Apple Music Special – The Black Parade, by My Chemical Romance

Back from the dead, huh…

iTunes, A to Z

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Released October 23, 2006

51 min, 53 sec

I have a month of Apple Music because of Frank Ocean (thanks asshole), so I figure that I should go ahead and make it useful for the rest of the month. Spotify will be back whenever. Who cares?

Man, remember emo music?

In the mid-2000s, as we established in the last article, I was a young, impressionable middle schooler, finally discovering a world of music outside of Hillary Duff and Aly & AJ. By 2006, I was soliciting music recommendations from everyone I knew, and it frequently led to choices that I look back on and question.

This one both is and isn’t one of them.

My Chemical Romance had a fascinating arc as a band. Forming in 2001, in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, by the release of their second album Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge in 2004…

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2019

Yeah, this format again.

Felt strange to write a new post, considering it’s been almost an entire year since the last one. There’s a lot that goes into that – the Insta is rolling, for the most part, and that partially accounts for the absence, but the biggest reason this blog has been inactive is that, frankly, I don’t think I need it any more.

Let me explain. When this blog began, it was a school project: one post a day, for at least a week, which I managed to parlay into four months of daily posts. When that schedule finally gave out, I still had a great interest in maintaining the blog, so I gave it a shot, posting irregularly throughout the rest of the year. After that is when the wheels really fell off – I had a lot of personal stuff to handle, and I just didn’t have the time or mental energy for this blog. I kept coming back, though, and over the past six months, deep into the unintentional hiatus for this blog, I finally realized what was driving me: creativity.

What I mean by that is that I kept this blog going because I just wanted to write something, anything, and in 2016 and 2017, all I could muster the energy for was writing about music. I was completely burnt out on creative writing, slogging through a years-long bout of writer’s block that crippled my ability to do anything that required abstract thought. So I leaned on this blog and did my best to keep it going, even as my posting habits dwindled down to three or four posts a year. The horrific, deeply upsetting deaths of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington in 2017 didn’t help matters, either, as I couldn’t muster up the desire to write about music for a long time after that.

Instagram has helped, substantially. Writing in short bursts removed most of the mental barrier I’d developed against writing and posting regularly, and I managed to keep a pretty hefty schedule for most of the year, at least twice a week. I let it slide towards the end of the year, and had to take a couple months off from it, but the Insta is back in action this year, and this time maybe I’ll make it over the finish line with a consistent schedule.

More importantly than the Insta, however, is the fact that, this year, I finally conquered the writer’s block that had been smashing my kneecaps over and over since 2014. I did NaNoWriMo, made it over the 50k word mark in 28 days, and am currently doing a second pass on the novel that resulted. That’s sucking up nearly all of my creative energy, but that energy has been stronger and more consistent than it’s been maybe ever, resulting in daily work on a schedule I never imagined I’d be able to keep. It’s been a wonderful feeling the past several months, and I’m doing all I can to hold onto it as long as possible.

Unfortunately, that means I have pretty much no room for anything besides the Insta, and that includes this blog. The Chris Cornell compilation caught my eye and shook me until I wrote about it, but other than that, I can feel that this blog has run its course in my heart. I’ve done more with it than I ever figured I would when I first started it so long ago, and I’m extremely proud of how my writing and criticism has developed as a direct consequence of hammering away at this blog. But I think it’s time to stop promising posts, stop trying to adhere to a schedule that I know will never work. It’s time, basically, to say goodbye.

Now, that doesn’t mean I’m closing the doors for good. “Never say never” is a common refrain among members of a broken-up band when they want to string their fans along a bit, and don’t want their comments in the media to bite them in the ass in the future, but it serves the purpose I need it to in this case. I’m sure I’ll be motivated to write a post once in a while, and I’ll want an outlet for that. But don’t expect it any time soon, because there’s no schedule. There shouldn’t be any expectations, either.

We took the long way around, to be sure. And I’m not particularly sure where we ended up.

But here we are.

Chris Cornell

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Released November 16, 2018

4 hrs, 59 min, 19 sec

Chris Cornell’s tragic death in early 2017 inspired a wide array of tributes and memorials, and had a cascading effect across the remnants of his professional and personal lives. A sustained Audioslave reunion never materialized, Soundgarden went into a hiatus for months while the remaining members figured out how best to end the band, and Cornell’s wife spent several months in the public eye attempting to reconcile the events that led to Cornell’s death. Once the dust began to settle, those in charge of Cornell’s legacy turned an eye towards memorializing him via his deep library of music, spread across Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, Audioslave, and his solo career. The first product of that memorialization is the self-titled best-of compilation Chris Cornell.

