Monday, July 31, 2006

Chorizo Coverage Goes Multimedia

I never thought I would have to utter the words, "Trust me, this won't turn into a blog about the chorizo," but here I am: Trust me, this won't turn into a blog about the chorizo. (Though it would be funny, and maybe even interesting, if it did.)

This will probably be the last post about the running sausage until he starts competing regularly next season, at which point perhaps I'll start a sister blog devoted to him. LFW and the feminist sans funny bone both pointed me to an interview on NPR's All Things Considered today with the woman who helped design the chorizo mascot. Because my computer occasionally conspires against me, I haven't even listened to it yet, but how could it be anything less than fascinating? Go here to take it in.

The Good Movie Club

It's been a while since I've resorted to a list of favorites, which is always a handy way to take up some space and get all of you chattering. So, here are 26 (to embrace randomness) movies I love. They're in no particular order, though the top 10 are pretty much in their appropriate place at the bottom of the list, ending with my favorite. I've added some good/memorable lines from some of the choices for illustrative purposes. Feel free to make fun of me in the comments for not having enough foreign films (I've seen my share, but always have trouble choosing my favorites), or for having too many comedies, or for ignoring The Godfather (I'm not going for historical accuracy here; these are just the movies I would put on a loop if I had to narrow things down).


Ferris Bueller's Day Off
("Here's where Cameron goes berzerk.")

Withnail & I

Glengarry Glen Ross


Kicking and Screaming
(Noah Baumbach, not Will Ferrell/Mike Ditka)

Before Sunrise

Four Friends

Doctor Zhivago

Empire of the Sun


Of Mice and Men

The Breakfast Club

("PB&J with the crusts cut off.")

The Princess Bride
("But, you've also bested my Spaniard, which means you must have studied, and in studying you must have learned that man is mortal...")



The Best of Youth

("Well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the point.")

Bottle Rocket

Back to the Future

Sherman's March

("You've got to kid yourself and you've got to kid her and then you'll both believe it.")

Broadcast News
("I've never seen you like this about anyone, so please don't take it wrong when I tell you that I believe that Tom, while a very nice guy, is the devil.")

This is Spinal Tap
("David, Smell the Glove is here.")

Raising Arizona

("I'm already home, Glen.")

You Can Count On Me

("But I don't want to believe in something or not believe in it because I might feel bad. I want to believe in it or not believe in it because I think it's true or not.")

Annie Hall
("What has the universe got to do with it? You're here in Brooklyn! Brooklyn is not expanding!")


(Insert Striking Photograph Here)

As I near home every night, the F train comes above ground for two stops, and at some point during that gulp for fresh air it provides a pretty decent view of the Statue of Liberty outside its west-side windows. Tonight, the sun -- about 30 minutes prior to setting -- was in one of those phases (probably due to pollution, sure) when it's Crayola-orange and its outline is perfectly defined and it's easy to stare at without going blind or even squinting. Stunning on its own, and even more so for the few moments when it was aligned over the Statue. The point is, if I owned a digital camera, I could be sharing the image with you right now.

Note to self: Buy a camera.

I Admit, I Have a Problem Letting This Story Go.

Follow this link for a full recap of the chorizo's maiden voyage, including glorious video.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Chimp Goes on Tilt

I've been seeing teaser headlines about this poker-playing chimp all over the place the last few weeks. He was supposed to be trained to play, and even entered in this year's World Series of Poker. I figured it was legit (as legit as training an ape to play cards can be, anyway), so I never really investigated. Turns out, he's not such a pro. This clip is hilarious. (My favorite part: How, right after he starts flipping out, they put up the graphic about chimps and humans sharing 98.4% of their DNA. Yes, we're quite a species, us humans. Second favorite part: How his trainer doesn't contradict the vapid morning-news host when he asks if he should put "five cards up," when you should start with three. With training like that, the chimp's not likely to advance very far. Of course, that's assuming he learns to stop eating his chips.)

(Via Deadspin)

Duncan's Advice. Now if He'd Only Publish Another Novel.

The author of my favorite novel offers his advice about writing advice:
If the would-be author shows gumption and barks back, "Come on! I'm serious!" I am sometimes moved to inspire them with this:

"My very best, most financially useful writing advice to those who show extra spirit, the way you're doing, is this: If you want a sane work life, economic viability, happy family, home, flat abs, nice ass, reliable car, health insurance, and teeth, DON'T TRY TO WRITE BOOKS AT ALL! STOP NOW!"

That often ends the conversation, or at least moves it on to happier topics, such as viruses or STDs. Once in a rare while, though, I'll meet a humble yet determined would-be book writer who tells me, "Look. I know it's hard. I accept the inevitable poverty, daily frustration, familial humiliation, economic preposterousness, and fact that the work itself is horribly difficult. I also accept the fact that almost no one wants to read you when you're done. I understand all this. So now what's your advice?"

To these inspiringly stalwart individuals, I offer the following:

"You idiot! Come to your senses! Join a twelve-step Quit Lit program, sit down with the other junkies, and admit the terrible truth: 'My name is such and such, I love Literature, and Literature KILLS!'
But later, he gives a more earnest answer:
Remember Nero Wolfe, the impossibly brilliant yet somehow convincing 300-pound Manhattan Island detective who seldom left his chair, never left his house, lived for nothing but orchids, great food, microbrewed beer, and an occasional solved crime? Nero's inventor, Rex Stout, once said of authoring, "If you're not having fun writing it, nobody's going to have fun reading it."

Amen, I thought, decades ago, and so I began picking up thoughts and images, then questions and narrative threads, then voices, idiosyncratic nervous tics, oral tales, full-fledged characters, and having the best damned time I could, sick bastard that I'd become. This paltry, pifflized word, "f-u-n," became my key to the door of the literary kingdom.

A couple of decades ago my simplistic credo hit a snag when Joseph Campbell came along and made famous the phrase: "Follow your bliss." I didn't mind his slogan till hordes of self-styled Campbell followers turned it into a kind of verbal Happy Face, and translated Follow Your Bliss to mean anything from having five beers for breakfast to investing in strategic war metals to changing your name from Biff to Subhutti Sedona SkyTango to stringing along three lied-to lovers at once to liquidating some of your cyanide heap-leach gold stock to fund your Wild Man Weekend to trading in the wife and kids on the aforementioned vibrator. Hence, I was repulsed into forgetting Rex Stout's advice for a while. For any long-term full-time writer, though, the Have-Fun-On-Paper Concept is too crucial to let a few bliss-followers scare it away. You dry up without the fun hidden in the paper. You thirst.

Huey Lewis and the News

A while ago, Andrew Sullivan recommended a pretty light, entertaining blog called The Daily Gut. The site has a funny new feature involving Huey Lewis, and examples of it can be seen here and here.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Archive of the Day

Edward Hirsch on William Maxwell:
I can't reconcile myself to the fact that he is gone. The night before he passed away I stood on the sidewalk outside his apartment building and burst into tears. I was grieving in advance. I couldn't bear to be without him. I still can't. William Maxwell knew something about inconsolable grief. People hurried by on either side of me, but no one even glanced my way. It started to rain. The night opened its arms. New York City is a place where one can weep on the sidewalk in perfect privacy.

Faith in 'Lack of Faith' Rewarded

I used to have Josh Friedman's blog, I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing, on my blogroll, and I only took it off because he posts so infrequently (I'm fine with that; he must be busy as a successful screenwriter) that I figured I could just point out whenever he's got something new up. Well, I've checked nearly every day since May 9, the date of the last post, and my obsessive checking has finally paid off -- and it was worth the wait (Mom, no need for you to follow the link. Even the post's title has a word that will offend you):
I betrayed you by abandoning Hollywood anecdotes and writing about my illness; most of you take Hollywood more seriously than cancer and why shouldn't you? Cancer can only kill you but a funny blog entry can make Dr. Pepper shoot from your nose.

And believe it or not I've had things to do. I owe Mr. Fox Broadcasting Company one very large Terminator script and was determined to get it done before our very own nuclear apocalypse made the one in the script feel "dated."

Friday, July 28, 2006

Music News Leading Me to a Quest

I've just learned that the Guillemots, a band with promise to spare, have a new full-length album out. Not sure if it's available in the U.S. yet, but I'm going to investigate and get back to you. For now, I've learned that the band has the coolest web site ever. (Click on the scuba helmet in the middle of the screen for added fun.)

AP OK, Score One for Civilization Headline of the Day

Inmate's Request for Liquor License Denied

AP Decline of Civilization Headlines of the Day

Club Plans Tubing Trip With Strippers

Anderson, Kid Rock to Wed Numerous Times

NYC Wax Museum Shows Off Jolie-Pitt Baby

World, Chorizo; Chorizo, World

It's off to bed with me, but before I go, it was brought to my attention that the chorizo mascot was unveiled at a press conference in Milwaukee the other day. Press conference. For a human chorizo. You're not hallucinating. (It should go without saying, but won't, that if you have a transcript or video of this press conference, it's much desired in these parts.)

