Author Archives: Joe Froemming

I’m a reporter/copy editor for the Bemidji Pioneer. Previously, I worked for the Worthington Daily Globe as a copy editor and before that, I had a brief stint as the Fine Arts Columnist for the St. Cloud Times. I was born and raised in St. Cloud, a graduate of St. Cloud State University and worked in record stores for 10 years before wandering into the world of journalism. I live in Bemidji with my wife Gina and our cat, Mac. All the papers and towns mentioned above are located in Minnesota.

Album Revisit: The Misfits’ ‘Static Age’

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This is an installment of a series of blogs where I revisit some classic albums that I  love, used to love or has made an impact on pop culture whether I am familiar with it or not. You can also make suggestions on a classic album, and I may give a whirl and review it. 

I love the Misfits.Well, to be exact, Glenn Danzig’s Misfits. Though their material can often be hit and miss. This is one of those rare bands I enjoy that really did not have a definitive album until more than a decade after they broke up. It’s not just because they are punk, “London Calling” for the Clash and “Fresh Fruit For The Rotting Vegetables” for the Dead Kennedys are examples of old school punk bands having a defining album. Even Black Flag, whom are sometimes lumped in with the Misfits, had “Damaged.” But that changed in 1996. 

This was suppose to be their debut album. They had recorded some tracks as a Joy Division sounding band before Danzig decided to go in another direction. But with “Static Age,” they were raw, angry, it was everything that punk rock was at the time. The lyrics hinted at angst, despair and science fiction-horror movie themes — the latter being what the tended to gravitate toward after they recorded this — that, because they were fairly general, have aged fairly well over the years. That can’t be said for a lot of punk bands at that time, because they sang a lot of the politics at the time. They recorded 17 songs. It probably would have been a solid underground classic.

But it was shelved at the time. With Danzig, they would record two full-length albums, “Walk Among Us” and “Earth A.D.” The former was still in vein of melodic punk, horror movies and space aliens eating brains. The latter would be one of the first hardcore punk albums that would go on to influence heavy metal bands to come like Metallica, Guns N Roses and Megadeth.

In the mid-90s, my friends and I started getting into Danzig. His solo albums, at the time, where pretty popular. He was on MTV with videos for “Mother” and “Dirty Black Summer.” You have to remember, up until 1996 the Misfits were not easily found in record stores, even the two releases mentioned above. There were poor quality bootlegs of the tracks. Metallica covered “Last Caress” and “Green Hell.”

But that was it. At least where I lived.

So, when “Static Age” was released (a little after it was included on their box set, which remained ridiculously expensive for years and years) it was pretty awesome. I loved it. Others did not. You have to remember, our exposure to Danzig was him making Black Sabbath-like metal. Now here is his first album, and he’s a scrawny punk rocker, not the weight lifter guy. 

Now, I’m listening to it as a 33 year old, not a 14 year old for this blog. It remains good. But not as good as when I first came across it.

It opens with four strong tracks. “Static Age,” “TV Casualty,” “Some Kinda Hate” and “Last Caress (which I won’t link because the lyrics are pretty awful, but you can find it on YouTube yourself if interested).”  Catchy, gloomy and sounds fairly different than what was to come — but the germ of that is in there.

There are some other songs I like, one being my favorite Misfits song, “Hybrid Moments.” Also, the only Danzig-era video (besides that incredibly grainy and kind of disgusting “Braineaters” that floats around the web.

So, as I listen to this album, my enthusiasm for it has drained. I will say this: Out of the many New York/New Jersey punk bands that came out at the time, this album is at least listenable and at times enjoyable.

While I would probably not rank this in a top 100 favorite album of all time, (the Misfits album that would make the list would be the awesome, but pulled and now forever unreleased except on YouTube “12 Hits From Hell” )  but it still makes for a good listen when I’m in the mood for aggressive punk rock that has melody in it.

It is their definitive album, though. These are the tracks that built the band up, despite them being difficult to get for a decade. The post-Danzig albums are decent (correction, the Michael Graves ones. Jerry Only cannot carry a tune to save his life). And like many bands of that era, they spent years in legal battles over rights.

I will advise that this isn’t for people who object to offensive language. The lyrics utilize horror themes, add in punk rock music, it’s not for those who don’t like that sort of thing.

If you do enjoy punk rock, I saw give it a listen.

RIP Robin Williams

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The news of Robin Williams death struck a chord in me. When someone dies, it’s sad. But when someone takes their own life, as it looks Mr. Williams did, it is tragic.

