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M.A.S.T.E.R.s – Tenacious D

1 May

You there! Do you like things that are awesome? Are you a fan of things that are equal parts hilarious and bad-ass? Do you like to kick-start your day with deep-knee rock squats, or an invigorating cock-pushup?

If so, then you’re probably already a Tenacious D fan – even if you’ve never even heard of them. If no, then I strongly advise you to stand up, stretch your arms out above your head, and back away from the computer as fast as you can. Shout loudly. Pretend it’s on fire, or that the keys have suddenly revealed themselves to be a mass of writhing tattooed beetles, that’ll help. Trust me, if you don’t, your tiny brain will not survive the coming onslaught.

Jack “JB” “Jables” Black and Kyle “KG” “Rage Kage” Gass are the Two Kings of Comedy Rock, and their newest effort, Rize of the Fenix, is the final chip knocked off their gleaming marble busts, proudly flanking the entrance to our Temple of Titans.

Rize of the Fenix is the duo’s first album since the tie-in LP to their film, Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny. It was billed as “THE GREATEST MOVIE OF ALL TIME”, so that should tell you something. It’s been six long, desolate, barren years since we’ve bathed in the noise and fire of the D. We’d pulled ourselves by our fingernails through a wasteland of watered-down mass-market chaff, gasping through cracked lips for someone to save us. We’d gone so long without rocking, we forgot what it even was.

Well, sound the silver trumpets! Release the eagles! Frolic naked in the streets! Tear your shirts and lift your skirts, motherfuckers, The D is back!

Rize of the Fenix‘s thunderous title opener skips roguishly between explosive, fast-paced classic Tenacious rocking and smears of languid acoustic jam, woven with smooth-ass vocal harmony. The rest of the album follows suit, displaying the hook-heavy songwriting style that makes The D so approachable, and the hilariously obscene lyricism and explicit sketch comedy that makes The D so nasty. (Nasty, here, is meant in the makes-mom-blush, steals-your-girlfriend, inspires-confusing-unintentional-boners sense.) Sex and food, as per usual, are major recurring themes. Curiously absent, however, is any mention of The D’s cheeb of choice; some drug references are made over the course of the album, but their typical nods to cannabis culture are nowhere to be found. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t feel as though something was missing – but it’s a minor quibble compared to the glittering firmament of the album as a whole.

I want you to look closely at that majestic bird. Don't...no. Don't think about it. Just look. Look.

The album is due to be officially released on May 15, but thanks to a leak from a Russian website (fuggen Russkies, man. First the subs, then the websites. Lay off the Stolichnaya, comrades), Rize of the Fenix was released to the world a bit earlier than intended. Instead of complaining or trying to fight it, Tenacious D embraced this adversity and rolled with it, releasing Rize of the Fenix in its entirety for free, more than three weeks before the album’s release date. Please visit the above link to preorder the album and celebrate The D’s indestructible integrity.

Choosing favourite tracks to tell you about is a wholly futile endeavour, because I’m pretty sure every track is my favourite. Consider Roadie, a moving ballad to rock’s unsung heroes (the “wanton warriors searching for a soul”), or Señorita, a Latin-infused Tele Mundo trumpet-and-guitar eargasm you can well imagine Sofia Vergara enjoying. Deth Starr takes The D to atmospheric heights of doomsday sci-fi rock, while To Be The Best thrusts a challenging pelvis at Push It To The Limit for my favourite 80s montage music ever. Each track pokes a sausagey finger into a different genre pie, rounding out into a flaky, well-produced product. KG’s own fingers are nimble as ever on the acoustic riffs and he contributes some genuinely inspired straight-man antics in the sketch sections (particularly Classical Teacher, in which Jack – disguised as Spanish guitar maestro “Felix Char” – sexually disturbs him in an attempt to revitalize what he perceives to be KG’s slacking chops). Dave Grohl is a welcome return on drums, bringing his usual trademark intensity.