In the meantime, I figure I owe you a sneak peek at the fellow. If you're in Milwaukee the first night he races, I wouldn't bet against him:


Thursday, July 27, 2006

Kent Brockmans on Parade

I promise (really) that this won't turn into a video blog, but this recent clip from The Colbert Report is worth your time. It's more than four minutes long, and I know in 2006 that's the equivalent of, say, 37 hours in 1872, but just pop a couple of your ADD pills and enjoy:

Breaking Mascot News

The indispensable Deadspin alerted me to the fact that the Milwaukee Brewers are adding a chorizo to their sausage race, a nightly tradition during which four (now five) people dressed as different sausages see who can run around the stadium fastest.

There are several angles to this story I want to address, so allow me to take a deep breath... (If you’re asking yourself, given my abiding interest in the subject, whether I should start a separate blog devoted solely to mascots, believe me, I’m asking myself the same thing.)

First off, any news involving the race, from now until the end of time, will call to mind the incident a few years ago when Pittsburgh’s Randall Simon took out one of the sausages with a bat from the top step of the dugout. This was arguably the richest moment in American sports history, dubbed Sausagegate by the press. It also got the attention of a certain upstart blogger.

Trust me, dear readers, I have searched high and low for video of this incident. The fact that YouTube doesn’t have it leads me to believe that YouTube is not living up to its potential. There is a moment after Simon decks the sausage when another outfitted runner, startled, turns to assess what happened to the fallen comrade. Despite the fact that said person is wearing an unchanging mask of foam meat (with facial features, of course), he or she still manages to express bewilderment. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever seen. If you have Windows Media Player, unlike me, you may be able to watch it here. I hope so.

In any case, the chorizo news understandably brought Simon to mind.

It’s also fascinating in its own right, though. A sports business reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes:
Chorizo, who will be adorned with a sombrero and decked out in red, green and white, will be formally introduced on Thursday at a press conference at Miller Park.

Latino community leaders had lobbied the Brewers and Klement's to add a Mexican mascot. The unveiling is in conjunction with Cerveceros Day, set for Saturday night at Miller Park.
Yes, I know that if I was in charge of lobbying for the dignity and increased visibility of my people, the first thing I would ask for is the creation of an ambulatory sausage wrapped in our flag and sporting an accessory associated with our caricature.

So there’s that.

And lastly, there’s the usual effect of any mascot story, which is to fuel my insatiable hunger for more mascot stories.

I love this country:


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Take it Away, Norm

After discussing politics last night with two women to my political left (one of whom somehow shares my genetic make-up), I wondered if I could muster something to say on the blog about the current situation in the Middle East. I know you're all dying for my wisdom before I get back to sending you R.E.M. videos and talking about how I pretend that certain baseball players are performing on my behalf. Alas, I don't think I could wrap things up better than Norm Geras did today on his site. So, here you go.

District of Catches

Andrew Sullivan linked to this annual ranking of the 50 most beautiful people on Capitol Hill. And yes, there are some attractive people here, but most of the women look like interchangeable do-gooders who have been practicing answers in the mirror for the how-to-save-the-universe question at the end of beauty pageants and most of the men look like generically ambitious former intramural-sports stars who have been practicing how to look genuinely interested when hot D.C. women start talking about how to save the universe.

Having said that about the vast majority of those chosen, could there have been an easier decision about who to rank number one? They didn't mess that up, but how could they have? Sweet merciful lord in heaven.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Early R.E.M. Collected

The R.E.M. nerd in me feels obligated to point out that the band is releasing a two-disc anthology of its years on the IRS label in September, including rarities, demos, etc. Those little more than five years at IRS (1982-1987) saw the release of the e.p. Chronic Town and then five great full-lengths -- Murmur, Reckoning, Fables of the Reconstruction, Life's Rich Pageant, and Document. That's quite an impressive stretch, and the albums were consistent enough (and devoid enough of huge hits, at least until Document) that choosing songs from them seems ridiculous, but the only ones I would have found a place for that aren't anywhere on the collection are "Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)," "Laughing," "Good Advices," and "Wendell Gee."

The sad thing is that it's about 25 years since the band formed, and exercises like this only hammer home the likelihood that, with the release of three consecutive mostly forgettable records and a couple of other greatest-hits projects, they're done making great music.

(Via Pop Candy)

Monday, July 24, 2006

AP Headline of the Day

Dutch Nuns on Bikes Chase Suspected Thief


Random (but Vehement) Complaint About My Fantasy Baseball Team

On May 8, Jonny Gomes was hitting .309. After going 0-for-3 tonight, he's hitting .225.


No, I Take it Back, City. Ike is Sorry. Ike Didn't Mean it, City.

OK, I can't just complain about rent (see below). I have to balance the scales. I started reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell the other day -- this is going somewhere; take my hand -- and realized five pages into it that I don't have much confidence these days in my ability to finish a 500-plus-page novel that isn't required reading for my job. I know too many assignments will interrupt me along the way. Instead of bemoaning this fact -- or rather, in addition to bemoaning this fact -- I've decided to read short stories. They're perfect for subway rides, and I want to try my hand at writing them again in the coming months, so it seems a good idea. I'm hoping to get to Gogol soon, but I'm starting with Like Life, a collection by Lorrie Moore. And here, to counteract the real-estate taste in my mouth and to accompany the photo above, is an excerpt from the story "Vissi D'Arte."
There is a way of walking in New York, midevening, in the big, blocky East Fifties, that causes the heart to open up and the entire city to rush in and make a small town there. The city stops its painful tantalizing then, its elusiveness and tease suspended, it takes off its clothes and nestles wakefully, generously, next to you. It is there, it is yours, no longer outwitting you. And it is not scary at all, because you love it very much.


Sign it in Blood, Might as Well

I don't write much about real estate, because angles on the subject in these parts are dull and predictable (mostly consisting of subtly different variations on a series of guttural moans), but today I signed a lease for a new apartment, and I can't think of a moment -- even including the many daily subway indignities -- that more inspires me to head for the hills. (I don't mean that metaphorically; I mean very specifically the hills of upstate New York.)

Anyway, I'll spare you the gory details. The fact is, it's a charming apartment in a great area; I just wish I didn't have to pay half my salary to take up residence, it being one room and all.

But one detail, short on the gory and long on the absurd, before I go. My favorite part of the lease is paragraph 28 -- of 39, which take up nearly four pages of tiny type:
Tenant has read this Lease. All promises made by the Landlord are in this Lease. There are no others.
Nope, no other promises. Just the ones here; the ones about sending you butt-first to the curb if you paint anything or make any funny noises or sleep curled up on your side instead of flat on your back.

Life in New York. You can't beat it.

Archive of the Day

"Animals" by Frank O'Hara

Have you forgotten what we were like then
when we were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth

it's no use worrying about Time
but we did have a few tricks up our sleeves
and turned some sharp corners

the whole pasture looked like our meal
we didn't need speedometers
we could manage cocktails out of ice and water

I wouldn't want to be faster
or greener than now if you were with me O you
were the best of all my days

Sunday, July 23, 2006


If you have ten minutes to spare -- and, really, who doesn't? -- check out this animated film from 1985. It involves a couple playing Scrabble while the rest of the world deals with an unfolding nuclear holocaust. It's quite strange, but very entertaining in its demented way. It also includes one very brief -- almost subliminal -- moment that's one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Perhaps you can guess what I mean.

(Via The Stranger)

Friday, July 21, 2006

Sad Lyric of the Day

And with this final lyric, "Pitseleh" by Elliott Smith, it's essentially a wrap for Depressing Music Week. A hearty thank you to Tom Reynolds for stopping by and enlivening things for a few days. If you've stumbled upon the blog because of his presence, I hope you'll stick around. Now, a few words from Mr. Smith...


I'll tell you why I don't want to know where you are
I got a joke I’ve been dying to tell you
A silent kid is looking down the barrel
to make the noise that I kept so quiet
I kept it from you, Pitseleh
I'm not what's missing from your life now
I could never be the puzzle pieces
They say that god makes problems
just to see what you can stand
before you do as the devil pleases
and give up the thing you love
But no one deserves it
The first time I saw you I knew it would never last
I'm not half what I wish I was
I'm so angry
I don't think it'll ever pass
and I was bad news for you just because
I never meant to hurt you

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Newspaper Journalism Acid Test

Novelist and one-time pioneering journalist Tom Wolfe was a reporter for The Washington Post in an earlier phase of his life, and here a current-day staffer visits the archives to see how Tom plied his trade. Not too many stunning revelations, but this paragraph from an article about a local parade couldn't have been written by anyone else, for better or worse:
Twenty-six thousand cart-wheeling, can-canning, cloud-kicking, cadence-counting, kilt-flipping, skirt-flouncing, show-boating, baton-twirling, tall-strutting, crowd-tickling — Take a breather here. We've got 10 blocks to go, from 7th Street and Constitution Avenue NW to 17th. — band-playing, fife-piping, drum-flogging, jazz-blowing, horn-blasting, ear-bombing, eye-popping, boot-shuffling, heel-clicking, banner-bearing — Getting your second wind? This continues for 5 hours and 14 minutes. — float-pulling, stunt-pulling, leg-pulling, shillelagh-flailing, slogan-flaunting, flashy-drilling, fancy-dancing, rifle-juggling, flag-flourishing and, we might add — safety-patrolling — boys, girls, policemen and poets marched here yesterday in the 25th National School Safety Patrol Parade.
(Via Critical Mass)

Tom Reynolds Interview: Part Three

The concluding part, in which the author of I Hate Myself and Want to Die patiently answers a few more long-winded questions.

