Video Game Review- Modern Warfare 2

November 24, 2009

Modern Warfare 2

There’s a very good reason I haven’t been updating this blog very often, if at all, over the past two weeks. I’ve been busy taking down choppers, laying down suppressive fire, securing strategic points, and infiltrating enemy lines in the new blockbuster game Modern Warfare 2, the latest installment in the Call of Duty series.

I was one of the millions of gamers across the nation who pre-ordered the game and stood in line awaiting its release at 12:00 AM on November 11th, 2009. This experience deserves a paragraph of its own as I had never witnessed anything like this before. Our local Game Crazy store was SWAMPED with people when I arrived at 10:00 PM on Monday. Apparently people started showing up for the launch earlier in the evening, and others yet had camped out in anticipation of the store’s opening to nab the first number ticket. Yes, a friend told me that he had seen people in tents outside the store at 5:00 AM. Insane… but not as insane as the fact that a man bought the 18th spot in line for $100. Yes, somebody just couldn’t wait a half-hour in line to get his game, and threw away a Benjamin to jump the wait. I did envy the man who sold his spot away, however, as he basically picked up a free game and a half.

After 45 minutes of waiting (Fifty other people, including a grandmother and an on-duty police officer, were ahead of me in line), I finally received my copy. I raced home, blasting Rage Against the Machine’s hit single “Guerilla Radio” in preparation for this event. I brewed some quick raspberry coffee, raced upstairs, slapped on my headset and ripped open my case in a hurry. I smiled in satisfaction as I watched my friends log onto X-Box Live, one by one, all ready to join me in combat on Multiplayer. One friend of mine walked a total of four miles to get his copy, braving wind and cold as he trudged through busy city streets. That’s dedication, folks.

Modern Warfare 2 Screenshot

MULTIPLAYER

The past few Call of Duty releases have had similar multiplayer to one another. Call of Duty: World at War‘s multiplayer seemed like an exact copy of that of Call of Duty 4 (time period alterations aside). I was afraid that Modern Warfare 2′s online battles would fall into that same rut as the past few games. While they were good games, the series was stagnating and beginning to feel like expansion packs rather than games.

Fortunately, Modern Warfare 2 is a different animal.

Compared to the previous two titles, Modern Warfare 2 boasts much more customization, variety, and replay value in multiplayer. The game retains the unlock-weapons-and-perks-as-you-play style as the titles before, which in itself leads to hours of addictive play. This style is beefed up with all-new weapons, weapon categories, perks, perk upgrades, customizable killstreak and deathstreak rewards, and challenges. Guns can be customized dozens of different ways, as the more you kill, the more you unlock; silencers, scopes, camo patterns, grenade launchers, and various other attachments can be added to nearly any gun. Pistols, shotguns, and SMGs can be dual-wielded. The excess grenade use that plagued the previous Call of Duty titles has been mitigated by different perks and less ‘nades in your starting arsenal.There are a handful of different explosive weapons and grenades at your disposal. Instead of being confined to three different killstreak rewards, you can unlock and choose your own strike. Whether you prefer UAV recon and airstrikes, or care packages and attack choppers, or even a tactical nuke; you can completely customize your style of play.

The maps are larger, more detailed, less clustered, and offer a grab-bag of strategic points and opportunities. Whether you and/or your team decide to camp a location, rove the streets, surround chokepoints, or man the rooftops; there’s really no limit to the ideas and tactics you can employ on these playing fields. One controversial move the developers made was to force all players in team games to be in the party chat; one cannot talk in an X-Box 360 party and play a team game at the same time. While this takes away the opportunity to talk with your friends that are playing other games, you’re forced to cooperate and communicate with teammates, promoting strategic conversation and, of course, endless trash talk.

I’ve spent nearly two days in game hours already playing the multiplayer with my friends, clan buddies, and even my girlfriend. There’s no thrill like unlocking a new, more powerful gun.. and the fun that follows in leveling it up and tricking it out with tiger camo and thermal scope. The “Chopper time.. hell yes!” and “AC-130 Gunship baby!!” moments that myself and my teammates have experienced have been very worth the battlefield grind it took to unlock the airstrike rewards. With the wide variety of weaponry and power-ups available, a team can mold a strategy for any gametype and any map.. and still have plenty of shoot-em-up fun.  Players can now customize their presence in lobbies with all-new unlockable Titles and Emblems. The multiplayer mode even offers third-person lobbies, a “mosh pit” that randomizes game types, and the thrilling “Game Winning Kill” cam. What’s not to like?

I have no qualms in saying that I believe the Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer mode is worth the price of the game alone.

Modern Warfare 2 Campaign Screenshot

CAMPAIGN

After several days of nonstop melon-popping and missile-dropping, I had to try my hand at the Modern Warfare 2 campaign. Of course, I chose to tackle it under Veteran difficulty, so I could experience the game in its most terrifying glory. With achievements to be unlocked, blood to be shed, and fun to be had; I was certainly looking forward to playing this.

At first, the campaign superceded my expectations. It was smoother and prettier than the other Call of Duty campaigns, yet still intense with all the fright and vigor of combat. Missions typically began and ended with interactive cut-scenes, and the loading screens connected the mission stories together with voice-overs and images. One critique of this campaign, which I also say about the other Call of Duty games, is that the characterization is a bit weak, many situations seem forced or disconnected, and some of the dialogue stale. That said, these drawbacks are minor enough that they don’t take much, if anything, away from the epic campaign.

There are many thrilling sequences and challenges in the campaign. From frantic truck rides through occupied Afghan cities to climbing icy mountains, from terrifying airport shootings to boat chases, and even a scene in outer space; there’s no shortage of unbelievable moments, popcorn-movie scenes, and fun-to-watch-and-play moments. The missions are all different enough from one another to keep the campaign fresh throughout, there are returning characters from the Call of Duty 4 campaign, and the surprising plot twists and shocking revelations make this one of the best stories in the entire series. There are images and scenes throughout the game that are downright jaw-dropping, ones that will be imprinted on my mind for ages to come.

Of course, there will be many moments where you find yourself constantly dying, pinned down by relentless enemy fire and struggling to find an escape route. This will be especially true if you decide to play under Veteran difficulty. The grind of going through fifteen lives just to make it through one city street, or taking one hallway, can be exhausting. Don’t give up, keep trying, try different movement and shooting patterns. Trust me. The game is rewarding when you tough it out through these exhausting moments. The shocking moments and fun mission varieties make up for the difficult challenges, no matter how long you find yourself hammering away at one part of the campaign.

Unfortunately, the campaign is a bit short.. but it’s definitely fun and interesting enough to tackle time and time again. This won’t win any awards for storytelling, but it’s very dramatic and worth your effort. I must mention before we continue that the graphics in this game are the best yet in the Call of Duty series.

