Thursday, July 31, 2008

Should Have and Might Could

High on Stress--"Cop Light Parade" (mp3)
Game Theory--"Crash Into June" (mp3)

This is, by way of a couple of other songs, a semi-negative review of Paul Westerberg's 49:00. I'm sure you know the deal by now--download for 49 cents and get an entire album's worth of new songs and partial songs, with the catch, or novelty, that it's all one track.

I see the novelty, maybe even the cleverness of the approach, but I don't really see the point. I'm all for artists putting out their own music and bypassing the ridiculous percentages a record company takes, and I'm all for lo-fi recording. So it isn't either of those. It's the fact that the whole thing is supposed to play as one track when it's of such uneven quality, which means a listener has to do a lot of work to get to what he really wants to hear. And it's uneven in such a strange way--there aren't any bad songs. I mean it is Paul Westerberg, after all, but some seem kind of unmemorable and some we really don't get enough of a taste of to make a judgement.

The standout track to me, so far, is one of the earlier ones called, I'm guessing, "The Devil Raised a Good Boy." I also read in another review that there's a really nice ballad around the 36:00 minute mark. But what is the artistic statement being made by forcing me to wade through snippets and half-finished ideas in order to find the gems I really enjoy?

Like many others, I've been enjoying Paul Westerbrg's music for a long time, from the raunchy "Gary's Got a Boner" to the catchy "Dyslexic Heart" to the calmly vitriolic "Silent Film Star" (as performed by Grandpaboy). I liked the home recorder songs on 14 Songs like "Black Eyed Susan" and "Even Here We Are." But it feels like things are getting sloppy. Is the idea that everything P.W. does is worth hearing so all of it comes out in whatever version is lying around, even if his son turned off the recording half way through the song? Is 49 cents for a great songwriter's work supposed to be some kind of ironic bargain? I don't know. If so, put me on record as saying I'm not looking for a bargain. I'm happy to pay for an artist's best work. That being said, I can't imagine not downloading 49:00 and adding it to your collection. What is there to lose?

By contrast, just for fun, thrown on Thick As A Brick by Jethro Tull, if you have a copy anywhere. One album, two sides, two tracks (it would be one track if made today on cd). I don't know what you think of prog rock these days (I still love it, I admit), but you'd still have to admire the craftsmanship and care that it took to put that magnum opus together. Who knows what the whole damn thing means, but everytime it switches to a new section, it sure is listenable.

I also offer a couple of other interesting songs. We have reached the point in our blogging career that people are starting to send us their music. Of the music we've received, there was one song I really liked, by a group called High On Stress. When you play the song, you'll hear that they wear their Paul Westerberg influence on their sleeve, but part of that homage is the kind of song with well-crafted lyrics and a memorable chorus that Westerberg is so capable of. You might hear a little Ryan Adams from the Whiskeytown era in there, too. You can get a fuller sense of the band at their website (link below).

The other song, "Crash Into June" by Game Theory, is one that Bush played for me a long time ago and I had forgotten about, but it has such an earnest, late 80's feel to it and summer is sadly winding down, and it seemed like a good time to hear it.

Best of luck to High On Stress with their upcoming CD release, and regrets to Game Theory that they never quite made it. You can download the new Westerberg here or visit High On Stress' myspace page to hear more of their songs.

Technodisillusionmentarianism

Bad Connection - Yaz (mp3)
The Touch - Stan Bush (mp3)


OK, so I made up that word, but I'm still haunted by the fifth grade fear of having to spell "antidisestablishmentarianism" in the school spelling bee (even though it's actually much easier to spell than smaller words).

My new word, which should get into Webster's any day now, means this: technodisillusionmentarianism -- (n.) The act of causing someone who generally has great faith in the power of technology to lose that trust.

Let's use it in a sentence: "Working on Bottom of the Glass has created in me a feeling of technodisillusionmentarianism."

I thought a lot of issues could create a challenge for this blog. Maybe Bob and I would struggle for material or even run dry. Maybe we'd have some huge philosophical difference of opinion and break up, like McCartney and Lennon. Maybe Sony execs would hunt us down and kill us for copyright infringement (because we were promoting one song by a band to encourage our visitors to consider buying more... like iTunes Free music, but with added commentary and no direct permission). None of the challenges I feared ever really materialized, nor do I see them causing problems in the future.

The one thing I foolishly took for granted is that we could post music files and let our visitors hear those songs and even download them for their long-term listening enjoyment. All we had to do was pick from any number of sites that offered such a service. Well, we've now used three different sites -- four if you count MediaMax's being bought out by TheLinkUp -- and had our files dumped or made inaccessible on each one of them repeatedly. Twice we've even forked over cash to upgrade our accounts.

First we went with MediaMax, which switched two weeks after I paid for a year's subscription, to TheLinkUp, which deleted all of our old files and bumbled and stumbled their way into uselessness and incompetence before finally giving up the ghost in mid-July.

Last week, after hemming and hawing between FileDen and HotLinkFiles, I paid for a month's subscription to HotLinkFiles to give it a shot. My reward for choosing them and giving them my credit card number? Less than three days later, all of our files had apparently been deleted.

WTF, mate?

So now I'm both painfully jaded about what kind of jokers are running these file hosting sites and painfully afraid of giving them any more of my money when the odds seem pretty good that my money will be utterly wasted. Sure, it's only $5-10 (the wasted year subscription to MediaMax was $50), but in music blogger dollars, we've sacrificed 11 albums' worth of downloads.

I'd originally planned for an entirely different topic today, but I don't want to waste my great songs that no one could download or listen to, so I'm putting them on hold until we can settle on something that can ease my technodisillusionmentarianism.

Whilst we research and dig for a new music file host, I'll flash back to the '80s with the deliciously saucy Alf Moyet teaming with future Erasure leader (and past Depeche Modie/Moder) Vince Clarke in Yaz. "Bad Connection" isn't even in the top five of my favorite songs on Upstairs at Eric's, which is quite possibly the greatest oversaturated synth album in the history of the world (unless you love Yanni). I didn't want to post anything I liked more for fear the link wouldn't work. In addition, I've posted "The Touch" by the inimitable Stan Bush, who sang this song for The Transformers soundtrack -- nooo, not the 2007 flick, but the 1986 animated movie. Dirk Diggler fans will know this song all too well in its bastardized form.

Upstairs at Eric's can be purchased at either iTunes or Amazon.com's mp3 site. Amazingly, so can the soundtrack to the 1987 Transformers movie.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

GUEST POST: How To Blend In At A Cool/Hip Rock Show If You Are An Older White male

This anonymous post comes in response to my worry that if I went to the Monotonix show, I would be hopelessly out of place. If you've seen them on YouTube, you know why. Though I'm older than many of you, the same rules apply if you're creeping into the mid-to-upper 30's, agewise. Given the popularity of the "Cougar" movement, I suspect older women are fine however they wish to present themselves.

Silver Jews--"Slow Education" (mp3)
Monotonix--"Summers and Autumns" (mp3)
My Bloody Valentine--"Only Shallow" (mp3)

When I say cool/hip rock show, I’m not talking about R.E.M., ColdPlay, or even a RadioHead show. I’m talking about traveling to an intimate club (800 people or less and/or the Pitchfork Music Festival) to view something along the lines of Times New Viking, Deerhoof, a Slint or Mission of Burma reunion, or say the Monotonix at JJ Bohmias on September 17th of this here very year in Choo Choo City.

Unless you are Robert Pollard, Thurston Moore, J Mascis, Frank Black or Tom Waits, here are a few tips for the rest of us.

1) Avoid bright colors. In the cool/hip world, bright colors signify country clubs, yacht clubs, bridge clubs, and any other type of club you can think of except the COOL club.