I didn’t want every question to be about depressing songs, because you certainly seem like a more general music fan, and I often geek out about music on the blog. So while I have you here, if you’d be so kind as to allow me to broaden the discussion, by first faking back in the direction of the book. Your essay about “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is hysterical, and all true, but I have to admit that I like that song. Probably because I heard it countless times when I was 12, and I have some strong theories about imprinting. Anyway, I’m smart (or self-conscious) enough to consider it a “guilty pleasure.” What are some songs -- depressing or not -- that you love, but might not cop to loving if a meddling blogger didn’t force you to do it?

Good lord, "Total Eclipse"? Can’t you hear the beating wings of death around Bonnie Tyler with every replay of that song? The banshee wailing outside the front door of the morgue, crypt, mausoleum, Disney ride, wherever the hell she recorded that thing?

To be honest, there were a slew of readers who took me to task for that song. One UK radio host even grilled me live on the air for choosing it. What’s really scary is that I hadn’t heard that song in two decades, but since my book came out I’ve heard it SEVEN TIMES! Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Guilty pleasures, eh? I’ll list guilty pleasure acts first. I’ll admit it, I like the Goo Goo Dolls. They write great hooks and can rock out when they want to (though I’m very over the theme song they did for that awful Nic Cage-Meg Ryan movie, City of Angels). I dig AC/DC, too, who’ve released the exact same album 14 times. Their rhythm section is fantastic, their vocalist shreds, and Angus Young is the greatest hard rock guitarist of all time. He’s never played a bad solo.

For guilty pleasure songs, I like "Footstompin’ Music" by Grand Funk Railroad, another critically-hated band, "Sookie Sookie" by Steppenwolf, most Three Dog Night singles, "Venus" by Bananarama, "Levon" by Elton John, "How Will I Know" by Whitney Houston (‘course, she was young and hot when she recorded it), "More More More" by Andrea True Connection (fantastic piano part in one of the world’s dumbest songs), "SOS" by ABBA, "Keep Yourself Alive" by Queen, "Outta Space" by Billy Preston (greatest demonstration of the clavinet ever), "You Gotta Move" by Gino Vanelli...

I’ll drop dead if I continue.

What’s the first album you can remember buying? What’s your favorite album that was released before you were 22, and your favorite album released since?

My first I ever got was a requested Christmas gift: "Four Wheel Drive" by Bachman-Turner Overdrive. I loved the guitar solo on "Roll On Down the Highway," so I had to have it. First I ever bought was "Ain’t Life Grand" by Black Oak Arkansas, a poor man’s Lynyrd Skynyrd with three lead guitarists. It was fairly awful except for a cool cover version of the Beatles’ "Taxman."

Most of my favorite albums were released before I was 13. I was always into music that was eons before my time. Favorite pre-22 albums include Pink Floyd’s "Dark Side of the Moon" and "Wish You Were Here," The Who’s "Live At Leeds," Beatles’ "White Album," Traffic’s "John Barleycorn,” Raspberries "Greatest Hits," and Frank Zappa’s "One Size Fits All." (There are others, believe me.) (Ed. Note: I do.)

One I totally missed until last year (!) was Big Star’s "#1 Hit Record," their debut, released in 1973. Absolutely fantastic, literally every song on it is great and a few are brilliant, like "Ballad of El Goodo." The album was recorded over 30 years ago, yet it sounds like it was released in 2000. It’s that far ahead of its time (which is probably why it flopped).

Post-22, the list declines severely. I’d say the Police’s "Synchronicity, a few X albums, Dire Straits’ "Brothers in Arms," and Nirvana’s "Nevermind.” I mean we’re talking the 80s and 90s here, when everything went corporate and all that awful Ratt/Poison/ Warrant/Motley Crue/Slaughter shit was big. Thank God Nirvana killed it, but then the rest of Seattle took itself too seriously and just added to the sludge.

One post-22 obscure gem is the DBs’ "Sound of Music.” Great songwriting, clanging guitar work, and the drummer was the only white man in the past two decades who could play a hair behind the beat. Fantastic.

Sprinkled throughout the book are some seriously technical musical terms. (I’ve always felt a bit bone-headed for being such a big music fan and having not an ounce of technical knowledge.) Given that you’re also holding a guitar in your author photo, I assume you’re still a practicing musician yourself. I’m going to also assume, because it would keep this question from dying on the vine, that you have written songs of your own. True? And if so, have you ever written anything that would qualify as depressing or sad on some level? Generally, what type of music do you play, or have you played over the years?

The only songs I ever wrote were when I played piano and performed with sketch comedy troupes. I recall one I composed as the opening number when we were an all-male cast. The chorus went:
We’re boys, we’re men, we’re blades, we’re chaps,
we’re strapling lads and swains,
we’re virile manly macho hunks (point at each other) except for him.
Otherwise, I play piano jazz, which means I take a series of related chord progressions (secondary dominants, tritone substitutions, etc.) and grope around on them in a formless manner until the paint dries. Give me enough meth and I can fake an entire Keith Jarrett concert.

On guitar, it’s fingerstyle a la Leo Kottke, or weird open tunings with a lot of hammering. I also own a Strat and can do a credible solo version of Hendrix’s "Little Wing," because it doesn’t involve feedback, distortion, or setting anything on fire.

Your bio says you were a DJ in East Texas at one point. May I ask where and when? I lived in Dallas for 12 years, and I recently came across a funny quote from Hunter S. Thompson about that city: “Terrible place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.” How was your experience in that state? It’s a great state for music in many ways, I found, but in certain pockets of course...

I lived in Texas during the late 80s, right out of college. I did radio in Jasper, a small town most noted for being the site where a black man was dragged to death in 1999. I was fired exactly the way George Jetson and Fred Flintstone got canned by their bosses: "Reynolds! Yoouuuuuuu’rrrrreeee FIRED!!" It was great.

I then produced training films in Beaumont, a refinery city near the Gulf, creating such masterpieces as "Safety Rules and Hazardous Chemicals in the AC Polyethylene Unit." The New York Times called it "...a laconic jargon-heavy production about making plastic, or something..."

I finally moved to Houston right when it was going through its worst recession in history. I suffered there a year doing more freelance production, including for a film that got a congressman nominated for president on the Libertarian ticket (seriously). I was paid $700 for it. Cheap-ass Libertarians.

Texas, in short, was an.....experience.

I posted a while back about the best concerts I’ve ever seen, and a few readers chimed in with their own lists. Would you mind listing some of your favorites, with whatever embellishment you’d like (memorable moments, complete set lists, photos you took of groupies flashing the band)?

First concert was Rush. I saw them in a high school gymnasium for $4. On my way there, a drunk Polish guy in a bowling shirt changed lanes and totaled our ‘67 Corvair. A cop gave me and my friend a ride to the concert because he was doing security there, unaware my friend had a bag of pot on him the whole time.

Also saw Jethro Tull, Jean Luc Ponty, Neil Young (solo), Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Who (we snuck in), The Other Ones (Grateful Dead w/o Jerry), Buddy Guy, Little Feat, Alanis Morissette, and most recently Richard Thompson, who was incredible. Did 1,000 years of music, starting with Chaucerian ballads and ending with Britney Spears.

One great show is French guitarist Pierre Bensusan. I’ve seen him twice and both times he was incandescent.

Do you keep up with contemporary music and, if so, have you heard anything lately that you’d recommend?

Coincidentally, I’ve been asked to work on a documentary about reggaeton, the Spanish-language hip-hop/rap music out of Puerto Rico. They have about fifty hours of footage and I have to put it together into a cohesive finished product that’s ninety minutes. Most of the interviews are in Spanish, a language I know as well as I do calculus and topiary.

I find reggaeton much more interesting than standard Snoop/Eminem/50 Cent rap, because it’s rhythmically complex and has machine-gun delivery. The big star is Daddy Yankee because of his hit "Gasolina," his weakest tune. He has better songs than that.

Lastly, I’ve posted some of my favorite passages from the book this week, but I wanted to commend you on a particular moment, which is when you write this about “Seasons in the Sun”: “I can still remember when I was young and radio stations played this song every hour on the hour; it was the traffic report of pop singles.” Great line. So, there’s not really a question there. Thanks for taking the time, and I hope you’re getting plenty of aural serotonin these days. You deserve it after all you’ve been through.

