistical brothers, and their shared love of Beelzebub. Anyone with the misfortune of actually listening to an Oasis album is obviously already living life in a type of Hell, but the band intends for that infernal concert to continue forever. The back masked message that spell out their real intent:

“All my people right here right now… Do you know what I mean? Yeah, yeah.”

The “Here” being spoken of is an eternity of torment in The Devil’s Kingdom, with Oasis providing the soundtrack.

These are but a tiny percentage of overtly Satanic rock bands that have tried to rope in their mindless fans for a never ending concert of horror in the Abyss. Their methods are many, but carefully placing these backwards messages into the grooves of their rock and roll albums, is one way to capture the weak for Satan and his Demons.

The only way to avoid such a fate is to burn those rock and roll records and denounce a Satanic lifestyle. No sex before marriage either! You have been warned.

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Need a Movie to Ruin a First Date? “Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS”.

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I’d known about this infamous grindhouse flick for years before I final tracked down an uncut copy to watch.

Ilsa is the Nazi commander of a prisoner of war camp during WWII, and is helping to conduct brutal experiments on her female captives to prove that women are more impervious to pain than men, and would thus make better soldiers. She’s decked out like a Nazi dominatrix through most of the movie, and also has an insatiable sexual appetite. Every night, she forces male prisoners to sexually service her, but when they cum sooner than she wants them to (and they all do) Ilsa has them castrated. In fact, the film opens with one of those castrations.

She meets her match when new prisoner “Wolfe” arrives. An American of Germanic heritage, Wolfe doesn’t climax during sex, thus sparing himself from her cock-chopping wrath.

Eventually the prisoners rise up and the camp is attacked, killing nearly everyone along the way. Cheery film, this one.

“Ilsa” belongs to an inherently offensive sub-genre of Nazi torture sexploitation movies that wound their way from some sleazy hellhole to the screen in the 1970’s. “Ilsa” is not the first of that horrific type of film (that honor(?) would belong to 1969’s “Love Camp 7”, but it movie is probably the most notorious.

Much of “Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS” is devoted to very graphic sexual violence and mutilation. Typical is a scene where female prisoners have an electric dildo forced into them. We don’t see the actual penetration, but we see everything but that penetration, and it’s not fun to watch. There are a lot of scenes like that in this movie.

The plot itself is sparse, and more time is spent showing the graphic torture of naked female captives than things story development. Strangely, I can watch a film like “Bloodsucking Freaks”, which portrays a lot of the same sorts of sexual sadism as the Ilsa film, but is handled with a campy sense of humor. Black as it is, that sense of humor makes watching “Bloodsucking Freaks” much more palatable than “Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS”.

The 1970’s were a really weird time period, and lots of taboos were challenged. Since the end of WII, Nazis have rarely been presented to American audiences realistically. Instead we grew up watching comedic versions in television shows like “Hogan’s Heroes” and comic book villain style movie Nazis.

I deliberately seek out movies that many other people would be horrified or offended by, and usually they don’t bother me. The Nazis in “Ilsa, She a Wolf of The SS” are in no way realistic characters, but the extreme sex and violence in this film portrays the kind of horrors real Nazis inflicted on prisoners. It’s unsettling and unpleasant to see that kind of realistic horror carried out in a cartoony exploitation film. Imagine if Colonel Klink was doing sexual torture experiments on his prisoners in “Hogan’s Heroes”. That’s the kind of uncomfortable tone of this movie.

There really are no conventionally redeeming qualities in “Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS” other than relatively high production values. Even people looking for especially transgressive and shocking movies to watch will probably be disappointed in this one. It’s certainly shocking, but it’s just no fun. It’s not sexy, it’s not funny, and it’s not good. It’s just sort of depressing.

If I gave out ratings, I’d give his one 4 castrated dicks out of 10.

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9 Lessons You’ll Learn Playing in a Rock and Roll Band

Most people have entertained the fantasy of becoming a wealthy rock star, and a lot of them buy an instrument to fiddle around with. Most folks eventually just throw that instrument into a closet after they move to another hobby, while a few become proficient players but never leave their bedrooms. This leaves a small number that actually form bands and take a stab at playing live to real audiences.

So what are some of the lessons that these aspiring rock stars are likely to learn or encounter on their way up (or down) the ladder of live music success? It’s not all mountains of cocaine and groupie gang bangs on the tour bus water bed, is it?

Let’s explore this further.

1. Almost No One Will Care About Your Band For Quite A While.

That’s the hard truth. You might be great, your band mates equally adept at playing, but unless you’ve already been around your local scene for a few years and attracted some fans that might care about what your new band is doing, you will have to work your way up to that point. And it’s hard. Lots of playing shows at shitty venues, to a handful of personal friends and significant others that will come out to see “Death Hippie” play at noon on a Wednesday (if you’re lucky).

I’ve known people that were so desperate to play that they’d gig just about anywhere, over-saturating themselves at shows almost no one would care to go to. Gothic band playing a taqueria? Great idea! How could that fail to shuttle a band to instant fame and success? At least the tacos are there to soak up your tears after playing to a homeless guy, your girlfriend, and a stray dog that walked in.

It takes a lot of work and luck to build a fan base, even a small local one. If after a year or two of steady gigging that success hasn’t happened, it’s time to reevaluate the “plan,” or the viability of “Death Hippie” itself.

2. Many Venues and Club Owners Are Assholes To New Bands.

It would seem like club owners and the bands that play at their venues would have a close working relationship, maybe even a level of friendly cooperation since they both, in theory, want the same thing – to pack the club with a huge crowd of people. Makes sense right?

Well sadly, it turns out that’s not always the case. Maybe not even usually the case, because bands and club owners want the same thing for different reasons.

Club owners want a crowd, that is true, but they want a crowd of people willing to pay a cover and drink the shit out of some overpriced bar drinks. They don’t care how they get to that outcome, and would gladly book a band of howling baboons instead of your band if they thought that would fill their club. In some places, they’ll grant a newer band the “privilege” of playing their dive bar, but only if the band manages to presell a certain amount of tickets. If they don’t, then they’ll have to pay for any unsold ones themselves – the dreaded “Pay to Play” scenario.

