Jason Keil

Jason Keil is a writer whose work has been published in the Phoenix New Times, AZCentral.com, Phoenix Magazine, and OnMilwaukee.com. He also co-hosts the podcast What The Fork.

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Top 5 Pieces Of Pop Culture Awesomeness-February 2017

For some time, I've wanted to compile a list of pop culture I've consumed that is significant. 
Monthly, I'm going to list the media that has moved me the most. Some might be past their cultural relevance, but they still have affected me or showed me a different point of view.

In no particular order:

John Wick 2
The first John Wick should not have worked, but the film's simple revenge plot created a universe that references European action films sprinkled with innovative action sequences. This sequel manages to double-down on the violence this fanboy craves while enhancing the world that Keanu Reeves' titular assassin inhabits. 

Adam Ant-Kings Of The Wild Frontier Tour-Tuscon, AZ
Adam Ant guitarist Tom Edwards died of suspected heart failure at the age of 41, two weeks before the 80's rocker was scheduled to play in Tucson. With a loss that unexpected and devastating, you would expect any artist to cancel the show or make excuses for a mediocre performance. This was not the case when I walked into the Rialto. Ant performed his breakthrough album Kings Of The Wild Frontier in its entirety with all the strut and bravado I assume he did over 30 years ago.

Bob's Burgers-"Bob Actually"
I don't know how the writers of this animated FOX television show managed to make a diarrhea joke heartwarming, but who can't relate to Tina's adolescent need to make her relationship with her boyfriend Jimmy Pesto, Jr. television perfect. It was doomed to fail from the start of the episode, but as the eldest Belcher says, "Love cannot be stopped."

History Of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
This debut novel is a thriller on the outside. Dig deeper and you will find a meditation on how faith can be used to prey on others. This haunting novel kept me up a few nights. To tell you more would be a disservice.

Hell Or High Water
I just knew in the opening scenes of this film I was going to love it. Snappy dialogue, great acting, and a taut relevant plotline prove that this movie's Best Picture nomination was no fluke. I watched both Hell Or High Water and Manchester By The Sea on the same day in an attempt to take in as many Oscar-nominated films as I could, and was stunned that Kenneth Lonergan's melodrama managed to steal the Best Original Screenplay win away from Taylor Sheridan. The truths that are spoken in Hell Or High Water's last ten minutes should have been enough to secure a win.

"Rocks and Straws"-Anneli Drecker Album Review

A friend pointed me in the direction of Norway and turned my ears on to the delightful Anneli Drecker. I was vaguely aware of her band Bel Canto, but this album was unique in ways that I hopefully explain well below. It has been released digitally in the United States and comes out in physical formats in the fall on Rune Grammofon Records.

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Norwegian Anneli Drecker’s latest album, Rocks and Straws, uses her idiosyncratic operatic voice, illustrative verse inspired by poet Arvid Hanssen, and achingly exquisite chords to create a eccentric and contemporary folk album. The opening song “Alone” feels as cold and epic as the tundra in her native country, while the title track is a fun minstrel tune that clocks in around two minutes. “Green Leaves In The Snow” could be the opening number in a musical, but the inspiration of the piece gives way to the moody melancholic sea chantey “Fisherman’s Blues.” 

    Recorded live in a studio with many of Norway’s finest musicians, Rocks and Straws is Drecker's ambitious next step on a resume that is already quite accomplished. Her long list of credentials include the dream pop of her band, Bel Canto, and the moody dance techno of Röyksopp, with whom she has toured and co-written material. It also includes the rhythmic chants of a Maori tribe Drecker recorded for the song “Ocean’s Organ,” a track that feels inspired by the later works of Peter Gabriel and producer Daniel Lanois.

