Thursday, December 29, 2005

Oh, that's MUCH better

I'm no stranger to misheard lyrics. I have the whole collection of books starting with 'Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy. But this might be a new record.

Berlin released The Metro not less than 23 years ago, and I've surely heard it 100 times since then. It was in heavy rotation when I first got MTV, so I had frequent opportunities to wonder what the heck was wrong with the androgynous guy who apparently thinks he can do better than Terri Nunn. I remember kids in my high school who were drawn to Berlin by the single entendre moaning of Sex (I'm A ...) conceding that Sex, the prototypical song high school kids play in their bedrooms with one hand on the volume in case their parents walk by, was fun but really wasn't as good as The Metro.

In the past year, I've watched the Bands Reunited episode on Berlin and downloaded The Metro on iTunes.

And all this time, I thought one particular line of the song was "I remember I had a wrinkle in my hair."

As I drove home one day this week, The Metro came up on my iPod. For reasons that could be understood only by a neurologist, my brain finally heard "I remember a letter wrinkled in my hand."

That's much better, isn't it? I've always liked this song, but deep down, I thought it seemed a little flimsy to be so concerned with her hair at that moment. And how does hair wrinkle, anyway?

By the way, I count at least six cover versions at AllMusic, probably more. Most of them are simple reworkings of the synthesizer riff, including one foreign-language remix surely meant for dance floors in Europe. I like the version by Mike Lopez/Eve's Drop. The System of a Down version, predictably, sucks. Does anyone actually like this band? I remember seeing ads for them around the time Strangers With Candy was on the air, and the resemblance to Jerri's favorite band (Buddha Stalin) was uncanny. Every time Mrs. MMM and I run across the name System of a Down, we sing "Diarrhea milkshake, poo poo!"

Speaking of Strangers With Candy in this rambling post, it appears that the movie -- with a cast that includes TV series stars Amy Sedaris and Stephen Colbert along with appearances by Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, Allison Janney and a few others you wouldn't expect to see in a trashy Comedy Central spinoff -- will indeed be released at some point, more than a year after its appearance at Sundance. The talk in the IMDB message boards is that Warner bought the film, then got cold feet after The Dukes of Hazzard hit some legal snag. (Something about a TV show being loosely based on a movie whose rights are still owned by someone else or perhaps a network.) But depending on who you believe, it's either been ironed out with Warner or has been offered to another distributor.

Now attempting to verify with a quick Yahoo search (I don't "Google"):

- Oh, this is funny ... an interview with Sarah Jessica Parker that says "Her first project after Sex and the City ended, for example, was Sundance Film Festival entrant Strangers with Candy, a gritty movie about a recovering drug addict." Sure. Much in the same way that Hot Shots was a riveting study of military life.

- A site on indie movies backs up the IMDB posters' version of the Warner saga but says nothing about a release date.

- Good quote from Sarah Jessica at "(Amy) made us sign IOUs two years before it was even made: I hereby give my life to Amy Sedaris and will do whatever she asks of me."

So no verification that it'll be released. But to get back on topic, Yahoo lists 43 mentions of "I remember I had a letter wrinkled in my hand." None for the wrinkle in my hair.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way ...

More signs of early senility: I could've sworn I've written on this topic before. No matter -- I actually have something to add. Unless, in fact, I also wrote THAT part before. Anyway ...

Certain people -- the same ones who confuse cynicism with intelligence -- love to set themselves apart with cultural snobbery. These are the people who insist Saturday Night Live hasn't been good since (Ferrell, Hartman, Belushi). Today, they're also the ones who insist that the BBC version of The Office is better than what you see on NBC.

Given that, it's a bit of a shock that the NBC Office found an audience of any size. They were never going to win over the hard-core snobs, and they weren't going to get the Fear Factor crowd. That leaves only mid-range snobs like me, and there aren't that many of us. My take after limited viewing of the BBC version and unadulterated drooling over the NBC version was that the hard-core snobs needed to give it a rest. Fortunately, enough people have agreed with me that, with the help of perfect lead-in My Name is Earl, The Office is doing well enough to stick around. In fact, they've already made more episodes than the original, since British comedy-makers tend to quit while they're way ahead.

Today, I had a chance to see a bit more of the Beeb's version -- in fact, I caught the last episode and a half, which tied up the storylines (until the "reunion," which I've recorded to watch later). Of course, I liked it. But it's also apparent from watching why a U.S. version was a pretty good idea.

Though I got more of a feel for the rest of the cast in these episodes, the Beeb version revolves around Ricky Gervais far more than the U.S. version revolves around Steve Carell. That's not such a bad thing -- Gervais' David Brent is a classic caricature of a middle manager with a deluded sense of self-importance. If Gervais and company had done 50 episodes instead of 12 (plus the special), perhaps he would've worn thin.

Carell had big shoes to fill, literally and figuratively, but I think he gets a bit of help because the rest of the cast is better developed. Gareth is a believable office irritant, but Rainn Wilson has been able to show layers of idiocy and evil in Dwight. Some of the Eurosnobs insist that Pam (Jenna Fischer) is too pretty to be the receptionist stuck in an awful relationship, but don't we all know someone like her? (Maybe it's just an American thing that many pretty women with personalities and brains can still end up with knuckle-dragging alpha-male wanna-bes?) Her British counterpart, Dawn, just doesn't register -- she's given so little to say that I don't think I'd recognize her voice. Tim seems likable, but Jim is a joy to watch as the puppetmaster who controls the proceedings far more than the supposed bosses realize.

This isn't a complaint about the BBC version, and it's certainly not a complaint about the cast. They have the masterful comic timing you'd expect from a first-rate BBC comedy, and they're able to pull off subtleties of expression. The point is that the basic premise of The Office lends itself to far more comedy than Gervais could pull off in 12 episodes, as good as they are. By spreading the wealth among the cast, the U.S. version is built better for the long haul, all the better to make it through the three or four seasons that will leave it ripe for future DVD sales and possibly syndication (though five has always been the magic number there). They'll just need to figure out how to resolve the Jim-Pam storyline -- even Cheers had trouble sustaining Sam and Diane's on-off relationships and probably wouldn't have succeeded if Frazier hadn't entered the mix.

The other major difference is that the BBC version is considerably darker. The jokes are more obscene than U.S. censors would allow, and as a result, they're meaner. The cinematography is bleaker, perhaps to make it seem more believable as a fake documentary. And the overall tone is sadder.


The last episode, which leaves several of the main characters miserable, probably wouldn't go over well with a U.S. audience. It's well done and astoundingly concise -- I kept looking at the clock thinking, "They can't possibly wrap this up in five minutes." The key scene is brilliant: Tim (Martin Freeman) is sitting down and talking to the camera about Dawn, explaining -- likely for the umpteenth time -- that they're just friends. It's clear from his face and delivery that he isn't even convincing himself. He stops in mid-sentence, says "excuse me" and takes off. The camera awkwardly turns, leaving a blur of scenery before catching up with Tim in the hallway. He asks Dawn, who had announced earlier that she was moving to the U.S. (irony!) with her fiance, to step into a side room, and he fumbles to turn off his microphone. We can barely see into the room through the blinds.

The result: Dawn hugs Tim, who walks back out to his desk. He picks up his microphone, turns to the camera and says, "She said no." In the other storyline, which I found less satisfying, David Brent begs for his job back and is turned down -- as blustery as Brent is, you can't help but feel a little sympathy for him.

It's a bit of a bait-and-switch. This show is usually described as a classic putdown of overbearing bosses. It succeeds on that level, sure -- in both versions. But there's also something very sweet about it. The Handbags and Gladrags theme music reinforces the sweetness, sounding a few sympathetic notes. The English have always excelled at rebelling against drab circumstances, finding beauty in whatever way they can -- in Brent's case, it's presiding over an absurd kingdom like a kid with a plastic castle; in Tim's case, it's seeing Dawn as a reminder that there's more to life than this crappy job.

For once, U.S. producers copied a British show well. They didn't "Americanize" it by making it more crass; on the contrary, it has to be tamer unless they shift it to HBO. They built on the strengths of the show and developed variations. It has an English soul with American cameras. Now that I've seen a good bit of both, I appreciate each version all the more.

So will you start watching it already?

Sunday, December 25, 2005

When David Lee Roth meets a snarky NYT reporter ...

Down with Snark has the rundown, with this terrific conclusion: "If Ms. Finn wants to include snarky little put downs in every other paragraph of her written output, she should resign her post and get a blog. That's what the internet is for. There should be a line between actual journalism and the claptrap that I write. That line, if it ever existed, is eroding. We will miss it if it disappears."


I'm not sure I can extrapolate the .444 percentage that Michael comes up with here. Some of these comments may or may not be snarky. But to me, that's actually worse. Finn sounds like the kid in the Simpsons Homerpalooza episode who can no longer tell if he's being sarcastic.

The funny thing is that one reason Roth may be pretty good on the radio is that he can deliver more than snark. His naivete left the building a long time ago, but he sees genuine humor in situations. If you were to be trapped on the Titanic as it sunk with one guy, he'd probably be that guy. He'd do his best to make you laugh about things as you plunged into the icy Atlantic, and he wouldn't be telling some tired joke about buying the captain some glasses or asking if the shipbuilders made the hull out of tin foil.

The conceit -- actually, make that one conceit -- of today's snark peddlers is the assumption that anyone who's no longer doing the thing that made him famous has become a loser. Put them in front of A Christmas Story, and they'll guess that the kid who plays Ralphie is probably flipping burgers somewhere. (The reality: Peter Billingsley is a successful producer. The VH1 crowd might not want to piss him off.)