CO-OP

There is no true cooperative campaign in this game. You won’t be able to unravel the plotline, gasp at the sheer grandiosity of the battles, and shudder at the brutality of war alongside one or more of your buddies. However, Modern Warfare 2 offers a new mode called “Spec Ops.” These are a variety of missions, challenges, battles, and even races that you can take on alone or with a friend. Depending on how hard the difficulty is, or how fast you complete the mission, stars are awarded based on performance and unlock new Ops to tackle. Many of the campaign’s thrills are offered without having to play all the way through to get to them. There are even a few Ops that don’t actually happen in the campaign, and are very worth playing on their own. With a couple dozen Ops, they offer replay value and a fresh take on the game’s addicting play.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Better graphics than ever. Thrilling, awesome campaign with its only drawbacks being brevity and a lack of major depth. An all-new co-op mode that’s fun to tackle alone or with a buddy. The best multiplayer in a Call of Duty game ever, which is saying a lot, with enough new features and a fresh feel to keep anyone playing for a long time to come.

Highly recommended to ANY gamer.. this is the best shooter I’ve ever played.. yes, better than Halo 3, which still holds a special place in my heart. But that’s a blog for another day.

Final Grade: A

Album Review- Eve 6, “Eve 6”

November 8, 2009

Eve 6's self-titled record

Today, I tackle my first Review by Request. A bud of mine that I had been in a band with and still talk music with from time to time offered Eve 6 for an interesting review. He said of this album, “‘Inside Out’ was a huge radio and MTV hit, but few know of the rest of the album, which is incredible, both musically and lyrically, thanks to simple song construction, catchy riffs, and brilliant word play.” There’s nothing that delights me more than helping shed some light on a band or album who may have a reputation based on a hit single, showing that the band has more merits to stand upon.

Eve 6 is typically pigeonholed as a “pop punk” or “alternative rock” group. Looking at their Last FM page, it appears they are similar (either in musicality or fanbase) to Everclear, Stroke 9, Third Eye Blind, Lit, Fastball, Better than Ezra, and The Verve Pipe. Wow, this is certainly unfamiliar territory for me. I can honestly say the only song by ANY of these bands that I know is Lit’s “My Own Worst Enemy,” thanks to hours of Rock Band 2 with my girlfriend. I’m looking forward to engaging myself with music of a different variety than what I’m accustomed to. Perhaps I could even find a new favorite? On to the review of their self-titled record from 1998!

“How Much Longer” is an energetic track that launches into my eardrums with punch and tenacity. Upon first impression this is definately pop-punk rock, but a few characteristics help the group (and song) stand out. I love frontman Max Collins’ voice. The riffs are are indeed catchy, and the word play is indeed brilliant. I enjoy the lyrics, especially “A stone has blocked my hourglass/No progress made no time’s run out.” The basslines warble along and drive the rhythm. It’s a nice song.

The second track is one of Eve 6’s biggest hits, “Inside Out.” I like “How Much Longer” more, however this isn’t a bad track. I can tell already that this is one of those bands whose biggest hit isn’t their best song by far. The lyrics are surprisingly strong for the genre, most of this type of music suffers from overly simple and direct lyrics. Max Collins sounds like he’s really trying to say something, and I can tell by his voice that the lyrics are genuine. One thing to keep in mind when listening to this album is that the band was VERY young when they recorded this album; late teens, and very early twenties. For such a young and raw group to make a mature slant on pop punk is incredible.

The album slows up a bit when I get to “Leech.” This is my favorite track yet. The lyrics attack a liar and a showoff whose stories are false and shallow. The obvious strong point to the group is their lyrical ability. When I listen to just the music, it could just as easily be any of a litany of bands that came out between 1998 and 2004. However, Collins’ voice and the strikingly deep lyrics set the group apart from the pack, making for a nice surprise.

“Showerhead” is an unspectacular song. It blends too much into the rest of the songs, and the lyrics aren’t as strong before. There’s really not alot to say about it, it’s not bad but it doesn’t catch my ear at all.

I am a sucker for open road songs, so it’s only appropriate that I take to enjoying “Open Road Song.” Anyone who loves to go for a long drive while blasting their favorite music can certainly dig this tune. The guitar solo features some of the best music on the record yet and Max Collins’ voice dazzles some more. Eve 6 makes fun music and makes no bones about it, so I can’t knock this album for being pretentious at all… yet the lyrical work keeps the whole thing from being TOO poppish.

Max Collins of Eve 6

“Jesus Nitelite” has a different tone than the rest of the album. It’s more laid back, it’s not as “riffy.” The lyrics seem a little too faux-genuine and are disposable. I like the sound of the music but this is the first time I’ve had a negative reaction to the actual songwriting and singing. This song, along with “Showerhead,” are “skip” songs. Again, this isn’t a bad song, it just misses the mark.

I dig “Superhero Girl.” Almost every man has been in this position; where they’ve desperately longed for a seductive and teasing beauty who always manages to be right out of reach. The song captures the essence of this mood perfectly. Who hasn’t met one of these girls that you’ve cancelled plans and jumped through hoops just to see, and had her haunt your dreams and memories? This tune is a brilliantly understated snapshot of that situation.

My major knock against this album is how it all blends together, but in the wrong way. Much of the time the music isn’t exactly challenging, complex, different, or unusual. That’s to be expected in pop rock music, and I’ve spoiled myself on Dream Theater and Rush for the better part of this decade, so I may be a bit harsh. But in “Tongue Tied”  hoppy riffs and predictable choruses reign.

“Saturday Night” is a decent song. More lyrics that are noticeably deep for the genre, and more up-tempo riffs. The guitar work is different from most of the other songs, with what seems like a blues slide pattern as well as funky palm-muted wicka-wicka riffing. The drum work is decent too. Imagine that… they get better musically right after I critique the instrumental work! Who would’ve thought?

It appears that guitarist Jon Siebels saves his better work for the last part of the album, as the riff in “There’s A Face” is yet again a little different from the song before. A little variety in the music is present and it helps boost the album’s score.

“Small Town Trap” closes out the album, with what seems to be the best music the band has put on this record yet. Being a small-town guy, naturally I relate to the sentiment and find myself laughing at a few of the lines; primarily because they sound like parts of my life! Many artists (see: Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Mellencamp, etc.) have seemingly overdone the “let’s break out of this backwater burg” type of song, and I was afraid of this song trying too hard to be like them at first, but it stands on its own feet and offers a different slant. Good song, one of the best on the record and a positive ending to Eve 6.

