Monday, January 30, 2012

Look, Ma, I'm On TV!

Glossary--"Ghosts In The Vapor" (mp3

I spent a decent part of Sunday after noon looking for my brother-in-law. At a golf match. On television.

To accomplish such a thing is easier said than done, and there is no guarantee of success. He, a middle-aged member of a large crowd of golf watchers enjoying the 68 degree sunny weather near the coast, was going to be at the Farmers' Insurance Open golf tournament. And he had let his 85-year-old mother, who was staying with us, know that he would be at the tournament and that the tournament would be on television. "I'll be the one waving," he texted. So we started watching. When such a thing becomes a possibility, suddenly, somehow, it becomes paramount.

He was in San Diego; we were sitting in our den in Chattanooga, TN.

Actually, when we started looking for him, he wasn't even there yet. But we didn't know that, or that his girlfriend really didn't want him to go but that he felt like he needed to put in an appearance (he works for a professional sports team, so I suppose networking was involved). So we started watching the last day of the tournament and looking for him about the 7th hole on.

NOTE: If you never watch golf, the television coverage focuses only on the frontrunners or someone embroiled in scandal, just like the political primaries.

Then we found out that he had arrived. But he told us he was on the 13th hole, watching a golfer from the University of Florida. We could see that said golfer was not on the leaderboard, so we knew there was no chance. Hold on, we texted back, the leader, Kyle Stanley, is about to tee off at the 11th. We'll be there at 13, via television, soon.

Then we heard from him that he was at the 11th. Stanley hit his drive into the crowd and it bounced off someone's shoe and carromed back into play. Text him and ask him if that ball just him, I joked. No, he wrote back, he was on the other side of the green. Tell him to get on the side of the green where the balls are landing, I said.

After Kyle Stanley chipped onto the green, he took off his golf glove and handed it to the spectator he had hit with his drive. Quid pro quo.

And, then, a minute later, as the players were finishing up the hole, all of a sudden there he was. "I see him," I shouted. "He's right beside Stanley's golf bag! See him? He's wearing a dark blue shirt."

And that was that. Mission accomplished. And that was the ending of our watching of the golf tournament.

Now, I love my brother-in-law, but I've never shouted about having seen him before. It's a funny thing, isn't it, to know that someone you know might be on television and to spend your time trying to get just a glimpse of him? Why? To what end? Is it some verification of his existence several thousand miles away? Is it the chance for a mother to catch a glimpse of her distant son?

I'd have to say no. These days, a cell phone camera can take care of those needs in short order. Is it more that there is some famous event and I know someone who is at that famous event and that somehow that makes both him and, by extension, me more famous, too? Is it the bragging rights of "I saw my brother-in-law on TV yesterday"? I'm not sure.

There probably isn't much to it at all. And yet, if I get word that he'll be visible at the All-Star Game next year or that you are going to be in the audience of a Letterman taping week, I'll probably check out those as well. Much as I might malign television and as tired as I am of so much of it, it still possesses that strange ability to make us, if we're on it, or someone we know who is on it appear more real than however real we are. While the various native peoples who claim that having our images captured costs us a bit of our souls may be right, the fact remains that seeing ourselves or people we know projected on a screen counters the tenuousness of our presence.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Betrayed By Bueller

Getting Away with Murder - Papa Roach (mp3)

“Never rub another man’s rhubarb.” -- The Joker

At lunchtime on Friday, a coworker I barely know rushed up to me and shoved his smartphone in my face. Like, while I was in the food line.

“You gotta see this,” he said.

Funny thing. I’d said those exact words not five minutes prior, thrusting my smartphone in the face of a coworker upon my arrival at our dining hall. Mine was a self-made video of a slutty but attractive young blonde sitting on a trapeze bar in the rafters of one of Chattanooga’s finest restaurants.

It’s the kind of restaurant that, when you say the name, everyone reacts, “Oooh, swanky!” Except when there’s a young hottie in a high-cut red evening gown swinging over the bar, at which point people say, “Oooh, skanky!”

So, when this cell phone flew in front of my face, I couldn’t help but assume it was video of this swinging lady from another angle, even though this guy wasn’t even at the party.

Instead, it was video of some dude in a bathrobe, in a hotel, walking to fling open the curtains.
And then, it’s Matthew Broderick.
And then, he says, “How can I handle work on a day like today?”
And then Yellow’s now-immortal song, “Oh Yeah,” plays briefly in the background with the date 2.5.12 on the screen.

And then I wet myself.

“No. Way,” I said, looking around for some napkins to dry my pants.

“Way,” he said. “It’s gonna happen. Facebook is going nuts!”

At my lunch table, we sat and discussed the topic for more than half the time, trying to imagine the plot to what would have to be the most amazing surprise sequel since the reelection of Grover Cleveland.

Would Sloane be in it? Nah. No way.

Cameron? Absolutely.

What about Principal Ed Rooney? Hell yes. A cameo at the very least, but likely some awesome part, like Mike Tyson in “The Hangover.”

Would Ferris be married? Divorced? An eternal bachelor? Married, we figured. Ferris, for all his antics and insanity, was at his core a man of principle and values. He wouldn’t be the kind of guy to totally fall in love with Sloane only go grow up and be a man-whore.

If Jason Segel’s “The Muppets” could pull of the miracle, reviving what had become torpid with a non-stop cuddlefest of perfect and clever cheese, then not even the demise of John Hughes could prevent the possibility, ever so slight, that we were on the cusp of witnessing a pop culture miracle.

I practically shoved adolescents out of the way as I hurried across our campus and back to my cave, where I plopped down in front of my computer with the eager look of Ralphie trying to decode that Little Orphan Annie message.

Mere minutes later, I was drinking my Ovaltine, and it tasted... a bit nutty.

It’s not the teaser to the Super Bowl trailer for the sequel to one of the cornerstone movies of my generation’s existence. It’s the teaser to a G**D*** Honda commercial.

Fucking Honda. Fucking Broderick. Backstabbing, disillusioning, sacrilegious bastards.

Please understand. I’m sure the commercial will be clever. I’m sure it will have parts where, despite myself, I’ll laugh. But the laughter will be the kind of laughter you hear at funeral visitations or in ICU, the laughter of people who are trying to distract themselves from the fact that something we thought was immortal has died right before our eyes.

If you think I’m exaggerating my emotions in this regard, you clearly haven’t been reading this blog. Movies and music are the dog-ears of my life’s journal. And although I arrived late on the Ferris train -- didn’t see it until it hit the dollar theater -- I never hopped off. Me and enough of my generation to fill 500 Hogwarts-bound trains found a kind of hope in that movie we keep desperately looking for in other films.

It’s not Hughes’ best movie, because that was “Breakfast Club.” Ferris was his most important, because it told us, more clearly and confidently and joyfully than any other Hughes film, that someone out there understood us and loved us enough to have fun with us. The movie understood how to make us laugh and relax without ever once resorting to our baser instincts.

Yes, there’s a moment of Mia Sara in the pool. And yes, there’s a moment where Jennifer Gray kicks the ever-loving shit out of Rooney. And that, my friends, is the complete extent of sex and violence in the film. The rest of the film is (save for some foul language that couldn’t have been more perfectly  placed if Michaelangelo himself had served as artistic consultant) good and clean teenage escapism. The paragon of it, in fact.

If you think I'm overreacting, then you didn’t see the adults age 32-48 in my school cafeteria. Because every last damn one of us was so beside ourselves with a youthful glee at the thought of a Ferris Bueller sequel that you've thought we all got raises.

I own a Honda. Right now. A Honda Accord. It’s been a pretty good car, especially for the money. But for a few minutes on the way home on Friday, I considered crashing it over a guard rail and into the Tennessee River. I’m never speaking to my car again, and it’s not even the car’s damn fault.

But my car is now a part of the Hatfields, and I’m now a McCoy. Lines have been drawn. There’s hell to pay for this. I'm so mad I can't even proofread this.

