It’s Rock or…Busted Eardrums

What do you get when a rising rock band meets an untimely tragedy only to respond by unleashing one of the most critically acclaimed and best-selling albums in the history of the world?

Brian Johnson.

Never has a vocalist so deftly swooped into a dire dilemma and dramatically turned the tide. On July 27, 1979 Australian hard rockers AC/DC released their breakthrough album, Highway to Hell, which climbed to number 17 on the Billboard album charts. Helmed by famed producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, the album propelled AC/DC to fame beyond Australian and UK borders. After the successful Highway to Hell Tour plans were underway to record an explosive follow-up. But less than one month after the tour ended lead singer Bon Scott was found dead in a car in London. He had choked to death on his own vomit after a night of heavy drinking.

Successful bands are generally the result of synergistic personalities coming together. Regardless of audience approval, most reconstructed bands fail to replicate the spirit of the original. It’s a nearly impossible task when the absent member is the singer. The surviving members of AC/DC were aware of this. Scott was a particularly charismatic vocalist and acted as the de facto leader of the group. Founding members Malcolm and Angus Young considered dissolving AC/DC. It was only after encouragement from Scott’s parents thay they chose to press on.

Dealing with the problem of finding a suitable replacement, Angus Young recalled a story Scott once told of an English singer from Newcastle who had impressed him at a local show one night. That singer was ex-Geordie vocalist Brian Johnson.

History unfolded fortuitously; AC/DC hired Johnson who promptly contributed lyrics and vocals to Back in Black. The album, released on July 25, 1980, was a smash success launching AC/DC into global super-stardom. With worldwide sales estimates at 50 million units, Back in Black became the second best-selling album of all time.

Thus it has come as a shock to many fans that after 36 years of tenure with AC/DC  Johnson is now on indefinite hiatus, and that Guns n’ Roses frontman Axl Rose will be completing the final shows of the band’s Rock or Bust Tour.

While some controversy exists over the true nature of Johnson’s departure, officially he has left the band voluntarily after being diagnosed with severe hearing damage that could result in permanent deafness should he resume touring. Johnson cited his resignation as the “darkest day of my professional life,” a sentiment shared undoubtedly by countless fans around the world. In honor of the raspy-voiced wailer Retrobacktive presents the Top 10 Brian Johnson Moments of Kick-ass-ery!

1) It’s all because of that jacket and those boots. Pre-AC/DC, Johnson shows off his pipes from hell.

2) One of his earliest interviews demonstrates an awesome-because-it’s-barely-understandable speaking voice.

3) Angus may be the rare guitar playing frontman, but Johnson’s look is equally as iconic. You’ve likely heard this one before, but it’s one of the greatest recordings ever captured and always worth another listen.

4) The title track from AC/DC’s first #1 album.

5) After two lackluster albums AC/DC bounced back in 1986 with Who Made Who, the soundtrack to the Stephen King film Maximum Overdrive. Is it just me, or does Brian’s hat keep getting bigger?

6) When your band’s history spans over 40 years you can believe there were numerous peaks and valleys. This may be AC/DC’s apex, the Monsters of Rock Festival at Donington where they just fucking owned it.

7) AC/DC/s first number 1 song on Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock list. While the band has never performed the song live, this video at least gives us Arnie on stage with Johnson and crew.

8) One of Johnson’s most endearing aspects is his willingness to interact with fans. Here he relays a story involving one of his idols, Chuck Berry, that aptly represents the Englishman’s natural aplomb.

9) It isn’t all just rock and roll for Johnson, an avid race car enthusiast. His popular guest spot on Top Gear shows he can grind out impressive turns while crooning Louis Jordan.

10) Although they are one of the best selling bands of all time, 2015 marked the first year AC/DC performed on the Grammy Award Show. Nothing quiet as satisfying as seeing the look on all the snooty artists’ faces that collectively says, “oh yeah, this is what rock and roll is supposed to sound like.”