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Archive of the Day

From I Hate Myself and Want to Die, from the chapter on "I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston:
I cannot bag on the lyrics to “I Will Always Love You” because there’s really nothing wrong with them. Sure, they’re sentimental, maybe even sappy, but they work well in Dolly Parton’s version because she sings it in the proper context: wistful and longing. Whitney Houston, on the other hand, makes a royal tragedy out of what’s supposed to be a last good-bye. ... the song is a melodramatic mess of a monster ballad, and the music one of the worst I’ve ever seen: Whitney sings while sitting in a chair dressed in a dark suit, her feet apart and her hands clasped together. She looks like a high school basketball coach studying a new point guard.

Depressing Lyric of the Day

"No Children" by The Mountain Goats

(The complicating counterpoint to this lyric is a melody that's actually very bouncy. It's really a great song.)

I hope that our few remaining friends
give up on trying to save us.
I hope we come up with a fail-safe plot
to piss off the dumb few that forgave us.

I hope the fences we mended
fall down beneath their own weight.
And I hope we hang on past the last exit,
I hope it's already too late.

And I hope the junkyard a few blocks from here
someday burns down.
And I hope the rising black smoke carries me far away,
and I never come back to this town again.

In my life, I hope I lie,
and tell everyone you were a good wife.
And I hope you die,
I hope we both die.

I hope I cut myself shaving tomorrow;
I hope it bleeds all day long.
Our friends say it's darkest before the sun rises;
we're pretty sure they're all wrong.

I hope it stays dark forever,
I hope the worst isn't over.
And I hope you blink before I do,
and I hope I never get sober.

And I hope when you think of me years down the line,
you can't find one good thing to say.
And I'd hope that if I found the strength to walk out,
you'd stay the hell out of my way.

I am drowning.
There is no sign of land.
You are coming down with me,
hand in unlovable hand.

And I hope you die,
I hope we both die.

The Self-Filmed War

Now this is fascinating. It turns out that many soldiers in Iraq are shooting video of their wartime activities and posting them to YouTube. Ana Marie Cox takes a look at the phenomenon. Seems like something that will be of interest to military and media historians alike.

(Via Andrew Sullivan)

Tom Reynolds Interview: Part Two

In which the author of I Hate Myself and Want to Die explains why The Smiths didn't make the cut, why Harry Chapin is sicker than Slayer, and why I'm (mostly) forgiven for my affection for Counting Crows. (The third and final part will be posted later tonight or tomorrow.)

You write: “Selecting the most depressing Cure song is like choosing your favorite locust in a locust swarm: You pretty much have your pick, but does it really make any difference?” You went with “Prayers for Rain” as your locust, but what were some of the other final candidates from The Cure?

To be honest, I included the grim goth groups like the Cure, Nine Inch Nails, etc., because I figured I was expected to. Those were hard because I find their music to be less depressing since the gloominess is intentional. With The Cure, I didn’t find them quite as gloomy as The Smiths, if only because Robert Smith isn’t as sexually tortured as Morrissey is. Song-wise, “The Drowning Man” and “All Cats Are Grey” were two candidates, but I’m very proud that I chose “Prayers for Rain,” because even die-hard Cure fans missed that one. A few were even pissed off about it.

The Smiths aren't included in the book, for reasons that I remember reading about, and that you may or may not go into here, as you see fit. When I told a friend they were a last-minute omission, he said, “Yes, the original subtitle was ‘The 127 Most Depressing Songs You’ve Ever Heard.’ ” I’m a pretty big Smiths fan, and I’m wondering what two or three songs of theirs you find most depressing, and why.

That The Smiths aren’t included in the book has been the bane of my publishing existence. I’m still getting slammed by critics, bloggers, and depressing music aficionados because of it. The truth is, I’d planned to include one of several of their songs but my original UK publisher, Sanctuary Books, was a division of Sanctuary Group, which was also Morrissey’s record company at the time. They sent my analysis of “Miserable Lie” to his management as a “courtesy,” since he was on their roster. Suffice to say, they weren’t happy and demanded it be removed. And that’s why no Smiths songs made the book.

As far as depressing Smiths songs go, they’re just like The Cure: you pretty much have your pick. Besides “Miserable Lie,” there was “I Know It’s Over,” “Girlfriend in a Coma,” “Suffer Little Children,” etc. Actually, most of their albums are doom-fests, though Johnny Marr was a great guitar player, very innovative.

You’re very caustic and funny about every band in the book, but there seem to be a few cases where you really twist the knife in the song, but make an effort to protect the artist’s overall catalog from your wrath. I’m thinking of your pieces on Springsteen (“The River”), Billy Joel (“Captain Jack”), Ben Folds (“Brick”), and even Whitney Houston to a degree (“I Will Always Love You”). Am I right about those in particular? And which five singers or groups mentioned in the book do you most unironically enjoy when you’re not eviscerating them for readers?

I didn’t want readers to get the impression I didn’t like these artists, even though I’ve never been the biggest Boss fan (sorry, Asbury Park). Pundits have impaled Billy Joel far more viciously than I ever could have and Whitney I just plain feel sorry for (she needs to dump that Bobby idiot muy pronto if she ever wants a career again).

As far as artists listed in the book, I’ve always been a huge Pink Floyd fan, including the nutty early stuff with Syd Barrett (RIP Madcap). It’s just The Wall is.....too much. That’s when Roger Waters started going too nutso.

Others include Joy Division, The Carpenters (seriously), Jimmy Webb, The Doors (“Peace Frog” kicks ass), Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. The Verve Pipe has done a few good songs, Bobby Darin is kitschy fun, and Billie Holiday’s a legend.

You chose “Round Here” by Counting Crows as one of the 52. I particularly like this observation about the song’s main character, Maria, since I’ve often found this lyric perplexing myself: “So, yeah, Maria’s a little odd. She’s not very bright, either, since Duritz sings how she left Nashville and came all the way to the West Coast to find a guy ‘who looks like Elvis’ (correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Memphis right down the highway from Nashville?)” The question here is a brief one (feel free to expound, though). Trying to leave aside the fact that you don’t know me at all, on a scale of 1 to 10 -- 1 being no change and 10 being the equivalent of finding Nazi memorabilia in my attic -- how much of your respect do I lose by admitting that I’m a fairly unrepentant Counting Crows fan?

None whatsoever. I have their first album from whence “Round Here” comes and it’s a great debut. But that song got played to death and I got more dispirited each time I heard it, especially when Maria “is thinking of jumping....” And I believe we both have scary memories of seeing Counting Crows perform this song years ago on Saturday Night Live and Duritz looked like his meds had just worn off. He went through a very self-indulgent eccentric phase which became increasingly more annoying and every reviewer at their concerts made note of it. Their most recent stuff I find very uninspired and phoned-in, especially that Whatever in Love song they did for the Shrek movie. Awful.

You divide the book up into categories, the last of which is Perfect Storms, which you describe this way: “Perfect storms occur when songwriters, attempting to create an emotionally affecting song, swing for the catharsis fence but end up fouling into the grandstand, wiping out 1,000 nuns and orphans. There’s an inherent cluelessness to perfect storms, with the perpetrator completely unaware of the catastrophe that’s been unleashed. They’re the audio equivalent of a Donner Party guide loudly insisting he knows the way through the pass.” Given the cluelessness you describe, do you think it’s at all possible to sit down and purposefully -- even malevolently -- create a Perfect Storm? I often have this argument with friends, about whether or not we could consciously write a successful dumb-but-bestselling novel that adheres to certain genre requirements. I usually argue we couldn’t, or we’d do it and be stinking rich (otherwise, we’re choosing not to become stinking rich, which makes us even more incredibly stupid than we are for having the debate in the first place).

In my opinion, it’s impossible to intentionally write a Perfect Storm depressing song because, like “camp,” the main quality to one is Unawareness. If you set out to purposely write the most depressing song ever, you’ll just end up with a jokey one.

If I may be so bold, I refuse to see any play, musical, one-act, revue, whatever that bills itself as being “camp,” because I know it’s going to suck. If two East Village playwrights collaborate on a musical called “Bikini Zombie Massacre A Go Go,” and cheerfully declare it a “camp” production, I will Molotov it with flaming bottles of Rex-all brand vodka.

Like depressing songs, camp has to be unintentional and I will duel anybody who disagrees. It has to be so bad that it's good, and the reason it's bad is BECAUSE the author honestly feels he or she created something great. Plan 9 from Outer Space is a classic camp movie because Ed Wood thought it was a masterpiece. Rocky Horror Picture Show, while entertaining, is not camp. It’s just a silly musical.