2) What should you wear? Khaki or gray shorts always work in the summer. Leave the pleated ones at home. Solid color drab t-shirts (with pocket) are a no attention getter which is good. Black shoes with white socks or running shoes with black socks is always IN at the rock club. In the winter, Levis jeans with brown or black boots, t-shirt and wool sweater will never get you laughed at or thrown out. Always wear an interesting hat. This hides age and political haircuts well, and you can advertise something interesting/cool in a low key way.

The one I like to pull out for such occasions is the Texaco Hat. Shouldn’t have to explain this one. It’s in keeping with that gas station attendant look everyone else is going to have. Nobody else in the place will have 1 like it. Put a star in your car is kinda industrial and cool. I know it has the fossil fuel thing going, but politically correct only matters at a moe. or Dave Mathews show, in which case I would be pulling out my HEMP wardrobe. If it makes you feel better, wear something touting farm equipment or anything having to do with industrial supplies or cleaning. Irony always works as well….believe it or not, NASCAR and topsiders can be worked together if done right.

3) If you were one of the many unfortunates to get an easily viewable tattoo in your 20’s, it’s time to hide it……That is unless you are reasonably fit and trim. Nothing bums the kids out more than seeing some fat, old, white man, with a ying/yang, tribal band, or any other 90’s cliché tattoo at a cool rock show. I lucked out. I always chose buying alcohol over buying tattoos in the 90’s.

4) Speaking of buying alcohol, stick with Budweiser. PBR is cool and it’s good, but it might signal trying too hard. It’s up to you. You won’t get too much grief ordering either. Just steer clear of the following: Sam Adams or Amstel light. Yuppie ODOULS = old alcoholic? Even if you are, just order water or a soft drink. Micheloeb Ultra is definitely a NO, NO in public….Ok in the privacy of your home with friends. Drink drinks are always fine in the rock club, but I tend to steer clear of these in my old age.

5) So, how do you act in the club? You don’t. If you have done everything appropriately, the over-40 white male should essentially become invisible. Just find yourself a nice corner of the club (preferably near the bar) and enjoy the show.

Final thoughts: it never hurts to have some younger cooler friends/acquaintances to attend these shows with you. It’s definitely an added piece of camouflage. And finally, when in doubt on any decision, you gotta ask yourself, “Would Tom Waits do this?” Whether the answer is no or yes, well, you got your answer.

See you at JJ’s in September.

Music by these bands is available online at all the usual locations.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Wanderlustless

Southern Girls - Cheap Trick (mp3)
This Is My Home - The New Frontiers (mp3)

The more scientists dig into the fabric of our humanity, pulling apart our DNA like strings of Black Cat firecrackers, the more our raging individuality seems up for debate. Are we inclined to be fat? Are we fated to be left-handed? Are we born gay? Was my IQ severely limited before I even emerged from the womb? Do I love Cheap Trick because of the way my DNA forced my brain into shape, so that something in the sounds of Rick Nielson's guitars and Robin Zander's screechy vocals fits perfectly into this little craving in my ventral tegmental area like those little shapes in Perfection?

When reading about my partner's exploits in Korea, I wonder if I have a DNA malfunction. When I ventured out for the annual In-Law Family Beach Trip -- my 12th such experience to the same beach, in the same house -- I realized I might have a genetically inherited traveling disability.

Last summer I enjoyed what will likely be the Trip of My Lifetime when I visited Kenya (pre-presidential election chaos), and the entire experience was amazing. I got the good luck of going thanks to a coworker and lucky happenstance, so the entire trip was covered by my school. The people, the culture, the environment, the wildlife. Because I'd never been outside the U.S. except for Gulf Coast exotic locales like the Bahamas and Cancun, I felt like an infant. Every single minute of my day was something new, information to be absorbed and digested. It was exhausting and exhilerating to feel like every moment was a new learning opportunity. I took over 1,000 pictures. I learned some 40 words in Swahili. I admired and pitied and adored the Kenyan people I met, smiling through struggles with poverty that only the poorest of our American poor could even comprehend.

Upon returning, I had that Trip-of-a-Lifetime afterglow, something slightly comparable to the glow that covers a virgin college student after getting laid that first time. I basked in that glow. I loved talking about my trip with people who were truly curious and fascinated about it.

But now? A year after the experience? Mostly I just think, Thank God I didn't have to pay for that. That trip was f*#kin' expensive.

How screwed up is that? It was the Trip of My Lifetime, fer Chrissakes. I must suffer from a wanderlust deficiency, the inability to truly appreciate escaping my humble surroundings and experiencing new places, new people, new worlds. That's the only explanation.

Dollar for dollar, I have more fun sleeping two to a bed with three other guys every year in New Orleans than I did blitzkrieging London and covering huge swaths of Kenya. Dollar for dollar, I enjoy my trips to Tunica, where I sit in one or two large rooms and play 12-14 hours of nonstop poker. Dollar for dollar, I enjoy the annual beach trip with my in-laws in the same exact house, on the same exact beach, with the same exact people year in and year out.

This isn't intended to sound ungrateful for my Kenya experience. I truly appreciate, on the philosophical level, what a true gift and privilege it was. But in my gut? If I even had to cover half my expenses? I wouldn't go again.

WTF? What is wrong with me? Please tell me it's in my DNA.

Part of this must be some aversion to spending large sums of money on experiences rather than items, because I throw enough cash into stupid DVDs and music files to finance at least one international trip every year.

Just how fucked up is this glitch in my DNA code? Two years ago, due to the conspiratorial planning of some dormitory boys whom I oversee, I won a coveted school award. The award pays several thousand dollars to cover travel expenses however we see fit. We're not talking $10k or anything, but plenty enough to enjoy a fantabulous stateside trip, or enough to provide the backbone for a fancy overseas excursion. The only requirement is that I must use every penny for travel. You can't, like, do some Price is Right thing where you just take the post-tax cash instead of the Chevy.

I won this award in April 2006. We still haven't used it. Two other teachers have since won the award. Both had a trip planned and executed within three months of receiving it. August will be the 28th month we've had this award money and not used it. Our school's financial controller said she's never heard of anything like it.

Ireland. Scotland. Venice. Florence. Australia. The California Coast. Hawaii. Vancouver. Prague. We researched all of them. None of them compelled us more convincingly than the others. Instead of exotic locales, we almost spent the money to rent a beach house and invite any and all of our friends to come down free of charge... but we worried we wouldn't find a week when many of our friends would care to come down, nor did we know if all our various friends would really enjoy staying in a house with other friends of ours who might not be their friends.

See, when you never ever travel, and this magic Golden Ticket lands in your Wonka Bar, the challenge is that you only get to go one and only one place. And odds are good that it's the only trip of such magnitude we'll take in the next decade.

BOTG Bob (not to be confused with Bob Barker) has visited all 50 states in 51 years. He loves to travel, to make all the preparations. It feeds his soul.

Billy won't visit 50 states. Ever. I'll be lucky to make 25 states. And when I'm on my deathbed, to bastardize a quote from Office Space, I won't say I've been missing those other 25, Bob.

