Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Hives Do It Some More

The Hives
The Black & White Album

If you're a fan of stripped down, guitar infested, pure high energy rock and roll, it's very hard not to like The Hives. The Swedish quintet broke big in 2000, riding the garage rock resurgence with the almost perfect "Hate To Say I Told You So", form the Veni Vidi Vicious album. The 2004 follow-up, Tyrannosaurus Hives, while a solid next step for the band, failed to top its predecessor in sales and popularity, despite a brutal supporting tour.

For The Black & White Album, Interscope took no chances - Modest Mouse producer Dennis Herring was brought on board for the bulk of the tracks, while hip hop honcho Pharell Williams handled two others. This is being treated almost as a make-or-break for the group, as far as reaching the wide audience they feel they deserve.

It doesn't disappoint. Opening with the first single, "Tick Tick Boom", the boys have delivered a song with enough punch and bravado ("I've done it before/And I can do it some more") to deserve a spot in the all time Hives Hall of Fame, up there with classics like "Main Offender" and "Hate To Say I Told You So". Complete with explosions punctuating the end of each chorus, cascading "Yeaaahhhhhhh" bleats from each member , the tune is all Hives, and should be a hit. "Try It Again", complete with a dueling guitar riff intro and accompanying real life cheerleaders, eases the record along. "They say the definition of madness/is doing the same thing/and expecting a different result" intones Pelle, and it's clear that this album signifies a new direction for the group, while still keeping their toes in the punky/garage pool.

As with previous records, there are selections which departure greatly from the standard Hive template. "Find Another Girl", "Diabolic Scheme" fit the bill on Vicious and Tyrannosaurus Hives respectively, but for The Black & White Album, no less than three songs fit the bill. Upon first listen, "A Stroll Through Hive Manor Corridors" sounds like an outtake, or at least like a potential 30 second interlude. The spooky, 60's era horror movie organ gives brings the album to a halt after the sonic blasts of "Well All Right" and "Hey Little World". Initially I found this to be needless filler, but upon repeated listening, it makes for a nice transition to the obvious next hit single, "Won't Be Long". The second un-Hives like ditty, "Giddy Up", about nothing less than shagging your way through any disagreements you may have, contains a hiccupy refrain which can be grating at times. Love the message, though. "Puppet On A String", which utilizes nothing more than a piano and hand claps, grows on the listener, though after hearing this and "A Stroll Through Hive Manor Corridors", one wonders if the guys watched a lot of Munsters and Addams Family reruns while cutting this album!

"Bigger Hole To Fill" keeps the band on point with a message that there is more to do, and they're ready for the challenge, while "Square One Here I Come" and "You Dress Up For Armageddon" seem to mock the entire slacker/whiner attitude rather than embrace it. This has never been a band that looked kindly upon sitting on ones ass, that's for sure, and The Black & White Album keeps up that sentiment in spades. "Won't Be Long" is an obvious attempt at crafting a radio-friendly hit song, and in a perfect world this would be played on every Top 40 station in the country. Likely? Doubtful. "T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S.", on the other hand, might see the light of day. The Blondie by way of Prince via Queen number is certainly catchy, and contains just enough of the group's comic book arrogance ("We rule the world!") to wink at those of us who are in on the gag. It doesn't hurt that the song is catchy as hell, especially after a few listens.

The Black & White Album is already showing up on some year end "best" lists, as well it should. This is a tight collection of songs by a band that we desperately need in an era of "Soulja Boy". Long may they carry the torch.

The Hives Broadcasting Service (Official site of The Hives)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Classic Album Corner

Frank Zappa- Shiek Yerbouti (1979)
I'm not sure if Frank Zappa has ever been truly appreciated since his death in 1993. The man was, first and foremost, an amazing technical musician. He was also funny as hell.
Never a commercial success throughout his long career, he did experience brief bouts of mainstream appeal, particularly in 1982 with the song "Valley Girl". A few years prior to that, in 1978, at the height of the abomination that was Disco, he released another single, "Dancin' Fool", which found a modicum of popular appeal, particularly among the Rock crowd which had become so fed up with the entire Disco trend.
The album on which "Dancin' Fool" appeared, Shiek Yerbouti (Get it - Shake Your Booty?), a double album, was one of the most amazing records Zappa released during a very fertile creative period. Instant classic Zappa tracks such as "Flakes", "Bobby Brown", "I Have Been In You", "Baby Snakes", and my personal favorite, "Broken Hearts Are For Assholes", all stand out. Obviously, these never had a chance of being played on the radio, even on the progressive album-oriented rock stations of the day. The album also contains several of Zappa's trademark instrumental jams, displaying some amazing work by both Zappa and the crack group of musicians he surrounded himself with.
Zappa would go on to release the critically acclaimed Rock opera of sorts, Joe's Garage, the following year. He continued to make music on his terms, on his own label, right up until his death. His joining of the anti-censorship movement in the mid eighties (see video below) was a high point, as surprised many by appearing so "normal" as he discussed first amendment issues before Congress, often sounding far more intelligent than the government representatives.
As Kevin Murphy (famous for his work on Mystery Science Theater 3000) said, most people would be shocked at how normal the guy was, and how he simply abhorred stupidity. He is undoubtedly missed today.

Here's Frank on CNN's Crossfire in 1986, holding his own against some anti-music idiots:

Shiek Yerbouti (Allmusic guide page)

Official Zappa website

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Bob Saget Is A Filty Motherf*cker!

By now, we’ve all heard how Bob Saget, who played nice guy dad Danny Tanner on the sickeningly sweet 80’s sitcom Full House as well as hosting the inoffensive America’s Funniest Home Videos, is a comedian who “works blue”. That is to say his stand-up act is not intended for the same audiences who watched him on television.

One can see they dilemma Saget has to work through –it must be a pain to be typecast as Mr. Nice Guy while still trying to do stand-up the way you want. Kudos to him for trying to expand and shatter the pre-conceived notions most people have about him. Anyone who saw The Aristocrats saw a small dose of the “real” Bob, as his version of the infamous joke was one of the filthiest contained in the film.

Taking it to the next level, Saget filmed a recent HBO special which attempted to bury the white bread persona once and for all. Mission accomplished:

Warning – this isn’t safe for work

I watched the show, and didn’t find myself laughing once the initial shock of seeing and hearing Saget use profanity virtually every other word wore off. The whole thing seemed to be shout “Look at me, I’m NOT DANNY EFFING TANNER ANYMORE!!!!” While I understand the rationale behind the effort, it would’ve helped if the material was funnier. Using profanity for its own sake doesn’t work, even when trying to shatter the audience’s idea of what the performer “should be”.

It’s too bad, because Saget is a genuinely funny guy, with a good sense of comedic timing. Hopefully, now that this is out of this system, he can move on and just become known as a comedian, as opposed to The Guy Who No Longer Is Squeaky Clean.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Stop Whining Already

I confess, I'm one of the only people I know who did not watch The Sopranos - ever. Hey, I only have expanded basic, thus no HBO, so I have an excuse. It's become obvious that not having this channel has caused me to miss out on some of the most talked about television shows of recent years, but I've somehow managed to survive on a steady diet of fodder like Survivor, 24, et al.

The recent finale of The Sopranos generated such a response - most of it negative from the hardcore fans -that I had to comment. From what I gather, the show ended abruptly, with no explanation or closure as to the fates of the main character, Tony Soprano. Oh, the furor! Creator David Chase fled the country, knowing full well the reaction this finish would cause.

Not having watched the show, and never having been invested in these characters, it's hard for me to tell the fans to stop moaning and accept the ending. Part of me wonders if we have become so spoon fed with regard to our entertainment that we will refuse to accept any ending to anything, movie or TV show, that doesn't fully close every loophole and resolve every plotline. Why is this? I think having an open ended, somehwat ambiguous finale is interesting. Plus, the door is left open for any future project, though Chase was quick to quell that speculation.

You want crappy series finales? What about M*A*S*H? That was a bloated, 90 minute exercise which closed things out, yes, but could have easily been handled in 45 minutes. The show had become so preachy and self-important anyway, and it was time to go, but damn, that final episode was a bear to get through.

