Monday, July 18, 2011


Matt Rickett no longer writes at this address!

Instead, you can find him and his musings at

It's a clean, well-lit, website that looks better and keeps up better analytics than this hunk a junk.

I'm sorry, Google. I love you, but it's just time to move on.

See you there, thanks for understanding, and I hope you enjoy!

-- Matt

Thursday, July 14, 2011

In Defense of Film School

When I was a kid – like six or seven – my grandfather, Byron, a retired police officer, would take me to the movies after school. Kid movies, like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and D2: The Mighty Ducks. On our way we would play a game where I would come up with an assortment of exotic, severely misplaced, animals that would, somehow, find their way into the middle of busy Maine roads and he would swerve to avoid them.

“Look out for the hippopotamus!” I would exclaim.

And he would swerve accordingly. This was great fun. I was a weird kid.

One day he got pulled over. The cop assuming, at first, that he was drunk. But this cop soon realized that my grandfather was only under the influence of his eccentric, imaginative, grandson during one of our favorite outings. The cop let us go.

It’s these expeditions and memories that created the love that I have for movies.

Then I got older and he stopped taking me to kids' movies – looking back, I can’t believe he was capable of achieving the patience required for a sixty year old man to sit through Ace Ventura – and I started watching more films on my own. A lot of them. I watched Jurassic Park so much I wore out the VHS tape within months.

Never had to avoid this one ...
If I wasn’t watching movies I either had my nose buried in a book, or attempted to play sports. I actually used to read at sporting events, paying no attention to the action on the field, diamond, or basketball court. I was more obsessed with the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, Harry Potter, or any sort of epic fiction involving sword wielding mice and indecipherable moles. 

Clearly, since an early age, I loved movies and writing. Naturally, the combination of the two in a form that operates in a bizarre-o world of rules and efficiency known as screenwriting just rocked my socks.

It still does and I still write.

I didn’t stumble upon this epiphany until my freshman year of college, when I watched a shitty movie called The Holiday (the one with Jack Black and Cameron Diaz). For some reason the all too charming character of Arthur Abbot (Eli Wallach) made me realize that screenwriting is for me and I promptly declared myself a film major. 

Knowing my goals and intentions early on, I didn’t spend much time in Production classes, but I did them. I held lights, looked at lenses, made weird Dutch Angles, awkwardly acted, and awkwardly put my friends in front of the camera, making them argue about things as if they were saying something important when they were just yelling gibberish.

I spent four hours a day, twice a week, analyzing the videos of Hitchcock, Scorsese, the Coppolas, and the most profane films Europe has to offer. I spent hours a week writing and revising scripts like a man on a mission (still am). I had an internship, where I learned firsthand about contracts, negotiations, and the loss of innocence when you sell your first script and watch it go nowhere (here it is in a brilliant, storyboarded trailer). Among other things I learned how to write, watch, listen, and that Europeans have a ridiculously artistic obsession with sex.

And, unless I find my way into this inexplicable, chaotic, monstrosity, known as the Film Industry, none of those lessons have any apparent value in the inexplicable, chaotic, monstrosity, known as the Real World.

Or am I wrong?

My reflection of my time in film school started as early as graduation, but after this article came out from the New York Times, and then this one from IndieWire, and then this one from Gawker, I started to ramp up the reflective analysis of a major part of my life. What did I really learn? Will I ever benefit from this? Will I ever find my way into this mess of an industry?

I came to realize that there are certain things to be said about being a film major, or having graduated from film school …


When you read a script a week, every book on screenwriting there is (which, by the way, are complete and utter bullshit), and then write as much as you possibly can on a strict schedule, you tend to get a little decent at it. At least. But, it’s having this high level of written communication that’s essential in life, not just in writing movies about cowboys and aliens or talking beaver puppets and angsty teenage wizards.

Stephen King – whose book On Writing is not complete and utter bullshit – came into my high school and spoke to my creative writing class. I only remember two things he said:

1.     “I’m a car slut.”
2.     “The people who can read and write will rule the world.”

The power of written communication is infinite. Should we, God forbid, fall into another Dark Ages and lose all written language – those who either develop or still possess the skill will be the ones with the power.

All too happy ...
Although film school may not seem like the logical way for me to become competent in the written word, it still happened. And even if you don’t want to be a lowly screenwriter, the film studies classes that require you to write ten thousand word essays on the use of the color green in Vertigo will surely get your chops up when it comes to communicating complex thoughts in a clear and concise manner.


If you can sit down and thoroughly analyze every second of Inception and its overall meaning to Cobb’s character arc and then comment on all the major British Cinema influences that Christopher Nolan draws from … then you can surely analyze a spread sheet.

