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Melissa Webster
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Entries by Melissa Webster

The Smell of Death by Bruce Duff: A Book Review

(0) Comments | Posted September 2, 2014 | 2:40 PM

If you ever wondered why every band member in every band in every photo from every gig on every tour in the entire history of rock-n-roll invariably looks haughty, cool and bored with the entire effin thing, it's because they are. Bored, that is. Like mind-numbing boredom. As if touring...

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Mike Dirnt Has the Best Instagram Account Ever

(0) Comments | Posted June 20, 2014 | 4:09 PM

With every photo he posts on his public Instagram account, Mike Dirnt, bass guitar player for the rock band Green Day, tells a story. A personalized, real-time slice of life story. Whether it's about his children, his wife's struggle with breast cancer or his work with Green Day and other...

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'Guns' by Negativland: In the Era of Open Carry Protests

(4) Comments | Posted June 5, 2014 | 2:25 PM

"Guns" by Negativland

"The Internet has created a culture of mediocrity," Mark Hosler of the experimental band Negativland told me over a cup of tea in December 2012, mere days before the Sandy Hook mass shooting that killed 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conneticut. Though he was talking about how the Internet's easy access and availability has eliminated previously established thresholds that used to block inferior work in music, photography, journalism and publishing from ever reaching the general public, the broader culture of mediocrity in America is far more alarming.

Call me jaded, cynical, whatever, but I can't help thinking there is nothing that has become more mediocre or predictable in America than gun advocates in Texas pushing for open carry laws free from regulation or even the need for a license, who prefer to spread their message through fear, i.e. openly carried loaded guns, on unsuspecting consumers just minding their own business in some random store or restaurant, at the expense of any intelligent public discourse, compromise or basic consideration for the confused Americans they confront, who only know that strangers with loaded weapons have just walked into their midst.

Given that mass shootings have become indiscriminate and normal in the United States, Americans' fear and confusion over such a vague and pointless "protest" is understandable. Given that our cowardly government leaders, bought and paid for by the National Rifle Association (NRA), have done little to nothing to resolve this issue, America's lack of tolerance for these kinds of stunts is even more understandable. And when NRA officials publicly oppose so-called open carry protests as well, then there's really no question these extremely misguided open carry idiots need to be reigned in before it escalates and someone actually gets hurt.

I admit I'm no constitutional scholar, so correct me if I'm wrong here, but the Constitution's Second Amendment allows for the right to bear arms. That's it. Just to bear arms, right? It does not specify what types of "arms" you can bear. It does not specify where or how exactly you can bear these arms. It certainly doesn't say your right to bear arms, for no other reason than simply because you can, trumps your fellow American's right to shop, eat and live in peace, free from your drama and unnecessary melodramatic bullshit.

So this is my "protest," and I direct this specifically at pro-gun, let's-bring-back-the-Wild-Wild-West, open carry advocates currently walking into public establishments in Texas with AK-47s. You have the right to bear arms. Awesome. Congratulations! Nobody is taking that right away from you, but this is a nation of laws, not the Wild, Wild West, and common sense trumps personal, selfish, self-serving ideology that puts your neighbors at risk.

Negativland gets it right in this "Guns" video, when they say "Sit back and wait," because with idiots like this trying to bring back the nostalgia of the Wild, Wild West and make it cool; with the NRA condemning it as "weird," and then backtracking and apologizing to these idiots, thus validating them; with no political leaders willing to truly take a stand and implement significant regulation and limits on gun ownership and access, the next mass shooting is just around the corner. "Sit back and wait" again and again and again.

At some point, people like the ones in Texas and the NRA that enables them will have to be held accountable. Real accountability, not prayers and platitudes, instead of allowing them to hide behind the myriad of excuses so far used to blame for America's gun violence epidemic, every excuse except the ones that are actually to blame, which are America's romantic delusions of the bygone days of the Wild West, Americans' easy access to guns, and the laughable gun laws that put those guns in the hands of mentally unstable kids, or, ya know, gun extremists who think it's a good idea to carry a loaded weapon into a restaurant full of children.

I'm tired of wasting time on more pointless debate that goes in circles and gets us nowhere, while the bodies of dead kids continue to pile up and people in Texas walk around with loaded guns in their hands like they're Wyatt Earp. "There's something downright weird about this whole thing."...

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Net Neutrality Advocate Speaks Anonymously About the Upcoming FCC Vote on a 'Pay to Play' Internet

(1) Comments | Posted May 15, 2014 | 2:19 AM

He asked me to call him Colin Gallagher. Posting as ABISprotocol on github, he has many names and many handles among many online platforms, but today it's just Colin. And he, along with thousands of other advocates for free speech and a free Internet, are genuinely concerned about the upcoming...

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Exclusive Song Premiere: "Still Have You" by Fever Charm

(0) Comments | Posted May 9, 2014 | 5:28 PM

It's been a couple of years since I met this teenage band riding on the cusp of adulthood in the San Francisco Bay area. Making the transition from the carefree days of high school, when beaches, friends and girls were the only things on their minds, into the responsibilities of...

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Carolyn Haines at Daddy's Girls' Weekend

(1) Comments | Posted April 30, 2014 | 12:17 PM

"Rich bitch. I aspire to it... not there yet, but I'm hoping," Carolyn Haines, author of the Sarah Booth Delaney mystery series says half-jokingly of her signature character when we sit at a little table underneath a live oak tree dripping with Spanish moss outside a...

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Fish Heads and Folktales by Peter Moran

(0) Comments | Posted March 27, 2014 | 2:31 PM

A beautiful story about the family who chooses us and the ones we choose, Fish Heads & Folktales is a novel that explores the life of Peter and his cross-cultural experience as a Korean-born baby adopted by an American family to live in the U.S., and his journey...