It’s Jack, though, who really shines here, with the sparkling divinity of a holy vision. His theatrical singing style really showcases his unbelievable range, from the growly basso profundo rock voice he uses for The Ballad of Hollywood Jack And The Rage Kage to the soaring high screamers of To Be The Best. JB proves that neither The D’s six-year hiatus nor the fact that he’s now over forty have stunted his vocal virtuosity in the slightest. He’s powerful, controlled, and creative with his singing, applying a professional comedian’s timing to a seasoned musician’s craft. Check him in a recent performance of the American national anthem and tell me he’s not leagues better than the friggin’ hobos they drag off the street to sing it for the NHL playoffs. He’s still one of my favourite singers ever, and Rize of the Fenix gives him yet another excuse to unleash that psychedelic feral tiger.

My only disappointments with Rize of the Fenix are to do with length. The D plant their sonic seed deep into your ears, making you crave more of their delicious fruit, but they disappear as quickly as they came, like a coquettish courtesan hiding behind her oriental fan. To Be The Best, for example, will change your life, but is far too short at a just over a minute long. The worst offender is They Fucked Our Asses, which takes a minute building a shudderingly badass intro that continues into…nothing. The song ends just as it begins. The album weighs in at a reasonable 13 tracks, but when the majority are under three minutes, you start to feel cheated.

That said, the “less is more” philosophy is put to work here, and it shows, because there are quite literally no low points to the album at all. It’s distilled, concentrated, and juicy, delivering everything a D-votee will expect – perhaps just in small portions.

There’s something to be said for the energy necessary to create true acoustic rock. You have one acoustic guitar – maybe two – and some drums, and vocals, and that’s it. Tenacious D takes those meager elements and fuses them in the furnace of their passion, and the ensuing blitzkrieg melts faces like a pyromaniac dermatologist. True, they often use electric guitars, bass guitars, and keyboards to round out their studio sound, but at their heart Tenacious D will always be the duo: JB and KG, guitars strapped to their backs, striding hand-in-hand into the sunset.

That heart – and that invincible, lifelong, all-enduring bromance – are why Tenacious D deserve to be counted among the M.A.S.T.E.R.s. Bow before them, brush your lips across their proffered ruby-rings, and they will grace you with music the likes of which you’ve never heard, and will never forget.

M.A.S.T.E.R.s – Carl Sagan & Neil deGrasse Tyson

23 Nov

Oh you bet your sweet black ass we’re back. It’s time once again to tune that dial to the crystal-clear signal of the M.A.S.T.E.R.s, and let their warm and golden sound hum into your heart.

Today’s edition is particularly special. Today we induct not just one hero into our echoing halls, but two. I recognize that the primitive human brain is not capable of absorbing such catastrophic amounts of awe, but you and I are made of stronger stuff, aren’t we. I have every faith that your eyeballs won’t start bleeding from the sheer combined awesometivity of our newest pair of paragons, and if they do, I accept no responsibility. You’re reading this shit at your own risk, you know.

This week we slip the surly bonds of earth and dance the sky on laughter-silvered wings with two men who taught me, from within the sheltered dome of my childhood, to pause once in a while, and take the time to look up. Ladies and gentlemen: Carl Sagan, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

You may never again gaze upon more magnificent men. Cherish the moment.

We’ll begin with Mr. Sagan. I really, really hope you know who he is. I literally can’t understand a world where people know who Snooki is, but have never heard of Carl Sagan. That’s wrong, in the same way that it would be wrong if we suddenly decided that the only qualification necessary for election to the office of Prime Minister was an affinity for pineapple. It would be a world gone topsy-turvy.

My priorities, however, are firmly in place. I know what’s important in life. I even know – and this may sound crazy, but hear me out – I know what’s wrong with the human race. Ready? Here it is: it’s that we don’t have a seventy-foot-tall silver Sagan statue in the centre of every major city.

But y’know what, Carl wouldn’t really be down with that. He was a humble man, despite his gargantuan effect on our understanding of the universe through which we’re currently catapulting. He grew up in a Brooklyn slum, the son of poor Jewish immigrants. His wonder at the universe began early; at the age of five he walked alone to the public library with a question burning inside his little mind: what are stars? His parents and friends couldn’t give him a clear answer. He needed to know more.

