Monthly Archives: November 2005

you know, the one that goes “doo-dee-doo-doo”

11/14/05

I’m in a hotel room in Kingman, Arizona (yes, I-40 follows Route 66 in the desert Southwest) so I’ll keep this short, but I have to say everyone’s lists from yesterday’s blog blew my mind. I hope none of you cheated. It gives me hope for mankind.

The lovely and enchanting Caren asked that we name three important (to us, anyway) songs that not many people would know, and I thought of my three somewhere outside Needles, CA:

1. XTC – “Season Cycle”

You can have a weeklong debate about XTC’s most gorgeous song, but I keep coming back to this sparkling gem on their fabulous Skylarking. It ends the first side of the album, the “youth” side, from birth to the splendor of being in your twenties. It is unabashedly twee, but it is what would happen if Paul and John stopped arguing, Brian Wilson never went crazy, and the entirety of Britain became the pastel chalk puddles of “Mary Poppins.”

I think this song is important because it’s emblematic of the music business’ absolute lack of meritocracy. If gorgeous melodies were properly rewarded, then Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding and Dave Gregory would be millionaires able to retire in Swindon without constant fear of financial crisis (hence the songs you probably know, “Earn Enough For Us” and “Love on a Farmboy’s Wages”). Rumor has it, early on, the lads had to work at a movie theatre between albums. This is not fair, a lesson everyone should learn as they learn their first three chords.

2. Cocteau Twins – “Heaven or Las Vegas”

The Twins took pop idioms, beautiful hooks, classic song structure and threw out the playbook. Before they began to sound homogenous on their last two albums, “Heaven or Las Vegas” was the bridge between their less-accessible work and the bubblegum of their future. This song is so powerful, it needs to be played at 90 decibels – otherwise you’re just being ginger with a chainsaw.

They sang in Gaelic, they sang in nonsense, they just made these unearthly heartbreaking noises – R.E.M. may have started the “singer as another sound” philosophy, but the Cocteau Twins brought it to apotheosis.

Liz Fraser has one of those four-and-a-half octave ranges without getting screechy (like early Kate Bush) that is a Scottish brogue orchestra in voice. I have so many daydreams to this song, and I do believe it saved my life one night on the red-eye train from Madrid to Barcelona. More on that story some other time.

3. 41st Symphony (“Jupiter”) – W.A. Mozart

I’m not going to get all musicologist on your ass, but there are bits of this very short, very brilliant symphony that presaged the Romantic movement, jazz, and having sex to music. Written at the end of his life, this (his last) symphony became the work by which all composers measure themselves – which, of course, is impossible, because they wouldn’t exist in the first place if it weren’t for the Jupiter symphony.

Usually on a CD with the almost-as-fabulous 40th Symphony, buy or download them both, hop in the car, and take one last speeding jaunt through the autumn leaves with the volume way, way up.

i’ll take “obscure twee britpop” for $2000, alex

11/13/05

My brother Kent posted an interesting meme (through his friend pipecock) where you get your MP3 player (iPod, etc.) and put it on “shuffle” and write down the first twenty songs that come up. I thought I’d give that a go:

1. “Here Comes That Feeling” – Squeeze, off Argybargy

2. “Bigmouth Strikes Again” – Smiths, off The Queen is Dead

3. “Dam Would Break” – Toad the Wet Sprocket, off Coil

4. “Quien Engaña no Gana” – Ojos de Brujo, off Barí

5. “The Girl From Back Then” – Kings of Convenience, off Quiet is the New Loud

6. “Watch Me Burn” – Sneetches, off Starfucker

7. “I Live” – Jason Falkner, off Presents Author Unknown

8. “If I Were You” – Wondermints, off Mind if We Make Love to You

9. “Variatio XXII” – J.S. Bach, from the Goldberg Variations

10. “All About Ruprecht” – from the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Musical Soundtrack

11. “Blue Wonder Power Milk” – Hooverphonic, from Blue Wonder Power Milk

12. “Big Important Nothing” – Self, from Subliminal Plastic Motives

13. “Everyone’s Gone to the Movies” – Steely Dan, from Katy Lied

14. Part Two of “The Fortune of War” by Patrick O’Brian

15. “Heavy Spritzer Twist” by chaircrusher (Kent), off Best of chaircrusher

16. “This American Life: Reruns” from Ira Glass

17. “Tall Trees” – Crowded House, off Woodface

18. “Pink & Blue” – Outkast, off The Love Below

19. “Summer Rain” – Primitives, off Pure

20. “Thin Man” – Suzanne Vega, off Nine Objects of Desire

Which, of course, means I’m gay.

