Friday, December 29, 2006

Crowd manipulation, expert level

I don't usually go for bands that demand audience participation. Back in the days when I could spend eight hours at a music festival, the last thing I wanted to hear was someone on stage yelling at me to get up and yell. If I wanted to yell and jump, I could've stayed home and avoided the $50 tickets, the filthy bathrooms, the aroma of pot smoke, etc.

But one band is an exception. And I think it's because they seem to have a cause. They're not asking you to get into it for some ego trip. Their creed is that there's nothing more important at this moment than to throw your problems out the window and celebrate the fact that you're alive.

And the band's leader is exceptionally good at making you believe that creed. He could've been a televangelist and made more money than he's making in this veteran bar band with a couple of semi-hits.

Have you guessed?

It's Cowboy Mouth.

Someone caught the act in Boston and put it on YouTube in five parts. Enjoy ...

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Great but forgotten

Apologies for not doing any kind of Christmas post. I was thinking of doing something based on Steve Martin's SNL Christmas monologue, but (A) NBC doesn't have that on its site and (B) all I really want is peace. Seriously. Everywhere from the Middle East to the Internet, where I've been involved in some really tedious bickering lately.

I'm now in my favorite post-Christmas activity, iTunes gift card spending. Here's what I have so far:

  • Lindsey Buckingham, To Try for the Sun: Heavy on the acoustic picking. Saw it on a "Best of" and figured I'd give it a listen. Not bad.
  • Motorhead, Ace of Spades: Because it's ridiculous to have it as a ringtone and a Young Ones episode and not as an actual song.
  • Hayseed Dixie, Ace of Spades: Because Hayseed Dixie is just that good.
  • KT Tunstall, Black Horse and the Cherry Tree: Artist I'm planning to watch in 2007.
  • Weird Al, White and Nerdy: Fluent in JavaScript and Klingon, be-otch.
  • Talking Heads, Burning Down the House: One of those songs that makes you go, "Oh yeah -- I used to have that on tape somewhere and should really have it on the iPod."
  • Young MC, Bust a Move: Just filling out the '80s songs.
There's one '80s song I can't get at iTunes because it's simply not there. And that's a shame. Like a couple of Dubstar songs, this one surely has enough of a following to warrant a few downloads.

So as with Dubstar, I'll reluctantly link to YouTube. In this case, the video is indeed kind of silly, mostly because the lead singer insists on doing the Belinda Carlisle two-step through the whole thing. That's a little odd for a band that was aiming for a Clash/U2 political vibe with the odd pop hit mixed in.

Guessed it yet?

Here you go -- Red Rockers' China

Great bass line, isn't it?

At least they made a video. If you want to hear the powerful Vixtrola song Gunboat, you have to watch some weird thing with subtitles that has nothing to do with the band itself.

Updating: I searched for some more stuff at iTunes based on an old list of songs I couldn't find. Found: Big Country's You Dreamer and Poe's breathtaking Haunted, which has apparently inspired a lot of fan videos at YouTube.

Not found: Whale's Hobo Humping Slobo Babe, Melting Hopefuls' She's a Big Boy Now, more Big Country and this charming effort from Stretch Princess ...

I didn't realize the lead singer played bass. Uh oh -- crush alert ...

Updating: If you're not up on your Minako and would rather just hear Vixtrola without the video, check their MySpace page. Seems they have some trouble with their record label. Sounds like Poe. Or maybe Fiona Apple.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

When siblings share too much ...

Hairstyles aside, the '80s were the Golden Age of videos. When they were good, they were very good. When they were bad, they were hysterical.

And it was in the '80s that Heart, in the midst of slowly shredding their rock-n-roll cred in a long descent into synthesizer balladry (the nadir being All I Want to Do Is Make Love to You), gave us the video for the otherwise forgettable Nothin' At All:

A few highlights (and no, I don't mean the hair) ...

- Full-band videos can be tough on drummers if there's no easy way to work a drum set into a video. In this case, I think Denny Carmassi must have pissed off the director. There are plenty of places to get his drums into the video. But no. He's stuck there banging his sticks on a post and a couple of railings.

- This will send us on a tangent. For no apparent reason, there's a panther in this video who keeps morphing back and forth into a cat. I have no idea what this has to do with anything.

Now, in Hall and Oates' Maneater video, it makes sense. A panther could theoretically be a maneater, right?

Tangent, step 3: For more disturbing imagery from Hall and Oates, check Jefito's take on Jingle Bell Rock, which sees the duo and their bandmates cavorting as if stuck on the world's goofiest Christmas special.

Tangent, step 4: Oates' painfully stiff mannerisms in Jingle Bell Rock make him a dead ringer for Eddie Murphy's whiteface character in the classic SNL "White Like Me" sketch.

Tangent over. I'll get to the point ...

- Ann sings the song in the girls' bedroom while Nancy is getting spruced up. Presumably for a date. Presumably with the same guy Ann is singing about.

All together now: Ewwwwwww ...