Seinfeld was another very disappointing finale - ironic for a show which seemed to shun the usual excesses which befell other shows. The best way to end it was to not celebrate nor acknowledge the end in any way - just a simple business as usual episode. That would have been more in line with the spirit of the show, but they chose to spin a wandering, ultimately unfunny ending to what had been one of the most original shows of its time.

No matter what, it's over. Move on.

Election 2008 Heats Up 17 Months Early

A while back, this blog called for the need to form a new political party. One which would actually represent the people, and harken back to a time when politicians were beholden not to corporate donors, lobbyists or the extreme fringe positions held by their party.

I think we found one.

Ron Paul, technically is a Republican. Watching him during the debates, however, shows either 1.) how far the party has strayed from stances it once held or 2.) that he's more of a third party candidate, which is a kiss of death in this day and age.

Check the online polls after the next debate - Paul has consistently come out ahead every time thus far. The mainstream media hates him - hell, Sean Hannity tried his best to tear him apart during a live interview following a recent debate. Why? Simple - Paul is absolutely, 100% against the Iraq war (like 70% of American voters). This doesn't fit with the right wing Bush loving pundits who never seem to be able to admit that maybe, just maybe, this adminsitraion has royally screwed this up. Paul's non-interventionist foreign policy is heresey amongst this batch of Neocons, who seek nothing less than control of the entire middle east and, more specifically, the flow of oil from same.

Will he win? It's unlikely. He'll get marginalized, despite his growing popularity, and will be lucky to have an impact similar to what Ross Perot was able to pull off in 1992. Paul does have one advantage Perot did not - the internet. The grassroots support generated by the blogsphere can have an impact, but whether or not it will be enough to actually propel him toward the nomination is unknown. The eventual winner, if not Paul, would be wise to co-opt some of his ideas, thereby gaining some much needed middle of the road support.

Who then, will be the final candiates for the big prize come next summer? Most likely, two people who are technically not even running yet - Republican Fred Thompson and Democrat Al Gore.

That's my call, and I'm sticking to it. Think Rudy Guiliani will ultimately get the support of the Christian Right, what with his three divorces, and liberal stance on abortion and gay rights? Think again. Besides, his entire campaign is pure fear - 9/11 this, 9/11 that, and I think Americans are tired of being scared into voting for candidates like this. John McCain is dropping like a rock, and will likely be fully done before the end of 2007. Mitt Romney? C'mon, he's a Mormon! Remember, there are over 50 million Catholics in this country, and only once has one managed to be elected President. We all know what happened to him, so if you think the Southern Baptists are going to put their support behind this guy, you're nuts. Religion aside, Romney seems to be the least genuine, almost willing to paint himslef as anything which would result in more votes ("I'm a hunter", "Lets double the size of Gitmo!"). In his favor, though, is the fact that he is still married to his first wife - something none of the other GOP candidates mentioned here can say. He's toast once Thompson joins the fray, however. Thompson paints himself as a Reagan type conservative, which will go over big with the party faithful after eight years of Bush.

Over on the Democratic side, it's already narrowing down to a two person race between Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama. Clinton (or Rodham, or whatever she's choosing to go by today) is the front runner, but in every hypothetical matchup with any Repub, she loses. This is a big problem for the Dems, obviously. Obama has support, but many feel he is too inexperienced for the job. Whether that is true or not depends on your world view - Kennedy was also though to be too green for the job, but seemed to do okay. Al Gore is riding high right now, what with his new book and recent movie. He has to put the most fear into the Republican machine - he's been through the whole election mess, and came out unscathed (the best they could do was poke fun at his "I invented the internet" quotes). He received more votes in 2000, but lost, so many have the opinion that he "deserves" the office. Should he decide to join, and there is no reason he needs to rush in any time before the fall, he would immediately vault to the top of the pack. Should he decide to join forces with Obama, he could be unstoppable.

My dream woild be some combination of Paul/Gore, but that will never happen. It should be a very interesting year nontheless.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Please Make An Example Of This Guy

St. Louis Cardinal pitcher Josh Hancock was killed in an auto accident on April 29. Sad times all around for the Cardinal franchise, Major League Baseball, and of course the friends and family. Further investigation revelaed that Hancock was intoxicated when he smashed into a staionary tow truck and broken down vehicle on I-64, and he died almost instantly.

There's more - from the story on
Authorities said the 29-year pitcher had a blood content of nearly twice
the legal limit for alcohol in his system when he crashed into the back of the
tow truck. He was also speeding, using a cell phone and wasn't wearing a seat
belt, Police Chief Joe Mokwa said after the accident. Marijuana also was found
in the SUV.

What is the relevance of this post, then? Seems like a pretty clear cut case of one person being completely responsible for the actions which led directly to his death, right?

Wrong. His dad is suing just about everyone in sight.

I don't know what's more disturbing: the fact that such an obviously frivolous lawsuit would even be presented, or the fact that Mr. Hancock seemingly cannot accept the fact that his son did some pretty stupid things which ended up killing him. Seems that Josh was a pretty habitual drinker, which is by no means uncommon for someone his age. It's likely that he could pound down several drinks and not appear drunk - yet the suit names the restaurant (ironically owned by Cardinal broadcaster Mike Shannon) as liable for feeding him booze. Plus, he had weed in the car, was using a cell phone at the time of the crash, and wasn't wearing a seatbelt - all items that are clearly the reponsibilty of the driver.

Dean Hancock's suit also names the tow truck company, since the truck didn't so a good job of avoiding being drilled by Josh's car, apparently. It is unclear whether God has been named for making it dark at the time of the accident.

I can understand being distraught over losing a child - there is no greater tragedy than a parent outliving any of his or her offspring. This, however, is one of the most egregious examples of how screwed up our legal system is. This wouldn't go forward at all unless there were lawyers willing to present it, knowing that if they throw enough things at the wall something will eventually stick. Doesn't personal responsibilty mean anything to anyone? Josh Hancock was completely and totally resposible for his own death. Who is to say that if he didn't crash into the tow truck he wouldn't have hit something else?

It's going to take a judicial system willing to penalize lawyers who specialize in garbage lawsuits like this before this practice goes away once and for all. It's high time a judge stood up and made an example out of someone who would have the audacity to bring a lawsuit like this.

Let's start with this guy.

Monday, May 14, 2007

I Don't Get It

Welcome to a new recurring feature, called simply "I Don't Get It" It's pretty self explanatory, though it could almost be subtitled "Get off my lawn you goddamned kids!", particularly this entry.

Guys who wear wool caps when it's 75 degrees outside. I don't get it. While typing this in a public coffee shop, I saw a guy walk in, about 30-ish. Since it's about 75 outside, he's got a T-Shirt and jeans on. So far, so good....except for the wool winter hat.

Is it fashionable? Maybe. If it was 1996, and you were 14.

Comfortable? I don't see how. The guy's head must be hot as hell. does it smell in there? My God, it must be awful once that knit cap finally comes off your head. Is it worth the alleged cool factor to smell like the inside of a gym sock? Ladies, help out here, do you find this sexy in any way?

By the same token, I see many of these same guys wearing shorts and tee shirts when it's 40.

They must be weather proof somehow. That is the only rational explanation.

Now, get the hell off my lawn!

Friday, May 11, 2007

24 Circles The Drain

It pains me to say this, but it looks as if 24 has finally jumped the shark. (On a separate note, has "jumped the shark" now jumped the shark as well?)

The Fox show has never been more popular, and before you accuse me of going off on one of those "the show was awesome when only a few of us cool people watched, but now that the masses are hip to it it sucks" elitist rants, hear me out. Let's go through this point by point:

1. Real time no longer
The original gimmick on the show was a unique one - the entire season took place in real time. It didn't take long for that to be ignored, to the point now where every single location in Los Angeles is roughly 10 minutes away from CTU. Unless CTU Headquarters is on some sort of floating base, this makes no sense. Not to mention how hair doesn't get mussed, facial hair doesn't sprout, and painful injuries seem to heal quickly without the benefit of medication. I don't know about you, but if someone put a 10 inch drill into my freaking shoulder, I don't think I'd be well enough to go back to work for at least a week.

2. Recycled plot points
CTU is compromised, again. Someone wants to take out the President via the 25th amendment....again. Someone wants to kill the President, again. Another CTU employee with a speaking role is shockingly killed....again. You get the idea.

