Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Best Albums of 2009

Last year, Arbitrary Judgment brought you the Top 10 Albums of 2008, so I would be remiss to go out as a one-hit wonder. But with the “Double Zero’s” coming to a close and every other media outlet releasing their “Best of the Decade” lists, I thought maybe I would give you my Top 10 Albums of the 2000’s. Then I realized that I was 10 years old when this decade began. So unless you wanted to read reviews of Smashmouth, Will Smith, or Linkin Park, you’ll be happy that I stuck to the Best Albums of this year, 2009. You’re welcome.

Now, I stated this last year, but let me remind you again: I have no formal training in the world of music analysis. I am not a world-class music critic. I do not have a special ear for the art of song or anything weird like that. I am simply a college kid with a great love of music from every different time period and decade. I listen to the majority of music that comes out each week from the majority of different genres. I do feel that I have an eclectic and well-rounded taste for music, and that I have listened to enough of it to make a respectable year-end list. This is not a list of the most popular or best selling albums of 2009, but simply my list of the albums that I felt were the most musically accomplished and successful this year. So in case you were wondering, no one from American Idol made the list. I hope that’s ok.

Without further ado, here are my Top Ten Albums of 2009 (with a few extras), courtesy of a 20-year-old with no real music education and a strong distaste for the country music genre. Let the accolades begin.

Honorable Mention

U2 – No Line on the Horizon
You really have to admire the longevity and cohesiveness of this band. Bono is still incredible and somehow it feels like he is still on the top of his game. But what’s even more impressive is how the rest of the band has been able to fall in line and follow his lead. In a time when so many bands implode and fall by the wayside, U2 has been the cream of the crop for 30 years. Listen to Boy from 1980 and No Line from 2009 and see if you can notice a huge difference in the band’s aura and sound. It certainly won’t be easy.

Bob Dylan – Together Through Life
The Greatest American Hero refuses to let us down, giving us his 34th studio album. Oh, and it only reached the top spot on the US and British Charts. The man is 68 years old and still making #1 albums. I’ll be happy if I can still feed myself at 68. With Together Through Life, Dylan does a great job of relating the songs to his own life, and yet still keeps up that shield of mystery that he has become notorious for. The murky, Tex-Mex sound the Dylan gives on this album is trumped only by the way that his soul seems to pour out of each and every word.

Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown
As I’ve said before, I like old Green Day a lot more than I like new Green Day. But regardless, you still have to respect and appreciate the way that this band has re-invented themselves during their years of prominence. Lead singer and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong deserves a lot of praise for the strides he has made, both musically and lyrically.

The Top Ten

10. Weezer – Raditude
On their seventh studio album, Weezer and frontman Rivers Cuomo stay true to what they do best. While bands like Green Day have impressed in the way they have changed their sound over the years, Weezer has actually stuck to its guns, and they are still reaping the successful harvests of it. Cuomo is goofy and awkward, and he makes it work for him and the band on Raditude. The album has a very Andrew W.K., old-school Green Day kind of sound to it, and is a lot of fun to listen to. I like to imagine that if Kurt Cobain had been on depression medication, he would have sounded a lot like Weezer on this album. Songs such as “I Want You To”, “The Girl Got Hot”, and “Put Me Back Together” are all Weezer at its very, most quintessential best.

9. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
The bands fourth studio album landed them on every late night talk show and even introduced them into commercial fame and success, and for good reason. Phoenix has one of those playful and energizing sounds to them, very VampireWeekend-esque. And while this seems to be the popular, indie band sound of current times, it definitely works for them. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix also has hints of a Spoon influence (“1901”) and even a dash of Weezer (“Lasso” and “Girlfriend”) and a little OneRepublic (“Fences”). All in all, Phoenix plays the alternative indie band card to perfection, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

8. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love
As far as concept/story albums go, it is one of my favorites of all time, just below the rung that includes Ziggy Stardust, Sgt. Pepper’s, and Quadrophenia. While the sound of the band could be comparable to Death Cab for Cutie, The Shins, or My Morning Jacket, the band’s storytelling set to their unique folky/trippy sound is what really positions them apart from the others. This particular album also has some darker, more edgy songs that Morrissey himself would be proud of. But what I love most about The Decemberists is that you can never tell whether they have written an album or some type of an adult, fairy-tale-novel set to music. Doesn’t matter. Either way, it’s a masterpiece.

7. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
Grizzly Bear’s third full-length studio album has an incredibly unique and varied sound that is tough to put your finger on. At times you can hear a Beach Boys influence (“Two Weeks” and “Foreground”), a Cream influence (“Southern Point” and “While You Wait For The Others”), The Guess Who influence (“Fine For Now”), an old school Neil Young influence (“Ready, Able”) and even a more modern, My Morning Jacket influence (“Dory”). Yeah, I wasn’t lying. Overall, this indie band (which has caught the eye of the likes of Jay-Z and Beyonce) has a very folky, whimsical, and experimental feel to it. It is completely unique and weird, which is one of the reasons I found myself so impressed by it.

6. Kings of Leon – Only By the Night
Yes, their big hit (“Use Somebody”) is forever ruined for me because of how it has been overplayed to death, but the song is great and the album is great. The band finally hit it big with this release, leaving behind their grimy, garage-band sound for a more high profile, arena type sound. You get a very U2-ish vibe from them overall, although their southern roots do shine through on songs such as “Revelry”. You also get a little bit of a Rolling Stones vibe at times (“Be Somebody”), but without the British accents. You can sense a little Aerosmith in their presentation (“Crawl”) and even a whiff of Radiohead in their songwriting and composing (“I Want You”), just not quite as advanced. But in the end, I feel that this album really showed us a band that has truly arrived on the music scene and is just beginning to reach its full potential. Songs such as “Sex On Fire”, “Closer”, and “Manhattan” are fantastic, and it’s tough to find a bad song on the album.

5. Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3
While I feel that the original Blueprint was probably a better album, the Blueprint 3 was very good, and easily my favorite Jay-Z album in quite some time. I felt as if it was less contrived, rushed, and commercialized than some of his previous albums, such as American Gangster and Kingdom Come. Jay-Z seemed to put more time and heart into the Blueprint 3, getting back to what makes him the great artist that he is. On this album, Jay-Z is honest and upfront about his true self, rapping with a likeable ego and undeniable charm. The Blueprint 3 is also aided by a great supporting cast (Kanye, Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Drake, and Young Jeezy to name a few), as well as his genuine love for singing about where he is from and what he believes in (“Empire State of Mind” and “D.O.A.”). Oh, and he gets bonus points for being married to Beyonce. Try and argue with that.

4. Vetiver – Tight Knit
This indie band’s fourth full-length studio album has continued to bring them more and more notoriety in music circles. Vetiver, named after a type of grass, really is a grassroots effort. It is a simple, laid back band that doesn’t have much glitz or flash to them, but still gets the job done. Vetiver has an old-school folk sound to it, and often collaborates with Devendra Banhart. Overall, you can sense a Canned Heat and Townes Van Zandt influence on this album, while the simplicity suggests a sprinkling of Velvet Underground. You can also sense a little CSNY influence on songs like “Strictly Rule”, a Kingston Trio influence on “At Forest Edge”, and even a more poppy, Vampire Weekend sound on “More of This”. Most of all, Tight Knit introduces us to the incredible skill that frontman Andy Cabic has as a songwriter, something we hadn’t really seen from him on past albums.

3. M. Ward – Hold Time
Known best for his work with Zooey Deschanel (She & Him) and Monsters of Folk, M. Ward is one of the most underrated and underappreciated singer/songwriters of his generation. On Hold Time, Ward achieves a very old-school, hazy, Phil Spector type sound that I really enjoyed. You can hear the Buddy Holly influence on songs like “For Beginners”, the Steve Miller Band influence on “Never Had Nobody Like You”, and even a mid-70’s Bob Dylan, early Fleetwood Mac sound on songs like “One Hundred Million Years”. Despite the fact that M. Ward may be best known for his bands and collaborations, Hold Time shows that Ward has no problem standing on his own.

2. Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band – Outer South
For the second year in a row, Conor Oberst has made my Top Albums list, which is probably the greatest honor to ever be bestowed upon him. Following his first solo album in ’08, Oberst teamed up with the Mystic Valley Band to create the most upbeat and lively music that we have seen from him yet. But don’t worry. Oberst has retained his amazing grasp of lyrics and songwriting, as well as that mystical way of showing you all of his cards, and yet still leaving you wondering who the heck this guy and what’s going on in his head. He has the rare ability to be both upfront and perplexing at the same time, adding intrigue to everything he writes. The songs "Slowly" and "Nikorette" are amazing, "Ten Women" so closely evokes Bob Dylan that it’s almost eerie, and "Cabbage Town" is the perfect example of Oberst and how he has grown (musically) since his days with the Bright Eyes. Conor may not have complete control on this album like he did on the last one (thanks to the Mystic Valley Band), but his influence is certainly swimming throughout the entire piece of work. The album almost makes you visualize just how amazing Oberst’s set at Woodstock could have been. If only, if only.

1. The Mumlers – Don’t Throw Me Away
This little known indie band was certainly the surprise of the year for me. I only bought this album, Don’t Throw Me Away, because the cover caught my eye and it was really cheap. It turned out to be one of the best five bucks I have ever spent. The Mumlers, named after a 19th century spirit chaser, have a very unique, soulful, jazzy, folky sound to them that seems far beyond their years. It’s hard to pin down their sound or influence, simply because it is all across the board. You get a sense of the Beatles (circa late 60’s) on a song like “Fugitive & Vagabond”, as well as a Rolling Stones sound on “Battlefield Postcard”. You can also feel the influence of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins on “Coffin Factory”, Amos Lee on “Tangled Up With You”, and even the Righteous Brothers on the title track, “Don’t Throw Me Away”. For me personally, “99 Years Ago” is probably my favorite song on the album, but there isn’t a bad choice in the bunch. On this record, The Mumlers have somehow found a way to write about heartache in a way that Tom Waits or The Smiths could relate to, and yet each piece doesn’t seem all that melancholy or downtrodden. Don’t Throw Me Away was easily the most shocking and thought-provoking album of the year for me, so putting them in the top spot was no contest. If you only buy or listen to one album on this list, make it this one. It won’t disappoint.



See you in 2010. Thanks for reading

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Slim


Sometimes, sports take you to a place that is beyond sports, beyond the trivial things such as wins and losses, statistics, and a breakdown of every single game and match-up imaginable. Sometimes, sports become secondary. Such is the case with Chris Henry, the Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver who passed away on Dec. 17, 2009, one day after suffering serious injuries in a car accident. It is a tragic ending to a sad story.

The term “star-crossed” will most likely be used ad nauseam in reference to this situation, but it truly is the best way to describe what has taken place. Henry, who had become known just as much for his off-field problems as he had for his on-field success, sadly died in a manner that was shocking in many ways, and yet somewhat unsurprising at the same time.

During the afternoon of December 16th, Henry was reportedly involved in some type of domestic dispute with his fiancé in Charlotte, North Carolina, leading up to the accident. Henry had been on season-ending Injured Reserve after breaking his arm in a Week 9 victory against the Baltimore Ravens, and was in Charlotte visiting his fiancé’s family at the time of the accident. The two were believed to have been planning their wedding. After some type of domestic dispute began, Henry’s fiancé reportedly started to drive away from her parents’ home in a yellow pick-up truck. As she was trying to leave, Henry allegedly jumped into the bed of truck, and was later thrown from the bed of the vehicle about a half-mile from the home. Witnesses say that he jumped out, stating that Henry could be heard threatening to leap from the truck and kill himself if his fiancé didn’t stop and talk to him. Henry suffered life-threatening injuries in the accident, and was immediately rushed to the hospital and put on life support. He passed away around 6:30 a.m. on the morning of December 17th, only 26 years old.

The events surrounding his death are certainly bizarre, but are also part of a laundry list of controversial off-field things that Henry has been through since playing college ball at West Virginia University. In fact, Henry’s career is the quintessential example of a roller coaster ride. After redshirting at WVU in 2002, Henry earned 2003 Big East Conference Freshman of the Year and All-Big East Second-Team honors. In his two seasons on the active roster at WVU, Henry accrued 22 receiving touchdowns, which stand as second most in the school’s history. That’s the good. He was also ejected from a game against Rutgers University in 2004, and then suspended for a subsequent game against the University of Pittsburgh. Rich Rodriguez, head coach of WVU at the time, referred to Henry as “an embarrassment to himself and the program.”