This is why most goth, death metal, emo, et al., bores the shit out of me. Its listeners bring a whole lot of their own baggage to it, which is why it’s easy to write a so-called "dark" goth song. No, it takes a truly sick mind to write an appalling tune like "The Shortest Story," Harry Chapin’s earnest ode to a malnourished African baby, than some tedious swill by Slayer.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Archive of the Day

From I Hate Myself and Want to Die, from the chapter on "All By Myself":
There is a stock device used in slasher films known as the "false relief." It’s when the stalked and terrified heroine hears a scratching noise at a window and raises up the blind only to find an errant tree branch banging against the glass. Sighing with relief, the girl thinks she’s in the clear until the machete-wielding killer crashes through an adjacent window a few seconds later and vivisects her. With this in mind, let us revisit the recorded history of "All By Myself." To whit: Eric Carmen leaves the Raspberries to pursue a solo career, and writes a really long ballad about loneliness entitled “All By Myself” based on Rachmaninoff’s really long Third Piano Concerto. That’s the sound of something scratching on the window. The song becomes an unexpected top-ten hit in 1975. That’s the terrified heroine raising the blind. Yet despite its bathos and faux-Russian misery, Carmen’s “All By Myself” inflicts no lasting harm on the listener. That’s the heroine finding a tree branch banging on the glass and sighing with relief.

Celine Dion doing a remake of "All By Myself" is the deranged killer crashing through the adjacent window.

AP Headline of the Day

Python Gulps Queen-Size Electric Blanket

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

You Mean, "Christians"?

Jews for Jesus have really stepped up their efforts in New York recently, if by efforts you mean "amount they're willing to pay to plaster their message all over subway stations." They must be doing something right, because I felt compelled to check out their web site just now, and I'm neither a Jew nor someone who believes in Jesus in the important ways. My favorite part of the site? A button near the top, alongside the usual "About Us" and "Resources" links that reads "Get Saved."

Salvation is just a click away, people. Hop to it. No more excuses. I'm sure they have PayPal and everything.

But really, per my headline here, how is it logistically possible to be a Jew for Jesus? The "statement of faith" on the site includes lines like the following:
We believe that Jesus the Messiah was eternally pre-existent and is co-equal with God the Father...

We believe that Jesus the Messiah died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, as a representative and substitutionary sacrifice...

We believe that Jesus the Messiah will return personally in order to consummate the prophesied purposes concerning His kingdom.
So, couldn't the group change its name to "Former Jews for Jesus," or the much shorter and more convenient "Christians"?

She Works Five Floors Below Me, but She Lives On a Different Planet

One young woman to another while waiting for the elevator today at work:
And I thought I could do it this weekend, because the next square dance was the weekend after, but it turns out it's this weekend.

Sad Lyric of the Day

"My Life" by Iris Dement

My life, it don't count for nothing
When I look at this world, I feel so small
My life, it's only a season
a passing September that no one will recall

But I gave joy to my mother
and I made my lover smile
and I can give comfort to my friends when they're hurting
and I can make it seem better for a while

My life, it's half the way traveled
and still I have not found my way out of this night
My life, it's tangled in wishes
and so many things that just never turned out right

But I gave joy to my mother
and I made my lover smile
and I can give comfort to my friends when they're hurting
and I can make it seem better for a while

AP Join the Friggin' Club Headline of the Day

Katie Couric Ready to Stop Being the Story

Tom Reynolds Interview: Part One

In which the author of I Hate Myself and Want to Die explains why he doesn't have time for Portishead fans, why Smashing Pumpkins should be dragged in front of the Hague, and why following The Who is always a risky proposition.

First things first. For a solid month or two after you finished writing the book, did you detox by listening to "Good Vibrations" on a continuous loop? Be honest.

By the time I handed in the final song chapter, I'd also finished up working on a reality dating show. My gloom had been exacerbated by the daily viewing of video footage featuring people much younger and more attractive than me getting free drinks while making out in bars. So I "detoxed" by listening to a lot of solo guitar music by musicians like Michael Hedges, who basically torture Martin guitars by beating the crap out of them while still creating incredible music.

How did you come to the book idea, and what method did you use to weed through and select the songs? Many of the choices are pretty obscure and you seem to dislike them intensely (and hilariously), so I’m assuming you either depended on suggestions from others or you have the world’s strangest/most self-hating record collection.

I literally received a phone call from a publishing company in England that asked if I was willing to spend a year listening to depressing songs and find the most suicide-inducing ones. In hindsight, I think it was a prank phone call that I unfortunately fell for.

The first thing was making sure a song was depressing rather than sad. Depressing songs don't make me cry, they just make me lie on my bed and count the dots on the ceiling. There's a certain apathy-and-ennui effect they should have on the listener. Sad songs put a lump in your throat; depressing songs make you feel like the lump itself.

As there are way more than 52 depressing songs in the world, I knew I needed help. People sent me lists upon lists of song titles, and having worked in radio, I also revisited a lot of hit tunes that flailed me for years while I tried to figure out why they were popular. Most of the songs in the book were hits at one time, which is important because one aspect of a depressing song for me is the chance you're going to keep hearing it. That's why I don't have time for alt-music snobs who bitch about why I didn't include some obscure track off Portishead's second album. I can pull up 20,000 songs just like it that are dark and pessimistic, yet nobody's ever heard them. Plus, those songs are intentionally depressing, which means they're only going to bore me to death.

The ones that suck my serotonin dry are usually trying to be profound and moving. I find Springsteen's working-class ballads much more depressing than Nick Cave.

Was there a uniform procedure for each song, in terms of how many times you would listen to it, how you would test its depressing factors, etc.?

Many I turned off after 30 seconds because I knew they weren't potential candidates. If it was a song I'd never heard before, then I had to listen for the "clueless" factor, wherein the singer doesn't seem to be aware of how depressing the song is.

There were a few I already knew I was going to include even before I started writing, like "Seasons in the Sun," "Honey," the teenage car crash songs, and Smashing Pumpkins’ cover of "Landslide," which is still a crime against mankind. Often-times, an artist succumbs to a try-and-top-this mentality and goes bananas overselling a depressing song they're remaking. Celine Dion took one of the most depressing songs ever, Eric Carmen's "All By Myself," and made it even more depressing with her incessant caterwauling and one of the most violent key changes in recorded music history. I call them Brain Concussion Modulations.

You write that you listened to twelve different versions of "Send in the Clowns" as part of your research. Was that the low point of the endeavor? If not, at what point did you most feel like you might not be able to go on (with the project, life, or both)?

Alas, "Send in the Clowns" has been covered by 150 different artists and I somehow listened to most of them, including Grace Jones’ disco version. Still, there were many low points, like listening to seven different versions of "Honey" just to gird myself for finally dealing with Bobby Goldsboro's original. I also recall searching almost two days for Vikki Carr's abysmal "It Must Be Him" because no music site seemed to have it (when you listen to it, you realize why). And I did become a sobbing wreck while watching the video for Johnny Cash’s cover of "Hurt."

But I think it was the amount of sheer research I did that made me question what I was doing with my life. When you spend an entire afternoon cross-checking facts about Phil Collins and Barry Manilow while right down the street is a neighbor who sold a screenplay for six figures, you wonder about your place in the cosmos.

Given that you seem to detest most of these choices (for good reason), I’m curious – what would you say is your favorite of the 52, the song you could listen to outside the confines of this task without purposefully swerving into a telephone pole? Based on your essays, my guess would be either "Last Kiss" by the Cavaliers or "The Freshmen" by the Verve Pipe. Am I close?

You’re dead-on. I really liked those two songs, whatever snarky comments I made about them. Also, the Carpenters’ "Goodbye to Love" has really grown on me, even the incompetent fuzz guitar solo that’s stuck in it. I now think Joy Division’s "Love Will Tear Us Apart" is near-brilliant and I wish I could rewrite my analysis of it. Loretta Lynn’s "Women’s Prison" is a cool gloomy song, and "Captain Jack" by Billy Joel has good music to it.

One that I’ve developed a perverse fondness for is Bloodrock's "D.O.A.," which freaked me out when I first heard it on the radio as a little kid. It’s still one of the worst songs ever written, but I can’t help liking it (or not hating it). Plus, I can't get over how REM used to cover it in their early concerts for pure irony’s sake.

You make a good distinction between depressing songs and sad songs, when you write: "In short, sad songs offer the listener empathetic comfort, reflection, and wisdom. Depressing songs just make you want to stick a Glock-9 in your mouth." And you follow that later with a specific example: "For anyone wishing to understand the difference between a depressing song and a sad song, there’s no better example than 'Hurt.' (Trent) Reznor’s version is depressing; (Johnny) Cash's remake is sad." Could there be a follow-up book about the best 50 sad songs, and what are some of your favorites? (This assumes you like a number of sad songs, if they stay on the right side of the divide you describe. Correct me if I’m wrong, though, and you’re just always listening to Bobby McFerrin or something.)

If Reznor had never written "Hurt," I doubt I would've included any Nine Inch Nails songs. Like "March of the Pigs" is supposed to depress me?

Since I'm at my best as a writer when I'm being an asshole, I doubt I'd ever write a Best Of book. But I'm a huge fan of sad songs and have spent many hours wallowing in them (when you live in Hollywood, you tend to do a lot of that). My favorite sad songs would include:

1. Night Comes In - Richard Thompson
2. Sugar Mountain - Neil Young
3. Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd
4. Belong - REM (mostly instrumental but still haunting)
5. Take it to the Limit - Eagles (who I normally dislike but Randy Meisner sang it)
6. Name - Goo Goo Dolls (you heard me. They're a guilty pleasure of mine)
7. Luka - Suzanne Vega
8. Moonlight Mile - Rolling Stones

This is just a sampler. There are tons more.....