As a compilation, Chris Cornell is straightforward and doesn’t overthink things, mostly sticking to a greatest hits-type format, emphasizing singles while occasionally tossing in a deep cut or curveball track. What I like about the way this is formatted is that the album doesn’t segregate Cornell’s various projects; instead, the track list for the first three discs goes in strictly chronological order, weaving solo tracks in with band projects, split by the three “eras” of Cornell’s career – Soundgarden and Temple of the Dog on disc 1, Audioslave and 2000s solo tracks on disc 2, and Soundgarden revived and late-era solo tracks on disc 3. Each major album Cornell was involved with is represented here, even if only with one song. And yes, that means Scream is accounted for here, with not just one but two tracks, probably more than what that album deserves.

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I’m not especially familiar with Soundgarden, admittedly, so disc 1 was the most interesting listen for me at first glance, given that I’d only listened to most of the songs on it once or twice. Of course, there are the heavy hitters like “Black Hole Sun,” “Outshined,” “Spoonman,” etc. But though this early section of Cornell’s career is obviously dominated by Soundgarden, two songs stand out in the track list – the solo track “Seasons,” Cornell’s first solo release, originally from the soundtrack to Singles, and the Jimi Hendrix cover “Hey Baby (Land of the New Rising Sun)”, recorded with three other former members of Temple of the Dog, forming a pseudo-reunion that was never repeated. These two songs are an example of the drawbacks of the album’s strict chronological sequencing, breaking up the grunge-fest and feeling a little incongruous as a result. Both of them, however, represent early examples of Cornell’s flexibility, and hint towards what was to come in his career.

Disc 2 is pretty straightforward, representing Euphoria Mourning, Carry On, Scream, and all of Audioslave, with a random featured track thrown in at the end to account for Disc 3’s length. The selection sticks mostly to singles for each album, though “Sunshower” and “Sweet Euphoria” are inspired choices from Cornell’s debut solo album in lieu of “Preaching the End of the World,” and Carry On is done a disservice by only including Cornell’s dour, unpleasant cover of “Billie Jean” as opposed to, say, literally any other track from the album (“Arms Around Your Love”? “Scar on the Sky”? Did Cornell say at some point that he hates this album?), remarkably losing out to Scream in terms of sheer numerical representation. Naturally, however, Scream’s representation is hedged by using the rock version of “Long Gone” (vastly superior) and the bizarre choice of the Steve Aoki remix of “Part of Me.” The remix, simply put, is bad, and doesn’t warrant a place on this compilation. The best I can say about it is that including it is a brave decision, exploring exactly what this era of Cornell’s career entailed.

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I’ve already talked at length of my love of Audioslave, as mediocre as the music may be in retrospect (and it continues to age pretty poorly). The selection is self-evident, all singles, though “Shape of Things to Come” being thrown in over “Original Fire” or “Wide Awake” is a choice I would love to hear the reasoning behind, given that it’s the only non-single given any due in this section of the album. Taken together, the album casts the Audioslave era as a curious blip in Cornell’s career, three albums and six years sandwiched between eras of Soundgarden and solo releases, a marriage that seemed arranged from the start, that took too long to grow into its own and disappeared before it could truly explore the ramifications of that new, merged sound that began to emerge on Out of Exile and Revelations.

Disc 3 is all late-era Cornell, kicked off with a couple of interesting (but inessential) features, and then diving headfirst into Songbook, the utterly fantastic live album that heralded Cornell’s return to the acoustic rock sound his solo career never should have foregone. From there, we get a couple of reunion-Soundgarden tracks, and some well-deserved due for the wonderfully folky Higher Truth, before entering the period where Cornell became a bit of a hired gun, producing single after single for movies and television series, all the way through to the last track released in his lifetime, “The Promise.” If nothing else, this album represents a good way to grab all these tracks and bundle them together, giving them a proper home in Cornell’s discography. I always appreciate that, because I hate having single tracks from random soundtracks in my iTunes library. It looks ugly and stupid. Yes, I know that’s petty. I don’t care.

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Before moving onto the rarities disc, the career retrospective ends with an unreleased new song, “When Bad Does Good.” I wish I could say that this song is essential, a window into Cornell’s psyche, a beautiful farewell to the artist, but to me, it just feels like another song in the vein of the soundtrack songs immediately preceding it. But that’s fine – Cornell’s catalogue is so deep, and so full of meaning already, that one slight miss at the end is more than alright.