There are reasons that certain famous venues seemed to be at the center of musical revolutions. Besides being at the right time and right place, they usually had a club owner that was willing to allow young unproven bands a chance to play and develop a scene. If Hilly Kristal had stuck to his original plan to feature country and bluegrass music at his Bowery bar, people might never have experienced The Ramones, and CBGBs would likely be a long forgotten dive. Most of those club owners are in their business purely for the money, and will book whoever can make them the most cash with the least amount of effort on their part. They simply don’t care that Death Hippie could revolutionize the world of Jazzy Space Metal.

3. Not All Venues are Created Equal.

I’ve seen so many bands booked to clubs that were bad matches for them, and it’s a common mistake . It’s probably more normal to find in places with fewer music venues, but I’ve seen weird band to club matches in cities with great places to play. I already mentioned the Gothic band playing at a taqueria (which is a real scenario I witnessed), but I’ve also seen hard rock bands booked into restaurants that cater to sedate yuppies, and I’ve seen metal bands trying to work their magic at wine bars. If your style of music is likely to repel people and drive them from the type of venue you’re playing at, it might be time to look for a different place to play.

4. The Sound Man is Your Friend (Or Worst Enemy)

This should be obvious, but I’m always surprised at how it somehow isn’t. Assuming that you’re playing a venue that regularly features live bands and is equipped with some form of in-house sound reinforcement, you’re probably going to encounter a sound man or two. These range from completely unskilled imbeciles (a friendly/angry hobo that the bar owner has let in, for instance) to trained professionals (people that actually took classes to learn the trade).

These people can save or ruin your show. Be forewarned.

Being an asshole, ridiculing the dude’s hideous blonde Afro or beak-like nose, is not a good idea. Being dismissive or really demanding is also a dumb move. You don’t want to kiss these guy’s asses, but being somewhat friendly and positive when dealing with them is a good idea. Because if you’re not, they can fuck your sound up royally.

Being up on stage in front of a crowd is a uniquely vulnerable position to be in. It doesn’t make things any easier to discover that the blond Afro and beak-nosed sound man you pissed off earlier has enacted his vengeance during the climax of your rock opera about kittens. Suddenly realizing that you can’t actually hear the other players in your band, because your new enemy dropped all of it from your monitor is not a comfortable feeling.

It’s best to not argue with these guys, unless you’re paying them yourself. Also, developing a good relationship with them pays off if you plan on playing that venue again. Tipping or buying the guy a beer after the show are not bad ideas either.

5. Being in a Band is Like Being in a Relationship (and it can be a dysfunctional and abusive one where the police are called and the neighbors hate you).

I think most people start out forming bands with friends. It’s likely that people in the same circle of friends will share similar taste in music, and also less likely that they’ll tell you how much your playing sucks.

The problem is that being in any band is tough, and involves a lot of hard work under the best of circumstances. Just showing up to practices consistently and on time can be too much for some folks, and there’s a lot of loading in and setting up of heavy equipment. If you have a lazy slacker “friend” in your band, resentment will build quickly.

After a certain point, it is likely that an ambitious musician may find himself joining a band consisting of people he doesn’t know, or doesn’t know well. Yeah, probably everyone gets along alright, but they’re not close friends. It’s more like business partners in a very strange and difficult business.

A person in this situation will get to see the best and worst of the people he’s collaborating with. If the band plays shows out of town, it’s likely that the members will be cooped up in a van together, smelling the bass player’s curiously fruity farts, and hearing the singer talk about how he once auditioned for “Whitesnake” back in the day “when they were trying to dump Coverdale” for the two hundredth time. You’d better be up for seeing the ugly and selfish side of your stinky bandmates, or this will slowly drive you crazy. If anyone in the band has a drug problem or is a drunk, you’ll experience the fallout from that sooner or later; if they’re thirty five years old and like sex with teenaged groupies, you’ll deal with that too.

6. Bandmates Can Have Different Agendas.

When I was in my first really serious band, I DID feel like we were a family. I felt an intense loyalty to them, and passed up some pretty good opportunities for myself as a result. If I’d treated being in that band less like being a member of a family or gang, and was more mercenary, I might still be touring in some outfit. Who knows, I kind of sucked back then, but it might have happened.

The thing is, not every person in a band is always on the same page, or feels the same amount of loyalty to the band. Some treat it as a side project to what they’d really like to be doing, others want to secretly (or not so secretly) find a slightly more popular band to jump to. The point is, a lot of people base their band affiliation on what’s in their own best interest. This is understandable, but it takes a concentrated effort by everyone to make anything happen, and having a bass player that wants to leave “Death Hippie” the minute “Ass Assassinator” asks him to join can be disruptive and demoralizing.

7. It’s Like You’re Also in a Relationship With The Other Members’ Significant Others.

Make no mistake about this. When you join a band, not only are you entering a weird relationship with the other members, your entering a relationship with their significant others.

It’s likely one or more members of any band will already be in some kind of romantic relationship, and will have a girlfriend or boyfriend, or husband or wife lurking in the background. Even if they don’t, being in a band automatically triples anyone’s ability to attract a mate, and you will soon have at least one or two bandmates with a romantic partner. Totally normal right? That’s certainly not a big deal is it?

Yes, yes it is.

Even if that significant other is a more or less cool person, they will likely tire of their boyfriend or girlfriend always being at a band function without them, and they will start to come to every one of those functions. I’ve been in bands that had a “no girlfriends at practice” rule, and they still showed up.

The problem is that many of the basic things it takes to be a member of a popular band are not things that are good for a romantic relationship. There are reasons that this is a cliche. A bandmate with a significant other will have added pressure placed on him to choose the best interests of that person over what is good for the band. You finally got a dream show opening for a huge band? Oh wait. It’s Charlie the cowbell player’s girlfriend’s birthday that night. He won’t be able to make it

Or the member in a relationship will have a built in “number one fan” that will usually eagerly point out how he’s the most talented member in “Death Hippie” and the rest of the band needs him more than he needs them.

Or maybe the significant other will just hate someone in the band for some reason, or have some strange problem with the direction the band is going in.

It’s not going to make things easy if the singer’s new girlfriend is a fundamentalist Christian and thinks the other members of “Death Hippie” worship Lucifer.