A professor once explained the double bottleneck effect of movies to me:

The writer creates a world that is epic, sprawling, complicated, and spans life times, then finds a way – hopefully a good one – to put it all into two hours (the bottleneck). It is then the audiences job, whether they know it or not, to take all the information behind that bottleneck and understand all of it (the other bottle).

If I were to have a fancy diagram, it would look like an hour glass.

Film is a two way street of presentation and analysis that is constantly happening as the movie goes on. The average moviegoer does this on the level of topical character and exposition developments. The basics. As a film major, you are able to dissect the relationships between camera movements, lighting, thematic lines of dialogue, musical score, mise-en-scene, costume and wardrobe, and acting. That’s an overwhelming number of variables to take into very serious consideration all at once. Hence why in order to completely understand a film it takes multiple viewings. But at the same time, are their any other mediums that require the complete analysis of that many variables, all of which have a life of their own?

Not that I know of.

Well maybe architecture. But that’s a whole other post.

The point is, that if you apply that level of cognitive energy to anything else, you will be able to slice through it in no time. There are very little creations out there that are as complex and multifaceted as movies are and, as a film major, you need to have the ability to analyze their relationship with each other. That makes sitting an office and analyzing spreadsheets and market trends seem kind of easy. Almost a little too easy.


“Film is a collaborative medium. Now, bend over,” said the Producer to the Writer. Or the Director to the Writer. Or the Actor to the Writer. Or just about anybody to the Writer. But we’re not going there.

Film is a collaborative effort. A very collaborative one. The director does not do everything – for those who don’t know. They don’t really operate the cameras, they don’t set up all the lights, they don’t do all the budgeting, nor make sure the catering gets there on time, or that the film gets developed on time. Sure, some might do the cinematography or editing or the score and then cross over into producing with budgets and what not. Those are either the multi-talented auteurists who want complete control over the entire project or they may just have a tiny budget and have to do it themselves -- which makes them that much better at filmmaking. 

But, for the most part, the amount of manpower that goes into creating a feature film is incredible. Next time – you non-film majors – are at a movie theater, take the time to sit and watch all the credits roll by. Pay respect to all who worked on this film you just spent ten dollars on. You’ll get an overwhelming understanding of how much is required to make these films that you so easily discard as being “shit” or “dumb” or “not worth ten bucks”.

The best example of this I’ve seen is from Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Probably one of the best movies I’ve seen in the past few years, this highly underrated animated film has an interesting take on its opening credits.

Most opening credits feature a title card that goes “A Film by This Egocentric Artist” italicized so you pay attention to him and all the bullshit he thinks is important. But, Cloudy simply has “A Film by A Lot of People”. And that’s just brilliant.

  1. Its informality fits the tone of the film.
  2. Its casual intellectuality fits the tone of the film.
It simply abuts the idea that this was a film created by one man and instead gives credit to the fact that a film is a product made by hundreds of people.

You mean the director doesn't take "film by" credit? What?
There’s a book by Joe Eszterhas called the Devil’s Guide to Hollywood where he talks about how amazing it is to know that this one little bull shit, fairy tale, story I wrote in my underwear in my living room has created two months worth of jobs for over a hundred people. All of which are working their asses of to make my tiny, little vision, as the writer, come to fruition.

Film is as collaborative as any team sport out there. Trust me, I struggled through all of them.


You are creative, you film major.  Nobody can deny that from you. And, more importantly, no one can take that away from you. Ever. It’s something you were born with that not everyone has. You, for some God given reason, have an incredible imagination.

You’re training as a film student has helped you take this imagination – this weird thought or vision in your head – and turn it into something tangible. Be it a camera angle, a score, a script, a lighting scheme. As a film major, you know how to reach into your mind and turn something as milky, half-baked, and ridiculous as your imagination into something clear, formulated, and understandable. This can be applied to anything.

In fact, this is what the business world calls innovation.

Look at every start up, or IPO, or CEO that champions innovation. All they’re saying is that some guy had an idea (like you! You get those all the time!), turned it into action, and then found a way to monetize it.

Kind of like my friend Max, who started his own production company where he does freelance digital video work. Or Matt Sweeting, who gave me my first writing job for his fledgling production company. Or Kevin Smith, who made a silly little movie about a general store clerk and became a rich and famous director of amazing films. Or any of these Kickstarter projects …

Being creative – due to our sad and pathetic educational system – is a rarity these days. And, those of us who actually are get looked at rather curiously by everyone else.

“Like, oh my God, it’s so cool how you, like, think about yourself and stuff,” says the blonde sorority girl from New Jersey.

