Sunday, December 30, 2007

Song du semaine: Tom Jones, "You Can Leave Your Hat On"

Great song, but you know I'm just picking it this week to have an excuse to show the Full Monty finale (warning: partial nudity shown, full frontal implied):

One of the best movie endings ever. The simple act of stripping isn't a surprise -- no director or screenwriter would let down an audience by having them chicken out at the last minute. But the scene captures the change in mood that evolves through the film. This is no longer an act of desperation to get a few bucks. This is a celebration.

It's not that everything is magically resolved. We see just enough to know that these guys are bouncing back. Dave's wife gives him a vote of confidence. They all have career prospects at last.

Gaz's son is the key here. Gaz was driven to desperation in the first place because he wanted to stay in his son's life, which wasn't going to happen unless he scraped up some money for child support. But in the end, his son gives him a little kick to get out and revel in what he created.

Beautiful stuff. Well-choreographed, too.

The song was already an oldie when the film was made. Randy Newman wrote it and recorded it for his 1972 album Sail Away. Three Dog Night apparently did a cover. Joe Cocker did the version our local rock station plays on occasion.

But seriously ... a rollicking bawdy song like this is tailor-made for Tom Jones, isn't it?

Happy New Year to all.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The days of kung fu theater and independent TV

Did anyone else grow up with local independent channels showing really terrible kung fu films? Apparently so.

Not so much these days. For one thing, we don't really have independent channels today. Now they're all affiliates of CW or whatever's passing for the sixth and seventh TV networks these days. The typical former independent station shows syndicated daytime shows, sitcom reruns and so forth. Not so quirky.

Independent TV also brought us the show Almost Live! from Seattle -- briefly national in the good old days of Comedy Central. And that brought us kung fu parodies like this:

Monday, December 24, 2007

Weird and wonderful traditions

According to the legend at the Wikipedia entry and this CBC broadcast, NORAD took over as the official Santa Claus tracker when a newspaper accidentally confused a store's "Santa hotline" with a secret phone line at the height of the Cold War. Great timing.

All I can verify first-hand is that I've been checking NORAD's Santa tracker since I first went online in 1996, and it never ceases to amaze me. (Granted, it's slightly disappointing to know that the people doing all these charming videos aren't in the nuclear blast-proof mountain in Colorado anymore, but it's still fascinating stuff.)

I'm clearly not the only one watching. This year, the videos are going up on YouTube, and you can see the hundreds of thousands of page views tonight alone.

It's one of the most incongruous productions imaginable. It's hard to imagine a job grimmer than watching the sky for impending Armageddon, and yet these folks have the sense of humor to animate Santa's sleigh doing flips past world landmarks.

Great stuff.

Merry Christmas to all, and may Santa pass through your airspace safely.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Song du semaine: BNL/Sarah McLachlan, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings"

I'll assume you've all heard this wonderful holiday favorite, but until five minutes ago, I'd never seen it synched up with another holiday favorite.

Enjoy, and everyone have a great religious or family festival of your choosing.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Overheard on Dylan's radio show

We're debating whether to keep our XM subscription. A couple of local radio stations have responded to the satellite challenge with outstanding new formats, and we've had trouble picking up the signal in the living room since remodeling.

So I'm checking out the online version this morning, and I've finally had a chance to listen to Bob Dylan's show. It's wild stuff. Snippets of obscure songs and Dylan striking a hipster comedian pose, sneaking in little jokes like this ...

"A lot of people don't celebrate Christmas, like my friend Dexter Quinn. You know his favorite Christmas movie? Coincidence on 34th Street."

Not an original joke, but hearing Dylan tell it before seguing into a musing on how we "don't heard much about myrrh these days" is a unique experience.

This is why XM needs to make its original shows available on demand online for subscribers. Renewing our subscription would be a no-brainer if they did that.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

*&%$ of the Irish

Reason's Hit & Run drifts away from Ron Paul discipleship long enough give us the rundown on the BBC bowing to public pressure and playing the Pogues/Kirsty MacColl Christmas classic Fairytale of New York with the f-word intact.

Not that f-word. The verse: "You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy ..."

It's always funny to see singers muddle through this line in Irish pubs. "You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap luffle (muffle), Merry Christmas you arse ..."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Attention Athenians: Good food alert

I see in your local paper that you now have Five Guys. I shouldn't be surprised. This place is so staggeringly popular in the D.C. metro area that I think several localities are considering laws requiring that any new office building must have a Five Guys somewhere on the premises.

This is, of course, blatantly unfair. You already have so many food chains that we in the supposedly enlightened D.C. suburbs do not. The Schlotzsky's in Reston is long gone. It's a long, long drive to a Bojangles or Mrs. Winner's. Waffle House? Yeah, right.

That's it. I'm moving back.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Song du semaine: Suzanne Vega, "Blood Makes Noise"

(Video is here; embedding disabled. Feel free to play it while you're reading, though it's a very short song and this is a long story.)

I've been holding on to this one until the minor medical question of two weeks ago was completely resolved. When I last mentioned it, my doctor had convinced me that I couldn't possibly have something that moved from Point A to Point B. But I still had to have Point A and Point B checked individually on the off chance that something was wrong there.

Point B was checked Thursday, a mere 12 days after my initial visit to urgent care. That was done via CT scan. If you haven't had a CT scan, I highly recommend that you do it. That recommendation is contingent on how many burning sensations you like to have at once.

First, of course, you have the pent-up agitation of waiting 12 days. See, I have a pricey HMO in affluent Fairfax County. I'm not some uninsured Chicago resident who turns up at County on ER and is quickly ushered to a scanner by a couple of pretty people who are busy arguing about the fact that they're the last heterosexual permutation on the current staff that has yet to consummate its flirtation. So I had 12 days to think of possible things that could be sitting around in my abdomen. The woman waiting next to me cracked up when I said I'd been avoiding the movie Alien.

Second, you have your barium smoothie. Make it a double. 750 milliliters or so of stuff that makes you all tingly. It's kind of like a loofah for your innards, pushed through by enough liquid to make Hoover Dam say, "Hey, guys? I need some reinforcement in Sector 3."

Third, you have iodine. Not rubbed on your arm, as if this was just a blood donation. Nope. Pumped into your blood stream. I was told I'd feel a warm sensation and possibly a few other side effects. When the scan started, I did indeed feel warm and a little loopy, with occasional twinges all through me. Then the guy said, "OK, I'm putting in the iodine now."

On your way out, they tell you to drink about 8-12 glasses of water to get that iodine the heck out of your blood stream. They were telling me this around 9 p.m. Thursday night. So, when was I supposed to drink all this? And if I could drink all that water on top of the barium still sitting in my stomach like nuclear pop rocks, would I really need the CT scan?

Basically, I had a choice between bloating and burning in the four days I was waiting to hear from the kindly folks who would scan my insides. I split the difference.

Today, I finally heard the expected reassuring results, delivered by a doctor who spoke ... very ... deliberately ... like the rabbi who hits on Elaine in Seinfeld. ("Someone .. in my .. syna-gogue .. has a .. time-share in Myr-tle Beach." Which always begged the question: "What the hell kind of New York synagogue-goer, presumably over age 30, goes to Myrtle Beach?")

It's nice, I suppose, now that it's all done. It's good to hear my heart and all my other organs are functioning as they should. But when this comes up again, I'd like to do something about that 16-day wait. I'm already a little ticked off at the medical establishment for its failure to do anything for a toddler's constricting congestion between "stick him in a warm, humid room, but watch the mold" and "strap this to his face and turn on this machine while cranking Sesame Street to a volume approximating The Who circa 1973."

One positive word about medicine: In 1991, when Magic Johnson told us he had HIV, did anyone think we'd be attending Magic Johnson Theaters rather than Magic Johnson Memorial Tournaments 16 years later? So they're doing something right.

And that leads to this song, the only tune I know that addresses fear of getting tested. Released less than a year after Magic's announcement, it's quite clearly informed by the AIDS fear cutting through society at the time. Sample lyric: "I think that you might want to know the details and the facts / But there's something in my blood denies the memory of the act."