And, of course, while primping (a word whose similarity to "pimping" never seemed to appropriate), Nancy picks the cleavage-enhancing model she wore so well in Heart videos. ZZ Top had the guitar spin -- Nancy had the 45-degree tilt that drove 15-year-olds like me wild with feelings we didn't quite understand.

Sure, that was probably the point. Put Nancy in the hot outfit and hint, not so subtly, they don't mind sharing. They're already in the same bedroom having a cute girly conversation. Years later, South Park's Chef would provide the theme music for the fantasy they're selling here -- "You ... and me ... and her ... simultaneous!"

Timberlake on SNL

A few things we've learned after Justin Timberlake's hosting stint last weekend ...

1. Timberlake is a damn good sketch actor. Almost anyone can be funny in SNL's hands, but few hosts get into the characters as well as he does. He's one small step below the Alec Baldwin / Christopher Walken / Steve Martin stratosphere, and he's a lot younger than those guys.

2. The NYTimes piece making this point veers into pretentiousness, but yes, Timberlake's ability to remake his image is impressive. He could easily be this century's Madonna.

3. The Internet is giving SNL new life. Putting the uncensored (Bleep) in a Box on NBC's official site was a brilliant move -- and apparently lucrative.

4. Some people -- from the Parents Television Council (funny -- I'm a parent, and I don't remember nominating these guys) to snarky bloggers -- will never get it. Their loss.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

'South Park' misinterpreted

I'll pass on the book South Park and Philosophy. It should be right up my alley -- I majored in philosophy all those years ago, and I've probably seen every episode of the show.

But this review skewers the book just as effectively as the show skewers its satirical targets:

"South Park is a mini-representation of America, where different races, religions and types of people have to coexist, but have their problems as well. There is no right answer in South Park. Everyone has their faults, and everyone has their strengths, just like in America. South Park is great because of it's diversity, and it's acceptance of other people. When you try to loosely base an opinion-based argument on a show that clearly argues something totally different, then you're just using the South Park name to sell some books. "

The problem, claims the reviewer, is that the writers miss the point or misrepresent it. That's also the case in "The Invisible Gnomes and the Invisible Hand," which seems to be an excerpt from the book.

Paul Cantor, an English professor writing here on economics, starts on solid ground, insisting that South Park's vulgarity is merely the continuation of proud traditions of fart jokes in comedy and philosophy. And he rightly hails the surprise twist at the end of the Big Gay Scoutmaster episode, which has a resolution sure to confuse and challenge slogan-chanters on all sides.

But Cantor so desperately wants to claim South Park for the "right" -- the economic "right," anyway -- that he misreads the episode on which he bases most of his piece.

He gets half of it right, accurately summing up the town's misguided efforts to fight "Harbucks." Yet even in that section, the ideological blinders are evident. He labels the TV ad with the kids and the American flag as "a wonderful parody of a liberal political commercial." Take out the word "liberal," and this description is more precise. Kids and flags are equal-opportunity political pawns.

The great misreading concerns the Underpants Gnomes. A few quotes:

"The gnomes represent the ordinary business activity that is always going on in plain sight of everyone, but which they fail to notice and fail to understand. The people of South Park are unaware that the ceaseless activity of large corporations like Harbucks is necessary to provide them with all the goods they enjoy in their daily lives. They take it for granted that the shelves of their supermarkets will always be amply stocked with a wide variety of goods and never appreciate all the capitalist entrepreneurs who make that abundance possible."

The second and third sentences are a viable argument. The first is nonsense. The gnomes are sneaking into Tweek's room in the middle of the bloody night. That's "plain sight"?

"What is worse, the ordinary citizens misinterpret capitalist activity as theft. They focus only on what businessmen take from them – their money – and forget about what they get in return, all the goods and services. "

Dude, they're stealing Tweek's underwear. Not the model business on which you want to hinge this argument.

"Even the gnomes do not understand what they are doing. Perhaps South Park is suggesting that the real problem is that businessmen themselves lack the economic knowledge they would need to explain their activity to the public and justify their profits. When the boys ask the gnomes to tell them about corporations, all they can offer is this enigmatic diagram of the stages of their business."

He then offers up the chart -- Phase 1, Collect Underpants. Phase 2, ? ... Phase 3, Profit. So far, so good.

"This chart basically encapsulates the economic illiteracy of the American public. They can see no connection between the activities businessmen undertake and the profits they make. What businessmen actually contribute to the economy is a big question mark to them. "

No, I didn't skip a bit between the last two quotes. Cantor has jumped from laughing with us at the Underpants Gnomes' confused business plan to laughing at us for failing to understand it.

Again, Cantor could make a fair point on the "economic illiteracy of the American public." The mistake is tying that argument to a bunch of gnomes who raid Tweek's drawer in the middle of the night and have no idea what to do with the undergarments. You could make a better case that the gnomes are some sort of allegory for the dotcom bust circa 2001.

My dad, very much a traditionalist in terms of education, pushed me to go to Virginia. I wonder how he'd feel about a Virginia professor watching cartoons ... and misinterpreting them.