“Dude, you’re so weird. How do you come up with this shit?” asks the Jewish frat boy from Long Island.

They’re kind of jealous. Even if they don’t know it.

Which brings us to another Pro of being a film major …

Being An Expert

Movies are a major part of American culture. Huge. Enormous. Studies show that more people go to movies during “hard times” than any other form of entertainment. This has deep, very complicated, psychological rooting (escapism, fantasies, cultural identity, etc …) but, the point is that films – since their birth – have been a point of cultural fascination and always will be.

And, being a film major, you are an expert on the most popular commodity in our country.

The amount of influence that films have, the amount of money that people are willing to spend, and the amount of emotion we invest in our favorite actors, actresses, directors, and characters is ridiculous. Being film majors, we understand this phenomenon on a much higher scale; a much clearer plane of cognition.

Forgive me for perpetuating the hoity-toity, I'm-smarter-than-you, film kid stereotype … but it’s true. We understand movies better than they do.


Such an ugly word for the masses that encourage producers to spend millions on movies like Fool’s Gold or pretty much anything Matthew McConaughey’s been in by actually buying tickets. We know better than they.

We know what to and not to encourage. What films will make you a better person and what ones just simply stimulate brain activity. And this, like creativity, will last us our entire lives. One can hardly even imagine the shear wonder, excitement, and curiosity that Einstein must have felt when he looked at -- what once was -- a pristine New Jersey night sky. Every time we film majors see a trailer, major block buster, or next brilliantly fashioned film, those synaptic connections we've so deeply entrained will spark up and we won't be able to help but marvel at the brilliant way J.J. Abrams uses diegetic sound to create tension in the Super 8 gas station scene -- something they probably missed. 

But, like everything, there are both pros and cons.


That’s mostly a stigma perpetuated by everyone else then reperpetuated by the disheartened graduates who hear it so often they actually believe it.

This narrow minded belief that if you studied film in college that’s all you can do should be dead. The same applies to those who studied business or art history. For some reason our culture is obsessed with categorizing everyone based on their curriculum veritae, and don’t seem to understand that almost all institutions of higher learning are moving towards a liberal arts foundation. That means there is no more specialization in the sphere of higher ed – or at least that’s the plan.

In this Day and Age, nearly all Millenials graduating college now should be entering the real world with the belief that they are, at least a little, creative, technologically savvy, hard working, quick learners, with great social skills. But that’s just a should, not an is.

Truth be told, most kids graduating now are lazy, dispassionate, and uninspired. Spending more time on Facebook and Twitter than trying to develop contacts to get a foot in the door, or creating a personal brand to make a name for themselves. That’s kind of sad and also off topic.

Point is, as stated before, film majors are capable of much more than just “film stuff”. We are a deeply creative, intellectual, hard working, analytical, and communicative group of people who are rather ambitious. Film stuff is only the beginning of our potential. 


Yes, there are way too many kids in film school that take themselves too seriously. That is a fact.

But that happens everywhere.

Just look at the kids in business school who show up to class with brief cases and sit in front. Or any Fine/Visual Arts majors. Or the Art History kids who use fake British accents and act like they have Avian Bone Syndrome. Or the History majors who will argue about everything to prove their belief that they are authorities on the state of the world because they read five books on Woodrow Wilson’s shitting habits during World War I.

Egocentrism is not centralized in film school. It’s universal. But, one thing you learn in film school is that all they need – those James Camerons – are people who can quietly, and confidently, step their game up and show those fools how it's really done.


Although there is an epidemic in Film School this is, again, a universal problem. But, if you donate five cents a day to 1-800-NO-HIPSTERS you can help alleviate this socially awkward disaster and teach an ever expanding group of kids how to …

  1. Put their money where there mouth is.
  2. Dress properly.
  3. Contribute to Society.
  4. Effectively argue about artistic issues without sounding like a dick.  

When it comes down to it, the vast majority of people who graduate from college never go into the field they studied. If every history major went into history there would be too many high school history teachers awkwardly hitting on cheerleaders. If every film major went into film, unemployment would surely sky rocket to an embarrassing level (if that hasn't already been reached ... ). Just like an overpopulation of a single species can seriously damage an ecosystem, if everyone did what they majored in life would be way too overloaded and boring. Cross pollination is a great thing for flowers, bees, and human ideas. 

What you really need to do is focus on making the best of the opportunities that you have here and now. Life is going to take you on weird paths, and if you make the most of them by using the skills you’ve acquired through time spent studying what you love, then you'll start to see things fall into place. Maybe they won’t be in Hollywood – that elusive, mythical, land of wine and Dionysian orgies – but you’ll start to see something is happening, that so long as you keep giving it everything you got you’re going to get somewhere and you will be happy. That takes faith, commitment, and determination. Things that will never ever be taught in any classroom. 