This defect annoys me only in the abstract. In reality, I don't think much about it. Most color blind people don't really miss the color red (the picture at right is what "ROY G BIV" looks like to many with color blindness). They know they can't see it, and sometimes they wonder what red is like, but most days they just go about life not missing red in the least. Likewise, my apathy toward travel only bothers me on a rare occasion, like when I'm reading about Bob's trip to Korea. Or when I'm writing a blog on the subject. But then I stop writing, go buy the new $0.49 Paul Westerberg album 49:00, and completely forget what the big deal was.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Random Musings on Missing The 4th of July

Bottle Rockets--"Wave That Flag" (mp3)

1. It's been three weeks now, and I still haven't gotten over it. Missing the 4th of July means missing the peak of the summer. For me, there's a build-up there, then a long slow decline into the fall. Most years, there are vacations and good times that follow the 4th, but when you stand in the dark and watch those fireworks, there's a kind of invincibility against all things that takes hold, and the greatest feeling of invincibility of all is the feeling that the summer will never end. That's the 4th of July for me. When the 5th comes, that feeling is gone. And when I don't celebrate the 4th, as I didn't this year, the whole mental preparation for the flow of the summer is missing.

2. This sounds elitist, and I don't mean it to be, but if you are not born and raised in a country, it's got to be very, very difficult to get that country in your blood. In one way, life for an American is all of the events, large and small, that occur while you are part of the national experience--for me during those formative years, it ranges from the Pirates winning the 1960 World Series (0ne of my earliest memories is my dad watching the games) to the JFK assassination and the other '60's assassinations to all of the NASA emphasis culminating in the moon landing and Woodstock to the Moratorium when I was in high school and didn't understand why students were wearing black armbands and refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance to the rumors that Paul McCartney was really dead and deconstructing the songs in the high school cafeteria to the Steelers 4 Super Bowls and seeing Led Zeppelin in that same stadium to Watergate and knowing intuitively that there was something wrong with the man we were electing president. If you live outside America, you believe that the Dallas Cowboys are/were "America's Team." It reminds me of a live Graham Parker CD where he's talking about Russians before the fall of the Iron Curtain. Over there, he says, they think Billy Joel is a rock and roll singer. Ouch.

3. One of our last days in Korea, we noticed the Korean flag posted on streets everywhere. Tommy asked several people what they were for. "Oh, they're for Foundation Day," people would tell us, "It used to be a holiday, but the government cancelled it last year because they thought we had too many holidays." What? I repeat, what? A cancelled holiday? Who decides there are too many holidays? If you had to give up a holiday, which one would it be? Don't go for Arbor Day; that's too easy a target.

4. The 4th of July also means music. I always think first of lying on my back watching the fireworks at Engel Stadium and them playing Bruce Springsteen singing Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" with no understanding that it was written as a protest and it not really mattering. I have written in other posts of some of my 4th of July favorites, but over in Korea, it was that same Bruce Springsteen who seemed to capture America the best. As we sat in our "managed residence" high above Seoul, I played some songs that captured America for me. When it came my roommate's turn, he immediately chose a song by the great German band, the Scorpions. Now, I've got nothing against the Scorpions, in fact, they rock me like a hurricane, but it seemed to me support of my point #2.

5. I dig fireworks. Always have. In fact, growing up, dug firecrackers a whole lot more. A 4th of July that involved a brown paper sack of fireworks, enough to last the day, was a good day. We would start out as liberals, lighting entire strings of firecrackers at once; by the evening, we had becoming conservative, had unwound those strings and were lighting them one by one to last the night.

6. A thought on flags. It isn't a perfect analogy, I realize that, but imagine a person in South Korea who went around flying a North Korean flag or just had a bumper sticker with a North Korean flag on his car. It would be nothing less than treason. And yet, we have people who continue to celebrate the country that was never ours, the seceded South, by flying flags or putting on bumper stickers. The Bottle Rockets' song I've posted above is a brilliant examination of this situation, though from a racial perspective. I'm starting to look at it differently: if you fly the confederate flag, are you really celebrating the country that was never America?

7. Ex-patriates are sad people. You don't have to spend too much time around them to sense it. I'm not talking about someone who is just living in another country; I'm talking about someone who went for a little while not intending to stay and now finds him or herself a decade or more down the road and still there. Such people are especially bitter about the quirks and customs and behaviors of their host countries. At the same time, they are too far removed from their homelands to have much connection with those places. I suspect if they went back they would be equally bitter about the changes that have taken place back home since they lived there. I knew Thomas Wolfe was talking about a town, and I understood, but the sadness compounds when you realize how hard it is to go home again to a country that you left a long time ago.

8. And so, this year is the first 4th of July I have ever "missed," have not celebrated. The only thing I can equate it to was in 1969 when I was up at my grandparents' cottage on Podash Lake in Ontario, Canada for the first moon landing. My grandfather had brought up from Buffalo a small black and white TV so we could watch, but the picture was grainy, and it was hard to tell what was what. Even at the time, 12 years old, I remember think how odd that I was not in America for the culminating event of all my years of fascination with NASA. Alas, we cannot always be where we want to be. But next year.................

9. There was a second shooter on the grassy knoll.

"Wave That Flag" is from the Bottle Rockets first CD, available at Itunes and highly-recommended if you want to know what it was like when one of America's best rock bands first burst onto the scene.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Men, Part 2: Husbands and Fathers

Hall and Oates--"Family Man" (mp3)
Hall and Oates--"Maneater" (mp3)

In a shameless act of self-promotion, I think my best commentary on this topic is a short story I wrote a few years back. So, I'll offer the opening. If it catches your interest, please read on:

SUPERDADS

I don’t know who came up with the SuperDad concept, me or Jason. I do know that beers were involved.

The problem was this: each fall, we were part of a Fantasy Football League, you know, the kind where you draft players from all different teams, and you “start” a quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, a kicker, and a defense each week, and each of those positions earns you points. There wasn’t big money involved or anything like that. We just wanted to be able to go off on Sundays (and maybe Monday nights) and drink to our hearts’ content at a local sports bar, watching as many games on as many TV’s at the same time as we could. All the forces of the universe oppose this desire.

So one of us said (I usually take full credit for things like this, but not this time), “It’s easy! We become SuperDads.”

We decided that if we were of exemplary character and behavior for the other six days of each week, our wives could not deny us our Sunday lapse. And, we were not going to pretend. That was genius of our plan.

“We have to want to be SuperDads,” one of us said to the other.

“I’m already a good dad,” the other one said.

“Yes, but you’re not a SuperDad. This is going to require a full commitment of body and soul. The body must be willing, and the soul must seek self-actualization. We won’t have to be talked into putting up a swing, we won’t reluctantly agree to Chucky Cheese’s or the park, we’ll be all for it. And then, on Sundays, we get to veg.”

We hoisted our beers to each other and made the pact.

And then, just for clarification, one of us said ominously, “Of course, this also means becoming SuperHubby. That goes with the territory.”

We looked at each other, wondering if we were willing to go through with it. SuperDad helps with homework, swims when he doesn’t want to swim, goes to amusement parks, plays UNO, makes brunch, picks up children at junior high dances, comes up with activities for sleepovers, but SuperHubby? Nothing so tangible. SuperHubby listens to problems that he isn’t allowed to solve, agrees with what he doesn’t believe, attends films when he wants to see movies, offers up tidbits of needless gossip, shrugs off criticism of his parents, ventures beyond the safety of black in evaluating his wife’s clothing choices, even initiates sex in the face of denial. And more.

“Understand, it’s not a concession for freedom,” one of us said to the other. “We have to want to do this. It isn’t a sacrifice. We can’t perceive it as a curbing of a lifestyle. It has to be a change that we want to make, the right thing to do. It will make everyone happier.”

Since we didn’t care much about hockey, basketball, or baseball, we couldn’t predict whether we would remain SuperDads after the Super Bowl. That wasn’t important in the middle of July.

“I’m in,” said our friend, Ricky, who had been given permission to go out with us one night and heard of our plan. Ricky loved Sunday football and he loved going to Ed’s Sports Bar. He was especially amenable to the SuperDad idea because he had made, upon marriage, certain promises that had restricted his extracurricular behavior in the past, but now that discipline gave him an immediate edge up on us. As our sometime-friend Geoff, said about him, “Ricky had to promise not to do a lot of stuff.”