Dearly Beloved, We R Gathered Here 2 Celebrate His Life

In the last four months this blog has come to feel more like an obituary than a cultural chronicle. We opened the year in memorial of David Bowie whose secret battle with cancer came to an end on January 10. Then the Eagle’s frontman Glenn Frey died eight days later. Alan Rickman, Merle Haggard, one by one the entertainment world mournfully reported the loss of yet another great artist.

Yesterday that trend continued with perhaps the most shocking loss since Michael Jackson’s death in 2009.

Prince Rogers Nelson, better know as Prince… or that weird symbol no one could pronounce…died in his home studio at Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minnesota. He was 57 years old.

While an autopsy investigation is set to take place on April 22, little indication has been give to the cause of death for the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter. The news of Prince’s sudden and unexpected demise has left fans the world over in disbelief.

If this description sounds a bit sterile it’s because I’m sick of writing about great artists from my childhood dying. It’s a somber experience. As a writer I want to use my skill set to capture the memory of the departed as eloquently as the English language can. But I would prefer to go back to writing about cartoons and movies; 2016 has been a rather morose year.

Nonetheless, we will celebrate the life of a musical icon who rose to prominence in the 80s with hits albums such as 1999, Purple Rain, and Sign “O” the Times. Now one thing we can’t do is post a bunch of cool videos from YouTube because Prince was vehement about copyright issues and fair trade. But to be honest posting even a fraction of the highlights from The Purple One’s illustrious career would probably crash the WordPress server, so here’s a quick list you can feel free to explore at your leisure:

1999 – Prince’s career began in the late 70s, but this 1982 album was his breakthrough which featured the hits “Little Red Corvette,” and the title track which probably earned Prince half-a-billion dollars in royalties on December 31, 1999 alone.

Purple Rain – his biggest selling album, certified platinum 22 times over. The soundtrack to the movie of the same name starring Prince as “The Kid,” the album held the number one spot on the Billboard charts for 24 weeks and spawned the hit songs, “When Doves Cry, “Let’s Go Crazy,” and the title track.

Parade – follow up to Purple Rain featuring the number one hit song, “Kiss.”

“Manic Monday,” “Stand Back,” “Nothing Compares 2 U,” et al. – despite a prolific catalog, Prince still found time to pen and play on hit songs for other artists, often using writing pseudonyms so no one knew they were his.

TAFKAP – Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol in 1993. Why? It was a giant middle finger to his record label, Warner Bros., who he felt was stifling his artistry. Ever the provocateur, Prince was also a coy adversary who leveraged his image to discourage his opponents. It was kind of a bad ass move.

Super Bowl XLI – Billboard.com has called it the greatest Super Bowl half-time performance ever. Appropriately a downpour ensued for “Purple Rain.” Can’t make this stuff up.

Doin’ it All – it’s also not widely known but important to note that as a multi-instrumentalist Prince played most, if not all, the instruments on his albums. His live performances were perennially lauded, and he was critical in the development of many well know musicians and entertainers such as Vanity, Apollonia Kotero, and Carmen Electra.

As a cultural figure, Prince was an icon. His absence leaves a bottomless chasm in the musical landscape, one further cratered by the losses of Bowie, Frey, and Haggard. Indeed, death is a natural circumstance of life. But if life is just a party, and parties aren’t meant to last, it sure seems 2016 has its number of the metaphorical curfew.

“The afterworld – a world of never ending happiness; U can always see the sun, day or night.”

                     – Prince Rogers Nelson

 

In Other Words, Free Learning

NOVA, the 42- year- old PBS television series, is citizen science’s best friend – thoughtful, balanced, free of charge, and available to millions of people via several media platforms. That makes Senior Executive Producer Paula Apsell NOVA’s fairy godmother. Apsell has shaped and guided the award-winning science documentary series for 30+ years, calling upon a … Continue reading NOVA: Citizen Science at its best

via NOVA: Citizen Science at its best — Green News Update

Hungry for Change

There’s a mall in ###### that is currently anchored by J.C. Penney’s, Best Buy, Sears, Macy’s, and as of 2013, Bon-Ton. What the hell is a Bon-Ton, anyway? Sounds like something you order off a Thai food menu. Well, it’s not important. The Macy’s on the mall’s northwest wing is.