If you only know Suzanne Vega from Luka and that dance remix of her a cappella Tom's Diner -- well, first of all, shame on you. Secondly, you're in for a bit of a shock. Like Indigo Girls, Vega pushed "folk"-rock into all sorts of interesting directions, but my fellow Georgians never veered as close to Eurotechno as Vega does here. It's a propulsive bass line and a whole lot of noise. When Vega performed this one with David Letterman's band, drummer Anton Fig played his part on a trash-can lid. (I watched that show when it aired -- I recall Dave found it quite amusing after the fact to see Anton take such a low-tech approach.)

The noisiness was the brainchild of Vega's producer and future former husband Mitchell Froom. I only mention him because a couple of years after he started dating Ally McBeal singer/appearer Vonda Shepard -- we'll just say the ink wasn't dry on any sort of separation agreement -- Vega recorded Songs in Red and Gray, which put the split in philosophical terms but has this wonderful withering cover photo. If there's ever a mixed martial arts tournament among '80s folk-rockers, my money's on Vega.

An intriguing fan site has gathered a few of Vega's thoughts on most of her songs. She opens up a few interpretations on this one, ranging from simple fear to skepticism of the doctor-patient relationship. Sounds like she was aiming for the personal level, but I hope she doesn't mind if I apply it to an HMO.

MMM Jr. goes to church

It was an "Advent lessons and carols" service, which in retrospect was not the best place for an inquisitive 4-year-old who doesn't go to such things that often.

Imagine the conversation taking place in a stage whisper ...


What is it?

When are they going to turn the lights on?

Well, they're going to light all these candles to make it brighter.

But when?

I don't know.

(Skipping ahead -- candles now lit)



Who's singing this?

See all those people up there? They're singing.

But what are their names?

I don't kn -- I'll tell you more later, can you be quiet for a while?

But why?

Because we're all enjoying the music.

Why are we enjoying the music?

Because it's nice -- please? You'll get a treat when we get home. Can you be quiet for five minutes unless you have to go potty?

OK. (Moves hand to cover mouth)





Yes, what is it?

I'm being quiet.

Good ... well ... actually, you're not -- but good. We'll leave after one more song, OK?






(exasperated) What is it?

When are they going to turn the lights on?

Remember? They lit the candles.

Is the light -- the candles -- the light on the candles? Is that fire?

Yes, but it's OK.

How do they make the fire?

We come in here and pray to Prometheus for a well-timed ... look, can you wait one more song? Please?

OK, Daddy. (Plays with his "Bionicle" toy on the hymnal.)




Wh ... What is it?

This is Bionicle's Bible.

That's sweet, son. Now can you be quiet for this last song before we go?






#$%@! What?

I'm being quiet.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Yes, this was entertainment when I grew up

Jason's blog is all full of Mellowmas glory this month. Among the many surprises, a recent Captain and Tennille song that begs the question "What the heck happened to Toni Tennille's voice?

Captain and Tennille also bring to mind a TV genre that died in the '70s -- the variety show. Oh yes, they had one. Check out the muskrats dancing on the good Captain's hat and keyboards here:

I may be completely wrong on this, but I seem to recall the Captain doing a particularly earnest segment on his love of New Orleans and its music. Or maybe it was a love of boating. No idea. Because on these shows, you really had no idea what to expect.

You might see Sonny and Cher trying to get their kid to sing.

You might see a young David Letterman on The Starland Vocal Band Show. (Yes, the Afternoon Delight crowd. They're locals, you know.)

You might see Paris Hilton's mom replacing the original Jan on The Brady Bunch Hour. Well, no, she didn't quite get the part. But you could see Tony Randall reading poetry while someone dances in a bear suit. (This horrifying show inspired a terrific Simpsons parody.)

You might see Donny & Marie, be-otch!

The closest you get to this today is the Aimee Mann traveling Christmas show, which is wonderful for those of us who crowd into places like the Birchmere to see a really odd mix of off-the-wall antics while Aimee keeps perfectly composed and sings her sad songs.

That might not have mass appeal for a prime-time ABC slot, particularly when the foul-mouthed Hanukkah fairy shows up.

But in this age of mind-numbing reality shows, shouldn't we make some room for mind-numbing variety shows? We already know Timberlake's funny -- couldn't we give him a prime-time show? Or maybe The Maroon 5 Ersatz Soul Hour? The Lohan/Winehouse ... oh, never mind.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Song du semaine: Waitresses, "Christmas Wrapping"

Pity they never shot a video for this, but at least we have some sort of weird tribute with a girl wearing headphones.

The Waitresses are known for two songs, this one and I Know What Boys Like. If you're a walking encyclopedia o' pop culture, you might also know the theme to Square Pegs.

In some respects, they were kind of a burlesque act. Patty Donahue was more of a character actress than a prototypical lead singer, which group leader Chris Butler doesn't dispute. They had a goofy sax player. At one time, they had an accomplished bass player in Tracy Wormworth, but I have no idea whether she actually played on this track.

The bass helps, as you'll notice from the head bob in the "video." It's a great groove and a great story, told with a sincerity that wins you over. (Must have been tough to shift from that to the more cynical I Know What Boys Like if they were ever asked to play them back to back.)

Amusing moments in Northern Virginia driving

I travel on the Beltway toward Tysons. Like everyone else, I get over to the right to take Leesburg Pike to Tysons, then remember that you need to get in the left-most of the two exit lanes.

No problem.

Then a minivan makes the same decision, just a lot later and in a lot more traffic.

Then the minivan hits its brakes hard.

I hit my brakes and pray ... stopping ... stopping ...

Stopped. Maybe an inch or two short of the minivan's rear bumper.

Relief turns quickly to anger. HONK! HONK! HONNNNNNKKKKK!!!!!


"Bam?" I think.

Hey, wait ... that's from behind.

Hey, I've been in an accident!

OK, let's pull over ...

Phew! The back of my car has just a scratch or two on the bumper.

The guy behind me ... ick!

But he's strangely calm. Even apologetic about my bumper, though he took the worst of it. He gives me his number and drives off.

OK, ready to merge back into traffic ...

Son of a bitch -- will someone please let me back in?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The next senator of Minnesota should be me, Al Franken

Al Franken's long on-again, off-again association with Saturday Night Live was always hit or miss for me. I never really got the Franken and Davis skits. He tended to lapse into tedious self-loathing, which sunk his promising sitcom Lateline. His books suck.

On the flip side, Stuart Smalley was a brilliant character, and he got a lot of mileage out of the "one-man mobile uplink unit."

So could I accept him as a senator from Minnesota? Seems less silly than electing Jesse Ventura governor, anyway.

Also made me wonder if I could take any other SNL stars seriously in politics. Dana Carvey made a few political comments in his stand-up, but I didn't buy it. Chris Rock says plenty of provocative things as a comedian he could never, ever say in a campaign.

I might go with Tina Fey, just on intellect and demeanor.

Friday, November 30, 2007

An alternate Dubstar video

I had no idea this existed -- a second video for Dubstar's Stars. This one seems to be some sort of riff on the movie Contact, which came out the same year. (And which I did not see, because I was so freaked out by Close Encounters and the TV show Project UFO as a kid that I simply can't handle anything about alien visitation. Though I somehow watched Independence Day, and I loved Men in Black.)

Here's the video, if Yahoo's weird embedding tool works:

I embedded the other version a year ago. It's low-budget but much better, capturing the dream state of the song.

If you don't care about the video, just click and listen. As I've said at least five times, it's just gorgeous.

Back to the earlier post from the week -- thanks for all the well wishes. I feel a little embarrassed by it, since it's really all about my hypochondria rather than anything actually wrong with me. But it's nice to know that if I ever were facing some serious shit, I wouldn't be going through it alone. This week, spending 90 percent of my time with a kid whose temperature looked like an old-school Loyola Marymount basketball score, that was easy to forget.

Besides, I'm sure this song would be one of the first things I'd hear in heaven.

Return of the VH1 Classic live blog

Enough brooding over medical conditions I don't have, enough playing out worst-case scenarios in my mind, enough taking MMM Jr.'s temperature. (He's getting better, but he and I are both beyond stir-crazy, even after a trip to Wendy's and the grocery store.) Let's have some fun.