Don’t get me wrong. We weren’t bad dads or negligent husbands. We did our share of family duties, put our families first. I even cooked the meals. But we were men.

The Mecca for our Sunday escape was a place called Ed’s Sports Bar. There were other sports bars in town, but they were pricier. Plus, Ed’s had both excellent chicken wings and superb cheeseburgers. When you’ve worked through too many pitchers and start to get that hollow, dizzy feeling, you want to have something special to look forward to, and Ed’s, not being a chain, prides itself on its food, especially those wings and burgers. Plus, all of waitresses at Ed’s show their midriffs, and usually their belly buttons are pierced.

We conceived of our plan early enough in the summer to have a “SuperDad training camp” during late July and August, in other words, a chance to practice before the Fantasy League draft in early September. Late summer’s usually vacation time for our group, and when we regrouped briefly at the pool one night, all of us had success stories to share from traveling with our families. By that time, another friend, Chas, had come aboard, and while there were others that we could have invited, there was trust—we couldn’t have word getting back to our wives that would misinterpret our plan. Besides, we needed some of our acquaintances to serve as lesser husbands, should we need that comparison.

Vacations were a great success, we found, as we congregated in the water while watching our children go down the slide. Jason bragged of having had sex twice during the same vacation and of his wife saying, “We need to do this more often.” Ricky’s wife declared him forgiven for his drunken escapades at a college reunion in Chapel Hill last April and even suggested that he needed to get out with his safer friends (meaning us) more often. And I, though I didn’t tell this to the others, making up some line about great sex, too, saw in my wife Ronnie’s eyes the looks that we shared with each other eighteen years ago, as though time and children and money and death had never intervened.

For the rest of the story, click the link below.


SUPERDADS,continued

Who knew that Hall and Oates would offer the definitive musical commentary on this topic, available at Itunes.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Yeeaargh! My Jack Sparrow Summer Mix

[NOTE: Apologies to all the people who are coming here looking for the music files below. File hosting sites suck, even when you pay them money. At least, the ones to whom we're paying money seem to really really suck. More of my whining on the subject is available.]

As mentioned several times before, the superkewlest side benefit of BOTG is discovering a handful of really awesome music blogs and endless numbers of other blogs worth perusing in the late evening hours when the only sounds in my house come from some other music blog's song files.

So today I post my Best of Other Music Blogs mix, which I have lovingly dubbed my Jack Sparrow Summer Mix. Depending on how much you like the mix, you can choose to believe this mix was inspired by the first, second or third Pirates of the Caribbean movie. All of the songs below were nabbed lovingly from other music blogs. I highly recommend visiting some of the ones we've included in the left column.

But if you could give a flip about reading and only want to steal songs, there's really only one destination for you: The Hype Machine. THM is gold, Jerry! Pure gold! Want to hear a song? Want to hear a particular band? Type in the the name into THM's search feature, and it will search through a shitload of music blogs to find what you're lookin' for! Most of the time it'll find something tasty for you to sample, and you don't even have to read all the crap they write!

(I'm just kidding about that last part. Please read our crap. The music is s'posed to be the dangled carrot that gets you to read us. We're buying your eyes by bribing your ears.)

Enough banter. Enjoy the mix.
  1. First Sight - These United States (mp3)
  2. The End - Alejandro Escovedo (mp3)
  3. Hey Muscles I Love You - Muscles (mp3)
  4. The Plot - White Rabbits (mp3)
  5. Dark Place - Barton Carroll (mp3)
  6. Graveyard Girl - M83 (mp3)
  7. When Water Comes to Life - Cloud Cult (mp3)
  8. Pot Kettle Black - Tilly + The Wall (mp3)
  9. Feel the Love - Cut Copy (mp3)
  10. I'm Coming Home - Wild Sweet Orange (mp3)
  11. Another Day - Jamie Lidell (mp3)
  12. I'm Not Scared - Ladytron (mp3)
  13. Run to Your Grave - The Mae Shi (mp3)
  14. Windows - N.E.R.D. (mp3)
  15. From This Moment On - Poi Dog Pondering (mp3)
    Almost all of these artists and their songs can be purchased at either Amazon.com's mp3 site or through iTunes.

    Monday, July 21, 2008

    Men, Part 1: You Decide

    The Libertines--"The Man Who Would Be King" (mp3)

    Fine Young Cannibals--"Don't Ask Me To Choose" (mp3)

    This isn’t about all men. Maybe it isn’t about you or a man you know. But it is about me and many of the men I hang out with. Something has happened to us. Let me explain.

    Here’s a standard trip out to lunch:

    (C is an unnamed friend; M is me.)

    C: Where do you want to go, Bobby? We could go Chili’s. We could go Longhorn. We could go Ankar’s. You decide.
    M: I don’t care. You pick.
    C: I think I chose last time.
    M: Well, you’re driving. It’s your call.
    C: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. I’m not taking that heat. Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to just keep driving down Brainerd Road until you tell me to turn in.
    M: Arby’s.
    C: You don’t want to go to Arby’s.
    M: You’re right. So pick someplace else.

    The same thing happens in New Orleans, Louisiana or in Itaewon, Korea. We meander around hemming and hawing about what we do or don’t want to do, about who decided last time, and, ultimately, about one of us accusing the others about not making up their minds. But we’re all guilty.

    If one of us is foolish enough to “lock in” to a coherent plan, the rest of us will start chipping away at that with a variety of alternatives, serious or otherwise, until our decisive group member is second-guessing himself.

    I’ll offer three theories to explain this phenomenon:

    Theory A: The “No-one-wants-to-be-a-dick-anymore” theory. I say that like it’s a bad thing, and maybe it is. In this day and age, especially in the context of a family, if you are too forceful about what you want to do, without considering the common good, you are likely to be branded an asshole, a dick, or worse. What self-respecting dad says, "Listen, family, I'm going to go to the Outback Steakhouse for supper, and if you all want to come along, that's fine, even though I know two of you are vegans and the other one doesn't really like red meat, but, listen, I think you all can get by on the Awesome Blossom, though, frankly, you're going to cost me a lot of money, and I'd really rather go alone, but come along if you want." Dick. So it spreads to those times when you're out with the guys alone, which leads to the second theory:

    Theory B: The “Men-don’t-want-conflicts-in-their-male-relationships” theory. Time spent with male friends has become sacred and hard to come by (there's bound to be a trade-off or quid pro quo of some kind), and no one wants to fuck it up by creating conflict. So, the modus operandus tends to be a waffling on what you'd like to do or where you want to go, even though you've looked forward to these times and these places for a long, long, time; at best, it's a kind of gentle haggling. At worst, it's a compromise-fest that ends up leaving no one satisfied. Think about it--if you choose the restaurant that will satisfy your gourmet pal, your chicken-wing aficiando bud, and your cheapass, lovable buddy who only really wants to drink, where are you going to end up? Some kind of pale-imitation of someone's real thing.

    Theory C: The “Men-don’t-want-to-get-grief-for-insignificant-responsibilities” theory. Which leaves us with the position of not wanting to get too worked up over what isn't that important. I mean, if you end up eating some great nachos when you were really in the mood for a decent French place and a couple of glasses of wine, does it really matter? No, of course, it doesn't. But if you never get your way, if you never direct your crowd to even a slightly-different place, then all of you will end up recycling the same three or four places for everything. I know that isn't a tragedy, but maybe, ultimately, drifting only a few waves in either direction of the same straight boat course is the greatest tragedy of all. Maybe the best things in life are a bit more off-course than that.

