Monthly Archives: June 2005

and shut up about your CARS already

6/16/05

I know this has become Music Retrospective Week here on the blog (to a chorus of yawns) but when you’ve got 150 channels of XM Radio at your disposal, you occasionally have an epiphany or three. Again, I forced myself to listen to Top 20 on 20, which is a good way to get the Cliff Notes to what the teens are listening to this week – and #1 is this utter piece of godawful shit called “Oh” by Ciara featuring Ludacris.

Vaguely set in a minor key with no chords, it’s the dullest way to spend five minutes short of the DMV. While Ciara moans in unison with a torridly hackneyed sample, Ludacris occasionally chimes in to talk about how they’ve just made another hit. Like most songs of this genre (including #2, “Get it Poppin'” by, of course, Fat Joe featuring Nelly) they are songs only about themselves, or about getting a six-pack of bitches from da club and boning the hottest one. It’s not offensive, it’s worse than offensive: it’s boring.

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Ciara – a poor man’s BeyoncĂ©?

Two songs was all I could take, so I switched to the 80s channel in time to hear “Tonight, Tonight” by Genesis, and was promptly reminded that the music of 2005 by no means has the copyright on crap – “Tonight, Tonight” is another hunk of terrible shit, squeezed out of Genesis in the death throes of the band’s shelf life. I should know: Julianna Hofeld and I camped out for tickets to this show in mid-winter in front of the Dean Dome in 1988.

“Tonight, Tonight” even has a freaky “instrumental” section, a half-hearted, terrible collection of synth noises that, I guess, was the band’s desperate lunge into their prog-rock past (even as the song was used by Budweiser). It is a guaranteed depressant, and Phil Collins even sings “And now I’m in too deep” even though he used the line in about three other songs.

This is the fifth time I’ve heard that goddamn song on XM Radio, and it has led me to wonder why all the wrong shit gets dredged up from the past, much like “Oh” by Ciara featuring Ludacris will serve to embarrass some other blogger in 2022.

Even Pink Floyd is getting back together (sans Syd, sadly) for world tour of slow songs and, I’d imagine, lasers. But there’s a few things I’d like to bring back that everyone seems to have looked over:

1. Supertramp – Now this is a band I’d drop everything to go see. Sure, P.T. Anderson put “Goodbye Stranger” on the “Magnolia” soundtrack, but this band has so many hidden gems: “Bloody Well Right,” “The Logical Song,” “Take the Long Way Home,” “Dreamer,” even “It’s Raining Again.” Supertramp, where are you guys?

2. Planet P – “Why Me?” – Only those of you glued to MTV during the first few months will remember this one, but it’s an awesome, dark pop song with an equally creepy video. If they can play “Major Tom Part 2” into the ground, why can’t I get some Planet P?

3. Jane Child – “Don’t Want to Fall in Love” – This song was so frickin’ insane when it came out around 1990 that Linda’s – a bar in Chapel Hill that was no stranger to some crazy shit – actually fell silent to watch the video. Featuring more chord changes than “The Rite of Spring” and a piano solo that KICKS ASS, she should still be famous. Alas, you’ll probably only remember her as the chick who had a chain from her nose ring to her ear.

Any other bands/songs you’d like brought back? And they can’t be obvious!

good enough for granddad

6/15/05

Since we’re rounding into the middle of 2005, I think it’s time to look back for a second and pay homage to the Ten Year Anniversary of Generation X’s Last Fad. Around 1995, those of us who were still young and chasing skirt found ourselves running into the Retro Swing era that overtook Los Angeles, featured the music of some fairly decent bands, drove some people to dance class, and culminated in the shooting of “Swingers,” which came out in 1996.

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The Squirrel Nut Zippers in “The Pink House”

Curiously, Chapel Hill played a major part in this micro-era: The Squirrel Nut Zippers hadn’t intended – nor done the focus group research – to be the de facto House Band of Retro Swing, but they stumbled right onto it. Those guys are all friends of ours, lived in our houses, drank our beer, and finally provided us with the breakout national “hit” we’d been expecting since Spin called us “the next Seattle” in 1992.