When a famous person dies, it always seems to be old age or an overdose. But it is worse when it is a suicide. Suicides are baffling. It makes you wonder how someone could get so down psychologically that the only reprieve they can see for themselves is death. In 2006, my best friend took his own life. It was a very difficult thing for me to grasp, and to this day I still struggle with dealing with it. I never really talk about it, and writing just these few sentences about it is uncomfortable. Depression, unlike other illnesses, can hide fairly easy from the people around the person suffering from it. It leaves a trail of questions that will never be answered. Like “why?”…   

I’m in one of those age groups where just about every point in my life, Robin Williams was a part of in some way. Growing up in the 80s, I would watch re-runs of “Mork & Mindy.” I was at the right age for when “Hook” “Aladdin” and “Mrs. Doubtfire” came out. When I started enjoying surrealistic art and movies, “What Dream May Come” was in the theaters. He rightfully won an Academy Award in 1997 for his role in “Goodwill Hunting.” And when I really started getting into stand-up comedy, his specials were always great. Him,  George Carlin and Richard Pryor were the first stand-up specials I remember watching as a young man.

And who can deny his excellent performance in “Death To Smoochy?” That is one of my favorite films of all time.

I didn’t enjoy every movie he made. But I always admired how much he put into his projects. Especially when he was promoting them. He always seemed like he was going at 110 percent. His energy was truly amazing (and given his history with drugs, some of his specials in the late 70s were, at times, almost too fast to follow).

I really liked it when he played darker roles. He was great in Christopher Nolan’s “Insomnia.” And I stopped using camera film after “One Hour Photo” because even the remote possibility that someone as deranged as his character existing in the real world and developing my film was too much. Because he was so convincing in that role. It was great and spooky at the same time.

His last stand-up special, “Weapons of Self Destruction” is also great. I listened to it today, and he was on fire. His delivery, wit and energy had not dulled over the years.

Yes, he was a true icon to comedy. He made millions of people laugh. And the gift of making others happy, but not himself, is truly sad. He will be missed.

Album Revisit: Tom Petty’s ‘Wildflowers’

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This is the first of a series of blogs where I revisit some classic albums that I  love, used to love or has made an impact on pop culture whether I am familiar with it or not. You can also make suggestions on a classic album, and I may give a whirl and review it.

My first rock concert was in 1994, when after I really got into Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, was when my father took me to see them on the “Wildflowers” tour (I don’t recall if that was the name, but it was when Petty released his second solo album called that). It was a great time and a fun concert from what I remember (I was 12 or 13 at the time).   

But it would be as an awkward high schooler that I would begin to really get into that album. It became a regular on my disc man (wow, that right there sure aged me a bit). Back then, I biked everywhere and always had my headphones on. A variety of music would be my soundtrack as I biked to school, work, wherever. Music  makes traveling even better.

Last week I listened to Petty and the Heartbreakers’ new album, “Hypnotic Eye.” I enjoyed it, but tonight, as I’m writing my business story and listening to Spotify (love this service) for writing fuel and was going to give it another go, I saw “Wildflowers” pop up. I realized I hadn’t listened to this in many, many years. Mostly because I burned my self out on it long ago. Since it had been a while, I decided to revisit this gem. Which also inspired the concept of this blog series.

And it reminded me why, for years, “Wildflowers” was always in my top 5 favorite albums of all time. It is a great album. Not merely very good, this is a pretty near flawless album in my opinion. It is Petty’s best album with or without the Heartbreakers (they all play on it, so calling it a “solo” effort is misleading).

The album begins with “Wildflowers,” a nice, beautiful song that really hits the right tone for the rest of the album. It was also used in an episode of “Parks and Recreation” when Ann and Chris leave Pawnee. I think that also got my mind thinking about giving the album another go after all these years.

It is followed by “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” which has always been the weak link on the album for me, despite it being the album’s breakout hit. Not that it’s a bad song, it just doesn’t do much for me. Plus, having lived in St. Cloud a bulk of my life, the reference to certain chemical use was hooted and hollered way too often for me from frat boys on or near SCSU campus. Seriously, that town has an endless stream of college dudes who listen to that song and Bob Marley obnoxiously way too often.

I’m not going to do a track by track, because the album is 20 years old and has many of those anyway.

A personal favorite of mine is  “It’s Good to be King.”  I saw the band on the Fourth of July, 2001, in Milwauke, Wis.  What I enjoyed was that they played an extended version of this song, which I always enjoy when bands break the mold live. It’s also the only concert where I saw a drunk guy scream “Play ‘American Girl,’” chug a beer, vomit and pass out all in less than a minute. Memories.

Of course, this is preceded by a decent one-two punch of the jaunty “Time To Move On” and the more rock-fueled “You Wreck Me.”