Disc 4 is sort of like a compressed version of the preceding three discs, timeline-wise. It contains a selection of live tracks from across Cornell’s career, spanning Soundgarden in 1992 all the way down to solo shows in 2016. The selection avoids the hits, instead covering blind spots from the previous three discs – live renditions of songs like “Jesus Christ Pose,” “Wide Awake,” and “All Night Thing” – and providing high-profile covers Cornell favored throughout his career, like “Redemption Song” and “Thank You.” The selection is eclectic and engaging – a Black Sabbath cover and two deep cuts represent early Soundgarden, Audioslave gets its due with a single from “Live in Cuba,” Temple of the Dog’s iconic “Reach Down” appears in live form alongside a beautiful Mother Love Bone cover, and Cornell’s solo career covers some really wild outliers, like the Beatles cover “A Day in the Life” and the wonderfully left-field “Wild World” with Yusuf/Cat Stevens. (Keep an ear out for Cornell’s expression of admiration for Stevens at the start of that one – such a wonderfully human moment.)

There’s plenty to unpack in this selection, which, almost by itself, makes the entire collection worthwhile. Something that immediately stood out to me was that the album pulls three songs from a solo acoustic performance in Sweden in 2006, a concert that has been circulating as a bootleg for over a decade. I was pleasantly surprised to see this, and to get selections from this concert in high quality, as I’ve been listening to it since long before the Songbook concert tours, a relatively early indicator of the power Cornell’s voice held even with backing as sparse as a single acoustic guitar. The rendition of “Redemption Song” is a touching, if slightly off-kilter, duet with Cornell’s daughter, and the joy in his voice is evident from the start. “One” is an interesting mash-up of the U2 and Metallica songs of the same name, a musical trick Cornell was excited to trot out during his 2015 solo shows. Overall, disc 4 provides a sampling of what made Cornell such a great and deeply revered artist – his versatility and ability to adapt his voice to any situation, either live or in the studio. He sounds just as at home next to Cat Stevens as he does when backed by the grunge tones of Soundgarden, able to carry an eleven-minute odyssey just as effectively as a song a third of the length. Closing out the album with “Thank You” is an interesting choice, one that I don’t fully agree with, given that it’s a cover, but the idea of closing out with a song beloved and frequently played by Cornell, in an arrangement that puts his gorgeous voice to the forefront, is one that I can at least get behind.

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Chris Cornell left behind a long, diverse legacy in death. He had his highs and lows, peaks and valleys that highlighted his commitment to making music the way he wanted, no matter if it was commercially viable or even that good of an idea at the time. He rose out of the Seattle grunge scene to become a world-renowned voice, and the middle period of his career helped to exorcise demons that had accumulated during his Soundgarden tenure, ensuring that he remained healthy for a while longer, even if it wasn’t enough in the end. And he redefined himself as a well-respected solo artist towards the unfortunate end of his life, juggling Soundgarden, solo work, and reunions with Temple of the Dog and Audioslave effortlessly, an ever-spinning carousel of work that any artist would kill to have even a fraction of.

This compilation only scratches the surface of Cornell’s catalogue. And that’s fine – that’s what it’s meant to do. Give it to a friend, a colleague, someone unfamiliar with Cornell’s work. Show them the artistry, the brilliance, the heart of this artist, one of the greatest rock musicians of our time. Show them what the world has lost.

And I’m lost / behind

The words I’ll never find

And I’m left / behind

As seasons roll on by

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Box Set Special – The River, by Bruce Springsteen

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Released October 17, 1980

83 min, 47 sec

Coming from the musical triumphs of Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town back to back, Bruce Springsteen had established that he could do whatever he wanted for a little while. Born to Run marked the beginning of Springsteen’s turn from excitable hippie to representative of the working man; Darkness captured the raw essence of how the working man truly felt. As I noted when talking about Darkness a few years ago, Springsteen was in a dark, dark place when writing that album, and upon emerging from it with the supporting tour, Springsteen decided that he wanted to try and recapture his lighter, more fun-loving side.