3. LA - Center of Doom
Since the show is based mostly in LA, the vast majority of terror activity is centered there. This way, Jack Bauer and company are always 10 minutes away from locating and stopping said terror.

4. Hanging plot points
Former President Logan is suddenly shoehorned back into the story, as is his crazy wife Martha and ex-Secret Service agent Aaron Pierce. Within two episodes, after stretching the plot enough to make it so Martha has to stop being batshit crazy long enough to talk to the Soviet first lady, which in turn will prevent an international incident (don't ask), Martha goes off the rails and stabs her ex-husband in the chest. As the clock ticks down to close out the hour, Charles is in the ambulance, crashing, and utters a plaintive "Maaaarthaaa..." as he flatlines. This has never been mentioned since, even in a passing manner, by any character, which makes it seems as if the entire thing was dropped in afterwards for pure shock value. Now, there are still three "hours" left, but by now if anyone brings up the Logan's it will be a clumsy attempt to tie up the numerous loose ends.

The whole thing has been very sloppy, and it is at the point now where most viewers can see things coming a mile away (who didn't call Gradenko's arm being chopped off the minute they placed a tracking device in it?) Word is the producers plan on blowing up the format for season seven, and not a moment too soon. Speculation is perhaps the show will span a 24 day period, which at least opens up some possibilities for the characters to travel.

Please, Fox, rescue this show!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Another Entry In The Scapegoat Sweepstakes

The blame parade continues. Now that we have a name to connect to the act, along with some background info, the rest of the idiots are coming out of the woodwork.

This guy, much like Tom DeLay post-Columbine, blames science for the VT shootings.

Wow. I'm not even sure I have words for that. How does one connect those dots? Was it even mentioned that the shooter was an atheist? Seems like this is the type of person who will blame every single wretched event on the same thing, so, again, consider thy source.

On the flip side, when someone does something awesome and good, who gets the credit, using this logic?

There is still time to delve into the man's musical tastes. I'm thinking by Tuesday we find out he was into Korn or something, and work that angle. What happens if they find Clay Aiken CD's in his backpack though? Just wondering.

And hey - breaking news - the guy was a bit of a loner. Go figure.

The Inevitable attack on science (Crooks & Liars)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Well THAT Didn't Take Long..

Shortly after posting the article below, I stumbled across this gem on Fark.

Dr. Phil Blames Video Games For Virginia Tech Massacre

Can't wait to hear from Focus On The Family, et al.

As with Imus....I say consider the source, and move on.

No Sense To Be Made...

The terrible events in Virginia yesterday will undoubtedly result in the search for some kind of rationale, which can eventually lead to finger pointing, which will result in "closure". The usual scapegoats (video games, music, the culture in general, etc.) will be paraded about and held up to intense scrutiny. People need to find a reason why something like this happened. It's simply our nature.

I'm done looking. After seeing events like this for most of my life (Jonestown, Oklahoma City, Columbine, 9/11, the list is endless), I've come to the conclusion that "reason" simply cannot be part of the equation. There is no sense which can be made here. A terribly disturbed individual or individuals did something which defies all rational thought. There is, and always has been, a proportionate number of people who feel the need to carry out heinous acts. This is an unfortunate fact of living on this planet. It doesn't mean we should lose hope, but I no longer see the value in trying to find out "why?"

Who or what will we be hearing about in the days ahead as a scapegoat is sought?

Video Games
A common choice. Have the games gotten more realistically violent in recent years? Certainly. But anyone who doesn't see the difference between blowing away a zombie on your PlayStation and killing a classmate isn't paying attention. I myself have killed more Nazi's on my computer than perhaps the entire Allied forces in WWII, yet I still recoil when killing a spider in my garage.

I'm sorry, but I will not have this argument. Music and art doesn't shape culture, it reflects it, and again, because an unstable person thinks that a musician is talking to them, and carries out a crime, doesn't make the artist responsible. Next.

Yes, the culture has become coarsened, but are we as a society more or less likely to have someone snap and do things like this? I tend to think there is a proportional number, but with the instant media we are more likely to hear about them. There are more of us today than there were fifty years ago, hence more psychos.

Too many guns? Too easy to acquire them? Perhaps, but it is always noted (correctly, in my view) that the law abiding citizen who wants a gun is the only one inconvenienced by the plethora of laws and restrictions imposed. Plus, they are willing to play by the rules when required, since gun ownership is a tremendous responsibility. Enforce the laws we have before adding more. Besides, the gun lobby in this country is immensely powerful, and has weathered storms like this in the past. You are simply not going to get rid of them. Besides, there are other countries which have very similar laws, but a fraction of the violence. Why is that? Is it the Cowboy mentality still permeating our American culture?

There are too many things which don't make sense in our lives. This is one of them. There are too many questions, but no adequate answers.

Thoughts and prayers go out to all affected by this senseless tragedy.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Consider The Source, People

The Don Imus flap has now reached the media saturation point, as it manges to dip it's toes into both the Sports and News arenas, based on the "victims", the Rutgers women's basketball team coupled with the inside-the-beltway theme of his nationally syndicated morning radio show.

Imus has been working this shtick for 30-plus years, and at times his comments can seem to have emanated from some kind of 70's time warp. As you have know doubt heard, the aging radio icon referred to the Rutgers lady hoopsters as "nappy headed hos". The comment was pretty much off the cuff, as is the nature of radio, and was completely inappropriate. A few days later, here we are, the circus now in town.

Was the comment insensitive? Sure. Insulting? Yep. Racially ignorant? Definitely.

But, let's consider the source for a moment. Imus has not really been culturally relevant for quite some time. He has a national audience, but his ratings aren't exactly setting the industry on fire. He does generate decent billing numbers, which makes his show more attractive for bigger named advertisers looking to reach a more affluent demographic. Still, he is hardly the controversial shock jock he once was, and now spends as much time raising money for charity as he does snapping at his staff.

Again, it's Imus. Imus. It's like when your grandfather says something stupid - you shake your head, chalk it up to age, and move on, since you've undoubtedly tried to enlighten him in the past. If someone whose opinion I didn't give much credence to - let's use Ann Coulter as an example - said that Irish-Americans were a bunch of "whiskey infested morons", how offended would I be? Not very, since I place little to no value on her rants. Similarly, Imus' random racially insensitive comments should be seen through that type of lens.

In his defense, Imus has not hid behind anything when pressed to explain his actions. He has taken his lumps, publicly, perhaps to the point of overkill. He will be meeting face-to-face with the Rutgers team to see the faces of those he offended. He has provided numerous mea culpas on his radio show, from which he will begin serving a two week suspension starting next Monday. He even went on Al Sharpton's radio show to discuss the matter, even though the rambunctious Reverend publicly called for Imus' firing.

Here is where things get weird, to me. It's one thing for the targets of the racially insensitive comments to feel outraged, and demand either a retraction or a public apology from the perpatrator. But when media magnets like Sharpton and Jackson thrust themselves into the mix, it becomes a circus. I don't want to throw religion in the face of the two reverends, but didn't Jesus mention something about turning the other cheek? In fact, he said:
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you."

In other words, let it go, for you are not capable of judging. Forgiveness, remember?

How these two still have even a scintilla of credibility in a case like this is beyond me. Jesse "Hymietown" Jackson? Doesn't anyone remember the entire Tawanna Brawley fiasco, which turned out to be a complete hoax? Sharpton played the lead role in trying to destroy a person's life, yet today sees no repercussions. He has never apologized to Steven Pagones, even now, yet this is the man folks are forced to have represent them when searching for "justice"? The Reverend needs to be reminded what that really means.

I come not to defend what Imus said, nor to explain away his actions as simply part of who he is. It just seems like this guy has fallen on his sword so many times, and will pay a price for what was done. We've had the outrage from all corners of the media, and it is now time to move on. The market will dictate what happens to Imus from here on out - my hunch is that there will be a short term hit to his ad revenue and ratings before things return to normal.

Time for the next big story, folks. Let's move past this one.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Coming Up Rosie

Rosie O'Donnell is at it again. Having remade herself as a lightning rod for controversy, the former comedienne and current panelist on The View has reached new levels of pissing people off with her latest comments regarding the U.S. Government and, more specifically, 9/11.

