Saturday, March 29, 2008

Mindless cynicism du jour

Hate Disney World if you must. Fine. It's a small world, but there's still room for diverse opinions.

Just have a reason for doing so other than thinking you're just too cool for the whole experience.

At Slate, Seth Stevenson takes a shot at the land of the Mouse:

After spending the past five days here, I've come to the conclusion that Disney World teaches kids three things: 1) a meaningless, bubble-headed utopianism, 2) a grasping, whining consumerism, and 3) a preference for soulless facsimiles of culture and architecture instead of for the real thing. I suppose it also teaches them that monorails are cool. So there's that.

Except that he doesn't develop any of those points.

He sees "bubble-headed utopianism" in the "It's a Small World" ride but concedes that he finds it charming. "It's an unassailable message, and there's also something comforting in the ride's retro simplicity."

The rest of his complaints:

1. Disney World sells packages to people who go roughly once a year. Isn't that excessive? People buy time shares near warm-weather golf courses all the time. Think of Disney World as some great golfing that happens to have a few amusement parks within a shuttle or monorail ride, and is it really so strange?

2. Had Disney lived longer, his utopian vision might have mutated into something like L. Ron Hubbard's. OK. And if Jim Morrison had lived longer, the Doors might have become a Christian rock band. Lots of historical determinism there, and it has nothing to do with the park itself.

3. Disney World is like a church of Disneyism! Just look at all the weddings in the Magic Kingdom! Weddings, you say? That's a sign of religion? If that were true, shouldn't we all pray facing Vegas?

4. Between the Mickey/Minnie gender roles and the princess/pirate split among kids, Disney World reinforces gender stereotypes. OK, sure, the storytelling in Disney films can be a little old-fashioned. But plenty of kids have favorite characters who aren't so easily pinned down. What the hell is Stitch, anyway?

5. Everything is so sanitized. The fireworks always start at exactly 9 p.m. The berms hide the Dumpsters. Concealed trash? Fireworks starting on time? Those freaking Nazi bastards!

Look, if I want to see Dumpsters, I'll walk out behind my local grocery store. (It's not in front? Those freaking Nazi bastards!) If I want to see a little utopian fantasy land, I'll go to the Magic Kingdom.

And he doesn't even scratch the surface of what you can actually see in Disney World. Animal Kingdom's safari ride gives you the closest view of wild animals you could possibly want. If you're tired of the "Small World" utopianism, take your pick from the rides at any of the parks.

He briefly mentions Epcot -- "Mightn't it be better to broaden your children's horizons just a tad? Like, maybe visit Canada—instead of just the Canada pavilion in Epcot?"

Notice that he mentions Canada. Notice how different -- and how elitist -- this sentence would read if he had said, "Like, maybe visit Japan -- instead of just the Japan pavilion in Epcot?"

Those of us who have neither tens of thousands of dollars nor eight weeks of annual vacation to travel the world with our kids appreciate the chance to go culture-browsing at Epcot. Even if we had all the time and money in the world, we might still take the Epcot highlight reel.

We don't live far from the National Zoo, but we still check out the panda cam on occasion. If we use a shortcut like that instead of packing up and driving 30-40 minutes, would we really pack up and fly to Mexico every time we want to see something vaguely Aztec?

Essentially, this guy's arguments boil down to some what-ifs and some complaints about consumer behavior. If people take Disney World as something more than an occasional escape, if they buy time-shares, if their girls dress as princesses, if they only see international culture at Epcot and if they get married at the Magic Kingdom ... then they might have warped views on gender roles and garbage collection.

When he takes Disney World for what it is rather than what obsessed fans with no sense of reality make of it, he enjoys it.

But how unhip a story would that be?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Two questions of taste

1. Should a story on Poison's drummer facing rape charges included an embedded video for Talk Dirty to Me?

2. Yes, Wikipedia has the same info, but does anyone else think Rikki Rockett might have fabricated his "real" last name?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


I've made it to my 500th post!

So should I switch to WordPress now?

Song du semaine: Sara Bareilles, "Love Song"

I hear the response already: "Are you kidding me? Even in this era of unlimited choice in which a big album might sell 40,000 copies in a week, everyone knows this song already!"

Yes, that's true. But I think this song actually deserves its national earworm status, and that's worth celebrating.

Besides, it's brilliant that she wrote something that works equally well as a jab at her record company and a demand for a boyfriend's respect.

R.I.P., XM

On the day the Justice League said XM could merge with Sirius, we let our subscription lapse. I loved it, really, but we just weren't listening to it enough to justify the money.

Now if someone can convince me that Pandora or is worth another shot ...

(Still a Launch subscriber, but I might let that go soon.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"It reminds me a joke I once heard about upper-middle-class people ..."

Poor Celia Wren. It seems that her writing career took a wrong turn somewhere, and she was forced to earn money doing a Washington Post theater review that forced her to be sequestered in a room with the sort of person who would find historical and literary farce amusing.

This blogger, also a professional journalist, should warn you that the review to which I've linked describes a situation so desperate that you may be unable to stop weeping. If you're especially sensitive to the plight of reviewers stranded among uncouth men and women of the evening who watch comedy, do not click that link. Just limit yourself to a sampling of her words ...

At the Lansburgh Theatre, you once stood a good chance of encountering a classic drama. Now, though, it's playing host to the Reduced Shakespeare Company, a troupe that has built a cottage industry out of undergraduate-quality literary sendups. ...

Judging by the gales of laughter that greeted performances Saturday, many theatergoers find this sort of thing hilarious. ...