Macy’s popularity, much like there stock, has been falling in recent years. This doesn’t much separate them from any other major department store retailer, virtually all of who are hemorrhaging profit thanks to online businesses like Amazon. But Macy’s has a plan: bring back department store restaurants.

“Restaurants inside of large retailers – especially their flagships – is nothing new. It’s a practice that was prominent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,” says retail expert Warren Shoulberg in The Robin Report.

It’s actually not a tactic so far dated. Before 1996, the Macy’s at The ##### Mall was a Jordan Marsh. Founded in Boston in 1861 by Eben Dyer Jordan and Benjamin L. Marsh, Jordan Marsh was arguably the first department store in the United States – there’s some gray area here. The concept of the department store then, however, differed from its current antiquated notion. After the Industrial Revolution, consumers sought out shopping districts, often located in central urban environments, to acquire both daily and seasonal purchases. As forerunners for what would later become the shopping mall, department stores like Jordan Marsh would expand to take over whole city blocks accommodating all the needs of shoppers in one store; this was particularly beneficial in colder climates where outdoor traversing could be a shopping hindrance.

Shopping districts and lifestyle centers remained fairly commonplace until the 60s/70s when the shopping mall overtook them as the de rigeur consumer destination. Department stores like Jordan Marsh, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, and Nordstrom’s found continued success by “anchoring” regional shopping malls. In other words, they acted as the feature destination for shopping needs in suburban epicenters and attracted customers to the smaller specialty shops that comprised the majority of the mall.

Jordan-Marsh-Warwick-Mall-02

Note the distinct awnings that were omnipresent at all northeast Jordan Marsh’s in the 80s. (Credit: Michael Lisicky).

What does this have to do with anything? Retrobacktive exists for posterity. It’s not supposed to be one curmudgeon’s mournful report of an allegedly superior decade. Rather it’s a fond reexamination of personal history. This cathartic nostalgia is in old movies and yearbooks and recipes and letters and all the other tidbits we hang on to through the years. And sometimes you hear a story on the radio about Macy’s attempt to revitalize its market share by bringing back restaurants and you remember the hidden bakery cloistered on the second floor of Jordan Marsh, just behind the cookware. And then you remember adjacent to the bakery an entire restaurant brimming with tacky pastel walls and tasteless teal upholstery. It’s one of those places in memory that probably wouldn’t top anyone’s “must-try” list, but for some reason at one time it held great allure. Why? There’s the mystery component: who ate there? Did anyone I know ever eat there? What kind of food would they serve at Jordan Marsh? Then there’s the closed window: no matter how much curiosity drives you, you’ll never be able to go back and experience it in the present moment.

blueberry-muffin-jm-dt

The famous Jordan Marsh blueberry muffin. C’mon, who wouldn’t want to shop with pastry?

It’s the latter in particular that drives Retrobacktive. Once something is gone, it’s gone for good. For many, this is a non-issue; there is only the future, and the past is best left in the past. That’s fine. There’s a lot to be said for moving forward. But a lot of horrible things have happened throughout history thanks to unchecked progression. Corruption comes from every direction. So it may not hurt to keep a few cultural watchdogs around to blog about ninja movies, and GI Joe, and restaurants in defunct department stores.

Okay, so Retrobacktive is probably more toy-dog then watchdog. Well, what do you want? No one is getting paid around here to do this!

 

Feral Max?

We do a lot of Mad Max posts on Retrobacktive. In case you haven’t figured it out, it’s a certain blogger’s favorite movie trilogy (if over 20 years pass between a third and fourth film in a franchise, the first three are a separate “trilogy”). To be fair, the fourth entry, Mad Max: Fury Road, is an awesome addition to the Mad Max catalog. Great action. Lots of fun characters. Stuff actually blows up.