Jimbo Mathus had been in a band called Metal Flake Mother that produced “Beyond the Java Sea” – arguably, the best-kept secret gem in Chapel Hill music history (an honor I think it should share with Hobex’s “Payback” EP). His new band sounded nothing like them, but managed to keep the lo-fi ethic that made each Squirrel Nut track sound like there was someone from 1923 actually doing laundry with a washboard in the other room. It kept the sound clunky, honest and fun, as opposed to other outfits like Cherry Poppin’ Daddies (“Zoot Suit Riot”).

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20s Party at the Pink House circa 1996: N’Gai, Zia, Jiffer, Chip, Jay, me

By 1997, every sorority girl in the country had “Hell” on their mix tapes, and the Pink House had already had several Roaring 20s parties, where Lars Lucier took nude portraits of all of us once two or three boxes of Franzia wine had been emptied. Later that year, I found myself in Los Angeles with the other Beachwood residents migrating over to the Derby wearing a tie.

By then, however, that entire scene was rather burnt-over, with the detritus of the era tinkling into bad karaoke, and finally, wedding parties. Generation X, whose youngest cohorts turned 18 (with the oldest pushing 40) had seen its last fad. From then on, individual artists in our generation might still lead bands, write novels and inspire teens, but we would never do anything again en masse.

It was a classy ending, I suppose, to those of us who had roller skated in the late 70s, obsessed over Simon LeBon, wore eyeliner with the Cure, participated in the Daisy Age around 1990, threw ourselves into the pit with the likes of Nirvana and the Archers of Loaf, then dropped ecstasy at our final rave.

The randomness and eclecticism of the iPod might have rendered most musical fads a thing from a simpler era, and there’s still time, like Summer says, to see if the ethic of Burning Man keeps Gen X or Y together in some fractured fraternity. But I’d be lying if I say I didn’t miss the brotherhood of experiencing a new movement with all my friends, even if it had been borrowed a hundred times before.

goin’ to the movies, I take up 7 rows

6/14/05

God knows all the blogosphere needs right now is another armchair schlub weighing in on the Michael Jackson verdict, but this case has fascinated me. To wit: has any human being in American history come from such a height and fallen so low?

Benedict Arnold was a Revolutionary War hero, lauded universally by those who fought with him, until he went Tory and become synonymous with “traitor” in American vernacular. Fatty Arbuckle was one of America’s favorite movie stars until he was accused (wrongly, it turns out) of a vicious rape. And I guess you could call O.J. Simpson something of a hero to kids in the 1970s before, well, you-know-what.

But I think all of these pale in comparison to Michael Jackson. The recent verdict is a subdued affair, likely because a) we’ve heard these allegations for 12 years now, and b) we’re pretty much inured to scandal (see: Bush, George).

It’s easy to forget just how insanely, insanely huge Michael Jackson was for so long. Even if you discount the Jackson 5 stuff (“I Want You Back,” “ABC,” etc.) and start with tracks from “Off the Wall” (“Wanna Be Startin’ Something,” “Rock With You”) and on to “Thriller,” nobody in pop history except Elvis and the Beatles was his equal in the adulation department.

There was an electricity crackling from everything he did; when I saw the Motown 25 Year special in 1983, and he did the moonwalk during “Billie Jean,” I lost my shit. He was so touched by magic that his mere presence on Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me,” one of the worst songs ever written, shot it into the Top 10. He was unbelievably fun.

And from thus, he went from being the most adored artist in the world to an alleged child molester. The only thing more sickening, perhaps, is “serial killer,” but somehow, the molestation of children sounds worse. He still has his small, disturbed collection of rabid fans releasing doves in his honor, but I still contend that nobody in the history of America has fallen farther than Michael Jackson.

And yet, it’s not that simple. Salon’s Alessandro Camon seems to say that Americans are stuck in this empty round-robin of celebrity schadenfreude, where we wish our most famous personalities the cruelest end possible. But it doesn’t square with facts: every single famous person in trouble gets off. Robert Blake, Kobe Bryant, O.J. Simpson and now Jackson are free men.

This can’t be due entirely to money buying the best lawyers on earth – that sort of thing would have backfired by now. I have begun to believe that our public spirit may enjoy kicking mega-famous people while they’re down, but when it comes to individuals, we all want our heroes back. If you’re sitting on that jury, and the time comes to convict or acquit, most Americans will dig deep inside themselves and find a place where these broken men, these murderers and molesters, are back on top of their game.