In an era when even HBO is taking the Founding Fathers seriously, "The Complete History of America" might seem nearly as sacrilegious (as "The Bible"). ...
The horror ... the horror ...

It's important for Ms. Wren to take a stand against such "entertainment." Why, we could end up like the British, where students at Oxford and Cambridge traditionally perform "skits," often in drag," and the ones who are deemed good at it turn professional! One young man was doing research on Chaucer and ended up doing some sort of nonsense in which people bang coconuts together and search for the Holy Grail!

( /sarcasm )

This is the sort of condescending crap that makes the world hate journalists. I'm unabashedly elitist, with very little patience for stupidity, and yet the Post sometimes cranks out content that can't possibly appeal to anyone other than D.C. residents (not those curious people over in Virginia) who are pretentious and have no sense of humor. Government workers generally aren't pretentious, so they're out of the target audience. And the popularity of Reduced Shakespeare -- not to mention the big theaters' tendency to book big-time comics -- proves that someone here must have a sense of humor.

So perhaps we really should pity Ms. Wren and her editors. Their demographics aren't good, and they're too full of themselves to enjoy a good laugh. That's sad.

Song du semaine: Journey, "Faithfully"

The spoilsports at Sony disabled embedding, so I'll just link to the video and give you some screen captures of the most embarrassing grimaces caught on tape. Then I'll tell you what a beautiful ballad this really is.

First, the grimaces, not exactly enhanced by the poor picture quality I'm delivering here ...

Forget Randy Jackson -- I'm Ross Valory, bitch!

I never really felt like part of the band.

Star Trek XLII: The Wrath of Schon

Should we tell Jonathan Cain his mike isn't plugged in? Does he think he's singing, or is this some sort of Liberty DeVitto tribute?

The guy from Guster never contorted himself backwards in pain and exhaustion after crashing a couple of cymbals, and he hit them with his hands. Is this why Steve Smith eventually went back to jazz?

Or maybe it was the video for Separate Ways, in which Cain steals the show by re-inventing the art of air keyboards.

All very silly. And yet this song is brilliant. It builds from a solid hook on the piano that carries through into the vocals and Schon's guitar work.

The lyrics blow away the typical power-ballad crap. Maybe you have to have been in a 10-year relationship to appreciate it, but "Two strangers learn to fall in love again / I get the joy of rediscovering you" is dead-on, and Perry's delivery is powerful without sounding like some melismatic monster on American Idol.

Rather than re-mastering their old stuff, Journey should probably just reshoot the videos. The songs are fine.

I'm back, baby

Check out the story I wrote on my first day back and the blog I cranked up on my second.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Sounds like my high school band

The Onion has an audio report on the latest from the music scene.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Does jazz suck?

I do feel a little guilty asking the question. I'm not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, having grown up in an area in which "jazz band" meant you played Booker-T and the MG's or the Hawaii Five-O theme. I played one semester in the Duke Jazz Ensemble but clearly couldn't keep up. Besides, we should all be celebrating jazz after Herbie Hancock's stunning Grammy, right? (For an album of Joni Mitchell covers??!!)

But not all is well in the jazz world. "Smooth jazz" is dying. Some might not lament that -- no one I know will ever admit to liking Kenny G, but I never minded hearing George Benson and Norah Jones when I was giving blood. (A few months ago, they switched to one of the local "urban" stations. You know, "urban"? I guess it's shorter than "African American," but it seems even less accurate.)

Then there's the stuff they play at Panera. I suppose you might call it "postbop" or maybe "hard bop" (but not "Mmm-bop"). Or the name I call it, "music that featured in Manos, the Hands of Fate."

Good jazz exists. We played some good stuff in jazz ensemble, even my fingers never quite caught up to the notes on the page. I have some albums by various Marsalis brothers, including the truly excellent Black Codes (from the Underground). That album has memorable hooks and a sense that the talented musicians in the group were connecting. The crap they play at Panera sounds like a bunch of guys went into the studio at different times, played erratic phrases on an unfamiliar instrument while stoned, then patched it all together. And yet someone deemed it worthy of recording for posterity and foisting on Panera diners as if it were listenable.

When I was growing up, Wynton and Branford had substantial followings. Musician magazine covered jazz almost as thoroughly as it covered rock.

In these days of fragmented media, you're not likely to find a magazine that covers jazz and rock. With the decline of "smooth jazz," you won't hear much that falls under the "jazz" umbrella unless you seek it out on XM or the Web.

So perhaps the question isn't whether jazz sucks. Maybe it's just dying, despite Hancock's Grammy?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Song du semaine: Velocity Girl, "Sorry Again"

Just a good fun song about apologizing from a local band. (Aside to Wikipedia -- College Park and "Washington DC area" are not two different places.) I wish I'd known lead singers like that would be in bands with geeky guitarists like me when I was 23 or so. My glasses were never that geeky.

Enjoy ...

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Progress report

I've written roughly 70,000 words, completed 15 interviews. I'm expecting to do four more in this final week of leave, and then I'm back to the grind.

I don't usually apologize for a lack of blog activity, but it's pretty obvious that if I've written this much while shopping the book around to publishers and preparing to go back to work, I haven't had much power left in my brain or my laptop to write anything coherent about music or media. It's been a while since I've had a spare hour to live-blog VH1 Classic or XM. But I'll get back to it. I promise. Especially once someone agrees to publish this thing.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Quick review: "Unhitched"

Rashida Jones deserves better.

Told you it was quick.