Rosie, whose presence has energized (and not insignificantly) increased the ratings for The View, has never been afraid to speak her opinion. For that, she should be applauded. Whether or not one agrees with her is not the point - in a free society she has the right to say anything. Free speech is a privilege, and while there are some boundaries (yelling "fire!" in a crowded theatre comes to mind), saying things which might be considered as daffy by some should not be one of them.

Her latest "incendiary" rants concern 9/11. It seems as if she has been reading the plethora of blogs/sites which question the official version of what took pace on that fateful day. Specifically, she questioned the demise of WTC 7, a building near the towers which was not hit by any aircraft but nevertheless collapsed at free fall speed. She is certainly not the first famous person to question this (Charlie Sheen was widely mocked last year for like minded comments), but she is the most prominent. While not directly implicating the US, she continued on a "I do not trust nor believe anything this administration tells me" rant. Again, nothing that hasn't already been stated by others.

The question is not whether or not she has her facts straight - again, the constitution guarantees one the right to speak whether the facts are correct or not. She is simply asking some tough questions about what happened. Many people are determined to accept what occurred and move on. Google "9/11 conspiracy" and see how many others are equally determined to prove or find evidence that what took place was not as it seemed. Is there any validity to the questions? I don't know - I've done some poking around the net myself and found folks on both sides of the fence equally passionate about and confident of their view on the topic. Any event, when looked upon with intense scrutiny, will begin to reveal some anomalies.

I love a good conspiracy, believe me, but this one is tough to swallow. I'm not 100% convinced that everything is as it seemed, but I'm hesitant to explain it all away as a massive conspiracy.

Why, then, the angry response by some? I can understand that many people do not agree with Rosie O'Donnell, a dyed in the wool liberal if ever there was one. That's fine, we live in an allegedly free society where disagreement and dissent should not only be tolerated, but encouraged. The response of those commentators with personal attacks is simply way off base to me. I can disagree all day with folks like Bill O'Reilly (and often do), but I would disagree with the merits of his commentary, and try like hell not to resort to name calling ("Loofah Boy" comes to mind). The common complaint is that questioning 9/11 somehow is insensitive to the feelings of the families of the victims. On the contrary, if someone is of the mindset they are searching for the truth, how can that do any disservice to the victims? If anything, it is coming from a place of profound reverence and respect for said victims. Additionally, there are many families who have publicly expressed their displeasure with the 9/11 Commission report in particular and the Bush administration in general for their actions regarding 9/11, so the blowhards contention holds little water. Where was this outrage when Conservative commentator Ann Coulter publicly called out a group of 9/11 widows to "shut up and get over it"? Didn't hear a peep from Hannity, O'Reilly, et al then, did we?

Then the angry response is directed towards Barbara Walters, executive producer of The View. She has lost all of her journalistic credibility now, they wail. I point out that she has always been more focused on the entertainment end all along, what with her soft focus personal interviews with stars and inane "If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?" questions. She is no dummy, and knew that installing Rosie in the seat vacated by Meredith Viera would be just the kick in the pants the show needed to regain its relevance. Fire Rosie for her comments? Hell no, this should result in a raise! Is allowing O'Donnell to pontificate on this topic "irresponsible"? I don't think so, not when there are others at the same table who question her comments on the spot.

Democracy and free speech are not subjected to double standards. People will say things every day with which we do not agree. That doesn't mean we need to silence them. America gives one the right to make a fool of oneself. When the responses are angry, as opposed to simply dismissive, they look foolish by comparison.

An important lesson to learn, liberals, the next time Coulter says something completely off the rails, which should happen any day now.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Random Thoughts: Language

With a nod of respect to my all time favorite stand-up comic, George Carlin….an homage:

Isn’t “Pre-owned” the same way of saying “new”? I always though “pre” meant “prior to”, not “previously”. Another example of lazy language.

Why do people refer to the canned treat as “Tuna Fish”? What else can tuna possibly be? You never hear anyone say “Pass me some of that Turkey Bird, please.”

Why do “fat chance” and “slim chance” both mean “virtually no chance”?

From baseball, why are wild pitches always “uncorked”?

Why aren’t happy people ever described as being “gruntled”? “Disgruntled” is used all the time when talking about angry or sad folks, right?

For that matter, have you ever furled something? Flags are always unfurled, but rarely furled.

Why is it suddenly difficult for people to spell “lose”? Seems like everywhere I look, people are sounding out the long “o” sound and spelling it “loose”.

These are the things I think about when I’m stuck on the train with no iPod or reading material.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Line Just Moved Again

I'm still a fan of so-called "reality" TV and Game Shows, despite some of the recent offerings. Two new shows have lowered the bar, and the line I said I wouldn't cross just keeps moving.

To wit:
Do we really need another Pussycat Doll? It seems that they already have about five members too many in this "band". I suppose it's more titillating to have the half-dressed stripper band audition for a new hoochie mama, which would presumably equal ratings. Then I remembered this show was on The CW (who named this network?), where anything over 100 viewers is considered a good showing. Why a group with one member who has even the slightest bit of music related talent (that would be the lead singer, whose name I am too lazy to even Google) would need another person to compete for face (and midriff, and butt cheek) time in the next video is beyond me, but I guess that's why I'm not a TV executive.

Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?, on the other hand, is a steaming pile of garbage. Forget the fact that in a one hour episode they will ask about six questions. Forget the fact that this show received ridiculously high ratings thanks to the American Idol lead-in. Forget the fact that the kids in the show are obviously pros brought in to act precocious. Forget all of that.

What gets me is that the powers that be feel the need to dumb everything down so much that even the title of the show leaves zero doubt as to what the game is about. it's the same school of thought used in Hollywood whereby any and every sequel needs to be a repeat of the original movie title with a sequential number tacked on the end - obviously American audiences are too stupid to figure out what is going on, and won't see the film.

Honestly, if this show was pitched 10-15 years ago, wouldn't you think the title would've been something a little more creative? Something like Beat The Geniuses, or Whippersnappers! if The Price Is Right was being pitched today by these clowns, it would end up being called Guess The Actual Retail Price, But Don't Go Over! I imagine Jeopardy! would end up as Here's The Answer, What Is The Question?

I wait for the inevitable next game show, soon to appear on Fox/CBS/NBC: Answer These Trivia Question To Win Cash!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Classic Album Corner

Frankie Goes To Hollywood
Welcome To The Pleasuredome
ZTT/Island Records

The saga of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, seen through the prism of time, shows a remarkable example of the full convergence of marketing, hype and music colliding into one big ball at just the right time. Destined to have a short shelf life, Frankie nevertheless milked as much as possible from their moment in time, and produced some of the most memorable records of the 1980’s. Remembered almost as much for the T-Shirts ("Frankie Say...") which popped up all over that summer, the singles went a long way toward justifying the fuss.

The long awaited album, Welcome To The Pleasuredome, followed the enormous success (particularly in the UK) of their first two singles, “Relax” and “Two Tribes”. The themes of the songs, sex and politics, respectively, were common and universal. Match that up with a pulsating, danceable song and you had the recipe for widespread success. Trevor Horn’s impeccable production, along with the proliferation of countless remixes helped keep Frankie on everyone’s radar throughout the summer of ’84. The biggest boost of all came courtesy of the BBC, whose radio division saw the need to ban “Relax” from their airwaves, allegedly after one of the DJ’s looked at the cover of the 12” single and was taken aback. With the forbidden fruit thing now in play, “Relax” surged back to the top ten, and at one point Frankie had both the #1 and #2 songs on the UK Pop Charts. Pleasuredome was scheduled for a fall release, and the factories were allegedly working overtime to press enough vinyl to meet the overwhelming demand.

For the purposes of Classic Album Corner, I’m reviewing the CD version, released in 1988. This was, in my view, a superior release, cleaning up some of the ennui from the original album, and adding preferred remixes in place of single versions.

The record kicks off with what amount to an eighteen minute version of the title track. It’s an epic beginning, with the “Hoo Hah, Hoo HAH” backing vocals along with lead singer Holly Johnson singing about Xanadu and Kubla Khan. A subsequent attempt to make a single out of this just didn’t work, as it seemed to work much better as an extended outing. One couldn’t shake the feeling that the actual band had very little to do with the song, though, as Horn brought in a solid group of backup musicians (including Yes axeman Steve Howe) to augment the band. In that aspect, I tend to view “Frankie” as more than just the five listed members of the band, since without Horn none of this would have been possible.

