Monthly Archives: November 2006

deadhead sticker on a cadillac

11/30/06

I almost never do memes, but I liked what my brother Kent did today: post the top songs of the year he turned 18. He (and the guys who did it first) bolded songs they liked, crossed out songs they disliked, and left the other italicized. I’m not tertiary enough to get away with that, so I’ll post the top 60 songs from the year I turned 18. That glorious annus, 1985. And offer a little comment on each.

By the way, my favorite year for all music, both pop and alternative, was 1986. Too bad we can’t do that one, but you have to follow the meme, I guess. Here goes:

1. We Built This City – Jefferson Starship – unmitigated fucking crap

2. Smooth Operator – Sade – loved this song, bought the album, thought I was kool

3. The Boys of Summer – Don Henley – great sound, nicely encapsulates an era I hardly knew

4. Sea Of Love – Honeydrippers – changed the station when it came on

5. Summer of ’69 – Bryan Adams – Bryan Adams was NINE in 1969, what a crock of shit

6. Walking On Sunshine – Katrina and the Waves – in some incantations, this song still feels good

7. Into The Groove – Madonna – scooped ice cream to this song in Norfolk, VA – had crush on Josie

8. You Are My Lady – Freddie Jackson – huh?

9. Crazy For You – Madonna – spoken word section = crap

10. The Bird – The Time – don’t remember this one at all

11. Relax – Frankie Goes To Hollywood – man, I wanted to come

12. Everytime You Go Away – Paul Young – overproduced, but had something

13. Glory Days – Bruce Springsteen – the Boss at his most cloying

14. I Want To Know What Love Is – Foreigner – histrionic, blowhard shite… what happened to “Urgent”?

15. Careless Whisper – Wham! – first time I heard this, I told Mom it would be #1 and I was right

16. Axel F – Harold Faltermeyer – have there been any instrumentals on the charts lately?

17. Material Girl – Madonna – loved Madonna’s boobs in the video

18. Roxanne, Roxanne – UTFO – barf

19. All She Wants To Do Is Dance – Don Henley – total disaster of a song

20. Say You, Say Me – Lionel Richie – instant depressant

21. You’re The Inspiration – Chicago – symphonic cheese, but I loved it

22. Through The Fire – Chaka Khan – no recollection

23. Heaven – Bryan Adams – oh Bryan, shut up

24. Freeway Of Love – Aretha Franklin – nice to see Aretha feed her 401K

25. Jungle Love – The Time – Jesse! Now Jerome!

26. All I Need – Jack Wagner – some of the worst lyrics ever written – see here

27. Born In The U.S.A. – Bruce Springsteen – I dunno, I just didn’t get it

28. Small Town – John Cougar Mellencamp – he tries too hard, but he’s the real deal

29. Meeting In The Ladies Room – Klymaxx – embarrassing

30. Take On Me – A-Ha – brilliant start to finish – overplayed (by the UNC band) but the album is DOPE

31. Dancing In The Street – Mick Jagger & David Bowie – corporate rock from two cats who had once meant something

32. The Old Man Down the Road – John Fogerty – whittlin’, spittin’, awesome video

33. Just A Gigolo – David Lee Roth – silly, but I bought the EP

34. New Attitude – Patti LaBelle – soporific

35. Private Dancer – Tina Turner – “What’s Love” was so much better

36. Centerfield – John Fogerty – “put me in, coach” = perfect lyric

37. Lovin’ Every Minute Of It – Loverboy – easily the worst of their hits

38. People Get Ready – Jeff Beck & Rod Stewart – nice, nice guitar work by Jeff

39. Smalltown Boy – Bronski Beat – revolutionary, stunning, scary, epiphanous, and I’m not gay

40. Rockin’ At Midnight – The Honeydrippers – oh for chrissake

41. You Give Good Love – Whitney Houston – sad then, even sadder now

42. Dress You Up – Madonna – thin, reedy, plastic

43. Cool It Now – New Edition – DESPISED this fucking song

44. In My House – Mary Jane Girls – quirky, sexy, great sound

45. California Girls – David Lee Roth – overplayed by the third day

46. Treat Her Like A Lady – Temptations – nice latter-day cash

47. And We Danced – Hooters – Oh, Live Aid – why weren’t you better?

48. Basketball – Kurtis Blow – needs no comment. brilliant

49. Solid – Ashford and Simpson – almost ruined every ride to high school

50. Invincible – Pat Benatar – Pat beginning her inexorable slide

51. Wake Up (Next To You) – Graham Parker and the Shot – too busy studying for Physics AP to remember this