How about your random shuffle?

pardon me, frances

11/10/05

With all my soapboxing about the virtues of Generation X’s parallelism, I’d like to make one thing perfectly clear: The New Kids on the Block sucked then, and they suck now. In fact, under the baking sunlamp of modern scrutiny, New Kids may be the worst band with the worst songs in the history of music.

I got caught in a parking garage today listening to Step by Step, which did for the Top 40 what cyanide did for Tylenol. I was stuck to the steering wheel, physically quaking at the sheer horror of that tune, unable to turn the dial like Alex watching horrorshow during “A Clockwork Orange.”

First off, there is not one real rhyme in the whole thing: “girl” is made to rhyme with “world,” “eyes” with “smile” and “time” with “wild.” Punctuated throughout the song are the Frankie Goes to Hollywood “HuWAAAAAH”s in high reverb that serves to give you Stupid Feeling™ at Defcon 3.

The worst, of course, is the middle section, when each New Kid gets to sing their individual “step” – “Step one – we can have lots of fun” is absurdly out of tune, and then “Step five” rhymes with “arrived.”

The only bands in the world that were never “unsigned” are those put together purely from P.R. cloth. Funny thing is, they’re usually decent. The Monkees had some incredibly good albums, and I’m sorry, but I am a proud consumer of several Spice Girl songs. I’ll even listen to “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys.

But nothing about the New Kids on the Block was ever remotely tolerable. “Hangin’ Tough” – with its lyric about something not being over until the fat lady sings – IS SO FUCKING BAD. It does not bring forth waves of nostalgia, you can’t really dance to it ironically. The New Kids are like Chernobyl: something terrible that happened in the late 80s that just fosters depression.

Only one good thing came of “Step by Step” – one night in 1990, Greg Humphreys and Dillon Fence did a raucous 15-minute version of “Something For You” that included a “Step One! We can have lots of fun!” break in the middle that remains one of my favorite moments from Carolina. Thank god I had that memory to get me through today, as the New Kids pounded on the back of my cerebellum without relent.

that numismatic gave me philatio

11/9/05

A recent spate of op-ed pieces and articles about the peculiarities of Generation Y have come out lately, including USA Today’s perennial “these new kids treat work differently” article that could have been copied, word for word, from 1992. The truth is, Generations Y & X share one thing in common: to our elders, neither of them look like they’ll amount to much.

Old people, or should I say older people, make the constant mistake of believing their inefficient, time-consuming, labor-intensive way of doing things was somehow better, and most importantly, imbued them with character. I am hear to tell you that I came of age in the late ’70s before anyone I knew had an answering machine, a VCR or a debit card, and it sucked. If you want to see a miracle to a 4th grader in 1978 like me, show him an iPod and watch his brain explode with delight.

But there is one thing Generation Y does not have that we Xers did: the gift I call “parallelism.” I’ve been meaning to write about this for years, and it’s no big epiphany, but the one thing folks my age always had was this ability to believe two entirely different things at the same time without being bothered by paradox.

A few examples: the endless parody of the 1980s is enjoyed by us 30-year-olds because we think it sucks AND we love it at the same time. When we dance to “Thriller,” we are being both ironic and sincere. Look at David Foster Wallace’s footnotes as long as his novels, meant to be didactic and emotional at once. My favorite parallelist moment in culture is probably during the end “chase” sequence of “Ferris Bueller” when Matthew Broderick is running furiously through people’s yards to beat his parents home, but still stops midway to introduce himself to some sunbathers.

This propensity to appreciate crap, mix high and low vernaculars, and abandon principles for the sake of argument always made us look flaky to our elders, but then again, I always pitied their high-minded, precious, earnest sentimentalism. I thought they really missed out on a lot of funny stuff, you know, like farting in church.

I believe this peculiar generational trait came from having wildly divergent interests, honed in the latchkey 1970s and 80s. Being well-rounded was a good thing back then; it was actually in style. My computer friends were also baseball nuts. My string quartet in high school obsessed over The Jesus and Mary Chain. And me? My interests were French, basketball, Shostakovich, calligraphy, maps, Atari, violin, tennis, carpentry, astronomy, porn and Morse Code.

I don’t say this to brag, in fact it was common; we all just liked a lot of stuff. It was obvious as oxygen.

You’d think the internet, with Google, message board threads and constant email, would have furthered this well-roundedness (and parallelism), but it was not to be. There was an interesting opinion piece in the News & Observer on Sunday (already deleted, sadly) called “Lack of Curiosity is Curious,” wherein the writer bemoaned Generation Y’s aversion to subjects outside their sphere.