Of course. “Relax” and “Two Tribes” are here. The album used shortened single versions of each, which were okay. The CD, however, wisely chose the best remix of “Two Tribes”, clocking in at over nine minutes. It remains in my view the most powerful of all the versions, using the disembodied voice which mentions what to do when you hear the air attack warning. It is chilling, theatrical, and danceable all at the same time, and it is nothing short of brilliant.

A cover of Edwin Starr’s “War”, done seemingly to hammer home the point made in “Two Tribes”, was passable, but not much of an improvement over the original. Adding the voice of a Reagan impersonator added some uniqueness, and made it topical at the time, but now dates the record. The band wasn’t done with cover versions, however, not by a long shot. Ranging from campy (“Do You Know The Way To San Jose”) to a tribute to their home city of Liverpool (“Ferry Cross The Mersey”) to downright ballsy (“Born To Run”!), the band handled each with typical aplomb. “San Jose” was left off the CD release, replaced by the gorgeous “Happy Hi”. “Happy Hi” showed a different side to the band, and proved they were capable of more than sexual/political songs. It’s lilting keyboard riff and subdued vocal evokes the feeling of a lazy day in the park.

The album wraps up with what amounts to the remainder of the Frankie original catalog. The tunes are best described as mid-temp mid-80’s white boy funk. “The Only Star In Heaven” and “Black Night White Light” fall into this category. "Wish (The Lads Were Here)" and "Krisco Kisses" maintained the upbeat nature of this section for the record nicely. The closing tune, “The Power of Love”, represents Frankie’s attempt at a lush, sweeping ballad. As expected, the production is excellent, but the lyrics leave something to be desired. Declaring your love for someone is one thing, but mentioning vampires and hooded claws ventures into some freaky territory. The fact that the video for the song was released around Christmas and depicted the Nativity just added to the confusion. Of course, just in case you didn’t get the point yet, the album ends with a audio T-Shirt of the Reagan voice intoning “Frankie Say… more”.

Frankie went on to release another record in 1986, the more subdued Liverpool. While a decent follow up effort, it was obviously never going to generate the buzz of Pleasuredome. The band toured in support of the record, then dissolved in 1987 amongst infighting between members. The VH1 show Bands Reuntied did a segment on them, and they all seemed to be pretty happy and well adjusted since the bands demise. Lead singer Holly Johnson, however, proved to be quite the diva, and scuttled the attempted reunion by refusing to perform. Too bad for us Frankie fans, but maybe we’re better off hanging on to the memories from back in the day.

Frankie's Allmusic entry

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Apprentice Finally Jumps The Shark

Wow, another show that was once prime water cooler material looks to be on the verge of biting the dust. The Mark Burnett/Donald Trump egofest, The Apprentice, is taking a ratings beating so far in this, its fifth season.
Now, scheduling could be a big part, as the Sunday night slot doesn’t seem well suited for a reality show like this one. I think it goes a bit beyond that though.

Trump seems to be going off the rails. First, he engages in the public feud with Rosie O’Donnell, as each celebrity ego was unable to simply let things go, engaging in a bitter battle via the media. It wouldn’t be crazy to imagine each one perpetuating the feud to pump up the hype for their respective shows.

Watching the current season, with all of the shakeups both he and Burnett implemented, seems to have thrown the show off balance. Gone are the viceroys we had come to enjoy: George, the loveable, crotchety old guy, and Carolyn, the icy businesswoman who saw through every wannabe who tried to feed corporate-speak bullshit to Trump and Co. when defending a lost task. These two seemed to keep teh show somewhat grounded, and more importantly kept Trump from being completely wacky. Gone was the New York scenery, as the show relocated to Los Angeles. Having the losing team each week sleep outside just strips any semblance of a business related experience out the window, and turns the show into some kind of second rate Survivor. Additionally, the tasks have become mundane to the point of being nothing more than a product placement as subtle as a hammer to the forehead.

Trump himself contradicts himself from week to week, sometimes within the same episode. He rails at one winning project manager turned viceroy (another lame “twist” introduced this season) for not being vocal enough in the boardroom. The next week, when another winning PM is in the chair, and knows what happened to the other guy, he calls her out for being a “hard ass” for simply doing what he apparently wanted.

The nadir might have been in the second episode. The winning team that week got the “reward” of visiting the Playboy mansion, and meeting Hugh Hefner. Forget the fact that the team consisted of six women, one gay man, and one straight guy. The sight of a gross octogenarian in a bathrobe, his three girlfriends, interacting with The Donald created a vortex of gross not seen since Playboy After Dark. The best part: Hef tried to impart his business acumen on the eager young professionals. Let’s see, Hef basically banked on the fact that young males would like to buy a magazine and see girl boobies. Genius! Pay attention kids, you might learn something.

It would not be at all surprising to see the show cancelled once this cycle ends, if not sooner. It seems to have run its course, and no amount of messing with the format can change that. Somehow, Trump will spin the failure as a positive event which he instigated, taking credit for pulling the plug while he was still on top or some such nonsense.

Of course, I’m still watching, but then again, I’m an idiot.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Why do people care about this?

Upon learning of the death this week of Anna Nicole Smith, after the news settled in, I found myself thinking of how the news must have reverberated around the halls of a place like, say, the offices at People magazine. I imagine it was something similar to The New York Times after JFK was shot. You know, “drop everything you’re working on and get on this story, stat!”

Smith was not unique in today’s culture of celebrity. By any stretch of the imagination, she didn’t have any particular talent. She was simply a small town girl who was “discovered” in a Wal-Mart or a strip club or some such place. Being physically well endowed, she was able to parlay that into a Playboy layout, etc. From that point on, her life took turns even the most desperate Hollywood screenwriter would find too strange for words. The marriage to the old geezer, the weight gain, the slurred speech laden public appearances, the pregnancy, the death of her son, etc. - all would be dismissed out of hand if pitched by a fledgling young writer. It would simply not be plausible.

Still, despite being a tabloid mainstay, the fact remains that she was not “talented”. She was a “celebrity”, which is a huge distinction. Deeper questions began to rattle around in my head, such as “Why did anyone care what went on in this person’s life?”

Why, indeed?

This culture of celebrity is relatively new, as far as I can tell. I can’t imagine people clamoring to know what Picasso did in his spare time, or writing about who Michelangelo was taking to the orgy. What is it that makes ordinary people care what famous people do when not performing? Is it the fact that you can’t go two steps without hearing or seeing infotainment? In the supermarket while checking out one is bombarded by several publications devoted entirely to the comings and goings of celebs. I’m embarrassed to say that when I’m stuck there I read them too. It’s either that or scan the candy selection and make an unnecessary purchase. If you’re able to avoid that mass of info, you go home, and thwack on the TV. Hmm...not safe here either, as entire channels (E!) are setup to report on this stuff like it’s real news. Dumbed down faux News programs like Inside Edition and Access Hollywood treat any red carpet as if it were a meeting amongst world leaders. What was Jennifer Lopez wearing? Tune in and see!

You keep changing channels, settling on your local news. Ah, some information about stuff and places that are actually relevant to you, right? Wrong – depending on with network which the channel is affiliated, you can expect some promos for an upcoming show, disguised as “news”. There was inevitably be a feature, usually called “people in the News” or something, which goes over the latest celeb stuff. Your favorite newspaper is not immune either, also sporting a section devoted to this information.

The way the word “people” is used sheds some light on this whole phenomenon, doesn’t it? When the magazine started, it purported to be about some ordinary folks like you and me, with celebrity stuff thrown in as well. It has come to mean something more along the lines of People…..who are nothing like you, make more money, live more lavishly, and are just more important and interesting that you could ever hope to be.

I’m not trying to sound like some elitist, really. I admit a casual passing interest in some of this “news”, but I don’t ever find myself seeking it out. There really is no need, as documented above – the “news” finds you (there is a Yakov Smirnoff joke in there somewhere). What I can’t understand is why people see the need to do that. Some theories, straight from the armchair psychologist, are below:

Okay, this one might make a little sense. Our lives are full of everyday drudgery and aren’t really that exciting, so why not look in and see what the so anointed celebrities are up to? Their big houses and party lifestyles are something we don’t necessarily aspire to, but love to hear about nonetheless. Still, when taking to the degree we see today, it's just ugly.