52. Your Love Is King – Sade – I was constantly mistaking cool for boring

53. I Would Die 4 U – Prince – even the dreg hits from “Purple Rain” were good

54. And She Was – Talking Heads – perfect drive to Virginia Beach

55. Running Up That Hill – Kate Bush – I fell in love and never quite fell out. What a woman

56. Everyday – James Taylor – James Taylor gets a permanent pass on all criticism from me

57. Money For Nothing – Dire Straits – on my mom’s answering machine right after divorce

58. Jesse – Julian Lennon – I bought this album and still don’t remember this one

59. You Spin Me – Dead Or Alive – I loved it, I hated it, I loved it

60. All You Zombies – Hooters – best line of the 1980s: “yeah, THEY WERE THE ISRAELITES!”

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hinton james rm. 244

11/29/06

Do you know what tonight is in Chapel Hill, North Carolina? I’ll tell you. It’s the magical warm night when everything comes together. As a freshman, you finally know where everything is; you’re not daunted by the crowds, and if you’re from northern climes, you’re noticing that the winter starts so much later.

That girl you liked and almost kissed? Except she had a boyfriend? She just went home and broke up with him over Thanksgiving. He ended up at a different college and is full of resentment, or maybe he is beginning to realize how he ruled the roost in high school. Either way, he said something stupid, and she drove off furious. She will need time, but you are now square in front of her, and Christmas cocktails – just as friends for now – loom in the coming weeks.

The shortness of days means the drinking can begin earlier. Dinners are planned, liquor stores empty of Jim Beam, you may even buy a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream. The impending exams fill you with anxiety, but those are still a week away, and besides, you’re amped anyway, right? Your paper is almost done, and you’re not noticeably behind.

You got your tickets for tonight’s game and saw everybody on the way there. It was almost seventy degrees, and you took off your coat, tied it around your waist. When you entered the Dean Dome, you were jolted by the sight of a real game, the light-blue heaven, and a team ranked #1 coming in to embarrass you. For twenty minutes, they did.

And then the comeback, as predictable and powerful as the tides. Before long you are tied, then up two, then up TEN! The rafters are shaking, and when Roy Williams called that trap defense leading to Ellington’s steal, you blew a gasket of joy. It was his 19th birthday and he wanted 19 points; he got them exactly.

It’s this sort of magic that follows you home, a scant three yards away from that girl. Maybe later you’ll be drinking – somebody’s roommate is a senior and had some Amstel Light – and the timetable for a kiss just got unexpectedly bumped up.

There is so much work and so much excitement, so much hope and talk of road trips, and it seems like it could never end. That’s what tonight is like in Chapel Hill.

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marcona almonds

11/28/06

This is not going to be a terribly deep or trenchant blog today, but we took a trip to the Fairway Market in Red Hook this afternoon to see what the fuss was about. Indeed, the fuss was earned; this place puts most markets in the country to shame. Built into an ancient coffee warehouse right on the water overlooking the Statue of Liberty, it has every kind of food you’ve ever known. Hell, this is a partial sampling of their salmon section:

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They had this banana walnut oatmeal I like, “Bounty” coconut bars from England, and even the Bristot coffee pods I usually have to get on eBay. It being mid-day on a Tuesday, there was hardly anybody else there, and checkout took three minutes. If you’re in Brooklyn and have a car, you owe it to yourself.

Here’s the not-so-deep part: driving there, you go through some neighborhoods – if one could use that word – that look like they were hit by a daisy-cutter bomb. These streets aren’t even dangerous; they’re dead. If you live in the more gentrified parts of Brooklyn, you no doubt harbor hope that the Gowanus canal could become another Riverwalk in San Antonio. But if you see where the Gowanus actually goes, you lose all inspiration.

