Mistaken for Strangers—a must see documentary

Mistaken for Strangers, a documentary created by Tom Berninger, younger brother of The National’s frontman, Matt Berninger, is unlike any “rock doc” you’ve ever seen. It’s not a story of conflict amongst band members or the long journey to success. It’s not a segment of VH1’s “Behind The Music,” or special feature footage included on a live performance DVD.

It’s a documentary about two brothers; one who became one of the most well known voices of indie rock, and one who did not. 


After being asked to join the band as a roadie on its High Violet tour, Tom decides to film a documentary about The National on tour. The end result the audience sees is so much more than that, delving deep into Tom’s insecurities and depression in the face of his brother’s success. If you haven’t had the chance to see it, I highly recommend it—it’s a $15 download, but it’s totally worth it. And check out this Pitchfork review too.

I watched Mistaken for Strangers four times in the past 60 hours knowing I would be writing about it later on. My first instinct was to talk about how unique it was, breaking the mold set by rock docs previously, but as more reviews popped up, the more I realized I had to think of something knew. 

And then I thought about the college I attend.

Almost all who attend Columbia College Chicago are chasing a dream, whether in the spotlight, in the studio or behind the scenes. Often our dreams are far fetched, but we have the luxury of entering an environment where success is achievable. We are dreamers, and that’s okay.

We start our academic careers hoping to become Matt, but there will always be those of us who become Tom. Our dreams change, interests fade and sometimes it feels like it’s just  not meant to be. As great as Columbia can be for those who find success, there will be disappointment and heartbreak for some of us. We will compare ourselves to the Matt’s of the world and wonder why it couldn’t be us.

Matt Berninger is the frontman and lead vocalist for indie rock band The National.
Matt Berninger is the frontman and lead vocalist for indie rock band The National.

One of the many reasons I loved this film was due to the way members of The National were portrayed: calm, collected, mostly quiet and deeply ingrained in their music. Writing, producing and performing music was their job, and it was a job done well. Matt, along with the rest of the band—Aaron, Brian, Bryce and Scott—defied Tom’s expectations of what it meant to be on tour with a gang of rock stars. In a way, they shattered the illusion for all of us.

Tom’s jealousy toward Matt is sometimes painfully obvious in the film, and Tom’s disappointment in the band’s life on tour makes it that much harder for him to accept his brother’s success. Maybe he was frustrated that thousands of people would worship his brother, who essentially lives a normal life, and he felt Matt was wasting his fame. Maybe it was purely just the lack of substance in his own life.


It sort of changed, in my mind, the conversation on who or what is a rock star. It wasn’t about Matt being better or more deserving than Tom. Matt dealt with the same frustrations that Tom did, but he channeled it through music. Tom, who had interests, hobbies and talents, just less popular ones, didn’t have thousands of cheering fans to aid him as he processed his doubts. 

And that’s just the luck of the draw.

There will come a time when a few of us have to admit we’re not cut out for something. That our name isn’t going to to be in lights. And that’s okay. Although The National found fame and worldwide success, they are still doing a job.

We’re all just doing a job.

There is a societal attitude that if you work long and hard enough, you’ll get where you want to go. We can work our entire lives trying to reach a goal we might never fully grasp. And it’s not a testament of our character or work ethic—it’s not always meant to be.

I’m aware of how negative this might sound.  It is not my intention to bring everyone down, it’s actually quite the opposite—there is no reason to fear being Tom.

I may never achieve the same level of success as Matt Berninger, but I have hope I can become an exception. I will always have something to work toward, and having something—an idea, a job or an opportunity to contribute creatively—and falling a little short is still better than having nothing at all.

Baseball is dead

indexSpring training is over and the baseball season is just getting underway. The beginning of the MLB season can be exciting. It means warm weather is looming and the NHL and NBA playoffs are right around the corner however,  there’s one catch.  The Cubs and Sox can make you quite miserable the few times that you decide  to pay attention to what the teams are doing.

The Cubs are predicted to have the worst record in the league while the Sox probably won’t have much more success. The summer fans of the cross-town rivals will argue over who sucks less and who will bounce back stronger in 2015 and I don’t want to hear it.

