The next 25 are in the books. Or on the Twitter.
Shortly after my last post, I started a new project on Twitter – #RiversDemoFlood. Each day I’ll post at least one ‘review’ of a random song from one of Rivers’ bundles, to give some context to the song and explain why I rated it the way I did.
I started this project on the fly and have some rules:
- I have the rated songs in an Excel file. I use a random number generator to determine which song gets tweeted about.
- If a song is a sketch and I have the time, I’ll do a second entry sometime that day.
- I’m going to try and do all the files. So there will eventually be more than 40 takes on Rules of Life. I hope I have interesting things to say after 20 or so.
- If possible, I’ll include images or videos relating to the song. While there are some of these demos on YouTube, Rivers asked that we not do that when he started bundling them (although he didn’t make that request when he sold the first batch individually), so I’ll link to other, sometimes full-band takes of final songs.
- Sentimentality, nostalgia and potential have no place in the ratings. I’m evaluating each of these files as if they’re their own songs. How would they sound on a mixtape? Or on the radio? How these sound as songs is one thing. What types of songs they could be, that’s another story.
- Above all, I’m trying to have fun with this. Which I am.
The songs so far:
Eighteen years ago, I met Weezer lead singer Rivers Cuomo during a post-show meet and greet. I was on a message board with Rivers and he invited some of us from the board to hang out with him and the band after shows on the 2002 Enlightenment Tour.
Near the end of the meet and greet, a small group of us talked with Rivers for a while. One thing I remember to this day was him saying that he wanted to share all the songs he ever wrote and recorded with all of us. Rivers had already shared a few demos with the board and other fans. And in the years after that, Rivers released three Alone CDs featuring his home demos. Rivers liked interacting with fans (on his terms) and writing/sharing music with them. And while I was a huge fan of all three Alone CDs, I didn’t expect much more.
Last year, Rivers launched (or re-launched) his personal website, RiversCuomo.com. Rivers took a coding class (because that’s what rock stars do) and started the site with a chatroom, adding other functions over the summer.
And then in October, he started putting together the building blocks of his final project- an online store to sell a bunch of old demos. After going back and forth on what to sell and how, Rivers settled on bundles, based on time periods in his life. Buy a bundle and you get access to a dropbox folder. And inside those bundles was a lot of music, but not everything. Music with co-writers or co-performers was out. Rivers set songs and ideas intended for future projects. And some songs/files he just couldn’t find.
Since launching the store right before Thanksgiving, Rivers added three additional bundles, two with co-writers and a greatest hits sampler. And he’s also added a number of files that he’s found. Currently, the bundles include more than 100 hours of files.
I’ll be the first to say that the files are a mixed bag. There are some files that are Rivers with a guitar and handheld recorder. Or Rivers humming/beatboxing ideas for tunes. Or 30-second long sketches for songs. Or songs where you can tell something is there, but the quality is questionable. Or songs with upwards of 40 versions. But there are a bunch of good, quality, full band (or one-man band) songs. And some of these songs are right up there with Weezer’s greatest songs.
There are enough songs to make alternate albums. Or earlier ideas for Weezer albums. Or Weezer albums that we never got. I’ve been listening to these song and I’m not even close to being all the way through.
Having these songs has gotten me back into music. A specific kind of music, granted, but still. And it’s given me ideas of things to write. It might be fun to write something about the evolution of Make Believe. And I would love to update one of my most favorite articles I’ve ever written. But I’m not doing either just yet because there are still more songs out there that might be added.
And there’s something else that’s happened with all of this. Rivers hangs out in the chatroom regularly and has asked for fan help for a few different things, like cataloging these files. Considering how daunting the concept of 100 hours of files is, some of us suggested putting together a Greatest Hits style bundle. Another site visitor (or neighbor) had been working on compiling the best songs from each bundle (at least when they were first released) and I had been working on that with him. But as we were talking about this with Rivers, he was receptive to the idea. I don’t remember exactly what spurred it, but he asked if I wanted to rate the songs on the spreadsheet. Of course I said yes.
A week or two later, Rivers started selling the Greatest Hits bundle, a combination of the other neighbor’s compilation and the songs that I rated at five stars. Gotta admit that was pretty cool.
So I’ve been keeping busy listening to a lot of these songs. On top of everything else I’m up to these days. I had an idea for something Twitter-related I may try, which will get the writing juices flowing.