Eve 6 was a decent foray into the pop-punk movement that was prevalent in the 90s and early 00s. While not a groundbreaking or absolutely brilliant piece of work, it was enjoyable and certainly had a few merits. Max Collins is underappreciated as a lyricist; I truly enjoyed listening to and reading the words on this record. I wasn’t as much of a fan of the actual music though, it was a bit repetitive at times and not overly interesting. That worked for the vibe of the album and complemented Collins’ songwriting style and therefore isn’t a crippling drawback.

Alright album, surprisingly good lyrics and no shortage of fun punky riffs, not very hard to get into but not a lot of reason to listen to frequently. There’s better stuff out there, but it’s worth a few listens and some appreciation.

FINAL GRADE: C (Average)

Projects I’m Working On

November 5, 2009

From the responses I’ve gotten, it looks like my music reviews are a hit!! I’m happy everyone’s enjoying them and I hope I’ve done my part to spread good music to the masses. I’ll be continuing to do music reviews once or twice a week. Also, to clear things up, my letter grade I give albums is based on music as a whole. Within Melodic Rock, the W.E.T. album is a masterpiece. However I reserve “A” grades for transcendental albums and immortal classics… releases like Born to Run, Ten, Boston, albums like that. So while the two albums I reviewed are VERY good and I’ll listen to them frequently, I just don’t think they’re all-time classics. We’ll how they stand up in the future though! I’ve got a couple new albums on tap to review and a couple classics, expect them up soon. Newer releases I’ll definitely cover within the next couple months include Porcupine Tree, Europe, Winger, Muse, Alice in Chains, Wolfmother, and several more. I will also field requests for reviews and have a couple requests being done as we speak. For you video game fans, I will review a couple hot games this holiday season, including Modern Warfare 2. So be expecting some new updates on that.

I’m also going to add at least one, MAYBE two more installments on my series on writing. These entries have helped me get back in touch with parts of me that I haven’t done anything with for what seems like an eon. I will have entry series on other topics that I enjoy; music, sports, anything and everything, you name it. Hopefully soon this blog will have a better design, a better grab-bag of topics, and more interesting stuff within. So stay tuned. My goal is to be informative and entertaining at the same time, so let me know if I’ve done that at all!

Prewriting is being done on a few novels I’ve been thinking about starting for far too long. I’m cooking up a thriller revolving around war, espionage, and political intrigue… but that tale will take forever to complete. To fill up the time while I work on that, I’ll be working on some stories based around events that have happened in my life, but I will accent those with fiction and fun storytelling. It’s bascially going to be my life on steroids, but with names changed and craziness added. I’m going to have fun with it.

Thanks to everyone who’s been reading. To paraphrase Bryan Adams (or just straight rip him off), everything I do, I do it for you. Hope you’re all well and having a good Thursday, the weekend’s almost upon us!!

-Tyler Woodbridge

Album Review- W.E.T., “W.E.T.”

November 3, 2009

W.E.T.'s self-titled debut album

Most casual music listeners and hipster critics live in the belief that anthemic rock died out some fifteen-odd years ago and only belongs in cheesy montages, ironic references, middle-aged flashbacks and the bottom of department store bargain bins. Wrong. Since the (mainstream) downfall of hair metal, arena rock, glam, and AOR there have been a contigent of artists who have slaved, labored, toured, and rocked their way through life just to bring us quality music.  Three of these bands are the funk-influenced Talisman, the Toto-esque Work of Art, and the riff-oriented Eclipse.  Members of the aforementioned bands have come together to bring us the band W.E.T., and combine their talents to showcase what, on the surface, looks like what could be a melodic rock masterpiece.

Before I continue on with this review, I must acknowledge and promote a website that has done more to promote this genre of music than any other. Visit Melodic Rock to read reviews, news, press releases, and interviews centered around melodic rock bands old (Journey, Styx, Survivor, Van Halen), little-known (Pride of Lions, Gotthard, Tall Stories, Tyketto), and new (Anberlin, Airbourne, Shinedown, and now W.E.T.) Be sure to visit the forums for a wealth of entertainment and knowledge, and stay tuned for weekday updates on a variety of independent and major-labor artists.

The website through which I've discovered dozens of Melodic Rock and metal bands

Now for a bit of background on W.E.T. Robert Sall of Work of Art, Erik Martensson of Eclipse, and Jeff Scott Soto of Talisman are all veterans of the Swedish and international music scene, having decades of professional experience between them. Perhaps the most well-known of the lot is Jeff Scott Soto, who has also spent time with Yngwie Malmsteen’s band, Soul SirkUS, and even the gods of the genre, Journey. One can’t speak enough of Soto’s vocal talents, he’s one of the most underrated voices in any style of music. Equal parts Sammy Hagar, Chris Cornell, and Steve Perry; there isn’t much Soto can’t sing, and emote well while doing so.

The first track, “Invincible,” has a calm intro before an explosion of riffs splits the speakers. Soto’s voice combines soul, R&B, and funk influences with soaring, anthemic notes. The band is incredibly tight; the instruments weave in and out of one another while maintaining a punch. The guitars shift from heavy and surging to wafting and epic. Major props go out to the understated yet effective keyboard theme, and the fact that Soto’s vocals sound especially “from the heart” on this record thus far.

The first song seamlessly gives way to the second, “One Love.” This song sounds like a sequel to the first, but there’s evident difference in the feel. The method by which the riffs give way to Soto’s vocals, and the brilliance of the snappy rhythm section, make the song flow rather well. The vocals are mixed extremely well and this is definitely a “sing-along” type of tune. I love Soto’s vocal especially about 2/3 through the song, right before the destructive tapping solo that is equal parts Van Halen and Schon, but all W.E.T.

“Brothers in Arms” has a very effective main riff. This song soars just as much if not more than the others before it. It’s not proven, but I believe this song to be a tribute to the late Marcel Jacob, Soto’s longtime bassist in Talisman and friend. I find Soto’s voice to be inspirational, full, vibrant, and deep. The guitars chug in the bridge, and the song turns on a dime. It defies the typical formula of the genre, especially after the chugging near-metal section gives way to peaceful drum-and-key interludes.  The ending blast to the song is pseudo Dream Theater before the record gives way and lessens pace to the fourth tune.

“Comes Down Like Rain” does just that, a gentle shower of moody and moving lyrics from Soto. W.E.T. manages to keep an epic sound even in their first ballad of the record. The guys are masters of melody and prove it yet again here. The guitar solo is very technically good, but it honestly has a “come out of nowhere” feel to it and don’t think it fit well to the mood and rhythm section. Good, but just not for the song.

“Running from the Heartache” is another dark and moody yet surging and big up-tempo number. The keyboards are tasteful yet again, and have been throughout the record. One criticism of the genre is that synths could be too overstated or used too much.. but yet in this album the keys are beautiful and accent the music rather than take it over. Guitars are big in melodic rock and this record is no exception.