Motley Crue, Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away): Haven't heard this in years, and I was fully expecting a good laugh. But it's not half-bad. Vince Neil has the perfect voice for this sort of testosterone-fueled tale of breakup survival.

Bon Jovi, Livin' on a Prayer: Never liked this one. Bon Jovi's recent efforts at social relevance come across with much more sincerity. Perhaps it's because he's an elder statesman of rock, perhaps it's because Richie Sambora ditched the souped-up wah-wah effects, perhaps it's because his more recent charity-minded videos show acts of charity, not four minutes of the band clowning around with its concert rigging. Also note the most absurd truck-driver modulation in recorded history, just to make Jon strain that voice a little harded.

Aerosmith, Walk This Way (live at VMA '94): I doubt Aerosmith could do a terrible version of this classic. They cut loose with panache for the last minute or two, which was a lot of fun.

Kansas, Dust in the Wind: Abrupt change in tone, isn't it? I know Kansas had a bit of internal conflict over the years as some members veered toward Christian rock and others didn't, but aren't this one and Carry On My Wayward Son already as "Christian" as you can get? It's a deserved classic with sobering thoughts. "All your money won't another minute buy" is sound advice.

Stevie Nicks, I Can't Wait: What? Have I heard this? Oh yeah -- I recognize it at the chorus. For a while, I wondered why Stevie was doing a Belinda Carlisle cover. Can I hear Belinda instead? This sounds like a bunch of guys on speed with a bank of synthesizers while Stevie bellows something incomprehensible. The chorus is "I can't wait / Blah blah spinoo when I'm eighty blah two." Geez, all this song needs to be a stereotype of everything wrong with the '80s is a tuneless, screeching guitar solo ... and there it is!

Clash, Train in Vain: Funny how the Clash roared out of England with all sort of punk political hype, and yet they're best remembered for two gleeful romps through tattered relationships. And I'll always remember this for Keith Olbermann's best SportsCenter moment, passing along the score of a San Jose Clash victory and saying the Clash, of course, didn't train in vain.

.38 Special, Hold On Loosely: These guys had a few good songs, even if I'll never understand why they needed two drummers and ... four ... five? ... guitarists to play them. It's not like they're playing Blue Man Group tunes here. They apparently have a single drummer now. The video ends with a shot of the album cover, which was probably racy at the time -- a woman in a tight short skirt, visible only from the waist down, facing the appreciative band. From what I hear, though, the situation didn't go well. She asked which guy is the drummer, two guys answered, and she assumed one of them must be lying.

Queen + Paul Rodgers, We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions: I sense a theme here. We've got three drummers this time -- Foo Fighters' Taylor Hawkins and ... Dave Grohl? Chad Smith? I know Smith joined them for Live Earth, but that looks more like Grohl. Someone has to hold up the drumming while Roger Taylor is wailing his horrifying backup vocals. Sounds great, though.

Bruce Springsteen, I'm On Fire: A forgotten classic from Bruce. Those of you who read the blog often know I love understated passion, and this song has it. Simple taps from the drums, subtle guitar arpeggios and Bruce letting the lyrics do the talking: "Sometimes it's like someone took a knife, baby edgy and dull and cut a six-inch valley through the middle of soul / At night, I wake up with sheets soaking wet and a freight train running throught the middle of my head."

Bruce Springsteen, Radio Nowhere: Once again, it's a classic/current. Get well soon, Danny.

With that, I'm switching over to Fox Soccer Channel, broadcasting an FA Cup game from a stadium has maybe 500 seats but squeezed in 3,300 or so for the first round game. First camera shot has someon wiping the lens.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Song du semaine: Men at Work, "Overkill"

Do you ever think about death? Yes. Sure you do. A fleeting thought that drifts in and out of the transom of your mind. I spend hours, I spend days... - and you think this makes you a better person? Look, when the shit comes down, I'm gonna be prepared and you're not, that's all I'm saying. And in the meantime, you're gonna ruin your whole life waiting for it. (Source)

I had a bit of a health concern this week. To call it a cancer scare would be a little melodramatic. Narcissistic, even. Perhaps even Malignant Narcissism.

The ingredients for this week's disaster: A twinge in my belly that felt like it could be a hernia, a trip to urgent care, a lonnnnng wait there, a rushed visit with a doctor who ordered a CT scan, a resulting tender spot, a history of atypical moles and a 21st-century phenomenon called cyberchondria.

See, with the Internet now providing a ready source of mildly reliable medical information, all of our worries can be magnified. Every Web site has to list the worst-case scenarios in this litigious society. That headache you have? Well, it could be from the bump to the head you got a few minutes ago when you were in the kitchen and didn't notice a cabinet door was open. Or it could be an advanced metastatic cancer that originated in your pancreas. Sure, one is more likely than the other by a factor of a few hundred thousand, but susceptible minds have a hard time absorbing the odds.

Here's another factor -- as someone who spends far too much of his personal and professional time following sports, I've grown accustomed to happy endings in medical dramas, and that didn't happen this week. Basically, if an athlete survives the initial trauma, he always exceeds medical expectations. Bobby Hurley not only survived his traffic accident, he returned to the NBA for a couple of years. Kevin Everett is apparently taking a few steps. So I went to sleep Monday night fully expecting to read the next morning that Sean Taylor had awakened in the hospital and was identifying his assailants. When that didn't happen, it threw my sense of medical reality all out of whack.

I knew I was being ridiculous. Yet I couldn't quite convince that loud nagging voice in my head. When I stopped listening, it metastatized to my stomach and claimed most of my digestive system. That gave me a good excuse to call for an appointment with my actual doctor.

She was able to take a better look at the situation and reassure me that it couldn't possibly be what I was fearing. We had a good talk about cyberchondria, Sean Taylor, the Washington sniper and actual medical conditions.

So I'm glad I held onto this song for an appropriate week. It's an ode to paranoia with tasteful understatement and one of the most beautiful choruses ever written. Ghosts appear and fade away ...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Fun with Office themes

I had a sudden urge to download Handbags and Gladrags, an oft-covered English tune used as the theme music for the British version of The Office. A Ricky Gervais fan came up with a staggeringly comprehensive history of the tune and offers an explanation of why it works so well as the theme:
One reading of the lyric is as a commentary on the futility of fashion and the irrelevance of outward appearances. In this sense it is well chosen as the theme for The Office, as David Brent is a man concerned, above all, with image, status and perception.

I can't possibly improve on that.

I searched for video of The Office credits, but what I found instead was equally interesting. At least, it's interesting if you, like me, did a senior recital on percussion and spent significant time behind a marimba. Yes, it's the American theme song ... on marimba.

Too short, but pretty sweet.

I've only seen a couple of episodes of the UK version, but I know the consensus is that it played up the pathos a bit more than the American version. I think that opinion stems from two brilliant scenes with Tim and Dawn, the predecessors of Jim and Pam.

The first, which is one of the most perfectly directed and acted moments of TV I've ever seen, was near the end of the series finale. But since the series didn't really end there, we get another one near the end of the Christmas special. (The background you need to know -- Dawn, like Pam, was always interested in doing something with her artistic skill, which her warehouse-worker fiancee didn't appreciate. And in case you can't hear Gareth -- the blonde guy -- in the pivotal scene here, he says, "She's got a fiancee." Dawn's response says it all.)

And yes, you do have to love Yazoo's cheesy synth-pop love song Only You bubbling through that final scene.

Skipping "denial" -- moving straight to "anger"

If you live near Washington and aren't one of those total *^&#@s who despise all things relating to the Redskins, you're grieving today for Sean Taylor, whose utterly senseless death has shocked the region.

But another death in the news caught my attention as well. Quiet Riot's Kevin DuBrow, not an old man by any reckoning, suddenly passed away.

It's easy to think of DuBrow and company as a little cartoonish. That was their image for a while, and it worked for them. But these are very real people. If you want a reminder, check the official site of drummer Frankie Banali, who shares his pain with an eloquence you might not expect from a guy whose band bashed out Metal Health back in the day.