We feel like we know these people, even though we don’t. They come into our homes, ipods, etc. whenever we want. We want to find out as much about them as possible, like we would an actual friend. This starts to border on the creepy if you ask me – I loved Goodfellas, but I don't think Joe Pesci cares what I thought, nor do I feel like I know him. We only know what these people and their handlers want us to know (see, George Clooney was at the Save The Whales benefit – isn’t he a great guy?). When the story inevitably comes out about misdeeds we are shocked, shocked to find that these people aren’t who we thought they were! (O.J., many, many others) The really disturbing aspect is when a person with no discernible talent, like the aforementioned Anna Nicole, as well as Paris Hilton, become people of interest. Their talent is being famous, and it’s a chicken/egg thing after that.

Not sure if that is the right word or not, but….when the 24/7/365 celeb “news” culture reveals every little detail about someone’s personal life, it lends itself to humanizing the celebrity. When the bored housewife stuck in a bad marriage sees that even someone as beautiful, rich and famous as Jennifer Aniston can have martial problems with a beautiful, rich and famous husband like Brad Pitt, well, then she can feel that she and Jennifer aren’t really that different, are they? See, Jessica Simpson struggled with acne and a seemingly storybook marriage gone wrong, just like you! Poor Nick Lachey, he gave her his heart and got dumped!

Whatever the reason, it’s all a crock. The only time in my life where the whole celebrity worship machine seemed to grind to a halt was right after 9/11, which turned the focus back on real heroes, and the spirit of people helping each other. Celebs got involved, but downplayed the whole angle and actually used their notoriety in a positive way, to help raise money for relief. It didn’t take very long for things to return to normal. Caring about nothing important became one of the things mentioned that helped get America back to normal. Sigh.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go check out E!, they’re about to run a new special, 100 Biggest Fashion Faux pas on the Red Carpet, or something like that. I have some ideas about what will be #1, but I’ll probably kill myself before we get that far.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Classic Album Corner

Under The Big Black Sun

X burst on to the LA punk scene in 1980 with their raucous debut album, Los Angeles. The follow-up, 1981’s Wild Gift was a critical smash, but alas never received the nationwide airplay it deserved. Calling X a punk band seemed to be a bit of pigeonholing to me – they were at the core a rock band who played at faster tempos. For one thing, the songs of X had actual melodies, unlike much of the hardcore punk from that era. The vocal interplay between then husband and wife John Doe and Exene Cervenka was unlike any other band of the time. The fact that each record was produced by former Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek lent the group a bit of credibility in the “rock” world. (though it was funny to read a letter in Rolling Stone in ’81 or so which decried the current state of music, specifically mentioning a photo of Ray on stage with X that appeared in an earlier issue, which the writer described as “Ray Manzarek playing with some New Wave band”). Give me a break, writer, this band could “rock” circles around the dinosaur acts of the era like The Who, were were retiring, and corporate bland crap like Styx and Journey. (This will have to be an entirely different post, but I do not understand the current wave of nostalgia for Journey. They sucked then, and they suck now, and the passage of time has not changed anything, at least in my eyes. Who enjoys this passionless garbage?)

In early 1982, X made the leap and was signed to a major label, Elektra. This kind of step was often seen as selling out by the hardcore members of the punk scene, but for X it seemed to be the next logical step – they had accomplished everything possible on indie label Slash, and were ready for the big time. If they could garner wider acceptance without compromising their sound (always the most difficult thing for a band to do), everyone would be satisfied.

My first exposure to the group came in early September of 1982. I knew of the band, but no radio station on the East Coast was playing them, so had never actually heard any of their songs. While watching the Jerry Lewis telethon (hey, I was working the late shift, and not much else was on in those pre-cable days), I saw them be introduced by Mr. Lewis. I was thrown for a loop – this was what major labels forced bands to do? I can only imagine the reactions from many of the older folks in the audience and watching at home when Exene took the mic and began to sing. She was really the only member of the band who could be classified as having an odd appearance – the other male members of the band, Doe, Billy Zoom and DJ Bonebrake, looked like very straight arrow types. They performed “Blue Spark”, from their new major label debut record Under The Big Black Sun, and they killed. I was immediately hooked, and wanted to hear more. I ran out the very next day and bought the record. Really, I ran. I was not disappointed, as you can probably tell.

The record kicks off with a bang, as “The Hungry Wolf” launches with Zoom’s powerful lead guitar riff, backed by the steady pounding drums of Bonebrake, and we’re off and running. Doe and Cervenka share the vocals on just about every song, at various times singing with each other, against each other, or one behind the other. This was one of the things that made X’s sound so unique.

While death is a theme which permeates the record, it would be a mistake to assume that X was a dark band obsessed with goth images, etc. As the liner notes indicate, Exene’s sister Mary was killed the previous year in a car accident, and the songs which allude to her are more mournful than anything else. “Riding With Mary” is the most direct, playing off the same name as the Saint while sporting the couplet “The next time you see a statue of Mary/ Remember my sister was in a car”. “Come Back to Me” is a poignant, slow song performed solely by Cervenka, as one imagines it should have been. The rest of the record rocks as hard as ever, even their cover of an old Leadbelly tune “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes”, and grows on the listener with each play.

X followed in 1983 with More Fun In The New World, which also failed to reach the critical mass Elektra had hoped for, though a cover of “Breathless” got a little attention. The band later explored a return to Roots based rock, hooking up with Dave Alvin of the Blasters (eventually making him a member after Zoom’s departure).

To most hard core X fans, Under The Big Black Sun is not even their favorite record (Wild Gift usually get that distinction). For me, there was just the magic of one’s first exposure to a band that makes that particular record the one listened to and cherished the most.

The album was reissued in 2001, and is available on iTunes.
X (AllMusic)

For All 24 Fans

If you watch 24, then damn it, you will love this.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Does Anyone Remember The Laughter?

The evidence mounts each day that I am rapidly becoming an old fart. To wit, as I was driving home with my daughter the other day, the game of radio bingo unfolded. Most of the time, I’ll switch to the Top 40 station when she’s in the car with me, and even tough I’ll be subjected to garbage like Fergie (whom I absolutely cannot stand), they toss in enough Green Day and some Emo to keep me quiet. I dare say that Justin Timberlake, of all people, has grown on me. (Hey, c’mon, he did bring sexy back, after all). Good Lord, what is happening to me?!

On occasion, like during commercial breaks, we both start poking the presets. In my car, they range from one station which will play rock (older and newer) to a classic rock station which to my knowledge has no awareness that the 90’s even happened.

During one of these button surfing exchanges, we stumbled upon “Stairway to Heaven”, the Led Zeppelin classic. My daughter had never heard it. “Well, you’re in for a treat!” I said. Once she heard the song was over seven minutes, she bristled. In her world no song lasts that long. Also? When was it going to speed up?

Try this some time. Try explaining the significance of a song to someone who has never heard it before. It would be like my mother trying to convey just how big Benny Goodman was back in the day. I’d listen, but just wouldn’t understand what the fuss was about.

I told my daughter that this song, for whatever reason, is the most popular Zeppelin song of all, for reasons I still don’t understand. (Personally, it wouldn’t even be in my Top 20 if I were to rank all Zeppelin songs). I went on to explain that every time a radio station did one of the “Top 500 Songs of ALL TIME” countdowns, this always came in at #1. How it was played at every Middle School dance, and the kids went wild, even though dancing to it was virtually impossible. How every stupid boy would be able to air drum and air guitar every single moment of this song, while demonstrating the same on my steering wheel as we headed home. To frame Zeppelin, I had to mention that the guy playing the wailing guitar was the same guy who played on Puff Daddy’s “Come With Me”. To her credit, she didn’t roll her eyes and think me an idiot, at least not outwardly. I love that kid!

Someday, she’ll be in the car with her kid, and will have to explain the cultural significance of “Hips Don’t Lie” or "Fergalicious", and I can’t wait to hear how that conversation goes.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Freakishness That is The Disney Universe

Disney is so pervasive in our culture that rarely does one step back and take a look at the main characters, and the weird setup of the world they inhabit. Since I am bored out of my mind when forced to watch the endless stream of Disney Channel junk (thanks kids, love ya!), my mind has often wandered to the abilities and limitations of the animals which have come to represent this company. My thoughts on this vital matter follow below.