8. Image Is Important, Whether You Admit it or Not.

Ah, yes. A lot of bands get criticized for being image based. Usually that goes hand in hand with “They have no talent” and “Anyone could dress up in those monkey suits and dance around.”

To a lot of people “image” equals “not talented.” This of course is a really stupid thing to believe. I suppose David Bowie never made any music worth listening to, but “Poison” sure did.

My point? Image shapes people’s perception of a band, and gets their attention. But a LOT of musicians think that they can make it big without giving their image any thought at all. I can’t count how many local bands I’ve seen where it looks like every member walked in from a different band. Your band better be AMAZING, and I mean, transcendent in their ability to entertain in an engaging way, if you have a bass player that’s 40 years old and dresses like an accountant, a drummer that looks like he wants to be in W.A.S.P, a singer who thinks a Hawaiian shirt and flip flops are cool, and a guitar player that looks like he’s in Duran Duran.

Actually, that sounds kind of awesome, like a kitschy 80’s tribute band, but my point is that too many bands don’t give any thought at all to how they will look on stage, or they have an actual stance against having an image of any kind.

All this means is that they didn’t choose an image, but the audience will choose it for them. Unless they are the most amazingly brilliant band to ever come through town, the image that most audiences will assign such an outfit is “Suck” or “They looked stupid.” Well played, anti-image band guys!

No one is saying that a band has to dress up like Prince, but not wearing your clothes from the day job at Pizza Hut is a good rule of thumb.

9. Most Bands aren’t Democracies.

I think there’s some lingering “ideal” that most people have, and even some musicians have, that bands are run like democracies. The idea is that everyone contributes equally in the decision making processes, and every member has a hand in contributing to the songs.

The fact is, I’ve never seen a band that operated like that. I’ve been in a few that were closer to that ideal than others, but generally speaking, someone has to steer the ship, and usually one or two members make the lion’s share of the band decisions, or at least have the deciding vote. They’re usually the ones writing most of the songs too. That doesn’t mean that the other members don’t contribute anything creative to the mix. Usually they do. But hard feelings and jealousy will often arise when someone thinks they deserve to contribute more, and I understand that feeling. Musicians tend to have egos, and we all like to think that we have some classic songs locked up inside, and if Andy the goddamned singer would just let me write one fucking reggae song for “Death Hippie” then the world would see my genius.

Andy’s a dick though, and he owns the van.

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Galaxy of Terror – A Galaxy of Violence and Worm Rape

Galaxy of Terror – 1981

Galaxy of Terror seems to be one of the more famous Roger Corman produced films from the early 80s. It was one of those movies that my friends with cable always raved about, and I remember liking it when I finally saw it one late night at one of their houses.

The story begins on a stormy dark planet called Morganthus. The last survivor from a crashed spaceship is violently killed by some unseen beastie. Somewhere on a distant planet, two people are playing some sort of game. One is a kind of cosmic seer, and the other is identified as the “Planet Master”, an all powerful being with a red glowing light obscuring his features. They talk vaguely about events being put into motion, and then Mr. Glowing Light Orb For a Head commands his military to send a ship to Morganthus immediately.

So off speeds the “Quest” piloted by Captain Trantor (Grace Zabriskie, – Many viewers will recognize her from lots of other films) who is apparently somewhat mentally disturbed and reckless due to a traumatic space disaster she’d survived in the distant past. The rest of the crew is a colorful bunch, and includes such improbable members as an “Empath” (Played by Erin Moran from “Happy Days”) and a “Crystal Master”… Whatever that is… Played by Sid Haig. Other familiar faces are the ship’s cook, played by “My Favorite Martian” star Ray Walston, and the crew’s “Ranger” played by Robert Englund.

Once the ship nears Morganthus, it goes out of control and crash lands. The crew slowly makes it’s way across the surface of the planet to the other ship, where they discover a terrible massacre happened there. They also discover that something on the planet caused the crash, and upon further investigation, they find a huge pyramid structure, and decide to explore it.

It is at this point that the real purpose of this movie unfolds – Specifically, the crew members are murdered one by one by horrible monsters within the pyramid. These are all set pieces, and what the film is generally remembered for – There is a nasty scene where the generic blonde crew member is stripped naked and raped by a really slimy giant worm… That’s the scene that seems to stick in people’s minds the most, followed in notoriety by the scene where the Empath woman is torn to pieces by tentacles…. Joanie from “Happy Days” meeting that horrible end sticks with you.

Almost everyone is dispatched in gruesome ways within the pyramid, until only the main protagonist “Cabren” is left. At that point, he encounters “The Cook”, who reveals that he’s really the “Planet Master”, and that the pyramid was essentially a game created by a long extinct race to allow them to face their most horrible fears, and to gain mastery over them. Cabren kills the Master, and replaces him… Becoming the new “Planet Master” himself. The end.

So, “Galaxy of Terror” has a few things going on. It’s deeply corny in a lot of ways – there is a lot of use of very dated looking laser affects, and the characters are also silly… The Empath and “Master of Crystals” in particular. I dig Sid Haig in most things, but his character is pretty hard to like in this film. He basically throws around a couple of cheesy looking crystal throwing stars, and looks angry, up until he’s killed by those same throwing stars. Ray Walston as the Cook is also hard to take seriously – there was no way I could shake the feeling that I was looking at “My Favorite Martian” anytime he appeared on screen. That goes double for Erin Moran… I kept thinking of “Happy Days” anytime she showed up. Robert Englund was problematic for the same reason, but I’ll give him a ass, since “A Nightmare on Elm Street” was still a couple of years in his future.

The movie is also completely derivative of both “Alien” and “Forbidden Planet”, borrowing plot devices and production design from both. About the only original ideas in the film are it’s worst ones – The cornball “Planet Master” being the main one.

A lot of low budget movies came out during this time period that ripped off Alien. It was one of those landmark films that changed the way people thought a movie in space could look. And honestly, I’ve seen the atmosphere from Alien ripped off and done worse in lots of other bad movies. Sure, it’s not done REALLY well – The distant shot of the Pyramid looks like a painting on canvass, and some of the sets look as cheap as they undoubtably were. Others manage to look convincing and atmospheric enough… So no originality at all on that front, but it’s effective enough for an exploitation film like “Galaxy of Terror”.