Once Henry was drafted by the Bengals in the third round of the ’05 Draft, his life and career continued down basically the same current. The final stats for his sporadic five-year career leave Henry with 119 receptions, 1,826 yards, 21 touchdowns, and a very nice average of 15.3 yards per catch, all in only 55 games played. That’s not too shabby, especially considering he was usually the third or fourth receiver on the depth chart and missed 14 career games due to suspension, as well as a few others to injury. The bad part is that all of those suspensions stem from an inconceivable five arrests in only 28 months, as well as a few other skirmishes with the law (giving him another impressive average, albeit for the wrong reasons). He was busted on charges of marijuana possession, concealment and aggravated assault with a firearm, providing alcohol to minors, criminal damage, and driving under the influence, all in a little over two years time. He also allegedly assaulted a valet attendant for refusing to pay the valet fee, and when he was arrested for waiving his gun at a police officer, reports said he was wearing HIS OWN #15 Bengals jersey at the time. Following that fifth arrest in April of 2008 – in which Henry was alleged to have punched a man who owed him money and broken his car window with a beer bottle – the Bengals cut Henry from the team, finally fed up with his antics.

But eventually it came out that Henry’s last arrest was a case of mistaken identity, and that it was a friend of Henry’s who had actually assaulted the man, but didn’t admit it until the investigation was under way. This coincided with the Bengals entering their ’08 Training Camp banged up at the receiver position. Throw in the fact that Bengals owner Mike Brown is notorious for giving players second chances (and more), and Henry was back on the Bengals roster by August, about four months since being cut loose. Everyone in Cincinnati (including head coach Marvin Lewis) and around the NFL thought Brown was crazy for bringing Henry back. But Brown proved to be smarter than we thought.

The truth is, Chris Henry wasn’t actually a bad guy. He was well liked in the locker room. He was kind and soft-spoken. He had simply fallen prey to the fact that young kids, who become rich and famous at a young age, often have trouble with the transition. Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty put it best when he wrote, “Chris Henry could run 40 yards in 4.3 seconds. Problem was, trouble ran a 4.2.” But after receiving that second chance from Mike Brown and the Bengals, Henry put his life back on the right track. He figured out who his “true friends” were. He settled down with his girlfriend and future fiancé, who he also had three young children with. He became smarter, wiser even. He became a better teammate, a better father, and a better friend. He simply became a better man. His fellow teammate Bobbie Williams said that “(Chris) had made the changes he needed to make.” It felt like Henry’s troubles were behind him.

The problem was, “Slim” (Henry’s nickname) described not only his tall and slender physique, but also his chances of staying on the field. Whether it was suspensions or injuries, Henry always seemed to miss as many games as he played in. This time, it was the arm injury that put Henry on IR and cut his 2009 season in half. That’s why Henry was in Charlotte on a Wednesday in the middle of Week 15, instead of in Cincinnati practicing with the team. And that’s why, instead of catching passes and watching film, he was instead arguing with his fiancé – an argument that eventually led to his death. When you think of it that way, it leaves you wondering.

But even with everything that occurred, you can’t play the “what if” game with Henry and his tragic passing. Sure, it’s easy to say, “What if Chris hadn’t broken his arm? What if he was in Cincinnati, practicing with the team and getting ready for that week’s game?”. But once you start the “what if” game, you could simply ask things like, “What if the Bengals never re-signed him? Would he already be dead? In jail? Living a steady and successful life away from the NFL?”. You could even ask things like, “What if the Bengals had never drafted him to begin with?”. The “what if” game is just too broad in this scenario. It’s irrelevant. Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco mentioned this week how his grandma always says, “You never really question the man upstairs on a decision he makes because he never makes mistakes.” Well, Chad’s grandma is right. God has a plan. God doesn’t play the “what if” game, so we shouldn’t either. The real question, instead, should be “What now?”.

