Archive for November 2008

Chinese Democracy & The Quest For A Great Album

November 22, 2008

I never thought I’d be able to say this, but Chinese Democracy is out!

The mythical Guns N’ Roses album that has been discussed since I was in second grade is available, streaming on MySpace and playing on iPods around the world. I don’t have a whole lot to add to the common sentiments about this album (I might kill the next person who says “China will probably be a democracy before this album comes out”) but I do want to remark on its greater significance. I believe this is a truly important piece of art.

Here’s why:

1) It’s fascinating how a man can go into hiding for a decade, release no new music, and still command all this attention. People were dying for this album. Dr. Pepper is giving everyone in America free soda to celebrate it. It’s been played almost 2 million times in less than 2 days of streaming.

UPDATE: Chinese Democracy has now been played over 3 million times on MySpace, or roughly 25 times per second breaking all MySpace records for album streaming.

It’s headline news in newspapers everywhere. Amazing. And the story behind it is the stuff of legends. If you haven’t seen the New York Times article “The Most Expensive Album Never Made“, check it out.

2) It’s great music. If you judge it on its merits (ignoring the delays and breakup of old GNR) it really is a work of art. The industrial, NIN-esque”Shackler’s Revenge” is the most fun song I’ve ever played on Guitar Hero. “Catcher in The Rye” is an instant classic, “If The World” should’ve been in the latest James Bond movie instead of Leonardo DiCaprio’s “Body of Lies”, and the album’s closer, “Prostitute”, is right up there with anything the old GNR did. As far as I’m concerned, it’s in the same league as “November Rain” and “Estranged.” Soaring vocals riding a crest of crashing synth, piano, drums. Totally epic and beautiful.

Some of the songs actually seem to be about the album. It’s tough to interpret these lyrics from the song “IRS” any other way:

“I bet you think I’m doing this all for my health
I should’ve looked again then at somebody else
Feelin’ like I’ve done way more than wrong
Feelin’ like I’m livin’ inside of this song..”

3) There are a couple of duds. “Sorry” lives up to its name, and “Madagascar”, while ambitious, falls a little short in my book. It happens.

4) There’s a lot of piano and synth. Someone called it “orchestral rock” which seems about right to me. Personally, as a pianist, I love it. I think it’s used just enough, in all the right places, at just the right volume. Diehard fans of the old GNR will probably hate it but whatever. I like how Axl is taking his music in a new direction. It’s a refreshing change from most 80’s rockers who are still, in middle age, running around in leather pants singing about screwing some girl.

But what I really love about Chinese Democracy is what it represents: the great album. Or, as one MTV article put it:

“And when it has finally moved from the storeroom to the shelves, will there be mass chaos? When GN’R fans — half-crazed with anticipation, half-dazed from spending the past 48 hours sleeping in line outside an electronics retailer — actually catch a glimpse of the album, will they summarily combust? And are we prepared, in these darkest of times (I’m speaking in terms of the music industry, not Wall Street), for an album that’s unlike any this decade? It could be an honest-to-goodness event, a surefire blockbuster that will cause music fans to behave like music fans, cueing up for midnight sales, throwing the album on in their cars, celebrating the release of a dozen or so pieces of recorded music. We will be transformed into savage rock-and-roll animals.

This was once a staple of rock music which all bands strove for. But tragically, it’s been in slow, steady decline since the mid-90’s. For some unknown reason, bands stopped trying to put out great albums. The focus shifted to simply putting out what would sell. Sadly, what sells and what goes down in history as awesome, memorable music are not always one and the same. It takes a lot less talent and creativity to focus solely on what sells.(See N’Sync, Backstreet Boys, Creed, and Nickelback.) But like many things, absence makes the heart grow fonder. The fewer and fewer great (or even good) albums I’ve seen, the more I’ve thirsted for them. For even just one album that looks, feels, and sounds like someone reached a little higher and put everything he had into making something great.

That’s what Axl did. He has given us a great album. He told the hecklers to shove it and fired every manager who tried getting him to release Chinese Democracy before he was ready. One quote sums it up perfectly:

Rose is now managed by Irving Azoff and Andy Gould, who can be forgiven a little hyperbole, having finally got Rose the autocrat to relinquish his hold on Chinese Democracy. ‘When they asked Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel, they didn’t say, “Can you do it in the fourth quarter?”‘ said Gould. ‘Great art sometimes takes time.’