We are such kids, us Americans. We just want to put posters up on our wall, watch a running back elude a tackle for the touchdown, and keep our movie stars sacrosanct. It’s infantile, but I have to admit, a little sweet.

none more black

6/13/05

I write to you tonight by the orange light of a distant streetlamp somewhere off in Park Slope, Brooklyn: the power is completely out in our apartment. At some point this evening, the air conditioners destroyed a circuit deep in the bowels of our brownstone, meaning there are at least three feet of 1885 brick between us and a solution.

This comes at the heels of perhaps Lucy’s fussiest night in recent memory; she usually takes three naps during the day (lasting 1-2 hours each) but today she napped for 50 minutes TOTAL. By 7pm, she was listing to one side, drunk with fatigue, but still had enough power in her mitochondria to blast an ear-shedding series of screams that would sand varnish off a flight of stairs.

I have about 20 minutes of battery life left in my Powerbook, and I’m stealing wifi from someone named “lemur” within 100 feet of my predicament, and I’m praying it doesn’t get so stiflingly hot that Lucy is forced to wake up and share her Yoko Ono-influenced pop stylings with us.

It is nights like this, in the city, that you come face to face with the fragility of your situation. Up at the farm, we have solar power and a battery backup (so this wouldn’t happen), but you also sense the infinite possibility of firewood, plants, animals and sustenance.

The city, however, gets very cruel very fast in times of need. The electrical outage of 2003 was hailed as a sort of Burning Man for New York City, but if it had lasted longer, things would have gotten ugly.

I can only pray that this outage will be short-lived, and Tessa and I don’t turn on each other in a cannibalistic frenzy. Ahoy!

perennial favorites

6/12/05

Why I Am a Total Gaybot, Chapter 17

I like growing things better than almost anything else in life. When I was a little brat in the 1970s, my mom had one of the best gardens in Cedar Rapids, IA, and she always gave me a little plot at the end – about 5′ by 5′ so I could grow radishes. Man, I could grow the fuck out of radishes, and they were good with salt.

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me in pile of leaves by garden, circa 1972

Or maybe they weren’t, but the sense of accomplishment was so great that it could make even boring vegetables worthy of magic.

When we bought this little farm up in Columbia County, the first thing I did was plant a garden with everything too close together, but the output was incredible (see the treatise on pumpkins or my curious tomato haul). This year, in case some of you didn’t get the memo, we’re going to be in California from July to September, so the garden is going to lay fallow. But don’t fret, pumpkin lovers: I planted the patch this weekend, and as long as it rains this summer, we’re going to have fruits bigger than last year, or else I’ll hand in my Best Pumpkin Attitude 2002 medal.

In the meantime, the farm has erupted with the perennial flowers planted by the house’s previous owner Virginia Nelson. Virginia, by all accounts, was an awesome, totally solid, lovely woman – who obsessed over her garden until she died at the age of 86 about seven years ago.

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Va. Nelson at her/our farm in 1959

What is amazing is that pieces of her still live on: the perennials don’t stay blooming very long (as opposed to annuals, which only last a year but bloom all summer) but they ALL came out this week, and because I dig this stuff as much as I dig tequila shots, pretty clouds and a good scrum, I took some pictures for posterity. This blog goes out to Virginia, whose beauty peeks out for a couple of weeks every year until we stop telling stories about her.

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the blue irises came up for the first time in two years

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the purple bearded iris (yes, it sounds like a sex toy)

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the vining clematis: hard to believe they stay dormant all winter

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Tessa pruning the peonies with baby monitor on belt = rock star

do re meme

6/9/05

Okay, so there has to be some code I can use for “I really would love to write a blog tonight and have tons to say, but if I don’t get some sleep, I’m going to be absolutely useless for Tessa and my daughter tomorrow.” Many times I’ve just plowed ahead and spent the requisite time making sure everyone is slightly entertained, but I’ve paid for it dearly the next day.