As I mentioned before, Chris Henry’s death is one of those situations in which sports takes us to a place that is actually beyond sports. This was no longer about a game. This was about life and death. You have to feel for a young man that had tried so desperately to turn his life around. You have to feel for a young man that had all the potential in the world; a young man, that, until a few days ago, had a future which was incredibly bright. You have to pray for the family that he left behind. His immediate family lived with Henry in Cincinnati ever since their home was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. He had a young fiancé that had stood by him in all of his troubles, and who he was planning to marry in March. He had three young kids, all of which now are forced to grow up without their father. Football seems so secondary after an event like this. And yet, in many ways, it isn’t.

Because Henry was an NFL player, his death was big news around the country, especially in Cincinnati. And while football may appear to be so trivial after a tragedy like this, it has to be brought into the situation. You see, football, to the men and coaches of the Cincinnati Bengals (and every other team around the league) is more than just a game; it is their profession. The Bengals organization lost a teammate, a co-worker, a friend, and a brother when Henry died. As I mentioned before, Henry was well liked in the Bengals locker room. Many of the players and coaches were close to him and his family. Now they are forced to continue their lives without him. Just as anyone else in the world is forced to continue living their lives when they lose a loved one, the Bengals must do the same. People still have to go back to their jobs and responsibilities, whether they lose a co-worker, a friend, or a family member. Unfortunately, the rules don’t change when something like this happens. And while football might just seem like a stupid game at the moment, it truly is much more than that. For the members of the Cincinnati Bengals, it is their career, something they work hard at and have worked for years to be a part of. In this situation, they are not unlike any of the rest of us that have lost someone we knew and loved. And just like the rest of us, they have to find a way to move forward.

It would be nice if this Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers were postponed. It would be nice if the NFL could honor Henry and sympathize with the Bengals by giving them some time off to grieve this loss. Despite Henry not being on the active roster at the time of his death, it doesn’t take away from the shock and the pain that his friends and teammates are having to deal with. It would be nice if they had an opportunity to get away from the game of football and get through this rough time. Nevertheless, they can’t. The NFL is a business. We are just weeks away from the NFL Playoffs, something which both the Chargers and the Bengals will play a prominent role in. In the same way that any other business can’t stop for tragedy, the NFL can’t stop either. If a waiter dies, the restaurant doesn’t shut down. If the President of the United States dies, the country doesn’t stop functioning. If a teacher dies, the students don’t stop going to class. And if an NFL player dies, the league can’t just stop everything. It is sad and cold, but it is simply the truth. The world isn’t a perfect place.

Through all of this, the Bengals still have a job to do. They still have to go out and perform to the best of their abilities. They still have to win games. This Sunday’s match-up against the Chargers has huge implications for how both teams will be seeded in the playoffs, and that is something the Bengals will have to deal with. And while I am as guilty as anyone for taking sports a little too seriously, at the end day, it still is a job to those people. Playing professional football is not an easy accomplishment. The players in the league have dedicated their lives and talents to make it to that level. Maybe they are glorified too much and paid too much, but that is not the issue here. The issue is that they strive to play well, to win games, to make the playoffs, and to win Super Bowls. It is how they measure success. It is how they exceed at their jobs, just like everyone else wants to exceed at their own job. The fact that they are rich, professional athletes doesn’t make Chris Henry’s death any easier on them. The pain isn’t any easier to bear. The situation isn’t any easier to get through. They are still human. And, whether they want to or not, they still have to continue moving forward.

It is hard to predict how this Bengals team will react to the tragedy. They have already dealt with tragedy this year, after defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer’s wife died earlier in the season. They responded well then, but can they do it again? Can they rebound from losing a teammate? Any Bengals fan could tell you that this team is better suited to deal with adversary than any other Bengals team of the past 20 years. But adversary in the NFL usually means penalty yards, injuries, and tough opponents – not death. To be honest, no team…or organization…or person is suited to deal with death. It is one of life’s few guaranteed passages, but that doesn’t make it any easier to stomach. The team could respond with inspired play for their fallen brother. They could take care of business and go into the playoffs with a heavy heart and a head of steam. They could find a way to channel their grief and sadness into desire and success. They could rebound from the heartbreak as quickly as it occurred. Or, they could completely collapse, deflated from the pain and sorrow that Henry’s death has brought them. Could you blame them if they did? Of course not. But either way, life – and football – will have to go on.