The early recording of The River certainly reflects this pivot in Springsteen’s mindset. He wrote and recorded quickly, hammering away at new songs as well as songs that had first appeared during the Darkness sessions, songs like “The Ties That Bind,” “Independence Day,” and “Sherry Darling,” many of which premiered during the Darkness tour. The sessions through August 1979 yielded twenty-four songs; Springsteen, with a single album in mind at this point, pulled together ten for a tentative track list:

1. The Ties That Bind

2. The Price You Pay

3. Be True

4. Ricky Wants a Man of Her Own

5. Stolen Car

6. I Wanna Marry You

7. Loose Ends

8. Hungry Heart

9. The Man Who Got Away

10. Ramrod

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Already, at this point, darkness began to creep into The River, mainly through the appearance of “Stolen Car” as the Side 1 closer. But this track list clearly demonstrates Springsteen’s desire to release a lighter album, keeping himself above the shadowy corners of Darkness.

But Springsteen was dissatisfied and restless, and he continued recording through the next two months. At this point, the album’s emotional core began to emerge, particularly with the recording of “The River,” though Springsteen still pushed against the dichotomy of light-heartedness and heavy reality that he had yet to truly understand.

This struggle personifies The River, and Springsteen’s desire to illustrate all sides of rock as a genre was the primary motivating factor behind the album’s expansion into a twenty-track behemoth. At this point in time, however, Springsteen was still thinking and formatting the album in the mold of a single LP, determined to make his vision fit within its ten-track confines. He felt comfortable enough with the format that he submitted a single-LP album to Columbia Records in October 1979, with the title The Ties That Bind:

1. The Ties That Bind

2. Cindy

3. Hungry Heart

4. Stolen Car

5. Be True

6. The River

7. You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)

8. The Price You Pay

9. I Wanna Marry You

10. Loose Ends

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This was closer, but Springsteen felt that it wasn’t drastic enough, wasn’t big enough, just was not enough. The label began working on the album artwork and promotion, intending to have the album out before the end of the year. But after submitting it, Springsteen, ever the perfectionist, pulled the album back and began hammering away again.

The dichotomy between joy and sorrow, he felt, needed to be more explicit, needed to be more detailed. The framework of that split can be seen in The Ties That Bind, with “Hungry Heart” and “Stolen Car” in sequence one after the other, and with “The River” opening Side 2 immediately before the frankly inessential “You Can Look.”

It’s a little remarkable to see what didn’t make the cut at this stage of the album’s recording process – no “Ramrod,” no “Independence Day,” no “Point Blank.” The sheer depth of Springsteen’s songbook at this point of his career is astounding. He would just write and write and write, to the point that he would give away bona fide hits like “Because the Night” and “Fire” simply because he wasn’t interested in fitting them on one of his own albums. Springsteen’s signature prolific nature, combined with his dissatisfaction with the picture The Ties That Bind was painting, would eventually burst the dam of the single album format, spilling out into a double album in early 1980 as Springsteen continued to write and hone in on the sound and themes he was hoping to convey.

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Springsteen stated after the album’s release that he’d realized, during the production of The River, that contradiction and paradox are core tenets of rock music – the “frivolous next to the solemn,” as Wikipedia puts it. Rock music is about joy and partying and enjoyment of life, but it also illustrates hardship and despair. Springsteen’s goal with The River was to illustrate that dichotomy, to show both the party and what happens when all the guests leave, and the host only has himself for company. It was this desire that led to the emotional whiplash of “Two Hearts” leading into “Independence Day,” and the way Side 2 crashes down from “Crush on You” to title track “The River,” a song Springsteen wrote about his sister. “Crush on You” is inessential and tacky, but its mere presence causes “The River,” a song about accidental pregnancy forcing a couple to grow up too quickly and too soon, to resonate even more with its listeners than it would have if it stood alone.

The balance is delicate at times, and doesn’t always land right. Side 3 is a pretty good example of this – I’ve never really enjoyed the sequencing of “I’m a Rocker” into “Fade Away” into “Stolen Car.” It feels a little bit thrown together, as if Springsteen wasn’t really sure where these songs should sit on the record, just that they needed to make the cut. And a lot of the songs meant to illustrate the lighter side of the rock and roll life come off as inessential and filler-y, as if Springsteen had committed to a double album and needed to justify it. I understand their purpose, and in terms of serving the album’s core theme, they work, but as standalone songs, I’ve never enjoyed them, and it takes a lot of effort to not simply skip over them when listening to the album. It’s a little funny to me that Springsteen described some of them as his desire to capture the feel of his live shows, when the songs that really cemented him as a master of the live show were epics like “Backstreets” and “Jungleland,” with Springsteen giving his audience a tour through the heart of America, warts and all.

