Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Legal question

As a "sports guy" and a Duke alum, I've been following the Duke lacrosse story with a lot of sadness. To say the least, it's a little embarrassing to see Duke Chapel as the backdrop on one of the yakkity-yak news channels talking about the case. And as someone who's been through a few campus controversies, I have a natural distrust of protesting mobs, a distrust that's reinforced by people claiming the media would be making a bigger deal out of this if it didn't involved privileged kids at Duke and a black woman.

(All the counterevidence you need on that point: All these stories in the News & Observer, all these in the Herald-Sun, more at Duke's Chronicle and now the national media, drawn there by the stories in the local media. Now please note that this sort of thing unfortunately has happened quite a bit in the past at other schools, and it hasn't attracted anywhere near the publicity it's getting at Duke. Yes, it's absolutely shocking that this happens with such regularity, and I'd be happy if the Duke case forces athletes and athletic departments to confront the problem. But don't say the lacrosse team is getting a free ride in the media. That's a flat-out lie that serves no one any good.)

It's an awkward situation for Duke, to put it very mildly. They've put the lacrosse season on hold, which seems a no-brainer. They can't kick the whole team out of school -- many players weren't even at the party. They're leaning on the players to step forward and give something more than the simple denial they've given. But as the school president, Richard Brodhead, put it, "Duke does not have the power to compel testimony." And several lawyers are on record saying they either have told the players to shut up or would do so if they were the lawyers.

And that brings me to the questions for any lawyers here:
  1. For the record, why is it so important for someone who might be accused of a crime to be so quiet about it? Particularly if they happen to be innocent?
  2. Is it a conflict of interest for the same lawyer to represent players who were involved and players who weren't? Particularly with a prosecutor who's threatening to come after those who may know something and aren't speaking? Wouldn't the interests of a player who'd be willing to talk directly conflict with the interests of a player who would be implicated?
  3. Speaking of the prosecutor coming after the rest of the team -- isn't there some sort of limit of liability here? Sure, if you were in the room, you could face aiding and abetting charges. But could he really come after you if you were in the house and not quite aware of what was going on at the time? And if you weren't there, wouldn't anything you say be tossed out of court as hearsay anyway?
  4. And speaking of getting tossed out -- some lawyers have raised questions about getting DNA tests from all but one player (the one black player) on the team. At least one lawyer said it's a good bet to get tossed out, and my hunch is the case would be difficult without the DNA evidence. Who's telling the truth here? Did the prosecutor overreach with the DNA tests?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Best animated TV show musical numbers

OK, folks, weigh in ...

I'll start us with three:

Family Guy, "This House is Freakin' Sweet": Upon inheriting a mansion, the Griffins find the household staff welcoming them with a song celebrating just how great it is to be stinking rich.

The Simpsons, The Burlesque House: Homer convinces Springfield not to tear down La Maison Derriere by kicking off this classic tune in which most of the town admits some interest in a little harmless naughtiness. The highlight -- Nelson and the other bullies break into some barbershop, answering Bart's "to shut them down now would be twisted" with "we just learned this place existed."

Futurama, the finale of "How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back": The Central Bureaucracy gets an unlikely dose of fun even as Hermes files a massive mound of random stuff in a couple of minutes. The highlight -- Bender, who has been essentially reset with nothing to say other than "I am Bender, please insert girder," says just that at a key point in the song.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Words of wisdom from Futurama

"Why does Ross, as the largest friend, simply not EAT the other Friends?"


I'm late getting to this, but Plagiarist has a fun post with a YouTube video of Howard Jones, Thomas Dolby, Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder showing the wonders of synthesizers (especially, the wonders of sequencers, which allow you to program everything and punch it all up while still maintaining the appearance of "playing" something). It looks a bit like one of those Disney/Epcot views of the future that didn't quite come true. We don't fly to the moon on Eastern Airlines, and the synthesizer revolution is long since dead. (Though Howard Jones actually has new stuff out, and I don't think that's a bad thing. Beats the hell out of listening to Kanye West.)

Plagiarist focuses on a particularly amusing relic of the '80s -- the "keytar," which apparently still has its practicioners. Most keytars aren't literally combos of keyboards and guitars, but just an excuse for a keyboardist to strap it on, so to speak, and run around the stage like a guitarist.