    The discerning among you may see all three of these as the same theory. That's fine. If they aren't, then at least they may be stops farther and farther down the same path.

    I don't have a solution. But I think I'd like to be either the person who says, "I'm going to do X, and if any of you want to do the same, that's fine, and if not, then fuck off back to your little corners of the world." Or, at least I'd like to be in hearing distance of the kind of dick that would say something like that. Just to try to talk him out of it.

    The Libertines and the Fine Young Cannibals are both available at Itunes.

    Sunday, July 20, 2008

    Recurring Scooter Thoughts


    Hangman's Reel - Christie Burns + Butch Ross (mp3)
    Flashlight Fight - The Go! Team (mp3)

    Billy is away on vacation for nine days, but he will begin his two vacation musings with this reflection on Scooter Life.

    Without question, the brain works differently on a scooter as opposed to inside the confines of an automobile. This is even more true when said individual is new to the scooting experience. Below are a collection of the Top Ten thoughts, realizations, notions, that sprout from my mind when I'm puttering around the town:
    1. Bugs hitting your chest at 35 mph can leave a tiny welt. When they hit your face, it just itches.
    2. People like talking to people on scooters. So far I've had at least six different cars, next to me at a stop light, ask me one question or another. Whatever innate mistrust or fear we have of strangers must be negated the pathetic harmlessness of riding a scooter. (I mean, whoever heard of someone conducting a drive-by on a scooter?)
    3. Rain makes scootering more like an amusement park ride. Scarier, riskier, and more childish.
    4. This thing really gets 80 mpg! This thing really gets 80 mpg!
    5. I thought I'd miss A/C, but I don't. Even on 95-degree days with 100% humidity, the breeze is sufficient if you're not surrounded by metal and windows that have been simmering in the heat all day.
    6. Whether you want to be, and whether you care, you are officially a member of the Sons and Daughters of Two-Wheeled Motor Vehicles. As such, you must acknowledge all of your brothers and sisters when passing them on the open road. The preferred greeting is a left hand, lowered to the waist, in a kind of ZZ Top send-off.
    7. Rain also makes you blink a lot. I never knew I could blink that many times per minute.
    8. Dust just doesn't taste very good. Not in any of its legion forms.
    9. I'm much more attentive and alert to my surroundings and others on the road on a scooter. But that's 'cuz almost anything could kill or maim you.
    10. I can scoot down to Starbucks, order a Grande Caramel Frappuccino, stick it in the little glove compartment, and it will make it all the way back to the office without spilling a drop! I can even do it with a White Chocolate Mocha without spilling more than a few drops! It's like that glove compartment was made for shuttling coffee!
    "Flashlight Fight" is from The Go! Team's sophomore album, Proof of Youth. "Hangman's Reel" is from Christie Burns + Butch Ross' album Here to Play. Both are available as Amazon.com's mp3 downloads, or The Go! Team is at iTunes.

    Friday, July 18, 2008

    Funny Bone Hairline Fracture


    It Hurts When I Laugh - Love Spit Love (mp3)
    You Don't Need to Laugh (To Be Happy) - Frankie Miller (mp3)
    Paid to Smile - The Lemonheads (mp3)

    I'm worried about the state of the American Funny Bone. It's not broken, but perhaps it's in need of some more calcium, stat. The American Funny Bone is like some 90-year-old woman's hips, and one good fall down a stair or two could shatter it into a bajillion pieces, leaving the American Sense of Humor stuck in a wheelchair for the short remainder of its miserable life, constantly bumping into the door frames and complaining about the crappy rest home cuisine.

    Can someone please explain to me how, at a time when our society is almost as likely to get its news from "The Daily Show" as from some talking head on CNN or FoxNews, America risks losing its robust sense of humor, a sense that has arguably helped us almost survive numerous wars over the centuries, not to mention eight laugh-so-you-don't-cry years of King Dubya?

    First, we get these scathing conservative responses to the Pixar movie WALL-E start sprouting up, accusing the movie of pissing on the Amur'kin Way of Life and mocking our culture of laziness and excess. (Disclaimer: I ain't seen the movie yet.)

    And then this whole Obama v. New Yorker nonsense comes up, where apparently the racist morons who might not get the humor in the cover will now vote for McCain.

    Excuse me, but just how many racist morons -- excuse me, racist morons who think Obama's a Muslim extremist terrorist -- were biting their nails, still unsure which way their vote was going? Hmm... should I vote for the American war hero or the neegra Muslim terr'ist? It's sooooo close! If only a cartoon magazine cover would offer me some guidance... 

    I hate to pee in a big bowl of liberal corn flakes, but living in the South, I'm quite certain there's lots of folks who ain't voting for Obama either because they think he's Muslim, or they think he's a terrorist, or they think he's black. And really? When all is said and done? They mostly think he's a Muslim terrorist so they don't have to come out and say it's because he's black. (A black columnist for The Guardian UK makes some nice points.)

    Further, how many racist morons even know where one can purchase New Yorker, much less use this cartoon -- it's a *#%&%# CARTOON, people!! -- in their nefarious propoganda. By that logic, if only Kim Jong-Il could plaster a few hundred thousand buildings with his visage, he could convince the American people he was actually a decent fella. Or maybe he would just need to sing "I'm So Ronery."

    I have trouble envisioning the Ku Klux Klan using this cover as part of their recruiting materials. ("This one's guaranteed to double our membership!!") I don't see Republicans carrying large protest posters with this on them, like it was an aborted baby fetus, to their national convention.

    But the talking heads are certainly right about one thing. This has hurt Obama's campaign. Even though he's personally tried to shake it off and act non-plussed about it, the reactions of everyone around him and media people and bloggers only serve to remind us that, if we vote Barack Obama for President, our sense of humor will take a serious blow.

    Saturday Night Live won't even be allowed to spoof him, as every single spoof risks the overly sensitive taint of possible racism.

    Back to the WALL-E issue. As numerous observers have rightly observed, observing our society as fat, lazy and wasteful isn't particularly original or groundbreaking. Nor, as they have noted, is it particularly inaccurate. But does that mean it can't be funny? Maybe not HaHa Funny, but maybe HurHuhmm Funny. Or maybe Oof!Ack!Ow! Funny.

    Just how desperate are Republicans for some kind of grumpy upper hand that they're looking to a Pixar movie as proof of the vast left-wing conspiracy in Hollywood? Hell, Michael Moore practically looks like the captain, so I'm not sure Pixar could be skewed too far to the left.

    More to the point with both of these examples, have we come so close to the fat bastards in WALL-E that we have to have our humor spoon-fed and spelled out for us? Are we so completely numbed and dumbed down that anything requiring more than a half-second of contemplation is tossed aside or feared? Would Jonathan Swift be bogged down as a barista at Starbucks, unable to sell his essays or novels because he can't write a good juicy tell-all memoir that involves Lilliputians?


    "It Hurts When I Laugh" is on Trysome Eatone. "You Don't Need To Laugh (To Be Happy) is from Once In A Blue Moon. "Paid to Smile" is from The Lemonheads' Come On Feel... Amazingly, none of these songs are available on either iTunes or Amazon.com's mp3 site. Go figure.

    Thursday, July 17, 2008

    A Farewell Love Letter to Seoul

    Neil Young--"Good To See You Again" (mp3)
    Joe Jackson--"Hometown" (mp3)

    (fulfilling an "argumentative essay" assignment I wrote with my students)

    Dear Editor of a Korean Newspaper Interested in Western Opinion,

    Seoul, Korea is a large, beautiful city with many treasures, cultural or otherwise, but it can be challenging for tourists to navigate the hotels, restaurants, and even streets. Seoul needs a concentrated tourism program or ministry to make the city more accessible.