Good for him. He might be a hypersensitive, neurotic perfectionist, but it comes from a good place. He didn’t want the world to see this thing until he believed it was great.

Maybe Axl is a jerk in private life. Who knows? What I do know is that he deserves some serious props for putting this album out.

Someone had to.



November 16, 2008

“Make yourself.”
– Incubus

“God is not willing to do everything, and thus take away our free will and that share of glory which belongs to us.”
– Niccolo Machiavelli

“The more sand has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it. ”
– Niccolo Machiavelli

“The wise man does at once what the fool does finally.”
– Niccolo Machiavelli

“The question is not who is going to let me. It is who is going to stop me.”
– Ayn Rand

“The driving dream of the idealist is that if he could only explain enough things to enough people, carefully enough, thoroughly enough, thoughtfully enough – why, eventually everyone would see, and then everything would be fixed.”
– Michael Kelly

“We all need and require self-esteem. Bringing others down a notch or two, rather than lifting oneself through effort, accomplishment and character, is an all too common approach.”
– Dr. Michael J. Hurd

“Writing is thinking on paper.”
– Gary Bencivenga

“All credibility, all good conscience, all evidence of truth come only from the senses.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche

“Egoism is the very essence of a noble soul.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche

“Faith: not wanting to know what is true.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worse, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
-Theodore Roosevelt

“Achieving life is not the equivalent of avoiding death.”

“”Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps, down new roads, armed with nothing but their own vision.”
– Ayn Rand

“Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.”
– Ayn Rand

To say “I love you”, one must first be able to say the “I.”
– Ayn Rand

“Happiness is the state of achievement that proceeds from the achievement of one’s values.”
– Ayn Rand

“A culture is made or destroyed by its articulate voices.”
– Ayn Rand

“The society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.”
– Thucydides

“If you have always believed that everyone should play by the same rules and be judged by the same standards, that would have gotten you labeled a radical 60 years ago, a liberal 30 years ago and a racist today.”
– Thomas Sowell

“It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.”
– Thomas Sowell

“The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.”
– Thomas Sowell

“The most fundamental fact about the ideas of the political left is that they do not work. Therefore we should not be surprised to find the left concentrated in institutions where ideas do not have to work in order to survive.”
– Thomas Sowell

“The next time some academics tell you how important diversity is, ask how many Republicans there are in their sociology department.”
– Thomas Sowell

“There are only two ways of telling the complete truth – anonymously and posthumously.”
– Thomas Sowell

“What ‘multiculturalism’ boils down to is that you can praise any culture in the world except Western culture – and you cannot blame any culture in the world except Western culture.”
– Thomas Sowell

No matter how disastrously some policy has turned out, anyone who criticizes it can expect to hear: “But what would you replace it with?” When you put out a fire, what do you replace that with?
– Thomas Sowell

“One of the sad signs of our times is that we have demonized those who produce, subsidized those who refuse to produce, and canonized those who complain”
– Thomas Sowell

“American prosperity and American free enterprise are both highly unusual in the world, and we should not overlook the possibility that the two are connected.”
– Thomas Sowell

“Those things that help human beings be independent and self-reliant—whether automobiles, guns, the free market, or vouchers—provoke instant hostility from the anointed.”
– Thomas Sowell

“He who knows how will always work for he who knows why.”
– David Lee Roth

“People come out of our concerts and feel invincible. They feel like a building could fall on them, nothing would happen. They feel like a car could hit them, nothing would happen. Frequently cars do hit them.”
– David Lee Roth

“I feel like a shining example. I just don’t know of what.”
– David Lee Roth

“Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others?”
– Thomas Jefferson

“I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature.”
– Thomas Jefferson

“Obama’s ancestry and upbringing are irrelevant. But the fact that he is trying to claim that black, American descendants of slaves are “his people” and that his birth itself was the result of civil rights marches and laws that happened after he was born is plain old-fashioned dishonesty.”
– John T. Reed

“The spouting of catchy, meaningless slogans is widespread. The practice of stopping to think about whether they really mean anything is not.”
– John T. Reed