After all these years, it’s great to have new (old) songs to get into all over again. And that’s not counting the Weezer album out (maybe) later this month. Or the other one coming out later this year. Or any of the other projects Rivers has planned.
When I first heard that E.K. Johnston would be following up last year’s solid Star Wars novel Queen’s Shadow with a prequel, I was very skeptical. But after reading the book, I was happily proven wrong.
Queen’s Shadow (released July 2, 2020 by Disney Lucasfilm Press) expands on the story told in Shadow while at the same time tying Padme and Naboo into the larger Star Wars narrative even better than its predecessor.
Queen’s Shadow took place after The Phantom Menace, telling the story of Padme’s transition from Queen to Senator and how vital her handmaidens were in every aspect of her life. Queen’s Peril is the story of how Padme transitioned from citizen to Queen, the first days of her working with her handmaidens and how the early days of her reign led right into the events of The Phantom Menace.
At its heart, this is a book about Padme and how she forms a routine and relationships with her handmaidens. While they are a bit hard to tell apart at times, they do have their individual personalities, talents and back stories. Just like in Shadow, Peril gives us a Padme more relatable than her onscreen incarnation. Padme is the idealist who wants to do what she can to make things better. She takes a situation- her security- and inventively changes it through the handmaidens to better suit her. Certain scenes, such as the first time she gathers her new team, or when they decide to buck authority for a simple night out, are very well-written and help make the galaxy far, far away feel more down to earth.
However, the novel is not just about Padme. Nearly every character from the Phantom Menace makes an appearance at one point or another, with many given weighty moments. This book made me want to watch The Phantom Menace again. The moments relate not just to the first Star Wars episode, but provide insight into other events throughout the saga (however, one of Jar Jar’s interests comes off as totally out of left field).
The book is an entertaining, quick read. However, there are some times, particularly with the character asides, where the pacing feels off. There was a concept or two (notably the idea that very few people know of the Queen’s true identity- based on my understanding, the candidates for Queen take a pseudonym when they run for office and don’t give it up) that went over my head. And if you haven’t read other Star Wars books, some references might not make a ton of sense. But none of this detracts from the whole reading experience.
Queen’s Peril is out this week. If you want to explore the state of the Star Wars galaxy right before the movie saga begins, these pages are definitely worth turning.
Don’t you just love it when your interests cross over? Or when different things you follow become analogies for each other?
That’s what happened to me today. I was thinking about the current state of the X-Men comic books and it reminded me immediately of one of the most famous professional wrestling storylines.
Up until a few decades ago, professional wrestling was regional. The country was divided into territories run by promoters who stuck to their established boundaries. Anytime a sanctioned champion would meet another territory’s champion, the match would end in a draw. That all ended in the 80s when the WWF went national, eating up most of the \ territories. The WWF’s only competition was World Championship Wrestling, an Atlanta-based outfit that lacked the WWF’s production values or mainstream recognition.
Growing up, I was a WWF fan. I mostly ignored WCW, even after they signed Hulk Hogan, the biggest name in wrestling (by now Hogan’s act had gone stale and allegations of steroid abuse tarnished his character). But they did capture my attention briefly when two WWF wrestlers, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, signed with WCW. Hall and Nash appeared on WCW TV acting as if they were still employed by the WWF, there to take over their former company’s rival. The storyline was a throwback to the old territory days. You really believed they were there on behalf of the WWF and a lot of their (scripted) promos mentioned things usually left unsaid in the wrestling world. What Hall and Nash were doing was a seismic change in wrestling. And the story just kept getting better.
After a month of trash talking WCW, Hall and Nash challenged three of the company’s top stars to fight them and a mystery partner. The buildup was huge. Going into the match, no one knew who the third man would be. Most people suspected any of WCW’s stars who had previously worked in the WWF. Others suspected that WCW had signed another WWF defector. (Here’s another thing about mystery partners: 99 percent of the time, they’re extremely underwhelming- either a wrestler in a mask or an old wrestler coming out of retirement).
All was revealed near the end of the main event of Bash at the Beach ’96. Hall and Nash wrestled without their partner, holding their own. Then Hulk Hogan, the biggest name in wrestling, the most good of the good guys ever, started his way to the ring. He got in the ring and immediately attacked the WCW crew, aligning himself with Hall and Nash. After the match, Hogan proclaimed the group the New World Order. Their goal was simple: to take over WCW.
