Monthly Archives: October 2014

Birdman Kicks Ass

I walked out of the theater after having seen Birdman, and I felt happy–not just because it’s a great film, but because it’s a great film starring Michael Keaton. I like Michael Keaton, and in many ways, being the age I am (and the rest of this statement will give you a ballpark figure) I feel like I grew up with Mr. Mom–I mean Keaton…

For those who have yet to see Birdman, fear not–this is no attempt to Siskel and Ebert things up here, there will be no spoilers. All I will say is, it’s a great movie. You should go see it. Trust me, I know these things.

Where was I? You’re always making me lose my train of thought… Right, growing up with Michael Keaton.

He was like the cool kid I wanted to hang out with. You know, the kinda weird one who was funny and smart, but also a little scary and given to the occasional bout of depression, but that’s cool, too, because it just means you’re, you know Deep.

I felt that way up through Batman Returns, and then he made some questionable film choices, so it was like, well, maybe we won’t hang out so much anymore, and then it was more, I’m moving out of state, but we’ll totally keep in touch, and then, whad’ya know, it’s been who knows how many years since the last time we saw each other.

Again, just like that friend, he’d pop up every once in a while in some great character roll or other that made me think, oh, yeah, that’s why we used to hang out. He’d come up in conversations from time to time–conversations populated with phrases like “totally underrated” and more often than not end with the words “and I still think he’s the best Batman.”

Then, when I began seeing previews for Birdman, I thought to myself, it’s time for me and Michael to hang out again, catch up, get reacquainted–awkward pauses and all. Now I’ve seen the film, and it’s great–we’ve sat down and had coffee, talked about where we are in our lives, and found out we still have a lot in common.

Whether or not Birdman is a commercial success, it is an artistic and stylistic success, and it gives me hope that things can be as good as they ever were–not just for Michael Keaton, but for myself, and, honestly, you can’t ask for much more from the price of a matinee ticket.

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How to Play Guitar with Your Idol

First of all, we’re gonna skip right over the fact that I haven’t written on here since July of 2013.

Instead, we’re going to launch into why Glenn Tilbrook–on top of being a vocalist of amazing skill and range–is a musician of the highest order, and one of the most underrated guitarists in the history of anything that has ever claimed to be underrated.  Mr. Tilbrook is the musical half of the songwriting partnership (the lyrical half being Chris Difford) behind the band Squeeze who are–in keeping with the theme–one of the most underrated bands in the history of anything that has ever claimed to be underrated.  Squeeze is best known for the singles “Tempted” (which has appeared in approximately a thousand commercials and has been covered by everyone and their grandmother) and “Up the Junction” (the song’s most recent notable use is in a pivotal scene of the show Breaking Bad, one of my all-time favorite shows, and so you can only imagine when I heard a song by Squeeze being used in the background of the scene where Hank, but that’s way the hell off topic). They had some success stateside in the ’80s, sold out Madison Square Garden, had some top 40 singles, blah, blah, blech. You interested in Squeeze? Find these albums and listen to them: ArgybargyEast Side Story, and Play.  Mind you, they’re all good, but those are three of my favorites, and so why shouldn’t you start there?

Anyway, I could (and do) go on at great length about how amazing Squeeze is, but this particular ramble is focused on the nimble fretwork of Glenn Tilbrook (and how I got to play guitar with him).  For recorded examples of Tilbrook’s genius, listen to the following Squeeze songs: “It’s So Dirty,” “Another Nail in My Heart,” “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell),” “Black Coffee in Bed,” “When the Hangover Strikes,” “Slaughtered, Gutted, and Heartbroken,” “Letting Go,” “Some Fantastic Place,” just to name a few; all of his various solo endeavors; the Aimee Mann album I’m with Stupid–he’s all over that one.

However, to truly understand the genius of Glenn Tilbrook, one must experience him live, solo, unencumbered by a band.  The solo stage is where Glenn spreads his fingers and lets them sail up and down the frets in a way that cannot be accurately described, it must be experienced, and I have done so on 5 occasions over the past 13 years. Next time you should go with me, he’s brilliant.

During solo shows, Tilbrook is known for his stage antics–stepping out into the audience, playing the final encore on top of the bar, taking the crowd out into the streets, and even inviting some lucky soul up onto the stage to play with the master.  I had never personally witnessed this last one, but on the night of Wednesday, October 8th, 2014, I not only witnessed, but actually was that lucky soul.  Just before launching into a blistering solo for “Take Me, I’m Yours” (another one of the songs you should listen to), the man asks if there are any guitarists in the audience, a few of us, including myself tentatively raise their hands, he wants one of us on stage.  Absolutely no one is going.  Glenn’s just hanging out on stage keeping rhythm on G minor, and the offer is almost gone.  Before my mind can comprehend what I’m doing (which is probably a really good thing), I am rushing towards the stage and mounting the stairs.

Here’s the blow by blow best I can remember it: Glenn asks if I want to play acoustic or electric (I’m pretty sure I just mumbled something and pointed to his beautiful, black Stratocaster), he helps me with the knobs so the thing makes sound (because I have suddenly forgotten how to do anything), at some point in this I let him know that I don’t know all the chords (one of the few Squeeze songs that I did not know all the chords to), he tells me the chords, he asks me my name, he introduces me to the crowd, and then we’re off and going.  I’m playing “Take Me, I’m Yours” with the GlennmotherfuckingTilbrook, and I did not totally embarrass myself.  Towards the end of the song, he asked me if I wanted a solo, and there was no way that was happening, but, urged on, I did mess around a little bit.  Song finished, the man gives me a hug, a shout out to the crowd, I put the amazing guitar back (I didn’t take the guitar pick–why didn’t I take the pick?), and back into the audience I go.

Down there in audience land, the disbelief sets in.  Did that actually happen?  It did.  My friends took photos, my girl shot video, fellow audience members accosted me and gave me pats on the back.

With all due respect to my friends and loved ones, and not to discount any other achievements I might have amassed along the way, this was probably the single greatest moment in my life.

Oh, and the chords? Verse: Gm Cm; Chorus: Eb D Gm Cm back to Gm; all solos played over Gm.  I will never forget those chord changes.

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