Corporate bastards in an Odyssey ran over Bueller, and someone’s gonna have to get vengeance. Even if I have to hire Liam Neeson to travel the globe and find the people behind this. He will find them. And he will kill them.

If he did that for his daughter, just think of what he’ll do to the poor saps who murdered Ferris.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman--"My One And Only Love" (mp3)

Let me be blunt: I want more "the" in my life.

Especially in reference to me. That's right, that most common of articles is something that I find myself craving everytime I pick up a magazine, especially a story about someone famous. I want to be "the."

I'm not talking about "the" pronounced as "thee," as in a professional athlete who introduces his college as "The University of Ohio" or some such. That's presumptuous and over-urging.

No, for you grammarians out there, I'm talking about "the" in an appositive phrase. You know, that statement that introduces the subject? As in, "the novelist Joe Schmoe" or "the painter Jane Floe." That's it. That's all I want. Instead of being Bob _____, I want to be "the teacher Bob ______" or "the dean Bob ______." Is it so much to ask?


As far as I can tell, there are a few criteria that one must possess in order to get the "the." First, the person must pursue a craft worthy of the the "the." Popular ones that qualify, beyond what was already mention include "the poet," "the artist," "and, suddenly, the "journalist." I thought for the longest time that you had to be a creative type in order to get the "the," which is why seeing "the journalist _____ _____" in Newsweek tonight gave me both hope and the courage to write this post.

Second, the person must be married or living with somebody, because you rarely get the mention if you are the main focus. Only if you're being quoted, as in, "The poet Robert Frost once said...." Otherwise, you've got to have a significant other, and, probably, a more significant other. I can handle that: I'm married to a lawyer. Excuse me, I'm married to "the attorney _____ _____," which works right now since I'm talking about me, which makes her second banana. For once. At the very least, to get the "the," you've got to be the partner that the writer isn't writing about, even if you happen to have more cred, fame, cache, or whatever.

And finally, the person should have a "here's somebody you don't know but if you were cultured you would" quality about him or her. See, when a writer gives you the "the," he or she is elevating you at the same time that he's putting down the reader. He's saying, "Look, fugnut, if I don't identify his wife as a poet, somebody like you is not going to have any idea who she is. Embarassing, really."

I'm okay with that. Just give me the "the." I don't mind being a craft beer, a boutique offering, a niche product, an esoteric choice. I'll happily be the best place to eat that nobody knows about or the option that exists only for those in the know. Just give me the "the."

In fact, now that I think of it, my wife the attorney isn't ever going to get the "the." She's a lawyer, for God's sakes, making the big bucks while working herself to death, but grinding it out, not creating art. I'm sure she counts it as part of her good fortune that she's married to "the blogger Bob ______."

Yeah, the blogger. I like the sound of that. I'll take it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Resurrection Fern - Iron & Wine (mp3)

This is 40.

Fortune has smiled on me.

This is the sentence that repeats like a chorus in my head, in a manner as sublimely peaceful and mellow as possible.

I was a bundle of nuclear nervous energy at 21, but at 40, I'm very meh, and meh feels pretty damn good, I gotta tell you. It's a nice meh. Very chill.

If today is any indication, the reason I don’t “do well” or stand on ceremony on “big days” like birthdays and holidays is because I don’t enjoy placing undue expectations on people or moments. I don't want to get up tomorrow having to choose the Perfect Birthday Outfit or the Perfect Lunch Destination or the Perfect Birthday Party Plans. I just want a nice day, and even that might be asking more than I deserve. Expecting more just seems unfair.

Which brings me more joy, the movie I didn’t expect to be good but was sublime, or the one that lived up to its billing? Which brings me more joy, the discovery of a new band or the revisiting of one of my favorites?

Which brings me closer to God, the scheduled, regular arrival to church on Sunday mornings, or the everyday miracles surrounding us and waiting patiently for us to notice?

In 40 years, fortune has provided me, gifted me, with people to whom I will never be quite capable of expressing my gratitude and love. From parents to friends, from my wife to my children, from coworkers to acquaintances come and gone. I tried writing about them all last night, but what came out will stay with me. Sharing it felt tawdry. Moreso even than usual, I mean. But just trust me, little words like “parents,” “friends,” “wife,” “children”... they each create greenhouses of vibrant, flourescent beauty.

One of my two oldest friends in the world sent me a gift yesterday. A box of graphic novels and a demand that I not reciprocate. His gift was perfect. It was our friendship of 33 years in a brown cardboard box with my name on it.

How could he still think of me as his friend when I have all but disappeared into a life of domestic responsibilities and daily obligations and desires closer to home, where the two hours of distance between us often feels like an ocean rather than an easy Interstate? I honestly don’t know how he holds fast to our friendship, but I cherish that he has. I cherish how we humans are like that in our best moments, how willing and able we are to let go of the dirt and cling to the essence of what is good.

The longer I've known someone, the more opportunities I've had to completely f*#k things up with them. A tornado moment of self-destructive stupidity or a never-ending monsoon of small mistakes. Betrayal or mere bundles of minor disappointment. Who knows which kind of natural disaster my goofy ways brings to those who cross my path; I only know my weather patterns come with risk.

Yet the ties continue to hold and bind. And I just shake my head at my good fortune.

On this day, perhaps the reason I'm not falling into some abyss of despair is because I can't even get deep enough into all the ways I've been wildly lucky. Health, love, security, more happiness than not for so many of the people I love and care for, and none of those could have received from me as much as they have given.

The midlife crisis will have to come another time.

I am forty.

I am fortunate.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Ode to Ned and His Dustbin

Suave and Sophisticated - Ned's Atomic Dustbin (mp3)
Spring - Ned's Atomic Dustbin (mp3)
Throwing Things - Ned's Atomic Dustbin (mp3)

It’s a bridge too far to claim Ned’s Atomic Dustbin was the most compelling creative force in rock music in the ‘90s. I’ll settle for claiming they were the most compelling creative force in the ‘90s that no one this side of the pond knew about.

I discovered them when they opened for Jesus Jones on their Doubt tour. What Jesus Jones had in polish and flash, Ned’s had in nuclear frustration, a more alluring kind of anger than the cliched rage vibe of most harder rock bands of the grunge era.
Half as drunk is twice as clever, appalled when tarred and feathered
Remarks upon the weather, will just retard endeavour.

Two bassists and a single lead guitarist in a five-man band places them in very rarified air. Only a handful of bands in rock history have carried two basses, but the sound isn’t so earth-shatteringly different. What it allowed, most importantly, was easier access to the vocals. You can hear and understand almost every word on Ned’s first two albums in an era of music where every band needed a lyric sheet to be understood.
Now you're tying up my heart strings / I've got no halo, got no wings
We've got verbal constipation; Let's start throwing things

Combine John Penney’s minimal-range baritone vocals -- anyone can sing along! -- and the fact you can actually understand the words -- whoa! he made a clever pun! -- and I fell in love with them quickly. Clever turns of phrase, especially the slight tweaking of a previous line for a different purpose, totally ropes me in.
So here's the prediction. You get an affliction. You gain an addiction. You grab what you can.
Another beloved theme in their music that pleased movie fetishists like myself was their penchant for inserting movie clips into their music. Al the cop from Die Hard. Dennis Hopper from Apocalypse Now. Duvall from The Great Santini. Movie quotes weren’t in every song but merely sprinkled in just the right spots.
You keep thinking I'm tired of you, but I'm just tired.
While I keep saying you're sick of me, but you're just sick.

The only thing that keeps us down -- It's the only thing that makes us sound.
So painfully humble, so painfully proud.
I'm one piece short of Legoland.
Ned’s was basically a 3-album band. Bob and I have been discussing on and off whether any band can maintain their peak past three albums, and I’m not even sure most bands get past one. Listen to the first Boston album and then the second one, and they went from rock immortality to borderline mediocrity in the span of 12 songs.