“Obama’s economic advisors are going to tell him that raising taxes, enacting protectionist laws, and intervening in the economy will make the economy worse and get him thrown out of office in 2012, if not before. They will recommend lowering taxes, cutting spending, expanding free trade. Obama will say, “But you are telling me to continue the failed Bush policies, to do what McCain said he would do!” Yes, Barack. The campaign is over and so is campaign bullshit. Now you really have to run the economy and the Republican policies are the correct ones.”
– John T. Reed

“I think a big part of the problem is that our citizens are ignorant of economics, markets, free enterprise, and business. Furthermore, our college students have long been the targets of socialist indoctrination by America’s college professors and to a lesser extent by our public school union teachers. In the public schools, the problem is less socialist indoctrination than just plain lousy education and ignorance. But this has allowed us to evolve into a situation where when there is a speed bump in free markets, like gas price increases or falling stock market indexes, our citizens want free markets replaced with government-run markets. “Government-run markets” is a contradiction in terms. Cuba has such a system. We will be far worse off if we go that way and we seem to be doing just that.”
– John T. Reed in his excellent article on the 2008 financial meltdown

“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm– but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.”
T.S. Eliot

How To Solve Problems

November 13, 2008

I just Googled the definition for “problem.” Here’s what came up:

A state of difficulty that needs to be resolved.

In my book, the bold portion is the only part of the definition worth focusing on. Why spend time whining about the state of difficulty when you can just resolve the damn thing?

I used to think everyone thought that way.

Once I got into high school, though, I quickly saw that I was in the minority. For every problem-solver like me, there were a dozen “problem-worshipers” who seemed totally content to rot in misery. The most common examples were people in miserable relationships. They would bitch and moan to anyone willing to listen about how terrible their relationships were. But as soon as you suggested they end the bad relationship, thereby eliminating the cause of their misery, they acted like you were speaking Greek. “No way, I can’t do that! That’s out of the question. There has to be another way.”

It was like they enjoyed being miserable in some sick, perverse way. They seemed to actually like their problems. But whatever the case, one thing was clear: these people were focusing way too much on the “state of difficulty” part and not enough on the “needs to be resolved” part.

But then a thought occurred to me. Maybe some non-problem solvers would like to become problem-solvers, only they don’t know how. Maybe I was taking my problem-solving instincts for granted and ignoring the fact that not everyone was raised the way I was. Fair enough. So the question then becomes: how can a non-problem solver beat the learning curve and discover what I and other problem-solvers already know?

Well, I wrote a journal entry last year explaining the basics. My goal was to capture, in a quick couple of paragraphs, the attitude that helps me overcome obstacles in my own life. So I want to show you that entry now (below) and then explain the thought process behind it. Pay attention, because this approach will save your ass if you are smart enough to use it.

Too often, people allow minor speed bumps to become brick walls. Last night I stumbled upon another example.

My friend was complaining about how she couldn’t sleep because girls in the dorm next door were loud and obnoxious all night. She said it’s a constant problem. Apparently, the Resident Advisor in charge is a friend of the noisy girls and refuses to correct the problem. But instead of figuring out a way to shut these girls up that doesn’t involve the RA, my friend has pretty much decided to “just deal with it.”

Meanwhile, I had at least three possible solutions in a matter of seconds. If the RA is corrupt and the girls wont quiet down out of basic courtesy, raise the stakes. Wait for the next night of unbearable noise and rudeness. Put on your headphones and some of your favorite music and sit down at your laptop. Create an official-looking document that looks like your school’s letterhead. All it has to say is something to the effect of, “We’ve received a tremendous number of complaints about the noise level in your dorm. The school’s housing department is actively investigating whether or not to take disciplinary action. You have been put on notice.” Include the dorm number and the obnoxious girls’ names so there’s no mistake about who this was being sent to. Then just slide the note under their door next time they’re gone. That will spook 75% of rowdy but otherwise sane people into shutting up.

If not, get someone to call their dorm, posing as the school, saying the exact same things. Some people respond better to verbal confrontation than written. If these ideas aren’t your cup of tea, no problem. Get a cheap video camera or microphone and just record how ridiculous the people are at night. And screw the corrupt RA. Go straight to someone at the top with video recorded evidence. Bring a copy of the dorm’s “Quiet Hours” policy for good measure.

