Thursday, May 31, 2007

A simple request to the medical/pharmaceutical industry

Sure, I look forward to overcoming erectile dysfunction in my 60s, but I'd also like to be able to breathe normally through my 30s.

So could some of the Viagra research be redirected toward letting us know what we should and should not be doing to clear our sinuses?


Monday, May 28, 2007

But I repeat myself

MMM, November 2006 on Janet Jackson: Every comedian for the next two years did some variation of the "Miss Jackson if you're nasty" bit.

Sports Scope, May 2007 on UFC: Will Liddell finish avenging all his career losses or will Rampage (Mr. Jackson if you're nasty) repeat?

When you do as much blogging as I do, I suppose such self-plagiarism is inevitable.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Albums that share this blog's initials

Unfortunately, that would be Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, which doesn't quite fall into the "so bad it's good" category but rather the "so bad that decades of amusing conversation have not quite discerned what Reed was trying to do, but the theories are great." I first heard of this album in the great book The Worst Rock and Roll Records of All Time, a must-have. This is #2. That's an accomplishment.

They cheat a little with #1 -- it's an album of Elvis Presley's between-song mutterings. I'd argue that's a spoken-word album, which means Reed's effort is #1. But maybe they're cheating with this one, too. It's basically guitar feedback minus the guitar playing. Like Elvis' "work," this is a byproduct of rock and roll packaged on its own, like having a big tub of MSG instead of the Chinese food it's supposed to accompany.

This came up because the great music bloggers Jefito and Jason are doing one of their strange male-bonding things in which they send each other crappy stuff to read, hear and generally endure. I think Jason may have to concede now that Jefito has sent him MMM. (The album, not the blog. I hope no one finds my blog difficult to endure. Hee hee ... pun on my last name. Anyway.)

But Jason makes the most of it. He took a bunch of pictures of himself listening to MMM, put it over the first 1:45 of the 64-minute epic and put the whole thing on YouTube. You can see Jason's agony while experiencing only a small taste it. You could even experience none of it if you just mute your computer.

Enjoy (though it's NSFW):

I'd say Jason's as good an actor as he is a blogger, but he's clearly not acting here.

So now I'll offer a couple of attempted explanations what you just heard (or turned off).

The basic theories are: career suicide, a flip-off to Reed's record label, a flip-off to music critics, a slow-motion drug overdose, an experiment in avant-garde classical music.

The latter isn't that far-fetched. In case you wonder why classical music essentially died out as a creative force a couple of decades into the 20th century, it's because the genre fell into the hands of people who were so busy trying to make grand artistic statements that they didn't give a crap whether you listened to it.

This happened gradually. Everyone freaked out when Stravinsky unveiled Rite of Spring, but that piece stands up today as a viable piece of music. Then you have Carmina Burana, a very cool song cycle that pops up in ads and movies all the time (the blood-drinking scene in The Doors stands out). Then you have the WWII-era output of Aaron Copland. Anything after that, well, you're not going to hear it on NPR anytime soon. You may have heard of Philip Glass, but can you hum anything by him?

I've met Philip Glass, oddly enough, through the professor who taught my composing class. And as proof that someone out there is still listening to classical music, that professor has his own Wikipedia entry, one that mentions the fine young composer Anthony Kelley.

So it's not that the genre is dead -- it's just that the most famous guys created unlistenable music. In small doses, it's amusing. You should've seen the sweet, innocent flute players in my music classes when the professor dropped some Stockhausen in the house. But I can assure my CD collection is Stockhausen-free.

And indeed, Stockhausen as an influence of this ... um ... work in the excellent Wikipedia entry, which refutes the Worst R&R Records notion that veteran mastering specialist Bob Ludwig deserves some special prize for withstanding this album. Ludwig apparently thought it compared favorably with the avant-garde classical people. That praise is fainter than that of a Class D star 50 billion light-years away.

Lester Bangs is credited with a great review seeking the bright side of MMM. But the Rolling Stone review is better because it calls bullshit: "Avant-garde artists (Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Andy Warhol) have been experimenting with ennui as a concept for so long that it's no longer daring to tax the audience's patience by being deliberately, intensely boring."

In terms of avant-garde rebuttals, that's right up there with Hobbes refusing to buy Calvin's "found art," despite its grand statements of the pointlessness of art itself, because it doesn't match his furniture.

Wikipedia also has this: "The German new music ensemble Zeitkratzer have played Metal Machine Music in concert, with Lou Reed as soloist, using tradition classical concert instruments from a score transcribed from the original recording."