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Honah Lee: 'The Inevitable'

(1) Comments | Posted March 12, 2014 | 6:02 PM

Honah Lee "The Inevitable"

Sometimes life sucks. Sometimes it doesn't work out at all how you planned or hoped for. Sometimes no amount of sacrifice or hard work, or talent, or skills, or strategy makes any difference at all. People betray you, resources break down or disappear altogether, and you end up exactly where you started, spinning your wheels as if you never made any effort or progress at all. In the creative fields especially, the questions "Why exactly am I doing this?" and "Is it even worth it?" run rampant as artists struggle just to survive while they put whatever time and emotional resources they have left after the drudgery of daily life into their art. It was during one of pop-punk band Honah Lee's darkest years of struggle and adversity -- when giving up and giving in was at its highest peak -- that they created the track "The Inevitable" from their latest album, as yet untitled that's still in progress.

From the death of Dim's (lead guitar and vocals) father only seven months after his sister's death, to Jim, the bass player, being hospitalized for a month from a bad case of meningitis, to the van breaking down that stalled their tour for yet another month, 2013 was rife with setbacks and emotional turmoil for Honah Lee, motivating them to be even more determined to make 2014 stronger and more productive.

Inspired by a childhood memory of the comedy rock band Green Jelly releasing an all-video album with an accompanying CD as the soundtrack, Honah Lee is releasing a music video of the album in production one track at a time, starting with the first track "Party Goggles," followed by "The Inevitable" and "Driftin," until each song on the album is recorded and released with a video each month. This is in addition to a 14-date tour already in progress. On March 27, Honah Lee will be sharing the stage with Glen Matlock of the iconic punk rock band Sex Pistols, as well as Sylvain Sylvain from the New York Dolls. This show will be held at Kung Fu Necktie in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Tony Goggles, who plays drums, is the filmmaker producing the videos. As the lead vocalist, Tim Hoh, Jr. describes it, "Each of us have our role! It takes a lot and luckily we've been able to put our egos aside and keep this train rolling!" Still delivering pizza as if he's 21, Tim often struggles with the question of whether he'll ever grow up or if he'll "always be a brat who doesn't care about that" while he lives life to the fullest trying to make a music career his first priority. When questioning his life choices really gets him down, he focuses on the fans to keep him going. The little pat on the back is all he needs to remind him why he has to keep playing, admitting it's that and the fact he really doesn't "know how to do anything else."

Individual song and video releases are coming out once a month, with the full album -- including bonus tracks and exclusive add-ons -- releasing on iTunes in the summer. You can check out the first three tracks and video HERE and go to their Facebook page HERE. Check out the new videos on their YouTube Channel HERE.

"Party Goggles," "The Inevitable" and "Driftin" are available for download on iTunes.

Or better yet, check out a few shows for exclusive songs and other tricks up their sleeves. A great time is guaranteed:


3/15 @ J.C. Dobbs - Philadelphia PA
3/21 @ Mill Hill Basement - Trenton NJ
3/22 @ The Gutter - Brooklyn, NY
4/3 @ Newell Volunteer Fireman's Social Club - Newell PA
4/4 @ TBA - Dayton OH
4/5 @ The Melody Inn - Indianapolis IN
4/6 @ The Berkley Front - Berkley MI
4/7 @ Mac's Bar - Lansing MI
4/8 - VIDEO SHOOT - Lansing MI
4/9 @ Northside Tavern - Cincinnati OH
4/10 @ The Green Lantern - Lexington KY
4/11 @ 123 Pleasant Street - Morgantown WV
4/12 @ Clancy's - Keyser WV

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Destroy Nate Allen: A Love Story

(13) Comments | Posted February 4, 2014 | 4:14 PM

"Glow In The Dark" by Destroy Nate Allen, published with permission from the album 'Glow In The Dark'.

At some point in your life you'll meet a couple who just so completely gets it right, it permeates throughout all they do, inspiring something so sweet and strong and stable, you just want to bask in the glow of it and hope like hell it rubs off so you'll know that kind of love too. Nate and Tessa Allen of the band Destroy Nate Allen are this couple, and their love story unfolds in the music of their latest album Glow In The Dark. Quirky and off-beat and crazy fun, Glow In The Dark is the kind of folk punk rock you want to listen to lying on your bed with your eyes closed as you plan your day when you just want the day to make you smile.

The story begins in 2004 when the band was known as simply Nate Allen. He'd just moved to San Francisco where he met Tessa, and they quickly became best friends over a span of three years before they started dating, marrying eight months later in February 2008, and the band evolved from there. Tessa joined him on the road once they were married and they expanded their performances to include the audience in the ongoing romance, inspiring sing-a-longs, circle pits, power slides and theater games, with them in the center as part of the crowd. Their entire show is a hands-on experience Nate Allen described as, "People either love us or hate us. Either way we don't allow indifference."

With the help of Kevin at Vinyl Remains, this album went from a 7" compilation of on-the-road favorites to their first big record. A vinyl in Dayglo pink and green, it's a fun, happy reminder of the personalities of Nate and Tessa, and include many fan favorites from the road, like "Jesus Keep Me Safe From The Cops," "My Parents Managed Apartments," "Loving You Means Everything From Me" and "Turns Out You're Perfect For Me," but the biggest take-away for me lies in the songs "Glow In The Dark" and "Broken Wings."

"Glow In The Dark" is a sweet, catchy song that captures the essence of their relationship and let's us know they're in it for the long haul, and "Broken Wings," an acoustic solo for Nate Allen that speaks of heaven and hell and the choices people make, is so quiet, simple and emotional, he admits he was so upset he nearly broke down when they recorded it. As quirky and fun as their music is, the lyrics are laden with religious and political references they've grappled with throughout their lives, and the deepest emotional pull of their feelings for each other. Contradicting the music and tone of their performances, the lyrics give us permission to laugh in the face of the serious shit around us.

The song "Loving You Means Everything From Me" gives us a glimpse of the dynamics of their relationship and the on-going argument they have about which one of them is more "punk," a common tongue-in-cheek argument in the punk rock community as a whole. Nate laughingly admits that Tessa is probably the winner, because she sported a mohawk for six years, as Tessa insists "Street punk! Street punk! Oi! Oi! Oi!"