But the biggest problem here isn't just that Finn deals in snark. The problem is that supposedly elite papers think this is how they should broaden their appeal. The Times isn't alone -- The Washington Post is turning over more and more of its sports page to kids whose idea of analysis is "Yeah. Jake Delhomme. He's great." (Well, is he?)

The curious trend in the media today is that we keep adopting the worst aspects of other media. Fox took the worst aspects of CNN and blew them out, and CNN copied the fuzzy copy of itself. Now papers are taking the worst aspects of blogging.

Resolution for 2006: Find a new industry.

MMM Band of the Year: Stereophonics

Like Neel over at Brevity ... is Wit, I'm not going to go overboard with year-end awards. If I have something to say about the year, I'll just say it.

And I do, and it's this: The MMM Band of the Year is Stereophonics.

The guys from Wales are criminally overlooked in the States. Just check out the two-sentence dismissal in Rolling Stone, one of those self-contradicting pieces of tripe in which the reviewer clearly wanted to slag the band despite having nothing specific to explain why. XM gives them a fair amount of airplay, but they may be best known in the U.S. for the riff from High as the Ceiling that powers a TV ad for the Nissan Xterra.

Fortunately, they had a better year in Britain. Dakota, as I've noted before, hit No. 1 in England (ousting Nelly) and was downloaded like the U.K. equivalent of Hollaback Girl. (If you know of a more depressing contrast between U.S. and U.K. tastes, please don't tell me.) From what I've read at the NME and BBC sites, it seems Stereophonics had to win over a lot of detractors, though their albums -- including this year's Language. Sex. Violence. Other. -- have never had any trouble hitting No. 1 in the U.K. They've surely silenced their critics across the pond now, as evidenced by NME's Stereophonics in decent album shocker review.

Because they're such unknowns here, I've been discovering them gradually. Last summer, my Launch player dug up Help Me (She's Out of Her Mind), an epic mix of laughing and crying over a rocky relationship surely influenced by lead singer Kelly Jones' breakup with a girlfriend of 12 years. (See's MacKenzie Wilson's take on 2003's You Gotta Go There to Come Back, the album that kicks off with Help Me.) I downloaded Dakota in April, and it's now ranked second on my iTunes/iPod play count behind my little boy's favorite song, Bohemian Like You.

I'm past the days of judging bands on one or two songs, so I didn't rush out and proclaim myself a Stereophonics fan. But other songs piled up. There was Moviestar, a synth-driven study of fame. The band's top song at iTunes is the melancholy Maybe Tomorrow. That pairs nicely with the peppier and thoughtful Rewind, another 2005 release. And those who like the classic power rock that the critics can't stand these days should try 2005's Doorman or High as the Ceiling, which is more than just a truck ad.

I think that's enough to prove this band isn't some sort of fluke.

While today's critics (and surely some fans and most radio programmers) seem to prefer predictability in their bands, Stereophonics know how to shift gears. They're a power trio with plenty of power, but they don't mind flipping on the synthesizers when it helps. Best of all, Jones is a lyricist equally adept at writing pop hooks and resonant verses. Dakota is wonderfully wistful, Rewind challenges the listener with a classic carpe diem verse that would make a high school English teach drool, and Moviestar offers surprising layers of complexity. Even on High as the Ceiling, a flat-out revved-up rocker, Jones refuses to get lazy and write mind-numbing filler around his hooks.

I've written about these guys three times in the past few months. So rather than let this become the Stereophonics fan blog, I've summed it all up here. (At least until they release a new one.) There you have it: MMM Band of the Year.

Merry Christmas

Or Hanukkah, or the old winter solstice celebration on which the early Christians built their holiday. (Anyone else think the whole hoopla over the "war on Christmas" is doomed to backfire because it's made people so self-conscious that they're either going to say nothing or say the least offensive thing possible, which is going to be "Happy Holidays" more often than not? I'm starting to think we should just opt for a NewsRadio-style "Gezizzuh.")

I can't seem to shake my head cold, but other than that, we're having a great Christmas. The little guy loved his presents from Santa, and I've been plowing through my iTunes gift card. Can't beat that.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Odd Web find(s) of the day

I finally found references to "sidehacking" that are not at all related to Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Updating with another MST note: The official FAQ (apparently still maintained, at least as recently as 2004) has a funny take on studio intervention with the MST theatrical release:

Skittish Gramercy executives cut and rewrote some riffs, which may explain why -- as many MSTies noticed -- the movie has fewer of the really obscure references that make the TV series so delightful. One example: When "Scrotor" the bug-eyed monster first appears, the original riff was "Bootsy Collins!" This was changed in the movie to "Leona Helmsley!" reportedly because the Gramercy executives had never heard of Bootsy Collins. (The irony of a bunch of white guys from Minnesota trying to explain Bootsy Collins to supposedly hip L.A. movie executives did not go unnoticed by BBI.)

They should've just said he was the guy from the Deee-Lite video.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Even when they study us, they don't understand us

Someone I know -- a good guy despite his media-bashing hobby -- passed along a UCLA study supposedly proving "media bias is real."

The conclusions are interesting, and I think you could take something of value from the cross-comparisons of media coverage and politician rankings. But the study doesn't prove media bias. It assumes it.

More importantly, it assumes media bias of a political nature. At this point, I always have to sigh and point, once again, to Andrew Cline's exceptional explanation of how media bias actually works. (Nutshell: We're sensationalists drunk on the access to powerful people who trump up conflicts to sell papers and drive ratings. But it's probably a little tougher to raise money for a media watchdog along those lines. No one will ever go broke reassuring ideologues that anything that challenges their world view is tainted.)

Specifically ...

1. The study is too dependent on conventional political language of “liberal” and “conservative.” Even in these polarized times, those labels are far too malleable to apply with any scientific weight. This weekend, my wife read some comments by Bob Barr ripping Bush as harshly as any wind-up devotee. Evangelicals are signing on to the environmental movement. McCain doesn’t tow the GOP party line but is reliably “conservative” by most measures.

2. The study analyzes content, but it says nothing of bias. That word implies that coverage is distorted by someone’s political views. In fact, the comments on the Drudge Report demonstrate the opposite – in their terms, Drudge is “conservative,” but his content is “liberal.” My hunch is that most NPR and PBS journalists are farther to the left than their corporate media counterparts, yet their scores are centrist. I don’t know that USA TODAY’s journalists are less “liberal” than some of their counterparts at other papers, but the paper’s populist mission would make a left-leaning crusading investigation a bad fit.

Again, there's some value in the conclusions. But the pessimist in me doubts that anyone will take this study for what it is and what it is not. One of the most frustrating aspects of discussing journalism with non-journalists is that so many people think the editorial page accurately reflects the sentiment of everyone in the newsroom; this study's findings on the Wall Street Journal ought to put THAT notion to rest. Sadly, I think people will just take the "media bias is real" headline and run with it. I haven't bothered to check Technorati to see if I'm right.

Basically, political scientists study rhetoric, not ideas. And they study people through the lens of political actions. The problem is that not all actions are political. As Cline's essay demonstrates, the roots of bias lie elsewhere. Most journalists aren't even political journalists in the first place, and those that are political journalists are often so enraptured with the political process that their own thoughts on the issues are irrelevant. (If you think people are incapable of checking their political views at the door, consider this -- most humans have some sort of sex drive, yet most doctors can see a patient of the opposite gender ... you get the idea.)

Other media misunderstandings I've run across recently:

- A financial columnist surveying the brutal media landscape asks: "What is it about the media business that reduces otherwise gimlet-eyed journalists to hopelessly romantic idealists? Reporters who don't think twice when Hewlett-Packard tosses another 15,000 employees over the side began writing letters to Poynter's Romenesko blog debating the very idea of shareholder value once the Knight Ridder newspaper chain was forced onto the block."

It's a fair question, but there's a simple answer. At many companies, you can cut the number of employees as you cut the production volume without affecting quality. (In less boring terms -- if you're making socks, you can cut staff and make fewer socks without messing up the socks themselves.) In journalism, when you lose reporters, you lose bits of your ability to cover the news. Newspapers and TV stations have been slashing coverage of state government for the past decade -- that's hardly going to change for the better in the current climate.

- I don't like to disagree with Greensboro blogger Ed Cone, and much of his prescription for saving newspapers is valid. Where I disagree with him in the notion that all newspapers and photographers need to be out gathering video. Two problems with that. First, I'm not convinced readers want that. Are people browsing the Web specifically looking for video news? My hunch is that they're more likely to be drawn to a concise news brief, which leads to the second problem: Video editing takes valuable work time away from filing all the stories and blog posts that will be populating the in-depth, 24/7 news sites of the future.

That's not to say there's no place for video. It's just important not to let everyone get bogged down with it. We're going to be dealing with leaner, meaner news organizations in the future, after all.

Cultural disconnect

Three things I saw today that weren't completely logical:

1. Future Republican congressman Fred Grandy answering "boobies" to a question on Match Game. Sure, he was better known as "Gopher" at the time, but it makes you wonder how much the parties have changed. (That's the Republican Party and the ongoing party on the Match Game set.)

2. I had a couple of minutes before leaving the house, so I flipped to CMT to see if they were showing any of the amusing videos I'd seen in the gym.

Guess who I saw?

Go on, take a guess ...

Hint: You've undoubtedly heard of this band, but not as a country band.