So, on these days, which happen every ten blogs are so, I should just have a CODE WORD that means you guys have to come up with a brilliant topic, or some answerable meme (like my brother Kent’s from a few days ago or whatever the knitting gals have cooked up) and go to town, and then I can join in later once Lucy has fallen to sleep on my breastbone.

So, there it is. Anybody have five questions that everyone can answer? Or five answers that everyone can question? First decent one wins.

sky, sky blue

6/8/05

Oh dear – what’s all this bickering about? This blog is supposed to be about babies, pop music and the University of North Carolina!

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Well, two out of three ain’t bad!

jesus h.

6/7/05

In the 70s, when I came into consciousness – in the 80s, when I came of age – and in the ’90s when I played out my adolescence – we had something called “static.” It was the space between radio stations, the poorly-received television signal, the hum of the record player at the end of an album, and the hiss of a bad phone. This was an Analog culture, where shortcuts could be taken, songs could kinda be heard when driving under bridges, and mix tapes had to made in real time.

Those days are rapidly disappearing, replaced by today’s Digital culture, which is clear, clean and unforgiving. With XM Radio, you either get a signal or you get nothing. Either your iPod works or it doesn’t. Cable TV is on, and there’s no getting the porn channel by placing the dial in-between stations. Your cell phone, even your internet signal is binary: you get service or you DON’T, there is no in-between.

I mention this odd change in American culture because it goes some way to explain yesterday’s blog, which was not meant to call into question the sanity of Christians, but managed to do so anyway. I find many aspects of the digital culture to be cruel, and religion/politics is beginning to behave with the lack of nuance that only comes from a binary culture.

It’s true, I have a problem with Christians. I’d like to think it was fostered early on with my disenchantment with early Mormonhood, but in all truth, I thought Christians – and Muslims, etc. – and agnostics like myself could live in harmony until recently.

But the last ten years has been devastating to any American trying to keep religion out of our governing system, and the digital, binary way of doing things has led to a codification, a settling in of the way things are. In short, it seems like Christianity is becoming a permanent, unmovable force in our lives, and like the Borg, resistance is seemingly futile.

Do I really need to give examples? That parts of Delaware are now being forced to teach Intelligent Design? That the Supreme Court is going to be stacked with conservatives until I’m in my 70s? That the judiciary is becoming downright scary? The goalposts of what is “normal” have been moved so far to the right that true progressives can no longer find the stadium, let alone play.

I think many Christians, even those who are large of heart, have either forgotten or have no concept what it is like to be losing the culture wars as badly as liberals are. Perhaps a few die-hards recall a time in the early 70s when everyone seemed to give up on God and attend key parties, but the culture has swung so far back that those of us wishing to keep religion out of our lives have to constantly explain ourselves.

This blog is my little space, a vent for frustration, and as I always say, a constant treasure trove of reasons I’ll never win elected office. There is nobody else fighting my battles for me: the Democrats are so pusillanimous as to be embarrassing, the press corps have given Bush a total pass, and Americans seem willing to put up with anything as long as they don’t have to pay too much for gas. It’s sickening, and it makes me furious.

So I suppose I take it out on Christians occasionally, many of whom are my friends (and, of course, extended family). I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings in the particular, but right now, there seems to be no hope for those of us who just want our kids to grow up without Jesus being shoved down their gullets. Hillary will get stomped in ’08, Katharine Harris will be elected to the Senate, and I’ll have to spend an hour a day debriefing all the New Testament out of Lucy when she gets home from school.

And so, to my Christian friends whom I love dearly, try to put yourself in my shoes. Imagine every single belief you hold dear being throttled by the government. Imagine losing every debate, watching every tenet swirl down the drain, imagine feeling like you’re one of about twenty native speakers left and they’re all dying.

It doesn’t matter how open-minded you are, how your church is different, how your God is kinder than the one I imagine. As much as I respect you, I find your beliefs to be impossible to fathom, yet according to most Americans, I’m the one who’s crazy, and in a digital culture, there’s no nuance: it looks like I’m going to stay that way.

xenu-phobia

6/6/05

In entertainment news, everyone – including his publicist – is concerned that Tom Cruise’s cheese has slipped off his cracker, as he gambols about the country, behaving untowardly on Oprah, and setting up tents in Germany to convert onlookers to Scientology. First off, I don’t think it’s possible to have the kind of life Tom Cruise has had since 1982 and come away unscathed – and secondly, why all the harshing on Scientology?