(Ed. Note: I love "Belong," as you might have guessed. "Take it to the Limit" is one of maybe two Eagles songs that I can stomach, and actually enjoy. And I really like that Goo Goo Dolls song. I knew I wanted Tom to visit for a reason.)

You tell a very funny story in the book about getting up in front of a friend’s church congregation when you were in college and playing guitar while the friend sang Harry Chapin’s "The Shortest Story" – a song that, based on your description, seems to be about hungry international infants being devoured by vultures on Christmas morning. The congregants were rightfully horrified. Which leads me to ask, have you ever attended a concert when a band particularly tested an audience’s patience for depression?

For depression, not really, especially since I never attended Lilith Fair (the mere thought of sitting in a sea of lit candles while Sarah McLachlan sings "In the Arms of the Angel" is enough to make me feed myself to wolverines). But testing an audience’s patience, absolutely.

I can still remember when a jazz fusion band called Sweetbottom featuring Phil Collins’ guitarist, Daryl Stuermer, came to my college in Wisconsin to perform. They had to follow The Who, or more precisely, a Who movie.

The organizers first showed "The Kids Are Alright," the famous Who documentary, then had Sweetbottom perform afterwards. After two hours of guitar smashing and "Won't Get Fooled Again," the last thing anybody wanted to hear was an anal-retentive fusion band playing music geek jazz-rock. The poor guys noodled the entire audience out of the auditorium.

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Archive of the Day

From I Hate Myself and Want to Die by Tom Reynolds, two excerpts from the chapter on "The River" by Bruce Springsteen:
Many songwriters have a fixation with Americana, which shouldn't be confused with America, the rich nation that runs everything. America is a country, Americana is an existential concept filled with empty highways, waving fields of wheat, smoggy skylines of industrial decay, Graceland, wood-paneled taverns, and rustic characters who never have any money. America is wealthy and powerful, Americana is struggling and underdog. The Western world doesn't really like America very much but it loves Americana, which is the real reason the nations of Europe have never invaded the US, for fear of breaking Elvis figurines.


I know the chimp-simple lyrics are intentionally written that way to give a voice to a guy with limited education but are we really that interested? Just once I'd love to hear Bruce sing about somebody getting plastered on Cristal and driving a Bentley into a swimming pool.

Monday, July 17, 2006

"I never wanted to be your weekend lover"

I love that line.

"Purple Rain" is a great song, in my opinion, and plenty depressing enough to fit this week’s vibe. Having seen most of the movie it comes from last weekend on HBO, and being astonished anew at its...Purple Rain-ness..., I figured it would be doubly timely to post the YouTube clip below of the performance from the film.

I came to have a deep respect for Prince late(r) in life, but in 1985, I was going to confirmation classes at my church sporting a T-shirt with an iron-on decal of Michael Jackson’s Thriller cover. To me, Prince was, at best, "that guy who sings 'When Doves Cry.' "

So I didn’t see Purple Rain until college or so, I’m guessing, and of course wasn’t impressed. I’m still not, but it’s bracing to see, in the same movie, such goodness (five or six great songs) alongside such badness (everything else).

It’s a shame this performance -- the dramatic climax of the movie, such as it is, and not to be confused with the earlier climaxes involving Apollonia, which brought the project to the verge of an X rating -- is canned, and not live (the song was recorded live, I believe, for the soundtrack, making it especially annoying they didn’t film a live version for the screen).

Prince never gets enough credit for being one of the best guitar players in recent memory. I guess he made it hard to focus on that looking like he does throughout the movie, like someone who spent most of the ‘80s auditioning to be the bass player for Sexual Chocolate. His appearance and his mushy spirituality made him more likely to be singled out by fans like “poison2funke,” a commenter on YouTube who wrote the following:
Prince is my soul mate. if youre reading this more than an illusion. Take a dare. Take a voyage. i know what you feel. i know your trip. dont be scared. journey into the person i am.
Strange, yes, but I guess that’s what a guy gets from his fans when he’s penned lyrics like, “I’m not human, I am a dove.”

But do yourself a favor (even if you already subjected yourself to the clip above) and watch the live performance below from a 1985 awards show. The whole thing is pretty incendiary, especially the guitar solo. If you’ve watched any awards shows in the past 15 years, does this not make you amenable to arguments that everything is getting worse? I mean, this performance was on an awards show? Sure, he’s dressed like Liberace, but he also seems to be channeling, in turn, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, and James Brown. Not bad.

You should really watch the whole thing, but the solo starts at 4:12 or so and it’s something. Lionel Richie, looking as spangled as ever, introduces the band with this statement: "There’s been a revolution in American music. It’s not just for listening anymore, it’s for looking," referring to the dawn of MTV’s day. They're sad words in light of the performance that follows, since MTV’s friendliness to young guys with six-pack abs and even younger girls with pigtails and...well, six-pack abs...has long kept attention from being focused on truly great musicians like Prince. Not that there are many like him out there, but if there is somebody, kids today are increasingly unlikely to know. Enjoy:


Welcome to Depressing Music Week

As promised, author Tom Reynolds has agreed to drop by this week to talk about his book, I Hate Myself and Want to Die, in which he shares his passionate, hilarious opinions about what he considers the 52 most depressing songs on the planet. His choices tend to be -- certainly in his estimation, but in most cases very objectively as well -- bad songs. They’re not depressing just because of their awfulness, but it helps. They also feature suicidal sentiments, suffering orphans, car crashes, overproduced minor-key music and, in at least one case, the voice of Celine Dion.

When I first heard of the book -- a while back, thanks to my exalted status as a publishing insider -- I was eager to read it because I’ve always loved my fair share of sullen songs. In fact, many are the friends who have commented on my affinity for Sad Bastard music, rifling through my collection of The Cure, Red House Painters, Low, and the like, and presumably wondering when I was going to start wearing black eyeliner and encouraging them to read an underappreciated biography of Sylvia Plath. I like to think my collection is a lot more diverse than that (and it is), but it’s true there are times when Belle & Sebastian would sound like Iron Maiden compared to whatever’s trying to summon the energy to crawl out of my speakers.

My favorite band is REM, whose name never appears far from the word “jangly,” but my favorite song of theirs is “Nightswimming,” a beautiful-but-bleak(ish) number aflame in piano-fueled nostalgia. I like people who write sad songs (The Innocence Mission), people with sad voices (Jay Farrar) and people whose work, voice, and fate are equally sad (Elliott Smith).

But a dissection of such songs and artists did not await me in the pages of Reynolds’ book, because, not to toot my own horn (or ear), those songs are good, and he makes a distinction between sad and depressing songs: "In short, sad songs offer the listener empathetic comfort, reflection, and wisdom. Depressing songs just make you want to stick a Glock-9 in your mouth."

It’s a useful line to draw. Take Girlfriend by Matthew Sweet, which is essentially a concept album about a marriage and divorce. Most of it is terrific, but the song I’ve always liked least is “You Don’t Love Me,” because it’s too straightforwardly bleak. Even the smallest musical or lyrical subtlety can help rescue a pop song from self-pity, but when Sweet just mewls the titular phrase again and again over a slide guitar, it sounds pretty pathetic. Not just sad, to the point, but depressing.

Similarly, Bloomed by Richard Buckner is a great record, but the third song, “22,” is a blemish because it’s impossibly downbeat and even verges on comical through a last-minute twist. It’s a suicide song about a rejected lover easing himself into a warm bath to commit the act, because of a “phone call that never came.” Buckner’s a good lyricist, and the song is an unceasing list of despairing thoughts and imagery, from the “mirror all steamed over with water, heat and shame” to the “red smoke in the water,” all delivered with a hangman’s voice. All of which would be bad enough, but then comes the last verse:
I was falling asleep
You see I felt a little weak
I closed my eyes and thought of you
As the phone let out a ring
The phone’s ringing! It’s her! It was all for nothing! Get out of the tub, Rick! Oh, please.

This week will be devoted -- not solely, but mostly -- to both sad and depressing songs. Starting very soon, I’ll be posting a multipart interview with Reynolds, who was kind enough to answer several rambling queries of mine over e-mail. The archives of the day will be excerpts from the book and there will be sad lyrics of the day, all of which are from songs I greatly enjoy, even if their messages are dispiriting as all get-out.

I’ve convinced Tom (I think) that my readership is larger than seven and that this exercise will not be a complete waste of his time, so please make him feel at home. Pick up a copy of the book, too. It’s composed of three- to five-page essays on each song, it’s likely to create good barstool debate, and it’s very, very funny. Those of you who regularly comment have proven to be pretty passionate and knowledgeable about music, so let’s hear some chatter this week. (Those of you who visit with any regularity but rarely speak up, now would be an opportune and polite time to get in the game.)

There's Sad, There's REALLY Sad...

...and then there's checking your e-mail to find only one message, in the junk mail folder, notifying you that you've left a comment on your own blog.