So, in final remarks, being a film major is by no means a guaranteed job in the Film Industry. But it is a guaranteed way to spend the four most important years of your life studying something you deeply love and a great way to obtain universal skills that can be applied to anywhere to be good at anything.

And that’s priceless.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Generational Gaps: Why LeBron James Will Never Be Jordan

Grantland, a sports-writing website sponsored by ESPN and ran by Bill Simmons, is quickly becoming a major voice on the Internet -- or at least my Internet.

It's popularity makes sense, featured columnists and editors are some of today's literary giants (Eggers, Klosterman, and Gladwell) as well as ESPN's best -- Bill Simmons.

One of my favorite parts of the website is the great coverage and analysis of everything LeBron James. This is especially prominent considering what happened the other night (if you don't know what happened then there's a wealth of Internet you haven't explored and TV you haven't watched).

Here are just some of the articles ...

All the writers at Grantland do a brilliant job analyzing and communicating the cultural impact that LeBron James has -- and why we have such an incessant need to pay attention to him -- but one thing I think they fail to mention is the important generational difference that LeBron has become a victim of (don't get me wrong, I'm a Boston guy. I hate the man's guts. But it's unfortunately true.)

In the era of Bird, Magic, Thomas, etc ... big time players were drafted to teams and stayed on those teams. The franchise was built around them and, after five years of hard work and growth, they became a championship caliber team and legendary, well respected players. From everyone.

That phase of pro ball ended -- popularly -- with Jordan. Most major stars after Jordan have played on at least two teams in their career. Just look at the past five years of major trades

-Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett
-LeBron and Bosh
-Melo and Stoudemire
-Steve Nash
-Shaq (extra emphasis for the most teams)

Pierce and Kobe are the obvious exemptions to this trend.

Long story short, there's no more loyalty --  from both players and administration.

Stars have become bigger than the teams they're on and winning championships has been more about individual legacy than the fact that the Lakers and Celtics have won almost every championship between 1980 and 1990. It's about my legacy, not the club's.

Yes, it was always Jordan and the Bulls, Magic and the Lakers, Bird and the Celtics, but they were all around long enough -- and struggled long enough -- that they were able to develop a very, very good supporting cast of role players. In fact, pretty much every major star from the 1980s to mid '90s played with another Hall of Famer for an extended period of time without ever leaving their original team. That doesn't happen anymore.

So, yes, the fine writers at Grantland have done a great job analyzing why we dole massive amounts of attention to the Man We Love to Hate (or, He Who Must Not Be Named). But, most of other pundits have spent the past month or so thinking of ways that LeBron is like Jordan.

But he's not. He's completely different.

Jordan was a mature, battle-hardened, work horse (and a cocky dick) who became a symbol of a team, city, and a generation. All by earning himself a championship -- not by whoring his "talents" to the highest bidder to get on the fast track to the championships because, God forbid, LeBron isn't a NBA champion by at least seven years out of high school.

(By the time Jordan had been seven years out of high school he had:
1. Won an NCAA Championship and earned nearly every college basketball award available.
2. Got drafted a year early.
3. Went back and got his degree from UNC Chapel Hill in cultural geography.
4. Set a still unbroken record for points in a single play off game of 63 and still lost the series to Bird and the Celtics [after missing 64 games from a BROKEN FOOT]
5. Scored 3,000 points in a season with 200 steals and 100 blocks
6. FINALLY, after being in the league for four years, made it out of the FIRST ROUND of the play offs by beating -- lo and behold -- the Cleveland Cavaliers.)

But, given the recent history of transactions and geographical displacement of talent, can you blame LeBron for just being contemporary?

Calling out LeBron for his pre-season fiasco is one thing, but blaming his decision is completely different. That's like calling out your dad for giving up writing letters by hand to using e-mail. He's just getting with the times.

That's what LeBron did. This doesn't just apply to the NBA, but to every major sport. Baseball is the worst of all -- you might as well be a Nomad than a pro baseball player -- but football (Terrel Owens, Randy Moss) and hockey are no different either.

We're in an era where our beloved stars aren't taken care of nearly as much as previous generations. And, because of that, they need to take care of themselves. Do you think Shaq's career would have had the longevity if he hadn't bounced around the country looking for a team to take him in? No.

The times aren't-a-changing anymore, they already have. Sure, LeBron may have pulled the cockiest, most immature, move in sports history by handling his career the way he has, but for simply leaving his hometown is something we can not fault him for.