Coming back from JFK airport, you may have also traversed the long part of Atlantic Avenue. I have been to the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya, and I have to tell you that Atlantic Avenue offers less hope. We live in our cute little brownstones in Park Slope, Cobble Hill, and Prospect Heights, but we are surrounded on all sides by despair. Venture five minutes out of your comfort zone, and you are presented with the American Dream gone devastatingly sour. You begin to ask big, stupid questions, like “is this the best humans can do?”

How unbelievably blessed most of us are. I know it’s a boring sentiment that inspires defensive posturing, even in me, but to drive through the ass-end of Red Hook’s decay and blight en route to a 12-dollar brick of cheddar cheese just put it in sharp relief.

i’ll have a bourbon and ginger, Jimbo

11/27/06

It’s been kind of hilarious – in a “completely tragic” sort of way – watching American news outlets dance around the term “civil war” when referring to Iraq. Finally, this week, both NBC and the LA Times pulled out the Civil War card and laid it on the table, which cued the usual temple-bursting and hand-wringing from our right-wing friends. To them, I guess, the mainstream usage of “civil war” meant it was truly over.

Never mind that anyone who had visited Iraq (and didn’t have an ax to grind) has been calling it a civil war for a long time, but I’m much more interested in how seriously we take our definitions. Somehow giving a name to something changes the very nature of it, Shakespeare to the contrary; that which we call a rose body lotion smells sweeter regardless of the ingredients.

You’ll see the same thing in scotch tastings – if you read the nose and flavor descriptions from the professionals beforehand, you can make almost anybody taste banana, coconut, oak chips, leather chairs and even motor oil in a 25-year-old Springbank single malt.

My own moment of definition came in 1989, and I’ve written about it on here before. This guy came up to me at Molly’s during the height of my Wednesday’s Child notoriety and said “People say you’re awesome for a few days, but then your charm fades really quickly, and then you’re not much fun.” Why on earth this guy said this to me I have no idea. It was his idea of an ice-breaker, I suppose – I had a lot of people coming up to me and saying a lot of crazy shit in those days – but goddamn if it hasn’t stuck with me.

In an effort to prove him wrong, this guy from 1989, I undertake bizarre endeavors. Stuff like throwing the Jartacular, trying never to lose friends, fighting for the best quip of the evening even though there are no more sophomores to impress, and even threatening to keep this blog interesting for five years. I’m not saying all of these are successful, but at least I’m in the game.

And so, what has been a particular definition that has hounded you? Something you’ve always been proud of, or struggled to outdistance?

month of sundays

11/21/06

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Jordi’s shower at our apt. tonight – click for bigger

My brother Sean and his wife Jordana are entering that strange liminal stage called “full term” – they are far enough along in the pregnancy that if they gave birth tonight, it wouldn’t be premature. The official due date is December 17, but as most of you know, only 4% of babies actually bother to show up when expected. All of which imparts a constant buzz, an excited, worried, expectant shortness of breath that comes with the imminence of your first child.

Tonight we hosted their baby shower, and, as with ours twenty months ago, each guest was asked to provide a random snippet of advice. Since S&J’s crowd is slightly younger than us, we happened to be the only parents who had recently weathered a newborn, so their friends each offered something that had made a difference in their own childhoods. In many ways, this sort of advice can be even better.

Lucy has been so excited about the arrival of her cousin that she wants to spend a few minutes talking about it every day. After being a little freaked out by my hairy brother in the early going, she has developed a crush on Sean, and the thought of Auntie Dana having a baby in her belly fills her with delight. We were walking down Union Street the other day talking about cars (and which ones were red) when she suddenly said “dey’s a baby, dey’s a baby, in Auntie Dana’s belly.”

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I told her she was very good for using her possessive “s” combined with a name, and she looked at me like I squashed her buzz. The thought of an actual human being living inside another human being is a pretty trippy concept, and remains just as magical to me as it does to Lucy.