    As someone who enjoys travel, I have paid attention to the many amenities and conveniences that other cities offer in order to become tourist-friendly. For example, all restaurants in Paris are required to post their menus outside with prices, usually in many different languages. In Honolulu, free shuttle buses take visitors to popular attractions. In New Orleans, natives are so proud of their food that almost anyone you meet on the street will recommend his or her favorite places to you. Many cities, like New York, offer a discount card that allows visitors to see many top attractions for a cheaper price.

    Admittedly, Seoul may not be interested in expanding its tourism industry. But I doubt it. Even though the Korean culture is one of the world's more homogenous and tends to be insular, I also sense incredible pride in the modernization and growth of the city. And there is much here to see and do--ancient palaces, expansive museums, stunning vistas, state-of-the-art malls and upscale shopping and department stores to rival Paris, parks and hikes, amazing outdoor markets, cafes everywhere and a wealth of street food. So I conclude that Seoul may not know how to treat tourists, as desperately as it might want to. Or, perhaps, as I have personally experienced, the welcome, the hospitality comes on a personal level and that I am romanticizing other large cities when I think that they are more friendly than Seoul. After all, New Orleans, for example is 1/24 the size of Seoul.

    One thing Seoul does very well is transportation. The subway system may be massive, but it is very easy to figure out. The cabs may be reluctant to pick you up after a long night in Itaewon, but they are extremely cheap and plentiful. Seoul is also a walking city, and, like New York, you feel a sense of vitality and accomplishment that you have logged so many blocks, so many miles, during the course of your stay.

    But it would be better if someone during those blocks acknowledged the visitor, asked where he is from. If you are approached by a Korean man in a business suit who asks you that question, he is a preacher. It would be better if in a shopping city with so many clothes for sale there were actually sizes that would fit foreigners. It would be better if when you bought one doughnut, that the store knew that the cost of 12 doughnuts should not be twelve times the one doughnut price. There should be a "Seoul" t-shirt, a Seoul pass, a week-long subway pass.

    Or should there? Maybe the pleasure of Seoul comes in knowing that the pizza is way too expensive and that pushes you towards what isn't--the native food. Maybe the pleasure comes in being forced to adapt to some of the native ways--to learn some phrases, to master chopsticks, to try to communicate with cab drivers, to order some food without quite knowing what it is, in short, to meet Koreans on their own terms, rather than expect them to adapt to ours.

    What I do know is this. This is an amazing city, an amazing people. What they want, they want passionately, and they will not let the limitations of their own country or their own flesh stand in their way. But to get there, I think, they will have to be a little more aware of the needs of their guests. There is much talk of globalization here, but doesn't globalization, on its simplest level require making your culture accessible to other cultures.

    So, Seoul, thank you for our brief fling. I am not saying "No, it's over" to you, I am saying "Maybe." One of my students told me that if a country does not make you miss it when you are gone, then it has not done its job. I've thought a lot about that. I've looked at the many ways that I've been critical of you and your ways. But, Seoul, I have to say in the end that I will miss you when I am gone.

    Neil Young's Silver and Gold and Joe Jackson's Big World are available at Itunes.





    Wednesday, July 16, 2008

    Wherefore Art Thou, Simple Hero?


    The Good Old Days - The Lodger (mp3)
    Superman Song - Crash Test Dummies (mp3)
    On Film I Play Myself - Tim Seely (mp3)

    The American has the unmitigated gall to question what's happened to the cinematic hero of yesteryear:
    I mean real heroes, unqualified heroes, not those who have dominated American cinema over the past 30 years and who can be classified as one of three types: the whistle-blower hero, the victim hero, and the cartoon or superhero.
    (Seriously, you should click on that link and enjoy the read. It's a very interesting article.) 

    Heck, I'll forward his theory one notch further. Most of the comic book-based superheroes who clog the screen today are no longer the simple superheroes of yesterday. Batman is one seriously psychologically discombobulated fella, leap years away from Adam West's cheeky '60s version. Iron Man is an alcoholic fighting to right the wrongs of decades of corporate irresponsibility. The Hulk is the notion of powers that are more of a burden than a blessing. The X-Men are people who are pushed to the fringes and feared.

    The last Superman movie failed miserably, yet Superman and (possibly) Captain America are the only two heroes that, at least for a large chunk of their existences, were fairly simple and clean heroes. They carried few deep, dark secrets. Their aims were simple and true (and quite similar): Fight for truth, justice and the American Way.
    The point of all three of the kinds of hero in which Hollywood has specialized over the last 35 years has been to make sure that heroism can continue to exist only on a plane far removed from the daily lives of the audience. It is hard not to speculate that this is because of a quasi-political aversion on the part of filmmakers to suggesting to the audience that real-life heroism was something to which it, too, could aspire.
    While I agree with the essence of Bowman's argument -- that golly, it sure would be peachy-keen if we could have some fellas up on the big screen who were pure role models for how to be a Stand Up Guy in today's wacky world -- I can't help but confess that nothing about characters that simple appeals to me.

    I prefer Unforgiven, where you realize that Gene Hackman's Little Bill, who's supposed to stand for justice, actually stands for something a little more egotistical, frightening and rash. Where Clint Eastwood's William Munny was a lawless man who'd found the righteous path, went on a fairly chivalrous errand to earn much-needed money, and then reverted to his more evil ways when he stumbles upon the kind of flawed justice that ruins the lives of mostly decent people.

    In fact, William Munny isn't that terribly far from Batman. They both give in a little to their darker natures, sacrificing something of their own souls in the name of a higher and more aspirational sense of justice. The reason we don't have simple hero figures is because we know better. We know that being a hero comes at a cost. It requires sacrifice. Sometimes that sacrifice is in relationships, and sometimes it's safety. Whatever the price, it's always there, and it's always significant. Most superheroes sacrifice intimate relationships, must hide their identities. Even the greatest movie "simple" hero ever, Atticus Finch, had to pay a steep price for his principles.

    As much as I love Atticus, though, I've always been more fascinated with the conflicted hero, the one who has just as much potential to do the wrong thing as the right. Characters who actually come to two paths in the wood and... awww, you know the rest of it.

    Some examples, if you want to check out some of my favorite conflicted-hero flicks (non-superhero version): Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight. The East German policeman in The Lives of Others. Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire. Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls. Jeff Bridges in The Fisher King. Topher Grace in In Good Company. Edward Norton in American History X. Ben Affleck and Samuel Jackson in Changing Lanes. The whole cast of Galaxy Quest.

    Then there is Bowman's conclusion:
    Without this belief in a community where power is not antithetical to the good and the decent but the means of its advancement, (no films) of our own time will ever be able to give us any but a debased sort of heroism.
    Sadly, it's difficult to disagree with him. But... have you tried to watch Mr. Smith Goes to Washington lately? You might as well watch The Wizard of Oz, because Jimmy Stewart's Jefferson Smith is just as fictional in our current world as the Tin Man or the Good Witch.

    As all movie-based debates should, this one ultimately falls around Jimmy Stewart. Do you prefer the imperfect heroes from It's a Wonderful Life or Rear Window and Vertigo, or would you rather have Mr. Smith, The Man Who Knew Too Much and Lin McAdam from Winchester '73?

    Either way, as Bowers rightly acknowledges, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has enough simple heroism and conflicted heroism to make either side happy.

    "The Gold Old Days" is from Life is Sweet. "On Film I Play Myself" is from Funeral Music. Both albums are available on Amazon.com's mp3 downloads site and iTunes. "Superman Song" is from the first album by Crash Test Dummies, The Ghosts That Haunt Me. It ain't avilable either place.