I really do love “I’ll Be There.” This is the fastest track yet and its feel is a mix of Survivor, Soto’s solo material, and the best of pop rock. The lyrics could be passed off as “cheese” but Soto emotes them well enough to make them authentic; one can really “feel” listening to music like this. I love the riff, it’s very fist pump-worthy, and I can see myself cruising around to this song for years to come. “I’ll Be There” fits in well with any playlist of uptempo rock and roll. The best solo of the record thus far shreds through the speakers halfway through the tune. Melodic rock is packed to the brim with extremely talented instrumentalists. Martensson, Sall, and helpers Magnus Henriksson and Robban Back deserve their fair share of accolades and respect. It’s a shame that great players like these guys are relatively unknown and unappreciated while folk like the Jonas Brothers and Daughtry sell out stadiums and rack up platinum records.

“Damage is Done” is yet another up-tempo head-bobbing rocker. The shifts in timing and lush harmonies keep a fresh feel to the otherwise consistent mood of the record. There’s a great flow to this album, and should be listened to as an album despite the single-worthy qualities of the tunes. These songs could definitely be hits in the U.S. if it weren’t for the average listener being a sheep force-fed with ringtone rap and overmarketed pop-tarts… but that’s a rant for another blog.

Songs like “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” prove that the boys in W.E.T. are having a little fun with this album. It’s bluesier with more hard rock roots than the rest of the songs thus far. It wouldn’t sound out of place on a modern Whitesnake or Winger record, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s not as serious and dire as some of the other tunes but it’s a change in mood that’s very well-timed.

Another ballad comes in the form of “One Day at a Time.” In the vein of Journey’s “After the Fall” or Whitesnake’s “Is This Love?”, it’s a dense song with a snappy flow. I love how the twin guitar solo is layered, and how the harmonies are mixed. Production is top-notch; I can hear the instruments clearly. Authenticism isn’t subtracted and there isn’t any trickery, it’s just very well-recorded. The song takes nearly a minute to close out, with intense and morose keyboard and bass tones lulling me unsuspectingly into the next song.

“Just Go” revisits some of the gnarliest Talisman rockers with its churning feel. The drumming is impeccable and I really can’t say enough of the piercing guitar work. The keyboard is again wonderfully understated and accents the song. “Can’t choose the way we die/But we can choose how we live.” Brilliant lyricism and an inspirational feel. Are the guys saving the best guitar work on the album for the latter half? It sure seems so with this dynamic solo.

“My Everything” revisits the feel of “I’ll Be There,” and keeps a smile on my face as I tap my foot to these relentless riffs.  The guitar solo, again, is beautiful and fits smoothly into the rhythm section. Soto’s inflections and vocal trademarks are well-timed and precise, he’s a master of the vocal craft.

The album comes to a less hectic ending. “If I Fall” is possibly the best song on the album. It’s a mid-tempo song, faster than the ballads on the record yet not fast enough to fit in with any of the anthems. I love how the smooth intro goes straight into isolated guitar, thundering drums, tasteful piano, and then incredible vocals. The ringing, clean guitars throughout the background of the verses are extremely well-done and add to the passionate vocal work. The chorus is sensational, the harmonies are some of the best ever done in rock, I’m grinning from ear to ear, the song has definitely done its job. I can “feel” it, and love how this song makes me feel, it will be listened to many more times in my life. Fans of Journey will definitely eat this song up. The guitars are melodic yet piercing, it’s everything the genre stands for, was that even a “Who’s Crying Now” motif I heard thrown in? The outro is several minutes long, but it’s very effective and a great ending to what I see as a very good album. As I listen to the AMAZING guitar work, I wonder how the solos can get any better… and somehow, they do. It all fits well together and is a very mature, dense, impressionable piece of work.

W.E.T.’s debut album was moody, direct, well-paced, mature, mostly up-tempo and well-produced. A handful of the songs truly made me “feel” while the others delivered melodic rock with a seasoned feel. There wasn’t much that felt “cheesy” or “forced” or “formulaic” about this record; those are the typical criticisms of the genre as a whole. The instrumentalists are very talented and Soto has some of the best vocal work of his entire 25 year career, one can argue he gets better with age. The album did have one song that truly helped elevate it into greatness, and that was the beautiful “If I Fall.”  While W.E.T.’s work isn’t incredibly deep or innovative, it’s great rock and roll and worth every cent you pay to help support a good band, if you buy this record (which I kindly suggest you do).

Highly recommended to fans of any melodic rock, old or new, especially Work of Art, Eclipse, Talisman, Jeff Scott Soto, Journey, Whitesnake, Survivor, Pride of Lions, Boston, and Sammy Hagar-era Van Halen.

Great album, nothing goundbreaking, deep instrumentals under melodic sing-along lyrics, one of the best albums in years within the genre and perhaps one of the best since the 80s.

FINAL GRADE: B+

W.E.T.

Album Review- Pearl Jam, “Backspacer”

October 29, 2009

Pearl Jam's new record, Backspacer.

From their humble beginnings in the “grunge” movement to the sold-out stadiums and legions of followers today, Pearl Jam have enjoyed a long and varied career in rock music. Their ninth release, Backspacer, has a ton of expectations to live up to. Many critics and fans hold Pearl Jam to a high standard, with the band having had several of the greatest records of the 90s and possibly all time. Their distinctive tone, style, and vocal approach have been rock staples for nearly 20 years now. Going into my third critical listen, there are several pressing questions on hand. Does Pearl Jam still have “it” after a brief hiatus and a lengthy career? Have they continued to develop and progress, have they reached a creative standstill, or are they going back to their roots? And will the music be as chaotic as the multi-colored album cover?

The first track of the album, “Gonna See My Friend,” kicks off the party with promise. Bluesy, boogie-woogie guitar pounds away as Eddie Vedder launches into his singing with the punch one has come to expect from uptempo Pearl Jam numbers. The bass line has an interesting jive to it, and the song has my head nodding and foot tapping. The fast, happy tone of the song offsets the somewhat cynical lyrics, with Vedder lamenting a pain he can’t shake, and wanting to give up.

“Got Some” picks up right where the first track leaves off. It’s another up-tempo rocker with a positive vibe to the music. Bassist Jeff Ament is in top form thus far, holding down the bottom end yet propelling the song. Matt Cameron, as always, is crisp and driving with his percussion. “Got Some” has a bit of a political slant to the lyrics, calling for diplomatic resolve and asking what side the listener’s on.