I gave several pieces of advice at the baby shower, of varying degrees of usefulness:

– don’t get a baby wipe warmer, just hold each wipe in your fist for five seconds to take the edge off before putting it on your baby’s arse

– never underestimate the power of the grundle when putting your baby to sleep

– always have an automatic “escape valve” or “get out of jail free card” that allows you to completely restructure your life if someone becomes inexorably miserable.

I can expound upon these in a later blog.

However, the one thing I told Sean while we were golfing last weekend is to make a conscious decision not to allow your life to drain of external meaning when the baby comes. In other words, fight to stay an artist, whatever that means.

In the hormone and adrenaline-charged weeks after Lucy’s birth, Tessa was feeling like we shouldn’t go back to Los Angeles, and our dream of writing TV and film scripts for actual money was hanging by a thread. Inspired and slightly scared, I wrote the first draft of a TV pilot in six days. Between breastfeedings, Tessa took that draft and overhauled it entirely. In a month, we had the final product, and that script led to our pilot deal with ABC last year. It remains our calling card and gets us into almost any meeting we want, and may well be turned into a show someday.

It was borne of fear, in the minutes following the most important event of my adult life, and I chose to put that energy into something restorative of old dreams. Any of you who have read Sean and Jordana’s writing know they are infinitely capable of the same. I challenged Sean to write a one-man show, or his two-woman show, or hell, even a screenplay or pilot in the harrowing weeks ahead. Not to be a control freak or too pushy, but I’d love to see him do it.

ever, e’en ’til death

11/20/06

We are not supposed to be a generation that dies very young, and in fact, for some of us, we scarcely believe we’re going to die at all. So caught up in a torrent of ageless consumerism and the fetish of our own ironic past, the mere concept of mortality eludes even the most nihilistic of us.

However, it’s no joke that my graduating class has yet to hit forty years old, and already my fraternity – Chi Psi at North Carolina – has lost four brothers from my tenure. I know two things about mentioning the word “fraternity”: it creates one instant groan, and then a second when you say yours was different. Well, mine was. It was the only place where intellectuals, iconoclasts, weirdos and out-of-staters could gather and still have a fighting chance at smooching the gorgeous Chi Omega from Kannapolis. It was the only fraternity Tessa would come near, if that tells you anything.

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Jon Baker and me, Trader Vic’s 1990

The first of our group to go was Jon Baker, my “big brother” and one of the quickest minds to set foot in North Carolina. His command of trivia would have given that Mormon guy fits on “Jeopardy,” but he could also command crowds: he was our president, and lorded over some of the greatest parties of the late 1980s. One night he grabbed my guitar (which was missing two strings) and proceeded to play every Steely Dan song in the catalogue, including a few other crazy AM hits along the way. When he was done, it was 3am and there were about twenty of us around him. The kicker? He had never played guitar before. He died at thirty years old.

The next to go was Chuck Pierce, the apotheosis of a scholar/athlete from Tennessee. Insane amounts of pressure from his past, along with his high-octane scholarship, made him freak out while at the Lodge, and before long he stopped going to class. It didn’t make him any less funny, any less charming, and any less wonderful. After graduation, he lived with the Gribster and me in the Purple House and his unique humor kept us afloat. The day I moved to California, I got the news: he was gone at twenty-eight.

I didn’t know Chris Myers as well; he was one of the quietest folks in our brotherhood. The rumor was he was a genius, and if you happened to be lucky enough to overhear a snippet of his dialogue, all was confirmed. He was the kind of guy I look back upon and wish I’d had the foresight to take him out with us, take him drinking, dancing, anything. Not that he would have gone, but at least he would have been asked. Plagued by depression, he took his own life early last year.

This morning, we got the news that Joe Quinn, one of my favorite people ever and a frequent commenter on this blog, died of an aggressive lung cancer that felled him in two months. He leaves behind his wife and two kids. As Jody K says, he was the consummate southern gentleman, and as everyone knew, after three drinks he’d be saying things you’d remember fifteen years later.

