Category Archives: ENTERTAINMENT

Rock & Roll Heaven: Keith Moon

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Moon at the drums on stage with The Who in London, England during a March, 1977 concert

 

The legendary rock band known as The Who had originally evolved out of a band known as the Detours, which featured three members who would become well-known to music fans over the coming years and decades

Roger Daltrey was the founder and driving force. Pete Townsend became the lead guitarist. John Entwistle provided the pulse as the bass guitarist.

However, the fourth member of The Who classic lineup was not their original drummer. The first man to provide the percussion back-beat for the band was Doug Sandom.

When the band received an audition with Fontana Records in the early-1960’s, an executive there simply didn’t like Sandom’s drumming. The Who began to audition stand-ins, and during that process met Keith Moon.

Moon was born in northwest London on August 23, 1946 and grew up in Wembley, England. At age 12 he took up playing the bugle, but quickly switched to the drums. He particularly loved the music of The Beach Boys.

In 1961 at just age 14, Moon joined his first band known as the Escorts. Then in 1962, Moon moved on to become drummer for the Beachcombers. These were part-time bands, with most of the members also holding down day jobs to make a living.

It was in April of 1964 that Moon auditioned for The Who, and he won the gig replacing Sandom in the emerging band. With Moon now on board as the new drummer, the classic lineup was set, and The Who began to craft both their sound and on-stage persona over the course of the mid-late 1960’s.

Technically, Moon moved from a four to a five-piece drum kit during 1965. Towards the end of that year he began to endorse Premier Drums and remained loyal to the brand for the rest of his career.

Also, Moon’s girlfriend Kim Kerrigan became pregnant during 1965. The two were married in March 1966, with their daughter Amanda born on July 12. “He had no idea how to be a father,” Kim later said in a 1998 biography from Tony Fletcher. “He was too much of a child himself.

In 1966, Moon began to utilize a setup with two bass drums. He and Ginger Baker, founder of the rock group Cream, would become pioneers in the early use of that type of drum kit setup.

Moon had a problem with alcohol and drugs from his early teen years. Developing a worsening amphetamine addiction contributed to Moon frequently clashing with each of the other band members, including physical altercations.

Entwistle and I used to have fights – it wasn’t very serious, it was more of an emotional spur-of-the moment thing,” said Moon according to Dave Marsh, who wrote a bio of the band in 1989.

With those internal pressures repeatedly erupting during the mid-1960’s, Jeff Beck recruited Moon to play with The Yardbirds, essentially trying to get Moon to quit The Who and begin playing regularly with him. However, despite playing with Beck a couple of times, Moon resisted, and the band played on together.

It is believed that Moon had another major contribution to rock music history during this late-1960’s period. During one of his dalliances with leaving The Who, Moon is said to have floated the idea of forming a super group to include emerging guitarist Jimmy Page.

The idea of that group never panned out, with Moon having said it “went down like a led zeppelin” in front of Page. The guitarist remembered the phrase when forming his own now-legendary band in 1968.

During one of the early performances of The Who, Townsend accidentally broke his guitar and smashed it up on stage out of frustration. The crowd loved the display, and Moon decided to join in by kicking over his entire drum kit. This would become a signature for the band, destroying instruments on stage to the delight of their early fans.

A breakthrough came for The Who in 1966 with their first major American appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival. There, the on-stage style of The Who, which included smashing their instruments, clashed with much of the peaceful hippie style of the rest of the festival.

That appearance got The Who a gig as the opening act on a tour of America for popular Brit rockers Herman’s Hermits. Moon bonded with the Hermits, who introduced him to cherry bombs. During the tour, Moon became fond of blowing up hotel room toilets with those cherry bombs.

During the celebration of Moon’s 21st birthday while on tour in Flint, Michigan in 1967, the band caused thousands of dollars in damage to their hotel room at a Holiday Inn. It was a wild time, but Daltrey would later say that this tour helped bring the band closer together.

During that same year of 1967, Moon was among those who contributed backing vocals for his friends, The Beatles, on the “All You Need Is Love” record.

During their next tour of America with Eric Burdon and the Animals, a television appearance was arranged for The Who on ‘The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour’. During that performance, Moon bribed a stagehand to plant some explosives in his drum kit.

When they detonated during performance of the song “My Generation“, the force of the blast blew Moon off his drum riser, singed Townsend’s hair, and damaged studio equipment. A video clip from this performance would later be used as “The Kids Are Alright” documentary opening more than a decade later.

During the late-1960’s the band recorded what would become a signature classic LP, “Tommy“, which would be released in May 1969 as their fourth studio album. That piece of music combined with their improving and evolving stage act to begin gaining not only increased popularity, but also increased respect for the band.

During the summer of 1969, The Who were recruited to play at the now-legendary Woodstock Festival. Due to delays their set did not begin until 5:00 am, and they played the entirety of “Tommy” as part of their contribution.

Just a few weeks later, the band would perform back home at the Isle of Wight Festival, which further cemented their status as one of the biggest and best rock bands of the era.

In August of 1971, The Who released their LP “Who’s Next” on which many felt Moon displayed the best drum playing of his entire career. The album contained hits in “Baba O’Riley“, “Won’t Get Fooled Again“, “Behind Blue Eyes”, and “Bargain“, and is considered one of the greatest rock albums of all-time.

Over the next few years during the early-1970’s, the popularity and influence of The Who only grew as they worked on and released the album “Quadrophenia“, the tour for which would spawn a notorious incident.

On November 20, 1974 at the Cow Palace in California, The Who were more than an hour into their show when, while playing “Won’t Get Fooled Again“, Moon passed out over his drum kit.

Carried off the stage by roadies, the drummer was revived and returned to the stage a short time later. However, during his first song back “Magic Bus“, Moon again passed out. This time he could not be revived.

Townsend would say during a later interview that Moon had consumed large tranquilizers which were actually meant for animals, washing those down with large amounts of brandy.