If you want to experience this love story in action, check out a show and feel inspired by a relationship we all hope to have someday, you can get the album Glow In The Dark and tour info about Destroy Nate Allen

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The Death of Kelly Thomas Due to Police Brutality -- A Song by Bryan McPherson

(1) Comments | Posted January 19, 2014 | 2:32 PM

"Kelly Thomas" by Bryan McPherson

On Tuesday, January 14, 2014, in an Orange County courtroom in Southern California, a jury laid to rest one of the most publicly controversial episodes of police brutality in California's troubled history. Kelly Thomas was a homeless man diagnosed with schizophrenia who had a sometimes violent history, who was beaten by police officers of the Fullerton Police Department on July 5, 2011 while he pleaded "I can't breathe." He died from his injuries five days later, spurring protests against police brutality, a successful recall election of public officials, and a national debate about the treatment of America's homeless population.

Though ultimately removed from their jobs with the Fullerton Police Department, two of the six police officers involved in the beating were found not guilty this week of involuntary manslaughter, murder and excessive force, and another officer's case was dismissed entirely, despite a video account of the incident, the fact that there were six officers involved and Thomas was unarmed and mostly subdued, and the resulting death from his injuries at the hands of these officers. I'm usually a strong, outspoken supporter of law enforcement, and I understand the kind of pressure and danger they face on a daily basis, but this was a travesty of justice to be sure. Five shots with a taser? Six officers? Ten minutes of relentless assault on an unarmed man? What the hell was that jury thinking? Only eight hours of deliberation on whether or not to hold these officers accountable is an insult, not only to Kelly Thomas, but to America's justice system that is supposed to be blind, unbiased and especially fair to the most vulnerable among us, even when the incident occurs in one of the most conservative districts in our country. So now it's up to the civil court process to find justice for Kelly Thomas, and I wish his father the best of luck.

One of the greatest things about indie art, be it in music, film, books, etc. is the freedom to express the brutal, in-your-face and often uncomfortable inherent truth in the world around us that is all-too-often stifled in corporate entertainment out of fear of offending somebody. And few do it with more honesty and emotion than those in the punk and alternative rock music scene, which is especially vocal in California. The political and social commentary in this genre of music is what I respect most about them, and what keeps me coming back for more when faced with the often shallow alternative of mainstream music that lacks soul, heart and relevance. They make sure people like Kelly Thomas are not forgotten, that though his death was dismissed by the ones meant to protect him, justice is found in the hearts and minds of the rest of us.

"Kelly Thomas" is a heart-wrenching song by Bryan McPherson, in memory of a man who was let down by all of us when he needed us most. In the Dylan-esque style of folk punk rock, McPherson succinctly captures the anger and emotion felt by those who most closely followed the case to its bitter end.

Give it a listen, and be sure to give us your thoughts on Bryan McPherson's music and the Kelly Thomas...

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Album Review: Armstrong and Jones' Foreverly

(2) Comments | Posted November 22, 2013 | 3:29 PM

"Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine" from the Foreverly album

I have to be honest, when my biggest hero announced he was releasing a country album of cover songs from The Everly Brothers with Norah Jones on November 25th, my first thought was: "Billie Joe, what the hell?!" I was afraid to listen to it, afraid it would be a disaster, worried I'd have to write my first negative review, or not write a review at all, and I was dreading it. Seriously dreading it. Most of all, I was dreading how it would be received by the public at large, so close on the tail of Green Day's album trilogy and all the drama that ensued. As it turns out, my fears were completely unfounded. Foreverly is a special little gem of an album that takes us back to bygone days when life was simple, at least in our memories, and music came straight from the heart with just a few instruments to carry it along. Taking me back to my roots, never before in my life have I been so happy to be wrong.

Country music with heart, Foreverly is swimming in the creek on a hot and humid summer day, or hanging out on a wooden pier with your best friend and a fishing pole, or playing tag in an overgrown meadow in the bright sunshine and feeling like the whole world is wide-open, safe and happy. It's Momma cooking fried pork chops and turnip greens with the smell of fresh-baked cornbread in the kitchen while you and your sister do homework and talk about your day. Growing up in the South, Foreverly was like going home.

Staying true to the intention of The Everly Brothers and pulling it off to perfection, there are no big, bolstering vocals or angry, defiant tones from Billie Joe's signature style, which was different, but in the best possible way, proving a surprising range and possibly a new path of self-expression to break up the monotony of rock opera mega-hits. And Norah Jones, bless her precious heart, sounds like she was born a country singer, inspiring flashbacks of the soft, emotional, pure country melodies of Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline. The biggest take-away from this album are the vocals between Billie Joe & Norah that blend so beautifully.

The album opens with "Roving Gambler," a banjo and harmonica-filled dance song with a traditional country beat that easily meshes with the sawdust floor, foot-stomping dance at the VFW on a small-town Friday night. It's just a fun song that sets the stage for the second song "Long Time Gone," a sing-a-long that empowers women everywhere to kick that cheatin' man to the curb.

"Lightening Express" sounds like a lullaby. Not totally country, it has the tone and style of a Christmas song, except depressing as hell. It's about a boy who's stowed-away on a train to get home to his dying mother. Reminding me of "The Christmas Shoes" by Newsong, it choked me up and brought tears to my eyes, which was exactly the point.

"Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine" is an upbeat song of pure backwoods bluegrass from the state fair that sounds like a small-town 4th of July picnic laden with stars and stripes and apple pie, or maybe a rodeo with barrel racing cowgirls. It made me want to put on a cowboy hat and roper boots and jump on a horse, if I wasn't, ya know, deathly afraid of horses.

"Down In The Willow Garden" is another slow-rider that sounds like a love song, but is really a morbid little ditty about killing a girl and throwing her body in the river, lest we forget The Everly Brothers were a gruesome bunch. Changing tactics before we all drown our sorrows in a bottle of Jack Daniels, "Who's Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet?" is a sweet song to a new baby, reminding us all that life goes on, and it can be pretty special in the simplest of ways.