    Rocks and Straws showcases the singer’s undeniable talents. Rather than write about her personal life with metaphor and hyperbole, Drecker addresses the interests and concerns of an established artist who wants to not only tell stories but send a postcard from the picturesque fjords of Norway to a global audience. The ten tracks that make up the record feel like the culmination of what she’s been working toward her entire life. The album is a refreshing work of art that is free of the intimate emotional baggage that makes every personal heartache devastating and catastrophic, while still summoning together her years of experience as a vocalist, actress, parent, and proud Norwegian.

Hall of Fame Feels

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was a scheme designed by a record executive to allow the music industry to pat itself on the back for corrupting America's youth for nearly 60 years. If you think that when you plop down $23 for the price of admission that you're somehow furthering music education or preserving popular culture, you're sorely mistaken. 

Take the location of the museum, for instance. You can argue that Cleveland was chosen because Alan Freed, a disc jockey who faced criminal charges for the payola scandal, coined the term rock and roll. Honestly, the city offered public funds to have a glass pyramid built on the shores of Lake Erie so that someone visiting for a random professional convention could have something to do during their downtime.

I was that someone. While my wife hobnobbed with her peers, I headed to the North Coast Harbor to see rock memorabilia preserved under Plexiglass.

I was asked if I wanted to pose with a guitar before I bought my ticket for the purpose of a picture to commemorate my visit. I politely refused, bought my ticket, and made my way to the basement where sixty percent of the museum's collection is on display. 

As soon as I walked in, the cynical feelings that I describe in the above paragraphs went away. 

Lou Reed, one of my favorite musicians, had been on my mind lately. He's one of those artists that the more you learn about him, the more you understand his artistic choices. I had been listening to a lot of Velvet Underground recently, but I also had managed to take the bus in the wrong direction that morning. I wound up in East Cleveland. As I gazed upon scantily clad women and men ranting about race while wearing pink glitter makeup on the bus, I felt trapped in a verse of Reed's hit "Walk On The Wild Side." 

Reed was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year. As I viewed his sequined "Rock and Roll Animal" shirt on display along with a handwritten note he wrote to his former band mate John Cale, I was overcome with emotion. I wasn't even born when the live album Rock and Roll Animal was released, but I listened to it constantly in college. It aided in the development of my sonic tastes. I felt I was being offered a glimpse into someone whom I loved, whose music gave a voice to the forgotten citizens of New York City. 

David Bowie, the glam musician who was inspired by Reed, has his glittery footprint all over the place. Costumes from his various tours gleamed in the spotlight. A model of his ambitious Diamond Dogs tour stage was on display. I was seeing before my eyes what I had only seen in pictures. I was totally mesmerized. 

I hastily took pictures with my iPhone of all the displays that meant something to me: a poster of a Talking Heads show at CBGB's, handwritten lyrics of The Clash's "London Calling," a yellow DEVO jumpsuit, and Motown memorabilia that proved I was raised in a city known for some of the greatest music in the world, not just a high crime rate. Music videos I saw growing up were shown on televisions documenting MTV's impact. Rolling Stone magazines I had read as a teenager were yellowing on the walls.

On the third floor of the museum, the signatures of all the Hall of Fame inductees are on display. I frantically sought out the names of those musicians who changed my life: David Byrne, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Billy Joel, Peter Gabriel, and Leonard Cohen. I was frustrated by who wasn't on that wall: Roxy Music, The Jam, Nick Lowe, and Brian Eno. Eno has a creative hand in the music half the inductees released. Bowie wouldn't have released "Heroes" without Eno. U2 wouldn't be relevant without Eno. How has he not been recognized?

This has a lot to do with the Hall of Fame's committee. The most prominent member of the induction committee is Jann Wenner, the founding editor of Rolling Stone and the reason why the magazine's logo is all over the walls. He's not a musician and, to quote Almost Famous, the magazine "trashed ‘Layla,’ broke up Cream, ripped every album Led Zeppelin ever made." They've allegedly shut out The Monkees. How does Genesis make it while the men who outsold the Rolling Stones and the Beatles combined in 1967 continue to be overlooked?