    Monday, July 14, 2008

    Seoul Friday Night

    Elvis Perkins--"All The Night Without Love" (mp3)
    The Smithereens--"Blood and Roses (live)" (mp3)

    So here's a Seoul Friday night. Our last one. Get home about 4:30, unwind, wait for the sweat to dry from our clothes after a 2.4 kilometer walk back to our apartment, maybe sleep, maybe play the ukelele, maybe open the plastic 2 liter bottle of Cass beer in our refrigerator. Crackers and cheese "party cubes." Ipods and mini-speakers. Leaning out the window onto our mini-terrace from the 24th floor. Talk of what do we want to do. More talk of what do we want to do. More and more talk of what do we want to do. Finally, we settle on the Juju Tent Bar. We have walked past it for three weeks (Tommy for two years). Here's the deal: a retracted orange tent by day, a thriving, hopping soju bar by night and into the morning. Many is the day that we have walked to work around 7 am. and people are still sitting in the Juju Tent Bar, drinking and eating. But we never had the courage to invade this Korean haven until now.

    Tommy calls Jason, our Canadian pal, and says, "Meet us at the Juju Tent Bar" and off we go. We are seated and try to buy the t-shirts that the waiters wear, since they are the coolest shirts we've seen, but we are rebuffed time and again. Meanwhile, we have soju sent our way and beer and water since it is still hot out even as the sun starts to go down. Tommy wants to get an appetizer from the menu, and we are feeling adventurous after the soju, which tastes like watered-down vodka and makes us wince after each swallow. So he sees a fish a couple of tables over and a couple surgically dissecting it with a pair of chopsticks. After much pointing from the menu to that table, the waiter understands, and shows us that we have ordered the salted mackerel. Soon we are dismantling our own fish, me with tentative explorations, Tommy pulling strips of salted fish flesh with great gusto.

    Jason is late by now; having a car of his own, he doesn't take many cabs, and this one has bogged down in the evening traffic, we think, but don't know because we don't have a phone. We try for the t-shirts with different waiters, but with no more luck. Time passes. Beer flows. Eventually, Jason shows. He orders a Korean omelet which tests our chopstick prowess. Around us, the tent bar has come alive and there are no tables anywhere. We watch the people over several Cass. There is a girl in a Penn shirt, and on the way out, I approach her table and ask her if she went to Penn, too. She says that she is class of 2000, but this apparently creates no collegiate bond between us, so I say, "Class of '79. Congratulations." And we leave.

    The night takes us to Rodeo, several blocks down and across the street. They call it the "Hollywood" of Seoul; I'm not sure why--bars, clubs, restaurants, plastic surgeons--maybe that's why. Jason wants to find a place he had been to years ago called Monkey Beach, but the addresses and logos and lights are all packed together and we wander. Tommy sees his favorite hot dog guy. We stand in front of his unattended stand until he runs up from somewhere, tosses on of his bacon-wrapped sausages on the grill, douses it in some kind of butter mixtures and presses it against the griddle until it sears on all sides. We opt for relish and onions. It comes served in a cup, the dog, bun, and toppings protruding from the open end and we take turns biting into it. It is the best hot dog I have ever eaten.

    We wander some more, with no luck. I amuse myself as we walk by snapping pictures of odd names and unusual phrases on the many establishments that we pass. Finally, somehow, Jason spots his mecca amid a myriad of signs and we head down some steps to see what all of the fuss is about. But we can't see much because the whole bar is awash with color--pinpoint laser lights and beams the spiral constantly and cover everyone with digital specks and shapes. The crowd is young, the music insistent, that kind of club mix where one song after another has been remixed over the same Night At The Roxy beat. They are selling longnecks for 2,000 won and buckets of gin and tonic for 10,000. Jason opts for both. Tommy and I argue the merits of "We Are The Champions" remixed for a new generation. If you were drunk, or drunker, you would be puking by now as your feeble brain tried to figure out which lights to follow around the room.

    I barely notice, over in the corner, a man with a bare torso and drawstring pants tending to a fire.
    Tommy has met a young man who is at Emory. The frames of his glasses are illuminated a bright green. He has an entire bottle of Jose Cuervo at his table. Around us the seats at the picnic benches fill and, as often happens in bars, suddenly this one is full to.

    The man continues his rituals, which seem to be religious, in front of the fire. Then we begin to smell the kerosene and it is suddenly clear to me why we are here, why Jason wanted to find this place. It's for the show. The fire show. To the rhythmic beat of music selected for his performance, he swings buckets of fire and batons of fire at hyperspeed. He is dark, cut, and sweating, and the women love it. We are cheering, hoisting our beers in salute, snapping pictures, but through it all, I feel a little off. He seems more like a traditional Korean performer coopted into a bar than a bar performer, and for that, I feel a kind of pity, as I did when my grandfather took me to see Seminole Indians wrestle alligators in Florida. Maybe, it's just too far into the night.

    Jason heads to his cab; we head to the Kraze Burger, an overpriced Japanese burger chain whose novelty has worn off this second time. We are dull, we are bloated, and we are looking at this food in front of us, wondering why we ordered so much. But Saturday morning is sleep, perhaps the only day when we have no wake-up call, and after eating a couple of bites of burger and a few fries, we up the streets and up the hills to our building. We are done; Seoul, on the other hand, is just getting warmed up, but it will have to carry on without us.

    Elvis Perkins and The Smithereens are available at Itunes, though perhaps not these performances.

    Sunday, July 13, 2008

    The Big D

    I Wish the Best for You - Emerson Hart (mp3)
    How to Survive - Lori McKenna (mp3)

    Celebrities obviously didn't become famous for being intelligent. Not a damn one of them. Don't wanna go marching down an already-tromped trail, so no need to wax about our culture's freakish obsession with their lives and our even freakier desire to be one of them, lust for fame at whatever cost.

    Although I've only read Slate's take on it, I can't deny a morbid fascination with the Christie Brinkley divorce. Even more than the predictable R Kelly acquittal, this courtroom drama of irreconcilable differences to the power of google is a real head-scratcher.

    First, the pathetic stereotypes. The husband is the horniest bastard on the planet. Except for, that is, all the other males. As for Christie Brinkley, the very same woman who made horny bastards all over the planet envy Chevy Chase for 20 minutes in Vacation, she's the nun-like woman scorned, somehow capable of marrying the Horniest Bastard on the Planet, having two children by him, and never realizing that he was spending more than I earn every year on porn and God only knows what else, either hookers or more Vaseline than you can fit in a large master bathroom.

    But here's the kicker. This woman has been in the spotlight so long, the heat from those lamps have burned what few brain cells she ever possessed in the first place. She insisted -- no, fought tooth and nail -- for the right to have her circus drama unfold in the public eye. Let me repeat: She wanted us to gawk at their mutant marriage. Her sole motivation? Anger. The desire to reveal her future ex as The Horniest Bastard on the Planet.

    Christie claims she wanted it going public "for the kids." Yes, I'm sure your children will be forever grateful that you have shown that half your DNA comes from a scuzzbucket. Everytime they're mocked at school for having such insane parents, they'll be like, "Ohhhh thank you Mom! We're sooo popular!" Fortunately, she's probably so vapid she won't ever realize this. Besides, they can afford therapy for the kids, so what's the big deal?