Still, there’s something a bit off about Fury Road. It’s an excellent action flick, but it doesn’t feel exactly like a Mad Max movie. In a previous analysis, heavy examination was put on Tom Hardy’s portrayal as Max. Was it good? Was it bad? Is he simply not Mel Gibson and naturally going to have different mannerisms and quirks that will make his performance unique? Or is there something more going on?

Here’s what’s important to know: George Miller is as meticulous a director as can be. His attention to detail is legendary. In the former continuity of the original Mad Max trilogy, Miller was highly particular of the character’s timeline. His stance in the wake of the success of Fury Road has taken a 180 degree turn. Miller seems to want to treat the series as an anthology. It dismisses a lot of his earlier effort to create a linear story with the dots all finely connected.

So what’s happened? Has Miller changed his position? Are the original movies locked in time, and so far removed from the release of Fury Road that a few out-of-place hiccups were bound to occur? Or…

Is Tom Hardy’s “Max” really the Feral Kid from The Road Warrior?!

WARNING: endless spoilers to follow.

The_Feral_Kid

The Feral Kid

The answer is yes, and here is why:

1) His Family

Mad Max: Fury Road opens with one of the most gratuitous continuity errors in cinema history. Okay, it’s been 30 years since the last film; audiences needed a refresher course in Max’s history. But die hard fans were shocked to see a flashback of Max’s dead daughter.

Feral Max

The Feral Kid?

Max didn’t have a daughter. He had a son, Sprog, who was murdered along with his mother in the first movie. This is the pivotal moment that drove Max “mad.” How in the world could Miller have forgotten this detail? Given how precise he has been in all his other films, it’s impossible to believe he missed this standout component, and even harder to imagine that he just didn’t care. So already, something is off about our hero’s history.

2) Narration

Fury Road begins with narration provided by Max, something he never offered in the previous installments. There is, however, a rather omniscient monologue that opens The Road Warrior, which in a twist we find out at the end is actually the Feral Kid speaking as an older man. So the only time we’ve heard narration from a Mad Max film has been from the point of view of the Feral Kid. Even the term “road warrior” is unique to the Feral Kid, and it’s used by the narrator in both Mad Max 2 and Fury Road.

3) All the Grunts

Aside from the narration, the Feral Kid only grunts and hollers in The Road Warrior. Mel Gibson’s Max had a New South Wales Australian accent. Well, we could assume this is just Mel’s accent. But it doesn’t explain all of Tom Hardy’s grunting throughout the movie. His dialect has a completely different tone and cadence. So is it Hardy’s own spin on the character?

Tom Hardy went out of his way to try to work with Mel Gibson to honor the original actor’s characterization. Seems odd Hardy, who has shown a lot of promise as a credible actor, wouldn’t even make an effort to sound the way Max does in every other film. Yet his mannerisms certainly appear to resemble that of another Road Warrior character.

4) He Can’t Shoot

There is a scene in Fury Road where Max is down to the final four shots of a long-barrel rifle as he tries to take out the Bullet Farmer. He misses, despite the advantage of a large scope, until he has one shot left before conceding his bad aim and handing the weapon over to Imperator Furiosa who blinds the Bullet Farmer by shooting out his headlight.

In Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome as Savannah attempts to lead an unsupported scouting party for Tomorrow-morrow Land, Max stops her by firing multiple well-placed shots around her head using a long-barrel rifle with no scope at all.

According to Miller, Fury Road is supposed to take place after the events of Thunderdome. So when did Max lose his ability to shoot so well?

5) The Music Box

During their drive to the Green Place, Toast the Knowing is seen playing with an antique sound box. In The Road Warrior, Max gave the Feral Kid an antique sound box (they’re visually identical). We can only assume Toast got the toy from Max’s jacket in Fury Road. So what? It’s a desolate future with little-to-no food, water, resources, but there’s a ton of these little, broken music boxes just kicking around?