My point is that there will always be a wall of opposition between you and the things you need to be happy or successful. What matters is whether you choose to “just deal with it” or use your head and do something about it. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. 9 times out of 10 you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you can do.

When I first published that, a few people said “you’d get in trouble if they caught you impersonating the school.” Maybe, but that’s not the point. The point is the solve-the-damn-problem-and-move-the-hell-on philosophy I used to think of that advice. Let’s explore that in more detail starting with what didn’t help generate that advice:

  1. Wasting time dwelling on the problem.
  2. Thinking about how unfair the problem is.
  3. Daydreaming about how great it would be if the circumstances that created the problem were not happening.

John T. Reed says people who do any of those things are finding excuses to lose instead of finding ways to win. Well put.

Instead, only focus on the best and quickest way to solve the problem. Usually that starts with figuring out why the problem is happening. What conditions are allowing this problem to exist? In my friend’s case, the problem-creating conditions were that those girls believed they could get away with being obnoxious. They saw no reason to stop. So my first thought was, “how can I create a reason for them to stop?”

Note that I did not limit myself to the typical, obsequious “I’ll try the conventional way and if that doesn’t work, oh well” approach that most people limit themselves to. The conventional way often does not work. Remember my friend’s problem: the RA was corrupt. If my friend gave up once the corrupt RA refused to help her, the problem would never be solved. And that’s exactly what happened. She gave up, and the obnoxious girls caused her countless nights of interrupted sleep and studying.

Why? Because she stopped short of what it took to actually solve the problem.

The corrupt RA offers a valuable problem-solving lesson. Most other people will not be as motivated as you are to solve your problems. In those cases you need to think outside the box and take the situation into your own hands. Ask questions others are afraid to ask. Challenge people others are afraid to challenge. Try things others say you would be stupid to try.

This is how we problem-solvers think. It is as natural and effortless to us as excuse-making, rationalizations, and victimhood are to non-problem solvers. But this is actually a good thing! Both ways of thinking are habits. Habits can be changed. The only hard part is the beginning where you discipline yourself to do the thing in question differently than you did before. Personal example:

In high school I was the worst student you ever saw. I had zero ambition, saw no real point in being there and therefore took a totally lazy approach with me into the classroom. It was no surprise that I got D’s and F’s and dropped out. (I’m pretty sure my GPA was actually below 1. It was that bad.) But about a year into college I decided enough was enough. I was fed up with failure and promised myself that no matter what it took, this semester was going to be different. And it was.

There was no trick to it. All I had to do was A) go to class, B) pay attention, and C) do the work. Was that hard at first? Of course it was. I had spent the last 12 years slacking off. My old habits were always whispering in my ear about how much easier it would be to slack off. But I ignored them. I knew I couldn’t make up for 12 years of mediocrity all at once, so I didn’t try to. I took it one test, one paper, one homework assignment, one project at a time, using one A to motivate me for the next. When the semester ended I had 3 A’s, one B, and made my school’s Dean’s List.

The following semester I increased my workload to 5 classes, earning 4 A’s and one B which got me another Dean’s List mention. I’m about to finish this semester with A’s in 6 classes, including a biology lab, good for 19 credits and another Dean’s List award.

(I also figured out what my overall purpose/goal in life was before that first semester. That was hugely important, but I’ll address it in a separate post.)

Anyway, I now have a 3.7 GPA, belong to an international honors society, and regularly get letters from colleges saying things like “We recognize that you have many options because of your academic excellence.” One of them came from Ivy League Cornell University. Not bad.

Again: all I really needed to do was change my mental attitude toward school. That’s another huge problem-solving obstacle for many people. They want different results without changing their old, ineffective, bad-results-producing attitude or behavior. Doesn’t work that way. Remember:

“Garbage in, garbage out.”

That old saying just means the outcome will not be different unless you do something different. It’s excellent advice. Don’t forget it.

My best friend Chris Carlino has a similar philosophy to mine. His is even simpler.

  1. Identify the problem.
  2. Think of a few possible solutions.
  3. Carry the best one out.

Anytime you are stuck with a problem, you should ask yourself “am I taking any of these steps?” If not, why not? If you really want to solve your problems (instead of just bitch about them) that’s the only question worth asking.

Good luck!