He posits – and I’ve heard this from many other professors and people advising teens – that the hyper-granulated singularity of the internet is making a generation of kids that only obsess over ONE THING, whatever it may be. When it comes to getting jobs, they only want to get the education that will get them THAT JOB, and when they have the job, they only want to know the things that will FURTHER THEIR CAREER. As for everything else, they could give a shit.

Sure, it’s painting an entire generation with a broad brush (and this whole entry is an exercise in generalizations), but that sounds like death to me. The only thing keeping me alive, besides my family, friends and Celexa, is an unquenchable curiosity about pretty much everything in the world. I shudder to think what kind of writers these kids will be – my tiny modicum of knowledge on 14,000 topics is what has saved my writing career a hundred times over.

There will always be kids that flout this way of thinking, but I can’t imagine surviving a clique where fascination is passé. I’d hate to be stuck in a place that lacks curiosity, choosing a goal-oriented marriage over disparate housewives. Our parallelism will die out, replaced by binary judgement.

Sure, she drove you insane, but now you will go looking for her. He was such a pain in the ass, but now you long for his voice. Say a prayer, because this age will finally exterminate the most annoying person you’ll ever miss: The Know-it-All.

omnidirectional antennae

11/8/05

There are three shows you are currently missing on television right now, and you probably shouldn’t be. Far be it for me to tell you what to watch, and with the current television renaissance underway, it can be easy to lose old friends in the mix, but there are some titles that are quietly coming of age without the fanfare of “My Name is Earl” or “Criminal Minds.” Unlike the endless parade of cop procedurals, these shows have actual character development and nobody getting raped, tortured and dismembered.

Also, I’ll come clean on full disclosure: you should watch both “King of the Hill” and “Surface” because they are run by Carolina folks. And you should watch “NUMB3RS” – pronounced “Numthers” by Sean, Jordana, Tessa, me and now several other people in Hollywood – because MATH SOLVES CRIMES. And yes, we know some of the great people making the shows I’m about to mention. But you should trust me by now anyway.

1. Alias – It’s easy for cynical naysayers to talk shit about “Alias,” but I dare any one of you to rent the first two seasons and not come away spellbound. Season Three was much vilified (and I liked it) but they regained their footing with last season, and now it is still having more fun than almost any show on television.

This is truly an hour on TV when anything can happen. And the writers are smart enough to let Jennifer Garner and Victor Garber in on letting you in on the joke. But amidst the world domination, the cartoonish portrayals of Sydney’s various ass-kickings, and Ron Rifkin’s sneer, there is something deeply moving in the show’s major theme of parenthood, especially between Garner and Garber. The creators never lose sight of what makes these characters human; the rest is merely explosion.

2. The Office – I just bought the British version on DVD and haven’t watched it yet, but Steve Carell (as the boss) and Rainn Wilson (as Dwight, his unctuous sycophant) have me peeing my boxers almost every week. The tempestuous romance between Jim and Pam is exactly like every crush you’ve ever seen from afar, and if you spent one month at a failing dot com, you know all of this too delightfully well.

And not to belittle it, but setting a comedy in Scranton, PA is a stroke of genius. Apart from Des Moines, IA and Dayton, OH there is probably no more unexceptional town in America. Okay, begin your hate mail.

3. The West Wing – It has been a long time since lefties all over the country masturbated to the dulcet strains of Martin Sheen channeling Aaron Sorkin, and yes, perhaps the show jumped the shark several years ago. That doesn’t mean it isn’t capable of riveting, fantastic television under the auspices of the equally talented John Wells. The Vinick-Santos campaign has been especially wonderful, at least until they did the live episode last week.

Live television usually bombs when used as a stunt, but not for the reasons you think. Everyone said the live “ER” in 1997 was boring, and most TV critics derided the “West Wing” debate as charmingly useless. Most everyone said that it was impossible to make a “scripted” “live” event anything other than hokey.

I contend that it is something much simpler: video. Video absolutely looks like shit. We don’t compare it often, because we’re used to the way the news, or Oprah or “Home Improvement” reruns look. But when you take characters that have previously inhabited the world of film – like the “ER” doctors or “West Wing” pundits – and subject them to the thin, sherbet-colored wisps of live NTSC video, all TV watchers around the country feel subconsciously cheapened without fully realizing why.

If there were a way to make live video “filmic” – give it the richness, the grain, and the flickering quality of a regularly filmed series, I promise these live stunts will sing. You know what else will suddenly be consistently funny? Saturday Night Live. Which you should watch because Carolina alum Bryan Tucker now writes for them.