Just like that, the biggest storyline in wrestling got bigger. They sold millions of dollars worth of merchandise, and helped put WCW over WWF for the first time in many fans eyes. The turn of Hogan was huge. The idea of Hall and Nash invading WCW was huge. American wrestling fans hadn’t seen anything like it ever.
So what’s all this got to do with the X-Men?
For the past ten years or so, the X-Men, once Marvel Comics’ star franchise, has been stuck in a cycle of circumspection and languor. While there have been some very creative people working hard crafting entertaining stories, overall, the X-family has been on Marvel’s back burner, jobbing out to other groups, namely the Avengers and the Inhumans, for the benefit of those superhero teams.
Earlier this year, Marvel announced an ambitious plan for the future of the X-Men. Writer Jonathan Hickman would take the reins of the team, cancelling a number of X-books to refocus the line. The first part of Hickman’s multi-year plan involved a 12-week period involving two alternating titles, House of X and Powers of X, which would give the X-Men a new direction while making users take a different look at the team’s past.
We’re in the sixth week of this first period and Hickman’s books are a shakeup comparable to Hall and Nash first showing up on WCW television. They tread new ground for the team- adding a new twist to the team’s past while at the same time adding a mystery to their present and allowing readers to see possible futures. There are plot devices whose full impact have not yet been revealed and many questions. Thankfully, there are some visual aids in the books spelling out some of the details of Hickman’s new world.
Before the launch of the books, Marvel promoted the hell out of the Hickman’s run, going so far as to make the seemingly hyperbolic claim in the ad below- that the depicted scene was the most important in the history of the X-Men.
But the thing is, after week three, many fans were on board with Marvel’s claims. And it all goes back to the other part of the NWO formula- the mystery partner.
In the X-Men’s case, it was Moira MacTaggert. Moira was a human character introduced in the 1970s. While she played a role in a few major storylines, she was never an integral part of the X-Men. She was just there. Kind of like Hulk Hogan in WCW before the NWO.
But Hickman changed all that. House of X issue 2 explained that Moira (or Moira X) was a mutant after all, with the gifts of her mutation being undetectable and reincarnation with full memory of her past lives. Once she realized she was a mutant, Moira used her lives to attempt to cure mutations, fight alongside Xavier, fight alongside Magneto, fight alongside Apocalypse, assassinate humans responsible for the extermination of mutants and other pursuits. Even though readers don’t know the specifics of Moira’s first nine lives, we learn each time, no matter what Moira did, human-created machines were responsible for wiping out mutantkind. It was Moira’s mission to stop this.
So finally, in life ten (or life X), Moira decides to do what she did in the panels making up the most important scene in the history of the X-Men. She opens her mind fully to Charles Xavier, showing him each and every one of those previous lives. The small triumphs and the larger tragedies. And then the readers realize what this series is about- the history of the X-Men we know has been part of Moira and Charles’ plan so that mutants can thrive.
Hickman’s issues (so far) have drawn near-universal acclaim. The X-Men feel like the hot thing in comics once again. Fans are looking forward to these books every week, along with whatever comes next.
But the future is wide open. While Hogan, Hall and Nash had the wrestling world in the palms of their hands in the summer of 1996, their success was not long-running. They were popular for a few years, but their egos (and the NWO’s own popularity) led to the watering-down of the NWO and the complete collapse of World Championship Wrestling within five years.
It’s highly unlikely that Hickman’s storylines will doom the X-Men in a similar fashion. But for all the wonders of timeline manipulation and intrigue surrounding Moira X, the series has veered slightly from the X-Men’s central concept: protecting a world that fears and hates them. Hickman is a capable enough storyteller to be building back to that. With any luck that will happen and this new X-Men phase will be longer lasting than the New World Order.
1997 was not exactly a fun time to be a Weezer fan.
The band’s second album was a critical and commercial bomb. Despite the creativity and rock found on Pinkerton, people instead were listening to the Wallflowers and the Verve Pipe. The founding members of the Weezer fan club died in a car accident and the band was taking some time off due to creative tension, with rumors that one member was about to leave for good.
But near the end of the year, some rumors started popping up on fan-run news sites. Lead singer Rivers Cuomo, who was in Boston attending Harvard, had formed a side band backed by local musicians and had been playing shows at local venues. The songs played at these shows were both songs never intended for Weezer and possible future Weezer songs. The final one of these shows took place 20 years ago today. Joining Rivers and local musicians was drummer Pat Wilson, out from LA in an effort to find some common ground with Rivers. Bassist Matt Sharp was also supposed to appear, but was not able to make the trip.