To wit, we all know Mickey Mouse, the signature icon of the entire organization. Mickey, along with his wife (?) Minnie, both are clearly not typical mice. For starters, they each walk upright, on two legs, which most mice couldn’t do for more than a few terrified steps before crashing to the floor. They’re fully clothed as well, Mickey sporting an odd ensemble of shorts with suspenders with no shirt, while Minine has a more gender traditional pink polka-dot dress, with matching big ass bow in her….well, I can’t call it hair, since these two both appear to be hairless. Let’s just say the bow sits on the spot of her head where a human who had hair would logically place it. The big thing which separates these two from the rest of their species is, remarkably, the power of speech. High pitched, annoying speech, but speech nonetheless.

That ability seems to be the great divider among animals in the Disney world. The resident ducks, Donald, Daisy and what apparently are only Donald’s nephews Huey, Looie and Dooey, all have the ability to speak, albeit in an almost unintelligible squawk. The fact that he has nephews means he must have a brother or sister, whom, logically, would also have the walking upright/speech capability as well. To my knowledge, this individual, along with his or her mate with whom these little brats were produced, is not known. The fact that this special group of ducks never seem to wear pants is yet another puzzling aspect of the (now frozen, apparently) mind of Walt Disney. Would it have killed him to cover up the lower halves of these animals, since he already put shirts on them, or is this some sort of bizarre symmetry with the shirtless Mickey? Strange decision indeed Walt.

The one species where things really get weird, though, is dogs. Is Disney’s Universe, the canine pecking order is clearly established: If you can speak and walk on two legs, you are superior to all other doggies. Those barking on all fours are left to play subservient roles as pets. Goofy falls into the former category, and despite being dumb as a bag of hammers, he holds a clear advantage over Pluto, who can be nothing more than the loyal pet of the freakish talking mouse. Goofy apparently has procreated at some point as well, as a son emerged in later years. This puppy has the double bonus of not only inheriting his Dad’s speech/walking ability, but not being cursed with his father’s limited intellect. The mother of said child is unknown, at least to me, and I do not have the energy to Google it. The fact that Pluto and Goofy appear to be of the same breed must drive Pluto crazy, as he knows he is clearly smarter than dumbass Goofy, yet can’t articulate his thoughts beyond a series of powerful barks and awkward points with his paw. Another dog, who tends to play the villain role, is a bulldog named Pete. Pete too is one of the blessed ones, not only having the walking/talking thing mastered, but also, thankfully, opting to wear trousers. Pete has a pet bulldog, which is just plain creepy and is tantamount to slavery, right? Pete’s pet dog, whose name escapes me and really isn’t relevant, plays the role to the hilt, and is clearly subservient to his “master”, even though, like Pluto, one speculates the pet might be at least as smart as the owner, if not more so. If Mickey had a mouse for a pet, wouldn’t that be sort of weird? Same dynamic here, and it is just plain ugly.

Other cartoon characters also employed the speech/upright walking paradigm, specifically in the Loony Tunes world. The difference there was that whenever Bugs Bunny interacted with another animal, that animal was on somewhat equal footing, since it also possessed the human like characteristics. In Disney’s land, clear lines are drawn within the same species.

What this all says about Mr. Disney himself is unclear, at least to an armchair psychologist like me. My entirely non-expert opinion, though, is that the guy clearly had some serious issues, mostly regarding pants. Maybe when they thaw him out and reanimate his corpse, we can get some real answers. Until then, we can only speculate.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Stupid People Are Here To Amuse Us

This is always my favorite part of the whole American Idol cycle. The time when we only see brief snippets of the wannabes who will end up competing for the coveted title of The Guy/Girl Who Gets to Have His/Her Spirit Crushed by 19 Entertainment. The time when we are shown the parade of train wrecks who fit neatly into one of the following categories:

Category One: Delusional famewhores who think they can actually sing
Absolutely the best ones to watch. The hunch is these people do really well at Karoke night with their co-workers, and say “Why not me?” after a few beers and encouragement from the others. Reality sets in pretty quickly, but for many it is simply too incredible to believe that the judges can’t recognize the abundance of talent oozing from every pore. They are usually afforded a slice of airtime to air their displeasure toward the judges as they exit the venue. Numerous bleeps ensue. Good times.

Category Two: Children of people who are delusional famewhores, but need to live vicariously through their children
A close second is this bunch. The truly scary parents who seemingly have never told their precious baby that he/she is not the absolute best at everything he or she has ever tried. The best are the ones who claim to have experienced a modicum of “fame” themselves, which normally ends up being High School Chorus and/or being a groupie that time KajaGooGoo came to town in ‘83. When their child is told in no uncertain terms that “it’s a no”, the indignation that sets in is priceless. Of course, the cameras are there to catch it all, following the vanquished contestant and family out the door and into the street, for as long as the rant lasts. First rejection is a bitch, ain’t it?

Category Three: Goofballs who just want to get on TV, no matter the cost
Everybody should be in on this joke, least of all the producers. The more outlandish the “act”, the better shot at a few minutes of precious airtime on a top rated TV show. Dressing in a goofy costume often works, but being plain ol’ batshit crazy works just as well. Bonus points are awarded when you yourself never acknowledge the act, and stay in character all the way out of the room. Later, you can go home and collect on your bets when the show airs and you are given primo exposure.

Category Four: Actual mentally challenged people
Wait, how can this be? You mean the producers will actually allow folks with clear mental disabilities to go in front of the panel, attempt to sing, and be subsequently humiliated? Believe it or not people, there actually is a line, and this is where Fox et al cross it. There is no doubt the producers know when a person is not completely self aware and competent to be on this show. Having people with clear issues perform for us like monkeys is just plain ridiculous. One argument, “If they’re not ‘well’ how did they get themselves there and decide to perform” simply doesn’t wash, as there are many folks with limited disabilities who are self sufficient with basic life skills, but lack social awareness. Nobody is around to prevent them form going to Idol. Nobody, that is, except Idol itself, which obviously values mocking all over compassion and decency.

I understand it is a fine line, and the fact that millions of people watch these early rounds could be seen as a validation of the entire format. I myself stated how much I enjoy these rounds, and wonder if by watching I am part of the problem. Fox took some heat after the first few episodes aired, but mostly for the perceived cruel remarks from the panel. Simon Cowell, we expect that kind of thing from of course, but in some of the early round Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson got into the fray as well. It looked like a recent episode was pared down since it was light on the negative comments, but that might have been due to the fact that it was only a one hour show, unlike the normal two hour suckfest normally shown at this stage.

The producers can claim ignorance, since they’re not doctors, but it doesn’t take years of training to identify some of the limitations displayed by several contestants. Want to give them a chance? Fine, but must it be aired? It would be easy to quietly tell the panel that this next contestant has some issues, and the audition will not be aired, allowing them to perhaps display some class and gently let the person know that Hollywood just isn’t going to happen.

Oh jeez, who am I kidding, this is Fox. Guess we’ll have to shower after these episodes air and buck up for the Hollywood rounds, and hope that a little backlash makes them rethink the strategy next season. I’m not holding my breath.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Currently wearing out my iPod.....

Like anyone should give a crap about anyone else’s iPod, right? Relax, this won’t be a list of all the stuff currently on my device. This soon to be recurring feature will feature songs that I’m currently enjoying. You might not like them, you might love ‘em. Either way, I suggest you check them out.

Two new songs, which unlike most stuff on my iPod actually are new, are currently in heavy rotation on said device, and warrant your listening attention.

Cold War Kids, “Hang Me Up To Dry”

This was a featured Single of the Week on iTunes a few weeks back, and if you were lucky enough to grab it, kudos to you. I can’t see this ever becoming a radio-friendly hit, but it definitely grows on you with repeated listens. Like the song below, I have a need to hear this song daily. These guys manage to sound unlike anyone else, and the pulsating tempo is still in my head hours after each listen. Very promising...