Ned’s 3-album arc went something like this:
(1) God Fodder -- Youthful passion with a chip on the shoulder and a lot of growing up to do
(2) Are You Normal? -- knowing who you are and settling into it but not being entirely happy with the relationship
(3) brainbloodvolume -- wondering if who you are is good enough and, in panic, attempting to chart a new path

Each album title says so much about the band. The first indicates their love of movies and wordplay, the second on their embrace of oddity, the third to a confusion that took away my favorite part: the ability to quickly and easily sing along with some catchy lyrics.
You're my son. I'm older than you. You can't be a man too.-- WHAT GIVES MY SON
I know nothing about their lives and never did and never cared to. Perhaps the taste for Ned's is difficult to acquire -- they sure as hell didn't take the world by storm. But, as averse as I am to making lists and best-of's, I can't imagine a desert island list of songs or albums that didn't have this band somewhere in the short list.
Could you mind be as shallow
As my five o'clock shadow?
Could things change this fast?
The one that you wanted is past tense
At present my presence no longer makes sense
At present you're too tense
Now I never said I'm the be-all and end-all
But you had to end it all, as soon as you'd seen more
I never said I was worthless or worth more
Does it have to be this ugly?
It's not like I stole your possessions or money
Things change this fast
The one that I wanted is past tense
At present your presence no longer makes sense
At present I'm too tense

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mac Attack

Fleetwood Mac--"Go Your Own Way (Michael May mix) (mp3)

Inexplicably and out of nowhere, at ages 22 and nearly 19, my daughters have gotten into Fleetwood Mac. Why? Glee. Apparently they devoted an entire episode to the Rumors album, you know, the one that contains "Dreams" and "The Chain" and "Second-Hand News" and "You Make Lovin' Fun" and "Never Going Back Again" and "Gold Dust Woman." And that sent my girls to their old dad to see if he had any Mac on CD. So I hauled out my copies of Fleetwood Mac and Rumors (I didn't rebuy Tusk on CD, just a few favorite Lindsey Buckingham songs for the double-disker) and we started listening.

And now they're walking around the house singing Fleetwood Mac songs.

That isn't necessarily a bad thing. Coming back to these songs after so many decades of not paying much attention to them and certainly not listening to these albums as entire, self-contained entities, they still sound very fresh and capable of commanding radio airplay (which I'm sure they still do). But if you think I'm going to let the moment go by without getting all judgy and snobby, you are very wrong.

I'm focusing on the first two albums only; the wheels were coming off the bus by the time Tusk came out, though I still enjoy many of its messy pieces.

So here are my official Fleetwood Mac song ratings:

Stevie Nicks' songs: A
Lindsey Buckingham songs: B+
Christine McVie songs: C
The McVie/Buckingham collaborations "World Turning" and "Don't Stop": A- and C-, respectively
The whole band collaboration "The Chain" which sounds like nothing more than Buckingham/Nicks: A+

In other words, Ms. McVie, you are well-represented on these two albums, but your songs are insipid and all too similar, each to the other's mid-tempo blandness.

Let's get one thing out of the way: the revived, revised Fleetwood Mac that appeared in 1975 (Sorry, Billy, it's a much greater phoenix story/band comeback than Yes' 80's phase--remnants of one band audition a music studio and are captivated by the tape the studio uses to show off the studio, which happens to be the Buckingham Nicks album and leads to first band subsuming second band) is pop candy. Catchy songs, catchy riffs, catchy choruses perfect for 70 degree days in L.A., pot-smoking, or presidential inaugurations. Not a whole lot of weight to the whole endeavor, but, man, could they crank out the hits.

But almost 40 years later, I especially hear the quality of Stevie Nick's songwriting. Those are the songs that really hold up for me: "Rhiannon," "Crystal," "Landslide," "Dreams," and "Gold Dust Woman." There is still a depth there. Is it the minor key sound? Is it her quirky interest in white witchcraft? Is it that only her songs explore the the L.A. decadence of the day? Is it her gift for an opening line: "Do you always trust your first initial feeling?" Is it Buckingham's sensitive ability to create the settings for the songs (It is said that Nicks would hum the melodies and that Buckingham would build the songs from there) that makes them stand out? Or is it that I've just always had a thing for Stevie and am somewhat blinded by that? I really don't know.

Certainly, it is true that the most interesting guitar parts and the cleanest production occur on Nicks' songs. Buckingham's use of volume pedals and dropped-D tuning on the acoustic guitars make the Rumors songs, especially, sound as crisp and fresh now as they did three and a half decades ago. I have never gotten tired of hearing "Dreams." I don't say that about many songs. So production does have something to do with it.

Revisiting these old songs, it strikes me that Fleetwood Mac has aged surprisingly well. The songs don't sound like songs that I used to like; they sound like songs that I still like. And the pep of Buckingham numbers like "Blue Letter" or "Monday Morning" still makes me want to grab my guitar and tackle those upbeat numbers with a tenor voice and a quick guitar strum. Christine's stuff probably sounds just fine on adult-oriented radio and I don't even mind a little "Over My Head" once in a decade. And Stevie, well, she's the one who had a solo career, so her Fleetwood Mac songs, and her Buckingham Nicks songs before that, sound like the beginnings of a canon that I have stayed in touch with off and on over the years.

To hear one of my daughters singing "Dreams" as she walks through the kitchen gives me a nostalgic reassurance that all those years haven't really passed and that the old can become new again and that there is safety in familiarity. But then my wife will point out that actually thunder happens before it rains most of the time, trying to skewer the moment. No matter. I keep my visions to myself.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

To Cosleep, Perchance to Dream

Didn’t Leave Nobody But the Baby - Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss & Emmylou Harris (mp3)
Until I Wake Up - Dishwalla (mp3)
“Cosleeping” -- a practice in which babies and young children sleep close to one or both parents, as opposed to in a separate room. Also called “bed sharing.” Practiced regularly in many parts of the world.
A couple in Utah will soon face trial for the death of their 3-month-old child who died in bed with them. The baby suffocated. Their cosleeping is prime suspect number one.

I’ve known more than a few parents who regularly practiced the parental art of cosleeping. I don’t consider them bad or insensitive parents. If anything, perhaps they were too emotionally tied to realize the risks. Or perhaps they merely assumed what we all do at one point or another -- we’re smarter/better/more careful; ergo, bad things won’t happen to us.

I’m in irresponsible parent as well. All three of my children slept on their bellies in the crib.

Anyone who’s been or had an infant in the past 15 years knows this is a big no-no. In 1975, belly-sleeping was the recommended position of doctors, because that’s the position in which babies sleep more soundly. But as SIDS became a phenomenon, the best way to combat the crib death numbers, it seemed, was to force babies to their sides or backs.

To be fair, this change reduced SIDS and crib death. The change has been hailed a success of research.

But when you’re on your fourth or fifth night of tortured sleepless nights, and when your tiny infant refuses to sleep more than 45 minutes at a time, and when you have moments in the deepness of 3 a.m. where you curse God and your baby and everything else on the planet because you’re failing as a parent because you can’t even get your fucking infant to rest just two straight hours that’s all I’m asking please God tell me what the hell I’m doing wrong and I’ll fix it......

At times like that, there’s nothing more lovely, nothing closer to a Godsend, than the sound of a long-loved friend and pediatrician who says, “Maybe you should try putting her to sleep on her tummy... Just don’t tell anyone I suggested it to you.”

Of course it was a much longer conversation. Parents of first-borns are afraid every breath, every decision from laundry detergent to formula to color of blankie, can result in irreversible catasrophic damage to their sweet precious. So we made damn sure this doctor believed our child would survive the night before we went ahead with it.

The world changed the very next day. We slept. She slept. The house stayed quiet sometimes four straight hours, occasionally five. I don’t know if God had answered a prayer or we had callously broken the law, and I didn’t hardly care.