And that’s another thing I really enjoy about this album. It has incredible balance in the song sequence. Since this, in my opinion, was Petty’s most adventurous album musically to this point (the sounds and genres on each track are pretty eclectic) that if it wasn’t balanced in the right way, it may have changed the whole experience of the album.

Remember the times when people listened to albums and not just random songs?

This is great. From the rocking “Honey Bee” to to the peaceful and laid back “To Find A Friend” and finishing with the piano driven “Wake Up Time” this is all around just Petty’s greatest work. Everything that he has put out since has it’s moments, but I don’t think he will top this album.

 

David Brent Returns: Ricky Gervais Brings Back ‘The Office”s Clueless Leader

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Most Americans associate “The Office” with the NBC hit that came to an end last year. A lot of us are aware that it was a remake of the hit British version that starred Ricky Gervais and Martin Freeman, the latter starred in the TV series “Fargo” that I’ve already written too much about in the past several months. It went for two seasons and a Christmas special, a formula Gervais and “Office” co-creator Stephen Merchant would use for their follow-up program, “Extras!”

David Brent was Gervais’ thus-far more revered creation from “The Office.” It formed the basic formula that made the U.S.’s Michael Scott (though Steve Carell would dramatically alter the character’s source and make it his own).  Though in Carell’s final season, these two awkward managers briefly meet.

Brent was socially awkward, often awful and self-delusional. In an episode, he tells his receptionist she’s fired in a poorly planned and executed joke. She breaks down into tears as he tells her they have to let her go for stealing post-it notes, then gets really cringe-worthy when he explains it’s a joke. This scene represents what I loved about the British version and Brent’s character. It’s very dark humor. Twisted, awkward and started a trend which, despite the American version’s shaky first season (they smartly decided to go in their own direction rather than copy the original) made sit-coms work with out canned laugh tracks or studio audiences.

But enough has been written about the show itself. This week, Gervais announced he will be reprising the character (though he already has this year with a charity event and some YouTube videos) with a movie. It apparently follows Brent, more than a decade after he was fired from Wernham Hogg, on a musical trek in a last ditch effort to create a music career. It’s titled “Life On The Road.”

I am on the fence with bringing back Brent in a major way. I love the original series, and I love it’s U.S. counterpart. And we got the resolution of the series in the Christmas Special. So, going back to this much cherished well has rubbed some the wrong way. It’s not like Gervais has been stuck since “The Office” ended. His other projects, “Extras!” “The Invention of Lying” and “Derek” have been great. So why go back to his break out character?

I can only speculate. To me, to go back to this world, I would  like to see where the others from the series are now. Where are Tim and Dawn after all these years? Seriously, if Martin Freeman is not going to be in this, I will be pretty angry. Brent is not a character I can watch solely for an hour and a half. His overbearing attitude and mindlessness was complemented by Tim bringing sanity to the table for balance.

But it will be interesting to see what comes of this. It’s kind of a bold move to pull off and not mess it up. We shall see.

Thoughts on Batman V Superman

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When I first heard that there will be a “Batman versus “Superman” movie, the cynical side of me (which some may claim takes up a healthy proportion of my attitude) had a fairly negative reaction. “It’s going to suck,” I thought. Then when they announced that the new Dark Knight was going to be played by Ben Affleck, that seemed to reinforce my cynicism.

But the comic book nerd and Batman fanatic in me was super excited. I mean, ever since the 1989 Tim Burton Batman movie, I have been a fan. And I don’t think I was the only one who wanted to see Batman take on Superman, especially after reading Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight Returns.”

Fitting Supes into Burton’s world may have worked. I’m glad they didn’t bother wasting a cool story with Joel Schumacher’s horrendous take on the character (I mean, who will ever forgive him for “Bat-Nipples”). And putting Superman into Christopher Nolan’s brilliant trilogy (“Batman Begins,” “Dark Knight” and “Dark Knight Rises”) never would  have made sense. But with “Man of Steel” and Zack Snyder (who directed “The Watchmen” which I enjoyed) the time seems right with this. DC has had the re-imagining of the Batman franchise while Nolan was still working on his third film of the trilogy.

With Marvel now creating their universe (minus X-Men due to another studio owning those rights) and the success of “The Avengers,” there was no question Warner Brothers was going to push for something similar with the Justice League.

When I heard that they aired a special clip at the recent Comic Con in San Diego,  I spent a better part of my day off that Saturday trying to find any video of it. I did. And it looked great. It Batman, sporting the armor suit from “Dark Knight Returns” summons Supes with the Bat-signal. I’m glad my wife was at work when I saw this, because I’m pretty sure my enthusiasm would have disturbed her. No woman should see her husband that happy about comic book characters.