As you can most likely infer, I am a big fan of the Cincinnati Bengals. I have an obvious interest in how the team will respond to this situation. Seeing as how the team has played in only one playoff game in my lifetime, I have been very excited by the season so far, anxious to see my team secure a spot in the post-season and possibly make a run at the championship. And a couple days ago, my biggest concern was how the team would fare against San Diego, if the passing game would get its act together, and who we would be facing in the playoffs. But because I am a fan, I also have an obvious sorrow over Chris Henry’s passing. And something like that really makes you stop and think. The Chargers, the passing game, and the playoffs seem a lot less important when someone’s life is so tragically cut short. The game almost seems minimal. You are forced to ask yourself, “Are sports really that important?” Well, no, they aren’t. BUT, they still are important.

Chris Henry dedicated his whole life to the game of football. Chris Henry loved the game of football. Chris Henry wanted so badly to see the Bengals succeed (whether he was on the field or not) because that’s what he had committed his livelihood and profession to. His death was a terrible, terrible tragedy. I cannot imagine the heartache that his loved ones are now forced to go through. But Chris Henry would not want the world to stop on account of him. He wouldn’t want the Bengals to stop on account of him. Trust me. He would want them to keep pushing forward, to keep striving for success, to honor him by playing the game he loved. Henry died much too soon, in a far too tragic way. His death is so much bigger than the game of football. And yet, that doesn’t mean the game is immune to it. Quite the contrary. In all honesty, his teammates and organization are caught right in the middle of it, right in the eye of the storm. They are forced to pick themselves up and go on without him.

Some things are beyond sports. Sadly, this is not one of them.




RIP, Slim. Thanks for reading

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

When Dave Met Jack

In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth. And a little bit after that, God created rivalries.

Since the beginning of time, our world has been subjected to rivalries of every different kind, with one side pitted against the other. Even the Lord himself, "Big Guns Upstairs", is in a constant battle with Satan. It never ends. It is one of the unique aspects of this planet, this universe, and simply life in general. Regardless of time, location, or population, there has always been struggles between two sides, competition between two adversaries, and comparisons between two entities. Rivalries are as old as the stars.

Some rivalries stretch back to the beginning of mankind (Cain vs Abel). Some set the table for the make-up of early civilizations (Gengis Kahn vs Asia). Some shaped the structure of the modern Western World (USA vs Soviet Union). And even some are unfolding today, right in front of our very own eyes (Tiger Woods vs Us Weekly).

Rivalries can be legendary (Caesar vs Brutus), fictional (Captain Ahab vs Moby Dick), or completely authentic and so, so, super-duper real (LC vs Heidi). They can be epic (Ali vs Frazier) and they can be lopsided (Britney Spears vs Common Sense). They can be incredibly lame (‘N Sync vs Backstreet Boys) or they can transcend time (Good vs Evil).

Rivalries can leave you smiling (Jessica Biel vs Jessica Alba) and heartbroken (Lennon vs McCartney). They can be in good taste (Larry Bird vs Magic Johnson) and they can end violently (Biggie vs Tupac). And every now and then, rivalries can be great (Seinfeld vs Newman).

But even with all the rivalries that have come and gone and that are shoved upon us in this day and age, one has seemingly gone unnoticed. Despite similarities between the two sides and an abundance of common interests, it has simply been averted. For whatever reason, one match-up in the music world has never been given the justice it truly deserves: Dave Grohl vs Jack White.

Let me be honest up front. I have no idea what the relationship is between Grohl and White. For all I know, they could be best friends, or they could hate each others’ guts. Maybe they just had a man-hug once at an MTV Music Awards after-party or something. The point is, I don’t have a clue. But for me, that is not what this rivalry is about. Instead, it’s about two talented and accomplished musicians that have grown-up in the same time period and the same profession with stunningly similar credentials and track records, and yet, have never really been compared. It’s about two artists who seem to be in some secret competition of who can perform with and start the most bands. This rivalry is about the progression of two of the greatest musicians of their respective generation.