Backspacer‘s first single, “The Fixer,” maintains the mood set in the first quarter of the album so far. This song is the most optimistic on the album so far, and possibly of Pearl Jam’s entire career. “The Fixer” is a great choice for a single, it’s a great rock tune and is immediately catchier and more accessible than the first two tracks. That’s not a bad thing however, it’s overall a much better song with the lyrics being more cohesive, with a clearer message. This is truly an inspirational tune, it leaves me in a good mood with a smile on my face, a result that most people don’t associate with listening to Pearl Jam music. It seems as if Eddie and the boys have cast aside bitterness and are willing to compromise with others to make life better. That’s a message I would hope nearly anybody could agree with.

“Johnny Guitar” has the best music of any track on the album yet. The lyrics take on more of a “story-telling” approach and seem disposable on the first few listens. Stone Gossard and Mike McCready make up for that with varied guitar textures, ranging from driving blues riffs to funky wah-wah guitar.

I cannot say enough about how much I loved listening to the fifth song, “Just Breathe.” The band finally slows down after four consecutive rockers to start the album.  A delightful wash of acoustic guitars and melodic organ open the song, and Eddie Vedder stretches his folk muscles yet again with a powerful, deep lament in the vein of Bruce Springsteen. The lyrics are phenomenal. I admit that this song brought a tear to my eye the first time I listened to it. “I understand that every life must end/As I sit alone I know someday we must go/I’m a lucky man to count on both hands the ones I love/Some folks just have one/Others they got none.” These lyrics gave me the shiver that music listeners yearn for, this is a song that connected with me on a deep and personal level. An good album can be elevated to a great album with just one of these type of songs, and I’m thinking this may be the case with Backspacer.

“Just Breathe” is a gorgeous ballad that has similarities to Pearl Jam classics such as “Black” and “Daughter,” but it has a refreshing atmosphere that is unlike anything the band has written in their entire career. Eddie Vedder seems to be at terms with his mortality, but in a bright and honest manner. In his middle age, I wouldn’t say he has “lost his edge,” but Vedder has matured since the beginning of his career and it’s reflected in this haunting glimpse at a relaxed, fortunate man who acknowledges that he’s looking down at the rest of his life.

Eddie Vedder, Pearl Jam vocalist and songwriter

A snappy drum pattern leads into the chill intro of “Amongst the Waves.” I don’t think I’ve ever gotten this far into a Pearl Jam listening session before having maintained a smile on my face. The metaphors of swimming are reflected in the music, with the guitar patterns emitting a sea-blue color. This song has a romantic tone to it, and one of the finest guitar solos in recent memory cuts through the calm of the track to leave me with a huge grin. I can relate to this song, for it’s seemingly Vedder’s tribute to either a woman who changed him for the better, or salvation through religion. Either way, it’s an incredible song.

“Unthought Known” has a very Everyman tone to the guitars and lyrics. The song isn’t as positive or reflective as the last two, but it has a dreamy texture and includes tasteful piano in the mix. While not nearly as poignant as “The Fixer,” Just Breathe,” or “Amongst the Waves,” this is not a throwaway track by far. Looking back on the first part of the album, I’d have to say Backspacer‘s first truly good song is “The Fixer,” and the album doesn’t drop in quality at all from there on until now.

“Supersonic” isn’t necessarily a throwaway track either. It’s possibly the fastest track on the album with driving basslines and pump-your-fist riffs. Gossard and McCready delight with their guitar chemistry, trading rhythms and solos as only they can. Another track with a positive tone, Vedder screaming about wanting to live life with the volume full… nothing depressing at all here, folks!

“Speed of Sound” moves at anything but; it’s a slower track. It’s also possibly the least optimistic track on the album so far. It’s still positive in parts, just not as overwhelmingly thumbs-uppy as other tracks before it. Just when Vedder sings “somehow I’ll survive,” he realizes that he’s “waiting on a sun that just don’t come.” I wouldn’t say the song is bitter or sad so much as it is an honest reflexion at the ups and downs of life. It’s a great song, and I think that many people could relate to certain lyrics within.

The penultimate track, “Force of Nature,” is the last rocker on the album. It’s in the vein of “Johnny Guitar,” with story-telling lyrics recounting the romance between a siren and a mortal man. Lost love, or unrequited love, the theme and vibe of some kind of missing affection is evident in the track.  Some of my favorite lyrics on the album so far (and my favorite guitar solo; so melodic!) are featured in “Force of Nature.” I’m sure most can agree with this amazing line, “Is it so wrong to think that love can keep us safe?”

“The End” is, well, the end of the album. It revisits the acoustic folk-influenced aura of “Just Breathe,” but this time with a different emotion. The lyrics drip of regret, fright, and sickness. This song comes from the voice of a man who’s dying, reflecting on what his life has become and wondering what his legacy shall be. With a grandfather going through an illness right now, this song hit me especially deep. “The End” made me shed a few tears, but for a different reason than “Just Breathe.” Vedder’s vocals and lyrics are stunning. It’s amazing how a song can make my hands tremble and my eyes salt up with no warning. I wasn’t ready for this track. It’s almost as if Vedder wrote Backspacer with a mostly positive vibe throughout to build up the listener’s mood, only to tear it down with this final devastating track. Eddie Vedder is on a level that many lyricists could only aspire to reach. The last line of the song, and album, rips into me and ends abruptly in perfect fashion. Amazing.

Reflecting over the album as a whole, I think Backspacer stands up to the rest of Pearl Jam’s catalogue and holds its own. It’s definitely one of the most positive records Pearl Jam has created, well, at least until the mind-blowing “The End.” None of the songs are disposable, all of them are good. A few of the rockier numbers have so-so lyrics, yet Vedder makes up for that with a few smoother tunes that seize my heart with their depth and honesty. As I said earlier, songs that have a “shiver factor” can elevate a good album into a great one, and Backspacer features two songs of that nature, “Just Breathe” and “The End.” Also, the album hearkens back to the days of vinyl with the short running length. At just over 36 minutes, the album has a solid flow and a distinct beginning, middle, and end. Literally, on “The End.” While it’s not a concept album, it’s a record that one should surely listen to from front to back at least a few times to fully digest the scope of its content. Just like a good movie with a clear resolution, this album has me satisifed with my listening and living with fuller emotion.

I highly recommend purchasing Backspacer, especially to listeners who enjoy music with their hearts and ears at the same time.

Great album, nothing groundbreaking, a mix of fun and deep lyrics, good musicianship throughout and one of the best vocalists alive.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Pearl Jam.

Concert Review: Taking Back Sunday, Anberlin, fun, Gavin Castleton

October 28, 2009

(Venue: LC Pavilion, Columbus, Ohio.)