And since Nolan’s trilogy ended, DC has been getting whipped by Marvel. Face it, “Green Lantern” was a failure and the attempted reboot of Wonder Woman for television was canceled before it could even air an episode. But “Arrow” has been, thus far, and the upcoming “Flash,” there is some promise.

A lot of complaints have been toward DC’s tendency to make these projects dark and gritty and in the vein of what Nolan did. It worked for “Arrow” basically because Oliver Queen and Bruce Wayne have many similarities. I haven’t seen “Man Of Steel” yet, but I’ve read they did the grit on him too. I happen to like the dark and gritty takes on comic characters, but whatever.

So, as more info and images keep on coming out, I think I can rest a little easier with this project. Because, really? Nobody can do worse than Joel Schumacher. His films were what the creatures at the bottom of the barrel feed upon.

Here is Rifftrax (guys from Mystery Science Theater 3000) making fun of “Batman And Robin.” Enjoy.

‘SLC Punk’ Now Has An Unnecessary Sequel

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In the late 90s, a film about aimless punks in Salt Lake City during the 80s came about at a pretty perfect time. It came along when the mall-punk fad was blowing up, Blink-182 and NOFX were popular and the Warp Tour was on the verge of becoming the crass entity that built its reputation upon the ashes of a dead music scene and its ideals. 

That movie was “SLC Punk.” And the way it called out what had been a fairly phony “punk” scene in the 80s was similar in the late 90s. It examined how limited a lot of the punk scene was, it basically called it out as a fashion more than a lifestyle for a lot of people. It was a decent.  After hearing there was going to be a sequel, I saw that I had the DVD in my collection — unwatched for more than a decade.

Now it has a sequel coming out. It’s called “Punk’s Dead.”

I don’t know anyone who was pining for such a thing, but there must be someone out there because why else would they make it? Maybe because it’s punk rock to make another movie against all the good reasons not too.

I watched the trailer. It had some of the main characters from the first film, though I only remembered Heroin Bob by name because he died in the original and was a pretty big story arch.  It appears he is a ghost — and how much more hardcore can you be than a dead punk from the 80s Salt Lake City Punk Scene? And he apparently has a kid. And it’s this kid that the film follows. Yeah.

What was glaringly missing was Matthew Lillard, who was the blue haired protagonist Stevo from the first film. A quick IMDB check reminded me that Jason Segel was in the movie too. He also doesn’t seem to be in the sequel.

So, we have a main character’s ghost and a handful of minor characters from the first film in the sequel. Because punk rock. 

I might watch it. I won’t pay to watch it. I will not go out of my way to see this sequel that, like many pointless sequels before it, just does not seem necessary.

Especially since the first film pretty much rounded out the plot. Stevo moves on from a dying and pretty much dead end scene. Bob dies ironically from an overdose. The other characters, who really do not stand out much, go on with their lives. Sometimes sequels are warranted because they expand the characters, the story, ect. This is the equivalent of making “Dazed and Confused 2″ or “Mallrats 2.” A sequel is not needed in these types of films.

I’d post the trailer for “Punk’s Dead,” but because of  the fact is looks horrible,  I leave you with this.

 

‘Fargo’ Heading to Luverne and Sioux Falls

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Well, my guess was correct.
The second season of “Fargo” will deal with the mystery case that was brought up a bunch of times in season one that happened in Sioux Falls, S.D. So it will jump back in time to 1979.
It will also take place in a town I lived close to for two years while working at the Daily Globe in Worthington.
The show will take place in Luverne as well.
Either this show is following places I’ve lived in Minnesota or I have lived in mostly unique Minnesota areas that people seem to find “quirky.”
This is pretty cool to me. For season one, I was here in Bemidji where the show took place.
The second season takes place in the past and it features I town I lived near in the past. And, I always passed through it on my way to Sioux Falls.
That’s a pretty cool coincidence.
It will be interesting to hear what my friends in Southwest Minnesota say about the show when it depicts a fictionalized version of their neck of the woods.
Plot-wise, it will follow a young Lou Solverson, back from the Vietnam war in 1979, where he encounters a case that was said in season one to have had bodies that were “stacked so high, you could’ve climbed to the second floor.”
His daughter, Molly (played in season one by breakout star Allison Tolman) will be 4-years-old in the series.
None of the actors from the first season will be returning for season two. Which some people may not like, but I am open to it. Given how interesting the characters in season one, I’d prefer not having to stretch them too thin.
Plus it allows new talent to add something new and different to the series.
Suffice to say, I’m pretty excited for the second go-around with the series.