6) He Barely Knows His Name

When Imperator Furiosa first asks Max his name he doesn’t respond. Maybe he doesn’t care. Maybe he doesn’t trust her. Or… maybe he doesn’t have one? Later when Furiosa is dying and Max performs an impromptu blood transfusion to save her life he tells her his name is Max. His exact line is:

“Max. My name is Max. Max is my name.”

The way he says it sounds ambiguous, as though he were saying it for the first time. The Feral Kid lived his whole life in reverence of Max; he relays this at the end of The Road Warrior. One could theorize not having his own name, he decides during an emotional exchange to take up the moniker of his childhood hero.

7) Time Out of Mind?

The timeline is off. Miller claims Fury Road takes place after Thunderdome. Thunderdome takes place 15 years after the events of The Road Warrior. Max was 45 in Thunderdome; he’s supposedly 37 in Fury Road. Again, continuity errors are frequently dismissed when you have to consider the use of younger actors to play time-locked roles. But that’s for lesser directors. Not George Miller who went so far as to make Mel Gibson wear a single contact lens in one eye throughout Thunderdome to uphold the continuity of the character’s damaged retina from The Road Warrior. Miller could have just as easily said Fury Road takes place before the events of Thunderdome. But…

8) The Best Laid Plans…

Miller is likely holding something back. His comments on the “Feral Kid conspiracy” have been dismissive, but what other reaction should one expect from a visionary director amid reconstruction of his magnum opus? Miller has stated in interviews that he is moving forward with future Mad Max projects. If his intention is to have Hardy’s character be a grown version of the Feral Kid he’s certainly not going to admit it at this point in the series’ production.

Imagine what would happen if a few crafty film theorists guessed that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father after watching Star Wars: A New Hope, and what would happen if they presented this theory to George Lucas. Would Lucas just admit right then and there that yes, Darth Vader is Luke’s father? “There’s no point in seeing the next movie. You’ve figured out the mystery. Go tell your friends the secret while we scrap production of The Empire Strikes Back since there’s no point in making it now.”

It’s just business. Miller is not going to concede to any fan speculation at this point. With so many mediums and springboards for commentary someone was bound to piece together these clues. Though, to be honest, they were anything but subtle to avid Mad Max fans. Miller’s stoicism, nonetheless, is to be expected and can’t be read into anymore than good marketing.

Conclusion:

Tom Hardy is actually the Feral Kid. He grew up in awe of a heroic childhood figure. He pieced together a new V8 Pursuit Special, patched together an outfit that resembled his idol’s, and took on his name when pressed to reveal his identity. The events of Fury Road happen at a transitional period before he becomes the leader of the Great Northern Tribe. At some point he loses someone close to him, as Max did. Perhaps a daughter, biological or adopted. This, similarly, drives him to a breaking point. Though in the post-apocalyptic environment he grew up in, his violent sense of self-preservation is natural. His actions, much like the original Max’s, are in line with the essential behavior of anyone trying to survive such inhospitable conditions. To interrogate every last action of Tom Hardy’s character, or incur endless speculation of his motives, is something of a waste of time. Who wouldn’t be vengeful and unsympathetic in the dystopian wastelands of the outback? But there are more than enough physical clues to shine light on the new “Max’s” true identity.

This leaves us with what George Miller has in store for “Max.” According to tweets from the director there’s “more Max to come.” And a fifth entry in the series has already been given the working title Mad Max: the Wasteland. Some have argued Miller’s intent is to create an anthology series. Others speculate Furiosa will become the new lead character.

Whether or not Tom Hardy’s Feral characterization comes to fruition, examining Mad Max: Fury Road from an alternative lens opens viewers to new perspectives that may reinvigorate interest and personal fulfillment in the films. Despite his attention to detail, Miller is the kind of director who aims to challenge his audience with the hope they will conceive their own interpretations of his work. So if you choose to believe Tom Hardy is the Feral Kid, that’s who he is.