    I reckon she got what she wanted. Ironically, if any sane person believes Christie's ex is going to struggle to find 50 women hotter than Christie Brinkley willing to give him a chance -- or at least a job -- you might as well check yourself into the same anger management psychiatric ward that Christie needs. Here are the stereotypes romping around in the current story:
    • Man = Horny Bastard
    • Woman = Clueless, sexless, vengeful and full of wrath beyond reason
    • Supermodel = stupid and clueless, marries rich man for the money
    • Rich Men = marry trophy women for the cute family portrait over the mantle, then screw every other supermodel (and waitress, and sometimes hooker) they can get their sweaty palms on 
    • Other Women = Totally willing to screw around with a rich man they know is a Horny Bastard
    • Media = Sharks in shock for being invited to a bloodbath
    • Americans = Tourists staring into the aquarium to watch it with perverted envious glee -- it's a lot cheaper than online porn, and those rich celebrities deserve to be miserable, 'cuz it's karma!
    It's no coincidence that Maureen Dowd's weekend column, "An Ideal Husband," was an instant hit. Lots of us -- even folks who don't care about celebrities -- find ourselves wondering what the hell these people are doing getting married. And not just Christie, but other people we know. We see 'em, and we think, They'll never make it, not in a million years.


    And we're right. They don't make it. Usually not even for three years, much less a decade. But people keep doin' it. Getting married to the wrong people. And not, like, slightly wrong. We're talkin' totally, completely wrong. Your own personal Anti-Spouse is wearing a ring with your initials in it, and you wake up every morning staring the person in the face, wanting to throw up all over them like some Linda Blair in The Exorcist punishment.

    (DISCLAIMER: To my friends who have been through the meat grinder of divorce (and there's more than a few of you out there), please forgive, because I'm not trying to reference you and your shitty marriages in this. I'm trying to speak more generally. Your marriages ended for unique and nuanced reasons, and I've only once said aloud to someone, prior to a wedding, "They'll never make it," and they were hardly friends. Most of your marriages didn't get shitty until sometime later.)

    (SECOND DISCLAIMER: Sorry I called your marriages shitty. 'Twas a pathetic attempt at humor. But they were kinda shitty...)

    And another thing. How the hell can a celibate Catholic priest understand so pristinely what more than half of us marrying types don't understand one whit? Meanwhile, the preacher who conducted the premarital counseling sessions required by North Carolina law gave Jenni and me only one piece of memorable advice in four hours' worth of meetings:

    HIM: If you wake up, and your wife is in the kitchen cooking you breakfast, and maybe y'all didn't have a great night the night before, or maybe y'all had a little fight, or maybe you can just sense she's a little down that morning, or maybe you're not feeling very happy. You know what I like to do at times like this? I like to go over to my wife, and I just peench her boob.

    ME: You wha?

    HIM: Peench a boob. Just go up and give it a tweak. Always makes the day a little brighter. 
    I said it was memorable advice, not wise advice. And no, I'm not making that up. Sometimes I think it's a miracle that even 50% of marriages survive.

    "I Wish the Best for You" is from Emerson Hart's solo album, his first after the demise of Tonic, Cigarettes and Gasoline. "How to Survive" is off Lori McKenna's unbelievable Favorite Album of 2007, Unglamorous.

    Friday, July 11, 2008

    Always BET On Black

    WARNING: This week's songs contain naughty words and roughly 400 repetitions of the racially-charged "N" word. Listener discretion is advised.

    I Don't Wanna Be Called Yo Niga - Public Enemy (mp3)
    Dignity - The Heavy (mp3)
    Blackjack - Everclear (mp3)

    Few things are less wise than for a pasty white boy to dare get mixed up in opinionating on something like the Black Entertainment Network. The minute a pasty white boy throws his opinion out into the world, it can be sliced and diced, critiqued and lambasted, because it's as pure a Catch 22 as you can get. Fortunately, this pasty white boy's opinion only goes out to a small handful of people who already know better than to pay attention to his rants, so hopefully I'm in a relatively safe harbor.

    If you didn't know, a number of corporations including GM and Pepsi have pulled their ads from BET's afternoon programs. Their action is the result of protests, chiefly from a group called Enough is Enough that is trying to fight the negative stereotyping of African-Americans in our media. There's more sex, booty-shakin' and gangsta threads in two hours of afternoon BET programming than there are holes in George Bush's logic.

    Enough is Enough makes an admirable gesture made all the more admirable for their willingness to take on one of their own in the BET. Although Viacom-owned (read: overseen by rich honkeys), the folks at the top of the BET ladder are most decidedly black and have been the target of some scathing critiques, including Aaron McGruder, creator of The Boondocks (early part of the linked YouTube clip includes an example of this).

    (Side Note: Aaron McGruder's sense of humor is so harsh it makes late-model Bloom County and Outland read like Family Circus. Boondocks can be so harsh, in fact, that it's often just not funny. But I admire the dude for channeling some serious and righteous fury into a cartoon.)

    The damned if ya do or don't part of this is, BET isn't losing any of the advertising from these corporations. They're still paying BET exactly the same amounts as before, but their ads are now going to different time slots. Why the half-assed protest? Because the minute these big white corporations pull all their money from Black Entertainment Television -- no matter that they would claim it's in the interest of quashing stereotypes, no matter that a group of black activists are in full support -- they're opening themselves up to accusations of racism.

    So BET isn't losing a penny in this, and they'll never have to face the level of scrutiny for their misdeeds that Don Imus in his goober cowboy hat will receive for his comments, in spite of the fact that, without question, the shit BET shovels is swallowed by more people and does far more damage than Imus ever could.
    I can't even pretend to be in touch with my Inner Brotha. I learned more about race relations in high school from one CD -- Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet -- than I learned the previous 17 years of my life (OK, without Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, I'd never have known about Fear of a Black Planet, so I owe that movie a good bit as well).

    Mine has been an existence of cultural cluelessness, although I've always hoped for the best and tried to minimize whatever racist tendencies I've witnessed in myself or those around me. I'm not one of the gajillions of stupid white people who starts any sentence with "I'm not a racist, but..." Those words always seem to preceed an extremely racist comment. How could it not? The entire reason for the existence of those five words is to grant the user carte blanche (or should I say "carte black"?) to utter inappropriate opinions or observations.

    It's a shame The Cosby Show is so under-appreciated, as is Fat Albert, for that matter. Bill Cosby is proof, to me anyway, that even a philandering perv can have some seriously righteous causes and make positive cultural waves, often in spite of himself (see: Bill Clinton).

    But Bill Cosby, Public Enemy, Spike Lee... these are influences long past, relics of previous iterations of race relations. Recently, it's either become easier to avoid these kinds of cultural awakenings, or they're just not as powerful as they used to be. I've never seen a Tyler Perry movie. I've purchased maybe two dozen R+B or HipHop albums in my entire life. Our culture will have a hard time exorcising BET's demons when so few of the other networks seem willing to step up to the plate and make a legitimate and compelling drama or sitcom revolving around black people. Is The Great Debaters really as powerful as Glory was 20 years ago?

    To be fair, it's difficult to sound the alarms too loudly when our most bankable movie star is black, our most influential TV personality is black, our most esteemed athlete is black, and we're on the verge of electing our first black President. The existence of four supremely successful people doesn't magically erase racism from our culture, but it sure as hell buffers one's righteous fury, especially if you're a clueless pasty optimistic white boy.

    One day, pasty white people and black people with a variety of melanin levels will have the ability to sit down together and calmly discuss misconceptions, ignorance, opinions, and observations without the dreaded fear that the discussion will end with the two sides feeling assaulted or more distant. I'll probably be dead by then, but I'll keep my eyes open just in case.  

    "I Don't Wanna Be Called Yo Niga" is off Public Enemy's fourth album, Apocalypse 91... Public Enemy Strikes Black. "Dignity" is off The Heavy's only album thus far, Great Vengeance and Furious Fire. "Blackjack" is off Everclear's 2003 album, Slow Motion Daydream. All are available on iTunes or Amazon.com's mp3 site.