I've been home with MMM Jr. today, and as entertaining and lovable as he is, I've been feeling kind of angry. The way I figure it, death and decay are always going to be in greater supply than any of us want. The great idiocy of mankind is that we invite more of them into our lives.

We don't know the details of why Taylor was shot. We don't know anything about DuBrow's death. But at some point, the message has to sink in. We as a species are absolute failures in the most basic need of living creatures -- taking care of each other.

I don't hear any politicians talking about such things -- they're all reciting the same banter we've been hearing for decades, and the "citizen journalists" that are supposedly replacing those of us who are being bought out and laid off (speaking in generalities here -- last I checked, I still had a job) aren't doing any better at broadening the conversation beyond the same rhetorical tricks carefully coached by the Vogon warlords who serve as their strategists.

Can we do better? I sure as hell hope so.

(Back to more uplifting fare tomorrow.)

Monday, November 26, 2007

And more classic comedy

If you're a Monty Python fan AND a philosophy major AND a soccer fan, then this is your ideal sketch.

And possibly the only time I'll concede that Marx was right.

Nee pudak poy Feelyat!

I've always been fascinated with the creative process. As a kid, I read a lot of music magazines. Today, that interest extends to technology and even some Food Network shows. In between, I majored in philosophy, which technically means "love of wisdom." In retrospect, I think the wisdom is OK but the ideas are the key. The Socratic method of refining and revising ideas through frank questioning by guys in togas is fine and necessary, but without the initial ideas -- from systems of government to methods of cooking -- the human species is no better than any other.

Sometimes, I wonder how a particularly offbeat idea survived the Socratic method. Every idea has to be pitched to become reality -- even on a blog, the idea doesn't really take off unless someone reads and appreciates it.

And so I sometimes picture the members of Kids in the Hall, pitching ideas for their fifth and final season, having some sort of conversation like this:

"OK -- imagine a game show in which you're suppose to feel an object with a pair of oven mitts and guess what it is."

"Hmmmm. Could be interesting. So what happens?"

"Well, Scott could play an old contestant who's not really aware of what's going on. Mark could do his Darill character. And then we could have a young kid whose head is too small for the bucket."

"Um ... bucket?"

"Yeah -- when you get an answer wrong, you wear a bucket with a sad face painted on. And we could introduce that when we return to the game after an interruption for a news bulletin about flooding on the Rhine, mixed in with some footage of hammerhead sharks."

"Wait, wait ... sharks? And why are they on the Rhine?"

"Oh, did I mention this is in Europe?"

"OK, I suppose we can get away with that. Might be one way to explain why it all seems so weird."

"Yeah, and they'll be speaking some language that falls somewhere between Dutch, German and gibberish."

(long pause) "A whole sketch. In which language? German?"

"Not exactly. It's sort of German, sort of Dutch. We'll have a bunch of people counting the time remaining by clomping wooden shoes -- let's call them the Nederlander Foot Choir."

(longer pause) "Sort of German, sort of Dutch?"

"Sure! I've even got a catch phrase."

"A catch ... in Dutch? German? ... (sigh) ... OK, what is it?"

"Und specifica, ut kunder meat?"

(blank stares) "Do you think our entire audience is high or something?"

I'm not sure what impresses me more -- the open-mindedness of the other Kids in seeing just how funny this sketch was going to be or the devotion of some fan who took the time to transcribe the whole freaking thing phonetically.

Whatever your expectations are at this point, you won't be disappointed. Here are The Kids in the Hall circa 1993 with "Feelyat!":

Saturday, November 24, 2007

This land must change or land must burn

The Australian election results are fascinating on so many levels -- a vote in favor of the Kyoto Protocol, a rare defeat (unofficial) of a prime minister in his home district and another electoral repudiation of a Bush/Iraq War ally. Yes, they're taking their 550 troops and getting out, if the new guy lives up to his campaign promises.

This being a mostly music/media blog, our primary interest is the current Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Environment, Heritage and the Arts. He has indeed been re-elected.

You guessed it ... he's Peter Garrett, former lead singer of Midnight Oil, currently awaiting likely nomination to the equivalent of a U.S. Cabinet post.

Let's see someone from Rage Against the Machine do that.

Title source: Warakurna)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Song du semaine: Police, "Synchronicity II"

"I would like all of you to come out and support my new band, Scrantonicity II. We are in no way associated with Scrantonicity."

Synchronicity II was much more than a convenient pop-culture reference for Kevin's band on The Office. It was the Police's hardest-rocking song, a distinct departure from their playful punk and righteous reggae. Andy Summers cranked up the squealing guitar, Sting's bass brooded like Roger Waters (the man, not his bass), Stewart Copeland went for full power, and Sting's lyrics unleashed the inner demons of a family bring crushed by an unfulfilling life.

It's brilliant. And everyone loves the video, which seems to be set in a post-apocalyptic trash heap:

Sting's way with words is on full display here. The narrative -- a simultaneous telling of suburban frustration and a monster rising from a dark Scottish lake -- is compelling in its own right. But Sting makes it better with impeccable word choice. Mother chants her litany of boredom and frustration. They're packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes. The factory belches filth into the sky.

Surely there's a grammatical term for using a verb as a metaphor as he does with the factory belching. Sting uses that technique beautifully in The Wild Wild Sea: "The grey sky, she angered to black." This is why I finally realized, somewhere around my senior year of college, that I'd never be anything but a hack songwriter by comparison, thereby sparing the world some awful late-80s whiny alternative bullshit about 20something angst.

(Sting does use two references to suicide. I'm not nit-picking. I'm just looking for an excuse to reference a great Robert Wuhl bit on making Born to Run the state anthem of New Jersey. He notes the double references to suicide and builds up to the great line of any state anthem, "We gotta get out while we're young!")

Brilliant stuff, brilliantly delivered by a sneering Sting while Copeland and Summers thrive outside their punk-reggae comfort zone.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Season's end

Rough count of the past year: 45 stories, 39 of them about MLS. Quite an increase from 25 over the two preceding years (not counting Olympic Athlete of the Week, which was a quick roundup that has since been folded into the blog).

It's not as if I won't know what to do with myself now that it's over. I've got plenty of projects lined up for the next few months. Some of them could be affected by the present uncertainty, some won't.

There's something melancholy about the end of a season, particularly if you're one of the last people to leave the stadium. It wasn't like the end of the Salt Lake Olympics, where the crews taking down the media center were so efficient that I was scared to step away from my "desk" (table) for even a minute, lest it be stripped like a car parked in a bad neighborhood. In this case, we all settled for listening to the revved-up leaf blowers that clean the stadium. RFK's main soccer pressbox, unlike the boxes in newer NFL stadia, is not enclosed.

For almost eight months, I've been in a routine. Call Monday. Interviews Tuesday. Write Tuesday night and Wednesday. Gauge reaction Thursday. Watch Thursday night game. Then on Saturday, with the kids in bed, flip around to see more games and think of a story for next week.

So now it's over. I'm relatively pleased with the tens of thousands of words I wrote. I'm going to miss my Tuesday conversations with Landon Donovan or Fernando Clavijo or whoever was willing to chat for the weekly story, though I have roughly 17-18 hours of archived conversations in case I want to hear that awful voice I have while I'm formulating questions. There's no guarantee it'll happen again next year.

But on the bright side, I'm looking forward to a leisurely lunch tomorrow.

Wonder if there's a European game on ...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Skill or sentimentality?

No time to live-blog VH1 Classic this morning -- deadline looming for Friday's MLS Cup preview, and there's some serious shit going down career-wise (more on that when appropriate) -- but something caught my eyes and ears while working in front of the TV ...

AC/DC's original drummer was a guy named Phil Rudd. He's beloved by the fans and surely by the band.

But he was fired in 1983, a couple of years after vocalist Bon Scott died. The band went through a couple of drummers that only nerds like me would recognize.

One of those guys is Chris Slade, whom I recognized from the short-lived Page-Rodgers supergroup The Firm. He's an old pro -- hard-hitting but technically sound. It's easy to spot him in a crowd -- he's a big, bald guy like Peter Garrett.