The band played on as a threesome, and after receiving tremendous applause, Townsend told the audience “I think it should be us applauding you”.  He then surprised the crowd by asking, “Can anybody play the drums? Can anybody play the drums? I mean somebody good!

Sitting just off the stage, 19-year-old Scot Halpin was volunteered by his friend. Legendary concert producer Bill Graham, asked Halpin “Can you do it?” When Halpin said that he could, the young man received the thrill of a lifetime. Having not played in over a year, Halpin took over the drums and played well over the final few songs.

The band took a bit of a break from touring and performing during 1974, doing just a few shows as they turned “Tommy” into a motion picture for which Townsend would receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score.

During 1973, his wife Kim had left, taking their daughter Mandy with her, feeling that no one could help Moon with his addictions. She would sue for divorce in 1975, eventually marry Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan, and died herself in a car crash in 2006 at just age 57.

As the divorce was filed in 1975, Moon released what would be his lone career solo LP. “Two Sides of the Moon” was not well received by critics or the public. It included covers of songs including The Who’s “The Kids Are Alright“, The Beach Boys “Don’t Worry Baby“, and “In My Life” from The Beatles. Ringo Starr even contributed backing drums.

In late 1975, a tour by the band resulted in The Who setting a record for the largest indoor concert when more than 78,000 attended their show at the Pontiac Silverdome outside of Detroit. This tour during the years 1975 and 1976 is considered by some to have been the greatest series of live performances in the history of the band.

At the conclusion of the U.S. leg of that tour in Miami during August of 1976, a reportedly delirious Moon was treated in Hollywood Memorial Hospital for eight days. The band would eventually move into Canada, and on October 21, 1976 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, The Who gave their final live public performance with the drummer.

Moon held the dream of becoming an actor, and was able to land a number of roles during the 1970’s. He joined Starr by appearing in “200 Motels” in 1971 and “That’ll Be the Day” in 1973, along with “Stardust“, the latter film’s sequel in 1974. In 1978 he appeared with Starr and Alice Cooper in the film “Sextette“, which was also the final film appearance of Mae West.

Three years after their previous studio album, The Who began recording “Who Are You” in January of 1978. Moon’s addictions had caused a tremendous weight gain and his play to deteriorate to the point where the band considered firing him.

However, the drummer briefly rallied. In May while filming a segment for what would become their “The Kids Are Alright” documentary, which wouldn’t be released until 1979, Moon’s performances were strong. They would also prove to be his last with the band.

That year, Moon moved into a room which he rented from Harry Nilsson. It was the exact room in which ‘Momma Cass’ Elliot had died four years earlier at age 32. Nilsson was reportedly concerned with bad luck in renting Moon that room, but the drummer is said to have told him that “lightning wouldn’t strike the same place twice.”

Attempting to dry out and stay off alcohol, Moon began to take prescriptions for the sedative clomethiazole in order to help the withdrawal symptoms.

The prescribing doctor was not aware of Moon’s drug addiction history, giving him a bottle of 100 pills with instructions to take no more than three pills per day and then only when he felt the urge to drink.

Who Are You” was released in August of 1978. Five days later, Moon celebrated his 32nd birthday. Two weeks after that birthday he would be dead.

On September 6, Moon and his 30-year-old girlfriend, Swedish model Annette Walter-Lax, joined Paul and Linda McCartney at a preview showing of “The Buddy Holly Story“, a biographical film of the late rock star played by Gary Busey in what would prove to be an Oscar-nominated role. The two couples then went to dinner.

On returning to their apartment, Moon asked Walter-Lax to cook him steak and eggs. Tired after their long nigh tout, she refused and Moon replied, “If you don’t like it, you can fuck off!” These would be his last known spoken words.

Checking on him the following afternoon, Walter-Lax found Moon dead. It was later determined that he had consumed 32 of the prescription pills.

Fletcher wrote that a particularly rapid deterioration in Moon’s health had begun during The Who’s lengthy hiatus from 1972 through 1973 in preparation for recording “Quadrophenia“, as a hard-partying lifestyle with no touring and no drum playing took a hard toll on his body.

In addition to self-destruction, Moon had developed the habit of destroying not only drum kits on stage, but hotel rooms and even friends’ homes while off-stage. Fletcher quoted him as follows:

When you’ve got money and you do the kind of things I get up to, people laugh and say that you’re eccentric, which is a polite way of saying you’re fucking mad.”

The Who would ultimately replace Moon with a series of drummers, beginning at first with Kenney Jones of The Faces. Simon Phillips, who would later become the longtime drummer for the band Toto, took over for touring during 1989 after Jones left the band.

In 1996, The Who hired 30-year-old Zac Starkey, son of The Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, as their new drummer. He has remained a member of the band ever since.

Clem Burke of Blondie, Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters, and Neil Peart of Rush are among many drummers who have publicly stated that Moon was an influence on their drum stylings. It is believed that Jim Henson based his Muppet character ‘Animal’ at least partially on Moon.

The Who of the 1960’s and 1970’s have left a sound and a rock legacy that live on to this day. Is Moon now playing the backbeat for some heavenly band? Like the others in this “Rock & Roll Heaven” series, talent was never the question.


NOTE: This is the continuation of my”Rock and Roll Heaven” series of pieces on musical artists whose careers where cut short by their personal demons, the first in nearly two years.

The series now includes features on Keith Moon, Chris Cornell, John Bonham, Ty Longley, Karen Carpenter, Jim Morrison, Michael Hutchence, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin.

It will now continue from time to time into the future. Past articles in the series can be enjoyed by clicking on the below ‘tag’ category, or by visiting the dedicated section under the ‘Entertainment’ category of the website toolbar.

TV Watch: Yellowstone

 

What is known today as the Paramount Network has a long and winding history in cable television.

Founded way back in 1983, it was known originally as “The Nashville Network“, with programming geared around a country music theme through 2000. Over the next few years, the network changed names a number of times in an attempt to lure a younger audience.