Taking Back Sunday, Anberlin, fun, Gavin Castleton

10-23-09

I recently started a new job. That means, much to my delight, I can take up my old hobby of going to concerts once more. I was pleased to discover that one of my new favorite bands, Anberlin, would be coming to Columbus. I had seen them once before a few months ago in Cincinnati, but my girlfriend and I didn’t truly get to enjoy the show due to illness and a less-than-friendly crowd around us. Anberlin had put on a great show the last time around, so I wanted to come back for more. Hopefully this time I could take in the music with minimal disturbance.

A songwriter named Gavin Castleton opened the show with a brief set. His voice was decent enough and he proved to be a more-than-adequate keyboardist. Some of his material seemed a bit “different,” so to speak, especially considering one song was a “zombie murder love story.” He was entertaining, especially considering his talented drummer and the fact that two members of Taking Back Sunday sat in on his set. Most of Castleton’s set had a very Coldplayish vibe, with guitars taking on more of a “texture” than a lead, and with keyboards in the forefront of the mix. The highlight of Castleton’s performance was the second song, which was an insane six-minute funk-rock breakdown. The song was groovy, infectious, and featured all the “wikka wikka” guitar funk-rock enthusiasts desire.

A Gavin Castleton album.

The second band lived up to their name, “fun.” The band, come to find out, is an offshoot of The Format, who I hadn’t listened to much before beyond a few songs. I hadn’t listened to them at all before this show, but now I intend on picking up their album eventually and I would see them again without hesitation. fun’s music was a delightful blend of country, folk, blues-rock, rockabilly, punk, and pop. Three members of the band contributed vocals, making for delightful interweaving parts and thick, robust harmonies. The vocal harmonies weren’t unlike something that Alabama, The Eagles, The Beach Boys, or The Beatles would sing; and they were definitely a highlight of the show. Every musician in the band was very flexible and capable, the lyrics were thoughtful yet not overly heavy, and the frontman performed with a ton of energy. The frontman (his name escapes me at the moment) had the swagger of Mick Jagger, the working-class image of Bruce Springsteen or John Mellencamp, the vocal range of Steve Perry, and the punkish edge of Paul Westerberg. He sold the music with impeccible delivery and a great sense of humor. I also enjoyed a random trumpet solo during a song that made me immediately recall Neutral Milk Hotel. I can’t wait to hear more from fun.

fun's Debut Album.

Now it was time for Anberlin to take the stage… and take the stage they did. There’s a laundry list of reasons why I love this band, and they were all displayed during this performance. Fiery emotion, check. High energy, check. Soaring melodic vocals, check. Tight instrumental composition and devastating riffs, check. Vocalist Stephen Christian is by far one of the greatest young frontmen in any rock scene today. He commands the stage with a gripping presence, with his voice and movement grabbing everyone and refusing to let go. He’s definitely molded in the form of many great vocalists past, especially late Boston singer Brad Delp. The instrumentalists, especially guitarist Joe Milligan and drummer Nathan Young, were technically sound and delivered crisp brilliance in their play.

From “Paper Thin Hymn” to “Godspeed,” from “The Resistance” to “Feel Good Drag,” Anberlin chugged through their more well-known songs. It’s too bad the group had a shorter set, as they have four albums worth of high-quality material and and have the talent and following to headline a tour on their own. However, Anberlin had enough room to experiment a little bit. The yearning “Disappear” included extended synthesizer breaks, and speaking of synth, the set’s penultimate song was a very surprising, and overly epic New Order cover. I can’t tell you what the song was, though I wish I knew, because what I witnessed was a pseudo-prog rock face-melting synth-punk throwdown. With the way the synth and bass were pounding, and with Christian’s soaring vocals, I felt like I was at a Muse show for a few minutes. The cover was a great choice, it had people dancing and clapping, and it showed a little bit more of what Anberlin’s capable of.

I know this is just supposed to be a concert review, but I’d like to take time to state that Anberlin is a band that most fans of any kind of rock music should definitely check out. Some people claim they’re a punk band… yet they pay great tribute to AOR with precise composition and catchy hooks. Others yet say Anberlin are Christian rock… but I didn’t hear the word “Jesus” once in the entire performance. They’re definitely a band that’s hard to categorize, and that’s a great attribute, as they certainly have a broad appeal. I highly recommend to anyone reading this, to go out and buy Anberlin’s newest album New Surrender, or at least its best songs: “The Resistance,” “Breaking,” “Feel Good Drag,” “Disappear,” “Burn Out Brighter (Northern Lights),” “Breathe,” “Younglife,” and “Haight Street.”

Anberlin's "New Surrender"

Stephen Christian of Anberlin.

All good things must come to an end, and Anberlin left the stage to give way for the show’s headliner, Taking Back Sunday. I’ve never been very big into most of the groups that fall under the “emo” or “pop-punk” genre (for the record, I hate using genres to describe music, but it’s the best way to communicate to most people that have genre driven into their skull), so needless to say I haven’t listened to very much Taking Back Sunday. I’ve checked out some of their studio material, and while it’s good for what it is, it’s nothing I would buy or collect for myself.

Being the headliner, Taking Back Sunday had over an hour and a half to perform. They had no shortage of material, and packed their set with hit after hit. I expected a lot of songs similar to something right between Fall Out Boy and Jimmy Eat World, but I was surprised to hear a few songs get very heavy. I found myself thrashing my head as if I were at a Metallica show once every now and then. The band aren’t slouches at all when it comes to throwing down meaty riffs and aggressive rhythms.

There was plenty of room for improvement. Too many of Taking Back Sunday’s songs sounded “samey.” There wasn’t enough variety in the material to keep me interested. The guys were set to overdrive the whole time, and although that’s not a bad thing and it’s part of the music they make, I found myself yearning for something just a little bit different. Then again, I’m used to Porcupine Tree and Rush shows, so it’s hard for me to make myself appreciate something a little less experimental.

Massive props go out to Taking Back Sunday’s vocalist Adam Lazzara. The dude clearly believed in his music, and threw every mic-swinging trick this side of Roger Daltrey out in an attempt to energize the crowd; and it worked seamlessly. Taking Back Sunday will likely never enter the Rock Hall of Fame, win over critics, or pen an album on par with Born to Run or Abbey Road. That said, they certainly perform with a robust edge, and have fun doing it. The fans get just what they wanted and needed, and even though I’m not a fan, I thoroughly enjoyed their show and wouldn’t object to seeing them again. I wouldn’t go out of my way for them though, and do believe Anberlin should headline and hope that they will in the future.

Thanks for reading my first concert review on this blog.. hopefully there will be more concert trips made very soon, more music discovered, and more memories made.