Another hint: You probably know where they're from, and it's not in the South. Or West.

Another another hint: You know them from the '80s.

And it was the whole band, not the occasionally cowboy-minded lead singer.

OK, now you've probably got it ...

Yes ... BON JOVI. On a country music channel.

Sure, there's a blonde Georgia woman singing with him, but it's "Bon Jovi featuring Jennifer Nettles," not some guest appearance for Jon and ubiquitous sidekick Richie Sambora on someone's country album a la Aerosmith's Run DMC phase. David Bryan gesticulates from behind the keyboards and Tico Torres pounds the drums like it's 1986 and you're watching the You Give Love a Bad Name video.

The song is called Who Says You Can't Go Home, and the video admirably uses the title as a tie-in for some work the band is doing with Habitat for Humanity.

I then flipped to VH1 and saw another Bon Jovi video. Twenty years ago, that would've seemed odd, but VH1 is no longer just the adult contemporary version of MTV.

The video before Bon Jovi on VH1 was Kelly Clarkson's attempt at a Big Statement, Because of You. Kelly is in the middle of a big fight with a significant other when the action suddenly freezes, except for her. Confused by her boyfriend/fiancee/casting director's best bud's sudden lack of motion, she sees a little girl who leads her by the hand to show her a disintegrating household through the little girl's eyes. The girl watches with a horrified Kelly as they float in the room like Woody Allen taking Diane Keaton and Tony Roberts back to his childhood in Annie Hall, except that you'd gladly pick Allen's version of dysfunction over this one. It's appropriately heartbreaking, but the song is abysmal. And I'm not a knee-jerk Kelly Clarkson-basher by any means.

3. Found the following reference in Sports Illustrated: "Like Spinal Tap's 1992 album, Break Like The Wind, the 2005 Trojans defense was entertaining but flawed."

You couldn't find a more random reference to something in my CD collection and memory bank. Maybe if someone wrote about bicycling teams and mentioned that Throwing Muses bassist Bernard Georges works in a bike shop, that would top it.

4. This isn't really cultural disconnect, but we just happened to flip the channels and see this, so I have to mention it -- Olivia Newton John's Physical is quite possibly the least sexy song about sex ever recorded. The video of guys on some cheap '80s set that we're supposed to consider a "gym" really doesn't help.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Episodes of CSI/Crossing Jordan I'd like to see ...

The Onion: Autopsy Reveals Subject Was Still Alive When Autopsy Began

Of course, the killer would still find a way to torment Jordan at the end of the episode, giving Jill Hennessy an excuse to wear another revealing top.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

One field in which the Swiss kick our butts

Patrick, like me a survivor in the rapidly deteriorating field of journalism, devotes part of his time off to a succinct putdown of a truly disappointing food product:

Every time I taste American cheese these days, I kinda wonder if it's made by people who've failed in the cheddar industry.

Reminds me a bit of the Bill Bryson book in which he tastes chocolate in Europe for the first time and is pleasantly stunned to find that it makes American chocolate seem like mildly flavored chalk by comparison.

I was not lured ...

When you see this lead, you know you're heading downhill ...

A 37-year-old woman who is seven months pregnant by her 15-year-old groom says she prefers older men, but the teenager aggressively wooed her.

Probably not what the local high school cheerleaders meant by "BE (clap) AGGRESSIVE, BE BE AGGRESSIVE."

Monday, December 12, 2005

My kid has fantastic taste

Two things you should know before I tell this story:

1. My little boy tends to do something I'd call "shispering." It's a cross between singing and whispering, in which he says the words he knows and mumbles his way through the rest.

2. We listen to an iPod mix of songs when we're in the car -- some Sesame Street, some not.

So today, I heard a little bit of noise from the backseat. He has had a cough and a runny nose, so I listened carefully to see if he was OK. Here's what I heard ...

Oh ... York ... Unnn ... stuh-dam

Since we were stuck at a traffic light, I turned my head and joined in ...

Why they changed it, I can't say
People just liked it better that waaaaay

So take me back to Constantinople
No, you can't go back to Constantinople ...

And he smiled at me.

Yes, my little boy likes They Might Be Giants to the point of singing along.

That, along with the fact that he usually requests the Dandy Warhols' Bohemian Like You (known to him as "I like YOU?") and enjoys the Beatles songs I often play, is proof that my kid is growing up all right.

Beautiful music

Honestly, to get rich and get laid. And any rock star who tells you different is lying. - Kiss bassist-tongueman Gene Simmons, explaining why he got into the business.

I like Gene Simmons' frankness, which added a lot to American Idol last season. But this quote has always bothered me. Sure, the adoration of a crowd is good, and it's better to be steadily employed than starving. But aren't some musicians in it for the music?

Chris Martin, despite the fact that getting Gwyneth Paltrow to settle down is a more impressive accomplishment than the sheer numbers of Simmons' sex life, surely is looking for something other than a bit of fun and financial success. His band (Coldplay, for those who don't follow such things) is charitable to a fault, and they seem at least as interested in creating a beautiful experience onstage as they are in having one backstage.

That's why the first video I've downloaded at iTunes is Coldplay's Fix You. And that's created some debate in the MMM household.

Mrs. MMM and I agree on a lot of music, and we shrug off a lot of our differences as matters of taste rather than aesthetic deficiencies. Aside from my Rush fixation, for which she has absolutely no tolerance, the only major disagreement I can remember was over the Dave Matthews song Crash. She liked it. I thought it was a skeezy frat-boy song, particularly by the time he got to the line "hike up your skirt a little more and show your world to me."

The difference may have been all about context. The song sounds sweet, no matter what the lyrics may say. That's important. If Fred Durst were yelling "hike up your skirt a little more" over some rap-metal cacophony, Mrs. MMM and her like-minded female friends might have been a little less thrilled to hear it.

I think something similar might be affecting our opinions of Fix You. I see a couple of lyrical shortcomings -- for one thing, I wouldn't want the lights guiding me home to also "ignite my bones." But Mrs. MMM's main reservation is the whole concept of "fixing" someone else. I can see that, especially if it's a song from a man to his significant other. Suppose, though, that it's from a father to his daughter? Would that make a difference? It does to me. Toward the end, they sing "I promise you I will learn from my mistakes," which is a little cheesy in a romantic relationship but a beautiful sentiment for a parent.

In any case, this is one of those songs in which the music says far more than the lyrics ever could. It's a song of moving from darkness to light, as reinforced by the lighting effects in the video. It's one of the rare rock songs that is perfectly orchestrated, like Tears for Fears' Shout or Woman in Chains. There's no point in doing a cover version of the song because the song is nothing without the sum of its parts -- the quiet verses, the guitar entrance, the subtle drum fills, everything. Perhaps jaded rock critics don't get goosebumps by the time by the chorus kicks in, but I do.

It's not a perfect song, no, and you could argue that the video is a little heavy-handed. But it's beautiful. Trust me. And I'm sure Coldplay would've recorded even if it wouldn't have made them wealthy objects of groupie lust.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Lennon in his own words

Twenty-five years since John Lennon was shot. I still remember turning on the TV in the morning and seeing the news. At that age, I didn't quite understand the magnitude of such things, but I was still stunned. The Beatles were the soundtrack of my early childhood, and all these years later, I feel some residual guilt that I was born the same month Paul McCartney released his solo album and everyone confirmed that the band was history. The Beatles for me? That's a poor trade.
The BBC, as you'd expect, is all over the anniversary, dragging some tapes out of the archives. The highlight, as far as I've heard, is a 1970 interview with Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner that captures Lennon at his extremes -- as a frank commentator on the history of his band, as an artistic genius, and as an ass.
The interview may not have been aired in this form, but it's nothing new to those of who've read books like Beatlesongs, a wonderfully comprehensive look at how each Beatles song was written and recorded. The compiled Lennon quotes make it clear than he respects McCartney's talents yet can't resist ripping him at every turn.
Lennon admits that his ego colors his opinions, and his willingness to be frank despite his disclaimer makes him a fascinating study even if you wouldn't want to be his bandmate.
His ego blinds him in one major aspect: He fails to recognize the brilliance of the Beatles' late work, simply because McCartney was driving all of it. Perhaps McCartney was like Roger Waters in Pink Floyd, gradually assuming control, but he was more generous and more justified than Waters in becoming the alpha male of the band. Lennon was adrift -- drugs, Yoko, Revolution 9, etc. -- and probably couldn't have produced much of anything without McCartney's help. And McCartney, overbearing though he might have been, gave Lennon plenty of room to contribute.
In retrospect, the band could've used a break. Look at the pace of the Beatles releases -- even as they were breaking up, they cranked out Let It Be and Abbey Road. Fair enough.
And yet, would you trade those two albums for any of Lennon's solo work? Probably not, though he was showing signs of emerging from a funk at the time of his death.
All of which, of course, makes his death that much more tragic. Imagine (sorry) a reunited Beatles at Live Aid, when McCartney was starting to lose steam as a solo artist.
(McCartney, by the way, got a couple of Grammy nominations this year. Anyone playing his album on the radio?)
So this interview, like much of what Lennon said in the decade between the band breakup and his death, is fascinating but ultimately sad. It's fascinating in the sense that many bands' creative processes are fascinating. Fleetwood Mac recorded its best work while the band members were breaking up and recombining in various ways.
Given that, maybe it's for the best that I didn't form a band in high school.