In 2003, the network changed its name to “Spike TV“, moving away from the country genre and instead gearing its programming directly to a male audience. It eventually settled in as just plain, old “Spike” from 2006-18, with another change in 2010 emphasizing reality programming.

On January 18, 2018 the network re-launched as “Paramount Network“, moving its headquarters to the Paramount Pictures studio lot in Hollywood. The parent company, Viacom, is hoping to position it as a direct competitor to networks such as FX and AMC by highlighting original programming.

Much as AMC did with “Mad Men” in 2007 and “Breaking Bad” the following year, Paramount is hoping that its first original drama will catch the attention of viewers. That drama is “Yellowstone“, and as with those now classic AMC offerings, it absolutely hits the mark.

Yellowstone” initially drew me in with the star power of two-time Oscar winning motion picture legend Kevin Costner as the lead actor.

Now 64-years-old, Costner plays John Dutton, owner of the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch, a cattle ranch which is billed as “the largest contiguous ranch in the United States.” Dutton is also patriarch of a clan that includes his three children and a grandson.

Kayce Dutton is played by Luke Grimes. A former U.S. Navy Seal who lives on a neighboring Indian reservation as the series opens with his Native American wife, Monica, and their young son, Tate. Many will remember Grimes from his roles in the film “Sniper“, as well as the “Fifty Shades” film series and ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters” series.

Wes Bentley portrays the other son, Jamie Dutton. He is a lawyer and politician who finds himself alternately loyal to and at odds with his family. Bentley is a familiar face who has starred in a number of high-profile roles, including in the “American Horror Story” series on AMC, as well as in films such as “American Beauty“, “Interstellar“, and “The Hunger Games.

Jamie is most frequently at odds with his sister, John’s lone daughter, Beth Dutton, played in an often scene-stealing role by Kelly Reilly. A veteran and acclaimed English actress, Reilly may be best known to American audiences for her role as Vince Vaughn’s wife in the second season of “True Detective” on HBO.

The fiery redhead is the financier of the brood and the most fiercely loyal to her father. However, she also flaunts her sexuality, and has a substance abuse issue which frequently overpowers her common sense.

Cole Hauser has a pivotal role as Rip Wheeler. A true cowboy in every sense, Rip is the longtime head of the Yellowstone ranch hands and a sometimes lover of Beth. He is the single most loyal person at the entire operation to John, the quintessential go-to guy who will literally do anything for his boss, and who is almost considered a fourth sibling.

The drams centers around the interactions of the main characters with one another, as well as their wider interpersonal and professional relationships. However, there is also much happening with the show’s other leading character as well – that being the ranch itself.

Set among the vast natural beauty of Montana and Utah, the Yellowstone Ranch is the center of a number of conflicts involving the neighboring ‘Broken Rock’ tribal Indian reservation, land developers looking to build homes and casinos, and the government looking to preserve and police the Yellowstone National Park.

David Hale, who portrayed a squeaky-clean deputy sheriff in the series “Sons of Anarchy” on FX, created this new series and directed all of the episodes in the first season, which premiered in June 2018. Season two then debuted almost exactly a year later.

The series has been renewed now for a third season, likely coming in early summer of 2020, and the already fantastic cast will be getting some new star power as well.

Josh Holloway, known to most for his award-winning role as James “Sawyer” Ford on the ABC drama “Lost” comes on board as an ambitious hedge fund manager.

Also joining the cast will be three-time Emmy Award-winning actress Jennifer Landon, daughter of famed star Michael Landon. She will portray a new female wrangler at the ranch.

In a wide-ranging interview with Mike Fleming Jr for Deadline back in May 2019, Costner commented on his role with “Yellowstone” moving forward:

“Yellowstone moves fast, and sometimes I am not privy to where it’s all going. It keeps with the promise you make, to create images and words that you never, ever forget. That’s what happens when movies are at their best.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oT-PGjlNM-c

This is cinematic caliber television at its very best. Gorgeous landscapes framed beautifully serve as the backdrop for top-caliber acting at nearly every turn, and a major star as the series lead.

“Yellowstone” is television as it should be, and I highly recommend it for anyone who has not yet enjoyed the first two seasons and 19 episodes. You can stream them here at the Paramount Network website for free by logging in through your cable provider.

 

 

 

 

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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My wife and I had the pleasure of taking in a preview showing last night of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi“, which officially opens in theatres on Friday, December 15, 2017.

There are going to be many spoilers in this review, but they don’t start just yet. Consider this opening sort of like the seemingly endless commercials and previews that accompany every motion picture these days. If you don’t want to know the actual film storyline, I’ll let you know when those spoilers are coming.

Before getting into the film, a little personal background on the two people doing the viewing. You see, we come at the entire Star Wars series and phenomenon from completely different places. Those differences result in my wife and I viewing from completely different perspectives.

When the original film “Star Wars” was released in 1977, I was a highly impressionable 15-year old boy. I was just beginning to explore the broader world around me outside of the little South Philly neighborhood where I was growing up.

My wife, on the other hand, was a 22-year old young woman that summer. She had already started in the working world, and her interests had become much more focused on adult pursuits.

That 15-year old me related strongly to the young Luke Skywalker, who was supposed to be just an older teen himself at that point. Luke was portrayed by Mark Hammill, and the character dreamt of a bigger reality beyond the confines of the comforting yet bland existence in which he was raised.

I went along happily with Luke and his new friends, Princess Leia Organa (who we would later find out was Luke’s twin sister) and smuggler Han Solo on a series of adventures. Luke was on a quest to find his purpose, and to engage in the battles taking place out there in the larger universe, not unlike my teenage self.

The first film, and the two sequels that followed in that original trilogy, drew tens of millions of us into a world of empire and rebellion. In fact, the original 1977 “Star Wars” film, now known as “The New Hope” within the context of the series, remains the only movie that I ever paid to see more than once at the box office.