AC/DC called him in for The Razor's Edge, which you'd have to say in retrospect was sort of a last hurrah in terms of getting any songs -- in this case, Thunderstruck -- into the public consciousness. Slade's booming drums didn't hurt.

A couple of years later, the band reconciled and reunited with Rudd. In the link to Slade's name above, the Wikipedians attribute this to Angus Young: "Chris was probably the best musician in the band. We hate to lose him, but getting Phil back is worth asking him to leave."

Maybe so, particularly if you've hit the stage at which you don't really need to push any musical barriers. At their age, they've earned the right to tour with their best buddies. The hard-core fans will still show up and pay top dollar, and perhaps they'd rather see the old guys.

It's only natural. At some point, nostalgia takes over. That's why some of us are happy to see the original members of Berlin on Bands Reunited even though the session pros Terri Nunn recruits for her tours are surely more technically proficient than a bunch of guys dragging their keyboards from the attic.

What brought on this rant? I saw AC/DC, with Slade, playing Highway to Hell. And it was roughly 3,232,798 times better than it ever was with Rudd. Slade's subtle but powerful fills give the song an energy you're not going to hear on the studio version. He's not playing with cold precision. He's skillfully revving up the song.

So it's a pity in a way that the band let him go. But AC/DC fans are surely happy to see Rudd. And Slade hasn't been hurting for work.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

To take the impossible quiz

UPDATE: Yeah, P, the link would help, wouldn't it? Thanks!

I got a 30 out of 58 on Rolling Stone's "Almost-Impossible Rock & Roll Quiz." But even that was lucky. This quiz must have been the inspiration for the Queens of the Stone Age ditty No One Knows.

I won't reveal the answers, but I'll tell you how I did, question-by-question:

1. X - should've known
2. X - no idea
3. Semi-educated guess
4. X - no idea
5. Knew it
6. X - should've known
7. Lucky guess (all four parts)
8. Educated guess
9. X - maybe should've known
10. X - 50-50
11. X - no idea
12. X - no idea
13. Knew it
14. X - whatever
15. Knew it
16. Knew it
17. X - really?
18. Knew it
19. Knew it
20. X - only knew one part
21. X - 50-50
22. X - wild guess
23. Semi-educated guess
24. X - no idea
25. 50-50
26. Semi-educated guess
27. X - are you kidding me?
28. Knew it -- it's Yes, after all
29. Knew it. Really
30. Educated guess.
31. Educated guess
32. X - no idea
33. Knew it
34. Knew it. Pretty sure, anyway.
35. Educated guess
36. Process of elimination
37. Knew it
38. Knew it
39. X - been a while
40. X - been a while
41. Knew it
42. Knew it. That's Simpsons trivia, not rock trivia
43. Knew it
44. Knew it
45. Knew it
46. X - no idea
47. X - no idea
48. X - no frigging clue
49. X - no idea
50. X - just couldn't run through the whole bloody thing
51. Knew it
52. X - oh well
53. X - no idea
54. Knew it
55. X - brain fart
56. X - who?
57. X - 50-50 guess
58. Knew it. Duh.

Hey! I'm in a government database!

If they've done their homework on who's likely to be in this group, anyway.

Oh, it's not the U.S. government, by the way. It's China's.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Song du semaine: Missing Persons, "Mental Hopscotch"

Apologies for being rather late with this one. For those of you who don't know high school French, a "semaine" is certainly not 17 days.

One reason for the delay: I've been trying to think of a 2007 analogue to Missing Persons, in which a couple of Frank Zappa sidemen got together with one of their wives, a former Playboy Bunny (though she apparently didn't pose nude for Playboy -- only for Hustler, which is actually much worse), and a couple of future New Age musicians to form a synth-rock band.

So that's like ... hmm ... a couple of guys from Dream Theater and some future hip-hop moguls forming an R&B band with ... I don't know, Amanda Beard? Can she sing?

Dale Bozzio could -- her voice was unique but effective, and Zappa enlisted her talents as well as her bandmates. Her husband at the time, Terry Bozzio, is an enigma among drummers. With Missing Persons, he's an awkward mess of hair, grimaces and spindly arms, even as he shows off far more talent than you'll see behind a typical New Wave drum set. These days, long divorced from Dale, he's some sort of YouTube curiosity, with more than 240,000 page views for what appears to be an ancient drum solo (with primordial synth sounds) and nearly 120,000 page views for a narrated time-lapse animation of a bunch of people setting up his drums.

Dale and Terry don't seem to have one of those friendly post-divorce relationships, so any "Missing Persons Featuring Dale Bozzio" concerts are likely to feature another flashy drummer like Mike Mangini, who has a bit of a YouTube following himself for showing his freakishly fast hands and feet along with a maniacal sense of humor.

Most Missing Persons songs I've heard aren't showcases for Bozzio and fellow Zappa alum Warren Cuccurullo, later heard in Duran Duran. Their hits are amiable songs like Destination Unknown and the philosophical Words. Later in their career, they funked it up for Give, in which Terry plays an electric kit far more minimalist than the one drawing the YouTube eyeballs.

That's a not a bad collection of songs, but as AllMusic tells us, the band burned out pretty quickly without building on its successes.

Their first notable song is their best, full of intertwining guitar and synth riffs along with some Terry Bozzio fills that still make me rewind and wonder what the heck he's doing on the cymbals. You may have heard some of these riffs sampled elsewhere -- I'd surely plunder it if I were a hip-hop producer.

Dale seems right at home with her vocal style, which probably wouldn't impress Simon Cowell and company but effectively delivers the message here -- basically, she's sick of the bullshit and getting out.

Enjoy the video, but beware of preening Bozzios ...

Blogroll adds

I haven't formally welcomed the newcomers, so here goes ...

Py Korry is a regular at Jason's blog and an entertaining music-and-whatever-else blogger in his own right, spanning several styles in his clever "Mix Six" features.

Wings for Wheels is Dave Lifton's attempt (successful, I'd say) to prove that at least a few people in the Screaming Eagles, the boisterous D.C. United supporters group, have actual lives outside soccer. He does a good podcast, too, interviewing musicians and playing some selections from their catalogs.

At some point, I should add some TV and journalism blogs. In the meantime, get acquainted with these guys.

And yes, the blogroll reflects the hiatus for Down With Snark and Jefito, who is rumored to be making some sort of return like that female X-Men character. What was her name?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

It's just overkill

Catching up on Saturday Night Live after a particularly disappointing Family Guy (memo to Seth: Shout-outs to movie scenes are not inherently funny. You still need a joke) ...

The musical guest is Feist, whose 15 minutes have apparently coincided with this appearance. She, like so many musical acts these days, has about 20 people onstage in her band.

Two rows of backup singers/clappers? Did I wander back to I Want to Know What Love Is?

And not one banjo player. Not two banjo players. Three freaking banjo players.

An unscientific survey

Far be it for me to question the methodology of polls, particularly as a proud employee of a company that relies so heavily on them.

But the current polls have me confused and wondering if I'm completely out of touch with real Americans.

And so I'd like to take an unscientific survey of my own, just for my edification.

First and only question: Do you know anyone who actually plans to vote for Hillary Clinton?

Disclaimer: I'm not intending to reveal anything about my own political views. I'm just wondering if and how the people I know and read about, with the exception of a few Hollywood types with big checkbooks for political donations, intersect so little with the apparent political majority at this point in time.

Friday, November 02, 2007

An Office smackdown

Two traits of public discourse I'd like to stamp out in my lifetime:

1. Trying to get ahead of the cynicism curve. If possible, these guys would go back to Season 5 of Saturday Night Live and declare that it's jumped the shark. They'd confuse a lot of people, since "jump the shark" had not yet entered everyday conversation in 1980, but that would only add to their feeling of superiority.

2. Dittoheads on blogs who just reinforce the blogger's arrogant worldview.

That's why I find the commenters' mass revolt against the TVSquad guy who keeps dissing The Office so rewarding. It's not just hostility -- it's a point-by-point dismantling of every point the guy even thought about making.

Between that and the first 15 minutes of Friday Night Lights, I feel better about the world at the moment.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The end of the next "Friday Night Lights' football game

This might be the only way the Dillon Panthers have NOT won a game on the last play.