In his own words: “…the answer was stunning. It was that the Sun was a star but really close. The stars were suns, but so far away they were just little points of light … The scale of the universe suddenly opened up to me. It was a kind of religious experience. There was a magnificence to it, a grandeur, a scale which has never left me. Never ever left me.”

"...and I'm here to talk about the endless advantages of the common turtleneck."

It’s this quality you’ll notice as a recurring theme in this elongated sycophantic fit: Sagan possessed a sense of wonder at the universe which affected me profoundly. I indentified with it. I remember trying my best to read his Pale Blue Dot while I was still in grade six, finding its words lofty and baffling, but full of a truth I understood perfectly well. I’m kind of a Carl Sagan hipster; I liked him long before he became an internet icon, and to this day I’m (inexplicably) proud of that.

Sagan went on to become one of the world’s leading astrophysicists. He pioneered exobiology, wrote over 600 scientific papers and 20 books (among them recognizable titles like Cosmos, Broca’s Brain, Billions and Billions, and the aforementioned Pale Blue Dot), and popularized SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). He even campaigned for the legalization of cannabis – he was famously quoted (in an essay he signed as “Mr. X” (holy shit that’s awesome)) as saying “the illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world”.

And thus was born the noblest of memes.

He’s probably most famous, however, for his 1980 TV series Cosmos, in which he took viewers on half-hour tours throughout the universe in a (now hilariously dated) “futuristic” spaceship.  Over the course of the show, he took us to the fourth dimension, launched us to the speed of light, discovered a kinship with the wisdom of our ancestors, and – as far as my dumbass lizard brain is concerned – proved the existence of extraterrestrial life. Watch these clips and enjoy Carl’s nappy 70’s hairdo, his soft-looking turtlenecks, and his gentle, plodding, honey-brown baritone. God his voice is awesome. I have a few of his audiobooks and you can consider this an insider tip, gentlemen: listening to Carl Sagan literally makes you a better lover. Letting his dulcet tones lull you to sleep is the reason you wake up with a boner in the morning.

 

Carl Sagan, simply put, brought the unknowable down to earth and asked it questions. He held the universe up for us to scrutinize. He dared, like our ancient ancestors, to search for answers in an endless void. Carl Sagan moved us forward as a species. His work took place on a scale equaled only by the distant stars he loved so dearly. How many of us can claim such profound achievement as human beings?

Well…to be honest? This guy can:

THE CUTENESS...IT'S OVERWHELMING

If Carl Sagan was the father of modern astronomy, Neil deGrasse Tyson is his favourite son. He’s the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, Research Associate in the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History, host of PBS’s NOVA ScienceNOW, and a stone cold fox.

Yes, that's the same dude. Sweet Jesus.

Tyson was on the NASA Advisory Council that was ultimately responsible for demoting Pluto from planet status in 2006, which earned him lots of hate mail from ignorant plebs and lots of respect from the scientific community. Personally I liked Pluto better as a planet, but if Neil says it, IT IS LAW.

The reason I like him so much is because he’s making science cool again. He’s responsible for reigniting the fire of curiosity in the youth of today. He’s essentially a big kid with a moustache – he has a mischevious sense of humour and boundless, infectious energy, especially when he’s talking about the universe. You watch videos of him and you can actually see him getting excited about the stuff he’s talking about. Check out this clip of him unboxing a model of the Saturn V rocket:

 

What a goof! You can’t not love him. He’s an excellent orator, peerless educator, and an irreplaceable successor to his mentor, Carl Sagan. In fact, he will soon be directly responsible for shepherding Carl’s legacy into the modern world: that’s right, Cosmos is coming back, and shucks if it ain’t Neil who’s gon’ be hostin’. I CAN’T WAIT.

*

What these two have taught me is the importance of inquisitiveness, skepticism, and wonder. They’ve brought home the reality of our fragile existence. They’ve made clear our folly as we spoil and drain and murder and rape the world we live in. No environmental message about saving the planet affects me as deeply as knowing how small, remote, and ignorant we really are, in the face of an unimaginably vast universe.