One can only assume Wenner's personal tastes, along with the need to sell tickets to a museum in Cleveland, play a factor in the selection process. As music becomes more independent and diverse, will the Hall of Fame continue to be relevant? It was something I pondered as I exited the museum through the gift shop. I doubt artists who are consistently great like Wilco and Spoon will ever be inducted, while my unborn children will ponder how Bon Jovi managed to have a career, let alone a display in a museum. 

I am grateful there is a place that the artists who helped blaze a musical trail for the music I love now can preserve their life's work. I can see how frustrated Billy Joel was when he scrawled out the lyrics to "My Life" or how truly egotistical Paul Simon was. The debates of who deserves a spot on the music museum's walls will rage on despite who's on the induction committee. So if you happen to be in Cleveland and need a few hours to kill, head west down 9th Avenue and purchase your ticket to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Enjoy the journey.

Me and Eno and "Some Faraway Beach"

For at least two weeks around the time my mother passed away, I had Brian Eno's "On Some Faraway Beach" stuck in my head. 

It's a simple song. It consists of a single piano riff that continues to build, as if the melody were carrying you to heaven against your will. On the way to the climax, there's the lyric "Given the chance/ I’ll die like a baby/ On some faraway beach." It captured the melancholy I felt at the time. I was sad I had lost the person who brought me into this world, but relieved she was free of the earthly pain she felt throughout her life. 

Before this time, I loved the song because it planted the seed of the ambient musician Eno would become. Now it captures a moment in time that changed my life. 

Then I saw the film "Me and Earl and The Dying Girl" and that time I associate with that song was stolen from me.

It wasn't a blatant attempt at thievery. The director and I obviously shared how the song made us feel, and he used it for a few touching scenes in the film. The movie's title alludes to some depressing subject matter, but it's also a celebration of how film and media can reflect not only our culture, but our lives individually.

Two of the main characters are cinephiles, and they create hilarious tributes to films directed by Werner Herzog, Stanley Kubrick, and David Lynch. When they try to make an original film for the "dying girl" in the title, it proves to be an obsessive enterprise for the novice filmmakers and they struggle to find their creative voices. 

Again, the director took scenes from films I truly love like "A Clockwork Orange," "Blue Velvet," and "Burden of Dreams" and used them for the sake of humor. He steals the feelings of shock, surrealism, and awe I associate with those films and uses them as clever punchlines. 

I have mixed feelings about the storytelling techniques used in "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl." On the one hand, I'm happy that someone who shares a point of view so similar to mine is doing something creative and putting it out into the world. It gives me hope and inspiration. On the other hand, I feel disappointment because I didn't do it first. It feels like it was snatched directly from my head.

With "On Some Faraway Beach," Eno altered the way I viewed music. Through his point of view, I turned a song he created into something meaningful for myself. It's different when someone shares the same creative point of view as you. It makes me feel like I should have been braver in my endeavors. I could have worked harder, been more passionate and confident to put myself out into the world. Eventually the characters in the film finish their movie. I'm still trying to start.

I hope the moment will come when someone will feel that I stole something from their brain. But like the film's main character, I just want to feel passionate enough to run with it.  

An Open Letter To The Haters

A few days ago, an opinion piece I wrote on how I feel about U2's album The Joshua Tree was published. When you take issue with an iconic album that has sold millions of copies over 28 years, people aren't going to agree with you.

I think what took me aback were the several people who went beyond the usual profanty-laced dissent and clicked on the "Email The Author" link. I respond to their concerns.

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The One Size Fits All Festival

When I first moved to Arizona, my goal was to attend Coachella as soon as possible. The music and arts festival has now come and gone twice and I have no regrets in letting another weekend filled with music and hipsters slip away from me. Getting musicians that receive more airplay on classic rock stations than those with an alternative format change the feel and the demographic of the festival experience.

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