Sunday, October 28, 2007
It's a Texas school, at least.
See the video.
Friday, October 26, 2007
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 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
Sunday, October 21, 2007
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
I gave Last.fm 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. Last.fm 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.
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
Sunday, October 07, 2007
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?
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
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.
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
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.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
Attention, kids under age 20 (we're assuming that the only demographic interested in this song). Please stop downloading Hey There Delilah.
Hey There Delilah sucks. It is nothing more than the ranting of a drunken frat pledge who picked up an acoustic guitar to play the two chords he knows.
Stumbling upon one earworm hook does not make a song.
Playing an acoustic guitar does not make you a sensitive guy.
A guy who can't come up with any compliments other than "look pretty" and "it's what you do me" is a guy who keeps repeating "Delilah" so he can remember your name when he wakes up in the morning.
If you want to hear understated guitar-based love songs, great. Check out some old Dire Straits. Or the Beatles. Then you'll hear that these guys are way, way off.
So, radio programmers and kids, it's time to demand better. Tell today's musicians to learn how to sing. Learn to play guitar. Spend more than five minutes writing a song. Or you're not going to shell out those 99 cents so he can "pay the bills with his guitar." Unless he plans to sell it, which is a good idea.
Got it? Good. Sorry to dispense the tough love, but something simply has to be done.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Last year, the show seeped into my brain. I replayed scenes in my head and composed fan fiction while I did yard work.
To give you an idea how haunting and beautiful the show could be, just listen to one of several Explosions in the Sky songs providing the backdrop -- Your Hand in Mine. This video cuts out and goes black after about 1:30, but that'll just let you focus on the song. I don't mind confessing that I get tears in my eyes when they get to the descending figures around the 2:35 mark. It's that ... freaking ... beautiful.
I've seen the first five minutes of the new season. The whole episode was available online at Yahoo, though I can't find it now. It's funny. It starts with Saracen (the bookish, confidence-challenged QB who's dating the coach's daughter) talking with Landry (sometimes the jester of the show, but often its conscience) by the pool. If they cancel this show, I'd love to see them spin off a comedy with the two of them just chatting.
I'm looking forward to Friday night's premiere to see that scene again, but also to catch up. It's almost like attending my recent reunion. After one season, I'm so intimately connected to these characters that I just want to know what they're doing.
I'll watch Season 2 as long as it runs. In the online era, I know they'll at least make the first 13 episodes or so available somehow. But I'm going to need some distractions or at least some help focusing. Otherwise, some confused book publishers will be getting a manuscript on MLS history that'll include some strange rants about Riggins and Lyla teaming up to help Tyra get into college.
It's not a perfect show. They went to the "improbable comeback" storyline so often last season you would've thought you were watching Scotty save the Enterprise for the 300th time. (Yes, I know the original Star Trek had less than 80 episodes. Am I wrong?) They might consider introducing a female character who doesn't immediately and implausibly sleep with Riggins.
But of all the things that have been stuck in my head over the years, this is among the best. Easily.