As to the plot… Well, the plot is really just there to get the silly characters into that Pyramid so they can be raped and slaughtered. The killings are really the reason this film is remembered – I can’t imagine that anyone would still remember this film if those hadn’t been in the film. I’ve met people that still remember Galaxy of Terror because of the infamous, and still horrible to watch worm rape scene… Lots of slime in that one. And there are several other graphic scenes in the film, so it’s not surprising that the film has garnered a cult following over the years. The special effects range from very dated and laughable, to moderately well done. I’ve definitely seen a lot worse in Corman movies over the years.

It’s all distasteful and pretty goofy, and a person that over thinks things will be wondering why they combined so many stupid plot elements with the things that they to right about the film…. Did they really need that silly “Planet Master” character at all? Was Ray Walston a wise choice to use? Was Mr. Walston forced into this film because he owed someone money? Did they think that a guy throwing crystal throwing stars was really a good idea? So many questions.

But if you go in with low enough expectations, Galaxy of Terror is not the absolute worst way you can spend an hour and a half.

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Screwballs 2: Loose Screws – Puerile Sexcapades 80’s Style

“Screwballs 2: Loose Screws” (1985)

Netflix streaming service has really filled the niche that 80s cable movie channels used to. Specifically, it’s made films available that I never would have gone to see at the movies, and always passed up on the video rental shelves because they looked too crappy to pay the rental fee. There were movies that I’d continuously see on those shelves… Lots of dumb looking horror or teen sex films, that just didn’t look quite interesting enough to take a chance on.

Now, I’m making up for those lost “opportunities”, because Netflix and YouTube seem to have an enormous collection of those rarities for me to indulge in. Unlike the rental roulette I used to play, if a flick turns out to be ridiculously dumb or not entertaining, then I can watch something else that I know will be good without having to drive back to the video store. It’s pretty awesome.

I remember having friends with cable back in the early 80s, that would regale me with tales of what I was missing in some of the films that haunted those channels late at night. Me? Unfortunately I missed the 80s cable revolution. My parents just didn’t want cable, so the only time I ever watched any of it was when I was staying with friends. But I’m a lifelong fan of weird/bad cinema, so I’ve eagerly embraced the chance to watch some of those crap recently.

Which brings me to “Screwballs 2 : Loose Screws”, the sequel to well, “Loose Screws” obviously… A puerile teen sex comedy I also recently saw on Netflix. When I say “teen sex comedy” let’s face it – These films were almost all created for, and marketed to teenage males (Or perhaps really immature adult males), so maybe “Male targeted teen sex comedy” is more appropriate.

Having been an immature male teen at one point in my life, I feel qualified to review this flaccid turd of a film – I suppose you can count “flaccid turd” as a review if you want the shorthand, but here is the more complete breakdown:

Like the first film, four male friends attend the wackily named “Beaver High”. They’re supreme fuckups and the improbably group covers several stereotyped character types popular thirty years ago – You have the fat guy, the nerd, the jock, and a ladies man/80s preppy guy.

They have ridiculous names… “Hugh G. Rection” being typical. Basically, everyone in tho film has a hammy dick joke or double entendre name. It’s like reading an old Mad magazine spoof for hairy palmed adolescents. Anyway, I couldn’t keep up with who was named who – Seemed like investing too much thought into these characters.

I’m not even sure if they are supposed to be the same guys from “Loose Screws”. The guy playing the nerd is the same actor, but the others are different. Doesn’t matter in any case. If they’re not the same guys, they’re the same basic characters from the first film.

The group of friends has spent four years as seniors due to the madcap antics and sexual harassment that seems to occupy all of their time. The Principle of Beaver High (Mr. Asshoale or something to that effect) calls them to the office, and tells the merry troupe that he’s sending them to “Coxswell Academy”, a special school for screw ups like them, since they’ve spent four years in the 12th grade… Which explains why they all look like they’re in their mid 20s. This may be the only realistic plot device in the movie – I don’t recall ever seeing another that explained why the “kids” in the movie look 27 and not 15.

In any case, the rest of the film takes place at Coxswell Academy, and is essentially a remake of the first film. This time the group spends the movie spinning elaborate schemes to fuck as many of the girls at Coxswell as possible – They even create a point system for their conquests. Whether that system ever really affects the plot, I don’t know, the sexually retarded hijinks just seem to “happen” without any real purpose or plot purpose – Par for the course for a film like this. The main target for their lust is the French teacher, “Mona Lott” (of course), who is not so secretly sleeping with an Eugene Levy lookalike, Principle of Coxswell “Mr. Arsenault”.

The first day they are at Coxswell, the team of male pals stage a fake breast exam for the female students. I’m not sure where it would be considered legit for a high school breast exam to take place where the “doctors” are all guys too young to be through medical school, commanding the young women to strip down to their underwear, so they can feel them up, but apparently that kind of thing flies at Coxswell Academy.

The next scheme has one of the guys dressing in bad drag so he can infiltrate the all girls dormitory, something he improbably pulls off, even managing to take a bath with one of the girls.

And so it goes. The problem with a movie like this, is it manages to somehow achieve the unthinkable, and makes nudity boring. The tedious and unbelievably stupid plot devices are only there to set up another impossible set piece so that the viewer can see some boobs and butts (Though not much full frontal nudity for some reason), and those plot pieces drag the film to a tedious halt most of the time.

There’s a quick attempt to tie up the loose ends of the plot near the end, and it involves an airborne aphrodisiac or some crap like that, and of course we all finally get to see Ms. Mona Lott topless, but there’s not really a story here. Perhaps in a movie like Screwballs story is not the primary concern. I get that.

Random thoughts:

1. Lots of hideous 80s fashion on display. That might be the real appeal of this film.

2. The “boys” in this film must be in their early to mid 20s according to the “spent four years in 12 grade” plot device. Since the females in the film are supposed to be teenagers, that kind of makes a lot of the wacky hi jinks kind of rapey – So a group of 23 year old men have a points system game where they win by having sex with as many teenaged high school girls as possible? I’m pretty sure that kind of activity gets you put on a sexual predator list these days.