Belly-sleeping didn’t make all the problems of the world go away, but it sure as hell cut our sleep problems by half.

We put our second and third children on their bellies from Day One and never thought twice about it. Amazingly, here we are, with all three children safe and sound. You can call us lucky. I call us careful parents of children born healthy. Which is to say, we’re fairly lucky, but not because our children survived night after night on their bellies.

I am not President of the Belly-Sleeping Society. It is not a Cause for me. I merely rejoice in the notion that we are in a country where I’m free to make tough choices with the raising of my children, and I’m grateful all parents have such freedoms. And I’m grateful that doctors will sometimes color outside the lines and tell us things they’re not really supposed to.

So, back to cosleeping. This couple in Utah isn’t being put on trial because their 3-month-old son suffocated while cosleeping with them.

They’re on trial because this was their second child to die in such a manner.

Let me promise you something: if my first child had died of SIDS in our crib after we began placing her on her stomach, were we able to muster the courage to forgive myself and have another child, I sure as hell wouldn’t have put that next child on its belly in the crib. Not in a million gajillion years.

As George W. Bush so valiantly put, “Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice... won’t get fooled again.”

We have freedom and choices, and thank God for both. But if one of your freedoms or choices results more than once in the death of innocents... shame on you with sugar on top.

So, if you wanna cosleep with your infants, it’s your life, and it’s your child, and God Bless America. But...
If you drink a lot,
If you sleep in a smallish bed,
If you are a super-sized person or couple,
If you are a deep or heavy sleeper,
you’re playing a bit of Russian Roulette with your infant’s life.

And if you should lose that game, and you choose to play it again... well, God should have mercy on your souls, but the justice system shouldn’t.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Yes? Yes!

Make It Easy - Yes

Play a game with me, music lovers betwixt the ages of 26-76. Think back to your youth. Think of some band, some album, that you kinda liked but kinda didn’t. Some band or album that got critical acclaim or heavy airplay yet never won you over. Maybe you didn’t change the station when you heard it, but you didn’t hunger for it, either. It was... meh.

For almost a year now, once every month or so, I play this game. I’ve played it with Billy Squier and Triumph. I’ve played it with Exile on Main Street, Houses of the Holy and Dirt.

But today, let’s just say YES.

Which Yes, you ask? The latter one of the five digits. (If you didn't already know, there was this trippy '70s Godfather of Prog Rock version with hair down to their butts and kimonos and bad watercolor art, and there was the glitzy mullet and shiny instruments '80s version with skin-tight production.)

When it comes to Yes, you can love both, dislike both, or like one and not the other. Or you can simply not care about any of it. But then you’re not much of a music person.

Scientifically, you can draw a number of accurate conclusions about someone based on where they fall on the Yes spectrum. In 1983, the year 90125 took over the airwaves and turntables of more intellectually-ambitious teenage music lovers, I detested the old, and I mostly disliked the new, but I was afraid to admit it because my friends seemed to totally dig it. Besides, I was only 12.

It’s been almost three decades. I’ve grownsed up. Time to revisit the album.

First, in order to give the album a fresh and fair shot, you have to start with Track 2. You can’t start with “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” You just can’t. It’s got too much gravitas, too many preconceived notions. Whether you loved it or hated it back in the ‘80s, listen to that one last.

“Hold On” is a great introduction to The New Yes. Everyone who knows of Yes knows the words “Prog Rock.” Yes is arguably the penultimate Prog Rock band. (The ultimate would have to be Pink Floyd, no?) It announces Yes as a rock band, but one that aspires to modernize progishness.

As with most great albums, Song #3 is where the rubber meets the road. “It Can Happen” is my personal favorite Yes song ever. Five minutes off meaningless pseudo-philosophical babble. I dare anyone to authoritatively state what the hell this song means, but that lack of clarity doesn’t prevent the song from totally winning me over. It is the pseudo-intellectual’s “Trinidad,” to steal from Bob’s post last Sunday.

Look up! Look down! Look around! There’s a crazy world outside... we’re not about to lose our pride! …. What. the. f*#k. are they talking about?? I don’t know, but they sound so... so... certain!

It can happen to you. It can happen to me. It can happen to everyone eventually! …. WHAT? WHAT CAN HAPPEN??? Loss of pride? Death? Bad trips? Selling out? Loss of soul? I don’t know exactly, but you give me a handful of college kids, a long weekend, and a dime bag, and I guaran-damn-tee you we’ll come up with a million kickass interpretations.

“Changes” bats clean-up, and if I understand prog rock correctly, this is a brilliant ‘80s interpretation of the ‘70s concept. The band makes love to a xylophone for more than a minute to start.

“Cinema” was the first song they made. They were originally going to call their band Cinema, and this song is what you would expect their whole album to sound like. Prog Rock crammed into small microwavable doses. I see why they included it, but it’s the weakest thing on the album to me.

“Leave It” … you know this one already, so I’ll -- heh -- leave it.

“Our Song” and “City of Love” carry out the general vibe of what has been comfortably established. Neither are standouts, but neither are failures. They’re continuations.

They close with “Hearts.” I think it’s their apologia to all the dudes* who bought this because they loved Fragile or Yessongs. It’s the only 7+minute song on the album, and it dances naked in its proggy glory. It’s still poppy, but proggy poppy.

The Two Trevors -- Horn and Rabin -- were supposedly the masterminds behind much of this album’s sound. If so, they have my respect. Balls and/or insanity were essential to take this kind of leap. It’s like that scene where Neo is supposed to leap from one building of ‘70s prog all the way across the city block and land in the ‘80s, and he’s like, “whoa.” Well, Yes is the Morpheus character that actually makes the leap.

90125 might well be the closest thing to a Rock Phoenix ever heard and certainly one of the most successful. Yes emerged from the ashes with just enough of its old characteristics and characters in tact to claim its rightful name, but with so many new components and philosophies as to be an entirely new creation.

It’s the best kind of comeback and precisely why it was so successful. They weren’t trying to recapture former glory but came out with something completely unexpected and carefully crafted.

* -- "Make It Easy" is from the expanded version that includes original "Cinema" versions of "It Can Happen" and a few other nuggets. Trevor Rabin, who was slated to be the main vocalist, was apparently dissatisfied with the role and dragged Jon Anderson back in. I like Trevor Rabin, but it was still the right call. You can see why this song didn't quite make the cut.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Inexplicable Essence Of Life (as not explained by Eddie Money)

Eddie Money--"Trinidad" (mp3)

One of the most perplexing aspects of listening to music, especially popular music, is how a lesser, perhaps insignificant, perhaps stereotypical song can achieve pre-eminent status in our brains' internal playlists.

I can't stop listening to Eddie Money's "Trinidad." You probably know it, have heard it a time or two. One of his later, minor hits, it is also his most beautiful song. It begins with the sound of the wind driving soft waves to the shore, and then a mix of 80's style power chords and treble-hyped, aurally-excited lead guitar kicks in and plays the recurring signature after every line:

There once was a story
From a thousand yesterdays
I read it in this ancient book
When the old man passed away

I drifted through the pages
And its magic filled my eyes
I dreamed she once loved me
In the land called Trinidad

By the time the chorus kicks in with its abrupt two-chord announcement, I'm already long-since hooked. I'm ready to go. I'm not even sure where Trinidad is or what is so appealing about it, since the song never makes that clear. Somewhere near Tobago, I'd guess from my elementary school geography days. But there was just a woman there or, really, the dream of a woman. And that seems to make all of the difference. What the book was, who the old man was, what was even in the book are all details that the song doesn't, probably can't, flesh out.

Eddie Money is not Ernest Hemingway; he doesn't keep details that he knows from the listener like the submerged part of an iceberg. It doesn't matter. The song owns me. And I'm not even pining for a woman from a faraway land. Nor does the song connect with some special, emotional time from my past--the reason songs often connect with us.