(P.S. The BBC piece on the "bigger than Jesus" controversy is an interesting study on fame, innuendo and the media.)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Note to political writers

I haven't been in the News department for a number of years now, so perhaps those folks will consider me unqualified to make this statement.

But having browsed a number of headlines about the 2006 election and how the Republicans are doomed, I have the following point to add to the discussion.

Pardon me while I shout for emphasis -- it's a bit difficult to be heard in all the fray ...

The 2006 election is ...


Poll numbers at the moment mean absolutely zip. Nada. De rien. If they did, Michael Dukakis would have been elected president in 1992, and Jerry Kilgore would be preparing for his inauguration in Virginia.

By November 2006, for all we know, George Bush could be up to 60 percent in the approval ratings, Tom DeLay could be claiming victory over his accusers and a resurgent Green Party could be sneaking a few members into Congress. Or Bush could be at 30 percent, DeLay could be in jail and the Democrats could reclaim the House.

We just ... don't ... know.

We in Sports are prediction-crazy, but even we don't try to tell you whether the Redskins are going to win next November based on how they did against the Rams on Sunday. That's because we're smarter than News folks. Or at least a little more aware of what we don't know, which the ancient Greeks would consider intelligence.

In fact, while I'm on this kick, don't blame the weather folks for getting the storm forecast "wrong." Weather forecasters deal in probability. They know this. News folks do not.

I once had the following conversation in a newspaper office, with no meteorologists present:

Editor: "Well, we know the hurricane is going to hit High Point."

Me: "Actually, we don't know that. Hurricanes aren't that predictable. It could veer 50-100 miles north or south, or it could take a strange turn. We should be prepared for it to hit anywhere in our coverage area."

Editor (after a pause): "So it's not going to hit High Point."

For the record, the outer bands grazed High Point, but the Triangle area -- 50-60 miles to the east -- was hit far worse.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

What is it about women kissing?

Funny conversation in the MMM household tonight after Mrs. MMM watched ER while I, the ER boycotter, listened to iTunes and watched Jennifer Trynin videos.

"I didn't see spoilers for that, but I just knew it was going to happen."


"Abby and Neela hooking up after the wedding."

(Pause ... sudden mental image of Maura Tierney and Parminder Nagra making out) "Um ... Abby and Neela hooked up?"

(Laughs) "Abby and LUKA!"

"Oh. That's very different ... You know, if Abby and NEELA hooked up, I might start watching the show again."

I often make jokes like this, and I hope no one's offended. I actually have no idea WHY I'm supposed to find the sight of two women kissing attractive. Even if they're two women I do, in fact, consider attractive on the own merits.

I've heard the argument that girl-on-girl action works in porn because men get to see women in some form of ecstasy without seeing some dude's presumably substantial appendage in the way. The viewer feels neither inadequate by comparison nor gay by accidental misplaced arousal.

But just kissing? As in the Friends episode in which Joey and Chandler give the good apartment back to Monica and Rachel because they kissed?

Anyone have any ideas?

Strange videofellows

I've always considered it a travesty that no one remembers Jennifer Trynin's wonderful album Cockamamie, and I'm looking forward to reading her book about her all-too-brief solo career. So I was happy to find two of her videos on demand.

So happy that I don't particularly care that the source is ... CMT?

Trynin is about as country as Husker Du, but what the heck. Seven minutes or so of cute alt-rock video magic is worth sitting through ads for the CMA Awards.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

For quick energy, take Cranberries

I could name many songs or albums I respect on an artistic level but don't particularly care to hear all the time. Sgt. Pepper's is one -- the album redefined what's possible in music, but it's not an everyday listen. Much of Aimee Mann's music can be a wonderful expression of your feelings one day and a dreary listen the next, just as Coldplay's The Scientist is so beautiful and poignant that I would be a miserable wreck if I heard it more than once a week. A lot of prog rock is interesting in its experimentation but not really the sort of thing that pumps you up for a day at work or makes the commute go faster.

It's rare to hear the opposite, a song that is a fun listen but would have to be called an abject failure artistically. I happened to hear one today -- the Cranberries' unusually upbeat ode to drug addiction, Salvation.

Oh, it's a pleasant bouncy tune. It's just a little strange to hear "To all the kids with heroin eyes, don't do it / Don't do it / 'Cause it's not, not what it seems" at a pace and rhythm better suited to a Husker Du outtake or perhaps one of Midnight Oil's more energetic numbers. And then the "a ha ha / a ha ha / a ha ha" after the chorus sounds like they're trying to record Aerobicize with the Cranberries!

Sometimes, lyrics and music are a good fit without being an obvious match. That's my take on Suzanne Vega's Luka, so unfairly derided in one of the VH1 snarkfests by Mo Rocca and company. The cheery setting is all part of the kid's facade of good cheer, hiding the abuse he's enduring.

It's hard to make that sort of argument for Salvation, especially when the horn section takes over. A good R&B kissoff to a cheating lover, maybe. A call for political action, sure. But a plea to come back from the brink of addiction? Only if it's an addiction to sleep, because this is a great wake-up song and a fun listen in spite of itself.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Child-free and rubbing our noses in it

This is a free country, more or less. So no, I don't care if people decide to adopt the "child-free" lifestyle.

What bugs me is the "child-free" attitude.

Here's the thing -- the decision to go without kids wasn't some flash of brilliant insight that you had and we parents didn't. Yes, people who don't have kids have more spare time. They can focus on their careers, their health, their meditation, their personal growth and their sex lives in ways that those of us whose schedule revolves around nap times cannot.

To which I say this: Duh.

It's about choice. Those of us who decided to be parents (and were lucky enough to make it work) gave up that time to do something else we find fulfilling. Child-free folks have the freedom to do what they want. So do we. This is what we want.

If you're child-free (voluntarily, of course), you've made a choice. A valid one. But smarter?

Let's take on some of the arguments from the story I linked above:

There were larger issues too, such as environmental concerns and worries
about an overcrowded planet.

That may be a valid reason not to have five kids. But it's not a reason to avoid having two. That's how many it takes to replace you and yours, and it doesn't even take into account all the people who can't have kids.

Besides, one of the biggest problems facing this country is the economic crisis we'll have when the number of retired people grows so large that younger folk can't make the Social Security and Medicare payments. So in that sense, having kids actually helps to avoid future crises.

Zombie Parents from Planet Zygote

Oh, you poor poor dears. Tired of hearing your former friends babble on and on about their kids? Well, that's what's going on in their lives these days. Has it occurred to you that they might be bored with your endless prattle about your trip to Morocco or your convoluted sex life?

The last bit is interesting:

Forget-You-Nots: DNA-free ways of leaving a piece of yourself here on Earth after you die, like planting a tree, getting a street named after you or donating all your money to your alma mater.

Hmmmm. If you decide to spend some of your surplus free time doing good works, that's sensible. Childless folks certainly have more time for community service and perhaps more money to donate to an alma mater. But if the whole reason you're doing it is to get something named after you, that's a little tougher to defend as a smart and moral choice.

And if you're THAT impressed with yourself, then shouldn't your genes survive?

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Songs I wish they had at iTunes

Mostly obscurities I found through my Launch player ...

Midnight Oil, Time to Heal -- I have the essential Oil trilogy of Diesel and Dust, Blue Sky Mine and Earth and Sun and Moon, but I haven't sprung for anything they released as they wound down their career, more or less intentionally. This is the type of song an angry protest band should release near the end of its working life -- an anthem, heavy on the acoustic guitar, looking to a brighter future. Over several brilliant albums, the Aussies told us what was wrong in the world. Only fitting that they wind up with what's right, or what should be right.

Dubstar, Just a Girl She Said -- Set almost ironically to some dreamy keyboards, this song delivers biting sarcasm sung gently. It's a far better feminist anthem than 99.9 percent of the stuff delivered by shrill lab assistants with acoustic guitars who aren't the Indigo Girls.

Big Country, too many to name -- Eventually, I'll just have to break down and buy Why the Long Face? at Amazon, if only I could figure out which version to get. You Dreamer is a great tale of intervention ("How can someone find me if no one knows I'm lost?"), and God's Great Mistake is a good effort at reclaiming Christianity that rocks a lot harder than you'd expect from Big Country. Or maybe I should get one of their live efforts, where their thunderous sounds comes across even better than it did on their '80s breakthroughs.

Poe, too many to name -- Her concept album Haunted includes the playful Not a Virgin and the creepy title track.

Los Lobos, Peace -- They have the live version, but I'd prefer the studio take, which makes better use of the looping acoustic guitar riff that invites you to sing along.

Melting Hopefuls, She's a Big Boy Now -- Basically making fun of overly butch women. A male singer couldn't get away with it.

Stretch Princess, Freakshow -- She just wants a boyfriend with a brain cell, damn it. And she sounds like she deserves it.

Smithereens -- Come on, guys, I have a lot of old store-bought cassettes to replace. I bought them all once, but I'm not buying it again on CD. Put your 10 best on iTunes, and I'll buy 'em.

Great moments in rock

There's a truck ad these days with a Stereophonics song blaring, "Fiiiind my way! Freeeeee my soul."

It's High As The Ceiling, and it's a good classic rock song -- especially for a song recorded 20 years or so after classic rock died.

The "great moment" is the opening. The first 30 seconds of this one should be in some sort of textbook for how to start a rock song. A couple of guitar effects kick it off, only to be overpowered by a great riff. The vocals kick in, then the drums and bass, and then we're to the part you hear in the truck ad.

Possibly the best 30 seconds of rock in the last five years or so, and it's followed by another 2 1/2 solid minutes.