New York Public Announcement of the Day

The disembodied voice of the conductor on the F train, around 6:30 tonight:
People, I know it's hot, hazy, and humid. But still, we're human beings, not animals.


AP Headline of the Day

Australians Upset Over Loud Manilow Music

The Global Plague Continues

It hardly seems possible, I know, but advertising has reached a new low.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Archive of the Day

for a friend

by William Carlos Williams

Brother Paul! look!
—but he rushes to a different
The moon!

I heard shrieks and thought:
What's that?

That's just Suzanne
talking to the moon!
Pounding on the window
with both fists:

Paul! Paul!

—and talking to the moon.
and pounding the glass
with both fists!

Brother Paul! the moon!

Reading So You Don't Have To

I picked up this month’s Esquire after work tonight, and read a pretty good chunk of it on the ride home. Three things stuck out to me as compelling/funny/scary, and I figured I’d share them. This way, you don’t have to read the magazine. (Of course, you don’t have to read this post, either. Live free or die.)

1. The cover story is a profile of John McCain, and it begins with a description of his recent commencement speech at Madison Square Garden to the graduates of New York’s New School university. Many students of the very liberal institution silently protested McCain’s presence, turning their backs to him. Others were less polite:
The body of McCain’s speech -- a considered, sometimes arcanely eloquent evocation of tolerance and civility -- is interrupted by hecklers who are bold, loud, and sometimes obscene.
At a certain moment, McCain is talking about a friend, a “militant anti-Vietnam War activist” who died at 47 and left a young family behind. “At which point, a kid in the crowd points at McCain and cackles.”

Later, in the car, a staffer talks to McCain:
He asks his boss gently if he heard the student laughing. McCain is quiet. He did not, apparently. “I’m glad I didn’t,” he says after a long beat. “That could have been very bad.”
Is it just me, or is this exactly what we require after Bush’s reign? My fear is that the caricature of Bush’s “cowboy diplomacy” (and I’m not denying there’s a basis for the caricature) will cause voters to pretend it’s 1993 again, when what we really need is a credible president who approaches things with some measure of grace but won’t let us forget the world is an unstable, dangerous place, and also isn’t afraid to channel some well-deserved righteous anger to knock a few New School students upside the head.

(The article also features a very funny aside from McCain, describing the pathetic nature of Bush’s approval ratings: “When you get down to the twenties, you’re talking about paid staffers and blood relatives.”)

2. I laughed at this exchange in a sidebar interview with actor John C. Reilly. Reilly's in an upcoming comedy about NASCAR, a sport in which, as you know, sponsors' logos are plastered all over the automobiles:
Esq: Who would you want sponsoring you in real life?

JCR: To tell you the truth, I don’t believe in corporate sponsorship. I’ve been offered many times to do ads and promotional things. That’s not why I got into acting. I think it’s a slippery slope for actors to start trading on their personalities... You just asked a funny question, and I gave you an overly serious answer.

Esq: That’s okay--

JCR: Wilkin & Sons black-currant preserves. That’s my favorite jelly.
3. In an ask-the-doctor column, a reader inquires about the safety of playing iPods at high volume. Ahem.

The doctor writes: “The bottom line: Keep your iPod at or below 60 percent of its maximum volume.”

As an experiment, I tucked the magazine under my arm, reached into my pocket for the trusty iPod, and adjusted it to what might leniently be described as 70 percent of its capacity (in any case, it was definitely higher than 60). I could hear the music, but it helped that I knew it. If I was listening to something for the first time, I don’t think I could’ve quite made it out. Which, of course, told me two things. 1) I’m listening to my iPod too loudly almost whenever I listen to it. 2) The train noise must be at least as loud as my iPod at full volume, and I’m in the train, at bare minimum, an hour and a half every day. Oh, and so two other things, I guess: 3) I’m likely to lose most or all of my hearing any minute now, and 4) I should (even more) seriously think about relocating.

But today wasn’t all about Esquire. When I got home, I found an L.L. Bean catalog in my mailbox. Here’s my favorite excerpt from that puppy:
Our popular Comfort Mocs(TM) a lightweight, breathable style for summer. We built these with a smooth mesh upper that feels good against your skin and lets cool air circulate around your foot. They have the same flexible EVA cushioning as our original Comfort Mocs.
They damn well better.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Too Much Lasagna, or Just Enough?

My friend EJ sent me a link to Permanent Monday, a blog devoted to thorough analysis of a Garfield strip per day, and after a quick tour, I've been trying to figure out the exact proportion of its abilities to amuse and frighten. I like the comments sections, where you'll find a lot of close reading:
I especially like how the complete lack of furniture/posters/degrees in the background serves to further emphasize the deafening silence of the second panel.
and, of course, Garfield worship:
Garfield is not a cat.
Garfield is a cat-like Demigod.
and, from the proprietor himself, protesting too much:
There is nothing embarrassing about the vast amounts of Garfield stored in the collective unconscious.
Speaking of the proprietor, he is 27-year-old Californian Chris Stangl, and based on his blogger profile page, I only have one question: How many of us, upon just seeing his picture, would be able to guess all four acts listed under "favorite music"? I would say a solid 70% of us.


Love is a Temple. Love's a Higher Law.

I promise not to get too YouTube-y on you, but I like that I've learned how to post videos straight to the blog (it only took me about six months longer than it would have taken a developmentally disabled baboon).

So here for your viewing pleasure, from 1993, is two members of REM and two members of U2 singing the latter's big hit, "One," at an MTV party celebrating Bill Clinton's first inauguration. I know: We're old.

Despite the less-than-perfect audio (a common YouTube problem), Stipe sings the hell out of it, in my biased opinion, particularly that minutelong stretch or so that starts with "Have you come here for forgiveness?," a real classic of a stretch. Mike Mills, who I love, doesn't exactly knock his backup-vocal duties for a loop, but he makes up for it by looking as much like Velma from Scooby Doo as he ever has. Added bonus is the muted moment of intro by Dennis Miller, a long-haired liberal at the time. Enjoy.

Strong Return on Investment

At Belmont last weekend, I hit an exacta that paid $134. Not bad. But nothing compared to this woman, who put ten cents down on a superfecta (first four horses in order) and won $21,584. Though really, she bet two ten-cent superfectas, so I guess her return was $21,583.90. Still, pretty good.

The race was run in California, but the woman bet on a simulcast of it in Swartz Creek, Michigan. So, you know, if you're betting dimes on superfectas in Swartz Creek, you probably deserve a few grand to take your mind off things.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Beavis and Butthead

I used to argue that soccer was as anti-evolution as our current president, given that its primary rule involves the illegality of using one's hands, the skill that most separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. It's perverse.

But over the past few years, among the Euro-wannabes in New York, I've been forced to reconsider my view a bit. The fact is, I still think soccer of any brand below absolutely top-flight is dull, but when played by the best of the best, it can be thrilling in its way.

I followed the World Cup a bit, and took in the final with several other viewers at a friend's apartment (where I had to listen to most of them belittle baseball for being boring and pointless -- these are soccer fans!) A few at the party also said they couldn't imagine soccer players were dumber than baseball players, and while it's true that those on the diamond can be pretty thick upstairs...
Other freak injuries include Atlanta pitcher John Smoltz's scalding himself by ironing a shirt he was wearing, and then-Toronto outfielder Glenallen Hill's crashing into a glass table while having a nightmare about being covered in spiders.'s hard to believe any of them are worse than Italy's Marco Materazzi, who will likely go down as soccer's most famous head-buttee after being dramatically decked by Zinedine Zidane's cranium in Sunday's final. A lip-reader is claiming that the headbutt (insane no matter what provoked it) came after Materazzi called Zidane, whose parents are Algerian, "the son of a terrorist whore."

Materazzi's response:
I did insult him, it’s true. But I categorically did not call him a terrorist. I’m not cultured and I don’t even know what an Islamic terrorist is.
And baseball players are the dumb ones? Of course, it's hard to believe anyone is uncultured enough to not know what an Islamic terrorist is, especially someone cultured enough to use the word "categorically."

With shenanigans like the headbutt, and such great ensuing quotes to the press, it's a shame the tournament's over. It's also a shame because a colleague of mine was blogging the event at Deadspin and, as you can tell from this, he was doing a bang-up job.

Brief Preview

A light night here at ASWOBA, but there will be plenty more this week. For now, a promise that next week will be eventful. Author Tom Reynolds will graciously be here, interviewed over the course of the week by yours truly about his recently released book, I Hate Myself and Want to Die: The 52 Most Depressing Songs You've Ever Heard.

I'll use it as an excuse to have a theme for the week, with other posts about sad/depressing songs, archives of the day devoted to downtrodden lyrics, etc. Yes, I'll still keep an eye on sports and the AP and short homoerotic films about muppets, but there will be lots and lots of fun stuff about not-so-fun music. Get ready.

Portman to Appear Nude. BMC to Implode.

As disappointed millions know, I try to avoid salacious material as inspiration on the blog (the film immediately below being a notable exception, I suppose), but I can't help but point out Natalie Portman's allegedly impending nude scene, because I think Bad Movie Club might post about this subject alone for a good month or two, and I'm looking forward to that.