Adam Lazzara, Taking Back Sunday's energetic frontman

Tyler Woodbridge on Writing (Part Two: I’ve Got the Power)

October 22, 2009

Middle school was a bit of a rough patch in my life. I lost my great-grandfather Shaw and my grandpa Woodbridge. I was having trouble adjusting to an evolving social climate; I was awkward and “marched to the beat of my own drum,” so to speak. When most of my peers were becoming fashion-conscious and popular trends began to leak into way of life, I was left behind, still in the same habits and hobbies that I enjoyed in years before.

That included writing.

I kept scribbling away. My sixth grade English teacher, Mrs. River, was actually a rather big encouragement. She was really sweet and was always quick to compliment me whenever I wrote a good piece or shared an informative insight. In her class we were given free reign every day to do some independent writing, whether it be poetry or prose, and got to share our work with our classmates. Poetry was a natural fit for me, I discovered it was a quicker and easier way to share a particular block of emotion than prose. There were days where I would dish out three to four poems in one class period, and others kept praising my work. I let it go to my head, and obviously it still affects me to this day. I began seeing myself as the best writer my class had to offer, and made no effort to hide my thoughts.

It was at this time that I also discovered the works of Brian Jacques, the Redwall series. For those of you that aren’t familiar with Jacques’ (amazing) works, I suggest you at least read the titular Redwall release. Jacques combined two worlds that were fascinating me more and more every day; the medieval/renaissance culture, and wildlife. His fantasy series wove together epic yarns of questing, adventure, and combat… with mice, foxes, otters, badgers, and hedgehogs. The series really struck a chord with me and I would read at least one Redwall book every couple weeks. I loved the way Jacques used descriptive language to illustrate his fascinating worlds, and how he used dialogue to build characters. I was inspired, not only to read more fantasy books, but to write some of my own. As I went from Jacques to Tolkien, Rowling, DragonLance, and more, I picked up many ideas for fantasy writing and set to it with a vigor.

I clearly remember my first attempt at a fantasy adventure novel. I spent a good chunk of my 6th grade year writing a story entitled “Tar Wars.”  This story followed the legend of a Gallimimus (Sadly, I forget his name) who quested across Pangea to slay a Tyrannosaurus who ate his father. It was an insane mash-up of Jurassic Park, Dinotopia, Redwall, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and my own twisted imagination.  I loved it and was proud of it, but sadly enough I think it’s been long thown out and rotten away.

I continued to experiment with fantasy/adventure writing, often creating my own little worlds and heroic characters, and writing countless chapter ones… but never any chapter twos. Today I’m ashamed to admit this, but I also spent a huge chunk of time browsing Redwall fan club websites, meeting with other kids around my age and playing text-based RPG adventures. We would create our own Redwall-style heroes and build our writing skills while having a blast creating worlds of battle and intrigue. I got so much grief from my family for it, and mostly for good reason. It seems a bit ridiculous looking back now that I spent hundreds of hours of my precious youth role-playing as an otter pirate warlord named Waveblade Galedeep, but hey; it built my imagination to levels previously unknown and helped me craft my writing abilities a little further. I can’t say I regret it, but I can’t say I’m proud of it either.

Going back to my newfound love of poetry, it wasn’t uncommon to find a book of poetry among the stack of Jacques novels I’d check out from the school library. I began to practice at it, finding words that flowed well together and would make for great rhymes. Other kids would ask me to write poetry for/about them, and they would get a great kick out of it, often laughing or crying or thinking due to my work. My parents mocked some of my poetry, and again, for good reason: Looking back, some of that poetry seemed unusually and stereotypically “emo” for a 11-year old, and deserved to be mocked. I threw out a ton of my poetry and writing, and at one point I was mad at my parents for it… but, these days I don’t see the big deal. I see this stage as the “cocoon” of my writing development, and the bad poetry and derivitive fantasy writing as the “shell.” Since I’ve cast the “shell” away, I’ve grown as a writer and as a reader, and know I’m capable of much more than the rut I was stuck in.

Mrs. River,  my fantastic sixth-grade English teacher I mentioned earlier, chose me as a candidate to write for a competitive team at the middle school. I was enamored with the idea of competitive writing and ended up trying out for (and making) the Power of the Pen team. This was quite possibly the best thing to happen to me. I got to write, a hobby I found very fun… COMPETITIVELY!

I went to my first Power of the Pen tournament not knowing what to expect. I knew I was the biggest fish in my school, but how many sharks would I encounter in my opponents? I blocked out the pressure and expectations and did what I did best: wrote. The competition was based on writing off prompts. There were three hour-long rounds of writing, which gave me more than enough time to dream up stories that I not only enjoyed writing, but enjoyed reading too.

I finished 13th in my first tournament, the third-best from my team. I wasn’t shocked that I placed, and was actually very pleased that I was a top 20 placer out of the 200+ writers that had competed in my grade. This made me excited for the Regional tournament I qualified for. Other writers from my school, and even from other schools, had remembered my name and work. They approached me at this second tournament, wishing me luck and complimenting me on what I had accomplished. I told them that I haven’t accomplished anything yet, what was there to say?

This would soon change.

I won the 7th grade Regional Power of the Pen meet. I remember shaking and sweating so hard right before they announced the winner. I was very upset that I hadn’t placed when others from my team already had. I had worked so hard to get this far and it would upset me to have to go home at that point. When they announced my name, I nearly fell down the bleachers my team sat in. I was excited, pleased, elated; you name the positive emotion, I felt it. My family was in tears, I was receiving applause and pats on the back, I was given a giant trophy… I truly felt like a rock star. All for writing.

I was becoming a better writer every day. I was making friends with everyone on the team. I was happier with my life (I had a serious bout of depression my 7th grade year; writing helped me out of it easily), I had more confidence and notoriety. Even though I was a three-sport athlete, I identified myself as Tyler Woodbridge, Writer. Long stories made short (sometimes brevity is a virtue), I proceeded to become a State Finalist my 7th grade year. I didn’t place, but to make it to that point was a great achievement to me and an honor.

My 8th grade year, I went into the Power of the Pen season cocky. I was arrogant. I was the writer to beat, and I knew it. The first tournament went by quickly for me, an easy 3rd place trophy. The Regional tournament came by, and again the rockstar feeling was prevalent. People remembered me, people talked to me… I was a local writing celebrity. I don’t mean to be egotistic at all, but this is how it felt to me. A few certain friends and peers were quick to point this out to me. Unfortunately I did not take the hint to cool down my ego at the time and may have annoyed some people.

This “rockstar feeling” was amplified by my second consecutive regional title. I won 1st place yet again. This time I wasn’t even nervous during the awards ceremony. I even got to make an acceptance speech (a rarity for PoP at this time) and called up my team onstage with me. At that point I viewed myself as an immortal in competitive writing and there was nothing anybody could do to stop me. Of course nobody could stop me, it’s competitive writing, there’s no direct opponent… anyway.