Well worth the 99 cents I spent to add it to my budding Stereophonics collection.

Things I'm thankful for

1. No one who reads this will care that I ended a sentence in a preposition. It's not even a sentence, actually.

2. My son and all my family.

3. The candidates who ran the most negative campaigns in Virginia ... lost.

4. We have the capability of rebuilding a section of interstate on the fly after a tanker fire. Wow.

5. The Office is still on the air.

6. The BBC still exists, more or less intact.

7. I'm learning to shut off the computer on occasion.

8. Dogs.

9. People around the world who are determined to do good things even as their governments do evil.

10. The Simpsons

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Christmas Carols

Yes, we're already watching them -- The Muppet Christmas Carol and Mickey's Christmas Carol. They're OK, but repeat viewings can get a little tedious.

I think Mickey (Mouse -- in case you were thinking it was Mickey Roarke's Christmas Carol or something like that) does it a little bit better. Mickey's Scrooge is an animated duck with a Scottish accent that gives him a more amusing edge than in most productions. The Muppet Scrooge is Michael Caine, who does his usual professional job but is pretty much the same old Scrooge you'd see in any other adaptation.

It's too bad NewsRadio never had a chance to do a version of their own. Jimmy James would be the best Scrooge ever, and Dave is a ready-made Cratchit.

A Dickens take wouldn't really fit the format of The Office, though Dwight would be an interesting Marley.

Perhaps an ER adaptation with Kerry Weaver as Scrooge, Greene as Cratchit and Romano as Marley. They could bring back the other cast members they've killed off as the ghosts.

Perhaps not a Kids in the Hall version, simply because I don't see where Scott Thompson would fit in one of his Buddy monologues, and I don't think that would stop him.

I'll stop there.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Best ... blog ...ever ...

Why? Because it's not real, and yet it's totally believable.

The blogger? Dwight, from The Office.

Sure, it'd be interesting to see Pam blog, though at some point she'd inadvertently reveal her feelings for Jim, and until then, you'd see a lot of frustration between the lines.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Premise Beach

For those who've never seen Brevity is ... wit or its "55 Fiction Friday" feature, this is a good place to start.

Between that and the McLuhan bit, I'm obviously in the mood for some good absurdist escapism.

Classic moments in media metacriticism (aka "funny stuff")

XM has added a Canadian-centric comedy channel, which explains why I've just run across an old song by a sketch comedy group called The Vestibules.

The Ballad of Marshall McLuhan (MP3 available here) is a play on the name "Marshall," telling the tale of the media theorist's efforts to tame the Old West. It's the best take on McLuhan since the man himself popped up in a theatre lobby to silence a pretentious academic in Annie Hall.

For those who don't want to download the MP3, here's the punchline (select the text):

And he called out for Marshall McLuhan. He said, 'Marshall, I don't agree with your description of television as a tactile medium in a context of a visual notion of causality.' So Marshall shot him."

Yes, I know -- I'm a geek.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I know you are, but whiskey tango foxtrot?

If you're a hipper person than I, you may already know about the Great Blog Pissing Match of the moment. It's an unlikely faceoff -- Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams vs. biology professor Paul Z. Myers. The topic: Evolution vs. intellectual design.

Well, not exactly. Adams started it by bemoaning the amount of misconceptions in the whole evolution-ID discourse as most of us poor laymen know it. It's not really a brilliant post -- his last three paragraphs couldn't be more misguided -- but somewhere in the mess, there's an interesting point about the difficulty of getting a rational opinion in the midst of an emotional argument.

Dr. Myers didn't take too kindly to this. In a classic case of using a bazooka to kill a mosquito, he mixes sound refutations of Adams' scientific flaws with a few straw man arguments, determined to bring the man down with his blog post. He takes Adams' use of the word "Darwinist" to imply that Adams has adopted the Intellectual Design school's terminology -- after all, anyone who's been following the debate would know that. Then there's this:

Umm, OK…so Adams begs incomprehension. If that's the case, why is he making the argument? I guess because, as he says at the beginning of his essay, ignorance "doesn’t stop anyone from having a passionate opinion." Give that man a mirror!
But did Adams have a passionate opinion?

Well, now he might, but it would be about Myers' reading comprehension skills, not Intelligent Design. His response is both amusing and withering, and he distills his point nicely:
Both sides misrepresent the others’ position (either intentionally or because they don’t know better or because of bias) and then attack the misrepresentation. Therefore, neither side is credible (to me).

To nit-pick, that point wasn't completely clear in his initial post, and he did say a few things at the end of said initial post that would make any rational biologist a little cranky. But both posts make clear that his problem isn't so much with the basic point of evolution but with the hysterics that override rational thought on the matter, and he holds up Myers' post as evidence.

So Myers offers a response that makes you wonder if he took that same all-science, no-humanities curriculum that drove Lazlo to the tunnels in Real Genius. He has five bullet points, all misrepresenting Adams. He follows up the next day, telling all of Adams' "followers" (very few of whom, as far as I could see, expressed even the slightest bit of advocacy in Intelligent Design -- and I'm sure Adams and the bulk of his fans would disavow anyone who did) to get lost. Take a hike. He still doesn't see that the discussion is less about evolution than it is a metadiscussion about the discussion itself, and he accuses Adams of "peddling dumb ideas."

It's really a classic case of two people who think they're arguing opposite sides of a point when, in reality, they're looking at two different bodies of evidence. Myers thinks Adams is being intellectually dishonest because he didn't find the reputable scientists. Adams is saying he found a bunch of stuff that was intellectually dishonest, and Myers isn't helping matters.

But then Adams makes a muck of things himself with a bizarre rant about credibility. To me -- and apparently to several of the people who made comments -- it reads as if no one who studies a topic can be credible on that topic because they will develop preconceived notions. Somewhere in Paris, there's a guy in a coffeehouse spouting post-postmodernist thoughts along these lines, and we can only hope the rioters burned his car last week.

But don't tell Adams that, or else he'll make it clear that you're just an idiot who misunderstood him.

There are two possibilities when someone claims to have been misunderstood. The first is that the listener wasn't paying attention or lacked the power of comprehension to understand it. The second is that the writer didn't explain his point.

So we have someone who didn't understand the initial point arguing with someone who refuses to explain his subsequent points, and they're too busy accusing each other of intellectual dishonesty or cognitive dissonance to see what they're doing wrong, even as those of who have left comments try desperately to slap them back into the sensible world.

And that, to me, is why the blogosphere gives me a headache.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Saturday Night ... CLEAR! ... guh-thunk ... Live

It's all too obvious to watch the current Saturday Night Live and draw a contrast with the 1980s special NBC aired this weekend. The buzz right now isn't good, from the ever-snarky TV Squad to the wholly unwarranted rip from Lance Armstrong's hometown paper.

And it's always in vogue to say it's not as good as it was in the old days. My dorm had plenty of idiots who would wander into our commons room while we were watching SNL, proclaim that it sucked ever since Belushi (John) left, and wander back out, leaving us to enjoy Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman and Jan Hooks at their peak.

These people are usually wrong. Sometimes, they have a point.

Yet here's what we learn from the 80s special: The show is going to have peaks and valleys. Even good years have bad patches. If you ever happen upon an entire show with the original cast, you know what I mean. Good sketch, so-so sketch, bad drug humor, musical act, bad drug humor, so-so sketch, credits.

Being an SNL fan means taking the bad with the good. It's sketch comedy. The "bad" comes in five-minute doses. It's not like being stuck in a theatre watching Cocktail. Trust me -- I've been there.

All this said, SNL needs a shakeup.

It may be more a question of attitude than personnel. The show this year has been sloppy -- bad performances, uneven writing, technical glitches, etc. They're trying to bring in new cast members, and yet Amy Poehler seems to be on screen for 89 of 90 minutes. (I like Poehler a lot, but her characters run together when she's in every single sketch.)

The new cast members -- even "new" guys who are in their third seasons like Kenan Thompson -- need more time, and that may mean pushing out a couple of the veterans. Horatio Sanz and Chris Parnell are in their eighth seasons, which equals Phil Hartman's tenure. As Hartman's Clinton (or maybe Darrell Hammond's Clinton) would say, "That is wrong. That .. is .. just ... wrong."

(Speaking of Hammond -- I don't mind that he's hanging around for Season 11. As it stands now, they can't afford to let him go.)

Individually, I like this cast. It's just too large, as is the writing staff. Don't have 50 people throwing out off-the-wall ideas in an attempt to make something catch Lorne's eye. Have a smaller group of people who know that what they do HAS to be good.

Forget the "featured player" caste system. Cut four, five, six people from the "main" cast, shove the four featured players into the main cast and make them all contribute.

They still might need a breakout person. No one's going to be lining up to buy the "Best of Will Forte" DVD. (OK, I might, if it's big on Tim Calhoun and light on "The Falconer.")

They'll also need to can a lot of the recurring characters. Debbie Downer was great once, not so good twice. I'm always up for seeing Hammond's Chris Matthews yell back and forth with Forte's Zell Miller, but they can only tap that well so many times. Besides, they may never top Forte/Miller yelling about running up to a tsunami and punching it in the face.

It's tough to say "clean house." They're still putting out a lot of good sketches, like Lance Armstrong's attempt to write a song for Sheryl Crow or the "Good Morning Meth" sketch from the Jason Lee episode. (The skateboarding monologue in Lee's hosting stint is one of the best monologues ever, seriously.) But then again, that was true of the disaster years as well.