Jason endured a listen, though he shared the experience with his cat. Bob Ludwig got throught it. Rock critics pride themselves on getting through it once. But the members of Zeitkratzer actually sat down and transcribed ... something ... out of this album.

To the members of Zeitkratzer -- you are braver than all of us. Or perhaps you have powerful narcotics that should be studied as a possible cure for all human ailments. In any case, congratulations.

Friday, May 18, 2007

My gender hypocrisy

A quick journey to the depths of my mind, in case the Paula Cole post made you think I'm incapable of introspection ...

I was listening to Carbon Leaf and thinking how much I liked Barry Privett's understated tone. He has emotion in his voice, but he doesn't sound full of himself. Too many male vocalists these days strain on each line like they're saying, "No, really! I AM the next Eddie Vedder! This is meaningful shit!"

On the same playlist, a female singer -- KT Tunstall, with Black Horse and the Cherry Tree. The song itself is nothing spectacular. It's a lot of Em/B7 riffing with lyrics that don't make a whole lot of sense. What does she have against black horses? (As someone who grew up in an area with a backwards attitude toward interracial dating, I'd rather hear "gray horse.") And why a cherry tree? Did it just fit the meter better than "maple"? I listen to plenty of abstract Throwing Muses songs that I couldn't decipher with a battery of English grad students and hallucinogenics at my disposal, but I'm usually able to latch onto something.

Special notice: The "woo-hoo" backing vocal sounds almost contrived to grab the lesbian coffeehouse crowd. Which, apparently, has worked. Not that there's anything wrong with that. The sexual preference, that is. My buddy J.P. and I once found ourselves in a Chapel Hill coffeehouse listening to a 23rd-year postdoc with a buzzcut huskily singing about spider women, so we're a little scarred.

So why is this song on my iPod, occasionally cranked up on the way to work? Because Tunstall sings the hell out of it. How a wiry Scottish woman is able out-Etheridge Melissa Etheridge's early albums is beyond me. Her voice says far more than the lyrics. She's vulnerable and remorseful, but she's still strutting with self-assurance, just like Tracy Bonham on Up to the Roof, any number of Poe songs, even Jonatha Brooke at times.

In other words -- all the things I love about female vocalists are things I apparently dislike about male vocalists.

So am I a hypocrite?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Pretentiousness Hall of Fame

From a discussion at Jason's blog, we stumble upon Paula Cole's home page, in which she don't want to wait to tell you what she's been doing the past few years.

A few excerpts:

In all of the honest expression, struggle and painful hard work of "Harbinger", "This Fire" and "Amen", I stood outside myself and saw myself running furiously on some giant hampster wheel.

Is a "hampster" a cross between a hamster and a Dumpster? Or maybe a hamster and the Hamptons? (Which, I should point out, I always thought was a mountain range.)

I precipitously chose a charming man with whom I conceived my daughter, Sky.

"Precipitously"? As in "abrupt"? "Steep"?

But really, I knew that a lot of the old infrastructure had to die in order for there to be rebirth in my life. I left at the Vernal Equinox of 2003, while I was studying Kundalini Yoga with a community of Seiks in Los Angeles. I let these worldly trappings fall away. They felt inauthentic.

Technically, the Vernal Equinox is about as "worldly" as you can get. It's not some spiritual moment. It's entirely dependent on the spatial relationship of land masses to the sun.

I read Jungian psychology. I mothered my fantastic kid. Somewhere in there I moved back East, to my authentic culture, I separated from my charming man, and miraculously, I desired to sing again.

The "charming man" is African musician Hassan Hakmoun, whose bio basically 'fesses up to marrying someone to move to America. Given that, perhaps he won't feel quite so badly that he fares about as well in Paula Cole's bio as the woman (we think) in R.E.M.'s The One I Love.

Hey, who are we to judge relationships? Splitting with someone after having a child together would be a far more devastating experience to me than living an "inauthentic" lifestyle, even if I weren't still madly in love with Mrs. MMM after 10 years together. But maybe some people feel differently.

An old acquaintance, Bobby Colomby, saved me. He heard about me languishing so existentially in the crevices, and he appeared in my life and somehow got me a new record deal and started putting the fun back into music.

Can you "languish existentially"? Actually, I like that. At least, I'd like it out of context. In context, it just reinforces the narcissism that drips from her words like ink dripping from a squid's belly. (Does it drip from the belly? I don't know, and I don't care -- this is art, damn it! I use big words and read Jung, so up yours!)