I’ve got a hearty list of favorites, though. “Independence Day” details Springsteen’s relationship with his father and the town they grew up in, vividly illustrating the inherent sadness his father fought with, enduring a changing of the times in the late 70s that carried over into the 80s. “The Ties That Bind,” “Sherry Darling,” and “Out in the Street” all convey a feeling of freedom, fleeting as it may be, that was so hard to grasp for the blue-collar worker in America in the 70s. “The River” is a classic, of course, but so is “Fade Away,” a powerfully melancholy song illustrating the loss of a love, who has moved on to someone better for her. But perhaps the strongest one-two punch of the entire album is “Drive All Night” into “Wreck on the Highway,” closing the album on the opposite note of the opening – once again embodying the two sides of rock music that Springsteen strove so hard to convey.  “Drive All Night” is dripping with despair, the protagonist fighting against a loss that feels inevitable from the start to the end, pierced through the middle by a haunting, wailing Clarence Clemons solo. “Wreck on the Highway” is the come-down, the quiet coda to the long journey of The River, focusing once more on a couple in the middle of America, contemplating the cruelty and callousness of the world around them.

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Perhaps The River’s sprawling nature is why it doesn’t feel as essential, as vital, to me. But it was massively successful, propelling Springsteen further and further into the American consciousness. The album produced standards like “Ramrod,” “Cadillac Ranch,” “Two Hearts,” and of course, the monstrously successful “Hungry Heart” – Springsteen’s only top-ten Billboard pop hit, which, like so many other songs, Springsteen hadn’t even written for himself. Manager Jon Landau convinced Springsteen to retain it, and after a remix that sped up the song and pitched Springsteen’s voice up, the song became The River’s breakout pop hit, and one of his biggest live show hits.

Funnily enough, the tour in support of The River was just as large and sprawling as its root album, with Springsteen returning to Europe for the first time since his ill-fated trip during the Born to Run tours. This tour also featured, until 2014, the longest show of Springsteen’s career, on New Year’s Eve 1980 (and leaking into the start of 1981), 38 songs over four hours. The River’s tour was, like Darkness and Born to Run before it, an escalation of the same tour structure that came before, with longer shows and a more grandiose presentation by Springsteen. Like its corresponding album, the tour isn’t talked about in the same reverent terms as Darkness, but, like pretty much every tour Springsteen has ever embarked on, it had more than enough iconic moments, including one of the first instances of political speech Springsteen had ever exhibited, at the November 5, 1980 show, the day after Ronald Reagan was elected President. Springsteen stated of the election, “I don’t know what you guys think about what happened last night, but I think it’s pretty frightening,” and followed that with a powerful, hectic rendition of “Badlands, a surprisingly strong political statement at the time.

Now then, what’s in the box?

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The River, like Born to Run and Darkness before it, received a deluxe reissue collection in an anniversary year, this time the 35th anniversary in 2015. The Ties That Bind: The River Collection uses The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story as its base, containing a remaster of The River in packaging that emulates the original vinyl release (though not as closely as previous reissues), a live show from the era, a documentary chronicling the making of the album, and a set of outtakes. Uniquely, The Ties That Bind separately packages the original Ties That Bind single album, providing fans a glimpse at what could have been.

The packaging is predictably gorgeous, held in a simply massive slipcase featuring an expanded version of The River’s album cover, the text left off to focus on the stark profile of Springsteen. The CDs and Blu-rays are packaged in a facsimile of a tour crate, alongside a reproduction of Springsteen’s River-era notebook (with lyrics to the outtakes printed and faux-stapled in), and a beautiful coffee-table style photo book filled to the brim with photos from the recording and subsequent tour.

Despite the expansive nature of The Ties That Bind – that’s becoming a pretty common theme here – I found it to be somewhat more lacking than The Promise. Part of this is the sheer level of mysticism and lore centered around Darkness and its enormous amount of outtakes that Springsteen saw fit to dish out as sparingly as he possibly could. Another part is that Springsteen apparently deemed a decent swath of River outtakes to be unfit for release, which, combined with the sizable amount of River outtakes previously released on Tracks in 1998, meant that Springsteen had to recycle a batch of “greatest hits” outtakes from the River era to fill out the outtakes CD. And it was a significant amount, amounting to the entire second half of the outtakes CD.

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Though it made sense why Springsteen filled it out in this manner – there was a standard of content quantity established by The Promise, and The River had already used nearly half of the songs written on the original album itself – it still felt like a bit of a letdown. But hey, we got a studio recording of “Paradise by the “C””, while I believe is the only instrumental track Springsteen has ever released, as well as highlights like “Meet Me in the City” and “Stray Bullet.”