It's always been a little difficult for a rock keyboardist to fit in. Rick Wakeman did it by wearing glittering robes and disappearing from the stage whenever he was bored with some long bit of Yes music. The guy from Cinderella tried as hard as he could to contort his face to look like he was putting effort into his key-pushing. Geddy Lee always had a bass with him as well, so he looked cool.

I can remember a few amusing keytar moments. Geoff Downes running around with a bandanna and keytar in Asia was a bit embarrassing, like watching Yo-Yo Ma strap on his cello and play Pete Townshend power chords.

Here's the strangest. It's such a bizarre moment from Saturday Night Live that I sometimes wonder if I dreamed it. They introduced George Clinton, who was standing there in all his funkiness. He immediately says, "Hey, I see Thomas Dolby out there. Come on up and play, man." And so Thomas Dolby (he was everywhere in those days) bounds up with a great deal of enthusiasm, grabs a keytar and plays.

If I ever meet George Clinton, Thomas Dolby or even Lorne Michaels, the first I want to ask is how they just happened to have a keytar sitting around, all set up for someone to grab and jam. Did some guy not show up, and Dolby just happened to be there?

And if I sit in the front row at a Clinton concert, can I just run up and grab a keytar? He'd be cool with that, right?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Book reviews: Dylan and Trynin (no, not Drivin' and Cryin')

I'll pretend this is a traditional book review and start by giving stars ...

Bob Dylan, Chronicles -- 3 stars (out of 5)
Jen Trynin, Everything I'm Cracked Up To Be -- 4,613 stars (out of 4,615)

The bigger book of these two musicians' memoirs is, of course, the Dylan book. And there's no disputing that it should be. Among pop/rock musicians, he's among the most important -- and most enigmatic. When he finally decides to speak, you can't blame people for being interested.

And it's ... interesting. Just not particularly illuminating. He does confess, as critics often guessed, that a couple of his records were attempts at deflating his own image so he wouldn't carry the "voice of a generation" baggage forever. He offers a bit of insight into the recording process, though it's curiously all about one of his later albums with Daniel Lanois, and it's an abrupt leap forward from the early '60s. Then he leaps right back to the early '60s.

What does he say about the early '60s? Not much. He was recording folk music. He read a lot. He was enamored of various women. Somewhere, a critic is deconstructing every word so that it's a grand statement on the rights of artists to make grand statements on the rights of artists. I just didn't have the energy.

It's entertaining, at least in places, and I wouldn't tell anyone not to read it. I'd just say that if you're going to read one book on the music biz this year, skip Dylan's work and pick up this next one instead.

I've been waiting for Trynin's book to be published for about a year and a half. Her debut album Cockamamie was one of my mid-'90s favorites, so full of good songs that it keeps resurfacing in my iPod years later. Critics loved her. The public seemed to like her but got so caught up following the Lilith Fair and Alanis Morissette that she was left out of the mix, and the album didn't sell particularly well. Her follow-up sold less. She never made a third, settling instead into family life, and I was always curious to know why we had never heard from her again. So when I heard she was writing a book about the experience, I said, "Where do I sign up?"

(The answer, of course, is "at Amazon," but I somehow neglected to do this. A week or two after Torino, the alarm sounded in my head, and I got it shipped right away.)

This was worth the wait.

At first, it was a little bewildering. Like Dylan, she writes in an unconventional, occasionally stream-of-consciousness style. It works. If I were writing the same book, I'd have boring paragraphs describing how I felt. The way she writes, she makes you feel the way she did. Usually dizzy. Not quite confused, but definitely not in full control of your senses.

For weeks, she's in a whirlwind. Her indie release of Cockamamie has created a huge buzz in the industry, and every record exec, lawyer and manager lines up to woo her. She tells some great stories in the process, but the overall effect is overwhelming. She's in a situation beyond her control, and she has no illusions about it.

Aside from a few pseudonyms that don't really disguise the people in question, she spares no one. Not even herself. You have to sympathize with her, of course, but you don't always agree with her. Sometimes, I found myself wanting to reach through the page to tap her on the shoulder -- OK, Jen, don't fool around with the bass player when you have a great boyfriend. Don't piss off the local DJ. And could you put off your suspicion of all-female bills long enough to play at Lilith Fair?

She's clearly not out to get anyone in particular. In retrospect, she sees the humor in the situation, and she recognizes that the business itself is a tough one.