"Oh So Many Years" is a wonderful, sweet, old-fashioned love song that makes the heart sing. With a nice guitar riff, piano accompaniment and awesome vocals, it is, in my opinion, the best song on the album. "Barbara Allen" features Armstrong going solo, with Jones singing backup vocals. Not quite as country as the others, except in the chorus, Armstrong pulls off a solid song with nice strings and excellent vocals, as usual. This one sounds right at home in a pub with beer glasses raised in a toast to a beloved woman.

"Rockin Alone (In An Old Rockin' Chair) tells the sad tale of a neglected elderly woman sitting alone in a rocking chair with no one around to care about her. The beautiful, heart-wrenching lyrics and vocals have an emotional pull that sucks you right into the story and forces you to pay attention. In direct contrast, and I'm sure this wasn't the intended reaction, so let me apologize in advance, the song "I'm Here To Get My Baby Out of Jail" made me laugh. With a deep-South blues undertone, this country song is about a long-suffering, dying Momma trying to do right by her ungrateful son who's always in trouble before she leaves this world for good.

The song "Kentucky" is all about the vocals for Norah Jones, who's longing for her beloved home state of Kentucky. With easy, simple lyrics, this song puts the listener in a bluegrass state of mind. "Put My Little Shoes Away" makes you close your eyes, lay your head back and simply listen. In the style of a gospel song you'd hear in church, it's calling the boy home to heaven on the golden wings of angels.

With the juxtaposition of simple and pure versus complicated and dramatic lyrics, The Everly Brothers were an iconic musical group whose music successfully zeroed in on the heart of the matter, in both joy and sadness. To hear them honored in this unexpected way was a gift Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones presented with tremendous grace and beauty. Hopefully, they'll gift us with more surprises like this in the...

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Refuge: A Film About Cyber-Warfare, Privacy and Immigration

(0) Comments | Posted October 27, 2013 | 6:32 PM



What happens when a cyber-terrorist attack in the year of 2020 on America's immigration database leaves thousands of Iranian immigrants vulnerable to deportation? The exploitation of one woman's powerlessness by giving her the choice of participating in a research program to create genetically modified humans in exchange for a Green Card, or going back to Iran and facing imprisonment or worse for her political activism. This is the premise of the film Refuge, written and directed by up-and-coming Iranian-American independent filmmaker Mohammad Gorjestani. Featured as an episode on the PBS FutureStates series at, Refuge explores the dilemma of self-preservation verses the moral greater good, and asks each of us to decide which choice we'd make when faced with the impossible.

With a gritty, realistic tone and style, Gorjestani successfully sucks you in with the bitter truth that the 'American Dream' of old is no longer viable and the protagonist Sonia could be your beloved next door neighbor or the grocer you buy your bread from or your daughter's college roommate, that it can happen to anyone at any time when technology obliterates privacy and there's no real place to hide. With the broader political implications of this film that are being debated today, I met with Mohammad Gorjestani via Google email chat to get his thoughts on the film and the thought-provoking message, and in my view warning, inherent in Sonia's story:

1) For me, the film was about the escalating use of technology in warfare. In this case, you touched on cyberwar. The GM embryos, though their purpose wasn't actually stated, appeared to be about the creation of super-soldiers. Is that right?

I think everyone takes away different elements from the film that resonate with them the most. For me, the presence of technology in the film, from cyber warfare to facial identification, is part of the picture of a possible future -- one in which security is prioritized over personal freedom and privacy. Today, you see this tension playing out in issues from the NSA leaks to Facebook policy changes, and I wanted to imagine what the future might be like if our society continued to drift in this direction, the trajectory steered by technology. It seemed natural to imagine cyber warfare as an increasing battlefield in this vision of the future.

This "new normal" is the backdrop to the film, but the main focal point is Sonia, a character who symbolizes the potential cost and effects of this kind of societal shift. She's both a struggling immigrant and a collateral victim of an international conflict. Sonia is a character who is simply trying to do the right thing and make the most out of her opportunity to be in the U.S. She's the type of person who, according to the "American Dream," should be rewarded for her hard work. I wanted to lift that veil and peer into the reality of what that experience might be like.

Regarding super-soldiers, yes, that's what is alluded to in the interactions between Sonia and Reza, and his offer of a Green Card in exchange for carrying a genetically-modified embryo.

2) Exploiting a race of people and their situation to have an advantage over the "enemy"?

In the final scene of the film, we see a 4th of July neighborhood party with Sonia on the steps looking on, but not part of the celebration. For me, this was a visual metaphor for the greater immigrant experience -- a part of society but also separate from it. Immigrants are so fundamental to the American way of life and our economy, and yet they exist in the shadows and on the margins. So, I was thinking less about how the US might create an advantage over the enemy, and more imagining how the way things are now might continue and morph into the future.

3) And her being torn between two conflicting loyalties? Wanting to stay in the US where she's safe, both physically and politically, but being morally opposed to GM?

Yes, this is the "making a deal with the devil" aspect of the film. There's really no right choice. It's an elaborate bureaucratic/political version of entrapment. I was interested in how a person like Sonia, with strong values and sense of self, might end up having to relinquish those values for the greater promise of staying in the U.S.

4) What was the inspiration for this film? Was there a specific moment that clicked for you?

I thought it would be interesting to explore an idea for a film set in the not-too-distant future where technology, immigration, and government had dovetailed in potentially perilous ways. Within this context, I also wanted to look at the question of why immigrants are often willing to pay a high price to live a life that many of us take for granted. With Sonia, we have a young, ambitious, and independent character that left a troubled situation in Iran to pursue an education and the American dream -- which ultimately proves to resemble more of a nightmare. I wanted to place Sonia in a situation and give her a choice to make, which blended irony and allegory, and which directly conflicted her values. Ultimately, Refuge is a story about a character facing an extraordinary circumstance, and falling victim to a geopolitical conflict reflective of a world we could all soon live in.

