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.