In a sense, reading the book is like watching Apollo 13. You know how it's going to end. (Or maybe Titanic would be more appropriate, but I didn't see Titanic.) When she gives the details of how much she has to sell to earn money beyond her substantial advance, you have to cringe -- if she had sold that much, she'd be many times more famous, even today.

It's still unfair. I wouldn't see an album like Cockamamie as a multiplatinum smash because her voice isn't quite as polished as Kelly Clarkson's or as distinctive as Alanis, but it deserved better than it got. The songs are brilliant, and she has a knack for hooks that are both catchy and inventive. (Guitar geek alert: Check out the way she blends harmonics into the riffs on Snow.)

Perhaps we should all blame the record execs who got in a bidding war and therefore created absurd expectations, making it impossible for her to have a long career as a modestly successful indie artist. But the expectations were built up because they heard something special in the music. Given that, it's hard for me to be so angry.

Sure, we meet our share of buffoons along the way, and she struggles to suffer fools gladly. We see what a mess commercial radio can be -- she's literally left stranded on the air at one point, a situation she amusingly handles by interviewing herself.

One person who comes across quite well in the book under her own name, though she's a peripheral character, is Aimee Mann. Trynin's boyfriend-turned-husband, who DOES get a pseudonym even though anyone with Internet access can find out who he is, has produced much of Mann's solo work.

Mann pops up again at the end, in fact. Two heralded solo artists -- one still going strong, one out of the business.

Or is she? Trynin popped up again as a guitarist in a band called the Loveless, which released something in 2003. She doesn't mention this in the book whatsoever, though her career with this outfit -- which probably wasn't built to repeat the same ascend-and-plummet cycle that Trynin's already experienced -- would have overlapped with the years she spent writing this book.

That's not necessarily odd. Trynin devotes the bulk of the book to her whirlwind courtship and the aftermath of her first album. She rushes through the second album, focusing only on a couple of key incidents along the way. I was disappointed at first, but it makes sense because Trynin, not a dumb woman, has already figured out by the end of her big Cockamamie tour that this isn't going to work. She doesn't dwell on the aftermath. No need.

Unless she wants to write a sequel. Just let me know so I can remember to pre-order the damned thing this time around.

I'm hoping she gets enough of an audience to encourage her to continue. I'm not particularly encouraged by her Amazon rank of 10,322, but at least it's climbing. Maybe she'll catch Dylan.

Want to hear a bit? She's apparently had a bit of this book done for almost three years, judging from the URL of this page, which has an audio excerpt of her reading one of the funnier bits. It does raise a question for me, though -- I recall from reading that the self-interview incident happened with a different DJ. But I'm not planning to yell "James Frey" on her. DJs have always been interchangeable. Musicians -- and authors -- like Trynin don't turn up that often.

And at long last, I can conclude that I have no regrets about failing to pursue my dreams of a rock career. At age 17, when my guitar skills were at their peak, I would've believed all that crap.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Blondie controversy

For those who missed it: Blondie's Hall of Fame induction turned testy.

That sort of thing happens when the Hall tries to reunite the current band members with the ex-band members who sued the current band members for being left out of the late '90s reunion (among other things). You end up with really awkward moments between those who last played in the band 20 years ago and those who have been there the whole time, even if they're no longer blonde.

There are arguments to be made for both sides here. So I'll make them.

The case for Frank Infante, Nigel Harrison and Gary Valentine:

First of all, Debbie and Chris, let's drop the crap about how you've worked with Leigh Foxx for all these years and only worked with Nigel for a few. That's straight out of Spinal Tap. Nigel (or possibly Frank; the credits aren't always clear) laid down the classic bass lines on Atomic (including the solo), Heart of Glass, Rapture and all the songs everyone actually knows. Gary may have had the briefest stint in the band, but he wrote (I'm Always Touched By Your) Presence Dear and X-Offender. Nigel co-wrote One Way or Another and the underrated Union City Blue. The guys taking our places in your touring lineup have contributed less to your two post-reunion albums than Coolio.

You're not getting into the Hall because you have competent sidemen today; you're getting in because of the years we slogged it out, defying all attempts to pigeonhole us into one genre or another. We're listed on the Hall of Fame's official induction list, not the guys who've been taking easy money for playing our parts for the past decade.

This was a perfect opportunity for you to put aside all the bad blood. You blew it. And now your induction will be remembered because you blew us off. Nice move.