3. Having every character in a movie named after a dick joke or sexual function isn’t funny unless you’re a 13 year old boy.

4. Nudity CAN be boring. I have stared into the abyss, and this is the horrific revelation that stared back!

5. Canada was responsible for this film. Like a lot of early slasher films, there are telltale signs that this film was shot north of the US border. Actors saying “Aboot” abound, and the license plates and street signs are not American. At one point, the gang goes to a Town “Centre”… So yeah. I’m actually glad this wasn’t made in the US.

6. Unlike most 80’s stock “Nerd” characters, the nerd in this film comes across more like a creepy molester type than the normal stereotype. All of the male leads do, but he comes across the worst.

So my final judgment? If you want to see a lot of 80s looking women in their underwear, and occasionally naked, and don’t mind wading through at least an hour and twenty minutes of barely watchable “story”, then this might be a good movie to watch. I think I’d probably have enjoyed it if I were drunk and sitting around with friends making fun of it. So it’s not totally without merit I guess. But if you want some 80s vintage titillation that’s not nearly as stupid, then watch “My Tutor” instead. It’s also on Netflix right now.

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Blonde Hairy Super Ninja Enters “The Octagon”.

The Octagon (1980)

It’s about time I reviewed a Chuck Norris film. The whole idea for “Trailer Park Ninja” stems from the goofy white guy martial arts ninja craze that was happening in the early 80’s. I remember it as being a sleazy combination of lingering 70’s macho male culture embraced by burned out stoner kids who were discovering “Ninja” movies.

You could go to any flea market back then and buy cheap, and usually dangerously low quality “throwing stars” and nunchucks, and it seemed like every 14 year-old guy I knew had a few laying around. I knew a couple of different teenage boys that happened to live in the same trailer park, that were really into this ninja thing. Also Ozzy Osbourne and weed, although I’m not sure how all of that worked into their ninja lifestyle.

Anyway, “The Octagon” seemed to have been one of the more influential movies for that strange ninja stoner culture, as well as 80’s ninja movies in general. I hadn’t seen this Chuck Norris epic in decades, but recently found it on Netflix and decided to check it out.

Chuck is a retired Karate champ, and is hired by a wealthy woman that is having trouble with attacks by ninjas. Presumably, this was a common problem for the wealthy back then (if it wasn’t, it should have been). The plot is needlessly involved. I mean, it’s an early 80’s action film about ninjas, and there are tons of plot holes which a simpler plot would have made less obvious, but it manages to (mostly) move along at a decent pace.

In any case, there are flashbacks to Chuck Norris’s childhood (he always plays a character in his movies, but I can never think of him as anyone but Chuck Norris), where he’s shown training as a martial artist alongside his obviously evil half brother, and it’s revealed that the two become lifelong enemies fighting over a prized sword. None of this matters, it just explains why Chuck Norris somehow has an evil Asian half brother that’s training a paramilitary group of mercenaries and ninjas somewhere in Central America.

I know, makes complete sense right? The mercenaries training at this ninja camp cover most evil categories of bad guys that were common to the 1970’s, and the ninja camp is their training ground, because it somehow makes sense that being sneaky like a ninja, and being able to stick a throwing star in the back of someone’s head are valuable life skills for a villain to learn.

And that’s about all anyone needs to know. Essentially, the plot is an unlikely series of events designed to get an unwilling Chuck Norris to find the training camp and beat a bunch of ninja ass.

Along the way, we’re treated to some mild R-rated sideboob nudity, a few scenes where people are dispatched with ninja stars or swords, and a whole slew of ninja dudes that look like they were the template for the G.I. Joe Cobra Commander.

I don’t think I’m spoiling much to reveal that Chuck wins in the end.

So is “The Octagon” entertaining? It’s not completely boring, but it’s not as great as I remember. Another case of a film that could’ve been improved with more nudity and violence, as the absence of those things makes you actually have to pay attention to the plot, which is goofy as Hell.

“The Octagon” is cheesy and silly as any early 80’s action film that you are likely to find. The numerous scenes where we hear Chuck Norris’s thoughts in the form of narration are a good example. Rather than just have him speaking, someone decided to was a good idea to apply a weird sounding echo effect on his voice, and that corny attention to detail is evident in nearly every scene. “The Octagon” could easily have worked as parody if it had come later in the Ninja Movie cycle.

Yet through it all, Chuck Norris exudes a certain charm that’s hard to place. He has a strange soft spoken voice, and a scary scary mustache. He might be the hairiest blonde man I’ve ever seen, but the fucker is suave, no denying that. I can see why aspiring tough guys loved his films so much. I’m surprised that he hasn’t been embraced as an icon in butch gay circles. But I better be careful, Chuck Norris might track me down and thoroughly kick my ass for saying that.

It’s also interesting to watch this film, as well as many of the action films made in America during that era, because the martial arts scenes look so “tame” compared to the fight scenes most of us are accustomed to nowadays. They just don’t move as fast, and the punches don’t look like they hurt as much as something out of a Jackie Chan film. It’s doubtful that an action film of this style would fly today, though I’m sure a lot of flea market throwing stars got bought by aspiring “ninjas” back in the early 80’s as a result of this film.

“The Octagon” is fun and adequately entertaining, if not the classic it’s rumored to be. For someone wanting to watch a vintage Chuck Norris film, I’d suggest “Lone Wolf McQuade.” It’s a lot better.

I’d give “The Octagon” 6 ninja stars out of 10, and 7 if you really enjoy old 80’s ninja movies.

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The Media, Body Image, & The War on Pubic Hair… Fashion Evil.

Recently, I encountered a discussion where a female “plus-sized” model was being discussed, and the conversation drifted into the subject of what society believes is attractive in a female. It was suggested that the projected ideal of feminine beauty is a limited one, and that it is pushed by a patriarchal structure that allows men to subjugate women to a specific standard of beauty.

I will admit that this idea struck me as odd. I visualized a frightening villain’s lair on a mountain, where a small cabal of evil old men got together and decided how to keep women in their place this year, hatching a nefarious plot to decide what the rest of us will find attractive in a woman.