And yet, the song stirs my soul.

At its best, "Trinidad" is Eddie Money's "Cortez The Killer;" more likely, though, it is inspired by Toto's "Africa," a bland, uninformed representation of an exotic land (or continent!). It is that tale of timeless love outside the boundaries of time, though without "Cortez's" additional weight of social commentary.

No, Mr. Money's song isn't ultimately all that much. But it is one of those songs that makes an uneasy mess of the hard work that "sophisticated" music listeners put in to learn how to tell good from bad. Even semi-regular readers of this blog undoubtedly have a fairly clear sense of the different, sometimes quirky musical preferences of its two writers.

Which is why "Trinidad" demonstrates, at least for me, that however much someone might argue for or try to develop a musical aesthetic, it cannot fully happen. Whatever standards one might try to establish will fall away in the face of a song that inexplicably touches the soul of a listener. It doesn't have to be a good song. The listener does not have to understand why it touches him or her.

By the way, I'm not trying to disparge Mr. Money in any way. This whole thing started because I got ahold of his greatest hits in a library down in Florida last summer, and, it must be said, when you listen to the man's hits, he has a whole lot more of them than many of his predecessors or his contemporaries. In the Eddie Money catalogue, no two songs sound particularly the same, which is one of my high praises for an artist. And he got Ronnie Spector to sing with him. And I'll bet he's still rockin' the casinos in Tunica or Iowa, still giving his all every night. But to call him either a great songwriter or an accomplished lyricist would be overstating the case. A lot. He's more of a "meat and potatoes" guy cranking out musical comfort food. Maybe that's enough. But, oh that Trinidad. Take me there now.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Secret Layer Cake

Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake - Zola Jesus (mp3)
Faithfully Dangerous - Over the Rhine (mp3)

Nothing special. Just one more happy couple, holding hands, walking together in the French Quarter. Nothing attractive enough to notice.

But we noticed.

It was the first night of our annual trip to New Orleans, the annual expedition that inspired BOTG, and we stood in line outside ACME Oyster House, waiting for our fourth member to return with beer, waiting for a seat inside so we could finally eat some of the best chargrilled oysters ever to land on planet Earth.

“Isn’t that Lenny?”

Bob and I turned and looked where John was pointing. Yes. Yes, it was Lenny. And he was walking hand in hand with a woman who was most decidedly not his wife.

Last week, Bob wrote about secrets (“The Secret Lives of Nobody”). More specifically, he wrote about our lack of them:
“...we like to think that we can do things that no one will know about? Wake up. We're all watching each other all the time, and the slightest divergence from accepted behavior makes us wonder the tiniest bit.”
He concludes: “But it's worth reminding ourselves, even as we're sharing those little secrets, that there aren't any. Somebody already knows.”

But... do we know? What, exactly, do we know?

Without question, life in the 21st Century is about the constant potential loss of privacy. Anyone with money or savvy technical know-how can find out most anything they want about anyone else.

My credit card can be tracked. It could reveal my drinking habits, my unhealthy food choices, my family’s tendency to dine out a bit too frequently for our level of income, my addiction to the purchase of used DVDs.

My email can be hacked, as can my text messages. With knowledge or money, time, and an unhealthy obsession or motivation, one could surely find some juicy stuff. Critical comments I’ve written about close friends, my boss, my wife, myself? Inappropriate jokes? Who knows.

With a little elbow grease, someone could track where I go on the Internet. In my office, or when I’m at Starbucks, or when I’m at home at our desktop Mac. Every single location I visit in cyberspace.

Our encounter with Lenny in the French Quarter was the revelation of a secret that unraveled Lenny's existence. He apparently went home and confessed everything shortly thereafter. We can view this story as a prime example of how little privacy we have, but I’m haunted by this moment of discovery more because of all the things we’ll never know about Lenny.

How did he find himself in that moment? How did he, a married man with children I’m sure he loves, end up walking happily, hand in hand, with another woman in the French Quarter? Had he regularly used out-of-town conferences or trips as an excuse to find love in someone else’s arms? Had he known his married life was a sham early on, or did it disintegrate slowly over time? Or would he argue that his marriage was perfectly fine right up to the moment he got caught?

Was this woman a high school sweetheart, a long-unrequited love, an escort, someone he met at dinner last night? On the airplane or in the car on his way to New Orleans, did he know he would be holding this woman’s hand, smiling, enjoying some escapist fantasy, only to have the harsh hammer of reality crash on his head in the form of colleagues on vacation?

When he left us and got back to his hotel room that night, did he throw up? Did he sleep? If he had slept with her before seeing us, was it the last time, or would he try one more desperate attempt to pretend his real life away, to try and forget his second life had been compromised? Did he have friends who knew about this? Did his wife suspect anything before?

On the surface, Bob is right. Nothing is secret anymore. Our habits, interests and choices are ripe apples on the tree of information, easily picked.

But nothing is simple. My best friend in the world I see weekly if not more. We eat lunch, knock back beers, watch UNC games on TV, go to concerts. We talk all the time. I know him almost better than I know my wife. And there are still a million things about him that I don’t know, or can’t quite make sense of.

The moment we witnessed Lenny holding that woman’s hand? Yes, we discovered a secret and entered a room with hundreds of other doors, unknown secrets we didn’t even know existed before we saw that one.

At that revelatory French Quarter moment, we knew less about him, not more.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I'm An F---ing Genius!

Eisley--"Smarter" (mp3)

I don't know if you've had a chance to hang out with me lately, but I'm pretty f---ing smart. Go ahead, put an "-er" on that statement. You know you were thinking it. 'There's something different about him,' you probably thought. 'I knew he was kinda smart, but he seems........smarter. What gives?' What you were picking up on is that I'm not only smarter, I'm quicker, I've probably raised my IQ, I'm pretty sure I know how to fix the economy, I'm starting to find flaws in Stephen Hawking's theories, and even though men are from Mars and women are from Venus, I think I know how to accomplish that inter-planetary travel.

Allow me to explain. I read Newsweek. Now, this could be a blessing in and of itself, especially if my old pal Jon Meacham were still at the helm, but recently Newsweek came out with a story that changed my life. Even though I had not changed my life at all.

The article is called "31 Ways To Get Smarter-Faster." Contained within are any number of tricks and techniques to get us down this path to greater smartivity. And, of course, reading such gospel provoked a little bit of self-analysis of the ol' Bob. Let's investigate together, shall we?

#11. Eat Dark Chocolate. Christmas Eve? Guess what I dipped my banana in? That's right. Dark chocolate. I've been gnawing, sucking, melting this stuff for years. Medicinally, of course.

#1. Play Words With Friends. Been there, done that. Know what I learned? Inside tip: they don't even have to be friends. It's just as fun to beat the mental crap out of people you don't necessarily like all that much.

#31. Get Out Of Town. Hey, you don't have to tell me twice. Even though relatives kept me stuck here for the break, I still managed to drag one batch of them down to Atlanta for the day, and, last weekend, when my daughter didn't want to travel alone to a wedding down there, I was like, "Hop in the car, baby, I'll be your chauffeur for the day." Got a good meal out of it, too.

#26. Zone Out. Huh? What did you just say?

#16. Eat Yogurt. I also drank some milk that was sitting in a glass in the den for a couple of days. I hope that counts.

#7. Download The TED App. Done and done. I hope it's not presumptuous to say that you'll soon be watching me on a TED App.

#10. Learn A Language. Voulez-vous couchez avec moi ce soir?

#22. Visit An Art Museum. Took my whole clan down to Atl over the break to see everything from Picasso to Warhol, though hearing Modigliani called "one of the greatest technical painters of the 20th century" for painting a series of vertical and horizontal lines wasn't working for me. I think I'll paint my name on a shovel, hang it from the ceiling and call it art.