Dave Grohl broke on to the popular music scene as the drummer for Nirvana on their cosmic-altering album, Nevermind, and is probably better known today as the front-man for the Foo Fighters. Jack White, on the other hand, rose to fame as the leader of The White Stripes. But that snapshot does not even begin to do justice to the careers of each of these men.

Grohl first got into music at the age of 12 when he basically taught himself to play guitar. Once he began playing in different bands during high school, he taught himself to play drums by using pillows, because his house was too small to be banging on a drum set. He dropped out of high school as a junior at the age of 17 to join a band called Scream as their lead drummer. During one of Scream’s concerts in 1990, a member of the Melvins (a band Grohl had befriended) brought his friends Krist Novoselic and Kurt Cobain to see the band. Months later, when Scream broke up, Grohl joined Novoselic and Cobain as the main drummer for their band, Nirvana, and the rest, as they say, is history. Replacing Nirvana’s drummer from their first album, Grohl became part of a band that would take the music world by storm less than two years later.

The widely known impact of Nirvana on grunge music, and really music in general, had an obvious affect on Grohl’s career. He was the drummer of the hottest band on the planet, and would eventually play a bigger role on the songwriting and direction of the band during the recording of their In Utero album and spot on MTV Unplugged. In fact, Dave was really coming into his musical prime at the time of Kurt Cobain’s shocking death in April of 1994. With the fate of Nirvana sealed, Grohl ventured into the next phase of his life. He recorded a demo of his solo works, singing every note and playing every instrument, save for one guitar part of one song. He also began playing for other bands, including a stint as the drummer for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Petty even offered Grohl the position as the band’s main drummer, but Grohl turned it down. Dave also played with Pearl Jam and was considered for the position of their drummer, but he felt that his future lay elsewhere.

Around this time, he began receiving interest in his demo, and decided to form a new band, known as the Foo Fighters. After releasing his solo album as the band’s first record, the Foo Fighters released The Colour and the Shape, an album that put them on the scene as a major rock band. The Foo Fighters have since gone on to have insane success with Grohl serving as the primary songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist. To date, five of their six studio albums have gone platinum, with their most recent likely to reach that level at some point in the future. So essentially, Grohl turned down Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers AND Pearl Jam, but still went on to form a platinum selling rock band. This would be like someone turning down dates with Jennifer Anniston and Sandra Bullock, only to end up dating Hayden Panettiere just as she was rising to fame. Yeah, that seems fair.

Jack White walked a similar line. He jumped into the role of musician even faster than Grohl, playing drums at age five. He later learned guitar before shirking school and entering into an upholstery apprenticeship at the age of 15. After running his own furniture business for a few years, White (known as Jack Gillis at the time) landed a spot as drummer for Goober & the Peas (great name), and began playing with other local bands in Detroit, Michigan as well. But White’s accent to music fame really began in 1997 when he formed The White Stripes with then wife and current ex-wife Meg White (they’re not siblings, I promise). When Jack married Meg in 1996, he took her last name, mainly because he’s just a weird dude. Despite getting divorced in 2000, Jack has since kept the last name of White, even after getting re-married and having children. The White Stripes survived the couple’s divorce, and the two remain best friends, often presenting themselves as brother and sister.

The White Stripes found commercial success in 2002 with White Blood Cells before really hitting it big the next year with Elephant. In total, The White Stripes have two platinum albums, and a third that could hit platinum in the future. But despite being a member of a platinum selling band, White apparently felt that he still had too much free time on his hands. He formed The Racounters in 2005, serving as lead songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist, while also playing keyboards and stylophone. The band started out touring with and opening for Bob Dylan (AKA – The Greatest American Hero) before releasing their first album, Broken Boy Soldiers, in 2006. The record hit #7 on US Billboard Charts and was nominated for a Grammy as Best Rock Album. The band’s second release, Consolers of the Lonely, also hit #7 on the US charts in 2008.