Because there's one thing that's always true of Saturday Night Live. It beats the hell out of MAD TV.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

XM in depth: Channel 12

OK, it's been a while since my last entry in the tour of XM's music channels, and I'd better hurry, since I haven't decided whether I'm re-upping my subscription at the end of the year.

On to Channel 12, X Country, which was actually one of my presets at one time but not one I checked out that often. It's modern, progressive country, which includes a fair amount of decent stuff and should be an interesting ride.

Lonesome Goat, Nicotine -- Bluesy, with a rollicking acoustic bass line and shimmering guitar lines. Sounds like they had two distinctly different lead lines in addition to an active bass, so it's a little more chaotic than a typical rockabilly song. Not a bad start.

Poco, Shake It -- This could easily pass for an Eagles song -- vocals even sound a bit like Don Henley. In fact, there is some overlap between the band's personnel and The Eagles' ranks, though in a country-rock band dating back to 1968, that's inevitable. isn't kind to this 2002 effort, but I wasn't as disappointed.

Derailers, Your Guess As Good As Mine -- Chorus sounds exactly like Achy Breaky Heart. That's unforgivable.

Phil Lee, A Night in the Box -- This ode to having sex in a trailer has some solid guitar work, even if it's a little too easy to picture people line-dancing to it. Gotta like a guy willing to admit his place "smells like socks." Guess he knows he's a good enough guitarist to make up for it.

Staid Cleaves, Breakfast in Hell -- Supposedly live at XM, and it sounds pretty good. Mostly simple vocal with strummed acoustic guitar and some lead guitar that's subtle in the verses before unleashing a couple of tasteful breaks. The lyrics try a little too hard to tell a sad tale of hard-working people down on their luck.

Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, King of the World -- Rivals Bon Jovi's mid-80s work in terms of fitting cliches into a song. (Thank you, ancient Rolling Stone review ripping Slippery When Wet.) Mercifully short.

Robert Earl Keen, Tom Ames' Prayer -- At first, I thought this was Tori Amos' Prayer, which would have been interesting. But this one is intriguing on its own merits. One verse compares praying to begging, and I have to admit that's how some denominations sell it. (I won't name them because I don't want my comments to turn into a nasty theological debate.) The fiddle trades solo licks with the low strings of an electric guitar, and everyone involved can play.

Neal Coty, Tainted -- It opened like Weezer's overplayed Beverly Hills (surely they have better songs than that on this release?), and Coty sounded like John Waite at his pre-emo worst on the bridge. Add the line "it was my heart you were screwing," and you have a train wreck.

Hal Ketchum, Don't Let Go -- Straight out of the '40s in its corny stop-start action and insincere vocals, but overproduced like it was straight from the Meat Loaf catalog. The backup chorus chants "Oooo-eee" and "Awww, shucks!" The guitar riffs are boring by any standard. Another recipe for disaster.

Steve Earle, Once You Love -- Not one of his best. It's a mid-tempo ballad with plodding tom-toms and dreary steel guitar.

Dave Alvin, King of California -- Strange one. A slow song built on fast acoustic picking. It's at its best when the lead guitar and drums kick in. Sadly, they drop back into the background most of the time. The pieces of a good song are there. I wonder if Alvin would consider taking another shot at recording it.

The Flatlanders, Whistle Blues -- As you can guess from the name, it's a little cliched. A few neat twists, like the ghostly effects, but not enough to make this worth a second listen.

Daddy, Cold Chill -- A mid-tempo effort with some strong riffs and a slow, menacing bass line. Not a bad way to end.

I can listen to this stuff. Still not looking forward to "Hank's Place," which is next.

ER: Child cruelty

Upon watching the opening of Thursday night's ER, I hurled a stream of profanity at the screen and swore I'd never watch again. An agitated man carries a little girl out of a restaurant as they have the usual parent-child banter that you only hear on ER when you know, for one reason or another, that relationship as they know it is about to end.

Yes, ER loves to kill and otherwise inflict brutality on children, but they hit a new low tonight. A bunch of police cars pulled up, and the guy -- still carrying the kid -- wasted no time getting in a shootout with them. He ran sideways -- still carrying the kid -- while bullets flew back and forth. One cop got hit. Inexplicably, an ambulance drove up, though no one had been injured or shot before the guns opened up -- apparently, they have psychic dispatchers in this hospital. The cops fire away at the guy -- did I mention he was still carrying a kid? -- until he falls. He's hit in the head. And oh, here's the shocker ... the kid is also wounded. Did I mentioned that he was carrying her?

Once upon a time, when ER doled out afflictions upon families, it did so with great respect. The classic early episode, Love's Labor Lost, focuses on Dr. Greene's efforts to save a pregnant woman and her new baby. He only succeeds halfway, and it's crushing. A few hundred episodes later, they're just getting lazy. Now they have kids getting hurt because the Chicago police apparently don't realize that you don't just fire away like the poor kid in Pulp Fiction who tries to take out Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta when ... yes ... there's a KID in the way!

I've been frustrated with this show for a while. I've kept watching because I still care about some of the characters and actors. I love Maura Tierney and Parminder Nagra from their previous work, and I enjoy it when the show lets them show off their comedic skills. Goran Visnijc's Luka was at one time the most compelling character on TV, a man of great conscience who spilled his guts to a call girl in Chicago in between trips to Africa to help the sick, cleanse his soul and almost die in one of the best episodes of TV I've ever seen. But for the past couple of years, the number of kids they've killed, orphaned or forced to interact with Scott Grimes has been so high that it turned into farce.

Are the powers that be at ER simply heartless scum? I think not. I think they're modern-day Caligulas, so entranced by the orgy of sex and violence they've created that they've become bloated and incapable of the simplest moral judgment.

Mmmmm, yes ... put another child in the crossfire. It's so delicious when the parents weep. And let's hire some name actors and watch them suffer. And have the good-looking Croatian man have sex with the girl from Freaks and Geeks ... people think of her as young, so it'll be just that much more devious. How delightful ...

Maybe I should check out that Lost show, except that they seem to be killing people off now, and the whole reason I didn't start watching in the first place was that it seemed so depressing. Sure, Caine in Kung Fu was left wandering aimlessly as well, but at least he occasionally had a chance to kick butt.

Deconstructing Sarah

Good article in Slate on Sarah Silverman and the way she walks the fine line between skewering our prejudices and confirming them.

I also want to state for the record that I had a crush on her long before people realized who she was.

(Thanks, Lex)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The new new media

I was having an IM discussion with a once and future colleague, and I was looking for a way to express the way I feel about the decline of traditional journalism and the rise of the wild and lawless Internet, along with other unconventional communication. And I wanted to tie into that the sophisticated attacking style of today's politicians.

Fortunately, she said it for me:
i'm not sure the dichotomy is snarky v sober -- i think what we've lost is the authoritative voice (yeah, so we've heard) but we haven't got an idea of what to use in its stead. if we were educated to have a great capacity for critical thought -- i mean this as a culture -- we might have some idea what to do with all these new voices and the passing of the old ones (to whatever extent that's truly happened). as it is, we're sitting in a giant sandbox with no shovels or pails. it's not pretty. either we figure out some alternatives or we continue as we have recently -- everyone just throwing sand at everyone else

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

We're Number 4! We're Number 4!

Are the news media the biggest weasels in the country/world? Nope, that would be politicians -- ironically, by a landslide. No. 2? Nope, lawyers. Surely we're No. 3? Actually, no, this has been a bad year for oil executives.

So we journalists slide in the door at No. 4.

So sayeth

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Why I hate politics

1. Political ads say this to me: "This country is full of morons and governed by cretins." Among the attack ads we've seen in this political season -- a candidate for attorney general is lambasted for voting in favor of a gas tax increase. Let's review: He's running for attorney general. Though we're starting to think of our government as a multiheaded imperial entity, it's actually an organization of clearly defined roles.

We've also seen our local nice-guy delegate ripped in a series of last-day direct mail garbage (can someone give me a spam filter for my damn mailbox?) accusing him of, among other things, not sponsoring legislation on day laborers in the neighboring county. This was somehow tied into something about how he isn't keeping us safe from al-Qaeda. I don't know -- I glazed over, balled it up and threw it in the trash. It's slick paper, so I don't know if I can recycle it, and I'm afraid to burn it.

They run these ads because the only way to get our fat, lazy asses to the polls is to make them think they're keeping America safe from the horrible monsters they're running against.

I just saw three of these suckers in a row during one ESPN ad break. I'll have to stop watching live TV in October and go all-DVR, all the time.

2. Yes, I'm a journalist, and I believe most accusations against the media are overblown or just plain wrong. But sometimes, yes, reporters' blind spots and their inability to think outside their limited social circles can catch up with them. Also, we're bloodthirsty -- when we think a public figure is wounded, we're like sharks. No, wait -- hyenas. Yeah, hyenas.

That would explain the last two months of political coverage. Yes, we know Bush isn't doing well these days. But at what stage have we gone overboard? Today's Washington Post offers part 38 of its series on the sudden decline of the GOP by concluding that the party is in severe trouble in the 2006 elections. I had to check the calendar to make sure I hadn't fallen into a blissful coma for a year. Nope, still 2005. That's a full year and an entire campaign season of negative ads to change everyone's minds.

But that apparently hasn't occurred to the Post, which apparently is responding to wingnuts' accusations of liberal bias not with a reasonable logical response but with, "Oh yeah? Watch THIS!" It's a good thing we haven't reached full multimedia status in journalism, or's home page would pair the headline "GOP set for big losses" with an audio clip of Nelson Muntz's "HA-ha!"