It was all highlighted by the ultimate battle between the good and light of The Force, and the lure of The Dark Side. It is a familiar struggle, one that has visited each of our real lives as we continually find ourselves in a tug-of-war with good and evil forces, both external and internal.

I did not see those original films with my wife, we had not yet met, so we never got to share that experience. Her exposure to the “Star Wars” franchise was far less intense than my own. While mine was more personal, hers was based more on what was seeping into the broader culture. So her reaction to these films is never as visceral as my own.

Flash forward a couple of decades, and we would get to share my love of the franchise by seeing all three of the prequel films together between 1999 and 2005. That trilogy revealed the story of how Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala, Luke and Leia’s parents, got together.

The prequels also told how the friendship and mentor-student relationship between Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker deteriorated, leading to the latter ultimately turning to the Dark Side and becoming Darth Vader.

The prequels set the stage in a timeline for the action in the original film series, which ended with “Return of the Jedi” in 1983.

This new series of films picks up the story decades later. The evil Galactic Empire, defeated thanks to the intervention of Luke and his allies in the original films, is re-emerging as the First Order and threatening the benevolent New Republic.

To set the stage for the latest film, the new series began with “The Force Awakens” in 2015. In it we get caught up with our old heroes, Han and Leia. They had gotten married, had a son, fought together to maintain peace in the galaxy, and but then later separated as a couple.

Now aging, Leia had turned in her previous royal title of Princess to become a General, leader of the New Republic’s armed forces. Han had returned to his more familiar and comfortable role of working with co-pilot and sidekick Chewbacca in transporting and smuggling various shipments across the galaxy.

The First Order, an extreme Nazi-like power, was emerging as a genuine threat to galactic peace. Their goal was nothing less than to destroy the New Republic and replace it with tyrannic rule of their own. Leia attempts to locate Luke, who has mysteriously become a hidden recluse, in order to bring the Jedi back into the conflict on the side of her Resistance forces in battling the First Order.

“The Force Awakens” also introduces us to a new generation of characters. Poe Dameron is the greatest fighter pilot in the Resistance forces. With the aid of his orange and white droid, BB-8, Poe is sent to locate the final segment of a map that will lead to Luke.

A stormtrooper known as FN-2187 becomes a defector from the First Order. He joins up with Poe, who dislikes the impersonal number and bestows the name ‘Finn’ on him.

Rey is a loner on Jakku, a seemingly inconsequential lost girl on a middle-of-nowhere planet. She was abandoned by her parents as a small child, and his now scavenging just to get by from day to day.

Finally, the new trilogy introduces a new villain who goes by the name of Kylo Ren. We learn fairly quickly that he was originally Ben Solo, son of Han and Leia. Ben was strong in The Force and was sent to train with his uncle Luke to become a Jedi.

But the Dark Side, which lured away his grandfather (Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader), would turn Ben as well. He would take the name “Kylo Ren” from a mysterious ‘Knights of Ren’ group that he would join. He was then further lured towards the Dark Side under Supreme Leader Snoke, the leader of the First Order.

Now, real spoilers begin here for anyone who has not seen either of “The Force Awakens” or “The Last Jedi” films. Read no further, or prepare to have the key plot lines revealed.

As we saw in “Awakens”, Kylo ultimately kills his father, Han Solo. Meanwhile, it is revealed that The Force is extremely strong with Rey, hinting at some background that is still to be revealed for her character. She meets Finn, who becomes immediately and almost instinctively protective of her.

Leia’s Resistance fighters begin to defend the New Republic against the attacks of the First Order, led by Kylo and General Hux, who commands the First Order’s more conventional forces.

It is revealed that there is a strong pull within The Force that draws Rey and Kylo to one another, and they will ultimately engage in an epic light-saber duel. She wins, but before she can finish him off, fate allows him to escape.

As the map to Luke is finally fully recovered, Rey is sent by Leia to find him and convince him to return from his self-imposed exile. That is basically where “Awakens” leaves us off.

“The Last Jedi” is written and directed by Rian Johnson, produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Ram Bergman. It begins with Poe leading the Resistance in a somewhat successful but also foolhardy military mission that gets a number of Resistance fighters killed. Poe is demoted for his recklessness by Leia, who is then herself blasted into unconsciousness by the military might of the First Order.

Meanwhile, we flash to Rey back on the island at the exact moment where “Awakens” had left off. Unfortunately, she finds that Luke is almost violently disinterested in any type of return to battle. This becomes a main focus of “Last Jedi”: Rey trying to convince him to return, Luke resisting.

With Leia incapacitated, leadership of the Resistance passes down their chain of command to Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, played by Laura Dern. It’s been quite the year for Dern, who joines this iconic franchise after her featured role in the “Twin Peaks” revival this past summer.

Finn, who was seriously injured at the end of “Awakens” by Kylo, regains consciousness, and rejoins the fight against the First Order. Finn, Poe, BB-8, and a new character named Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) then team up to more aggressively challenge the First Order after Admiral Holdo takes a path of apparently passive resistance.

With Finn’s knowledge of the inner workings of First Order tactics and equipment, they devise a plan to destroy the lead First Order ship which is laying siege to the Resistance vessels.

Their plan is for Finn, Rose, and BB-8 to secretly board the ship and take out its tracking system. Poe would convince Holdo that the last of the Resistance fleet’s fuel could be then used to escape.

The group is instructed by Maz Kanata, a diminutive and large-goggled cantina owner who was introduced in “Awakens”, to seek out a computer expert “slicer” who could help them to sneak on board the First Order vessel. They are directed to a casino on a nearby planet to find this person.

Finn and Rose are taken into custody at the casino and tossed in a jail cell where they meet ‘DJ’ (Benicio Del Toro), who does indeed help them infiltrate the ship. Unfortunately, he also turns on them, delivering Finn and Rose into the hands of the ruthless Captain Phasma.