I think the wrong way, or the "Hollywood way" to make this film would have been to focus on the institutions and governments as the primary characters, and place the geopolitical conflict at the forefront. I don't think that kind of film is a bad film, but it plays out a grand scale that doesn't resonate emotionally. When you strip back the spectacle of international conflict, you're left with common people who are being affected by something they have no association with. I'm interested in those type of stories. The ordinary person placed in an extraordinary, but realistic situation. And instead of looking at how a person survives that situation -- like so many movies seem to -- I think these stories present an opportunity for us to explore the realities of a greater world through a complex, human lens.

5) With genetically modified food so prevalent now, and the controversy surrounding it, do you see genetically modified humans next on the evolutionary track?

Aren't we already seeing it? =)

6) What are your thoughts on cyber warfare?

It's fascinating because it's happening now, but so many people are unaware of it. It's rarely, if ever, front page news. And we're not just talking about rogue hackers armed with a PC and a grudge, it's major government operations such as the "Operation Olympic Games" virus which the US and Israel allegedly used to shut down Iran's nuclear facilities. This summer, documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that China and the US have been hacking each other since 2009. And just this month, the head of Iran's cyber warfare division was assassinated. The real threat of cyberwar is it's expansive reach and the vulnerability of central systems such as banks, energy facilities, water plants, etc. It's not just about hacking into a computer to steal information, imagine a cyber attack on a water facility to release more chemicals into our water supply. Like any stealth offensive, by the time we become aware it's likely already causing damage. And since to most people this sounds like science fiction, it mostly continues to fly under the radar and isn't part of our public discourse.

7) Is this film concept science fiction to you, along the lines of the flying cars of the 1950s, or do you see it as an inevitable future for the human race?

I think whether aspects of the film are inevitable or not is up for debate, but I think there are certainly elements in the story that represent a possible future, and one that's not very far off. Also, I just read that flying cars are being tested in Slovakia, and that Elon Musk is making a submarine car =)

8) Could this concept have been applied to any group of immigrants and you just happened to choose Iran because you are Iranian and it felt more personal, or do you see a broader political issue with Iran, or even the Middle East specifically?

I think this is a universal story not specific to one community or to any one character. I'm drawn to telling stories that I can take out of my own well of experience and life. I was born in Iran and having nearly all of my family back home allows me to have a very unique perspective on the escalating tension between the two countries (both of which I'm citizens of). There's no question that Iran is a hotspot right now politically, and there is a turbulent history between the two countries, extending back to the CIA's overthrowing of Mosadegh to pave way for the Shah in the 50's, to the hostage crisis in 80's, to the US supplying Iraq during the Iran/Iraq war, to the conflicts we see today over nuclear facilities, etc. -- so this adds a sense of relevancy to the story. But these are conflicts between governments and not necessarily representative of the people.

One of my favorite things that happened this past year was the US and Iranian Wrestling teams competing in LA and hugging and embracing each other after the competition . Most of the Iranians I know love Americans and most Americans I know love Iranians.

Think about that irony for a minute. Indeed.

Gorjestani recently received a San Francisco Film Society KRF Filmmaking Grant for his first feature-length film, titled Somehow These Days Will Be Missed that goes into production next year and can be found at

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Broadway Idiot -- Behind the Scenes With Billie Joe Armstrong

(0) Comments | Posted October 17, 2013 | 6:25 PM

The documentary Broadway Idiot is less about the process of turning Green Day's smash-hit concept album American Idiot into a Broadway musical and more a poignant portrayal of Green Day's frontman Billie Joe Armstrong's journey from the big stages of rock-n-roll to the scary, unknown realm of musical theater. Often heartbreaking, Armstrong and director Michael Mayer approached this unlikely collaboration with an honesty so extensive, it's impossible not to root for their success, for no other reason than because it is so inspiring.

"We don't know what to call it. It's not an opera really... so I don't know how it's going to go down," Mayer described the musical prior to its Broadway debut, exhibiting an uncertain vulnerability that contradicted all the hype and marketing, but what resonated for me the most in this documentary was the vulnerability in Armstrong himself. Normally cocky and self-assured onstage with his band when Green Day is performing to thousands of fans on any given night, to see this side of him as he learns the ropes of theater performance as a newbie is the gift of having a front row seat to his blossoming, to the place he found by accident where it was obvious to everyone he truly thrived.

Speaking about the positive support system so different from the competitive eat-their-young mentality of the music and film industries, nothing emphasized this more than in the candid interview where he described the effect becoming part of this musical had on him after his experience of the early days when he was learning the ropes in the music industry, "In the old days, coming from sort of an underground scene, there was a lot of bands that you would watch that were your friends' bands and things like that. You know, everyone would sort of feed off each other and have fun, but at the same time be learning. Once Green Day took off, we started losing that. We were losing friends. Which is fine. You only need a few... It just became difficult to sort of find kindred spirits... It didn't happen in rock-n-roll. It happened in theater. That's the thing that blindsided me."

"You only need a few" sums up the pain that rejection in the early days caused him, compared to the discovery of the kindred spirits he found when he embraced the passion and "seductive and inspiring" bug of the theater. Billie Joe Armstrong had been bitten and watching him onstage in the role of St. Jimmy was magic. Describing St. Jimmy as a "part of myself," Armstrong reveals that all the characters in one way or another were part of the whole of his entire life experience. From the unexpected and unplanned family in his late teens, early 20s that forced him to grow up, to the demons in his addictions he portrays in St. Jimmy, to his coming of age amid the rock-n-roll scene, Armstrong gives a little bit of himself in every facet of the storyline. When he said "This album is my baby, so I wanna make sure nobody fucks it up," it's apparent he isn't speaking from the ego of a rock star.

Broadway Idiot is screening in San Francisco from Friday, October 18th through October 24th at The Vogue, and I enthusiastically recommend it to anyone who wants behind-the-scenes access to the imperfections and inspirations of the creative process, where egos and individual agendas are checked at the door in lieu of a collaboration of kindred spirits intent on creating art, and the outcome is merely an...