That unlikely scenario is merely the one that formed in my mind (I do that, my mind tends to move towards the weird end of things) but if I look toward existing social factors and their history, it is impossible to entirely dismiss the idea of paternalistic forces that have long existed to subject women to cultural rules. It is clear that many men still fear female sexuality unless it is corralled in ways that benefit themselves.

The massive and continual influence of Abrahamic religions throughout the world and in this country illustrates this. Those religions have always exerted an enormous, perhaps THE most enormous, social control mechanisms in the US.

Until rather recently, it was almost unheard of for a person to not claim affiliation with a mainstream religion, and even those that quietly disbelieved were still influenced by social customs derived from paternalistic religious tradition.

Still, I feel that the accepted view of feminine beauty is not the result exclusively of paternalistic forces. It is true that by suppressing and controlling female sexuality, one of the reactions to that suppression is an increase in the objectification of the female body. The very act of a woman showing a little skin is still transgressive and can stir emotion in cultures where women are encouraged or forced to cover themselves or dress modestly.

But this isn’t intended as some argument that women aren’t subjugated to paternalistic forces intended to control them. I think that it’s obvious that women are often treated badly in our culture when they step too far out of line. No, they usually aren’t killed like they might be in some particularly shitty regions of the world, but the non-compliant woman does face pressure and backlash that a male might not.

I would argue that the social rule book that seeks to control women, to make them behave, also seeks to a lesser degree to control men that transgress, but I’m not suggesting that there aren’t sexist forces bent on controlling women. There are so many factors that affect gender issues in this country, that you could fill books discussing them. People have, and continue to do so, and I don’t intend to do that here. Instead, this is meant to explore a few points that I think affect a set ideal of feminine beauty as much or more than living in an inherent paternalistic culture.

The only thing I will offer to suggest that this isn’t purely a one-sided phenomena is that men are also guided by many of the same societal forces that women are. I mention this not as a way to suggest that men have it “just as bad” as women, or to draw a direct comparison, but merely to point out that both genders are subjected to social pressure involving appearance.

Men and women both tend to cultivate an appearance that they think will be attractive to potential mates. Look at the current trend of young guys with giant beards. Think that would be happening if enough women were repulsed by having sex with bearded guys? I guarantee that there would be a stampede to the razor aisle the moment guys realized that having a big ass beard wasn’t gong to help them get laid anymore, and might actually prevent it.

There is a popular Internet meme that shows a photo of Marilyn Monroe, and makes the point that she is an enduring sex symbol and was considered one of the most beautiful women in the world, but would now be considered “fat” by modern standards. And a casual look at sex symbols from the past 70 or 80 years will show that many of them were much bigger, much curvier, than most sex symbols from the last decade or two. And are those women still considered “beautiful”? I think most people would agree that they were. So what happened?

It’s estimated that the average dress size for an American woman is currently a size 14, so why are we bombarded with images presenting that as a “plus size,” while the models and celebrities that are usually promoted as attractive are much much smaller? What changed?

One of the reasons that popular ideas of beauty have moved away from the larger, more curvy ideal of the female body is simple. Marketing.

We have increasingly as a culture had our very idea of what we “are” marketed to us. And increasingly, what is being marketed is an unattainable ideal of beauty.

In the distant past, being fat and pasty was the ideal of beauty. Only those individuals wealthy enough to avoid manual labor and to have a surplus of food were able to stay pale and grow fat. It was a display of power and prosperity.

Look at the very different way society regards overweight people today. Being fat is often associated with people of a lower income, and many people consider an overweight person to suffer from a lack of self control, or other unattractive personality traits.

Why the shift in perception?

It has to do with changes in our society. It is much easier for a person that has accumulated a certain level of wealth and social status to eat healthy foods, and to tailor their lifestyle to activities like attending a gym. When you’re working two lousy low-paid menial jobs, things like expensive health food and a gym membership are potentially out of reach. When an individual busts their ass doing landscaping or some other menial job just to survive, the idea of spending their money to perform additional physical exertion might seem crazy to them.

In short, being poor doesn’t make pursuing a high societal standard of beauty an easy choice. Dental care and a high level of fitness are not luxuries everyone can afford. Being fat is thus no longer associated with wealth, but with poverty, and is not attractive to most people anymore.

The attainment of an idealized form is constantly promoted by our media as the goal we should all chase, and that’s increasingly aimed at both genders. Men are often fed the same message that women were traditionally bombarded with, that in order to be happy and of value, that they must fit a certain physical standard. It is true that an ugly man with power and money still has an advantage over an unattractive female with a similar level of power and money, but that sexist inequality is slowly changing, and I think it’s largely because of how the media markets to us all.

And what does this kind of saturated marketing achieve?

It basically places value on that which is difficult or impossible to obtain.

Look at it this way. Most people can save up and buy some form of car, but only a small minority of us are ever going to be able to afford a Lamborghini. The luxury brand is valued because of it’s exclusivity, and that applies to any item that people perceive to be obtainable by only a small minority of individuals.

Technological changes have brought into play several forces that affect this. First, the Internet has made it common for many of us to be presented with an almost constant reinforcement of unrealistic beauty. The culture of celebrity worship has never been stronger.

The media has also pushed an old fantasy, but in new ways. The idea that if someone is pretty enough, all they have to do is get the attention of the right person, and instant stardom will surely follow. Witness the new crop of “celebrities” that have become famous by a leaked sex tape, or the incredibly popular talent show format of dreck like “American Idol.” Seemingly anyone that’s good looking or popular enough can become a huge star overnight. It’s a revision of the old “Starlet being discovered walking down Hollywood Boulevard” stories from decades ago.

At the same time, technology has made unreal, actually unreal, depictions of beauty commonplace. We’ve all seen recent examples of airbrushed, or more likely “Photoshopped” models on magazine covers or websites, and this has become more and more popular over the last two decades.

When reality of body image becomes “inconvenient”, technology continues to rescue us, and to feed us a new view of human beauty. The problem is obvious. When that artificial standard starts to become the ideal that people actually compare themselves to, what are the social implications of that unreality?

Women have always been unfairly judged and valued for their physical appearance, and now they’re increasingly being told to alter themselves to better match increasingly unrealistic body images. Why? Money of course. There’s not much to be had marketing the concept that it’s acceptable to be an average looking person, but plenty to be made promoting an impossible ideal of beauty.