While all that is going on, Poe leads a mutiny back at the Resistance. Holdo has given an “abandon ship” order which Poe sees as leading the group to sure destruction. As usual, he is jumping the gun, and is put in his place by a revived Leia.

In the Rey-Luke storyline, she yields herself to the Dark Side, only to find that it holds no answers for her. Luke is visited by the spirit of his own teacher, Yoda, and is inspired to give some basic Jedi training to Rey.

Luke also confides in Rey with the story of Kylo Ren. The Force was strong in young Ben Solo, and so Luke had taken his nephew along with a small group of others to train as Jedi knights. But Luke sensed the growing and inevitable pull of the Dark Side in Ben. This led to a confrontation between the two, and with Ben destroying the old Jedi temple, killing some of his fellow trainees before fleeing with others to join the First Order.

Rey was told a completely different version of this confrontation by Kylo. She was becoming more and more conflicted between Luke’s resigned hesitancy and Kylo’s charismatic but dark leanings. She believed firmly that if she could only meet with him face to face, that she could turn Kylo back to the light.

That meeting would take place, and would lead to Kylo delivering Rey to Snoke. When Snoke is unable to convert Rey, he orders Kylo to kill her, thus surpassing his grandfather Darth Vader by completing Kylo’s own full turn to the Dark Side.

Instead, Kylo strikes down Snoke, and together he and Rey fight and overcome Snoke’s eilite force of personal guards. Just when we thought this might be the beginning of Kylo’s return to Ben, just when it looked as if Rey might successfully rehabilitate him, it all turns again.

With Snoke and his guards out of the way, and with his own power growing, Kylo saw this as his chance to rule the galaxy. He proposed an alliance with Rey in which they would overcome both the First Order and the Resistance, and rule alongside one another.

This was not her vision, and so Rey was having none of it. Unable to convince him to join the Resistance, Rey and Kylo put their powers to the test in a battle of wills through use of The Force.

Neither is able to overcome the other, and Rey escapes to help the Resistance. Kylo overpowers General Hux and declares himself as the Supreme Leader, replacing Snoke, and leaves to destroy the Resistance once and for all.

Those Resistance forces appear to run out of time. Holdo and Leia’s escape plan has been discovered, and their ships are being picked off one by one.

It dawns on Holdo that there is but one way out of the situation. In a suicide mission, Holdo flies the main Resistance ship directly into the lead First Order vessel at light speed, slicing it in two as she sacrifices herself.

This was the very same ship that Finn, Rose, and BB-8 were on board and trying to sabotage. As the ship begins to disintegrate around them, Finn is confronted by Phasma, and the two engage in a showdown of their own which ends in her demise. Finn, Rose, and BB-8 are able to then flee the doomed vessel and re-join the Resistance.

In the final battle, the Resistance has taken refuge on a secluded planet. But the First Order finds them and quickly over-matches them with superior military might. Leia and the survivors find themselves cornered inside a reinforced cave with the First Order about to deliver a final blow.

Suddenly, in walks Luke Skywalker. After a brief reunion with Leia, he marches out like some wild west gunslinger to take on the full might of Kylo and the First Order all by himself. Unable to defeat Luke with conventional weapons, Kylo realizes that he will have to fight this battle himself.

This sets up a mano a mano between Luke and Kylo in which Luke delivers a warning that echoes one given decades earlier by Obi-Wan to Vader: “If you strike me down I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

Luke succeeds in buying time for the Resistance to escape from the cave. They do so with the help of Rey and her growing abilities to draw upon the power of The Force. We leave Leia, Rey, Finn and the others as they flee aboard the Millenium Falcon.

Kylo suddenly realizes that he has been fighting with a Force-projected image of Luke, not the real person. We are left with him frustrated the he was unable to kill the real Luke, and that the Resistance has escaped.

Luke has fulfilled his destiny. He passed along the fundamental secrets of The Force to a new generation in Rey, and thus Luke will not end up as the last of the Jedi after all. We watch as he finally dissolves as a physical being, dying in peace and becoming one with The Force.

The film has wrapped up all of the story lines at this point, but still has one final scene with which to tantalize us. It shows a small group of children back on Canto Bight, the planet where Finn and his group had visited the casino earlier. These young stable hands had aided in Finn and Rose’s escape.

A small boy in the group is shown using rudimentary powers of The Force to retrieve a broom. He then uses the broom to make motions of a light saber as he looks up at the stars.

We are thus left with the vision of a younger generation that has been inspired to one day join the Resistance, and with the hope that The Force will once again be a force for good in helping lead their cause.

That is where we will pick up with Episode IX, slated for a December 2019 release. That film was originally intended to feature a larger role for Carrie Fisher as Leia. Of course, we know that Fisher died almost exactly one year ago. She had finished filming all of her scenes for “Last Jedi” by that point, so “Last Jedi” will be her last appearance.

When we return to the series, we will certainly find Rey, Finn, Poe, Rose, and Chewie as key figures in trying to restor the Republic, battling against Kylo and his New Order. I’m sure there will be some appropriate resolution for Leia’s character as well.

Will Luke return as a Yoda-like figure to guide Rey? Will there be a satisfying resolution to the Rey-Kylo relationship? Will there be a heartfelt romance between any of the characters? Will there be new characters? We’ll have to wait two years to find out.

Now, that takes care of a recap of the story. So how would I rate it, and what criticisms, if any, would I have?

I prefaced this piece with my own history in following the “Star Wars” saga. That history takes me back four decades to my youth. I need to say this: I am not an unbiased source. I am a big fan. I don’t wear costumes, don’t read the books or comics, don’t play the video games. I don’t watch the animated series. But the films and their story will always be a part of me.

I loved the original trilogy. I enjoyed the prequels, which gained a measure of criticism from many Star Wars fans. And I can also say the same now regarding “The Last Jedi” and its “The Force Awakens” predecessor.

The prequels and the new trilogy do not hold the same romanticism for me as the original trilogy. That is no fault of the films. It is simply a reflection of my having grown older. The characters of Luke, Leia, and Han, even Darth Vader, are iconic because they came first. They started what has grown into a generational phenomenon.