I think the basic problem here is something that afflicts all of us. We're overwhelmed by choice. When I go to the grocery store, I have 30 kinds of overpriced granola from which to choose. In life, as long as we're financially secure (OK, that doesn't "afflict" that many of us), we can go in any direction we want. We can go for big bucks in business, we can pursue our artistic dreams, or we can meditate. (Steven Wright: "I really wasn't that into meditation, and she wasn't really that into being alive.")

Cavemen and cavewomen (not the Geico kind) didn't have this problem.

"Og, we hunt tomorrow. Village need food."

"Actually, Ek, I need go walk East, toward sunrise. Village no longer authentic to Og. Og stand outside self and see Og run in place, like buffalo in U2 video."

"Og, wtf? You want starve, you go by self. Village hunt. Village eat."

And so Ek walked through the forest seeking a way out of his existential despair, only to be eaten by a bear.

Which brings us to Bjork ...

(I love that video. Had to end this semi-coherent rant on an upbeat note.)

Fun at the zoo

Great leaping meerkat!

Great ... standing meerkat!

Gibbons -- like roosters but much louder and more mobile.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Song review -- Jonatha Brooke, "Linger"

I saw Jonatha Brooke play live last week for the first time. If you're over 30 or just mature for your age (and don't mind a 15-year age difference), you're likely to be a little smitten when you see her.

It'd be easy to lump her in with other female singer-songwriters who are ridiculously pretty yet seem to draw from an endless well of broken relationships (Sarah McLachlan, perhaps). But Brooke brings something different. She lets loose with a sad lyric, then slips into a sly smile as she strums her acoustic. In between songs, she could hold her own as a stand-up, both for storytelling and quick responses to the crowd. It's as if she's happy to be exorcising everything that has pissed her off in the past couple of decades. It's inspiring stuff.

Linger, which has been in heavy rotation on my Launch player and my iPod for the past three or four years, has the same attitude. It's about a relationship that's breaking, probably with good reason. The song is steeped in dysfunction, obsession and betrayal, and yet it bounces along with a defiant beat behind some of the best melodic hooks you'll ever hear.

It helps that Brooke has a voice that can handle complex melodies with both an understated dignity and a confident growl. She somehow sounds sexy as she's walking away from a horrible relationship, and it's not in the cliched R&B "mm-hmm" style. (Cliched, yes, but it often works -- check Erykah Badu's Tyrone.)

I suppose this counts as her biggest hit or signature song -- it's the one she played before the fake ending and encores. That's high praise indeed, given the general strength of her back catalog -- though she was over 30 when she recorded her first solo album and therefore has fewer albums than, say, Tori Amos. (Her studio efforts are a little inconsistent, though I liked all but one song from the live set.)

In a world that truly appreciates great art, this would be a career-making song. As it is, well, she landed a Disney gig, which hopefully gives her the financial security to tour when she feels like and keep singing this should-have-been hit for another decade or two.

A definite contender for my all-time Top 10.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Song review -- The Fray, "How to Save a Life"

Not so much a review. More of a plea.

A plea to stop, in the name of all that's healthy and good, stop playing this song all the freaking time!

It's simply not that good a song, people. I don't care if Grey's Anatomy liked it. That show and its music, frankly, are true signs of pop culture's decline. A few years ago, we were listening to Belly tunes on Homicide. Now we have just another of that strain of 21st-century pop that passes itself off as sensitive because it has a piano and a guy asking sub-existential questions in a whiny high-pitched voice.

You want to hear sensitivity from a male voice? Listen to Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks. Listen to Dire Straits' Romeo and Juliet.

Perhaps if I'd heard this song just a couple of times, I could've dealt with it. But it's just drilled into my head, day after day, ages after it should've peaked.

Whiny song. Whiny show. Enough.

(Sorry, just had to vent.)

Awwwwww ....

Does anyone else, while watching The Office, just want to reach through the TV and give Pam a hug?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Rush reference

My Name is Earl was apparently all based on Rudy. I didn't notice because I was just so shocked to hear a song from Rush's first album.

They played Working Man.

Between that and Knights of Prosperity's use of Tom Sawyer, it's been a good year for pre-synth Rush in sitcoms.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Semi-live blogging VH1 Classic

I've got a bit to do this morning, so I'm sorry if I don't look up all the details on some of these ...