Sure Scientologists have an eerie sheen to them, and I’ve heard the stories about how they’ve held some people hostage to their darkest secrets, and yes, when we used to live near the Celebrity Center on Franklin Street in Hollywood, the dark grounds and obfuscated flowers would give one the heebie-jeebies. But why is so much scorn heaped on a religion that doesn’t seem any more far-fetched than what “normal” Americans believe every day?

From the small bits I’ve managed to pick up, Scientology basically believes that an alien life force (or volcanoes, I can’t remember) deposited an energy on Earth that still exists to this day. They believe you have to pick up on this energy (through “audits” and “e-meters” and the like) in order to reach your perfect self. Or something like that. There have been lots of Scientologists that you probably didn’t know were members. Like Beck, for instance.

Now compare this with transubstantiation in any run-of-the-mill Catholic church, where followers believe that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ during the blessing. Keep in mind these things are happening on an average street on any given Sunday in suburban Ohio.

While we’re at it, let’s talk about Christ for a second. Christians believe he was the divine made mortal, the son of God, who showed up on Earth, performed miracles, was crucified, rose from the dead and ascended to Heaven. This particular blog entry is not intended to slag Christianity, but if you weren’t so used to the story, it would seem fairly weird, no?

So Scientologists proselytize on national television. So does our goddamn President. So Scientologists are pushy, always trying convert everybody. No worse, certainly, than the Mormons, or even the Catholics, who went into Africa and baptized every “savage” they could get their hands on.

Scientology preaches against using Prozac-like drugs, but so does every redneck American who thinks if you don’t take life on the chin, you’re a fucking pussy. Not only that, but Scientology also does a pretty good job of getting people off drugs, something most churches barely pay lip service to. Sure, you have to be a Scientologist after you kick heroin, but at least you’re not going to smash into a school bus on Sunset Drive.

The only reason to make fun of – or despise – Scientology is because it isn’t old enough to take seriously. L. Ron Hubbard made up his bizarre stories in the 1950s – as opposed to 45 A.D., which puts him distinctly behind the curve. Age of story is a huge deal to people of faith; the Mormons are only just beginning to get a place at the table, and they’ve been around since the 1850s. It’s 2005, and 61% of Americans still believe in some sort of Creationism.

If you pick on Scientology at the exclusion of all other religions, you’re just like those asinine girls in college who only liked movies made before 1970, as if age trumped all flaws. It all comes down to a matter of faith, and to me, believing in an alien dust fairy makes just as much sense as trusting in Lazarus.

vernal equinox

6/5/05

This weekend was the Park Slope Brooklyn Solstice, an event I christened a few years ago so dorky that it is a damn good thing I’m already married and already having intercourse with a female. In short, it’s one of the two days of the year when the setting sun corresponds exactly to the street grid laid out in the 1860s. In layman’s terms, it’s the day you turn south on any street in this part of Brooklyn, and are blinded.

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A similar thing happens in Manhattan twice a year (I snapped this picture on the blog for July 10, 2002) and because I always obsessed over Stonehenge and other manmade (or accidentally manmade) correspondence to the celestial heavens, I actually get off on this stuff. It warms the heart that you can tell calendar time from the sun setting on your street. I tried telling Tessa about this phenomenon and I believe she dozed off.

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Lucy joined me in our celebration of the Park Slope Brooklyn Solstice and donned her new fave tanktop, and we all walked around town looking at various stoop sales. Tessa even found some Kate Spades in a size 9, which ain’t easy, my friends.

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We capped Saturday night off in Prospect Park, where Lucy attended her first movie – “Star Wars” – projected on a huge screen in the middle of the Long Meadow. Curiously enough, it had also been my first movie, the first summer flick I was allowed to see without adult supervision in 1977. I remember at the time that I could live forever and never see anything better. That lasted until “Blade Runner” when I was 13, and was convinced THAT was as good as anything would ever get. Fortunately, we are blessed with the capacity for constant surprise.

As for Lucy, she fell asleep before Luke and Obi-Wan even got to the Death Star. How am I supposed to keep culture in this family if everyone keeps falling asleep?