Look at the plastic surgery industry. Increasingly, average people turn to various procedures to better meet that increasingly high ideal. There is a well publicized case of a woman that started out pretty enough, but decided that she wanted to look as close as she could to a Barbie Doll. Enter the surgeons, hundreds of thousands of dollars exchanged, and her appearance also completely altered. What sounds like a science fiction story is viewed by many as a success.

I will mention another trend that has sprung up over the last twenty years ago – THE WAR ON PUBIC HAIR.

Yes, and what a hairy war it is. I came of age in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. At that time, most women I encountered did not shave everything off.

Even a casual perusal of any nudie magazine or pornographic film up to about the early 90’s proves that as a society we weren’t previously hung up on women having pubic hair. To most people, the idea that it would soon be normal for a large percentage of adult females to shave everything, would have seemed like a strange direction for our culture to go.

This trend seemed to gain momentum from a media push towards a more standardized and plastic view of female beauty. About the same time that regular women seemed to break out the razors for a more complete body shave, I noticed that, in mainstream porn like Playboy Magazine, the photo editors were adding a synthetic gloss over the models, reducing the obviousness of any pubic hair, and making their whole bodies look unnaturally toned, shiny, and poreless. The level of artifice was suddenly very high, higher than even Playboy had pushed it before.

Since then, I’ve encountered numerous men and (this strikes me as somehow sad) women that think any female that doesn’t shave everything is “gross.” That opinion seems so weird and unsexy to me. By all means, shave whatever you want, but when people start projecting their own hang-ups on others, that’s a weird way to think.

Yet one thing these trends HAVE achieved is to have made us all, but particularly women, subject to a new physical standard, that is farther away from anything naturally achievable by most humans. And of course, since most of us weren’t born with this unreal look already in place, there are lots and lots of businesses that would love to charge us for the service of altering ourselves to better fit that mold.

It’s probably easier feed women the fantasy that if they can just lose another dress size they’ll be afforded the honor of being able to buy something that will make them more attractive than it is to just make the same dress for larger women. It’s a way of reinforcing their insecurities for profit.

If those same clothes were marketed to women of all sizes, then the exclusivity would be diminished. It’s a way of ensuring that only the “right” kind of people – mostly wealthy and incredibly (sometimes artificially) fit looking people can wear your clothing line. It’s an elitist way of protecting the “brand” and it seems to work.

So, is all of this some organized patriarchal plot to keep women down? I think there are plenty of ways that our society treats women poorly, and that patriarchal influences are still there, but I think that societal standards of beauty have been modified. Ideals have slowly changed into something less natural, and just as controlling, but for reasons of commerce and profit as much as keeping women in line. Of course, in many cases, it IS men that are pulling our strings and running the businesses that prey on insecurities. I think there is a difference of intent, although the intent is still evil.

Finding new ways for women to hate themselves, then selling them a solution, is a wildly profitable enterprise. We have to ask, what’s the end game? Better yet, what would happen if everyone in the world wised up, all at once?

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Struggling Musicians, and the War They Wage.

If you are a struggling musician, there is a constant war that you’re waging.

You may say, war? Are you crazy? I’m a sensitive artist, and my talents will soon be known.

Yeah, good luck with that. The thing is, every musician out there is fighting an uphill battle, whether or not they acknowledge it.

There are a few exceptions, like folks that view their musical pursuits as a hobby, and one that they have no interest in taking beyond their bedroom or home studios. They play for the sheer joy of it, and nothing else. However, even these pure hobbyists can become the enemy of aspiring “serious” musicians under the right circumstances. More on that scenario shortly.

However, the struggle is on many fronts. Most musician types seem to start out with an idealized view of what it’s like to be in a band. After all, we’ve all been fed the same fantasies about being instantly discovered and immediately famous and successful. Sadly, these are almost always fantasies, and one that millions of people have. One look at a “Guitar Center” catalog proves this point. Plenty of cheap entry-level instruments all marketed with “The perfect tool to help launch you to success!” copy.

Every single 13-year old kid whose parents buy one of those entry level guitar and amplifier combo packs thinks he or she is going to be a huge star. We all do at one point or another. Picking up a guitar and learning a few chords is all it takes to create a lifelong passion for playing in some people, and that’s a very special and cool thing.

The reality is that any serious move from playing alone and only for fun into the “joining a band” scenario introduces a player to the war.

First, just finding the right people to play with is enormously difficult. Most people who are in their first few bands are in them because a few friends decided to form one. There’s no real audition process, or networking. Your best friend Jim whose parents gave him a drum set for Christmas last year wants to “jam” with you, and he has a friend that he used to play soccer with, and that guy has a bass. You can all meet at Jim’s house to jam in the garage. Thus are born many first or second, or maybe even third bands. For the most part, they last a short time, until one or more of the members get bored with music or find another hobby. Maybe a few last through high school, or even manage to play a few “shows” in someone’s backyard or garage.

In these situations the war is a minor one. The enemies encountered are likely to be a neighbor that wants your band to turn everything down, or a parent that doesn’t want you to “waste” too much time chasing dreams of being a rock star. There will likely be mild scuffles, and occasional head-butting between your friends/band mates or from the aforementioned concerned parent, but nothing too dire. This is essentially the last time many people will seriously entertain any thoughts of trying to “make it.” Soon, the prospect of college or other pressure from impending adulthood will chase away any fantasy of becoming a successful (generally interpreted as “rich” and “famous”) rock star.

However, for those that continue to harbor dreams of success in a band, the next stage in their war is where things get more intense. This is where most of us are no longer living in the protected environment of a parent’s home. Some have moved on to college and have started a second stage similar to their high school years. They’ve discovered a few of their college buddies play instruments, and the natural next step is to form a band from these alliances. The perks are increased from the high school version, any person in a college band is more potentially fuckable than the same person would be if they weren’t in a band, and college is a strange environment where people are experiencing new things. The goofy Emo band that a guy loved in the 10th grade might start to seem stupid, and suddenly funk might be the edgy sound he longs to create. Most colleges also have venues that cater to students, and some of these will allow bands to play real gigs. Success seems right around the corner!