The eight-song set was a tight show, featuring three new songs (Rosemary, Baby, The Prettiest Girl in the Whole Wide World) and five Weezer entries (Getchoo, No One Else, Say it Ain’t So, Undone and Only in Dreams). Rivers and Pat would find their common ground, and would end up (as Rivers said at the start of the show) going out to LA to make a new record. But a whole set of challenges would meet them when they reached the West Coast, including the loss of Matt, recruiting a new bassist and Rivers being unsatisfied with any creative direction developed despite his prodigious musical output (A few years back, I wrote a rather lengthy article on that, check it out here). By the time Weezer released their third album, it was a new century and the band was going in a totally different direction.
As I mentioned earlier, news of this and the previous Boston shows hit Weezer fan sites pretty much right away. Back in January of ’98, I had just started the second semester of my third year of college. I e-mailed one of the attendees, who said he would do a 2-for-1 swap for a recording of the show (in other words, if I sent him two blank tapes, he would send me one tape back with a recording of the show). I sent off the tapes and days later, I received one back. The guy (I don’t remember his name) had written up an essay about the tape- he attended three of Rivers’ shows and recorded all three. The essay was heartfelt about his time as a fan of the band.
I listened to the tape and fell in love with the songs- both the ones intended for future Weezer use as well as the “goofball, country” songs Rivers penned. The sound quality was a little rough and in the years since a few of the songs have had official releases (in either full-band or demo form), but two of the more intriguing ones, Baby and Rosemary, only exist in the recording from this show.
Still, these songs and this show will hold a special place for me, because in a time when everyone was singing along to Tubthumping or MmmBop, I had hope that Weezer would be back. It would just take a while.
Shortly after her second birthday, Hope started having screaming fits each night, complaining of pain right below her nose. Because it was a regular thing, and thinking it was related to a sinus issue caused by her cleft lip and palate, we took her to an ENT.
During the ENT visit, the doctor found something: a tooth growing in the upper part of her jaw, right under her left nostril. This type of tooth placement was normal for kids with a cleft palate, but would eventually need to be removed.
We learned that it was necessary to make sure the tooth was clean and taught Hope to brush it just like any one of her other teeth. She became proud and protective of what came to be known as her ‘special tooth.’
Fast forward five years later to today and Hope is not happy that she’s going to have to say goodbye to her special tooth. Later this summer, she will have a bone graft to fill a gap in her alveolar ridge (in other words, they’re taking some bone from her hip, grinding it up, and placing it in the gap in the upper part of her jaw). The special tooth is right where the bone graft will be, so the tooth will need to be removed first.
That first surgery is Friday. Hope’s reaction to the impending surgery has ranged from sheer horror to acceptance. While most of her procedures and appointments have been at Nationwide Children’s Hospital here in Columbus, the removal will be done by an orthodontist at a “grown up hospital.” We had an appointment with her orthodontist, which went well. He was very receptive to her and her questions, particularly her request that she get to keep the tooth (which he pointedly had his assistant write in his notes).
While her anxiety is a little higher than normal, she is confident and ready for the surgery. She’s always had a high pain threshold. But as the date of the removal of her special tooth nears, she’s approaching it much more courageously than I would. The Civee and I don’t quite know what to expect for after the surgery, so we’re going to make sure to have plenty of ice cream on hand and a special box for her special tooth.
When it was first announced at last year’s Star Wars Celebration, I thought Timothy Zahn’s novel Thrawn would be fascinating because it’s the first piece of new Star Wars canon material to be centered around a character based in Legends. After reading Thrawn, I can say that applies, but there is an additional, bigger reason for its appeal: just as New Dawn serves as an origin story for the leaders of the Rebels of the show of the same name, Thrawn serves as an origin for some of the key players on the Empire side featured on Rebels.
Overall, Zahn does a good job of letting go of the baggage in bringing Thrawn into the new Star Wars canon. Thrawn is a solid, entertaining novel. But it does have some drawbacks.
Timelines: This book takes place over a number of years. How many, I couldn’t tell you. It opens sometime after the end of the Clone Wars. Different amounts of time pass between chapters. But we’re never told how much. The novel ends as Thrawn is asked to help out with the Rebellion on Lothal, but it isn’t clear if this refers to his being summoned in Rebels Season 3, or sometime before. Thrawn makes a rapid climb up the Empire’s ranks, but I kept thinking in the back of my head while reading this “how much time has passed here?”
