Thursday, September 27, 2007

Random day in a homeowner/blogger/parent's life

- Replacing the windows in your house is something I recommend doing exactly once.

- "Then she barfed them up in the freezer and tried to get out" is one of the most strangely and perversely funny punch lines I've ever heard.

- You should never be too tired or too distracted to pretend you're using a sword to defend yourself against your son's mace made of string.

- Dogs freak out a little when you put shades up. Once the shades are up, they're fine.

- Some days, showering is a privilege, not a right.

- I should learn to suffer fools in the style of Jim from The Office.

- Blogging a sports catastrophe can be oddly rewarding.

- Some people are simply going to follow college sports coaches as divine gurus, and there's not much we can do about it other than pray that they don't vote or run companies that can harm the environment.

- The perfect end to a tiring day is a long Office episode. If they ever cancel the show, can they just have Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski narrate my day a couple of times a year?

- I love going to sleep while it's raining. But I really need to shower first ...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ways in which journalists can irritate people, Nos. 359 and 492

As a journalist, I generally resent the notion that we in the media can't relate to anything outside the Northeast liberal ivory tower.

Which is why I find it a little irritating when I see that sort of misperception reinforced, like so:

Sept. 12: "A (Mark) Warner victory next year would be demoralizing to Virginia Republicans ..."

No, really? I thought they'd throw a "Yay! We hold no statewide office in Virginia above lieutenant governor!" party.

Seriously -- what's the point of writing that? It just gives the appearance of rubbing it in, and you wouldn't see it any other context. Imagine something like "A death sentence would be demoralizing to the defendant ..."

Today, from a restaurant review: "Some diners dismiss the interior. 'It reminds me of a really fancy restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina,' one dining companion cracked, Zagat style."

Oh ha, ha, ha, ha!!

A few points:

1. While food reviewer Tom Sietsema's dinner companions were ensconced in their world of fine dining and needless luxury items, Charlotte was becoming one of the world's banking capitals. They probably have a few nice restaurants.

2. The South is not -- repeat, NOT -- a giant anthropology experiment.

3. This is Washington. No one is from here. We're all from somewhere else. Including a few from North Carolina.

4. You know ... this is available online. People in Charlotte are gonna find out.

5. Frankly, we could use more Southern influence in our region's restaurants. We have food from every ethnicity known to man, but we don't have a freaking Bojangles. Or a Schlotzsky's. How in the world did I end up living in the buffer zone between good quick food and good convenience stores? (Read: Where's the freaking Wawa??!!)

I'm sure I'd impress more people at my dear old college if I worked for a more venerable newspaper instead of the mass-market corporate broadsheet that pays my bills. But Family Guy does far better jokes about the South. Are they hiring?

Why do I think it's cool that ...

... Family Guy got the actual lead singer of Simply Red to do a voice in the Star Wars episode that just aired?

Funny stuff, btw. Catch the rerun if you missed it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

For my 400th post, it's Sly Fox trivia ...

Zhum zhum zing-ing-ing-ing zhum zhum zing-ing-ing-ing

Oh yes, you remember Sly Fox. You may even vaguely recall that the lyrics hinted at something other than sex, as the Wikipedia entry duly notes, though that begs the question: "Let's go all the way ... where?"

But did you know that Gary "Mudbone" Cooper, one-half of this band, has done so much else in the music world that he devotes a total of one sentence to his Sly Fox involvement in his bio? Same goes for the other half, swingin' jazz guy Michael Camacho.

VH1 would probably have a field day snarking on these guys, but if they signed a decent record deal, they're banking royalties on that one song that allow them to pursue their dreams and do stuff for a small but appreciative audience. That has to feel pretty good.

Ladies and gentleman, post #400!!!

Lyrics quiz

I know, you'll all end up Googling or Yahooing this one.

Name the band that came up with this:

Bible-punching heavyweight
Evangelistic boxing kangaroo
Orangutan and anaconda
Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and even Pluto, too

Friday, September 14, 2007

The "I'm out of Roman numerals" guide to Rush, Part X of X

So Rush has nothing left to prove at this point. Their careers won't be judged by anything they do in the next 15-20 years. I'm just looking forward to the R50 box set. They're still a top concert draw, and the only musical acts I can think of who are still selling albums after 30-plus years are the Stones and Bob Dylan. And the Stones and Dylan aren't even played on the radio as far as I know. (Not that Rush is overplayed, but at least One Little Victory got some airtime on 98Rock.) I'd also doubt a Dylan live set would sell as well as Rush in Rio or R30.