It's a Texas school, at least.

See the video.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Song du semaine: R.E.M., "Maps and Legends"

Fables of the Reconstruction, R.E.M.'s third full-length album after the jangle-pop masterpieces Murmur and Reckoning, has inspired as much argument as any piece of music since Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Where Stravinsky started riots with his full-bore assault on the conventions of tonality and rhythm, R.E.M. wrote an enigmatic collection of Southern stories that expanded their sonic palette in several directions.

It's a little shocking at first, with Peter Buck's friendly guitar unleashing a peal of distortion and dissonance in Feeling Gravity's Pull. Somehow, the album also includes the bouncy rocker Can't Get There From Here along with a host of folky tunes, some even going so far to include a banjo.

And yet it's coherent. Most of the album has something to do with being lost and seeking direction, and it's steeped in Southern folklore. (On the cover art, as any R.E.M. fan will tell you, it's clear that the title can be reversed into Reconstruction of the Fables.) Southerners are friendly folks who are more than happy to point you in the right direction -- if there is one.

In hindsight, it's a brilliant album. The songs have lyrical gems and subtle hooks propelled along by Mike Mills' unique approach to bass, which serves as a sort-of lead instrument just as it did on the last two albums.

The singles from this one were Can't Get There From Here and Driver 8. The latter is more representative of the album as a whole.

But this one's even better. Mills and Buck conjure a sound like a fog-shrouded road. Michael Stipe's lyrics and delivery hit the theme of being lost, but they go a step further, as if to ask, "Are you sure how to read the map? Are you sure what you're looking for?"

None of Stipe's early lyrics were direct. You're not really supposed to know if he's talking about anything specific. Apply it any time you think someone isn't quite grasping history or geography. Or maybe the record isn't quite accurate.

The video is a live performance from Germany in 1985. Not much difference between this and the studio version.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

And still more stuff I've written recently ...

My guest essay at Next Newsroom was just published. I skip down Memory Lane and testify to the merits of working from the comfort of home, accompanied by my dog.

And then there's today's story, which I wrote while doing this blog and then watching the kids.

And on a men's room at the mall, I wrote a witty rejoinder ... oh, wait, I shouldn't publicize that.

Monday, October 22, 2007

In case you don't think I'm writing enough

I got involved in a verbose journalism mailing-list discussion that spilled over onto a blog.

If I ever start podcasting, it won't be because I like the sound of my voice. It'll be because I'm sick of typing.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Why journalists are intellectually superior to doctors

For most of the past 12 years, I've been on a mailing list called Online-News. It started as a nifty clearinghouse for practical and philosophical ideas for new media. Today, it's often a semi-public square in which we don hairshirts and wail about our inability to grasp the possibilities of tools that have been around since 1995. Or 1999. Or 2002. Or ... wait ... here's a dispatch from Silicon Valley ...

I kid because I care, I care because I think I'm happy that we have such high standards for what we should be able to do. That's great. We should be pushing the envelope. (And, given financial realities, we need to do so.)

Now consider the medical profession. Specifically, the common cold. Even those with scientifically and theologically dubious beliefs on the origins of life would concede that the common cold has been around for a few thousand years.

The cold, surely, has been cured. Right?

Not only has the cold not been cured, but this week, medical science actually took a step backward. Those over-the-counter medicines we've used to make our kids feel better? They don't.

The kids may beg to differ, but what do they know? They're kids.

So if your kids have colds? Ah, just run your hot water for 15 minutes at a time to get a bathroom all steamy, then sit in there with 'em. That'll provide slight relief.

I believe the journalism equivalent would be blogging with a typewriter and mail delivered by horse-drawn buggy.

We're in the 21st century now, doc. Care to join us?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Live-blogging VH1 Classic

Been a while, hasn't it? I'm doing some work with the dial at Channel 237, so let's have some fun.

Blue Oyster Cult, Burnin' for You: Likeable if unexceptional riff-rocker. Video is four, five, 10 guys with guitars, plus a drummer in zebra pants. And some fire, in case you forgot the name of the song.

Neil Young, Heart of Gold: I like the song, which is the only thing keeping from me a rant about Neil's status as one of the most overrated performers/songwriters in rock history. Southern Man actually makes me sympathize with Skynyrd. Cinnamon Girl makes no sense. Like Bowie, he's gone through different phases; unlike Bowie, he seems ill at ease in all of them. But this one, at least, is worthwhile. Good classic folk song. Video is a bunch of hippies strumming guitars.

Meat Loaf, Two out of Three Ain't Bad: Video is from VH1's Storytellers, which is wrong on so many levels. I'd listen to Mr. Loaf talk about Bat Out of Hell, sure. Maybe have a good fistfight with Jim Steinman just for old times' sake. But this is a crap performance of a crap song. He's sitting, he's struggling with the melody, and he's doing hand gestures I'd associate with Sarah McLachlan emphasizing a particularly tear-jerking lyric in Hold On. As Crash Davis would say, "C'mon Meat. Bring that weak-ass shit."

Def Leppard, Love Bites: I have to apologize for VH1 Classic here. You don't usually get a quartet this weak. I don't mind Leppard ballads in general -- Bringin' On the Heartbreak is an overlooked classic, even if the remake could make you long for the days when synthesizers existed only in labs. This one prototypical Leppard -- awkward lyrics balanced by strong vocal harmonies and solid subtle riffs.

But please don't ever play this on Storytellers or Unplugged or anything that would deny Phil Collen use of the whammy bar.

Bruce Springsteen, Dancing in the Dark: The closest I can come to relating this song to anything in my life is the vague thought that Family Ties officially jumped the shark when Courteney Cox replaced Tracy Pollan as Alex's girlfriend. But at least Cox wound up with a great show later.

Bruce Springsteen, Radio Nowhere: Hey, they snuck a "Classic/Current" into the mix! It's a better-than-average song transformed into something truly good by the E Streeters' sense of urgency. Great playing from Weinberg and Clemons here. Biggest flaw is that Bruce, even moreso than usual, is singing as if his teeth are glued together. The video is nothing more than the band playing in a sparsely lit room, which is plenty. Great to see these guys play.

John Cougar Mellencamp, R.O.C.K. in the USA: I always have to laugh at this song. Not because of the Renaissance Man scene, but because I wrote a truly juvenile parody back in the day. All you have to do is switch two letters and fill in the verses. The last one is a lot of fun. The video is a little overbearing, opening and closing with Mellencamp in some sort of mock interview about how great all this music was.

The Police, Synchronicity II: I'm tempted to do a Beavis and Butthead-style "Yes!" here. I'm not sure Sting ever wrote a better song, and the performance is perfect in its blustery chaos. Sing along now: "The factory belch-es filth inTOOOOO the sky!" The video works, too - Sting, Andy and Stewart dressed up like kings of a post-apocalyptic landfill, all looking angry, until the camera zooms over a dark Scottish lake. Many miles away -- or is it?

The Cars, My Best Friend's Girl: Live version. Not bad, since these guys could all play, but whenever I hear this, I wish it was Just What I Needed, which has a few more novelties and a terrific Elliott Easton solo. Hmmm ... quick download here ... there. What's next?

Night Ranger, Don't Tell Me You Love Me: Opening with the band's logo floating over train tracks as if introducing the band -- necessary in these pre-Sister Christian days -- the video settles into a rather silly performance clip with wind machines, leaves and smoke. (Except during the guitar solos, when they're all sitting on a train in black and white like some Agatha Christie murder mystery.) The song, though, isn't half-bad. Bassist Jack Blades, thankfully, gets the call on lead vocals instead of drummer Kelly Keagy. The band thunders as if they have something deep to say. They don't, but if you pretend they do, it's a solid rocker.

Rod Stewart, Hot Legs: Also set on train tracks for some reason, as if Stewart's positing himself as an old bluesman. Dude, you're not singing She Caught the Katy. The band looks incredibly bored, though bassist Phil Chen tries to get into it by chewing on a piece of hay during his mini-solo. Perhaps they knew they were a year or so away from filming Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?