We seem to forget that he grew up right outside of Cleveland. Can you imagine being of that stature, ambition, potential, and God-given talent and living in your hometown for twenty five years? I would want to leave, too. There's a whole world out there and it's unfair to cage a bird as bright he in a city as dark and dirty as Cleveland.

Long point short is that LeBron can never be compared to Jordan -- as far as legacy is concerned -- because the era that LeBron is playing in is vastly different than when Jordan played.

When Jordan left a void was created (like a bad break up) and during that void the NBA -- and us -- needed to change so we could move on (like a bad break up). This is the change we've created. This is the current state of affairs, where what used to be common practice is now a rarity.

I hate LeBron as much as the next Bostonian, but let's put this cultural debacle into perspective here -- he's just a kid. He's twenty-five and has had more pressure and expectations thrown upon him than most ever will in their lifetime. He's allowed to fuck up.

So, LeBron, I'm sorry for those nasty Tweets I mentioned you in during the playoffs. I realize now that I, like everyone else, got caught up in the disappointment that you are not what I hoped you could have been. You are something different. It was unfair of me for projecting this nostalgic fantasy upon you that maybe -- just maybe -- there might be some unifying player out there that can revolutionize a failing city and bring a Nation together (whether for or against) like what someone else who wore number twenty three did. I realize now that was asking too much.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Avett Brothers vs. Mumford & Sons

Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers. They're seemingly the same -- folk bands that weave influences of rock, punk, and the blues. They use the same instruments: guitar, stand up bass, drums, banjo, mandolin, fiddle -- anything you can find at a yardsale in the Smoky Mountains. But are also very different bands. One, an international pop behemoth. The other, a cerebral and dark band atop a massive cult and critical following.

Mumford & Sons outside their antique store.

Whether you know it or not, like them or not, or even care or not, these bands are quickly becoming mainstays in our Cultural Vernacular -- especially after they shared the stage with Bob Dylan at this year's Grammys and with Mumford & Son's debut album sitting pretty on top the Billboard Top 200 for quite some time now. Which one you choose says more than you think it does.

Avett Brothers and pink rabbit mascot.

Mumford & Sons is an energetic, rockish, and catchy Americana/folk band from West London. They're album, Sigh No More, has reached the top of the charts in three different continents (North America, Europe, and Australia). They're relatively new, forming in 2007, they toured for a while, made an EP, and cut a full length album in 2008 (Sigh No More), released it in 2009, and rocked the world with Bob Dylan at the Grammys in 2011. After their performance of "The Cave", social media was abuzz with Mumford & Sons hype, as a great "break out artist". Despite their first single, "Little Lion Man", having been around around the blogosphere since 2008.

The Avett Brothers started out as a rock/punk band called Nemo in North Carolina. (Nemo, besides being a popular, animated clown fish, is Latin for "nobody"). The two brothers, Seth and Scott Avett started an acoustic/folk side project aptly titled The Avett Brothers in 2000. The brothers quickly rose above their rock band associates and garnered a quick -- and southern -- reputation as an incredibly passionate, energetic live band with intelligent and challenging studio albums. A cult following ensued. They started to gain mainstream attention, and critical acclaim, when their song "If It's the Beaches" aired during an episode of Friday Night Lights.

Still the question remains: what's the difference? Or -- more importantly -- why should I care?

“If It’s the Beaches” written by Scott and Seth Avett from Gleam

Don’t say it’s over
Cause that’s the worst news
I cold hear I swear that I will
Do my best to be here
Just the way you like it
Even though it’s hard to hide
Push my feelings all aside
I will rearrange my plans
And change for you

If I could go back
That’s the first thing I would do
I swear that I would
Do my best to follow through
Come up with a master plan
A homerun hit a winning stand
A guarantee and not a promise
That I’d never let your love
Slip from my hands

If it’s the beaches
If it’s the beaches' sands you want
Then you will have them
If it’s the mountains bending rivers
Then you will have them
If it’s a wish to run away
Then I will grant it
Take whatever you think of
While I go gas up the truck
Lock the old love letters up
We will read them when we forgot why we left here

The Avett Brother's specificity is disarming, almost intruding. It’s as if we are invited into a very private conversation that we're familiar with. It’s clearly the story of a man holding on to a relationship – of any sort – by any means. The Avett Brothers have presented us with a protagonist.

The first verse is our protagonist pleading. He’s willing to change, to bend and break and “push his feelings all aside” for this person. He is a man on his knees.

The second verse presents why he’s in this predicament. “If I could go back…” is all we need. There was clearly a point, earlier on, where this man made the mistake of not communicating his love during a time when someone needed it most. Or, even worse, taking the reciprocation for granted. “A guarantee and not a promise/That I’d never let your love/Slip from my hands.”