I think it was another Simpsons character (or two) who put it best: "When will people realize -- democracy DOESN'T WORK!"

In defense of Lucy

Because I have a small child, I've watched It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown roughly 35 times in the last two weeks.

Sometime around the 30th viewing, it occurred to me that Lucy is actually a more complex moral character than we usually think. Here's why -- while trick-or-treating (or "tricks-or-treating," as they say it), Lucy asks for more candy for her blockhead brother, Linus, who is in the pumpkin patch ... well ... you know the story.

Charlie Brown, on the other hand, knows perfectly well that his little sister also is in the pumpkin patch. Does he ask for an extra piece of candy for Sally? Noooo.

Yes, I know, as our little one says of Charlie Brown, "I gottoo ROCK!!!" But we have to ask this -- are the rocks in the trick-or-treat bag a kind of karmic payback for the fact that he isn't looking out for his little sister? Or, if he had asked, would he just have a bunch of extra rocks?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

How "The Colbert Report" can sustain itself

The Colbert Report has been renewed for a full year, but I'm not sure if that's good news. In its current form, it can't sustain itself. It's brilliant at times, but it's difficult to maintain Colbert's overblown parody persona. The interviews are awkward, and the banter between full-fledged bits is uneven. (Best review I've seen along these lines is in Slate, though Wikipedia is remarkably current.)

Ideally, they'd retool. Ditch the interview unless they happen to find a guest who can play along; the best so far, believe it or not, was astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson. Extend the parody by letting him argue with other fake pundits.

Given the quick renewal, that retooling may not happen anytime soon. Or it could happen gradually, like the phasing-out of the mean-spirited correspondent segments that are less prominent in Jon Stewart's Daily Show than they were in the Craig Kilborn era. (Stewart for Kilborn -- that has to be the best cast upgrade since Jill Hennessy replaced Richard Brooks on Law & Order.)

But that retooling will need to happen sometime, and I've figured out how, courtesy of today's news. It seems that CNN has pushed Aaron Brown out the door in favor of a puppy dog. Oh, wait, that's Anderson Cooper.

So when Colbert decides to give the show a makeover, don't do it quietly. Make it very public. Issue a pompous press release announcing that Colbert has been replaced by his twin brother. Have the original Colbert storm off the set. Have the twin play more of an Anderson Cooper mold. Then send him to Aruba to search for that missing girl for three months.

(Unrelated Comedy Central note: A documentary with Sarah Silverman, Brian Posehn, Maria Bamford and Zach Galifianakis? OK, you've got me, even if I think Patton Oswalt is grating at times. Yes, I want to see that.)

"No one told me there'd be boasting!"

One problem I have with hip-hop is that I have little interest in people telling me how great their guns and/or sex lives happen to be, whether in reality or in the fantasy world they're selling to themselves and then to their audiences.

I'm also not a country fan, though I've talking about it a lot lately.

So I'm at a loss to explain why Big & Rich's Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy) is my current iPod favorite.

It's funny, of course -- on some levels, it almost works as a parody of hip-hop (something about a couple of deep-voiced country guys tinkering with the rhythm and singing about "bling-blinging" strikes me as really amusing). It also has some great guitar work.

Big & Rich still feel the need to strike country poses. They ain't tradin' their beat-up trucks for your Escalade because brand loyalty is everything in the NASCAR and Nashville worlds. (Not sure why this didn't occur to me until now, but I guess they're not trading in their Chevy for a Cadillac-ac-ac-ac-ac. So just as Sweet Home Alabama answered Neil Young's Southern Man, is this the answer to Billy Joel?)

Every once in a while, there's a song that has just the right mix of humor and a strong beat to break out of its genre. Twenty years ago, we'd be talking about Dead or Alive's You Spin Me ... Today, it's this. Perhaps a sociologist somewhere would like to comment on these two songs as a denunciation of androgyny and reassertion of traditional male roles, but I've done enough analysis here. It's just a fun song that doesn't insult your intelligence or lack of dancing ability. Can't have too many of those.

UPDATE: "Big" is now a daddy.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Attn: Michael (DWS)

Remember how we were talking about out-snarking the snarkers at VH1? Someone beat us to it with a wickedly funny I Love the Aughties, in which the usual suspects wax snarkoquent over tragedies from 9/11 to Katrina.

Friday, October 28, 2005

I Snark the 80s

VH1 may have gone to the well too many times. Mo Rocca and Joel Stein are so impressed with their snark that they simply don't care if they have their facts completely wrong.

Someone needs to do a snarky show on snarky shows. And that someone is me. Please contact me through this blog, and we'll work out a date for taping. References available on request.

Love, hate ... nah, I love Tori Amos

I listened to an XM Artist Confidential with Tori Amos (when, oh when, will XM make its shows available on demand online?), and it was a reminder of why our favorite piano-playing redhead can be so amazing and yet so infuriating.

Of all the musicians who account for at least three songs in my iPod, she probably leads in the dubious category of "Absolutely Unlistenable Songs." Sure, Throwing Muses/Kristin Hersh have cranked out some off-the-wall stuff in their day, but they've never recorded a full-blown sonic insult like the output you get when Tori is in screech mode.

And she often says things that make you think she wandered out to the mental space inhabited by Stevie Nicks at her New Age height, then kept right on going into the great beyond. (Actually, we could blame other things.) When asked on the XM show about her creative process, she said something about magical pixies -- OK, not the exact words, but my brain was simply unable to process what she was saying -- who floated around with songs. So her job was to capture them and bring them to light. Or life? I have no idea, but if I see any little pixies trying to inflict the song Ieeee on us, I'm getting a flyswatter.

Then she turns around and says things that are so charming (she is indeed Southern, more or less), down-to-earth and witty that you wonder if all the pixie-ish stuff is an act. Or maybe just two sides of a person whose brain waves would flummox a supercomputer.

And she's so, so good on the piano. Listen to a couple of her live efforts on To Venus and Back, where she leads her capable band -- propelled by omnidimensional drummer Matt Chamberlain -- through some reworking of her older songs. She dances around with the hooks on Cornflake Girl and Precious Things like a jazz legend who happened to write Tori Amos songs.

Everyone wants to record and tour with Chamberlain these days, and yet he plays with Tori. That should tell you something.

So with Tori, I'll take the bad with the good. She may record one horrible album, then turn around with something that has 2-3 brilliant songs. Can't complain about that.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The fine line between clever and stupid

Perhaps music video director Samuel Bayer has become the Stravinsky of our day. He's taking artistic risks, to be sure, and some people are acclaiming him as brilliant.

I am not.

Love them or hate them, Bayer's videos for songs from Green Day's masterpiece, American Idiot are landmarks. He has raised the ante with each one.

I respect that. I don't like what he's done, and I think it's worth discussing why.

First up is Wake Me Up When September Ends, well reviewed at (OT: I'm impressed with the work Bill Lamb is doing at About.) I like the idea of setting the song to a story of a young kid going to war while his girlfriend frets back home, but the scenes between the couple are as overwrought as a Lifetime movie.

Next up: Jesus of Suburbia, not just a curiosity (a nine-minute punk song??!) but the heart and soul of the album. And Bayer has created another epic that is sure to get some critics swooning. (See it at MySpace if this link remains intact.)

The basic story is this:
  • Kid is a punk.
  • Kid's friends drink and smoke a lot, as magnified by Bayer's typical trickery with fast and slow action.
  • Kid has no trouble getting laid. (Memo to women like this: I know someone else has asked this, but why is it that so many well-meaning guys are sexually frustrated while guys like this kid just need to show up wherever there's beer and drugs? Really, we don't want to encourage these guys, and you're just one accident away from letting this guy's genes persist for another generation.)
  • After this goes on for a while, we see Kid at home. He and his mom don't get along. Something about the fact that she pauses in every conversation to take a dramatic drag on her cigarette and the fact that he's a complete and utter jerk.
  • Kid has a lot of Green Day posters on his wall.
  • Kid writes a lot of graffiti in a room in a convenience store.
  • As if we needed less reason to sympathize with Kid, we see him shopping and tossing things all over the store, making a big business.
  • Kid finds out the woman he slept with earlier (was it just one? I got confused) is sleeping with someone else. He gets mad, screams at her, cuts his hand, leaves a bloody handprint at the convenience store.
  • Kid goes home, grabs stuff, gets hug from Mom in between her nicotine fixes, pushes her away and leaves. Other kids in local punk community look sad. Or indifferent. Or stoned. Who the hell can tell?

It's interesting, yes. A lot of people would argue that the kid is only a total and complete bastard because he's from, as the song's last line says, a broken home.

But that distills a brilliant, complex song into a simple, questionable concept. In the song, we feel the guy's frustration, but we have no reason to hate him. We can empathize.

The video kills all empathy. The kid feels no empathy for anyone around him, and we're given no reason to empathize with him. Bayer's direction implies that we're supposed to root for the kid against the mom, but we're given no reason at all to think that way. The mom has provided a rather comfortable home for this kid, which probably means she has sucked it up after her own problematic past and is working hard for what's left of her family. (Either that, or Dad pays a ton of child support.)

The result is that Bayer has divided the audience. The brilliance of American Idiot is that everyone has had a reason to take it seriously. It's recognizably Green Day, but it breaks a lot of neo-punk rules. It's a strong collection of songs, no matter what you think of the genre. Bayer's video embraces the most anti-social wing of the punk movement, the folks that use suburban boredom and bumbling parents as excuses for everything they do.