So when my co-host, Eddie Saldana, suggested we dedicate a fourth of our show to preview an even bleaker season than the last, I had to object. Because baseball is important to Chicago and fans in this city and secretly they enjoy torturing themselves, we will include baseball at the bare minimum.

The Cubs have been rebuilding for next year since I can remember and it seems like White Sox fans are not ready to let go of the 2005 World Series.

These are some issues I’d like to address on the Benchwarmers, when it comes to baseball. I want to know the psychological reasoning behind a fan’s loyalty. Cubs fans, when will you give up on Theo Epstein? South Siders, your title was nearly a decade ago… when will it be time to move on and admit both sides suck?

Until  Eddie and I book a psychologist to discuss these issues, we are stuck talking about players that the casual fan will shrug at, hoping one day the big league club calls him up to be the savior and bring Chicago another World Series.

I am not ashamed to say I could care less about the minor leagues and the prospects the Cubs or the Sox might have. I am not interested in who has a possibility of contributing to a consistent winner but unfortunately my dear friend Eddy disagrees.

Baseball is no longer America’s game in my opinion. Americans live a fast paced life. Very rarely does anyone have enough time to sit and enjoy a three-hour baseball game.

The 24-hour news cycle has changed us and the fact that baseball in Chicago is so dismal, doesn’t help the cause.

The real problem with baseball is that it doesn’t resemble the baseball I remember growing up in Chicago.  Games were fun to go to and I dreamed for extra innings.

Before things changed for the worst, there were home run races between Slammin’ Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire. Those were the days that wins and losses didn’t matter to me. More recently, Chicago had a passionate pitcher by the name of Carlos Zambrano, who made watching baseball intriguing. You never knew when the guy was going to erupt.

Yes, the Cubs have up and coming players and the Sox still have Paul Konerko, but neither team has an athlete or figure that could fill up the stands.

Now, because the game is so hard to bare, after the third inning I’m begging for rain, thunder and lightning.  Until the Cubs can put a winning product on the field I will continue to bash the game that very few are trying so desperately to hang onto.

Nader Ihmoud is a co-host on The Benchwarmers Show every Monday night 7-9 p.m, the Media Relations Editor at The Columbia Chronicle and a reporter for Metro Minutes News. You can also ready his weekly column, Ihmoud’s Moods, in The Columbia Chronicle or at http://www.columbiachronicle.com/sports/column/ and visit his professional website at Naderihmoud.virb.com

When YouTube Covers Go Right

It’s the oldest tale in rock and roll: a person gets a guitar for their birthday, perhaps a Christmas present, or maybe their dad saw them eyeing one as they walked past a local music shop. That first instrument is a special purchase. The wannabe musician wants to learn how to play so they start pecking away at notes and chords, and usually head out to the garage with a few friends to play some covers from bands that perhaps started out the same way. After practicing an old Oasis or Neil Young song 100 times over, the newly appointed musician is now ready to take that next step and share it with the world on a platform that makes even the worst of musicians visible: YouTube.

We've all seen the terrible "bedroom" cover song renditions that make you cringe.
We’ve all seen the terrible “bedroom” cover song renditions that make you cringe.

How many times have you searched for a song on YouTube and seen bad covers by earnest-looking kids that make you want to jab number two pencils into your eardrums? I know I have clicked on more than my fair share of tone deaf wannabe musicians’ videos who would have been better served by thinking twice before clicking the “Upload” button. Hey, this is the Internet after all though you’re certainly free to put whatever you want up on media sharing websites however, more often than not, these renditions of one of your favorite original songs are inadequate at best.

Sometimes a pleasant surprise does happen.   The covers don’t suck! Sometimes the person has a really clever or unique take on a song or even better a voice that actually does the song justice. It’s becoming common  for new artists to get discovered via YouTube and while you may have to sift through some particularly horrendous versions of Velvet Underground songs, good cover songs really do exist!

So the next time you’re bored laying on the couch around the house, pick up the old laptop and see how many clicks it takes before you find someone who makes you sit back and say “hey, that was actually a pretty good version of that song.” To speed up the process , check out a few good videos of covers right here in this post.

Brendan Taylor hosts the indie alternative rock show, Indie Cuts, every Monday evening from 9-11 pm on WCRX 88.1 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @Btayradio




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