The professional mix of the single album is also a curious listen, even if it had been available for decades as a bootleg in the exact sequence released in this box set. It’s a nice, unique nod to the evolution of The River’s recording process, and an interesting batch of tracks for the less obsessive fan.

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The River accomplished what it set out to do – it’s a sprawling collection of songs written at the height of Springsteen’s raw productivity, and provides a fascinating look into how Springsteen thought about the genre he worked in. At times it feels overly long, it drags for nearly an entire side, and the box set doesn’t quite match the heights set by The Promise, but The River is still easily an essential piece of the Springsteen canon, his first step forward as a true rock star, setting the stage for the rest of his career.

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More Springsteen: Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. | Born to Run | Darkness on the Edge of Town | Born in the U.S.A. | Live/1975-85 | Chimes of Freedom | Columbia Records Radio Hour | Blood Brothers EP | Devils & Dust | American Beauty

Post Traumatic EP, by Mike Shinoda

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Released January 25, 2018

9 minutes, 35 seconds

Chester Bennington died on July 20, 2017.

Linkin Park released a formal statement five days later, alongside the launch of a tribute on their website. They redirected future donations to Music for Relief to a fund set up in memory of Chester. They announced a tribute concert, with dozens of guest musicians, which turned out to be the most memorable concert Linkin Park had ever performed.

Through it all, the five members of Linkin Park did what they could to cope. And as it turned out, Mike Shinoda, as he always had, turned to music to do that coping.

Post Traumatic is the first, and certainly not the last, result of that process.

This EP is grief in sonic form. All three tracks take on a different facet, centering on Shinoda’s attempts to process how he’s feeling, and what comes next when the walls come down and life is reduced to chaos.

In that regard, “Place to Start” is a soft, appropriate opener for the EP. Over a sparse, hazy beat, Shinoda laments how quickly everything he thought was safe could fall apart in an instant, distraught over the total lack of control he suddenly had over his life and livelihood. The corresponding video provides a strong visual aid, the song comprising of a single shot of Shinoda, the camera (his phone, most likely) pointing up from his chest, a bright sunbeam shining through the window. Shinoda is slouched over, barely able to get the words out.

The song concludes with a collage of voicemail messages, expressing condolences and statements from the callers that they were there if Shinoda needed anything. The video overlays this with lingering shots of his childrens’ rooms in Shinoda’s house – a bunk bed, bookshelves, bins of toys. The final shot is of two lanyards from the memorial show, an artistic rendering of Chester mid-song on them. The message of the song and video are clear – Chester is gone, and Shinoda has no idea how to move forward.

“Over Again” is the clear centerpiece of the EP, showing Shinoda’s transition from despondence to anger as he tries to put things back together and figure out the first step forward for himself and for Linkin Park. Though Bennington had been the (primary) voice of Linkin Park, and, as stated by many related to the band, the heart, Shinoda has always been the core of the band, providing the musical background and taking on the role of head decision-maker, particularly when Bennington was devoting time to his numerous side-projects (the most high-profile being his two years with Stone Temple Pilots, which coincided with the recording and release of The Hunting Party). At the point in time the song was written, Shinoda had been navigating the logistics of the memorial show for months, and the first verse is set just before the show is set to be played. Shinoda is fearful and unsure whether or not he can get through it, overwhelmed by the very prospect of playing another show.

The video, much like the song itself, is the clearest and strongest expression of Shinoda’s goal with this EP. The video is chaotic, filmed on Shinoda’s phone, and the first verse features an extreme close-up shot of Shinoda’s face as he raps through the first verse, his eyes manic, wearing the outfit he wore for the memorial show. The video feels like a stream of consciousness expression of Shinoda’s emotions, grainy, shaky. Shinoda stated that everything for the EP was done entirely by him, and it shows in the unrefined, raw nature of the videos.

The second verse, written and set just after the memorial concert, turns Shinoda’s rage outwards, lashing out at people questioning his grief and its authenticity, swinging back at the people prodding him for some sort of reaction, to express precisely how he was feeling. He mocks the attempts to sympathize with something that few people could understand, the feeling of losing a beloved friend and jeopardizing a career in one stroke. The video escalates alongside the song, the colors starting to blow out as the song progresses, Shinoda’s face covered in shadow and the grain of the footage, the camera growing shakier and shakier. Finally, as the final chorus starts, the colors invert, the camera shaking wildly, blurring and distorting the picture as the song builds to its conclusion, only settling once the outro concludes.

