Music: Five Finger Death Offspring…

Yesterday, during one of my many YouTube music-video binges, I stumbled across the new video for Five Finger Death Punch’s “Gone Away” (above). I had missed its release entirely (despite 5FDP being one of my favourite bands), and quickly realized it was a (very faithful) cover of The Offspring’s song of the same name. It’s been a long time since I last listened to anything by Offspring (which is strange, because I love their earlier albums), but it was amazing how quickly the lyrics came flooding back. So, naturally, I sang along. It was a welcome trip down memory lane.

5FDP’s cover appears on their greatest hits (so far) collection, A Decade of Destruction. The original song (video below) appeared on Offspring’s Ixnay on the Hombre album (1996) — the follow up to the appropriately-named Smash (1994).


Quick Review: A HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL by Andrew O’Neill (Headline)

ONeillA-HistoryOfHeavyMetalUKAn entertaining romp through a comedian’s history of heavy metal

The history of heavy metal brings brings us extraordinary stories of larger-than-life characters living to excess, from the household names of Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Bruce Dickinson and Metallica (SIT DOWN, LARS!), to the brutal notoriety of the underground Norwegian black metal scene and the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. It is the story of a worldwide network of rabid fans escaping everyday mundanity through music, of cut-throat corporate arseholes ripping off those fans and the bands they worship to line their pockets. The expansive pantheon of heavy metal musicians includes junkies, Satanists and murderers, born-again Christians and teetotallers, stadium-touring billionaires and toilet-circuit journeymen.

Award-winning comedian and life-long heavy metal obsessive Andrew O’Neill has performed his History of Heavy Metal comedy show to a huge range of audiences, from the teenage metalheads of Download festival to the broadsheet-reading theatre-goers of the Edinburgh Fringe. Now, in his first book, he takes us on his own very personal and hilarious journey through the history of the music, the subculture, and the characters who shaped this most misunderstood genre of music.

There is so much to love in Andrew O’Neill’s A History of Heavy Metal. O’Neill’s love for the genres is clear and rings true throughout. He’s opinionated, clear in his opinions, and damned funny. As he mentions at one point, metalheads are nerds, and this book is packed with nerdy details for all metal fans of any age. For me, it evoked my favourite music journalism from the ’90s and early 2000s, but with extra humour. Continue reading

Review: BORN TO RUN by Bruce Springsteen (Simon & Schuster)

springsteenb-borntorunAn interesting, if not-particularly-revelatory memoir from the Boss

In 2009, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performed at the Super Bowl’s halftime show. The experience was so exhilarating that Bruce decided to write about it. That’s how this extraordinary autobiography began.

Over the past seven years, Bruce Springsteen has privately devoted himself to writing the story of his life, bringing to these pages the same honesty, humor, and originality found in his songs.

He describes growing up Catholic in Freehold, New Jersey, amid the poetry, danger, and darkness that fueled his imagination, leading up to the moment he refers to as “The Big Bang”: seeing Elvis Presley’s debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. He vividly recounts his relentless drive to become a musician, his early days as a bar band king in Asbury Park, and the rise of the E Street Band. With disarming candor, he also tells for the first time the story of the personal struggles that inspired his best work and shows us why the song “Born to Run” reveals more than we previously realized.

Born to Run will be revelatory for anyone who has ever enjoyed Bruce Springsteen, but this book is much more than a legendary rock star’s memoir. This is a book for workers and dreamers, parents and children, lovers and loners, artists, freaks, or anyone who has ever wanted to be baptized in the holy river of rock and roll.

Like many people, I was very eager to get my hands on Born to Run when it came out. I have been listening to Springsteen’s music my whole life, really — Born in the USA was a regular on our family stereo, and was the first album I ever loved. (I used to stage ‘concerts’ of it, using my G.I. Joe figures as stand-ins for the band…) Due to work and other reasons, it took me some time to get around to reading Born to Run, but I eventually got the audiobook. I found it quite interesting… if slightly underwhelming. Continue reading


BarnsCourtney-DullDrumsI only just discovered Barns Courtney‘s music. Thanks to the eclectic radio station they usually have on, my favourite coffeeshop in Toronto has been a pretty great place to discover new music (or, new to me in some cases). Earlier this week, Courtney’s “Fire” came on and it grabbed my attention. I’ve been listening to his EP, The Dull Drums pretty much constantly ever since. Released by Virgin EMI, here is the short tracklist:

  1. “Fire”
  2. “Glitter & Gold”
  3. “Little Boy”
  4. “Hellfire”
  5. “Hands”

Continue reading

Review: HOMEWARD BOUND by Peter Ames Carlin (Henry Holt)

carlinpa-homewardboundAn interesting account of Paul Simon’s eclectic, musical life

To have been alive during the last sixty years is to have lived with the music of Paul Simon. The boy from Queens scored his first hit record in 1957, just months after Elvis Presley ignited the rock era. As the songwriting half of Simon & Garfunkel, his work helped define the youth movement of the ’60s. On his own in the ’70s, Simon made radio-dominating hits. He kicked off the ’80s by reuniting with Garfunkel to perform for half a million New Yorkers in Central Park. Five years later, Simon’s album “Graceland” sold millions and spurred an international political controversy. And it doesn’t stop there. 