As ground-breaking as the visual effects were from that original trilogy in their time, the newer films offer so much more in the way of special effects. Modern technological advances make any type of creature, world, and weapon a reality confined only by the imaginations of the creative team working on each film.

If I have any criticisms, there would be two. First, I found myself wishing that there was greater reliance on the actors and their skill in developing relationships and dialogue. The films try to balance that element with the special effects of the battles. For me, I would prefer fewer special effects-enhanced fights and more dramatic acting scenes.

Second, in this particular film it felt like too much story was being scattered around too many characters. I would much rather have seen more of a relationship develop, more teaching take place, with Luke and Rey than was actually shown in the film.

Daisy Ridley as Rey is clearly the breakout star of this new trilogy. She is captivating in the role whenever she hits the screen. I felt that she was under-utilized in this latest film. I would, for instance, have been interested in seeing a more interesting background story developed for her, something that reveals a reason for the strength of The Force in her.

Same goes for Oscar Isaac’s character of Poe. This has been a character with a great deal of potential, but one who has been reduced to a stereotype of the insanely gifted but undisciplined maverick fly boy. Picture Tom Cruise from “Top Gun”, only in outer space. Poe could have been a modern Han Solo, but that ship may have sailed.

I was never really sold on John Boyega in the Finn role. A supporting role, sure. But he is cast as a major character, and I just don’t find him to be leading man material.

We are also through two films now, and I don’t see a legitimate romance. The sexual tension, first as a triangle between Luke, Leia, and Han, and ultimately in the Han-Leia relationship, helped cement the “heart” felt in the original trilogy by the audience.

Who is that supposed to be here? Rey and Finn? Finn and Rose? It seems as if those have been tried and found lacking. Rey-Finn feels more like the brother-sister relationship of Luke-Leia than a romance. Finn-Rose might happen, but I simply don’t find it all that interesting.

The relationship between Rey and Kylo seems almost dirty, and not in a sexual way. While it appeared as if each might have briefly thought of the other in that way during a fleeting moment in “Last Jedi”, it seemed as if they immediately realized what went through all of our minds: “No.”

The most interesting hope for a romance to develop might end up being Rey-Poe. The two characters finally meet towards the end of this one, and there seems to be a quick spark. But it was indeed quick. There was no real conversation between the two, and nothing is made of a relationship.

Kennedy was hand-picked by the creator of this world and these characters, George Lucas, to carry the torch forward. She needs to try something to recapture the magic. Perhaps with the return of J.J. Abrams to direct Episode IX, we will find Star Wars getting back to those roots.

For old school Star Wars fans, there are definitely some great retro nuggets in this one. The aforementioned Luke nod to Obi-Wan. Our old buddy R2D2 cues up a video of one of the original trilogy’s greatest hits for Luke. There is an actual appearance from Yoda, and we hear the ethereal voice of Obi-Wan. Luke takes the bridge of the Millenium Falcon, finds the gold dice that Han had hung there, and reminisces over his old friend.

Looking back on the nostalgic aspects that were heavy in “Last Jedi”, they also served as a reminder that we missed out on something that I would love to have seen. Due to the choices made in the “Awakens” storyline, there would never be a reunion of Luke, Leia, and Han all together.

I recommend that everyone who has ever called themselves a Star Wars fan should go see “The Last Jedi” as soon as possible. It continues the story, opening with the now iconic musical strains of John Williams and the introductory word scroll. You get to watch Leia and Han reunite. You will see R2D2, C3PO, Yoda, Chewbacca, the Millenium Falcon. It pushes forward the newer generation story of Rey, Finn, Poe, Kylo, and BB-8.

What do I want to see in a finale in 2019? I want a Rey-heavy film, one that sees her fully learn the powers of The Force. I want to see the return of the Jedi – not a repeat of that film, but a rebirth of the Jedi knights. I want to see Kylo as clearly and unambiguously on the Dark Side. I want to see a realistic Rey interpersonal relationship developed, perhaps with Poe.

I would love to see a Luke cameo as Rey’s spiritual Yoda-like teacher. I want to see good defeat evil. I want to see the First Order defeated and the Republic restored. I want to see Rey defeat Kylo, though not necessarily kill him.

Finally, I would actually like to see the ending have something that leaves the door open, that allows the folks at Disney to perhaps revisit the series a few years down the road. I mean, what is life without the hope of a Star Wars fix coming at some point?

I wouldn’t know. For me, the events which took place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away have always been there. I’d love a new hope, one where I might continue to enjoy this series for years to come.

Rock & Roll Heaven: Chris Cornell

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After a nearly seven year break, this piece marks the return of my “Rock & Roll Heaven” series, which began nine years ago.

It was originally intended to be a week-long mini-series of articles. That first week included pieces on Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Michael Hutchence, and Jim Morrison. However, I also offered that I might consider continuing the series with additional occasional pieces. 

After receiving positive feedback, the series continued over the next two years. The musicians highlighted after the original mini-series were Karen Carpenter, Ty Longley, and John Bonham. All articles in the series can be enjoyed by simply clicking on the series ‘label’ at the bottom of this piece.

Bonham, the drummer for Led Zeppelin who Rolling Stone magazine has ranked as the top drummer of all-time, died in September of 1980. He was just 32 years old. The alcoholic Bonham died after a two-day drinking binge.

That factor is a hallmark of my series. All of the artists portrayed were icons in their generation, and died young under controversial or dramatic circumstances. 

Icon of his generation. Death under controversial circumstances. That perfectly fits the loss earlier this year of Seattle grunge band icon Chris Cornell. The lead vocalist for Soundgarden and Audioslave, Cornell’s death on May 18, 2017 was ruled a suicide. He was known to have suffered from substance abuse issues and depression.

Like many popular rock artists of the early 1990’s, Cornell emerged from the Seattle, Washington scene. He was born in Seattle on July 20, 1964, and so was less than three years younger then me. 