The last verse ends with a glint of hope, that at some point during this dark journey they embark on they will read their old love letters and realize exactly what brought them together in the first place. Using nostalgia as a glue.

This is an extremely personal song. A song of redemption and love, flaws and mistakes. This song is a story.

Bringing punk rock energy to folk. 

Musically speaking, it’s gorgeous, even chilling. The soft strum of acoustic guitars, the lonely violin, and a piano as heavy as a set of weights; it’s as if every note cuts a small hole where the song can flow, like a river flooding dry creek beds.

Art has two basic functions – to either expose the culture, or expose the artist. Some artists become zeitgeists, expressing their culture through their medium. Others, put their heart on their sleeve and inform the world what’s going with them. They mold and chip away at certain personal aspects until they have the best representation of themselves, and then present it to the world.

This what the Avett Brothers have done.

"The Cave" by Mumford & Sons from Sigh No More

It's empty in the valley of your heart

The sun, it rises slowly as you walk

Away from all the fears

And all the faults you've left behind

The harvest left no food for you to eat

You cannibal, you meat-eater, you see

But I have seen the same

I know the shame in your defeat

But I will hold on hope

And I won't let you choke

On the noose around your neck

And I'll find strength in pain

And I will change my ways

I'll know my name as it's called again

Cause I have other things to fill my time

You take what is yours and I'll take mine

Now let me at the truth

Which will refresh my broken mind

So tie me to a post and block my ears

I can see widows and orphans through my tears

I know my call despite my faults

And despite my growing fears

But I will hold on hope

And I won't let you choke

On the noose around your neck

And I'll find strength in pain

And I will change my ways

I'll know my name as it's called again

So come out of your cave walking on your hands

And see the world hanging upside down

You can understand dependence

When you know the maker's land

So make your siren's call

And sing all you want

I will not hear what you have to say

Cause I need freedom now

And I need to know how
To live my life as it's meant to be

And I will hold on hope

And I won't let you choke

On the noose around your neck

And I'll find strength in pain

And I will change my ways

I'll know my name as it's called again

The lyrics scream – almost literally – of change, redemption, and personal victory. Existential elements that require serious self-awareness, combining these types of epiphanies to an allusion of leaving Plato’s Cave. It takes knowledge – something brutal and painful – to create the conflict needed for this kind of self conscious breakthrough. “Cause I need freedom now/And I need to know how/To live my life as it’s meant to be”.

But, unlike the Avett Brothers, their lyrics lack a certain amount of specificity and personality. In fact, they maintain a “just right” balance of nebulous and thematic wording. We understand what Mumford is talking about – we get it, we’ve been there -- but we don’t get the intimacy we did with Avett. This is definitely by design.

“And I’ll find strength in pain/And I will change my ways",  are words that clearly ring with crisis, conflict, and triumph, but their simplicity and lack of Identity allow us to fill it with our Identity.

It’s as if we wrote it.

Sigh No More ...

Which is a very smart move on the their part as far as commerciality is concerned. This turns Mumford & Sons into our band. They have that perfect blend of epic optimism with allusions to a vague angst. This balance – a lyrical game, so to speak – is akin to the likes of:

Britney Spears, Madonna, and Lady Gaga.

It’s just enough to get a certain theme across while not getting too intimate. It’s enough for us to relate to it without being challenged. It’s remarkably uplifting, extremely catchy, and makes us feel smarter and better about ourselves.

The Mumford & Sons have created folk-pop.

This is also shines through their image. Their previous tour – with hipster demi-Gods Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes – was spent on a train traveling around the country. They would play their shows then jam at random public places during the night -- like 19th century musical vagabonds making thousands of dollars a night. 

The extravagance really kicks in when they get back to their train to an open bar and a jam cart. Even Jake Gylenhaal jumped on board in LA.

Mumford & Sons is the bloated, commercialized, cash cow of Americana. They have the music chops, lyrical skills, and presence to be a major "niche" pop star -- which is good for them.

It's clear that the two bands are dopplegangers on the rise. Although Mumford may have had more commercial success than the Avett Brothers, the Avett Brothers' critical acclaim, cult following, and creative history make them a more mature band.

This doesn't -- necessarily -- mean they're a band for "mature" audiences, but a band that's been around the block. A band that's earned the awards and acclaim they've gotten. A band you can trust is writing -- and performing -- from the heart. That challenge us, and themselves, in their songs. Whereas, Mumford is a band that hit a homerun on their first swing -- which is great -- but they don't have the sense of vindication that the Avetts have earned.