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'Punk You Let Me Down' -- Would Joey Ramone Really Tell Them to Shut Up?

(5) Comments | Posted September 17, 2013 | 12:47 PM

"Punk You Let Me Down" by Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits, from the Sing-A-Long book Meal Deal With the Devil. Published with permission.

I'm told Joey Ramone of The Ramones, the punk rock icon who graced us with songs like "Beat On the Brat" [with a baseball bat], was actually a very tolerant, gentle, progressive soul. With this in mind and in contrast to the tone and lyrics of his music, speculation about how he'd react to today's modern punk scene, and especially to the punk wannabes who wear Hot Topic like a badge of honor, is a mixed bag of evolution and mutations I believe he'd embrace, ridiculousness he'd flat-out reject, and stagnation and stubbornness he'd be resigned to accept, if only for the nostalgia.

Hands-down, "Punk You Let Me Down" by Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits is the funniest 'f**k you' song I've ever heard, if for no other reason than because of the blatant truth and honesty in the lyrics so many current and former "punks" don't have the guts to express themselves, and the smack-down of its delivery in the context of a rap song. The icing on the cake lies within the catchy beat that throws this song right into the heart of mainstream top 40 music, a position reviled with such contempt by punk scene purists that the insult of it would be considered beyond redemption. Put all of this together and you've got a band who created a song that hit its target with the precision of a sniper in a shooting gallery.

This ability to hold a mirror up to society, even when society is their own backyard, through satire and cringe-worthy honesty is the genius and greatest strength of Bobby Joe Ebola. It is also their biggest so-called weakness and the ultimate inspiration behind this song; because their music didn't fit into the mold some punks felt it should; because it was different and therefore rejected by this same group of punks; because even in this microworld of purity and idealism that prides itself on nonconformity therein lies a certain expectation of conformity. For all of these reasons, Corbett Redford and Dan Abbott, frontmen for Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits, wrote a song to tell these punks exactly where they could stick their time-warped vision of themselves, with hilarious results.

If this were another genre, like country music or even hip-hop, the rejection Bobby Joe Ebola experienced would be almost understandable, considering the rigid expectations of the consumers who buy the music, but punk rock is supposed to be different. The entire premise and the history they glorify was founded on dissent, stepping away from the norm and pushing boundaries, something some members of the calcified old regime stubbornly refuse to acknowledge, forcing Bobby Joe Ebola to slap them with a very harsh reminder.

So the question remains, would "The Ramones... tell your ass to shut up" as you wallow in the glory days of the '80s while snobbishly judging those who have evolved from it? Would Joey Ramone be appalled at today's punk scene or would he embrace it all with nary a negative word? How would he compare the punk of his heyday to the punk scene we have now? I don't know, but I hope like hell, at the very least, as Corbett Redford put it "... he might cringe at some of the emo/screamo Warped Tour/Epitaph hair bands that are making the...

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Meal Deal with the Devil - A Read-Along Book

(0) Comments | Posted August 1, 2013 | 5:30 PM

 photo 6dae3a8c-c580-4b6c-a332-59708d3abe3a_zps336734d4.jpg

Last Saturday morning I awoke with a burning desire to eat Froot Loops and watch Saturday morning cartoons. I'm not sure what prompted this regression into childhood, except it probably had something to do with getting Bobby Joe Ebola's latest project in...

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The Phenomenauts at The Static Room

(0) Comments | Posted July 19, 2013 | 6:00 PM

What do you get when you combine hot guys, insane musical talent and a bent towards Big-Bang-Theory-like geekiness that loves science and space? The Phenomenauts, coming to a space station near you. From London to San Francisco to The Static Room recording studio in Oakland, Cali., The Phenomenauts are like...

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Emily's Army at Vans Warped Tour

(2) Comments | Posted July 11, 2013 | 3:45 PM

Emily's Army at Vans Warped Tour 2013
Slideshow by Natalie Nesser, published with permission

It's kind of hard to imagine four teenagers living the charmed life of being born into families who can open any door with just a phone call feeling Lost At Seventeen, but like teenagers everywhere making the transition from carefree kids in high school into the challenges of adulthood and making it on their own, the guys in Emily's Army struggle with the rest of us to prove themselves on their own terms. Indicative of the prevailing notion of altruism with their generation, 'their own terms' includes at the forefront, using the advantages of their upbringing, and the doors that fall open as a result, to find a cure for cystic fibrosis, a cause so personal to them, they named the band to reflect it.

Emily is the cousin of Max Becker, lead singer and bass player, and Cole Becker, lead guitarist and singer, and both primary songwriters for Emily's Army, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was two years old, not expected to live beyond her 12th birthday. She is now 17 and a dancer, with a life expectancy of 38. Her struggle inspired the brothers and two of their best friends, Joey Armstrong, drummer, and Travis Neumann, guitarist, so much, they aligned with her under the banner of Emily's Army in grade school and set out to raise awareness to help her, creating not only a band, but also the Emily's Army Foundation with Pipeline for a Cure.

Recently recognized as a band to watch in 2013, Emily's Army makes their national debut this year as a fully touring band on the entire Vans Warped Tour throughout the summer, before traveling to the U.K. for approximately ten shows amid the release of their second full-length album Lost at Seventeen through Adeline Records and Rise Records, respectively, produced by Grammy award winning artists, Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong and Sound Engineer Chris Dugan.

