April 29, 2010

Why I Love Andrew W.K. (and You Should Too)

My recent (read: year-long) obsession with Andrew W.K. may seem like a surprise to some, and to others it's probably just annoying. As a former A.W.K. hater, let me make a case for the artist that changed my attitude toward party-rock, sweaty dudes, and life in general.

When I was in high-school (or middle-school), Andrew W.K. came out with his infamous album, I Get Wet, a collection of anthems dedicated to one concept: parties. As a non-partier myself, I rejected Mr. W.K. as a dumb, screaming bro (and this was before the term "bro" became popular). I threw on my Mindless Self Indulgence t-shirt and stuck to listening to terrible, now forgotten bands such as...well...Spineshank (what a rad name!). It wasn't until my senior year in college, working at KSTO that I was clued (by both our Loud Rock and Hip Hop directors) into what a totally cool dude Andrew W.K. is. So, it was four years after the initial release of I Get Wet that I finally purchased the album.

Apparently this album cover caused controversy in Europe, where they thought his bleeding nose endorsed cocaine usage. Because apparently that's the only thing that causes someone's nose to bleed in Europe. The "true" story (according to Wikipedia...citation needed) is that Andrew just hit himself in the face with a brick and then added some animal blood to his own for more...blood. For those unfamiliar with the album, let me give you a sample of some of the song titles:

"It's Time to Party"
"Party Hard"
"Party til You Puke"
"I Get Wet"
"Fun Night"
Other favorites are "I Love NYC" and "She Is Beautiful".

Upon first listen, this album seems like it might be a frat-boy's dream CD, with three titles including the word party, and most of the rest serving as anthems that can be sung while intoxicated on a couple dozen PBRs. The album is a great time though, every song is short, starts with a drum hit so you know when to pump your fist in the air, and sounds pretty similar...but in a good way.

What makes Andrew W.K. unique is his definition of the word "party". To A.W.K., it seems that a "party" can take on many unique meanings, depending who is doing the partying. You see, to Andrew, a "party" doesn't necessarily require beer, drugs, and popped collars, but instead relies on friends, good feelings, and more good feelings.

Part of what is so admirable about Andrew W.K. is the extent to which he accepts who he is both in the personal sense, and the professional. He never tries to disguise the fact that he is an entertainer rather than a musician (although I believe his musical skills are under-appreciated). From what little I know about his past, he is actually some sort of creation of an A&R team who was trying to put together a highly marketable front-man. Andrew took this newfound fame and admiration and ran with it, creating an entire persona based on positive energy. He is funny, intelligent, and always good natured, characteristics atypical of the standard rock or pop-star. In all, despite the blood and "party" mantra, he's an incredible role model. He never refutes his origins as a record-company product, a past steeped in some mystery and legal disputes. What he has done though, is made this image his life, and dedicated his existence to spreading the energy that he has.

I realized about a year ago that Andrew W.K. is more than a rocker (and in reality, a product), he is an idea. He is the embodiment of Positive Mental Attitude, a much maligned philosophy that says the world can be a better place if we have optimism and treat everyone with respect. Andrew transforms this philosophy into, "Everyone should be partying in their own way, and I'm cool with that as long as your idea of partying doesn't infringe too much on my, or anyone else's idea of partying." That may be a little simplistic, but I like the gist of it. He seems to be a man completely transformed by the power of positive thinking. He believes in the power of optimism so much that at many shows he delivers motivational speeches and fields open Q & As. Unfortunately, not everyone appreciates his positive vibes, such as the juggalos at Gathering of Juggalos, who only believe in magic (like the magic of rainbows).

Beyond his persona and good vibes, I really genuinely enjoy his music as well. I Get Wet was a fun album, and serves its purpose as an anthemic good-times collection of stand-alone tunes. I'm not a huge fan of his solo-piano recordings, partly because they don't capture my interest in the same way his rock songs do, and partly because they can't carry the same level of energy that the other albums can. They're still well done though.

I very recently purchased the dual album Close Calls with Brickwalls/Mother of Mankind. This is a re-release of 2006's Close Calls with Brickwalls, an album that caught extremely mixed reaction from fans due to the departure in sound from I Get Wet and The Wolf. Rather than going with the party-chant lyrics and fairly un-nuanced distortion guitar sounds of the first album, Close Calls is a thorough "rock and roll record". The songs are well thought out, sung rather than screamed, and feature a much higher emphasis on arrangement and mixing than the songs on Wet did. The double album contains 40 tracks, some of which are less memorable, but all of which reveal a more musically flexible Andrew W.K., one which I embrace heartily. Some of the songs are still incredibly goofy, but reveal a new depth not found (nor necessarily required or wanted) on Wet. Other songs like "I'm a Vagabond" included below, and the shocking "Kill Yourself" show a side to Andrew that was not clear before, revealing a less black-and-white view of the world than we've heard previously.

"I'm a Vagabond"

The song that convinced me to buy the albums (I knew I was going to buy it at some point, but I didn't know when) was "I'm Not Going to Bed". It's funny, but it's so true (especially considering that I'm writing this instead of going to bed).

Andrew W.K. has gone from reviled rock-star to much beloved entertainer. One look at the youtube comments for most of these videos reveal a deep pool of admiration from his fans (most of the time I would never recommend looking at Youtube comments) and, I believe this admiration is justly earned. Even if he started as a creation, he has proven that a single person can embody a positive, worthwhile message. I would love to catch one of his lectures some day, or attend a Q & A session.

I'm not advocating some sort of celebrity-cult worship of the Andrew W.K., but rather I think he's interesting, worth knowing about, and worth learning something from. His music rocks, his hair is smooth and shiny, and he's got more than enough energy to go around.

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