Aerosmith, Crazy -- Was this the first or the last of the "Crazy / Amazing / Cryin'" trio that unfortunately defined Aerosmith's late career along with Don't Wanna Miss a Thing? Can't remember, and instead of looking it up, I'm checking IMDB to see what the heck is up with Alicia Silverstone ... oh, right, that Miss Match sitcom, a couple of art films, some Scooby-Doo voiceovers, married an alleged rock star and will be in some upcoming NBC sitcom called The Singles Table.

Herbie Hancock, Rockit -- I'd like to do a reality show about the filming of VH1 reality shows. In this episode, some eager young producer shows up at Hancock's door and says he's doing something on one-hit wonders. Hancock smacks him upside the head with memorabilia from his decades with Miles Davis and his Academy Award for best original score.

Journey, Wheel in the Sky -- Love the flares. Can't see old Journey without thinking of the Behind the Music in which a whining Steve Perry says he never felt like he was really in the band.

Billy Squier, Everybody Wants You -- Great rock voice, one of his better songs.

Alanis Morissette, Head Over Feet -- Tremendously talented singer-songwriter who seems hell-bent on doing weird stuff from time to time to make sure she's not too popular. This video -- the longest closeup of someone's face since the last Phil Collins album cover shoot -- falls in that category. But it's a such a sweet, earnest ballad that I don't really mind.

Lionel Richie, Truly -- Speaking of ballads, this one blows Hello out of the water. Lush melody, sung with tasteful understatement until he lets loose on the chorus. Actual audible piano. (Pet musical peeve of mine -- all those unbearable R&B ballads in which they think the occasional chord change on electric piano is a suitable substitute for actual background music. Not just R&B -- Bonnie Raitt does it too.)

Rolling Stones, Start Me Up -- I never liked this song, but I guess I have to give it its due. Instantly recognizable opening riff, good Bill Wyman counterpoint. I just get tired of it by the time they hit the hand claps in the chorus. The video is one of those 1980ish "performance" videos with the guys in a studio against a dark backdrop, apparently lit with one or two simple floodlights. You can see Mick's ribs through his striped purple sleeveless V-neck (with white jeans -- you don't see those much any more). Keith and Ron ham it up as always, while Charlie Watts seems to be laughing at them and Bill seems to be asleep. And hey, they leave in the "You make a dead man come" line. Ah, simpler times.

Linda Ronstadt, It's So Easy -- I love Linda for her Muppet Show appearance in which Miss Piggy takes out her wrath on Kermit for being so obviously smitten with the guest. Near the end, Linda tells Kermit she didn't realize he and Piggy were so in love, and she'd never stand in the way. Kermit: "Well, you may know that, and Piggy may know that, but the vote's not in from the frog." The video? Another performance clip, though they might actually be on stage. The band seems to be the same gaggle of California studio vets who spent much of the 70s and early 80s plodding their way through Warren Zevon albums. Poor guy deserved better.

Simple Minds, Don't You Forget About Me -- Alive and Kicking is their masterpiece, and they had a few other highlights (She's a River), so I'm always a little disappointed when this song comes on. But it's not bad, and it's nice to know these guys got their moment in the soundtrack spotlight. Besides, I love Mel Gaynor's drumming -- here and in Alive and Kicking, he gives such a dramatic presence to the fadeout.

Gerardo, Rico Suave -- I'm mesmerized by the way this guy wears about eight different outfits that still manage to leave his pecs and abs exposed. One of the weirdest Weird Al moments -- the video for Taco Grande, in which he simply superimposed his song over Gerardo's video. So Gerardo points to a dancer's leg and says "Taco." But here's something you should know about Gerardo, from Wikipedia -- "Now an A&R executive at Interscope Records, Gerardo was responsible for bringing Enrique Iglesias to the United States in 1998."

Cheap Trick, Tonight It's You -- Ah, the dark period for Cheap Trick in which they didn't have original bassist Tom Petersson. I saw them opening for Robert Plant soon after Petersson rejoined and they had a massive hit with a song they apparently grew to hate, The Flame. I could've skipped Plant. Cheap Trick was great. This video ... well, the woman's boyfriend is busy watching boxing, so she puts on headphones and dreams of Robin Zander. Not convincing. Much better are the Target ads with Bun E. Carlos trading drum riffs with Torry Castellano from The Donnas.

Which were almost as cool as the Luscious Jackson Gap ads.

And I'm going to leave you with that instead of searching for something profound on Stray Cat Strut or Heart's Alone.