Admittedly, re-watching Fury Road from this perspective elevates the movie to another level of greatness and expands upon it’s range of emotional and mental dynamics…but, it’s still not as good as The Road Warrior.

 

 

Already Gone

Glenn Frey was kind of a bad ass. He was rugged in the 80s when rugged, for a man, was fringe. You had your clean-cut, coke-sniffing suits on Wall Street, or your downtown scenesters laced in eyeliner. Not putting either down, but the coolest guys in the room are always the ones who don’t care. That was Don Johnson and Glenn Frey and everything Miami Vice related.

Frey, the de facto leader of the Eagles, joined a somber list of notable artists who have passed away less than three weeks into 2016 on Monday, January 18th. He was 67 years old.

Though most famous for his longstanding tenure with the Eagles, Frey had a successful solo career in the 80s highlighted by two No. 2 Billboard hits, “The Heat is On,” and “You Belong to the City.”

The song and video for “You Belong to the City” deserve their own post. They sum up the magnetism of ‘bright lights, big city’ 80s culture to absolute perfection. It is at once grimy but alluring; dangerous but seductive; heartbreaking but undeniable. It may appear trivial to the uninitiated, but it was this song/video combination that planted the kernel of urban wanderlust in one Retrobacktive creator’s head. And despite the 20-year separation, New York City lived up to all the dirty glamour suggested in Frey’s 1985 hit song.

So thanks, Glenn. If you have to have a song stuck in your head for 30 years, this ain’t a bad one.

The Character We’re Not Supposed to Like, but…

Since Retrobacktive’s inception I have long ached to write an article detailing to the finest point the amalgamation of genius that is Die Hard. It is the apex of 80s cinema. Yet there has always been an invisible curtain of refrain. What, after all, is there to lend to its legacy? Die Hard is widely considered the greatest action/adventure movie of all time. As a whole there’s little left to examine. More obscure matters always pressed.

Now, however, a sad and poignant moment draws the collective conscious of the cinema world back to arguably the film’s most impressive attribute.

In 2003, the American Film Institute rated Hans Gruber, Die Hard’s cold and calculating antagonist, as the 46th greatest villain in film history. The man who brought the iconic character to life was Alan Rickman. And by all accounts his portrayal should have earned at least a top ten spot on AFI’s list – if not an Oscar.

Rickman was born in London in 1946. He began his career on stage after studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Few people realize Die Hard was actually Rickman’s first film role. He was skeptical of the part, but fortunately for moviegoers was talked into it by the production team. Rickman’s serpentine Hans Gruber was a perfect foil to Bruce Willis’ gritty John McClane, and he is more times than not the scene-stealer throughout the film.

Die Hard screenwriter Steven E. deSouza, in a 2015 Creative Screenwriter interview, best summed up Alan Rickman’s character. “Who’s the protagonist of Die Hard? It’s Hans Gruber who plans the robbery. If he had not planned the robbery and put it together, Bruce Willis would have just gone to the party and reconciled or not with his wife. You should sometimes think about looking at your movie through the point of view of the villain who is really driving the narrative.”

Rickman drives the film with venomous motivation that is equal parts eloquent and ruthless. Reviewing Die Hard some 27 years later, it’s impossible to imagine any other actor playing Hans Gruber; the film’s huge success launched the English actor’s film career. Rickman went on to appear in numerous memorable roles throughout his life: the scheming Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Potion Master Snape in the Harry Potter film series, and Marvin the Paranoid Android in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Alan Rickman passed away on January 14, 2016 from pancreatic cancer.

Rickman once said he often played “the character you’re not supposed to like.” But given the outpouring of shock and dismay over the star’s recent death, it seems safe to say Rickman was a master of creating characters audiences couldn’t get enough of. His contributions to cinema will be sorely missed.

By two I’d have told him pretty much whatever he wanted to hear.

Happy trails, Alan.