Vapor Trails, flawed production and all, was an effective comeback album. The live CDs and Feedback were glorious historical roundups.

Anything Rush does at this point is a bonus. And I'll stubbornly buy the CDs and push them up into the top five, even though most of their CD-era releases are easy picking for a few selective downloads.

Snakes and Arrows (2007)
(AllMusic | Wikipedia | Lyrics/etc.)

Rush should always get credit for pushing the envelope in several different directions while remaining uniquely Rush. Prodded by exceptional young producer Nick Raskulinecz, they explore several sonic vistas while Neil Peart's lyrics provide meditations on faith and perseverance in desperate times.

Those lyrical themes get a bit repetitive, and some of the songs just don't measure up. Let's dispense with those now -- Bravest Face and Good News First never rise above the cliche titles, and Faithless is lifeless. More interesting but not quite must-downloads: Armor and Swords, Workin' Them Angels (not a typical Rush song title, is it?) and Spindrift.

The Larger Bowl (A Pantoum)
is a good case study of an intriguing concept that falls a little flat. A "pantoum" is a poetic form in which the second and fourth lines of one stanza become the first and third lines of the next, and Peart's lyrics work well despite the rigid context. But the arrangement is a problem. Geddy Lee's voice isn't multi-tracked into oblivion on this album as it was on Vapor Trails, but relying on Lee to carry the drama with a few "who-oh-oh-ohhhhh"s just isn't a good idea.

That leaves five standouts -- the opener, the closer and three (?!) instrumentals.

- I've changed my tune on Far Cry. Once you get past the ponderous intro, it's an effective opener, with Alex Lifeson conjuring ominous sounds out of his guitar and a chorus playing to Lee's vocal strengths.

- We Hold On, one of the most straightforward songs on the CD, is a powerful cry for resilience and an appropriate finale.

- Hope is a 12-string acoustic solo by Lifeson that should make us all hope his next solo project is a 12-string acoustic solo album.

- The Main Monkey Business is a longish instrumental in the vein of La Villa Strangiato, passing through several playful themes, building and releasing intensity. Lifeson changes up guitar sounds with remarkable frequency throughout this CD, perhaps relieved that technological advances make it possible to play such things live without double-necked guitars and modified tripods. It's distracting on some songs here, but it works well in an instrumental built to dazzle.

- The highlight is a tightly packed (2:16, only slightly longer than Hope) tune that completes a funny cycle. Primus once opened for Rush. South Park hired Primus to do the theme song. The South Park guys did a movie called Team America: World Police, in which they coined the term "malignant narcissism." The South Park guys are also pals with Rush, who have created their most Primus-like song, Malignant Narcissism.

I'm often wrong in picking songs that become live standards, but this one really should be there. Lee provides a galloping bass line and trades mini-solos with Peart, just as he did on YYZ. Lifeson cedes the spotlight and adds textures over the frenetic rhythm section.

They're playing too much of this album on the current tour. You could easily get up after Far Cry and skip four or five songs as long as you're back in time for Natural Science. But in the CD era, anything with five good songs and a few more interesting experiments isn't bad. That's what we have here.

So the challenge for Rush is to come up with an album that matches the songwriting quality of Vapor Trails -- even better, Presto or Counterparts -- with the sonic quality of Snakes and Arrows.

The best news for all Rush fans is that they're willing to give it a go.

I'll have an epilogue summing up all X parts to help you make your own Rush boxed set ... sometime soon. I'm overdue for sleep.

When I go to get my shoes shined, I gotta take their word

I miss my former work buddy Melissa in part because she so often would say what I was thinking.

Oops, she did it again, going against the grain on the Britney Spears performance at the Video Music Awards.

No, she wasn't enraptured by the performance (video here). Whether it was a case of skipping rehearsal or "freezing" on live TV, it was quite clearly another step in her ongoing self-destruction. That, like a lot of things involving celebrities, would be funny if kids weren't involved.