Cold War Kids (myspace page)

Pete Yorn, “For Us”

Caught this on the VH1 Video Countdown show last weekend, sandwiched among nineteen other songs commonly heard on any pop radio station. How this made the list puzzles me: I haven’t heard it on the radio at all, and the video is certainly nothing extraordinary. The song, however, is catchy as hell, and I find it necessary to listen to it at least once per day, usually more than that. I have not heard anything else from Yorn, but “For Us” is a great tune, straightforward Indie guitar based pop. Dave Grohl chips in on the drums for the tune, which just adds to the cool. I will definitely check out the rest of his current album on Rhapsody, and can see more purchases in my future if those songs are anywhere near this good.

Pete Yorn's Site

Check them out, you won’t be disappointed.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

An Announcement

This blog has become disjointed, in my view, by combining sports entries with my ordinary rants/recommendations/musings. The solution: set up a separate blog (called Bristol I My Rear View Mirror) entirely for sports related stuff. While I don’t think I’ll be a threat to the top sports blogs out there, all linked on the right side on the main page of the new site for your convenience, I still will have something to contribute.

To review:

What? (where you are right now) – All the non-Sports related stuff I feel like writing about.

Bristol In My Rear View Mirror (linked at right) – Sports stuff only.

Got it? Good. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

NFL Picks - Divisional Playoffs

Not a bad Wild Card week, as I managed to go 3-1, faltering only by showing faith that Kansas City would somehow manage to do something, anything against the previously woeful Indy defense. Silly me. The divisional round features some great matchups, and I've been going back and forth on just about every game before deciding on my selections as follows.....

Indianapolis at Baltimore we congratulate the Colts for winning despite a relatively bad performance by Peyton Manning? Maybe, but the Chiefs were as bad as the Colts were good, so I'm not sure how much can be taken from last week. The Ravens are built to win in the post-season, with a solid, ball-hawking defense couples with a much more reliable offense than what's been put out there in recent years. the big key is here, if Baltimore can control the line of scrimmage while on offense, grind the clock and keep Manning and Co. off the field, the defense can do the rest.
No way the Colt defense can reproduce last week's result while outside, on the road, and on grass. It could be an ugly game, but I'll go with the home team.
Ravens 20 Colts 10

Philadelphia at New Orleans
An absolutely unthinkable matchup a year ago. Saints are the story of 2006, while Philly is perhaps the hottest team in the league. So, what prevails, the momentum of a team riding high with a rejuvantated Jeff Garcia? Or a team who has attempted to lift an entire city on its collective back? Tough call, but with Philadelphia DB Lito Sheppard out of this game with the elbow injury, the Saints explosive offense gains a bit of an advantage. This could be the most entertaining game of the weekend, and once again the pick here is with the home team.
Saints 27 Eagles 23

Seattle at Chicago
Rarely has a #1 seeded team gone into the playoffs with so many question marks. The Bears look like a team that might have peaked in October, and have limped to the finish. Despite defensive lapses and injuries, and the incredibly inconsistent play of QB Rex Grossman, Chicago still is the team to beat, and the Seahawks are not getting past them. I can't remember a team in wihch the defense and special teams are an equal threat to match the point totals generated by the offnse, but Chicago is that team. Rex Grossman can quiet the critics, for one week at least, and guide the Bears to an easy home win.
Bears 27 Seahawks 10

New England at San Diego
The NFL wisely saved the best for last, as this one should be a dandy. Bill Bellichick and his 3 rings against Marty Schottenheimer and his ugly playoff record. Post-season hero Tom Brady against first time playoff starter Phillip Rivers. Hmm, based on those two factors, it's all Pats, however superstud RB LaDanian Tomlinson is the X-factor. How the Pats handle LDT is the obvious key to the game. Look, he is too good a player to not get his yards, and even a TD or two, but if New England can handle the rest of the offense adequately, that might be enough. They force Rivers to beat them, and they're in good shape. The Charger D has been back on track since Merriman returned, but Brady and his no-name receiving corps, along with the two pronged ground attack of Maroney and Dillon, should be able to find some holes and out up some points. Another big point: the Pats got jobbed on the road at Denver last year, which is the only post-season belmish on this group's record. That game is avenged here. My only road choice of the round, ladies and gents, is the Patriots.
Patriots 24 Chargers 20

Last week: 3-1

Friday, January 05, 2007

Recommendation of the week: Drink Til We're Funny

If you’re into podcasts, the choices presented to you are expanding almost daily. Finding new things to subscribe to via Itunes or any other provider can be an exhausting exercise, and the glut of content available contains some real drivel. Some, however, do stand out. For example, if you’re in a particularly silly mood, check out the entertaining weekly musings of Justin, Jon and Deena, on Drink ‘Til We’re Funny .

The three friends gather together each week and produce some entertaining babble about anything that strikes their fancy, though just about every podcast can’t go on too long without eventually getting around to three basic topics: fat, poop and/or death. You might need to be forewarned that Jon and Justin are both gay (one might say "flaming"), and openly talk about their respective lives, which oddly enough involve lots of gay related stuff. That doesn’t make this a queercast by any means, and open-minded straight listeners (like yours truly) will find plenty to laugh about while the three friends banter on about any other topics and events that strike their collective fancy. Deena is not gay, but is funny as hell – not that those are mutually exclusive. All three of them have heavy duty Chicago accents, which is kind of endearing if you’re not from that area.

If you’re one of those people who loves to correct the grammar of others, or loves to constantly play on words and phrases as others speak, or just likes listening to some genuinely funny folks, you’ll really get a kick out of these guys. Give DTWF a try, you won’t regret it!

NFL Picks - Wild Card Edition

What a wild finish to the regular season last week, as a series of unlikely events resulted in the Kansas City Chiefs gaining the final AFC playoff spot, the Lions went into Texas Stadium and shocked the Cowboys into a lower seed, and Bill Cowher went out with an OT touchdown to knock out the Bengals. Now, it's on to the second season, and here are the picks for the opening slate of games.

Kansas City 27 Indianapolis 24
It's obvious, for anyone who has been reading this blog, that I'm going with KC, right? Personal loyalty aside, the Chiefs can win this one. The obvious matchup in their favor is Larry Johnson against the league's worst rushing defense, and that will no doubt be a factor. The Chiefs will look to limit the number of posessions for Peyton Manning and Co., and hope it will put pressure on the star QB to rush things, causing more mistakes. Overlooked a bit here is the KC defense, which is far better than the unit from the last playoff matchup between these teams in early 2004. They don't have to be the '85 Bears here, just do enough to get some pass pressure, and hold their own in what they hope will be a very short amount of time spent on the field. The pick here is KC, in a close one, to extend the ongoing post-season frustration for Indy.

Seattle 37 Dallas 31
Home team choice here, and that is the only reason I picked the Seahawks. Banged up on defense, with an offense that has been woefully inconsistent all season, the Hawks have nevertheless broken the jinx of Super Bowl losers missing the playoffs the following year. The Cowboys have looked awful since the Saints spanked them a few weeks back, and it appears everyone is using Sean Payton's game plan to stomp them. Seattle has enough weapons to do the same, and can prevail at home in a high scoring affair. Hope they enjoy it, because the run will be a short one.

New England 23 N.Y. Jets 14
Ah, the student against the Master, Round Three. Everyone knows how tough the Pats are at home in the playoffs, and despite the Jet victory here in November, I can't buck that trend. Jets have had problems running the ball on offense, and stopping the run on defense, which could spell disaster here. The weather will not be typical January New England fare, with the temps in the 50's. Tom Brady seems to finally be comfortable with his ragtag receiving corps, and the double barreled ground attack of Maroney and Dillon will wear down the Jet front seven. As was the case last year, I just can;t pick against the Pats at home, at least not this year.

Philadelphia 27 N.Y. Giants 24
G-Men have had two distinctly separate seasons, going 6-2 through the first eight games, than crashing to a 2-6 finish, but despite all the turmoil, they're here as the six seed. The Eagles are the unlikely division champs, owing that to both a late season resurgence by Jeff Garcia coupled with the crashing to Earth of the Cowboys. No result will surprise me in this one, given the unpredictability of the two teams. That said, I do expect a relatively high scoring affair, and let's give the edge to Philly due to the hot team factor, as well as the home field advantage.

Last Week: 11-5
Regular Season Total: 151-105 (58.9%)