But even with all the success that Grohl and White had in each of their first two major bands, it didn’t seem to be enough for either of them. To be honest, complacency and patience are not virtues that these two men hold strong to. They’ve each started new bands within the past year, the third major group for each. White formed The Dead Weather in early 2009, and the band released their first album, Horehound, in July, with the record hitting #6 on US charts. Grohl has recently teamed up with Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin to form the supergroup Them Crooked Vultures, with their self-titled album reaching #12 on US charts after its mid-November release. Each man has strayed from their position as front-man and lead vocalist, with Grohl back at drums for the Vultures and White playing both drums and guitar for the Weather. But even with three major bands a piece, Grohl and White can’t seem to stop the music. In fact, the two have been with more bands than the girls from Rock of Love.

Grohl, aside from his early stints with Tom Petty and Pearl Jam, has worked with Queens of the Stone Age, Nine Inch Nails, Tenacious D (he played drums on their first album), Queen, Mike Watt, Garbage, and the great Paul McCartney. Grohl even achieved one of the oddest accomplishments in all of music history (from October of ’02 to March of ’03) when he appeared in the #1 spot on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart (singles) for 17 of 18 straight weeks…with three different bands. Grohl replaced himself when the Foo Fighters “All My Life” replaced Nirvana’s “You Know You’re Right” (late release, band’s last recording) at the top of the charts, and then replaced himself again when “No One Knows” by Queens of the Stone Age (Grohl played drums on the song) pushed the Foo Fighters from the #1 position. Did you follow all of that?

Not to be outdone, White has stood toe to toe with music royalty, collaborating with The Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck, Loretta Lynn, Alicia Keys, and Bob Dylan. White also starred in the documentary “It Might Get Loud” alongside Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Paige and U2’s The Edge, with the three discussing electric guitar and their unique approaches to playing it. Now, anyone over 45 might think that having Jack White discuss playing guitar with Paige and The Edge would be like me discussing great writing with Shakespeare and Hemingway, but they’d be wrong. White’s inclusion in the piece is really a testament to the skill and respect that the man has in the musical world. Rolling Stone ranked White #17 on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists, ahead of legends like George Harrison, The Edge, Buddy Guy, Bo Diddley, Pete Townshend, and Eddie Van Halen. For what it’s worth, I count him as one of the two best guitarists of his generation, along with John Mayer. And, for what it’s worth, I think White is a lot less whiny.

The point is, it’s incredible the musical talent, range, and respect that Dave Grohl and Jack White have. Do you think Tom Petty would just let anybody into the Heartbreakers? Do you think The Edge and Jimmy Paige would even sit in the same room with White if they didn’t think he was on their level? The two artists each have Top-10 albums while playing prominent roles in three major bands a piece. They have also collaborated with or played a role in a combination of these historic bands and artists: The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, U2, Pearl Jam, Queen, Nirvana, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Paul McCartney, and Bob Dylan. Talk about “Murder’s Row.” If you didn’t know before, it should be pretty obvious to you now that the proof of Grohl and White’s music credentials are certainly in the pudding.

And yet, despite their unique ability to write and sing songs, produce music, play numerous instruments, work with the greatest musicians of our time, and form a successful band as easily as making a fruit salad, I feel they don’t receive the recognition they deserve. Despite having deep and obvious impact on the world of rock music, they aren’t spoken of enough in the same breath as the great musicians they have worked and performed with. And despite being only 40 (Grohl) and 34 (White), the two men have been able to accomplish more than you can shake a stick at. Plus, if men like Dylan, McCartney, and Paige have proven anything, it’s that great musicians age better than the rest of us, and Grohl and White seem primed to follow that path.

But what’s most surprising, out of anything they have accomplished separately, is that they have never been considered a great rivalry. Why hasn’t this been brought up before? Their talents are basically the same. Their abilities to get around (musically, of course) are basically the same. Their range as musicians are more or less the same…so why not make them a rivalry? They play very similar genres of music, walk in the same circles of musicians, and have experienced oddly similar paths to success, so to me the comparison makes perfect sense. The Yankees have the Red Sox. Leno has Letterman. Robert Pattison has Taylor Lautner. And Jack White has Dave Grohl.

To be honest, I can’t exactly say who is more accomplished or which of the two is the better musician. They stack up too well against each other. To me, it’s essentially impossible to tell who wins this rivalry. And really, that’s the best part about it.



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