The case for Debbie Harry and Chris Stein (and possibly Clem Burke and Jimmy Destri, who haven't actually said anything):

Maybe we killed a few brain cells back in the '70s, but didn't you sue us? And then you just show up at the Hall of Fame induction and expect to play? Even Bands Reunited gave people a chance to patch things up and rehearse before taking the stage. Yeah, these guys have been playing your parts for years. What have you been doing?

If you're ranking contributions to the band, you guys are fifth, sixth and seventh. It's Debbie's voice, face, public image and lyrics (mostly). It's Chris' sound and songwriting. Jimmy may have been the only prominent rock keyboardist to emerge between Rick Wakeman and Nick Rhodes (OK, OK, we'll give you Geoff Downes), and he wrote our biggest post-reunion hit, Maria. And Clem was one of those rare drummers who had punk credibility but could put out a good disco beat. Besides, you heard him on Dreaming, in which his performance alone gets a "must to hear" nod from

Besides, Frank didn't write anything memorable himself.

And my take is ...

They should've patched this up beforehand. Infante had no right to barge in and put Harry on the spot by asking if they could play right there at the podium. But Harry and Stein showed a rare lapse in managing their image. Both sides had everything to gain and nothing to lose by talking it out months ago and agreeing to play at least one song together. Pink Floyd did it without Roger Waters and David Gilmour pulling out sabers. Why not Blondie?

And the ironies commence ...

Blondie is going on tour with "The New Cars." That's The Cars you know and love, minus the late Ben Orr, drummer David Robinson and the other guy ... um ... what's his name ...

Oh yeah ... Ric Ocasek. That's a bit like Blondie lining up without Debbie Harry. (Ocasek, though, is apparently not annoyed. Good for him.)

And it's a weird lineup. Todd Rundgren, he of a couple of hits with various bands and a glittering resume as a producer, is on board with one of his former bandmates.

Guitarist Elliot Easton, by the way, played with Creedence Clearwater Revisited, the band featuring the drummer and bassist (I know, I know -- that in itself is an odd statement for a band not named Rush) from Creedence Clearwater Revival. Which had its own acrimony at its own Hall of Fame induction.

Messy business, isn't it?

Today's funny car conversation

Me and MMM Jr. on the way home:

"Wanna hear La Patzah?!"

"You want to hear what?"

(getting whiny) "La Patzah?!"

"Can you say it slowly so I'll understand?"

"La ... Pat ... zah ...?!"

(I fumble though iPod selections at traffic light, settling on Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes. Hey, Ladysmith Black Mambazo might be saying "La Patzah" in there somewhere.)

"Noooo (wailing) ... La Patzah!!!"

"This isn't it?"

"Noooooooooo ... La Patzah!!!"

(Seeing that I'm going to be at the light for another cycle, I pick up the iPod again and flip through every song in his playlist. It suddenly hits me.)

"Rock Lobster?"

(quietly, not quite sure) "Yes?"

I flip to Rock Lobster. He says "Yeaaaaahhh." I dance for him a bit (it's a lonnnng light -- I've timed it and found that it's green for 30 seconds of a three-minute cycle), and he encourages me to sing. Which he never does.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Disney review

I have to admit I was a little skeptical about this trip. Two days after getting back from the Olympics? To Disney World, where I hadn't been in almost 30 years? (The park itself isn't even 35 years old yet.) I figured I'd at least be able to relax in warm weather and find a few things I'd enjoy, but in my Torino obsession, I didn't even bother to look up anything about the place to see what I was getting into.

Mrs. MMM took care of all that, and for her, it was a well-deserved break from an oppressive workload compounded by three weeks of single parenthood while I was a few thousand miles away. I figured we'd find enough for MMM Jr. to enjoy. I didn't realize how fascinating I'd find the place.

It's easy to look at something so grandiose in scale and think of it as typical American overkill. But somehow, it's not.

For one thing, the area is hardly overdeveloped. It's still quite green. Just look at this view from the Polynesian resort's beach, from which you can see the Grand Floridian (not shown), the Magic Kingdom's castle, Space Mountain and the Contemporary -- with a lot of trees in between. And a large chunk of Animal Kingdom is animal territory.