He wasn’t just on my list of greats, he was everybody’s All-American. If you were at a party and Joe was there, everything would be cool. If it was 2am and he was up watching TV, you’d watch it with him until the sun rose. His peculiar accent, fermented in the wild mountain air of McDowell County, became much-imitated among us out-of-staters, and we can all repeat our favorite phrases.

He was a bourbon drinker, but I doubt he’ll mind that I will raise a glass of single-malt scotch in his honor, for him and my other brethren who are now guardian spirits hovering o’er.

Я тебя люблю

11/19/06

Tessa and I went to Rasputin last night, a place that can only be described as Brooklyn’s most over-the-top Russian 4-course meal burlesque. Some of the most stunning food west of Kiev, combined with a dance show that is usually one mocha-colored bodysuit away from total nudity. We’ve been there before (see pics) , but the environs never fail to deliver the proper spectacle. This year, Jesse Drucker’s birthday table was far from the circular dance floor, but the mezzanine provided several romantic microclimates in easy view.

First off, Heather Graham was directly below us (“of course she’s below you, she’s an actor” as Jon Vaden might say) and seated at a table of Not Famous people, to her credit. The table next to me, however, was an amalgam of three very pretty, classy women in their late thirties – all with the most disgusting guys imaginable. The men were fat, wore shiny purple and black shirts, and told the worst jokes I’d heard since middle school.

I guess you could call them “jokes”. It was more like booming, unnecessary commentary; repetitions of the Obvious masquerading as cutting-edge hilarity. Once the table was rid of these doofuses, the women stared at each other apologetically, all with the same sad “boys will be boys” look of eternal exhaustion.

At one point, Tessa went downstairs to dance with the rest of our crowd, and since I pulled my groin at hoops this week, I stayed at our giant table – alone – and checked email on the Treo. I glanced up, and one of the women at the next table was alone as well. Our eyes met, and in that second, there was no subtlety. She could just as easily drawn a sign with lipstick on the back of her plate, saying “RESCUE ME.”

There was no humor in it, just a silent, desperate millisecond that was extinguished before it even had consciousness. She went back to her purse, and I went back to my gadgetry. It wasn’t long, though, that I began to contemplate why women put up with any of us, our slackening bodies, our unfortunate hairiness, our constant interruptions, our allergy to intimacy even as we crave constant reaffirmation. The battle we have as men, as some of us head into our fourth decade, is to keep ourselves from sliding into love-handled complacency, to not rest on the easy joke, to not fetishize our precious incompetence.

Tessa came back upstairs and I grabbed her. We ran outside to Carvel and I bought her an ice cream sandwich.

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sacrificial bonfire

11/16/06

So often it ends long before you stop playing. You’ll get to a final point, stop, breathe, and look back; you can place it, the day and time. Yet you soldiered on, because you weren’t going to let fate get the best of you, nobody was going to tell you when it was time to quit.

You were licked. And yet hope springs eternal, I mean, it has to, or else you wouldn’t have been there in the first place. So you redoubled your efforts in an attempt to obfuscate the obvious, as if some sort of superhuman effort – even in the wrong direction – was going to be the fix. You wanted to hit that 3-pointer at the buzzer, but when the buzzer sounded, you never even had the ball.

You remember the day it happened. It was a tiny moment, or maybe a huge one, but it wouldn’t have mattered. Both are one and the same in your world, an Escher painting of stairs going the wrong way and water flowing upwards, and besides, you stopped telling the difference between whispers and screams a long time ago.

You have one thing to remember. Every time the earth goes around the sun, you get to start over, and there is no bleeding. The draftsman yanks the paper away, crumples it in the basket, and starts a fresh page. You may be an amalgamation of your failures, but you’re also powered by the light valence of your victories, and the only battle you have left is knowing which part of yourself to set on fire.

YOISH

11/15/06

I have a physical complaint that is completely doing me in. I can’t mention what it is without being rude, but it’s so distracting that it’s driving me batshit and thus unable to blog in any capacity other than Whine™. So I just have to ask you: what is your current physical discomfort, and what the hell are you doing about it?