A pop-punk riot full of snarky teenage angst, Lost at Seventeen tells the story of teenagers on the brink just trying to figure things out, while mocking the world around them, the girls who have rejected them and the idiots who have crossed their path. Max describes their sophomore album as "Kind of like Catcher In The Rye... where it's stuck between two stages of life, where you're trying to figure out what to do and you honestly don't know what's going to happen..." To reinforce this, the album opens with "Part-Time Bum," that begins as a throw-back to late seventies punk before diving into the funny dance vibe of pop-punk, slash, surfer beach bash about a guy who spends all his time laying around the house or hanging at the beach, and who's "job" is washing dishes and doing other chores as he bums off his parents. "Gubermensch" mocks the bully who lives life with a chip on his shoulder and an angry stance; and "Avenue," my favorite song on the album, is a simple plea of unrequited love, set to a catchy beat and easy lyrics. "I Am The President" has all the expected political attitude of a punk rock song, but "War" captures the heart of it. With interspersed rockabilly guitar solos and drum antics that set the tone, this is one of the coolest and funniest songs on the album. Like an Uncle-Sam-Wants-You poster from a bygone era, for the lyrics "We need more pawns" and "We need you out there/Even though we've won" alone, I give Lost At Seventeen five stars. Ya know, if I did cliched rating systems like that.

They were on Warped Tour for a little over a week when they met Ron Jeremy, the adult film star who was enjoying the festival. Like other teenagers who haven't yet been jaded by life and can still appreciate the humor in the unexpected, it was a starstruck moment for them to get photos and autographs. When not hanging out with porn stars and playing in the band, the guys in Emily's Army play sports, love to travel and hang out with their families, and surf. Lots and lots of surfing. There had to be something more. I was sure of it. Being clean-cut, all-American boys was all well and good, but they're teenagers for cripes sake. Where was the dirt, the scandal? I had to know these things. So I asked the burning question, "Tell me something you've done on Warped Tour that your parents don't know about." After much laughter and joking around, Joey answered with "Yesterday, Travis ate three waffles-on-a-stick. I don't think he's allowed to do that." Hmmm...

The guys became animated, excited as the conversation moved towards their favorite subject: music. Travis chimed in with "My favorite thing about music is just, it's really fun and it's entertaining, it's a great way to bond and meet new people and build and strengthen relationships you already have," and Joey followed him, emphasizing why they do it as he explained, "It's about being creative. I have the opportunity to make something. It's not every day you get to create something that's like you can be totally passionate about... but every day we're passionate about creating music." Max added, "We're with our best friends. We have fun doing it, and we get to express ourselves. So, why not?" But Cole, being the youngest, and from my observation, the heart and soul of the band, got right to the point, "I'm gonna play music until I die. That's all I...

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Mumford and Sons at The Greek Theater

(0) Comments | Posted June 27, 2013 | 4:10 PM

Mumford and Sons at The Greek Theater, May 30, 2013. Photos by Natalie Nesser, given with permission.

Getting high off the secondhand smoke from the weed passed around by the middle-aged dudes in front of me, I settled in for a relaxing night under the stars at my favorite venue. Going into this concert review blind by intentionally not listening to Mumford and Sons' music beforehand, and maybe it was the weed-induced mellow mood, or quite possibly the English accents, but when lead vocalist, Marcus Mumford said, "Shall we sing a song together Berkeley?" at The Greek Theater in Berkeley, Cali. on May 30, 2013, I fell in love just a little bit. It's been a while since I experienced the wonder of discovery and the innocent, naive conviction that music really could change a person's life, because a band's music reached me on a profound, emotional level.

Like being transported back to my hometown in Alabama, Kentucky bluegrass mated with English working-class and gave folk rock mountain music a sexy accent and an aggressive edge that transcended the eclectic mix of demographics eagerly foot-stomping and clapping to the songs together. With deep, soul-searching lyrics of lost love, obsessive love, regret and joy; and talent and skills that are interchangeable and unwavering, Mumford and Sons proved no matter the genre, when a band has that special "It" factor, fads and trends and market analysis really do become irrelevant, so lost in the emotional pull and the human masses who respond.

"Whispers In The Dark" gave credence to this phenomenon when in the moment at the change-up, the band members were so consumed at once, so lost in their craft, the audience, the stage, the job they set out to do seemed to fade away, and the collective hearts just stopped beating to listen to the regret of "But fingers tap into what you were once/And I'm worried that I blew my only chance." I was mesmerized by the light show during "Thistle & Weeds" as it changed from the urgency of solid red into the sad acceptance of pure white rain as Mumford sang the somber, ominous notes of "But plant your hope with good seeds/Don't cover yourself with thistle and weeds/Rain down, rain down on me." And "Little Lion Man" got the crowd on their feet, clapping and foot-stomping to the raucous beat as Mumford angrily mocked the subject of the song who blames everyone else for his problems, ironically taking responsibility instead. Trying to decide a favorite song, I was torn between the conviction of "The Cave," the longing and frustration of "The Ghosts That We Knew," the plea in "Below My Feet," and the willful blind love of "Lover's Eyes," resonating with all of them equally in my own life as the crowd sang along, seeming to agree with me.

Even as they covered the music of iconic artists who came before them, Mumford and Sons succeeded in making it their own. Teasing the crowd just before the band covered "I'm On Fire" by Bruce Springsteen, Mumford joked "I know you all want to hoot-n-holler, but now is not the time. Shut the fuck up." Gathering in a tight circle, with only a spotlight on the four of them, it was easy to believe this song was one of their originals. Moving from that song straight into their own "Reminder," with only a spotlight and a four-part harmony, the lyrics "And I've been traveling oh so long" and "Oh my love don't fade away," with horns rounded it out to build into a powerhouse that only got stronger.

In every song, this band displayed a joy in the music, as if they're still just four men playing for kicks in the pub back home and not a band on the rise packing out venues. It was this intense immersion that motivated the audience to root for them, and all I could think was "Holy shit. Their talent." Looking down on the sea of people "hootin-n-hollerin" as one as Mumford and Sons finished their set, I couldn't help but smile. It was a standing...

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Green Day at Berkeley, With Exclusive Slideshow by Natalie Nesser

(13) Comments | Posted April 26, 2013 | 8:49 PM

Green Day at The Greek Theater in Berkeley, California on April 16, 2013 by Natalie Nesser

"It's been a long time since I've been able to say this. Berkeley, California!" shouted Billie Joe Armstrong to his screaming hometown crowd at The Greek Theater on April 16th, blowing kisses to the audience as a green-haired Tre Cool ran up to the drums, bassist Mike Dirnt took command of the spot to his left, and a stoic Jason White stood to his right... and the energy only escalated from there.

