Sunday, January 27, 2008

Underappreciated ’80s: Andy Taylor

You might think I’m crazy for focusing my first “Underappreciated ’80s” post on a member of Duran Duran.

But hear me out.

Back in the day, a Metallica-loving, guitar-playing, head-banging friend of mine shocked me by praising an Andy Taylor album. I nearly crapped my pants. Sure, Duran Duran had some catchy pop songs … but aside from a few good chords in “Rio,” little suggested that the phrase “guitar rock” belonged in the same sentence with any band member’s name.

Despite my misgivings, I followed his advice and grabbed that album—which turns out to be a hidden treasure of ’80s rock.

Let’s go back a step.

Andy Taylor had shown a glimpse of his axe chops when he joined Robert Palmer, Tony Thompson, and (unrelated) Duran Duran bandmate John Taylor in 1985 to form The Power Station, which scored hits like “Get It On (Bang a Gong)” and “Some Like It Hot.”

He then hooked up with ex-Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones to hit the charts with “Take It Easy.” This fun if formulaic song remains the best thing about the mind-numbing movie American Anthem, unless you count the “acting” by star Janet Jones—who, in turn, remains best known for marrying hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and moving him from his native Canada to the United States.

Canadians surely hate Taylor simply because of this association. They should nevertheless give his 1987 solo album, Thunder, a listen before dismissing him entirely.

It starts with “I Might Lie,” a driving guitar attack the likes of which you’ve never heard, and couldn’t expect, from Duran Duran. Taylor and Steve Jones—who plays on each song, co-produced the album, and co-wrote all but one track—follow this with some impressive tracks that show Taylor’s range. “Don’t Let Me Die Young,” “Thunder,” and “Tremblin’” join with the opening track to make you wonder why Duran Duran restrained Taylor’s musical abilities for so long.

Taylor wins you over not with flash (although a few of his solos are quite good) but instead with great melody playing and good rock sense. Although unfortunate synthesizer bits taint several songs—after all, this was the ’80s—even these moments can’t keep the album from standing up remarkably well over time.

I wish I could say the same for Janet Jones’ movies.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Having a Bad Day?

I like the sun.

Part of that is the sun’s role as sustainer of life on earth, of course, but also because I just feel happier when sunlight lasts longer.

And I’m not alone. Many people actually suffer from winter depression, clinically known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (with the perfect acronym “SAD”), due to the lack of sunlight.

According to Dr. Cliff Arnall at Cardiff University, this well-known syndrome is part of the reason why tomorrow—Monday, January 21—will be the most depressing day of the year.

This article from Time addresses Arnall’s formula, which also includes holiday shopping bills coming due, chilly weather, unsuccessful New Year’s resolutions to predict that the third Monday in January is “Blue Monday.”

Many academics write off his theory, but so what? It raises some interesting points: If putting ourselves in debt and making unrealistic resolutions only make us depressed, why do we keep doing these things?

I spent some money, but I can pay the bills. Every day or two—not just New Year’s Day—I resolve to do something better, but I try to set achievable goals.

We control our own mood much more than we give ourselves credit for. Therefore, I resolve that “Blue Monday” is a day of celebration, not a day of depression.

Think a happy thought. Do a good deed. Acknowledge the great things going on in your life.

And realize that your attitude does not depend on sunlight or others’ views. Happiness comes from within.

Friday, January 04, 2008

One Person’s Importance

It’s easy to think that we, as individuals, don’t matter much.

I’ll give you an example. Although no individual I know of thinks it would be a good idea to elect Mike Huckabee to a national political office, Iowa Republicans gave him a big first-place finish in yesterday’s caucuses. This is the man who says his religious beliefs aren’t a legitimate political issue, but who also has said he wanted to “take this nation back for Christ.” The Bible-thumper showed the ignorance inherent in a faith-centered approach to modern issues when he asserted that he relied on religion in part because scientists could not explain how a bee flies.

Sorry, sir—they can. And have.

Nobody I know supports this fringe candidate, yet he is the early leader in the 2008 run for the White House. So you can understand if I’ve been feeling like individuals can’t change things.

Thankfully, I was wrong. As this story from AFP shows, one man apparently can make a big difference when it comes to world oil markets.

It seems a trader—just one guy—wanted to make history. So he single-handedly brought the world price of oil to $100 a barrel by putting $100,000 up for 1,000 barrels on the New York market last week. Sure, he lost hundreds of dollars when he sold it back well beneath that price … but he made a point. Each of us matters.

So, in fact, there’s hope for us all in 2008:

No longer must we only buy products pushed on us by placements in movies and TV shows.

No more can superstition passed on from generation to generation continue to guide our individual choices.

No way will we only listen to what the studio executives and radio DJs force upon us.

And Mike Huckabee need not be our next leader. We can unite—as individuals—to support someone much less scary and much more in touch with reality.

My choice: Britney Spears.