From this peak, the EP concludes with “Watching As I Fall,” as Shinoda moves past anger to exasperated frustration, continuing to grapple with how people perceive he should act. He’s fed up, but he doesn’t have the energy to lash out with anger any more. He doesn’t know what he can or should say or do; he only knows what he is saying, or is doing. That’s all he can offer, and that should be more than enough.

The video contains a lot of rapid cuts and random footage, much of it blurred and difficult to parse. It provides an interesting contrast considering how clearly structured the song itself is, providing another window into Shinoda’s psyche, transitioning from a straightforward delivery of the lyrics from Shinoda to him walking around his house, the camera shaking, as numerous cut-ins of other footage show Shinoda’s attempts to keep himself busy. The video concludes with animation over the final chorus and outro, drawn by Shinoda himself, a mix of shapes and art in his usual style, exploding back into vague, blown-out footage as the song closes out.

The video for “Watching As I Fall” contains a postscript, a short update video from Shinoda, filmed in December, discussing some of his recent thoughts and activities. The video, to me, seems to be a way to reassure fans, showing that, though Shinoda was still coping and dealing with the pain of loss, he was still okay, still functioning, still working, still enjoying life. As sad as the surrounding circumstances are, it’s good to see that Shinoda is still the same man he always has been.

This EP, frankly, is amazing to me. It’s such a powerful illustration of grief and the pain of loss, coming from a musician who somehow still seems to be underrated and underappreciated despite the incredible versatility he’s always demonstrated as an artist. Perhaps the best news to come out of this EP is the knowledge that Shinoda has much more music in his pocket, ready to be released essentially at any time. He stated in a Twitter Q&A on the day of the release that he wanted to gauge the response to the EP before committing to releasing more.

I worried about what Linkin Park would end up doing for a long time after the news of Chester’s death came. Would they break up? Continue as a five-piece, with Shinoda as the lead singer? Bring in guests, or, even, bring in someone new as a permanent replacement?

This EP doesn’t give any hints as to Linkin Park’s future. Shinoda has said that the band is still figuring out what their next step will be, but hinted that a breakup was not in the cards. And that’s fine by me – given what we know Shinoda is capable of as a solo artist, we’ll still have plenty of music from him while Linkin Park determines their future direction. It will take time, and they have plenty of it.

People handle loss in all kinds of different ways. There are endless coping mechanisms for grief, and everyone processes it in a different manner. As terrible as the circumstances are, we should be grateful that Mike Shinoda chose to continue making music in order to push his way through tragedy, because the end result is gorgeous, and a fantastic sign of things to come.

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Instagram, A to Z

I made an Instagram.

The idea behind it is to show off my colored vinyl collection, but I’ll probably alternate between those and regular vinyl to pad out the posts. There’ll probably be one every couple of days until I get tired of it. There’ll generally also be a blurb about the album on each post, so it’s like a miniature iTunes, A to Z post each time because god knows I can’t handle posting here regularly.

I’ll have a 2018 goals post up once I actually feel the motivation to do it. Apologies for the sudden silence this past year after promising more – my creativity and desire to write ebbs and flows pretty strongly, even after I did a hard reset of my brain to try and loosen up, and not think of everything I write in terms of what I can get out of it. That didn’t really extend to this blog, however, and I got pretty demotivated after writing two obituaries in a row of two childhood hero musicians.

But I’m definitely thinking about this blog, and figuring out some sort of thing to do with it. Maybe even just once a month could be enough. I’ll figure it out.

In the meantime, enjoy aesthetic posts on Instagram.

One More Light

 

This one…this one really hurts.

Childhood idols shouldn’t be dead at 41.

I’ve talked, at length, about the influence that Linkin Park had on me as a child and early teenager. Linkin Park was my musical awakening, the first band that I latched onto and said “Yeah, this is my favorite.” Hybrid Theory and Meteora became a soundtrack for middle school and early high school years that, in retrospect, were overblown on a personal level, though there was plenty of legitimate anger and angst to be had. (Everyone always says that about themselves.)

Linkin Park was the first band I was a fan of that felt like they were my contemporaries. They hadn’t been around for 30 years like Rush, or even 10+ years like Green Day, or 20 years like Metallica. Linkin Park hit the scene in 2000, when I was 7, old enough to at least passively absorb the things I heard and remember them as parts of the pop culture that I grew up in. And I became a fan at, in my opinion, just the right time – when Linkin Park took a permanent pivot away from surface-level nu-metal and started really drilling down into figuring out the kind of music they wanted to make, independently of label and fan expectations. And though it has been a very long time since I’ve had a feeling of true excitement regarding something Linkin Park-related, being a hardcore fan through the Minutes to Midnight, A Thousand Suns, and even LIVING THINGS eras was something I’ll always value and cherish.