And when it comes to using circumstances and upbringing as an excuse for anti-social behavior, the bizarre comedy Repo Man said it all (thanks again, IMDB):

Duke (dying after being shot in a robbery attempt): The lights are growing dim Otto. I know a life of crime has led me to this sorry fate, and yet, I blame society. Society made me what I am.

Otto: That's bullshit. You're a white suburban punk just like me.

And just like this kid, to whom everyone but his long-suffering mom would gladly say, "Good riddance."

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Today's tribute

For a late civil rights leader and for a great show ...

Isaac: Apologize.
Dan: Why?
Isaac: Because it's the way things are done.
Dan: Well, sitting on the back of the bus is how things were done until a little old lady decided to do something about it. Frankly, I'm not impressed with the way things are done, Isaac.
Isaac: Danny, you know I love you, right?
Dan: Yes.
Isaac: And because I love you I can tell you this: no young rich white guy has ever gotten anywhere with me by comparing himself to Rosa Parks.

(Thanks, IMDB and Aaron Sorkin)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Ow, my ears ...

Which SNL performer committed a greater transgression against music -- Ashlee Simpson using a backing tape or Franz Ferdinand's apparent inability to tune guitars? Someone should assassinate their guitar tech.

(Andy by assassinate, I mean fire. Not looking to set off four years of trench warfare here.)

Friday, October 21, 2005

What part of "closest to the price without going over" don't you understand?

They're called "Price is Right rules" for a reason. And they're especially applicable when you're playing ... The Price is Right!

Price is Right is essentially a game of luck, aside from a few of the on-stage games in which people who play close attention to the grocery-store prices have an edge. When you're on "contestant's row," you're just guessing, unless you happen to have authoritative knowledge of the comparative value of various saunas and grandfather clocks.

But strategy matters. A lot. And it's sooo freaking simple that it's infuriating when people don't know it.

If you're the last person to bid, you have a huge advantage. You've heard three bids. Then you get to pick a range of prices while simultaneously eliminating one person, unless that person got it exactly right.

Let's say you're the fourth person, and the other three bids are as follows:

1. $950
2. $600
3. $700

If the number in your head was "$850," stop. Do NOT bid $850. Bid $701.

It's incredibly simple. If you bid $850, you win ONLY if the price is between $850 and $949. If you bid $701, you win if it's $725, $745, $770, etc.

Yet more than half of the people on contestant's row just don't get it. A lot of people understand the strategy of bidding $1 when they think everyone else has bid too much, but not that you should always bid $1 over one of the bids.

This week, I saw the worst bid I've ever seen. And it wasn't some young kid -- this woman had a T-shirt claiming she'd waited 53 years to be on the show (longer than its actual run, though not by that much). She had the last bid. She paused and asked what the last person bid, which is perfectly valid. The answer: $850. Her bid ... $849.

Yes, $849. Either she was really, really sure of that price and wanted to get the bonus money out of Barker's pocket, or she really screwed up.

The person who bid $850 won, by the way. So yes, karma exists.

XM in depth: Channel 11

Fortified by a listen to some "classic country" and some exposure to CMT, I was ready to dive right into Nashville, XM's country hits station. Well, technically, "Highway 16" is XM's country hits station, while this is "today's current top 40 Country hits." Anyone else think XM goes a little overboard in compartmentalizing its music database?

Bryan White, Someone Else's Star - Slow ballad with the fiddle and steel guitar shimmering as if to suggest a gentle waving motion. That backdrop and the tasteful piano fills are nice and pleasant, as is White's voice, but the lyrics drag this one down. Besides, they're about envy, and that's a deadly sin. Again, the red states listen to this stuff?

Paul Brandt, Convoy - Back to the '70s we go ... except that this is a cover version. Seemed very literal, though I haven't listened to the original in quite a while. (Let's see ... quick check of AllMusic ... yep, Erlewine says it "all too faithfully mimics" the original.) It's basically a song about taunting the police, National Guard and even "long-haired friends of Jesus," so AGAIN I'll ask -- these are the anthems of the red states? In fact, claims that the original is basically an anthem of blue-collar libertarianism, which seems a little at odds with the core values of Bush backers. And an ode to the CB craze, of course. Remember that?

Keith Whitley, When You Say Nothing At All - This guy sounds an awful lot like Randy Travis, which is not a bad thing. The song's a little flimsy but not grating.

Diamond Rio, Mirror Mirror - A guitar riff in search of a song.

Lila McCann, Kiss Me Now - "Get it over with ... I'll make it easy on you." OK. If I kiss you now, will you stop singing? Will the band do what it clearly wants to do -- break into a cover version of Afternoon Delight?

George Strait, The Chill of an Early Fall - I have absolutely no comment. It's a remarkably typical country ballad, with thin symbolism, a deep voice and ... you get the picture.

Emerson Drive, I Should be Sleeping - "I never knew there were such great movies on TV at 3 a.m." Good start. And not a bad song at all. Hand it to Barenaked Ladies, and you'd have a solid post-alt-rock hit. (And wouldn't you know it -- they're Canadian.)

Around here, the player stopped updating with the song titles. They came back on in time to catch Tim McGraw's Live Like You Were Dying, which I can't quite get into because if I were living like I were dying, I'd order pizza every night and call in sick to work.

So that's enough. I'll need to hear it all again on Highway 16 down the road, anyway.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Road trip

"A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it is by no means the most interesting." - The Doctor (Jon Pertwee)

"Am I living it right?" - John Mayer

Can you guess which of these was my yearbook quote in high school? Considering that John Mayer was even younger than his current audience when I was in high school, it's an easy call.

The Doctor Who quote, incidentally, apparently inspired a fictional Star Trek ship in a role-playing game. (As opposed to a real Star Trek ship)

Mayer's perceptive question was hanging in my head Tuesday, which was Day 2 of my vacation. I've always taken an odd approach to vacations. When I was in my early 20s and had my first taste of a week without work, I tended to do seat-of-the-pants driving with vague ideas of where I was going next. "OK, I'm spending Tuesday and Wednesday with a friend in New York, then maybe I'll call someone in D.C., then I think I'll go here and drive back home."

This week's vacation is along the lines of the one Jimmy James took in NewsRadio. I'm not going anywhere. I even showed up at the office one day, though I didn't unload any water coolers. I'm doing a few things that are hard to fit into a normal workday, like doctor's appointments and shopping for clothes.

But on Tuesday, I headed for the hills. For those who don't know the geography, the D.C. suburbs are in the foothills of the Appalachians, which means you can drive there in less than an hour -- unless all the people who LIVE in the mountains are commuting home from work or all the people who live in the suburbs are heading out there for the weekend, in which case it takes a couple of days.

So I had the roads to myself, more or less, through one of the prettiest areas on the East Coast. Naturally, I did everything wrong.

First of all, I didn't check to see whether the leaves were turning. They're not. It's all green.

The scenery is still nice, of course. Every once in a while, the side of the road opens up a bit, and you can peer into an open valley. In Northern Virginia, a valley means three things -- a lot of people shot at each other there almost 150 years ago, and developers are rushing to toss up homes that don't really fit the landscape. Still breathtaking views.

I had two things in mind. I wanted to get out and walk around, and I wanted to eat. I didn't accomplish either. I decided I had to find food before I stopped to walk around, and I didn't eat until I was almost home.

Some people have a knack for going anywhere and finding a good place to eat. I don't have that knack. It was harder in this case because McDonald's and Subway apparently have some sort of duopoly over all the main roads.

I saw a place called "Doc's BBQ" around 1 p.m., and I still regret that I didn't stop. There's good barbecue and bad barbecue, but you don't know until you try. (Barbecue reviews are always sketchy. Some people like having big chunks of fat on a bun, some prefer actual food.)

This isn't entirely my fault. This area is known for certain types of restaurants -- big chains, smaller chains and pretentious places that offer $25 entrees for Tom Sietsema to rip apart with excessive snootiness in the Post magazine section. We don't do simple food, which was a staple of the North Carolina towns in which I once I lived. If something is any good, it becomes a small chain. A good example is Glory Days, a sports bar with pretty good food, and I saw one advertised. But when I pulled into the shopping center, I found that the ad was actually a "now hiring," not "now open for feeding wayward travelers." That's a hazard of driving through a fast-growing county. They build the rows and rows of townhomes first, then fill in the gaps with places to shop and eat.

Around 2:30, as I was heading toward home, I found a "British Pantry and Cafe." It looked so quaint and charming that I just had to stop. But the "reservations suggested" cafe looked like it wouldn't offer anything speedy. The little shop was intriguing, but I wasn't going to buy much. ("Look, honey, I went to the mountains I got butter!" "We already have butter." "Yeah, but this is Scottish!")

I wound up getting a "Smarties" bar, which had chocolate, smarties (basically, M&Ms) and "popping candy." The "popping candy" was a bit like the old Pop Rocks that were unfairly accused of killing Mikey. Kind of a strange sensation in my mouth. A little stranger in my empty stomach, which was breaking out in active revolt upon finding that the first solid food I'd introduced in seven hours was so explosive.

I finally found acceptable food at Boston Market, which was only slightly more exotic than going to the Chipotle at a different location than my usual Chipotle. It wasn't bad. Then I hopped back in my car and found that I was back in what could be described as "home" in about two more minutes of driving.

So am I living it right? Probably not.

But was it a fun trip. Sure.