He helped form Soundgarden in 1984, and by 1990 the band was receiving a Grammy Award nomination for their debut album. They continued to record and tour together through 1996, and their 1994 album “Superunknown” won the band a pair of Grammy Awards.

One of those 1994 Grammys was “Best Hard Rock Performance” for the song “Black Hole Sun”, perhaps their most well known among the wider music-listening public.


Of those early 1990’s years with Soundgarden, Cornell stated the following:

“Nobody came to Seattle to sign a band or write about you or put your song on the radio, so everything there was very genuine. I’m privileged to have been in that place at that time. I also put a lot of energy into that. We really had to beat the doors down.”

In 1990, Cornell had to cope with the death of his close friend and roommate, Andrew Wood. A fellow musician from Seattle, Wood died in March 1990 following a heroin overdose. In an interview with Jim Farber for The Guardian just a year ago, Cornell stated: 

“I’ve always had really difficult time with loss. I didn’t deal well with Andy’s death. After he died, numerous times I’d be driving and I would look out the window and I thought I saw him. It would take me five minutes to update to the moment and realize, ‘no, he’s actually dead.”

Cornell recorded a 1990 tribute album to Wood with a project band known as Temple of the Dog. This band included members who would go on to form Pearl Jam. 

Temple of the Dog featured the first recordings by Eddie Vedder. Originally from San Diego, his friendship with Cornell helped legitimize Vedder in the Seattle music scene. The two would remain close friends, and Cornell would go on to work with Pearl Jam a number of times over the next two decades.

In 1985 at age 20, Cornell began dating Soundgarden’s manager, Susan Silver. They married in 1990, had a daughter in 2000, and divorced in 2004. Later that year he married Vicky Karayiannis. The couple would have two children, a daughter born in 2004 and a son a year later.

His Irish-Catholic father and Jewish mother were both alcoholics according to Cornell. If true, that propensity towards addiction was already going to be a factor at some point in his life.

Cornell stated in a 2006 interview with Dorian Lynskey for SPIN magazine that his early life had been “pretty great.” But then a bad experience after trying PCP at age 14 left him with panic disorder and he slipped into depression through his teen years.


In a December 1994 interview with Alec Foege for Rolling Stone magazine, Cornell stated that he took guitar and piano lessons as a kid. 

He has also stated that he believes that drums purchased for him by his mother may have saved his life during those tough teen years. “It was the only thing I had an attention span for,” he said per Foege: 

“When you’re young, playing drums is immediately satisfying ’cause whether or not you know how to play anything, the bottom line is that you’re pounding on something, so you’re happy about it.”

It wasn’t until his late-20’s that he succumbed to his parents alcoholism. That eventually led him to prescription drugs, and then harder drugs. 

Internal conflicts regarding the band’s creative direction led to the Soundgarden breakup in early 1997. Cornell released a commercially unsuccessful solo album in 1999. Then in 2001, Cornell joined three former members of the band Rage Against the Machine to form Audioslave. 

Over the next half-dozen years, Audioslave recorded three albums of material, all of which proved commercially successful. Their 2002 self-titled debut LP went triple-platinum, and their second “Out of Exile” in 2005 went platinum. The band broke up when Cornell decided to leave in early 2007.

In 2006, Cornell co-wrote and performed the song “You Know My Name” for the James Bond film “Casino Royale”, taking home both a Satellite Award and World Soundtrack Award.



During the Audioslave years, as well as both immediately before and after, Cornell worked on a number of solo and side projects. He also contributed music and vocals on the work of other artists, including Slash, Aerosmith, Pearl Jam, and Smashing Pumpkins.

On the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 Islamofascist attacks on America, Cornell performed John Lennon’s “Imagine” on the popular Conan O’Brien late night TV show. He would later release a version on his acoustic live album “Songbook” in November 2011.

Whispers of a Soundgarden reunion began in 2010, and in April of that year the band verified by announcing they would play that summer’s Lollapalooza concert. The band would remain together, recording and touring over the next few years.

In April 2013, Cornell gave the introduction speech for Heart when that iconic band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In the speech, Cornell stated that Ann and Nancy Wilson had been role models for him and numerous Seattle musicians and singers. Cornell joined in a version of Heart’s classic hit “Barracuda” along with the Wilson sisters and other musicians.


In 2015, Cornell recorded the solo LP “Higher Truth”, which would prove to be his final album. 

As Soundgarden was breaking up in 1997, his marriage to Silver falling apart, Cornell slipped into a depression that lasted for years. He turned to OxyContin at one point before finally checking in to rehab in 2002. 

In a 1996 interview with Robyn Doreian for Metal Hammer, Cornell had first publicly mentioned the idea of suicide:

“I know what it feels like to be suicidal, and I know what it feels like to be hopeless. There is some point where I learned enough about myself to know that I don’t have the tolerance to create other hurdles as well.”

“If I would have ever started taking drugs when I was younger, I would never have lived. I would have gone out quick. I don’t have the tolerance to live in that emotional and physical pain and not have anything positive or good around me.”

On May 17 of this year, Cornell performed with Soundgarden at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. Sometime after the show, Cornell returned to his room at the MGM Grand. His wife later stated “When we spoke after the show, I noticed he was slurring his words; he was different. When he told me he may have taken an extra Ativan or two, I contacted security and asked that they check on him.”
 
He was found on the floor of his hotel bathroom by his bodyguard, an exercise band wrapped around his neck. An investigation, confirmed later in the coroner’s report, ruled that the death came by suicide. Only therapeutic amounts of prescription drugs were found in his system, but there were a variety of those.
 