I thought Linkin Park would last forever. As a young teen, I thought it would be because they were rock gods. As an adult, I figured that their core fanbase would provide enough support for them to keep doing literally whatever sort of music they felt like doing, with a new album every few years for the next forty years. Chester Bennington and the rest, in their 70s, still somehow belting out “One Step Closer.”

Instead, this.

Right now, it’s too fresh. No statement. No indicator what the future will hold for the band, in the wake of Chester’s suicide by hanging. How could there be? Is there even any filling in of such a massive void? This is a band that, for eighteen years, had one line-up, with only temporary hiccups in the early years. By 2001, the line-up that played their final show on July 6, 2017 was fully formed. Sixteen years of the same six men, in the studio, on stage together. I cannot even begin to imagine what you would do next.

And today, Chris Cornell would have been 53 years old. I don’t think that’s just cruel irony, either.

But it’s still time for another round of questions without answers, grasping at reason, trying to make sense of it. “How could a man with millions, an iconic, multimillion unit selling band, a wonderful wife, and six kids not see the good in the world? In his life?”

There’s no answer. None that will ever be satisfactory, at least. If it was depression, then depression has claimed yet another innocent victim. If it was something else, maybe we’ll find out some day. For now, we’re all left holding our questions, while the band and Chester’s family are left holding a void.

But what a career and legacy to leave behind. Linkin Park was utterly gigantic, an inescapable behemoth of rock radio, in the early 2000s. Singles from Hybrid Theory and Meteora were ubiquitous. “In the End,” “Somewhere I Belong,” “One Step Closer,” “Numb,” the list goes on and on. Bona fide hit parades, those two albums. And there are still radio gems across the rest – “Leave Out All the Rest,” “What I’ve Done,” “Bleed it Out,” “Iridescent,” “Burn it Down.” And not to mention that Chester had the opportunity of a lifetime – to step into Scott Weiland’s shoes and lead the band he worshipped as a child, Stone Temple Pilots. For two magical years, Chest got to live a lifelong dream, and was such a successful musician that he had to leave because he had a bigger band he had to put his attention on. Imagine having to leave Stone Temple Pilots because you could only make your schedule work with one worldwide giant of a band. And Dead by Sunrise was fine, too.

It’s hard to get through this, honestly. Maybe it’s because it’s still fresh news to me, or maybe it’s because Linkin Park was so much closer to my heart than Chris Cornell’s work, but this hurts much, much worse.

I do know this: I will always cherish the memories I have of Linkin Park. As the genesis of my musical taste, they will always hold a special place in my heart, no matter how old I get, no matter how many times I look back and think “my god, that’s embarrassing.” When things come to an end like this…all of that other shit seems so small. It doesn’t matter what the public perception of Linkin Park was, how the band became a meme and a synonym for the sort of edgy preteen who doesn’t really understand how embarrassing their behavior is. The epitome of “It’s not a phase, MOM.” None of that matters right now.

What matters is, for all of those kids, all of those teenagers, even if they reminisce and laugh at themselves, how the smallest of things meant the world was ending to them, they’ll always be able to hold on to the idea that there was a band out there they could relate to. A band that sang about the same things they were thinking and feeling. Everyone needs music they can hear themselves in, because it becomes a comfort, a safe zone. The world might not get it, but at least these guys did. The value of that is immeasurable.

I only ever saw Linkin Park live once; incidentally, it was the same tour in which I saw Chris Cornell for the only time, Projekt Revolution 2008, in West Palm Beach, Florida. The early experience of seeing my favorite band perform live was transformative. I still have the professional recording of the show, straight from the band. Maybe it’s time to listen to it again.

A lot of songs become…difficult…to listen to, in retrospect, but there’s a lot to love in Linkin Park’s catalogue, and it’s worth it to indulge your inner teen, even just for a little while. There will likely never be another band like Linkin Park again, and certainly not a guy like Chester Bennington.

To close out, a video. Linkin Park performed on Jimmy Kimmel shortly after Chris Cornell’s death, playing “One More Light,” the title track of their most recent album, as a tribute to him. Eerie as it may be, it ends up being a very fitting tribute for Chester himself.

Who cares if one more light goes out?

I do.