But there’s a war going on, right? So whose the enemy here? Well, usually it’s your band mates, and the fact that you’re all mostly there to earn a degree and then move on to “real life” where for most people, music is a hobby, not a serious pursuit.

For those that are still interested in that pursuit, but who didn’t go to college, things are perhaps clearer. The reason for that is that along with their musical aspirations, they must also make a living somehow.

I know guys that opted out of music scholarships at prestigious schools because they wanted to pursue their bands full time, basically a nightmare scenario for the concerned parent of a high school kid in a band. Either being young dumb asses or just not caring, they figured it would be a lot cooler to throw away that college experience for what they thought would be the more direct path to rock stardom.

These people often DO form bands, and also alliances with other people in other bands. Local “scenes” tend to develop, because everyone is chasing a similar goal. At their best, these sorts of scenes inspire a lot of creativity, and some truly good bands result. But they also usually create rivalries, which brings us to another aspect of the music war.

Yes, if you’re in an even slightly popular local band, some people will love you and support you. You might become a locally famous scenester, and have a certain amount of local cred. Often this will lead to a relatively comfy day job working at a trendy record shop or music venue. You may even become one with the enemy itself – the local music reviewer (we’ll get back to this).

But you’ll also probably make a few enemies, in some cases with people you have barely interacted with. Other people in shittier or less popular bands will be jealous haters if your band is doing well. Many musicians share a toxic personality trait – low self esteem mixed with a large ego. Any perceived slight is enough to create an imagined enemy. When I was in a semi-high profile local band, people I didn’t even know seemed to hate me because of the band I was in. It was stupid, but is often the norm.

Then there are the venues. More accurately, the people that own and run the venues you’re going to want to play in. The people that own any bar or club are really interested in one thing – making a lot of money, generally from bar sales or the cover they charge for entry. They don’t give a shit if you’re in an awesome new band called “Death Hippie” and the music is genius. If they think that the only people you’re going to bring to their club are your significant others and a handful of good friends, “Death Hippie” isn’t getting the gig, or will get wrangled into some abysmal “pay to play” deal, where the band has to pre-sell a certain number of tickets or ends up paying the club.

In a lot of cities, the only types of bands that clubs want to feature are cover bands, because they tend to bring in enough drunk idiots to make a lot of money. Understandable, but not ideal for any musician or band trying to push their own original songs.

Fortunately, larger cities usually have a handful of venues that will feature bands playing original material, and that will allow new bands the chance to play without too much hassle. These are the types of clubs struggling bands should try to find. Generally, the more of those type there are, the better a town’s live music scene.

In the long run, all bars and clubs are in the business of making money. If your band isn’t going to help them do that, then why should they let you play? It’s not a matter of artistic merit, it’s a matter of economics. It’s also why some bands end almost before they get a chance to play out. There aren’t enough venues with an owner adventurous enough to take a chance on something that might not pack the place.

Another enemy that can destroy a band’s chances at local success is the local music reviewer. Almost any city of a certain size will have a weekly local music and culture paper, or the Internet equivalent. As such, they will also have a number of reviewers going to local shows. All it takes to hurt a developing band is one or two shitastic reviews by one of those people. And bands take this stuff seriously. I used to know a band critic for “The Austin Chronicle” who got occasional death threats from bands she’d given bad reviews to. On the other hand, I’ve also seen cases where some local band that wasn’t great got rave reviews, probably because someone in the band was a pal of the reviewer.

So what’s the best tactic for besting this enemy? Have someone cute in your band fuck them, or better still, gut the reviewer like a fish. That would be my advice. If those aren’t options for you, then I would try to evade the creepy eye of the critic until your band is popular enough that their potential scorn can’t hurt you. But really, just murder those guys. No good music scene needs them.

After one has been pursuing their musical goals for a few years, one of two things usually happens. They may become almost ridiculously positive people. This is not a bad thing, but it’s really a survival strategy. Because if they let the negativity and rejection they’ve faced chasing their dream affect them, they’d probably never leave their bedrooms again.

The other extreme are the shell shocked, battle hardened music veterans. They’ve been in gigging bands for years, and have adopted an “us verses them” attitude. Understandably, it usually is a realistic attitude to have. They’ll generally have a very professional, but jaded way of dealing with everything. No longer caring if their band mates are friends with one another, everything is a business decision, even their haircuts. They’ll sometimes talk about all of the sacrifices they’ve made for their art, but it’s just as honest to say that they didn’t make “sacrifices” so much as decisions, and some of those decisions don’t guarantee success.

A lot of the time, these types of individuals and bands will uproot from whatever not-so-happening scene they currently live in, and flock to places like LA, or wherever the new hotspot for music is. The problem for them is that they soon discover that LOTS of similarly motivated musicians made the same decision, like thousands of cutthroat pirate businessmen following the same trends.

Another huge enemy to the aspiring musician is the acquisition of a significant other. Yes, some manage to score the golden ticket, and actually find a muse that doesn’t want to capture them and then force them to quit doing the things they were attracted to to begin with, but a lot of them don’t. It’s a cliche for a reason.

And it makes sense. Being the boyfriend or girlfriend, or husband or wife of an even slightly successful musician is tough. They’re going to be away from home for long periods of time, and there will be attractive men and women throwing themselves at them. For someone that’s young and still really motivated to chase fame and fortune as a musician, it’s probably best just to avoid serious relationships. Sounds harsh, but it’s true. I’ve seen more band drama caused by an angry significant other than any other cause over the years.

The “war” is a life-long one for many of us. Playing music and being in bands gets in your blood – Almost anyone that’s played a few live shows will know what I’m talking about. The idea of just permanently leaving that behind seems incomprehensible, but maintaining one’s sanity and relationships while trying to go further with musical goals is a tough road to follow.

But it’s the only one some of us CAN follow. Our goals may change, and the ways in which we pursue those goals may change too, but quitting entirely is just not an option.

I always try to remember that haters are going to hate, that fools and creeps will try to tear you down, but in the long run, at the end of your life, you can still say “fuck it, I did something here, and it was worth it.”

But first you have to start murdering all of those troublesome club owners, music critics, and rival bands.

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