This image is probably a bit dated now, but we all know that it’s only getting worse. And while that’s very sad, all we need to do is pay more attention to guys like Carl and Neil, and maybe someday – if we can convince enough people to prioritize – we’ll move not backward, but upward, and do these incredible men proud.

/manlove finished

M.A.S.T.E.R.s – Stephen Fry

5 Apr

Mon dieu, what a busy time it’s been! Bet you forgot about me, didn’t you. Well, I haven’t forgotten about you, writhing hivemind. I’m back to lay my offering upon your altar and retreat, spine bent, eyes lowered respectfully and fearfully.

This week’s installment of M.A.S.T.E.R.s brings one of England’s most delightful national treasures a-galumphing across the pond, to sit us down under the shade of a beautiful willow and tell us about trolleys, and elephants, and candy, and a wide world of words we’ve never had the will to wonder. Ladies and gents, Mr. Stephen Fry!

Look, he's ticklish!

The first time I saw Stephen Fry was in V For Vendetta, in which he plays the affable-yet-melancholy talk show host Deitrich, who takes Natalie Portman’s Evey under his portly wing. It wasn’t until he appeared as a Star in the Reasonably-Priced Car on an episode of Top Gear, however, that I began to pay attention to Mr. Fry himself and his unimaginably numerous and endlessly admirable traits, experiences, and opinions.

Stephen Fry is, first and foremost, a writer. But he’s also an actor. And a director. And a London taxi driver. And a quiz show host. And a voiceover artist. And a football club director. He’s the voice of the Harry Potter audiobooks. He’s a successful playwright. He’s a gay rights advocate. He’s – in large part, anyway – why Twitter is so popular. He’s a self-professed gadget addict. He is, in his own words, “a lover of truth, a worshipper of freedom, a celebrant at the altar of language and purity and tolerance”.

He has a lyrical, gentle, velveteen voice and a knobbly, crooked nose. He wears brightly mismatching paisley with tweed. He is red of face and round of tummy. The man is impossibly lovable.

But it’s not just his Herculean prolificacy and winsome corporeal form that make his nappy bust a worthy addition to our Shelf of Heroes. Take the way he looks at the world: he’s one of those people who seems to have the right attitude about just about every facet of life, from his dismissal of archaic and useless conservatism to the way he lovingly embraces creativity and learning and wonder. He has said that he believes in the tasting “of every fruit of every tree in the garden at least once. It is an insult to creation not to experience it fully. Temperance is wickedness.”

I mean, man. These are some sensibly awesome philosophies. The man once admitted, “I get an urge, like a pregnant elephant, to go away and give birth to a book”. I can get down with that.

Can YOU rock that tie? Didn't think so.

And that brings me to the real reason I love Stephen Fry, and the reason I think he deserves to be slappin’ the bass in our Band of Champions. The man loves words. And I mean really loves them. You start talking language and truth and meaning, he gets all weak at the knee. He cut his teeth on Milton, Eliot, Lewis, and Chaucer, bound them all up like a ball of elastics, and bounces it with a childlike glee. His vocabulary is like a ’63 Aston Martin, sleek and silver and aquiline, which he is constantly adding to and modifying and polishing and thoroughly enjoying. But it’s exactly that quality – the joy with which he bends language to his will, and giggles at the mess that sometimes ensues – that is so deliciously commendable to me. As someone who hopes to do for the rest of his life even a fraction of what Mr. Fry does, I can think of no higher charge, no more noble task than that.

And you know what? I hope this post hasn’t made any sense. The wrecking ball is the first step to that shiny new library.

I’ll leave you with Mr. Fry himself, to proffer you a vol-au-vent of what I mean. If any of what I’ve told you here pricks up your intellectual ear, then do yourself a favour and visit his website, appropriately titled “The New Adventures of Mr. Stephen Fry”. See what he has to say about Apple products, or bubblegum, or The Beatles. Who knows? You might become a Fryaholic too.

And in my opinion, the world could use a few more of those.