‘Fargo’ Gets a Second Season

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Aw jeez, it’s happening again.

It was announced that the FX series, “Fargo” will be getting a second installment. And the brilliant mind behind the critically acclaimed TV run, Noah Hawley, will once again be the showrunner of the second (technically, third if you count the movie) go-around in the “Fargo” universe.

Not much is known about what the second season will be about. I hope it deals with the topic of what happened in Sioux Falls, S.D. that was brought up more than a few times in season one. I think that would be interesting for the series to go into another realm of the Midwest. And taking it out of the Bemidji area would mean I won’t live-tweet every episode. I do plan on writing a review of each episode though, because that was a lot of fun. The tweeting often distracted me from the show, so I’d prefer to just blog my thoughts.

Though it still may be filmed in Calgary, so keeping the show in the Bemidji area isn’t impossible, but I would say highly unlikely.

Anyway, I was happy to hear the show is coming back. I hope it doesn’t suffer from a sophomore slump, but I think with Hawley writing and producing, that won’t be a problem.

 

‘Mandatory Fun’ by ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic

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At this point, I think it’s safe to say that “Weird Al’ Yankovic is a national treasure in pop culture. For more than 30 years, he has poked fun all just about every pop music icon and trend. From Michael Jackson to Nirvana to Coolio to Pharrell Williams, the man has spoofed their hits and music videos.

This week, he has released another album full of gems that poke fun at a lot of contemporary hits (ie: earworms). “Mandatory Fun” is hilarious, at times brilliant (“Word Crimes” definitely strikes a chord for me at the copy desk) and a fun album. He even does a Pixies-inspired song that is way better than the new album the Pixies put out this year with “First World Problems.”

Plus, the videos he is putting out (one each day of the week for eight days) are great. The first one for “Tacky” ( a spoof on Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”) features  Aisha Tyler, Margaret Cho, Eric Stonestreet, Kristen Schaal and Jack Black dancing much in the same, obnoxious way Williams does in his video. To be honest, “Happy” has been one of those songs I hear all the time, and I find it to be about as likable  as being punched in the face. So yeah, I was really glad it was parodied by Al.

I also enjoyed “Foil,” the parody of Lorde’s “Royals.” The switch from food to Illuminati-inspired paranoia was a nice move. Also, the video has Patton Oswalt, Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant. So, yeah. I enjoy that.

Today, the video was ”Handy,” a spoof of “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea. I am not too familiar with the original song, so this video really didn’t do much for me.

His other stylized song (like “First World Problems, which he uses a band’s style over a direct parody of a specific song) is “My Own Eyes,” a take on the Foo Fighter. I’ve read other reviews which state this was not that great, but I personally really enjoyed it.

All around, I think this is his best album since 1996′s “Bad Hair Day.” Maybe it’s because of the influx of overly catchy pop songs in the past year, or whatever. Not every track is gold, but I’d say 9 out of the 12 are solid.

Anyway, here is the video for “Word Crimes.” Also, Huey Lewis and Al spoofing one of my favorite scenes from “American Psycho.”


Archie To Meet His Grisly End

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For a second, I thought it was a headline from The Onion.

Beloved comic book character and permanent high school ginger Archie will meet his end by getting shot while saving his best friend. From the drawings I saw, I seriously had to do a double take. I mean, Archie was the safest of safe, bland comics I could ever recall. He literally made Sesame Street look like N.W.A.

But, for me anyway, seeing Archie bleeding out from a bullet wound, looking a lot like Mr. Orange from “Reservoir Dogs” was literally a moment I felt my brain suddenly broke. It was too much.

My initial reaction after was, “Did Frank Miller get hired to do a gritty, film noir take on the Riverdale gang?” I mean, he did turn Batman into a psychotic freak in “Dark Knight Returns.” And it seems like something he would do if given the reins of this series.

I know for the past couple years, this comic has gone into social commentary. A lot of comics do. They always have. But, I always figured Archie would retire in some boring story line I would never have any interest in. Now, he takes a bullet in the gut for his friend, making this dopey kid who hung out with a guy who sported a king’s crown and ate nothing but cheese burgers named “Jughead” into some action hero.

And the following book features how his friends have reacted to his horrific death a year later. Yeah, as if his violent death wasn’t enough, they are treading in darker territory with that. This was not a complex, dark comic series. It was the “Saved By The Bell” of comics.

Seriously, this is “Archie.” The safest comic books in the history of everything. Now has gone dark and gritty. I seriously had to do more research to make sure this was not some joke.

This is not a joke. Wow.

Yeah, that’s pretty messed up.