My arrogance was my downfall. Yet again I went to the state tournament, qualifying by way of my regional title. I barely tried during my three first-round stories, but I managed to get a great score nonetheless and squeaked into the finals. The final prompt was very vague and ambiguous. I struggled to find a good topic to write about, so I decided to abandon my meat-and-potatoes style of straight-up storytelling. Rather, I tried WAY too hard for an 8th grade competition, and tried to write an extremely complex allegory about some obscure statement. I used a ficticious Greek centurion as my main character, and channeled my best inner Jacques or Tolkien for this prompt.

My attempt to be epic fell completely short, my story was ridiculed by the judges, and I had one of the worst writings of the finals. Yes, I ended up a State Finalist for the second consecutive year, but my arrogance and attempt to do more than what I was capable of ended up crippling my chances of winning. I learned my lesson about egotism, and decided to never “force it” again.

From this point on, I did not write stories as much as I used to. My poetry improved, and became more lyrical in nature. When I felt creative and wanted to write, I would pen songs more than anything else. I grew out of my fantasy stage, and read books less and less. Sports became a larger part of my life as I entered high school, and for the time being it looked like I had moved on from my days as a hopeful novelist.

This is when I discovered journalism and comedy writing.

My next entry in this series will cover the high school period of my life, and how joining the school paper staff was one of the best decisions possible.. and how myself and a friend combined humor and writing talent to make dozens of peers laugh themselves into a stupor.

Tyler Woodbridge on Writing (Part One: The Early Years)

October 21, 2009

Every person on this planet has some kind of talent. Whether or not they can parlay this talent into a professional endeavor, or if they have the opportunity to use it on a regular basis, varies from person to person. It takes some people a lifetime to discover their ability, while others may know about it from early childhood on. These talents can be unusual, practical, artistic, or even dangerous. Discovering a talent and using it could add a great deal of enjoyment to ones life, and provide opportunities of many varieties.

I was lucky enough to discover one of my primary talents from a very early age. When I was young I loved to read. As a toddler I would ask for books from the department stores, rather than toys. Every week I was given a new book. Most of these books were Sesame Street books that taught valuable life lessons, or educated me on different topics.  I also read works dealing with dinosaurs, outer space, history, and the environment. These topics kickstarted my imagination, and I grew curious and wanted to explore these more.

As I grew older (not much, I was around 5), I thought to myself, “Why read books, when I can write some of my own?” This is where it all started. I would staple together around 20 sheets of regular white paper. At the top of the page I would write two or three sentences, and then on the bottom half I would draw a picture or a character that related to the sentences. I ended up making a “series” of “books,” many of which having to do with the adventures of young dinosaurs, largely inspired by the Land Before Time movie series. I had a blast writing these “books” and would spend more time working on these, than I would playing with neighborhood children or watching TV. I had an unusual childhood, to say the least!

Teachers were quick to discover my advanced language skills and talent in reading and writing. Rather than do daily writing exercises in kindergarten, I would solve advanced problems on the computer all day. Instead of reading “Go Dog Go” and Dr. Seuss, my teacher would send me to the library to read some more advanced material. I was a young mind overflowing with information, and no way to use it. So I just thought, dreamed, imagined, and wrote.

Throughout my life I’ve had periods where I’ve had an obsession of some kind, and for a while my life would be overtaken by that particular obsession. At first, I was crazy about dinosaurs. Then, I couldn’t get enough of learning about outer space. Rainforests, baseball, football, medieval history, poker, auto racing, rock music; the list of my obsessions is long and varied. Every time I’d take up a new interest, I would write and read about it constantly. It wouldn’t stop there. When I was into baseball, I’d write up statistical graphs (like on a baseball card) for myself, fantasizing about the record-breaking career I’d have for the Cincinnati Reds. I started writing an adventure novel about space wars… at the age of 8. In my younger days I spent so much time and energy creating, although much of it went nowhere but the bottom of a trash pail.

Of course, young kids don’t put much serious thought into what they want to do with their lives. I was no different. When asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, my dreams were big. President of the United States. Palaeontologist. Race car driver. I didn’t realize how far-fetched these ideas were, and it would be several more years until I went through two personal creative developments that would help me realize my place in this world.

….and that will be covered in Part Two.

Waiting for Word on my Grandfather

October 15, 2009

I’m sitting here listening to some Pandora radio, scrobbling it to my last.fm while babysitting my sick 12 year old sister. It’s a peaceful way to spend a rainy Ohio morning, although most wouldn’t think cranking Rage Against the Machine and The Beastie Boys is very peaceful.

Right now my grandfather is going through some tests at a hospital in Columbus. He appears to be suffering from cirrhosis of the liver, and they’re going to be finding out exactly what’s wrong today and giving a diagnosis/prognosis. I’m keeping myself optimistic about everything, but it’s hard when I’ve seen his health decline as much as it has over the past year. Apparently they had an opportunity to catch the (probable) cirrhosis in 2008, but the doctor passed it off as an enlarged spleen. An enlarged spleen is a side effect of a shrinking liver. A shrinking liver is a big problem. But, the doctor passed it off. A man who was educated for over 10 years and who is being paid a massive sum to help cure, treat, comfort, and care for human beings… just passed off an enlarged spleen. Isn’t that lovely?

The first time my grandpa collapsed, about a month ago, my mom made him go to the hospital in an ambulance.  At Adena Regional, they put him through many of the basic tests, and were on the verge of releasing him. My grandpa, despite his age and multiple surgeries, has almost always been in very good shape.  On this day, he was nowhere near good shape at all, and his skin was yellowing. My mom was outraged as they were preparing to release him, and with good reason… the doctor in charge of him didn’t even notice his jaundice! My mom had to point it out and say, “Hey, his skin is YELLOW, that can’t be good!” before they decided to take a look and admit him.

Some days I really don’t have much trust in our medical system and physicians around here. I want to grow old in a bigger city with a better medical system, so I don’t have to worry about situations like this. It’s scary that they pass off enlarged spleens and look right over obvious jaundicing. This could’ve been caught so long ago, and my grandpa could’ve been getting appropriate treatment, but it’s taken until NOW for them to get a handle on what’s going on. Who knows what it would’ve been like if my mom hadn’t pointed out the jaundice??

I hope his condition isn’t too bad. I’ve always been fairly close to him and life would definitely be different without him, and for the worse. I could only hope to be half the hard worker my grandpa’s always been. The world needs more people like him. I really hope his doctors look at him as a human, a soul, and not a case or a statistic.

Here’s to you, Carl Shaw.