In the simplest sense, Mumford is a band that will lift you up, inspire you, bring you to your best and cheer you on. They are a much needed band in our trying times for our "trying" generation.

But, the Avett Brothers is a band that will make you a better person. And that's needed all the time.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Stars in ______

Jamey Johnson has always been one of my favorite country artists. He continuously redefines and revises the genre -- alluding to past giants while carefully blazing his original trail. He's smart, plain spoken, and bold in his challenging song design (thought he never truly breaks from the "standard" format, but place himself far enough away, as if you're experiencing something "new").

This song, "Stars in Alabama", off the nearly perfect album That Lonesome Song, is a particular favorite because: 

A. The story is crystal clear and the characters well defined. 
B. The specificity of the writing is engaging -- it's clear that Johnson is not only writing from the heart, but also knows how to dive into his heart and bring out complicated emotions in an extremely simple way. That's art.
C. The tone of the story is captured perfectly in the music. 
D. Substitute Alabama and Tennessee for whatever state you're in and where you're from. It's completely universal. 


I said, “Mama don’t you worry
I’m getting by just fine on the road
Yeah, tonight we played in Knoxville
And tomorrow night it’s back to Music Row

No, I don’t know when I’m comin’ home
Montgomery seems so very far away”
She said, “Boy it wouldn’t kill you now
To look out past the bright lights on that stage

‘Cause God put stars in Alabama
You just can’t find in Tennessee
The same ones are waiting on you
That taught you how to dream

I know there’s big names up in Nashville
And you’ll be one before too long
But God put stars in Alabama
To help you find your way back home”

I hung up the phone and I could feel
The emptiness at 80 miles an hour
And I listened close and I could hear
My heart beating louder than the tires

This old bus was headed west
But my mind was drifting
Somewhere towards the South
And I closed my eyes and I could see
The bright lights shining clearly through the clouds

‘Cause God put stars in Alabama
You just can’t find in Tennessee
The same ones are waiting on you
That taught you how to dream

She said, “There’s big names up in Nashville
And you’ll be one before too long
But God put stars in Alabama
To help you find your way back home

Yeah, there’s stars in Alabama
That just can’t wait ‘til you get home

By Teddy Gentry and Jamey Johnson
Performed by Jamey Johnson

Stay tuned for a post on the difference between The Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons and what they each mean to us!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


The following is a guest post I wrote for my friends over at Stuff BU Kids Like. I hope you enjoy it and do check out their site. It's absolutely hilarious. 

“To have a reason to get up in the morning, it is necessary to possess a guiding principle. A belief of some kind. A bumper sticker, if you will. People in cars on busy freeways call to each other Boycott Grapes, comfort each other Honk If You Love Jesus, joke with each other Be Kind to Animals – Kiss a Beaver. They identify, they summarize, they antagonize with statements of faith: I Have a Dream, Too – Law and Order; Jesus Saves at Chicago Fed; Rod McKuen For President.

n     Ordinary People by Judith Guest

For the past sixteen years – whether you know it or not – you’ve been laying the foundations of a house. This house will be you. And, on the Sunday morning of May 22nd, 2011 you will begin constructing your house the moment you open your eyes. The moment you make a choice either to sleep forever – completely ignoring the moving, changing, and confusing world outside – or to wake up and be someone.

The moment you wake up on this impending Sunday – hung over and potentially still drunk – everything you do from then on will be for you. No longer will you acquiesce to the desires of Professors, coaches, TAs, RAs, and Dorm Security Guards. There is no one left to impress – save for the people you want to. You have earned the power of choice. But, this choice and how you use it says multitudes of who you are and what you stand for.

So, I hope you’ve laid your foundation properly.

The key to not being overwhelmed – should you choose to participate in life – is to know why, exactly, you get out of bed in the first place. Why wake up? Why not just lie there and sleep – unable to be contacted, to disappoint, to shame, to be vulnerable. Why subject yourself to this cruel, unforgiving, and dispassionate world? Knowing what gets you out of bed, and knowing why these things get you out of bed, is paramount in understanding yourself.

Knowing who you are is like hiring the best architect or interior designer for the house you’re creating. Who else would know how to design the kitchen or where to place the master bedroom? Who else would know what off shoot of burgundy the dining room should be or what wood your dresser should be – cherry or oak? By understanding why you choose to live you understand what makes you … you. This is an incredibly powerful asset.

By understanding you, you are now invested with the power of change, with the power of editing and revising. We, like a great work of art, are beings of constant flux. We ebb and flow with the path that Life puts us on. It’s imperative, for our happiness and our prosperity, that we understand – truly understand – who we are, where we’ve been, and where we are heading. This can only come through the introspection that is necessary of analyzing why we get out of bed every morning.