But I digress. You should be watching “West Wing” and “Alias” because there will come a day when you won’t have them around to pick on anymore. You’ll long for fiercely intelligent political discourse, and perhaps a fantasy show that travels to Munich, Madagascar and Madrid to kick some ass and all you’ll have left are gory CSI reruns that only make you think the worst of humankind.

that redhead PGA golfer just blew a gasket, Fuzzy!

11/7/05

CODE WORD, so here are some images for your viewing pleasure.

This is what I look like after being fed through Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 2005 “Game Face II” mode, where you can actually change the width of your nostrils, shape of your cheekbones, everything. I’m not sure how close I got, but when I fuck up a shot on the fairway, it looks an awful lot like me throwing a tantrum:

IanTWG(bl).jpg

Actually, I’m beginning to look pretty silly in real life:

LucyIanLALoft4(bl).jpg

I suppose every kid has a picture when they suddenly go from “being an infant” to “being a strangely sentient creature with something up their sleeve.” This is Lucy’s first picture like that:

RickTessaLucyLALoft1(bl).jpg

with Rick Gradone and the Mommy

Oh, and if you want a couple more KYOOOTE pictures of the Bug, go see Michelle’s blog for today.

I’ve been pulling my metaphorical pants down for years – anyone out there want to share pictures?

1112

11/6/05

Occasionally I look at past blogs – and I now have 1,111 of them, thank you all for coming – and say to myself, “yes, yes, you’re a firebrand liberal and very clever with your lists and whatnot, but what were you actually doing right then?”

So, for my future self, here’s the deal. We have accomplished more than we ever hoped this season in the business, and while there’s a long road to hoe, we need to concentrate on the big project due December 16. We will have a party on December 17, and this time, it was even Tessa’s idea. Having discussed it with several folks in the know, we decided to go back to New York for Thanksgiving and stay through the holidays.

I’m going to start driving home next Monday, pick up Tessa at RDU later in the week, and watch us beat the ever living shit out of Dook on the football field. Hopefully, that night, we’ll do the same to Gardner-Webb on the basketball court. There will be much buying of Tar Heel paraphernalia for Lucy (everything except the “baby cheerleader” uniform, which I find fairly creepy).

Then it’ll be on to New York, which both of us miss terribly. I know we’re getting home just in time for the shittiest weather, but frankly, the sun out here has grown a little oppressive. I know I’ll regret saying this, but I wouldn’t mind a light drizzle and 39 degrees just to keep us honest.

Plus, Christmas in New York – and the sweaty insanity of the Manhattan shopping experience – beats the long rows of houses out here in Santa Monica with blow-up reindeer and huge St. Nicholases that go “Ho. Ho. Ho.” I’m looking forward to getting overly hot on a subway that has been heated up to 110 and full of steaming sludge tracked in by thousands of grumpy consumers.

That, and I miss hoops. I finally gave up on my San Gabriel Valley games at the Mormon church because I was so psychologically snakebit that I couldn’t make a layup. It’s as if the angel Moroni suddenly discovered I was having some secular fun in his church and has been swatting away all my jump shots. I need to go back to the Catholic God of St. Patrick’s in Soho, who has been much more forgiving.

We’ll be back in California at the beginning of next year, perhaps for longer. It’s a strange thought, the idea of a longer-term residence, actually becoming as much Californian as New Yorkesque. If they made more television in NYC, we’d never leave, but we’re not the “Law and Order” type. Weirdly, we’re more of the “Wisteria Lane” variety.

humiliating kick in the crotch

11/3/05

There’s a good roundup in Salon today about 28 disparate heroes who are battling global warming (oh, suck it up and watch the ad first) and while just mentioning anything about the environment makes even the best of us yawn, it seems pretty clear that we are messing with the future of humanity – and the future is coming way faster than anyone thought.

Those of us in our 30s are still young, but we still got three very fun decades in. We had a good run, perhaps, and if you don’t plan on having kids, it’s easy to not give half a shit. But I just went and looked at my sleeping Lucy, and I’m sorry to be a hackneyed cliché hound, but can you imagine dealing with the next 80+ years of global warming? Can you imagine what she might need to deal with? IT’S HARROWING.

Americans don’t care about global warming for four reasons:

1) we are lulled into complacency by the enormity of our country

2) the news is so bad as to be incomprehensible

2) the only thing we believe in that we can’t see… is Jesus who died on the cross for man’s sins, apparently

3) we don’t give a long-term shit about anyone else in the world.