#30. Write Reviews Online. Be happy to tell you what I think of Alejandro Escovedo's concert or the Avett Brothers or the Stones after 1973 or movies like "Winter's Bone" or "Drive." Working on a review of Darwin's Origin of Species which should be ready soon.

#14. Play Violent Video Games. Dude, I'm working through Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 for the second time. It's all about timing that jump to get to Makarov's helicopter, throw his son-of-a-bitch pilot out of the cockpit, crash the damn thing and then hang Makarov from the ceiling. Oh, yes, he'll pay for for what he did to Soap and Yuri. Count on it.

#2. Eat Turmeric. Don't own any turmeric? If you canned pickles, you would. Do my teeth look yellow?

#23. Plan An Instrument. Dylan Night? Neil Young Night? I've been a guitar-playing machine for the last month!

#18. See A Shakespeare Play. Okay, I haven't seen one recently, but I've watched the trailer for Coriolanus. Looks pretty good, like an action flick.

#5. Toss Your Smartphone. I do. Every night. Onto the bed. So I can plug it in and get it all charged up for the next day and so that it can sleep next to my pillow.

#20. Hydrate. Those who know me know that I never order anything to drink except water when I eat at a Chinese restaurant.

#27. Drink Coffee. Just did. Still am. Third cup this morning. Do you notice my prose getting crisper, tighter, more focused? Here's the best news of all: the more you drink, the smarter you get.

#24. Write By Hand. Took notes in a meeting just yesterday. Actually, there are a lot of things I do by hand that I'm pretty good at.

#13. Wipe The Smile Off Your Face. I've never had much trouble looking down on the actions of other people. Ass.

#29. Become An Expert. Or, in my case, more than one. Which one do you want to know about?

#28. Delay Gratification. This was my favorite one, but I saved it for last. I also didn't start playing Call Of Duty until over a week after I opened it on Christmas Day.

Let me save you the counting; your slower brain probably can't handle that anyway. You probably use a calculator to add. I'm already accomplishing 20 of the 31 techniques, which has to make me practically the poster child of Smartville. And I'm going to do the other 10 tonight. How much Tae Kwon Do do you think I have to learn, anyway? And what the fuck is Al Jazeera? Sounds like a Middle Eastern place we used to eat at in Pittsburgh.

I hope you had a nice Christmas and got some good stuff. Know what I got for Christmas? Smart. That's what I got. A stocking stuffed with "Smart-er."

When I finished reading the piece, finished going through the checklist, I thought to myself, 'You know, Bob, you do seem a little quicker. Keep up the good work.'

Yes, I like working on self-improvement. Yes, I like seeing the kinds of immediate, tangible results that I'm seeing and feeling. My boss likes to think that he's the smartest person in the room. Little does he knows what's happening each time I sip my coffee, jot down a note, stare off into space, snack on a yogurt-covered pretzel or throw down the smack with a "Triple Word" score under the table on my phone during a meeting. Yes, I really do like all of the ways that I feel better about myself. Mostly, though, I think I just like validation for all of the wonderful things that I do for myself and others that take absolutely no extra effort at all. Who doesn't wish they had a smart friend like me? You should try it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Peter Parker, Commie Bastage

Save You - Matthew Perryman Jones (mp3)
Spiderman - Katrina & the Waves (mp3)

Spider-Man is liberal propaganda, and it brainwashed me.

How could I have gone my whole life without realizing this, that reading and obsessing over comic books throughout my childhood and along the road to (dubious) maturity would be the touchstone of my leftward political leanings?

My love of Spidey is why all followers of Ayn Rand should go fellate themselves, objectively. Spidey is why I think of the Kingpin when I see Newt Gingrich and why I see Doctor Octopus whenever Romney is on the prowl. John McCain would obviously be The Vulture.

In our modern greedy world of self-interest and narcissism, what could be more counter-culture in its message than a collection of people who regularly save the world from danger for absolutely no reward other than warm fuzzies?

Peter Parker is just a poor newspaper photographer. He wasn’t born rich like Bruce Wayne, and, unlike Superman, he has human needs for food and sleep. Unlike the X-men, who are supported financially by the inherited wealth of Professor X, Parker grew up poor and raised by his aunt and uncle. He was born on the edge of middle class, and he’s constantly fighting to get there or stay there throughout his adult life.

Not only is Parker poor, but in most versions of his tale, his heroic alter-ego Spider-Man is considered a public menace. The police are usually after Spidey, and the local newspaper is on a mission to ruin and malign him in every way possible.

The reward Spider-Man receives for saving people is internal. His motive was borne of the one time he could have stopped a criminal and chose not to, a decision that led to the death of his uncle.

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Is there any more liberal motto in the history of superherodom?

Republicans and capitalists hate Spider-Man. He does all this hard work for no money. His heroism fails to give him power or respect. He does it for the pathetic reason that he just feels like it’s the right thing to do.

If Spidey’s raison d’etre was fighting abortion clinics, or defending America from evil immigrants, or vigilantly assuring that no teenagers were having sex before marriage, or ensnaring all homosexuals in his webs, thus ensuring that heterosexuals were safe to copulate quietly and privately in the dark of our wedded bedrooms, then I guess he’d be OK.

But you know what Spidey spends most of his time doing? Trying to help the same damn supervillains who work so hard to destroy him. Nowhere are supervillains more sadly tragic than in Spider-Man.

The Lizard is actually a scientist, Curtis Connors, who lost his arm in battle as a military medic. He was doing experimental research on limb regeneration, hoping to help those who have lost limbs like himself. A grave error restored his arm... but only when he turns into a wild and oversized lizard.

Doctor Octopus was also nuclear physicist who was physically and emotionally abused by his father. His arms were designed to help him manage highly radioactive materials from a safe distance. Once again, a grave error resulted in the apparatus being fused to his body and flipped him over the edge.

Morbius was originally a biochemist dying of a rare blood disorder. His experiments with bats were merely designed to prolong his life but turned him into a raving mad vampire-like thing.

Man-Wolf was the astronaut son of Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson. He found a weird moon rock. He wore it as a special necklace when he returned back home and... guess what? It transformed him under the moon into a werewolf-type freak.

Time after time, Spidey’s villains are people with high intelligence and mostly-noble ambitions. They’re often successful and well-off, and they often are trying to better the world even if they’re also trying to cure or help themsleves. They are... very Republican.

Yet Spidey tries to help them, to rescue them from the devil on their proverbial shoulders, the beasts in their bellies. Not for money. Not for gratitude. Just to quiet the ghost of his deceased uncle. If Spidey were a conservative, he'd say these villains' poor choices are their fault, and they must pay for their errors with their lives. He'd carry a gun, shoot them in the head, and sleep well at night. He'd probably only save the city if the city agreed to pay him. But not with tax dollars from the hard-working wealthy.

But instead he's a softy liberal. Because he has great power, he therefore has tremendous responsibility. How pathetic. Or, as Dark Helmet would say, "Now you see that evil will always triumph, because good is dumb."

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Secret Lives Of Nobody

Silver Swans--"Secrets" (mp3)

You only know what I want you to.
I know everything you don't want me to.
--"Poison and Wine" by The Civil Wars

The decline of our privacy as a society has become so much of a given that we barely even notice it. Satellites in space can see what we're doing in our homes, cameras on our roads and our workplaces can record any impropieties that occur out in public, our cell phones tell whomever needs to know where we are, our purchases in stores are tracked and logged, our Internet habits can never be erased. Our preferences and patterns, no matter how individualistic we might think that we are, fit easily into actuarial tables so that our lives and especially deaths can be predicted with near certainty based on where we live, where we work, etc. Even our garbage, should the media or the evil-minded choose to go through it, will paint a pretty complete picture of who we are.

In short, if we were books, we would be wide open.

But perhaps what is more interesting are the ways that we continue to fool ourselves in personal and local matters. However freely or not freely we may give away ourselves to forces and interests larger than our comprehension or focus, we still like to think that we can conduct our lives privately among the people we know personally.

