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How is it that an artist can sell over fifty million records and yet creatively, have nothing to lose?

Guitarist and songwriter Mark Tremonti has achieved incontrovertible commercial success with his bands Creed and Alter Bridge, although for reasons far too complex and speculative for this piece, the former band remain perennially tied to the whipping post of the music industry despite towering album sales and multitudinous awards. Alter Bridge, formed in the wake of Creed’s success, have enjoyed a much warmer welcome from fans and critics, but their commercial performance is nowhere near that of Creed.

With his new self-titled solo project, Mark carries on his back both the suffocating expectations of current fans and the unwavering prejudice of Creed’s detractors. Capitulating to neither, Mark’s blistering solo debut is already one of the most buzzed-about albums of the summer. Sometimes having nothing to lose is right where you want to be.

Many, many moons ago I used to write for a magazine you’ve never heard of. My editor had a curious theory: Rock and roll had hit the wall during the 77-era of punk. It’s not that he didn’t like music made since then. On the contrary, he was a huge Nirvana fan and was a mainstay on the American hardcore scene of the early 1980s. It’s that rock and roll could only get so fast and heavy before it ceased being rock and roll and started being something else.

I respectfully disagree. It’s true that many strains of rock music are too damn tight to allow for the little shimmy-and-wiggle action that puts the “roll” in “rock and roll.” Greg Ginn discovered this during Black Flag’s early days. He compensated by making everyone play at one-quarter speed during rehearsals, working their way up to the mid-tempo hardcore the band’s post-My War years. Motörhead, on the other hand, are a prime example of a band playing music both heavier and faster than punk with more than enough swing in its step to properly be called “rock and roll.”

It is easier to figure out cold fusion than it is to discuss rock and roll journalism without mentioning Mick Wall. He is to music writing what Keith Richards is to the guitar — he didn’t invent it, but he sure as hell made it his own.

Mick Wall began his career writing for a weekly music paper in the late Seventies and a few years later he jumped into a grass roots heavy metal magazine called Kerrang!. He quickly became its most popular writer and now thirty years later, Kerrang! is the biggest music periodical in circulation in the UK, with its own television and radio stations, branded tours, and massive annual awards ceremony.

Like Kerrang!, Mick Wall has also exploded as a force in the arena of rock journalism. He has penned nearly twenty music biographies, tackling a diverse range of subjects from immortal record producer John Peel to the howling tornado that is Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose. Rose was so unsettled by Wall’s book that he called him out by name in the song, “Get in the Ring,” from the Use Your Illusion II album.

Please explain what just happened.

The chorus started.  It’s Dire Straits.

What is your earliest memory?

Trying to compete with my big brother by walking along the side of the bath like he did, then falling and breaking my arm.

If you weren’t a rock and roll drummer, what other profession would you choose?

Librarian. What could compete with that adrenaline rush? The rock star thing would do if all else failed, though.

First-wave hardcore fans may have trouble conceiving of hardcore (formerly “hardcore punk”) existing in 2011. What started out as a subculture of the maladjusted and praxis of social resistance has become a folk culture all its own. In the early 1960s, young people didn’t hesitate to don flannel, pick up an acoustic 12-string and bang out tunes Woody Guthrie made popular 30 years prior. In 2010 bad haircuts, fuzzed-out SG copies and Agnostic Front records may not mean what they did in 1982, but they still mean something. Despite recurring invasions from major labels, wannabe major labels and art-school kids looking to latch on to their next post-emo phase, hardcore remains a vibrant subculture for young and old.

Old folks and other cynics seeking proof that hardcore still turns out envelope-pushing, relevant rock and roll need look no further than the fruits of the last decade. From the crossover thrash revival to renewed influence in the mutant strain known as powerviolence and experimentation with prog and jazz, the hardcore of the aughties holds its own with any other decade.

I can feel your anxiety from here.

Christmas is just over two weeks away and you’ve still got shopping to do.  You opted for the “lots of little presents” route, instead of the “one big enchilada” route, and now you find yourself a few gifts short of a stocking.  Worse, you’ve got one or more rockers on your list, and they’re such ungrateful snobs that you’re afraid to get them anything having to do with music for fear of the inevitable snarky comment ending with the word “lame.”

What’s an elf to do?

Relax- I’ve got you covered.