And it's so smartly developed. You can see the Magic Kingdom fireworks from several of the resorts. For all the enormity of the whole resort, it's quite easy to walk around the Magic Kingdom itself. Besides, the monorail is still pretty cool after all these years. (NOTE: I'm told that I actually want to use the word "enormousness" rather than "enormity" here because "enormity" implies evil. I'm not convinced that "enormousness" is a real word, no matter wha the dictionary might say. So for "enormity," read "freaking huge-ass size.")

Then there's the general vision of the whole thing. We don't see many people like Walt Disney these days, people who start with a few simple cartoons and end up as champions of modernity.

Sure, Disney died before any of this was completed, and a lot of the futuristic thought running through Tomorrowland and Epcot Center provides easy fodder for Simpsons parodies today. But the specifics don't really matter. Just because Tomorrowland looks less and less like the future and more and more like The Jetsons every year doesn't mean Disney was wrong to marvel at technology and encourage others to do the same.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about it is that the monolithic Disney corporation has built things that seem perfectly in keeping with the vision of Disney himself. Animal Kingdom hammers home a message of conservation that at least jibes with the image I have of the man. The whole point of the Magic Kingdom is to dream, and Epcot is a logical extension of Tomorrowland and the "it's a small world" ride (which, incidentally, we did about five times -- MMM Jr. could've gone over and over without ever getting bored).

So I could easily spend the next week reading Wikipedia and other sources on Disney and everything about the parks -- the history, the development of monorails, the decisions to build this or not build that, etc. Not that I have that kind of time.

Beyond all the philosophical and logistical fascination, we had fun.

First of all, it's beautiful everywhere you go. The Polynesian complex is beautiful. The Magic Kingdom is impeccably maintained. The lagoon between the Magic Kingdom and its resorts is wonderfully calm. The World Showcase at Epcot is an eclectic mix of architecture that somehow works, and there are few better places (excluding mountain ranges) to watch a sunset.

The rides are fun -- we skipped the more intense things like the new Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom in favor of kid-friendly fare. The Peter Pan flight is visually stunning, and the Jungle Cruise is amusing.

The shows are hit and miss. I still don't know what to think of the Enchanted Tiki Room -- it's a technological marvel, with almost every bit of the building synchronized to sing various lines on cue, but it's also a bit much to take in, with a thin premise to build from. Country Bear Jamboree was a bit tedious on first viewing, and I wanted to doze off when MMM Jr. took us back for seconds.

(OK, quick Oscar comment. Am I the only one who refuses to genuflect toward Jack Nicholson? Sure, sure, you've had a great career and all that. But so has Tom Hanks, and he let himself get beat up by an orchestra for a comic bit earlier in the show.)

There's one big reason for adults to go. The food. It's real good. Especially at World Showcase.

And one of these days, we'll go with a big enough group that someone else can watch MMM Jr. and let us slip out to Downtown Disney. Or maybe I'll have enough of a golf game that I can play one of the courses without jeopardizing the monorail.

If you can't find something to enjoy here, you have to ask yourself a few questions. Like whether you've turned into one of the Goth kids from South Park. You're always going to hit a few bumps -- a bus ride that's a little longer than it should be, a toddler tantrum, a ride or show you don't quite like, etc. Just move on to the next thing.

Not a bad way to go through life, now that I think about it.

Torino ... Disney ... home

Take a while, take a while
Take care and fly away and see the world
Take a while, take a while
Take time, and if you need rest, I'll keep your nest changeless

- Carbon Leaf

OK, so you knew I was in Torino. I probably forgot to tell you I was going to Disney World. In the 25 days ending yesterday, I spent roughly 36 hours within a couple of miles of home.

So it's time to pick things up again. I'm already seeing things pop up out of the yard, which is both exciting (spring is beautiful here) and frightening (yard work already?!). I'll need to sort out my role at work while doing a bunch of work around the house. It's time to get back to one or more of the books I had barely started.

And where was I in the blog? Had I mentioned that Coldplay is the next Radiohead, not the next U2? (Lemme check ... yes. Speaking of me, it occurs to me that a great way to get noticed at iTunes is to name a song after a band that hasn't made its songs available. If you search for "Radiohead," you get a bunch of stuff by bands that aren't exactly household names.) Did I mention that Rolling Stone has a must-read on Scientology? Have I mentioned Carbon Leaf recently? (Oh yeah, I just did.)

More details on Disney next, and then we'll resume regular programming. (Bearing in mind, of course, the time constraints of work, housework and other work mentioned above.)