The grandchild of Jewish immigrants from Hungary, the nearly 75-year-old singer-songwriter has not only sold more than 100 million records, won 15 Grammy awards and been installed into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame twice, but has also animated the meaning — and flexibility — of personal and cultural identity in a rapidly shrinking world. 

Simon has also lived one of the most vibrant lives of modern times; a story replete with tales of Carrie Fisher, Leonard Bernstein, Bob Dylan, Woody Allen, Shelley Duvall, Nelson Mandela, drugs, depression, marriage, divorce, and more. A life story with the scope and power of an epic novel, Carlin’s Homeward Bound is the first major biography of one of the most influential popular artists in American history.

Carlin is perhaps best known for Bruce, his exhaustive and best-selling biography of Bruce Springsteen (until this past week, it was probably the best-selling book on the Boss). In his latest book, he turns his attention to another mega-selling, internationally renowned musician: Paul Simon. Homeward Bound is a tighter biography than his previous book, and is sure to appeal to die-hard fans of Simon. Continue reading


WallM-FooFightersA quick biography of Nirvana Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters…

The definitive, no-holds-barred biography of one of the biggest-selling rock bands in the world, the Foo Fighters.

Everyone from Sir Paul McCartney and Jimmy Page to Queens of the Stone Age now relishes the chance to share a stage with Dave Grohl and his legendary Foo Fighters. The question is: why? Musical depth? Not really. Major success? Well, yes. Despite no longer shifting albums in the same quantity as they did twenty years ago, this band can still fill stadiums the world over (when Dave’s not breaking his leg, of course).

Long before Kurt Cobain blew his brains out in 1994, Dave Grohl was planning for a life after Nirvana. The unflinching bright sunlight to Cobain’s permanent midnight darkness, Grohl had come from a similar broken home to his erstwhile band leader, but came out of the experience differently – brimming with positivity and a shrewd grasp of opportunities in the music industry.

Did Grohl merely take the sonic blueprint of Nirvana and embellish it with a more life-affirming pop sheen? Of course he did. Every band in America that sold over a million records in the post-grunge 90s did the same. The difference was that Grohl had real credibility. And he knew it.

With exclusive testimony from true insiders (including Krist Novoselic, Grohl’s bass-playing partner in Nirvana, ex-girlfirends, record company executives, tour photographers and confidantes), this book is an exploration of the real story behind Grohl and the Foo Fighters — the only serious literary biography of the group and its leader, one of the most famous and critically bulletproof rock figures of the 21st century.

I waited a long time to pick up this book. I sadly cannot say that it was worth the wait. This is, at best, a mediocre re-hash of information you’ll find elsewhere from more-informed and better writers. Yes, it covers everything important in Dave Grohl’s musical career. But it’s not particularly enlightening, nor is it gripping. It is not definitive. It is by no means “literary”, either — the interpretation and analysis is simplistic and not particularly deep. At least, not that provided by Wall. He does interview some people who know what they’re talking about. Continue reading

Guest Post: “The NOMAD Soundtrack” by James Swallow

SwallowJ-AuthorPicI’m always in two minds about music when I’m writing. Some days, when my focus isn’t where it needs to be, I have to have as near to absolute silence as I can get in order to zero in on what I want to get down on the page. Other times, a little musical accompaniment is exactly what I need to prime the pump and get me writing.

I tend not to listen to songs when I’m writing scenes, because I find myself paying too much attention to the lyrics, and sometimes subconsciously assimilating the words into my own work. Orchestral and thematic stuff works a lot better. I have a massive collection of classical music and soundtracks that I will queue up into five-hour-long playlists. For example, working on my new thriller novel NOMAD, my working score included Salt (James Newton Howard), Inception (Hans Zimmer), Tron Legacy (Daft Punk), The Sweeney (Lorne Balfe), Watch Dogs (Brian Reitzell), Bangkok Dangerous (Brian Tyler) and The International (Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek & Reinhold Heil). Continue reading