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Lessons Learned: 2011

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I learned a lot this past year. For example, did you know that Nicolas Cage could have been Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings? Crazy. But for more substantial learnings about life, let's turn to this year's music, and what it told us along the way. 1. Surprise People. 2011 in music was a year of surprises and generally stepping out of one's comfort zone. Usually this was in the form of collaborations – Kanye West reached out to reigning indie king Bon Iver, and Jack White worked with Conan O'Brien, Stephen Colbert and even the Insane Clown Posse just to screw with you. Sometimes it came out as wild ideas like The Flaming Lips producing a 24-hour song. Certainly, stepping out of your comfort zone doesn't always produce fantastic results, but sometimes the act itself is all the incentive you need. As the saying goes, the only reward of the easy path is that it's easy. 2. Two Great Tastes Don't Always Taste Great Together. Metallica and Lou Reed taught me that you can't just smash two things together and hope for the best. In the event that you do decide to smash two wildly disparate things together, avoid the hubris of talking it up in interviews. Do not, in any situation, tell people that this is the best you've ever been, especially if both of you happen to be legends in your respective field. I know I said surprise people – but do it in a way that is self-aware of the surprise, either with humor or humbleness. 3. If You're Amazing, You Will Last Forever In 2011, everything old is new again. It seems like every year, high quality box sets and reissues of classic material ramp up, and this was no exception. Whether it was The Smiths, U2's Achtung Baby or the mythological Beach Boys' Smile, there were enticing pieces of music history given new life in today's market. Maybe you lived through their heyday, or maybe it's all new to you. The lesson here is that the past doesn't quit, and that there will always be value in yesterday's best. 4. Know When, and How, to Quit. This year saw the end of Rilo Kiley, R.E.M. and LCD Soundsystem. Each had at least a healthy amount of success, especially R.E.M., so it's not like we didn't get to enjoy them while they were around. But things happen, and there's no shame in quitting. It's just a matter of how it ends. For Rilo Kiley, it was an ugly dissolution of relationships described as “deception, disloyalty and greed.” For LCD Soundsystem, it was a case of going out on top, and they did it in supreme fashion with a sold out Madison Square Garden. As the year ends, you'll be reflecting and evaluating how it went, and what emotion you want to attach to its passing. Here's hoping your year warrants more of a last hurrah than a quiet fade out.

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Our Favorite Musical Videos of the Moment

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Haven’t spent much time trolling the internet lately? Here are the five best videos you may have missed. Post ‘em to your Facebook for instant cool points.

Bon Iver Performing “Holocene” on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon Bon Iver returned to Jimmy Fallon for the band’s second appearance in three weeks to perform the gorgeous “Holocene,” off the band’s recent sophomore release Bon Iver. After this performance, Questlove, (of Fallon’s house band The Roots), tweeted “"Holocene" might be the most beautiful moment on @latenightjimmy. i think i just grew some wings.” That about sums up the gorgeousness.

Beyonce on the Billboard Awards 2011 Beyonce made sure everyone knew “who runs this mother” with her (Sasha) fierce performance at the 2011 Billboard Music Awards on May 22. Dancing in front of, and with, a series of projected shapes and images, Beyonce proved why she was also the night’s recipient of Billboard’s Millenial Award. During the performance, Beyonce eventually took to the audience, giving a bit of the crazy eye to the camera before returning to the stage and literally raising the roof to reveal her glittery female clone army.

Stephen Colbert and Jack White Jack White appeared on Stephen Colbert’s series “2001 (And 1) a Rock Odyssey” to discuss Colbert’s rock star ambitions. The duo riff on “Seven Nation Army” (with Colbert turning the iconic track into a jingle for yogurt) before Colbert performs an impromptu medley of Bob Seger’s hits to a seemingly speechless White. So mesmerizingly funny that it doesn’t really matter that none of it actually makes sense. The Suburbs, by Arcade Fire and Spike Jonze If you’ve got an extra 30 minutes on your hands, (hello, lunch break!) browse on over to (like movie, get it?) to watch the much-anticipated collaboration of film auteur Spike Jonze and Arcade Fire -- arguably the world’s biggest band of the moment. The mini-documentary is a take on AF frontman Win Butler’s youth in the suburbs of Houston, and just like the album that inspired it, the film is gorgeous.

U2 Performs “The Fly” at Glastonbury Every band in the world was in England this past weekend (Okay, we kid, but literally hundreds were in attendance) for the 26th annual Glastonbury music festival. Beyonce, Colplay and U2 were the headliners, and our favorite moment was when Bono and the boys went old school by playing five consecutive tracks off of their 1991 classic Achtung Baby. Check out this video of the band blasting through “Thy Fly” for a reminder of why you should pull this album off your shelf just in time for its twentieth birthday.

Be Sure to Check out:

The String Quartet Tribute to The White Stripes

Available now at iTunes and Amazon

Stung Out on U2 Vol. 1

Available now at iTunes and Amazon

Vitamin String Quartet Performs Arcade Fire

Available now at iTunes and Amazon

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