Thrawn the unreliable narrator: During the novel, Thrawn tells two conflicting versions of what happened with his people and why he wants to work for the Empire, one to Emperor Palpatine, the other to a Nightswan, a rival who has beleaguered him throughout the course of the book. More detail is given in the story told to Nightswan. But it’s never said which version of the story is true. The first paragraphs of the novel lend credence to the Thrawn-as-exile narrative, as does that fact that Palpatine could use his powers to divine the truth. However, Thrawn gives Nightswan a compelling story (told as a dialogue) that casts doubt on the first version.
Strategy: Thrawn has always been presented as a great strategist, and this new incarnation is no different. But when a novel spends a lot of time on character motivation and Thrawn’s observing of other character’s actions, the pacing suffers. Portions delving into his thought process as things unfold require an extra reading, making some parts of the story flow more slowly than the rest of the book. What’s more, while he’s an underdog in the Imperial Navy hierarchy, Thrawn is rarely taken advantage of or unable to turn a situation his way. He never fails and seldom stumbles.
Been here, done that: Certain plot elements seem familiar. Near the end of the book, Thrawn is leading a siege on a planet, which for some reason seems like something I’ve already read in a Star Wars novel. Also, Thrawn collects (and later uses) Clone War-era Separatist droids (and I’m not sure we ever find out definitively why), which was a plot element in Lords of the Sith.
Mysteries: The book presents a few mysteries that it never solves. There’s a compelling epilogue. Yet the status of a major character is in doubt and we don’t know the time period of this epilogue. Additionally, and more importantly, one of Thrawn’s stated motivations for working for the Empire is the desire to size them up, to help defeat threats from elsewhere (please do NOT be the Yuuzhan Vong!). But there’s no hint of what these threats are. Unless this book is the first in a series (which we don’t know yet), it has no business dropping a mystery like that without paying it off.
Having said all that, there are some very strong things about this novel. What worked:
Letting go of the past: This novel does a great job of presenting a new Thrawn. The basics are the same. But there are changes. Notably, he’s not as big an art fan as he is in his Legends appearances. Also, while Mitth’raw’nuruodo is still a thing (sigh), several other things associated with Thrawn/Zahn/Legends, namely ysalamiri, clones with two U’s in their names, the Outbound Flight Project have been left behind.
The Empire: The Empire in Thrawn is not presented as the evil empire of legend. There is evidence of corruption, menace and some racism against non-humans. Yet it is a functioning government working to keep the galaxy stable. For the first two-thirds of the book, the Empire does not do anything one would consider evil. It just is. And when a certain mobile battlestation is brought up, you get a concise, simple reason straight from The Emperor as why he thinks it will keep the local systems in line.
The rivalry: Throughout the book, Thrawn is trying to stop a smuggler/thief/rebel called Nightswan. Thrawn is intrigued by Nightswan, who is his intellectual and strategic match. Thrawn doesn’t want to beat Nightswan, he wants to use him, both for information, and as mentioned earlier, to send to his people. During their face-to-face meeting, it’s revealed that Nightswan sees himself as a leader of a band of Rebels, but unable to form a larger rebellion.
The characters: Zahn writes good characters here, with many of them showing growth during the undeclared amount of time that passes in the novel. Despite Thrawn’s perfect qualities, and unclear origin, he is compelling. His exchange with the rebel leader makes you believe he wants the Empire and Chiss to exchange knowledge and personnel. His translator, Eli Vanto, is sympathetic and learns how to strategize like Thrawn. As far as characters we know, Tarkin is Tarkin, which is a good thing. The Grand Moff is not a main character, but he is in his element and in the new canon, he has proven to be a character that works. One of the supporting characters in Rebels, Governor Ryder Azadi isn’t directly featured, but his presence is felt. Rather than the Azadi we know, a guy opposing the Empire while wearing a big hat, he comes off as a corrupt and conniving leader.
But the biggest character surprise here is Governor Pryce. She’s a main character who transforms from social climbing party girl to ambitious careerist to mass murderer. She’s much more interesting than she has a chance to be on Rebels.
I know it seems like I have more negatives here than positives. But Thrawn is a good read that puts a new spin on a popular (if not featured in the films) character. I’m happy with the job that Zahn did here, even if that means I still have to see the word Mitth’raw’nuruodo.