Ozzy Osbourne, Shot in the Dark: How many sort-of metal songs open with "Out on the street." This is your typical girl-goes-to-concert, girl-gets-headache, Ozzy-makes-dramatic-entrance (begging the question: "Where was he during the first verse?"), Ozzy's-glare-exacerbates-headache, girl-turns-into-metal-she-demon. Let this be a warning to everyone: Taking Ozzy Osbourne seriously will give you a headache and affect your vision. In rare cases, you may turn two-dimensional. Moreso than you already were.

They're playing Space Oddity now, but I think that's enough. We'll try this again sometime, hopefully with a better selection of videos.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Song du semaine: Cardigans, "... Fine Wine ..."

This may or may not be a recurring item. One song a week? I think I can manage that.

In any case, if you hurry, you might be the 300,000th person to watch I Need Some Fine Wine and You, You Need to Be Nicer at YouTube. I'm apparently not the only person on a Cardigans kick.

It's Nina and the gang at their most playful, injecting some dry, dark humor into a twisted look at relationships. You have to love the way they refuse to be tied down to any particular style.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Having faith in The Office and FNL

My favorite comedy (The Office) and the only drama I watch (Friday Night Lights) have been accused of getting ridiculous this season.

The Office has seen Michael drive into a lake and hold a pizza delivery guy against his will.
FNL has a moderately reasonable ongoing story with Tami raising a baby solo while Eric is assistant waterboy, er, coach for a college team, followed by an utterly preposterous storyline in which Landry conks Tyra's stalker in the head (OK), killing him (pushing it) with his back turned (really pushing it) and dumping the body (that's enough).

The question you have to ask: Do you trust the show to resolve the story to your satisfaction?

With The Office, it's an unqualified yes. Michael's outlandishness drives the show to unpredictable fun. The Pam/Jim saga also has been unpredictable without testing our patience over three years.

Friday Night Lights earned that faith last season. When Riggins and Lyla became more than drunkard and best friend's girl, we all cringed a little. But the show handled it well, the first evidence that it could push us out of our comfort zone a little but still retain some grounding in reality. Nothing felt forced. Nothing seemed cliche, aside from the Dillon Panthers' eight or nine ridiculous comebacks.

This season, we can't be so sure. How many "notes" have NBC execs dropped on the crew? How much pressure do the creators feel to push the dramatic envelope? ("Up next on a very special ER, a nuclear bomb destroys Chicago, leaving Abby and Morris to repopulate the city ...")

My pet conspiracy theory: The FNL powers that be aren't really developing stories in these first few episodes. They're taking revenge on the Emmy voters who inexplicably snubbed the show. If you don't think Connie Britton, Jesse Plemons and Adrienne Palicki deserved nominations, the theory goes, see how they singlehandedly salvage these ridiculous situations.

Makes about as much sense as anything else.

Last week's FNL, for what it's worth, had some promising scenes.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

R.E.M.'s best, with digressions to Bob Mould, Richard Thompson and Van Halen

Two guys I know from soccer circles who happen to be well-grounded in music are debating this point: Is R.E.M.'s Automatic from the People masterful or mediocre?

I see Brian's point -- Everybody Hurts was a little trite and overplayed. I frankly thought the video was an overwrought piece of crap. That and the odd lead-off single Drive are enough to leave a bad impression.

But I'm leaning toward Dave's take. I'm swayed a little by an old review I read, probably in the late, great magazine Musician, positing Automatic as a glimpse into autumn and middle age. R.E.M. ponders death (Try Not to Breathe, Sweetness Follows) while cherishing the innocent fun that we don't have to let go (Nightswimming, the album's emotional centerpiece). Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but I see the finale Find the River as the resolution of a quest for something permanent. Certainly wouldn't be the first time a rock song used a river as a metaphor for timelessness. See All This Time, Sting.

Automatic is simply greater than the sum of its parts. It's not flawless, mind you, and I'm not a big fan of the singles. If I didn't think Andy Kaufman was the most overrated comedian of our lifetime, perhaps I'd like Man on the Moon a bit more. I like Ignoreland, but it's an odd fit here.

Dig beyond the singles, and you get an album that combines sweetness and melancholy like few others. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.

(Coincidence alert: John Paul Jones did some string arrangements on this album. As I type, VH1 Classic is playing a Led Zep live video of Rock and Roll in which Jonesy's total screen time is maybe five seconds. Poor guy gets no respect.)

Here's the biggest selling point for Automatic: R.E.M., from what I've heard, hasn't come close to this since. Automatic was the last in a classic series of albums, with Green the only release that isn't intriguing throughout. With Monster, Michael Stipe dropped his affable Southern art-rock personality and got a little weird. What's the Frequency, Kenneth was supposedly some sort of blistering critique of the media but made no sense whatsoever -- fine for some of their deliberately abstract works in the '80s but not good when they're actually trying to say something. I liked Let Me In, a beautifully chaotic belated plea to Kurt Cobain to turn back from the brink.

Since then, I've enjoyed the occasional quirky song like Low Desert. But as much as I love early R.E.M. and share that regional pride of sharing their hometown, they've dropped off my radar. Here's hoping they can make a comeback with the next one.

From Dave's blog, we have some fun digressions. First, check out his interview with Bob Mould. Yes, that Bob Mould. Dave adds some terrific music to his podcast, mostly Mould but with one selection from Richard Thompson, coincidentally from the album he released when I interviewed him back in college.

(Another odd coincidence: My co-worker Whitney is a big Bob Mould fan. Guess who's on VH1 Classic now? No, not Bob Mould. Whitney, talking about Wang Chung for one of those 80s compilations. This is getting weird.)

From Mould's blog, you get a link to some YouTube footage of Van Halen in Greensboro. At least, I think it's Van Halen. It might be Spinal Tap at the Air Force base in Seattle.

Be sure to read the comments at YouTube, always good for a few hysterical Web-argument howlers. Apparently, one guy thinks the keyboard can't be in C# because Eddie is Van Halen's keyboard player. If you can decipher that, let me know.

You have to love those wildly arrogant Web posters who are so astoundingly wrong. I'm tempted to find a Rush board and insist that Geddy Lee isn't the keyboardist, he's the drummer.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Video to make you smile

"Later, we changed our name to A Cappella, as we were walking out of the pawn shop." -- Mitch Hedberg

This is a video from the Duke of the North (thank you, Homer Simpson, for making the reference in the season premiere. It's the Harvard Veritones mixing Rachael Yamagata and the Four Seasons, reminiscing about a year two decades or so before any of these people were born.

I'm not too convinced by the guy who joins in near the end, but the woman sounds great. If she sang that at an American Idol audition and wasn't sent to Hollywood, I would personally drive to the audition site to lay some remedial music education on Simon's head.

Enjoy ...

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The radio verdict

Following up "Launch vs. Last" ...

I gave a good solid try. I gave Pandora a whirl.

Tonight, while fighting a case of writer's block (story will ... run ... Thursday), I figured out how to make my Launch player run in Firefox.

So I'm listening to Sarah Blackwood's soothing voice on the great, non-downloadable Dubstar song Just a Girl She Said. is uninstalled. Pandora ... well, I haven't done much with it, though I'll give it the occasional listen just to see what artists it thinks most closely resemble Tori Amos and Rush. (Van Halen? Yeah, guess again.)

Apologies to the Web hipsters, but I'm sticking with Launch/Yahoo. It's better than Last. It's better than Pandora. Deal with it.

SNL: Week 2

The LeBron episode was fine, and LeBron was fine. The bloggers who think he was "staring holes at the TelePrompTer" were surely thinking of the PSA, which wouldn't be realistic if he were doing anything else.

This one was a little weak.

The high points: I liked Andy Samberg as K-Fed, celebrating the ruling that he's slightly more responsible than Britney. The TVSquadders love the Kristen Wiig/Jason Sudeikis chemistry, and they got a good spotlight with a fake ad for high-def, picture-in-picture ultrasound.

But too many sketches were the typical SNL downer (which, to be fair, they've had on occasion since 1975). Good premise, no follow-through. The Douchebag Championship went nowhere despite Amy Poehler's ever-enchanting Sharon Osborne. As much as I love Wiig, she gets stuck with a lot of one-note characters such as the obnoxious sister to Seth Rogen's equally obnoxious nerdy teen. The crowd was thrilled to see Chevy Chase, but he was all too willing to hog the spotlight.