To be fair to Cantor, the segments of his piece not dealing with gnomes aren't bad. And I've seen worse in terms of misreading pop culture, from the other side of the political aisle. That would be one Michael Eric Dyson, who spoke at a graduation I attended in Chapel Hill. Dyson, whose entire speech was designed to shock the grandmothers who had come to see their little Tar Heels turn tassels, made reference to Alanis Morissette's You Oughta Know, saying many of us are stunned by the reference to fellatio in the backseat of a car.

Why yes, I would be stunned if that song had a reference to fellatio in a car. Because the act takes place in a theater. Way to do your research, Mr. Dyson.

Maybe I shouldn't go into academia. These guys don't seem any smarter or more intellectually honest than my colleagues in journalism.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

In defense of Band Aid ...

And AGAIN, we're back. At least most of the time. We'll see how long this sticks.

I would've posted earlier in the evening, but I got sucked into my recording of a truly excellent show I highly recommend -- Sundance Channel's One Punk Under God. It follows Jim Bakker's son, Jay, as he kicks around the ruins of Heritage USA and talks about his estrangement from his dad. (But NOT from his mom, Tammy Faye, who is ailing.)

I thought it'd be interesting to see Heritage USA, and it was. "Ruins" is not an overstatement, and whatever you think of the theological and financial creativity that brought people there, it's hard not to see something poignant in the deserted theme park.

But beyond that, Jay is an interesting guy. He did the typical 180-degree turn away from his parents' lifestyle and has made it about 145 degrees back. He preaches a more inclusive Christianity and talks with remarkable openness about his past, moving listeners to tears. His wife reminds me of any number of smart Georgia women I knew growing up.

So anyway, back to tonight's topic ...

While browsing the Jason / Jefito "Mellowmas" celebration (also highly recommended), I came across a passing negative reference to the Band Aid charity song Do They Know It's Christmas? That's the second Band Aid dissing I've seen recently, and I'm a little surprised. I'd always assumed the general reaction to that song ranged from "like" to "benign indifference."

Let me explain why those should be the only viable reactions (I'm a little insistent about some aspects of my musical taste) ...

1. The group charity appeal was not yet cliche at this point. (If I weren't rushing to get this done, I'd look up the dates to see if the Super Bowl Shuffle pre-dated this, but it's safe to say Refrigerator Perry can't be cited as an influence here.) Bob Geldof was no bandwagoner.

2. Like Courtney Love, Boy George has seen his long, tedious downfall overshadow his considerable talent. But the talent was considerable. The guy could sing.

3. It's so simple and unassuming. Especially in comparison to the wretched U.S. response. Band Aid simply sings Feed the World. USA for Africa claims WE Are the World. I guess that's a complaint about the catering?

And you HAVE to judge it in comparison to other such efforts. If you're going to raise money on this scale, you have to do it in a style that offers the broadest appeal. As much as you and I might love to hear Husker Du crank the amps to 12 and scream about Africa, that's probably not going to make a dent in the famine relief budget.

It's a pleasant melody and a nice sentiment, with a driving Phil Collins beat. And best of all, they let Collins play drums instead of writing the lyrics.

Let them know it's Christmas. Or Hanukkah, or the winter solstice, or whatever. Feed the world.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Hey! I'm online again!

My ISP, which rhymes with "Lox Lommunications," has generously provided us with Internet access again. I'll post quickly in case they change their minds.

Sorry to miss a chance to respond to the Jason-Jefito flirtation, which I was proud to host here at the blog.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Things I don't understand ...

Am I the only one who thinks boxer briefs accomplish nothing but combining the restrictiveness of briefs with the bulkiness of boxers?

More from the Golden Age of Videos

I can picture the conversation ...

"Yeah, Nigel? I'm having trouble with a concept for this video here."

"Sure, what's the problem?"

"Well, it's a solo artist, but he's not a singer. There's nothing particularly interesting about him from a visual standpoint."

"Hmmm ... who sings?"

"Um ... hang on ... I've got his name somewhere ..."

"Wait -- never mind. I've got it. Pretend you're doing an audition for singers."

"Well, I suppose that might work. But wouldn't get a little repetitive?"

"Why not throw in some celebrities and some gag singers?"

"Sounds good. Who can we get?"

"How about the guy who plays Tattoo?"

"Isn't he dead?"

"Not yet. It's only 1985. And we'll get Donny Osmond to play against type. And Dr. Joyce Brothers and Parker Stevenson."

"To sing?"

"Nah. Joyce will just explain the underlying psychological concept. Parker will just stand in line to audition and then introduce himself."

"Neat, but can we get some real singers?"

"Sure. Let's get Marilyn McCoo, who'll be awesome. And Jon Butcher. And Jimmy Hall, since he actually performs on the track."

"Hmmmmm. Will this actually work?"

"Hey, enjoy it while you can. In a few years, videos will be nothing but special effects and helicopter shots."

"Good point. OK, action!"

Here you go ... Jeff Beck's Ambitious.