It’s so goddamn shameful how irresponsible the Bush administration has been to environmental – and worldly – concerns, choosing to give the finger to science again and again. Actually, we’re really giving the finger to 96% of the world’s population, because that’s how much of the world is NOT US.

If things don’t change – like, say, if another Republican with oil interests is elected in 2008 – it augurs very poorly for us, because the rest of the world is not going to sit around and let us get away with being climate-ruining assholes for the rest of the century. They are going to take matters into their own hands.

When their lakes dry up, the sea water topples their dikes, and their crops begin to fail, they will come after us. For the last four years it seems like religious extremism was going to be big problem, but I think we have a better shot at being fucked by something worse: environmental terrorism.

Some country will attack us, using whatever weapons they have, to shut down our economy and render our fleet of gas-guzzlers useless by the side of the road. Perhaps they’ll destroy some oil platforms, radiate an entire chemical plant city, poison Detroit. And it won’t be in the name of Allah, it will be in the name of an Asian country with half a billion people on the brink of starvation.

Even writing this makes feel like a wacko. But don’t tell me that none of you feel like we have entered an era of… for lack of a better term, Unprecedentedness. If it weren’t close to a novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, I would pitch a book called “Everything is Unprecedented.”

The news is terrible, and we’ve known it for a long time. I remember taking classes on global warming at UNC in 1989, and the best we could do was ban CFCs in our deodorant spray. My brother Steve believes it will take something unthinkable like a nuclear detonation on American soil to wake us up. Is there ANYTHING anyone can do to slap us out of our somnambulist stupor without that kind of horror?

WHY IS THIS FUCKING MONKEY IN CHARGE AT THIS CRUCIAL POINT IN HISTORY??? You’d think your God would have taken better care of us.

sugar and spice sold separately

11/2/05

Instructions on How to Make a 6-Month Old

TessaLucySpringTree5a(bl).jpg

1. take cone-shaped head and push forward

2. take temples and extend them upward to thin out face

3. take lower jaw and thrust towards the front

4. push chubby cheeks inward

5. make nose pointier and more delicate

6. erase bags under eyes

7. make eyes gigantic

8. give dose of B-Alert 6000™ three times daily

9. infuse laughter and gift for the absurd

10. allow yourself to sleep through the night

Voilà! Your 6-Month Old is ready for use!

MichelleBlakeLucyD1(bl).jpg

jokers to the right

11/1/05

Ever since that day almost exactly a year ago when the hearts of progressives were broken by the election of 2004 we’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop. And it has: a giant galosh covered in shit.

Oh sure, we kept our powder dry during the John Roberts confirmation (he seemed like a nice enough guy with a ton of experience), and we watched in delight as the Harriet Miers fiasco flummoxed the Republican Party.

We mourned as the 2000th soldier died in Iraq based on lies, and we cheered as the first Bush administration officials began to be indicted. We quaked with rage as the President botched the rescue during three hurricanes and then finally felt VINDICATED as his approval rating slipped into the 30s.

But that’s all over now. An embittered, pissed-off, entitled shrub of a Commander in Chief has now taken his toys and told us to fuck off: the nomination of Samuel Alito is one of the scariest things to happen to the judiciary of this country since the 1920s. Fitting, too, because Alito wouldn’t mind taking us back there – this man makes Sandra Day O’Connor look like Abbie Hoffman.

There are plenty of places you can go to find his past rulings – I’m not going to clog up the blog with them. It only takes a second to get a whiff of his cruelty, his pomposity, his desire to legislate law from any bench of his choosing. He is to the right of Scalia, an act of physics I thought impossible.

The worst thing is this: Bush is nominating someone who is virulently anti-choice on abortion, when well over 60% of the country wants to keep abortions safe and legal. With Bush’s popularity so low, and a vast majority of the country believing we’re going in the wrong direction, you’d think he’d nominate someone who at least shared our interests.

Nope. He’s a little bully that’s been backed into a corner and decided to lash out in one last desperate act: a small stone in a slingshot that takes out your eye.

Now is the time to truly contemplate American Coastopia, or perhaps another country. I know that sounds like wacky Baldwin Brother bullshit, but I am simply not going to allow my daughter to grow up in a country where she can be strip-searched at the age of 10 even without a warrant. I don’t want her to see people fired because they have AIDS. And if she wants an abortion one day, it’ll be heartbreaking, but by god, it’ll be safe and legal.

If we have to move to Norway for this to happen, then, well, fuck it. I’ll buy one of those sunlamps.

Cue comments from conservatives saying I’m wrong, cue others fighting them, cue nobody changing, zzzzzzzzzzzz