Not so.

Or at least, I don't think so, based on my experiences. When I walk through my days, my mind and mouth must do any number of social juggling acts, probably even simultaneously, even though the brain isn't supposed to be able to literally multi-task. Whoever came up with that theory must not have to navigate the social paths of the modern world.

When I meet the people I know, I have to institute an internal series of checks and balances to keep me from saying something that might cause trouble. With me, I'm carrying things like this person's affair, that person's run-in with the police, someone's addiction, someone else's dislike of yet another person, her sexual orientation, his future with the place where we work, your dating history, my past drug use. I am lugging something you won't know for days or weeks, something that happened in another state, something I saw, heard, said, received by text or email, something that may or may not have happened online. I have files in my head on 29 years of working in the same place--the lies, the secret deals, the slights and unfairnessess. I remember things that other people who were there don't even recall happening. You are, no doubt, carrying all of those things, maybe more.

Big things and little things--who got invited and who didn't, what happened in a closet, why so-and-so's promotion is never coming. How alcohol entered the mix, what can't be taken back, transactions off the books.

I have a friend who, from his apartment perch, can see the comings and goings of an entire street. The people who live on that street live in blissful ignorance, never even considering those eyes in the sky, eyes that belong to someone who doesn't sleep very well and who sees the cars that leave and return at all hours of the night and morning. And sometimes he tells me.

And yet, we like to think that we can do things that no one will know about? Wake up. We're all watching each other all the time, and the slightest divergence from accepted behavior makes us wonder the tiniest bit. Put in enough years living here and you can't go 30 minutes anywhere in town without seeing someone that you know. Who knows what those people have observed that we don't know about. Sentinel cameras everywhere are one thing, but they are no match for a person seeing something and putting 2 and 2 together.

Sometimes some of us get together in a Chinese restaurant and talk. Talk pretty candidly. But I can't help thinking that the ears at the next table knows somebody that we know, somebody that we name--from church, from the neighborhood, from a friend of a friend.

It's hard to live like this. The eggshells are everywhere. Maybe it's just adulthood. Maybe it's a circumstance of a small city. But it's also a harsh reality. I have a friend who, when he and his wife bought a new car, bought the exact same car in the exact some color as the one that they already had so that no one would know that they had bought a new car. Who does that? Well, I guess the answer is someone who knows precisely the kind of world that he is living in or the one he's paranoid enough to expect. Why can't both be true?

These are things that we all know but pretend, by choice, that we don't want to know. I don't blame us. It's like when I hear something and I only tell one or two people who I know will keep the secret secure. They only tell a couple of people and it spreads close and near or far and wide, depending. Until I get burned from my very, very minimal sharing of a secret, I'll probably keep doing it. Or, since I did feel a little burned a month or so ago about, I'm probably still in my mouth-shut mode. But we all know that it won't last. We all want to know as much as we can about everyone and everything else, and being able to be the one who can share the information is local power. But it's worth reminding ourselves, even as we're sharing those little secrets, that there aren't any. Somebody already knows.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Fugnuts

Please put your political affiliations aside. This is a non-partisan commentary. In another year, I'd be talking about a different political party.

In the past week, a group of pathetic fugnuts have duked it out in Iowa. They're a pretty shoddy crew of adulterers and has-beens, men and women whose ideas and positions have not been able to take hold in the minds of the Republican electorate. For months, whether part of the fray or on the sidelines, we have watched one Great White Hope or Great Black Hope or Great Female Hope after another come and go, while the blandest candidate held back and bided his time and courted the big money and the establishment power. And he won. This "winner" amassed a whopping 25% of the vote, finishing only a close shave ahead of his closest contender. In real numbers, that means he got about 25,000 votes.

But his reward, now, is "frontrunner." He is the top fugnut. You can see it happening everywhere. Not only is he way ahead in New Hampshire (not a big surprise since he's from Massachussetts), but suddenly he's getting strong in South Carolina as well. A week ago, he didn't have a chance in Hell of winning South Carolina or any other Southern state, except Florida.

If you check the news stories online, already most of them work from the perspective of him being the guy to beat. Already most of the stories are, in fact, about him. The rest of the candidates have suddenly become the pack. Because that's what our media does. It reduces everything to its simplest terms. It doesn't like to have to talk about a whole bunch of candidates.

We are still in the first week of January and all of the focus has coalesced on one annointed man who will more than likely become the Republican nominee.

My father, who prides himself on his conservatism, put the Iowa caucuses in these terms: "Romney is a moderate. He got 25% of the vote. The conservatives got 75% of the vote." But he's wrong. The percentages don't matter at all. Romney won, and everyone else lost. And now Romney will convince everyone that he is indeed a conservative.

Ideology is almost out the window. Someone is holding it by its legs, dangling it, ready to drop it.

Within a few months, maybe less, people who disparaged this man, distrusted this man, hated this man, will be waving signs on his behalf. They will be willing to live or die based on his election. They will pour money his way to back up their new sense of conviction. They will fight for him. They will lie for him. They will threaten to move to a different country if he is not elected. He is the one who can save us, because the one we thought could save us didn't, and the one before that didn't, and the one before that...

For his part, he will "refine" his positions until they were nothing like what they were. He will say anything. He may even convert to Catholicism. People will be hazy at best about what those positions once were, and political ads from the other side that try to remind people of what those positions once were will be seen as "dirty politics." He will do whatever it takes to be their man.

People like to talk, every four years or so, of a third party, one that will rise on either the left or the right. Or could one rise on both sides and we'd have four? No time soon, I'd guess. Let's face it: our American brains can't handle three parties. We don't have room for more than two. This is nowhere more true than with our media brain. It can't manage more than pitting one side against another side.

Politics in America are like dogfighting. We send out the two dogs that we think can win. It doesn't mean that they are the best two dogs, just the two that we think can win. There is no room in the match for a third dog. That would confuse everything.

All because of 25,000 votes in a country of 300 million people.

Actually, those sorry candidates who couldn't find a way to take hold, they're not the fugnuts. We can blame the system, we can blame corporate power, we can blame the unions, we can blame the media, we can blame how out of touch politicians inside the Beltway are, but the blame ultimately only points in one direction--the people who swallow all of this shit. Sorry, my friends. We're the fugnuts.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

20 No-No's For Real Men

Coming Back to a Man - Dawes (mp3)
Missionary Man - Eurhythmics (mp3)

Tuesday at lunch, Bob made an observation that began with, “A real man would never...” Obviously, he was referring to frequent BOTG reader John.

His random comment (#12) gave birth to today’s entry. What better two men to make a list of 20 No-No’s (#18) for Real Men than the paragons of all things masculine that are Bob and Billy

Now, with a wink and a nod (#6), we offer you our list. It is without flaw. Suggested amendments are welcomed; however, as real men, we will quietly dismiss them.

1. Facial hair is a sad attempt to overcompensate for... well, something. (See also: Hummers, steroids, trophy wives, and over-the-ear Beats headphones.)

2. Real men don't get sick. As in, sick enough to miss work. Even if you have to tie a shirt sleeve around your mouth for the entire day, get your ass into work where you can talk about how sick you are so that everyone knows how sick you are but that you are still man enough to come to work.

3. Real men don't wear turtlenecks. Only real, real men do. They're the only ones who are man enough to get away with one. The rest of us end up looking like John Lithgow after he had the sex-change in The World According To Garp.

4. Fantasy Football : 2011 :: Cigarettes : 1958 -- If you’re a real man in 2011, and you’re not participating in Fantasy Football, you have barred one of the easiest and most universal male topics of conversation from your repertoire. You don’t have to like fantasy football or watch the games; just shut up and play, even if you have to fake it. If you can’t fake it, get some advice from your girlfriend; she’s an expert.