In a public statement released to the press and reported by Rolling Stone, his wife Vicky stated:
 
“Many of us who know Chris well noticed that he wasn’t himself during his final hours and that something was very off. We have learned from this report that several substances were found in his system. After so many years of sobriety, this moment of terrible judgment seems to have completely impaired and altered his state of mind. Something clearly went terribly wrong and my children and I are heartbroken and are devastated that this moment can never be taken back. We very much appreciate all of the love we have received during this extremely difficult time and are dedicated to helping others in preventing this type of tragedy.”
 
Yet another tragedy in the long history of them in the rock and roll world. This time we lost a man who readers of Guitar World had voted as “Rock’s Greatest Singer”, and who Rolling Stone ranked as 9th on their “Best Lead Singers of All Time” list.
 
Singing lead vocals in Rock and Roll Heaven, or a place in hell? For Christians, the answer isn’t as simple as suicide leading to eternal damnation. That is not the teaching of any reputable Christian church, including Catholicism


The more relevant question is, where was Cornell at the time of his death in regards to his personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Same goes for anyone else covered prior in this series, or who we will cover in the future, on Rock and Roll Heaven. 

Cornell frequently wore a cross on a chain around his neck. If that was not just a fashion statement, then I think that I know the answer in the case of Chris Cornell.

Rock & Roll Heaven: John Bonham

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The late John Bonham was the drummer for Led Zeppelin

 

Sometime on September 23rd, 1980, John Bonham began to drink. This was not an unusual event in Bonham’s life. He was a big drinker.

But the binge that he was about to undertake was a big one even by his standards. Over the next day and a half, Bonham, would take approximately 40 shots of vodka in a drinking binge that would end his life.

John Bonham was the drummer for the legendary rock band ‘Led Zeppelin’, and he was universally considered one of the greatest drummers in the history of rock music.

As he undertook that final late September alcohol binge, he and his mates in Zeppelin were in preparations for their first world tour in over three years, a tour that would never take place.

The legendary original Led Zeppelin lineup was born as a band in London, England in the latter half of 1968, at the height of the 1960’s ‘flower child’ and ‘hippie generation’ crazes. Jimmy Page, who was and is universally regarded as one of the greatest guitarists on the planet, and his band ‘The Yardbirds’ had just broken up.

Page met up with singer Robert Plant and began to consider putting a new band together. It wasn’t long before the talented Bonham, who both men knew from studio sessions, would be recruited heavily and agree to join the band.

With the addition of bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones the four men originally set out as ‘The New Yardbirds’, but following their first touring effort it was obvious to all that they had little in common with that original band. The band’s name was changed to ‘Led Zeppelin’, and the rest is music history.
Zep’s hard-rocking guitar-fueled style is often credited as being at the forefront of what is now known as ‘heavy metal’ music, but they did much tremendous acoustic work together as well.

During the 1970’s, Zeppelin grew into one of the most popular, successful, and influential rock bands in music history. The band became known for extravagant clothing and wild partying during touring.

The band’s classic hits released during these years included “Rock and Roll“, “Going to California“, “Black Dog“, “Houses of the Holy“, “Immigrant Song“, Chase Utley’s signature theme “Kashmir“, and a song widely acknowledged as one of the greatest in rock history, “Stairway to Heaven“.

Bonham had a couple of brief acting turns, first appearing as a drummer in 1974’s “Son of Dracula“, and then in an action drag-racing scene during the Zeppelin vehicle “The Song Remains the Same” that was set to “Moby Dick“, his signature half hour-long concert solo.

Bonham had been married since before the Zeppelin years. He and his wife, Pat, had a son born back in 1966 named Jason Bonham. Jason would go on to drum himself for bands including ‘Foreigner’. During the height of Led Zepplin’s popularity, the couple added a second child when daughter Zoe was born in the summer of 1975. But as a rock and roll star, his life was far from that of the typical family man.

On July 23rd, 1977, following a Zeppelin concert in San Francisco, Bonham became involved in a controversial backstage incident. The band’s manager, Peter Grant, had his son helping with the breakdown job. The son apparently took down a dressing room sign that was not band property, and got into an argument with a member of the promoter’s staff, who slapped young Grant. Bonham saw this and ran to the kid’s aid, beginning an attack that ended with the staffer badly beaten by members of the band’s entourage.

This was just one incident in the downward spiral of Bonham’s life. In one episode, Bonham is said to have ridden his motorcycle through a hotel. During a June 27th, 1979 show in Germany, Bonham collapsed while on stage and was rushed to the hospital. It is widely believed that his collapse was caused by his continued misuse and abuse of both alcohol and drugs.

On September 24th, 1980, Bonham was well into his fatal final drinking binge when he attended a rehearsal session for what was planned to be the first Led Zeppelin tour in almost three years. The session ended in the evening and the entire band along with some of their crew and entourage went back to Jimmy Page’s home. At some point after midnight, a drunken, passed out Bonham was put to bed and placed on his side.

The next day, John Paul Jones and the band’s manager went to try to wake Bonham, and they found him dead. A subsequent autopsy found no other drugs in his system, and ruled that he had died an accidental death, the result of his having vomited, inhaled it, and dying as a result from asphyxiation.

Dave Grohl of the band Foo Fighters, who had to deal himself with the personal tragic loss of his own former ‘Nivana’ bandmate Kurt Cobain, is quoted as having said “John Bonham played the drums like someone who didn’t know what was going to happen next – like he was teetering on the edge of a cliff.” It can be said without exaggeration that Bonham lived his life that same way. A great way to drum, perhaps, but perhaps not the best way to live.

John Bonham was just 32 years old when he died from the alcohol abuse. That old adage of sex, drugs, and rock and roll can be extended to include booze as well, a substance that Bonham abused regularly and voluminously. Does he now play the drums in some all-star ‘Rock and Roll Heaven’ band with Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain on guitar and Janis Joplin at the front? We may one day get to find out for sure, but one thing we know now is that his life ended too soon from his own choices involving one of the usual suspects.

NOTE: this is the return of the ‘Rock and Roll Heaven’ series of articles here at the www.mattveasey.com website, all items of which can be read by clicking on that Tag link at the bottom of the article.