Melissa's point, and I wholeheartedly agree: Call her indifferent, lazy, self-destructive, judgment-impaired, whatever. But "fat"?

No. Britney Spears has no visible six-pack, and you can't play xylophone on her ribs. That's not "fat."

I just came back from a class reunion in which people told me I looked great. If I had been dancing in Britney's outfit, the headlines would've read: "Is MMM pregnant?" (The top, like Mr. Costanza's "manssiere" in Seinfeld, would've provided useful support.)

So as far as Britney goes -- wouldn't we have had more reason to worry if the mother-of-two had shown up looking like Calista Flockhart?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Musical redheads and deconstructionist dilemmas

If you think of Rilo Kiley as just Jenny Lewis and some guys, check out The Moneymaker. Blake Sennett and Pierre "Duke" de Reeder weave a web of funky riffs while drummer Jason Boesel holds down -- and eventually twists around -- a solid backbeat.

Sure, Lewis steals the show in the video, even with a few porn stars also in the frame. But the hooks force you to listen again and again.

I worry about Rilo Kiley. Critics seem more impressed with their big-label debut than they were with, say, Liz Phair's "sellout" album. The comments at YouTube, though, give a hint at the resentment behind their change in sound.

It was unfair with Phair (sorry -- that's an awful rhyme), and it's unfair here. Some YouTuber actually says this sounds like "the usual conformist christina a./nelly f./britney pop mainstream bull." If Christina Aguilera ever records something with a bunch of guitar lines as intricate and hook-laden as these, please let me know.

The focus on Lewis also can't be doing wonders for band chemistry. Spin posits the band as the new Fleetwood Mac and details a few of Lewis' idiosyncrasies. (Won't go to Hawaii because it's bad for her complexion? Eek.)

So Rilo might not be around as long as Tori Amos, who has rediscovered the sassy sense of humor that made Leather and She's Your Cocaine such fun listens. Some people surely think her new one, Big Wheel, makes a calculated publicity grab with its radio-unfriendly "M-I-L-F" chant. I only worry about the grammar. If you're referring to yourself, shouldn't it be, "I'm an M-Y-L-F?"

This is from her new album, American Doll Posse, which has some sort of overarching theme of expressing multiple personalities for some sort of political feminist purpose that would surely go over my head, even as I have a vague recollection of her using the same theme on her occasionally excellent cover album, Strange Little Girls.

If you prefer Tori giving breathtaking four-minute tales of tragedy, check this -- a video I just found tonight for one of my longtime favorites, Spark. The video theme but doesn't literally match the song, a brutally frank retelling of her miscarriage set to a complex rhythm that captures her turbulent emotions, but the mood works. If the hair on your arm doesn't stand on end for a minute or two, starting around the 2:20 mark, check your pulse. And the stark lyrics give you an even greater appreciation of the fact that Amos later had a healthy baby -- if she (or some character she's playing) wants to call herself an MILF or MYLF, good for her.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Welcome newcomers

I'm expecting a few new people to check out the blog this weekend. See Jason's blog to see why.

So with that in mind, here's a brief intro to this blog:

- It started as Mostly Modern Music, which explains the URL. After a while, I realized I had a few things to say about TV and my poorly chosen field of journalism, so I changed the name to something more expansive. I'm still working on a journalism version of Martin Luther's theses, but I'm not sure where to nail them.

- Like Jason, I have a few projects that take me away from this blog from time to time. One is still in diapers. I'm still working on a guide to Rush I started in July. Don't even ask about my channel-by-channel guide to XM. Basically, I write when I have time, with apologies to all 10 of my regular readers.

- I don't use this blog for networking purposes, but if you're interested in publishing a book on soccer, please let me know.

- I play piano, guitar, bass, clarinet and percussion -- yes, including tympani, vibraphone and wood blocks. At least, I did 20 years ago.

- My biggest brush with celebrity is either standing three feet away from David Beckham in the Galaxy locker room or being teased by Belly's bass player on Prodigy's message boards. Take your pick.

- I don't do politics, and I'm quite proud of that. As John Ruskin once said: "Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts, the book of their deeds, the book of their words and the book of their art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two others, but of the three the only trustworthy one is the last."

So thanks for stopping by. Do stop by again, or subscribe if you're so inclined.