5. When watching “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” it is perfectly natural if you find yourself aroused by a scene where Lisbeth Salander’s erogenous zones are exposed. Never ever admit this to a woman, even if it’s just the scene of her screwing the ever-loving pea-snot out of Daniel Craig.

6. Real men don’t punctuate wisecracks with a wink and a nod. If the joke is funny, they’ll laugh. They don’t need your nudges. If you have a great signature laugh, it’s OK to laugh at your own jokes, because often your laugh is funny enough to make up for the shittier jokes.

7. Real men don't "go for a walk," don't own "walking shoes," don't call their walking "jogging." Jogging is really slow running and joggers can often be passed by fast walkers. Real men do PX90, or, better yet, talk about how they would be doing it if it wasn't for their backs.

8. Real men don't read novels. They read history, preferably Civil War, or books about sports or books about their work or their investments. Or better yet, books about how it's manly to be a Christian, about how Jesus was a manly man, about how men still need to go on quests and rescue women. Novels? Fuck. That's what movies are for.

9. Real men don't play tennis. There are more masculine ways to get women.

10. Real men don't Wii. That is "weak sauce." If you're going to be a gamer, at least use one of the macho gaming systems, preferably the X-Box 360.

11. Never Question Ben Affleck or Matt Damon. They are Real Men Gods. They are the contemporary celebrity versions of Leonaidas. They rule the legitimate movie landscape. Like all Real Men, they have had moments of imperfection and failure, but in the end they have managed to tame Hollywood and make it work for them rather than the other way around.

12. Never text the word “K” for “OK.” Expend that extra energy and type the fucking O. If you can’t type it, you can’t bring someone to it.
      12b. Never use more than a single exclamation point in a text message. No matter how many sentences are involved. More than one, and you might as well dot them with hearts and smiley-faces.

13. UGGs are for women. Period. (See also: Dr. Pepper Ten, the 10-calorie drink not for women... yeah, right.)

14. To sing Lady Gaga aloud is to announce your sexual attraction to those of your same gender. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But if you are, get the hell out of the closet already and be a Real Gay Man.

15. Don’t argue about Tim Tebow. Not for, not against, none of it. Just don’t. If your hand is forced or you are threatened at gunpoint, keep your answers simple, lest you confuse his biggest fans.

16. Real men don’t compete “just for fun.” Entering that city-wide dodgeball tournament isn’t just for shits and giggles. Even if that’s the original intent -- “we did it for a goof” -- you’re a man, and you know damn well that by the time the tournament date arrives, everyone on your team will be dead serious about it. And if you’re not, you’re not a real man.

17. Never, ever, begin a conversation with “Yesterday, on ‘The View’...”

18. “No-No” is a no-no unless you’re communicating with a child under the age of 5, and then only if you’re in your own home and speaking to your own child.

19. Never blame others first if you had any part in the failure. Much like the oxygen masks that fall from the ceiling of airplanes, you must first take your own medicine before you go dishing it out on others. Real men take responsibility, but they never apologize.

20. Real men don't turn down a drink. Sip it if you need to or dump it in the toilet if that works, but don't turn the damn thing down because you don't feel like drinking. Real Men always feel like drinking.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Called To Duty

Lana Del Rey--"Video Games" (mp3)

For the last three or four Christmases, the one present that I have overtly asked for has been the latest version of Call Of Duty or its rival, Medal Of Honor. As a result, I have fought in many WWII battles (both European and Pacific theaters), saved the world from nuclear disaster and Russian invasion in the present and future, and even done that dirtiest of work: black ops.

First, the admissions: 1) yes, I play these games on a Wii because that is the gaming system that we have had for many years and I'm not so committed a gamer that I need the latest, best system with the killer graphics and 2) I always play the 2nd level of difficulty, not the easiest, but not one of the hardcore levels. I would last about 3 seconds on one of those levels. Also, I like the play the single-player mode. These games are super hot sellers because of their online multiplayer options, but I prefer to play alone. Also, I suck at those online versions. I'm a slow lamb among wolves. I did like that zombie game last year, though, because instead of trying to do battle with super-gamers, we all teamed up to try to stop the zombies for as long as possible. Sometimes, I held my own.

Basically, what we're talking about here is that in the comfort of my den, I like to kill people.

Bad people, of course. Give me a noble cause and a gun and I'll happily pick up where Jack Bauer left off. Give me a chance to get a sense of the war my dad served in, and I'll take on Krauts or Japs. That was a good war. I actually prefer that war to the modern versions with their grey areas and civilian involvement (millions of civilians died in WWII, I realize, but not in the games).

The vibe in my house is pretty interesting. My daughters, especially, are very encouraging about the games. They will ask how it's going. They will sit and watch and ask questions. They will want to know where I am in the game. If there is a plot, they like to know what it is and who I'm currently enacting and why. They are intrigued by the locations and the scenarios.

Partly, that's because of their ages--22 and 18. They are of the generation that grew up on Goosebumps and Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark. They know about choosing your ending and the teller getting involved in the tale. They know about franchises like Harry Potter and Twilight and have an appreciation of the latest addition to it. They watch their share of reality TV, so they expect for everyday people like their dad getting drawn into international conflicts.

In short, they are used to the whole interactive mindset and the idea that their dad is immersed in characters and roles and scenarios where his decisions will affect (to some extent) the outcome of the experience is as natural to them as sushi. At the same time, they are highly amused by my participation, especially if they see me get worked up or unable to get the game out of my head and needing to keep going back to it.

And there is no doubt--as soon as I begin the game, I can feel my blood pressure going up, I feel the kill thrill, I have a hard time stopping just because I'm supposed to be cooking supper. I also enjoy the relative "invincibility" of the experience. There are times when I can hold back, but most of the time, the game wants me to take the lead and eventually that means saying "what the heck" and just pushing forward into a hail of gunfire so that the other characters on screen will move up, too. Yes, I suspend disbelief easily.

But this also isn't about me. We're talking about a phenomenon here, because it is not just me playing these games, nor am I the only one my age playing them, though admittedly the ranks are thinner up here. People like "first-person shooters" of which the war games are one variation.

The tendency, if you're on the outside, is to dismiss games like this as "boys will be boys" silliness. I suppose that's possible, even likely. But we're also talking about modern, post-9/11 entertainment. The WWII games hearken back to a time when things were simpler and more clear cut and soldiers knew that they had a job to do and they volunteered to do that job in droves. You can't tell me that gaming corporations aren't tapping into that nostalgic "service" vibe as we move forward in a world we barely understand. At the same time, the games that depict present and future events allow us to confront our fears, to mimic doing something about them, to gain some understanding of our elite forces, what they do and the weapons they use to do those awful, necessary things. I've heard it mentioned and I'm not surprised that the Osama Bin Laden mission may end up as a game. Why not? We have always demonized our enemies and that's not likely to end. But instead of boys, when I was young, killing Nazis or Commies in pretend games with guns across the neighborhood, now we can get those people in the sights of very sophisticated weapons.

Also, these games, and not just the war games, functions as kinds of novels, where you may not exactly get to choose your ending, but you have a pretty fair say in how you get there and what weapons you get there with. The opportunity to interact in the story is an important draw, and not just for me, I'd say, since the games have been working more and more on the "plots," carrying over characters from previous games. Modern entertainment is about involvement on some level, not just passive observation, and these games take advantage of that need.

Nevertheless, the irony of the whole endeavor does not escape me. I am rabidly anti-war, regardless of who is in the White House, and I believe that we would be better off out of current foreign entanglements as soon as possible. I also don't own a gun and restrain myself from acts of violence 99% of the time. So, my yearly obsession with Call Of Duty is perhaps odd. I'd explain it this way: WWII is the "gateway drug." I've been obsessed with that war since I was a young child because it was my father's war. Once I got involved with WWII games, when there wasn't one, I was willing to try whatever other war games were out there. Not Legos, though. I don't do Lego action games. That's not people.