Most puzzling: Fred Armisen just seemed off. His Gene Simmons impression didn't remind me at all of Gene Simmons. His Sam Waterston impression wasn't even close. I've seen Armisen live, and I know he's funny. They're just pushing him into roles that aren't in his wheelhouse.

The Seth Meyers era is wildly inconsistent, and that's not such a bad thing. He takes more risks than most head writers of the past, and it sometimes works. That's why it's still worth watching, even through relative clunkers like this one.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Cover versions that shouldn't work

Take overstated ladies man Tom Jones. Add the understated cool of the Cardigans. Hand them the drum-driven Talking Heads classic Burning Down the House.

"Gee, Beau," you say. "I bet that sucks."

You bet wrong. Enjoy.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The mastery of Jon Stewart

While the news media (excluding my employer, which offers a wonderfully nuanced exploration of public life and terrific benefits) seem content to drag us along toward partisan oblivion, Jon Stewart is proudly doing what journalists should be doing to those who would turn politics into bloodsport. He's calling bullshit.

We all remember when he did it to Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala on Crossfire, though that incident was often misinterpreted as a partisan act in itself. It wasn't. Stewart's point was that staking out two "sides" and yelling at each other is simply destructive.

Last week, Stewart did it again, this time to Chris Matthews. The Hardball host came onto Stewart's show hawking his book, Life's a Campaign.

Matthews does some worthwhile work with Catholic Charities, but as you can guess from his show and the title of that book, he's one of those Beltway-insider journalists who sees beauty in the "game" of politics.

Stewart's basic point: That's a sad way to live. It's bad enough that our political system operates that way. Must we operate that way in real life is well? "I'm not trashing your book -- I'm trashing your philosophy of life."

From a quick blog sample, it looks like some people got it and some didn't.

- At MSNBC (scroll to 8:48), one guy is furious with Stewart for "turning on an ally." What's the emoticon for shaking my head and sighing?

- At the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, we see one commenter who thinks the whole thing just proves how rude "liberals" are. This is beautifully refuted by the next guy, who doesn't even go for the obvious point that Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Hannity and company aren't exactly models of polite discourse.

- My favorite comment refers to Stewart's point that Matthews' book has already been written ... by Machiavelli: "Umm, Chris? The Prince is a cautionary tale, not a how-to manual."

Stewart is neatly subverting the left-right conflict that feeds the 24-hour "news" monster. It's a message that ought to be bigger.

My suggestion: In every Web conversation that ends up as a predictable partisan shoutfest, toss in a link to this video. Ask the brainwashed drones in the discussion if they'd rather be Stewart or Matthews.

Couldn't hurt, right?

A pedantic explanation of why 'The Office' was good this week

Yeah, yeah, I hear you, Internet. Starting an Office backlash now that the show has been big for a couple of years and Steve Carell is busting out all over. Anything big must suck, right?

Let's consider the last episode so I can explain why the people who confuse cynicism with intelligence are, as usual, wrong.

1. Pam and Jim. Sure, we all know Moonlighting lost its spark when Cybill and Bruce finally got down to it. But this is a totally different show. The comic opportunities won't suddenly dry up because Pam and Jim are (gasp) happy!

One of the funniest moments of the last episode: Ryan asks out Pam. He's obnoxious and full of it. Pam says she's dating Jim. Ryan looks stunned. Camera pans to Jim, who waves. (Obviously, words don't do it justice.)

Another: Phyllis comes in and "reminds" Pam that she needs to split the sales calls evenly rather than give them all to Jim because they're doing it.

This show has a group dynamic. There's no reason Jim and Pam can't face the rest of the group as a couple.

Besides, in this era of realism, would it really make sense to break up Jim and Pam after all that? Wouldn't the typical misunderstanding be a sitcom cliche unworthy of this show?

No and yes. Moving on.

2. Michael driving into a lake. Did he do it to prove a point? Was he distracted by the conversation with Dwight? Perhaps the scene could've been directed a little better to push our interpretation one way or another, but remember, Michael usually does crazy stuff like this.

Besides, as the commenters have pointed out at TVSquad, it's been known to happen.

3. Toby turning mean. Here, I'll agree with TVSquad. It's a little out of character for Toby to be something other than the oppressed conscience of the office, trying in vain to get Michael to adhere to policy or plug his ears while Ryan and Kelly bicker.

I thought everything else was great. Angela is a modern-day Hot Lips Houlihan. Ryan is a dead-on satire of the young kid with good ideas and no sense of how to relate to others. Creed is Creed.

No, this episode wasn't as good as last season's finale. But that's not fair. The season finale may have been the best hour of TV I've ever seen. They can't match that every week. In the meantime, can we hold off on the "tear down" part of the "build up, tear down" cycle for a little while and enjoy the best comedy since Seinfeld?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Scott Adams appropriately tweaked

Scott Adams was a sensation with good reason when Dilbert hit the mainstream. He nailed office life, particularly management trends and their effects in the hands of the incompetent. The Dilbert Principle was a brilliant book based on a simple variation of the old Peter Principle -- the incompetents among us are promoted to management because that's where they can do the least harm.

As a futurist, Adams is betrayed by his overzealous belief that the geeks shall inherit the Earth. At the end of The Dilbert Future, he did a truck-driver modulation ("abrupt shift," for people other than Jason) into a thought experiment that was one of the strangest visions of the future imaginable.

I don't read his blog because I got just a little sick of the geek superiority complex. Adams wound up in some insane intelligent design-related flame war with biologist PZ Myers that will be studied in university classrooms 50 years from now in Cultural Anthropology 301: How Early Internet Users Wasted A Lot of Fucking Time Shouting About Nonsense. (I went looking for background on this and found ... myself. And the typo "forecase" leaped out at me. That'll keep me humble.)

He drops some welcome self-effacing wit in his proclamation on the future of newspapers, noting that he doesn't have the best track record in this sort of prediction. But then he goes on to repeat the mistake, pointing to a couple of technologies that will supposedly mean the end of dead-tree media.

All of this is exposition for this terrific response:

So true, so true.

The newspaper is destined to disappear just like movies and movie theaters disappeared when television became widespread in the 1950s.

As I recall, that was just about when the airplane eliminated the train as a form of transport and some 75 years after the telephone, widely installed in businesses, eliminated the interoffice memo.

As I sit in my paperless office, I still remember the days when every computer had a printer attached to it. Funny how different things were back then.

Good stuff.

For the record -- I think the dead-tree version of newspapers will continue to decline but won't quite go away in our lifetimes. We may see the end of broadsheets -- tabloid or the three-quarter "Berliner" size makes more sense now. And we may see the end of home delivery. But you'll still see them at subway stops, bookstores, restaurants, etc.

The Web version, of course, will be the primary medium. Very soon.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Quick review: Friday Night Lights

So earlier in the week, I said I was anticipating the first episode of the Friday Night Lights season as if it were a reunion.

Thankfully, the folks at my actual reunion are faring a lot better than the folks in Dillon, Texas.

The show wasn't bad. It never is. But it was definitely a downer, and you could detect the not-so-subtle hand of TV execs' "notes."

Note to TV execs. Your "notes" never work.

Case in point: Boomtown. This promising show started out with an interesting gimmick -- unraveling the story from several points of view, not quite chronologically. The first episode was pure poetry. Another early episode was equally brilliant.

But it didn't catch on in the ratings. The answer to the problem, the execs said: Let's strip of everything that's unique. Make it just another cop show.

They did. And fewer people watched it, because those of us who like quality TV (I'm thinking it's roughly 1.2 million people nationwide) ditched it, leaving only those who (A) were desperate to see all things Wahlberg or (B) were desperate for network programming and didn't like the offerings on ABC, CBS or that other network.

I'm afraid I see that fate for Friday Night Lights. They didn't attract the OC crowd last year, and they won't this year. They'll tamper a bit too much, and they'll lose some of the viewers.

Fortunately, we have one brilliant season to cherish.

And again, I'll watch as long as it's on. I hope I'm wrong.