Opening with the tour theme song "99 Revolutions" from Green Day's latest trilogy album iTRE!, all I could think was Holy Fuck! The light show. The heart-pumping energy. The band members' inability to age. It all came together in one perfect moment to remind us all, despite events of the last six months, a golden oldies seniors tour this was not. As a legacy band, Green Day pulled off a rare and amazing feat: they really can have it both ways, simply because they've earned it.

As if to reinforce this new lease on life from a band that has grappled with its recent share of struggles, Billie Joe Armstrong told the crowd, "We're all fucking still alive. Live every fucking moment!" Part motivational speaker to his own inner demons and part prayer revival to the punk rock gods, the band immediately went into "Know Your Enemy" from the album 21st Century Breakdown, as Armstrong's nephew Mateo, in honor of his seventeenth birthday, did a perfect stage dive and was carried by the fans through the pit, making it clear this tour is about respecting the best from the past as they embrace the uncertainty of the future, the prevailing theme of the trilogy itself.

Going from "Know Your Enemy" to "Stay The Night" from the recent trilogy album iUNO!, and from there, straight into "Stop When The Red Lights Flash," from the trilogy album iDOS!, with a seriously cool red light show that looked like it came right out of the pits of Hell, Green Day backtracked again into "Letterbomb" from the back catalogue album American Idiot, before jumping forward into the trilogy albums once again for the radio-friendly calm of "Oh Love" off of iUNO!

And so it went, this whiplash of adrenaline-pumping great songs, one after another, emphasizing the then and now. Though the show leaned heavily towards Green Day's greatest hits from the back catalogue, as far back as the early 90s, and though I would have preferred a full-out show of nothing but live songs from the trilogy albums, especially of "Dirty Rotten Bastards" from iTRE!, "Wow! That's Loud" from iDOS!, and "Fell For You" and "Troublemaker" from iUno!, with the back catalogue as an encore, nothing felt lost or needed or missing.

To illustrate this, one of the highlights of the show happened when Green Day played the 1994 hit song "Welcome To Paradise." With a blinding, feverish light show and heart-racing intensity, Dirnt's mad skills on the bass, Tre Cool's frenetic beat and White's guitar invasion, Armstrong belted out the song like time had actually stood still and almost two decades of new music had never passed. When the song ended, there was a moment of comedy when Billie Joe Armstrong told the sound booth to "turn that blinking light shit off. It's driving me crazy" when they realized the lights were stuck and maybe not supposed to compliment the song quite so much.

Like a maestro conducting his orchestra of willing fans, with one point of his finger and a raised arm, Armstrong demanded cheers from a section of the audience before moving on to the ones waiting in the wings. And again. And again. And again, before diving back into the song "Stay The Night," with the new addition of him singing the lyrics "I gotta know/If you're the one that got away" a cappella, before Cool kicked in the beat again and the music revved back up.

"Stray Heart" from iDOS! was a definite fan favorite, and "St. Jimmy" from American Idiot sent the pit into a frenzy of headbanging fun that set the stage for Mike Dirnt's bass-heavy "Longview" from Dookie and the tradition of pulling a fan from the audience to sing the final verse. "Hopefully, somebody weird" Armstrong told the audience as he searched the pit for that lucky fan to come up on stage. Little did he know the fan he chose would steal the show, if only for the few minutes it took to finish the song. Like a young Billy Idol, this hardcore punk rocker with the blonde spiked hair and a great voice climbed onto the stage like he owned it and had been singing "Longview" his entire life; and to Green Day's credit, they gave him more stage time than they normally would have, simply because they seemed so impressed. His photo is in the slideshow. If anyone knows who this guy is, let me know. I want to talk to him!

"King For A Day" from Nimrod had the usual shenanigans that had me laughing all the way through it, with a sax and vocal duet between Jason Freese and Billie Joe Armstrong; and "Jesus Of Suburbia" from American Idiot proved once again Tre Cool still owns the drums and will go down as one of the greatest drummers in the history of rock-n-roll. One surprise for me was "X-Kid" from iTRE!. Though it's a huge fan favorite, it wasn't even in the top ten as one of my favorites from the trilogy, but hearing it live was sheer perfection and made me re-think my list.

During a montage of covers, Green Day played "Shout!" by The Isley Brothers, where Tre Cool disappeared from the drums and the others laid on the floor of the stage during the quiet time, while Armstrong contemplated the universe next to the Drunk (on life and rootbeer) Bunny. Amid the gorgeous open-aired theater, beneath a clear sky, under the moon and stars, it was as if the universe itself was smiling down on Berkeley as Armstrong asked, "Boys and girls, boys and boys, girls and girls, aren't we all entitled to a family?" Continuing with the lazy drawl of someone completely relaxed and at peace with the world, he stated, "Civil rights baby. Civil rights."

The show ended with what's become the tradition on this tour "Brutal Love" from iTRE!, in my opinion the best song in the trilogy and one of Green Day's best songs to date, which makes me wonder why the entire tour isn't primarily focused on the trilogy. Though I'm sure they have reasons I'm not aware of, the question "What do they have to lose?" keeps running through my mind. I want to see Green Day say Fuck. This. and give "Brutal Love" its chance as a single release. And while they're at it, "Fell For You" and "Troublemaker" from iUNO!, and "Lazy Bones" and "Wow! That's Loud" from iDOS!, because the trilogy deserves its time to shine, and to be honest, would be a pretty epic show, if for no other reason than just out of respect for criminally under-appreciated rock-n-roll, and isn't that the reason Green Day created the trilogy music in the first...

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Fight Song: A GenX Call-to-Arms Book Review

(0) Comments | Posted February 20, 2013 | 12:01 PM

Every generation needs its collective voice to make sense of the inevitable phases in life, especially when it reaches middle-age amid the confusion we feel as we stand at that edge between the inner child still clinging to the past and the adult warily facing the...

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