So, when you’re two years into the “real world”, unemployed, and scratching for reasons to wake up – think about what’s gotten you up for the past twenty something years. Think about what keeps you up at night. What you day dreamed about while strutting down Comm. Ave on your way to class – looking good and feeling even better. Who are you at your best and what brought you there? Knowing yourself is not only a tool for improvement and understanding, but perseverance and strength.

The same can be said for when you’re two years into the “real world” and realizing that this job you were so excited for isn’t what it was supposed to be. You start to feel that horrible, sinking, feeling that creeps in at night when you begin to realize that your hopes and expectations are nowhere near being met. Knowing yourself gives you the power to make the change you need because of the faith it puts in yourself.

Because – sometimes – change is a choice, too.

So, lets say by now you know who you are – hypothetically – now what? You put it into action i.e. you get a fucking hobby.

We are creatures of creation – just look around. You are surrounded, everyday, by edifices we’ve constructed. Buildings, art, food, roads, cars – all manmade. We thrive on purpose and when that purpose and creation is involved in something we love – a passion – then that leads to internal happiness unparalleled by any other experience.

A happiness that can keep you up at night and out of bed in the morning, that grants you peace of mind and a foundation to stand on. A happiness that is contagious, inspiring, and separates you from everyone else.

I urge you all to be someone – at the very least. To be constructive with your cognitive energy and not spend your time on Facebook or Twitter. To not get sucked into the terrible toxin of reality TV – a unique phenomena that has, unfortunately, taught us Millennials that you do not have to be worthwhile to be “famous”. I urge you all to make yourself vulnerable, to get out of your comfort zone, to participate in the world that is outside your window. To make a difference, an impact, to embrace the pain.

I hope you all – in complete sincerity – fall flat on your face in failure then rise to be better than before. You are human – malleable, plastic, adaptable, and changeable.

You are not made out of glass.

We are given no purpose when we enter this world, we are given no set of instructions, and no path is opened for us. We are merely given a toolbox and ourselves and must make do with what we have, make the best of what God gave us.

Doing this successfully only comes from knowing why the Hell you got out of bed this morning.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What's Going on at 808 Comm. Ave?

In complete honesty, I don't go to the 808 Commonwealth Avenue art gallery. Let's just say, I'm not their biggest fan. But, recently, they exhibited work that the costume, stage, and lighting design majors at Boston University's College of Fine Arts did -- for both undergrad and grad students.

And I was thoroughly impressed.

It was clear how much care had been put into displaying these costumes, scene sketches, and lighting outlines. They were presented in a way that was clean, organized, and stylishly informal. It was a welcoming and -- most importantly -- engaging presentation.

As I meandered through the wide, well-lit, gallery I started to notice that they were not only showing the final products of scenery paintings and intricate hand-made costumes but also the rough sketches, outlines, and drafts. They weren't just displaying the finished product -- but how the artist got to the finished product.

This I found very exciting.

Rarely do we get to see the creative process of such talented craftsmen -- we are presented with their final product and all our judgments -- everything we perceive -- is from this "final" draft. As a writer, I know that what the artist puts out to the world is only the tip of the iceberg.

Creating something -- anything, really -- is like finding a diamond. You can't put this diamond and it's awkward cut, dusty coat, and worn out edges on sale and expect people to shell out thousands. You have to edit it. You have to revise this diamond, dust it off, cut away the unnecessary aspects and smooth out the edges.

You have to turn it from a dirty diamond in the rough, to a fine piece of jewelry you've been dreaming about. It's how well you execute this revising -- this mending and bending -- that dictates how happy you are with the final product and how good you are at the craft.

Everybody starts out with a blank slate, and all our first drafts are atrocious -- true creation, true art, comes from the ability to revise, change, adapt. To edit. True art comes from a teleological process; a long march towards an end goal.

That being said I urge you all -- if the exhibit is still up -- to take a look at what these kids have produced and how hard they've worked along the way. From sketch book to final product, you'll learn that art isn't all grand muse and romance -- it's work, planning, and trial and error. Really, creating something is a testament of passion, desire, and work ethic -- just like being good at anything else out there.

Early designs and cloth ideas stapled to them.

Rough sketch to colored final.

The sketches themselves are worthy being framed.

Look closely to the one on the left. The artist didn't even erase the perspective lines. 
Close up of lighting outline. All those little boxes in the middle are lights ...
Wide of lighting outline. Almost overwhelming how much Light Designers have to keep track of.

Rough lighting and scene sketches. Beautiful in themselves.