"They found the lie with an ounce of truth."

This short film is kind of incredible. Gawker predicts: "Like anything good on the Internet, (this video) will be all over the place for a day or two and then gone." Well, I'm doing my part. Enjoy:

Monday, July 10, 2006

AP Headline of the Day

Elizabeth Taylor: 'I Enjoy Food Too Much'

Freshman Words, Ready for Hazing

Here's a sample of the words and phrases added to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, which will be released in the fall. Sadly, "mouse potato" is one of them. Even more sadly, seeing as how it defines someone who spends a lot of time using a computer, I am one of them.

The words are divided into categories, and under The Human Condition, we find two additions: "drama queen" and "unibrow." These are not good times for the human condition.

Under the ever-popular Miscellaneous, we find "polyamory" (which I think translates, roughly, into "lots of getting it on") and "sandwich generation" ("generation of people who are caring for their aging parents while supporting their own children"). I was thinking that last term had something to do with the proliferation of Subway and Quizno's franchises, but there's always time to add a definition, I suppose.

If you think this year's words are strange or unworthy, think of what people must have thought about these terms added in 1806. They must have asked, "Publicity? What the hell is publicity?" Oh, to live in those innocent days.

(Via Pop Candy)


Tick Tock, I Don't Stop

So, this is post 500. Nothing fancy, partly because I'm not sure what fancy would entail on a blog. I thought about doing something like my favorite hundred songs, but then I remembered: a) I haven't had time recently to put a list like that together, and b) I'm not in college anymore.

Thanks to everyone who's been reading this whole time, which I think, sarcasm aside, is a few more people than Leigh and Ray. You've made this fun and kept me (barely) from feeling like someone ranting to himself at a bus stop, though in your encouragement you've done nothing to delay my inevitable date with carpal tunnel.

I imagine I've got at least another 500 posts in me, so I hope you stick around. I think I'll be adding some features and inviting some more guests to make this an even better time, if that's possible. (You knew the sarcasm would force its way back into the room.)

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Upstate State of Mind

I spent four days over the Fourth of July holiday upstate with PF and NT, and a full recap is not necessary. A straight laundry list of our endeavors should suffice to give an idea of our blood pressure while away: wine drinking, barbecuing, card playing, Scrabble playing, croquet playing, whiskey drinking, more barbecuing.

It was a nature-heavy trip, particularly at the cabin owned by NT's parents (not where we primarily stayed), which is surrounded by many, many acres affording views like this one:

Then there were more specific views of nature, like the turtle we found birthing and burying eggs near the barn. She conveniently scooted a few inches prior to dropping each parcel, so that PF could time her camera moves perfectly:

The croquet was a highlight, for several reasons -- I'd never played before, it was the only thing I did that even resembled physical exertion all weekend (other than when I chipped in with about .00001% of the work necessary to plant an apple tree), and it taught me a lot about NT, who I had previously considered a very gentle soul (not really, but go with it for the sake of the story). If any of you are familiar with the game, you know that hitting another person's ball during your turn gives you the option to place your ball next to theirs and knock it far afield. NT chose that option over and over again, so I saw a lot of this over the course of the afternoon:

But aside from that aggression (and I'm leaving out the fact that I committed similar crimes, of course), the weekend couldn't have been more pleasant. I came back to wait 15 minutes for an A train on a subway platform that was sporting humidity levels of approximately 342 percent. As trains useless to me rattled and screamed in and out of the station, I could barely hear the very loud rock song that I had up near top volume on my iPod. When my carriage finally arrived (this was the night of the Fourth), it was crammed with people going to and coming from their various celebrations. A stark contrast from the previous days, to understate it.

Friday, July 07, 2006

AP Story of the Day

Sure, the New York subways drive me crazy from time to time, but really, this is ridiculous. It's been a while since I annotated a whole AP story, so here goes...
Subway Rider Sliced in Power Saw Attack

NEW YORK (AP) -- A man wielding a cordless power saw in each hand rampaged through a Manhattan subway station early Thursday, using one of the buzzing blades to carve into the chest of a postal worker who later said it felt like "he was trying to cut through me." (Well, first off, wow. Of course. But also, if you're attacked on Thursday by someone trying to "cut through you" with a power saw, and I'm reading a story on Friday morning where you're coherently describing the attack, I'd say you're pretty lucky. Oh, and also, there's some irony in a postal worker being on the receiving end of a psycho attack, no?)

Police arrested Tareyton Williams (ah, a great day for my surname), 33, of the Bronx, on attempted murder and other charges about two hours later after they said he punched someone in another random attack on the street. (Punching someone on the street?? Weak follow-up, Tareyton.)

The victim, Michael Steinberg, 64, was hospitalized in stable condition. Speaking by telephone to reporters who gathered outside the hospital, he said the attack was unprovoked.

The assailant "never spoke," Steinberg said. "I think he was out of his mind." (Let's not be rash.)

The attacker snatched the two saws from a cart being used by workers upgrading the public address system at a subway station a few blocks south of Columbia University. He assaulted Steinberg moments after taking a swipe at another rider and missing, police said.

"He looked at me and before I knew it he was attacking me," Steinberg said of the pre-dawn attack. "The motor kept going on. He was trying to cut through me."

Steinberg said the attacker finally paused to demand money, then bolted out of the station with his wallet and the power tools. (I'm not a pro, so far be it from me to recommend a different technique, but I'd think the physical logistics of getting money from someone are much easier prior to driving a power saw into their chest.) The saws were later found in a trash can.

Williams was in police custody Thursday evening. There was no telephone listing for him at the home address provided by police.

The attack came two weeks after a Boston man was charged with stabbing four people --three of them tourists -- over a 13-hour period in the subway and the theater district in Manhattan.
Two things struck me about this story. First, I really, really shouldn't complain about the subway experiences I've had. And second, I only heard about this story because PF was kind/menacing enough to send the link my way. This makes me think that perhaps Saratoga is an even better living option than I previously imagined, because scarier than the fact of the attack is the notion that one could live in a place so large and bustling and occasionally insane that people aren't talking about it.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Archive of the Day

From Harp by John Gregory Dunne. In this moment, Dunne has learned that his brother, Stephen, has committed suicide, and he has called one of his two older brothers in Oregon to tell him the news.
It was then I added quite unnecessarily that there was no need for him to go back to the funeral -- he had not really known Stephen all that well, I said, Stephen being ten years younger -- and in any event I could not afford to pay his way east. I blame neither the stress of the situation nor my reaction to it for saying something he quite rightly thought wanton and insensitive. We had not, in fact, got along in years, which was more to the point. The reasons for what at times was a quite active, and often quite poisonous, mutual dislike I think are best attributed to, if I may paraphrase Alexander Pope, that long disease, life. Our war was not so much cold as gelid; in seasons of détente we were correct. He had gone to Oregon in search of an epiphany, and from there I was the occasional recipient of long, artful letters, full of character evaluation and private secrets and revisionist family history; blame was sprinkled like holy water; the archbishop of this schismatic church was careful to douse himself as well as his congregation of family. I had the uneasy feeling that there was an audience for this exchange of letters to which I was not privy, with the result that my answers became at best perfunctory. Some weeks after Stephen died, my wife read his next letter but I refused; it appeared more or less a compendium of my shortcomings in most of the moral arenas, beginning with my telephone call that terrible morning. I threw it into the fire, unread; fair enough, but instead of letting it go at that, I was impelled to announce I had done so in a brief communiqué to Oregon, I who had claimed to Stephen, that last time we saw each other, that I had little interest in the theater of my own life, and none whatsoever in the theater of anyone else's; these are the small self-deceptions by which we are defined.

The Science of Duh

Having grown up with two sisters -- one four years older, one four years younger -- and remaining very close to them, I was hoping that this week's cover article in Time would have something compelling to say. No such luck. (The full thing is only available online to subscribers, but really, you're not missing anything.)

It all boils down to two predictable threads: 1. The useless --
Almost universally, the kids who practiced the best conflict-resolution skills at home carried those abilities into the classroom.
I hope it's clear that this is a chicken-and-egg argument, because I don't have the energy to deconstruct it. Well, OK, I'll deconstruct it a little... Allowing for any influence of "nature" whatsoever, it's likely that any child with innate negotiation skills would use them in both sibling relationships and the classroom, and which arena influences which -- if at all -- is a pretty tangled knot.

And, 2. The self-canceling --
On the whole, siblings pass on dangerous habits to one another in a depressingly predictable way. ... But some kids break the mold -- and for surprising reasons.
In other words, siblings influence each other directly. Except when they don't. Social science is fun!

Then there's this passage about siblings of different genders, which, while as obvious as much of the rest of the article, caught my interest:
But as kids get older, that distance from the other gender must, of necessity, close. Here kids with opposite-sex siblings have a marked advantage. Last year William Ickes, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Arlington, published a study in which he paired up male and female students -- all of whom had grown up with an opposite-sex sibling -- and set them to chatting with one another. Then he questioned the subjects about how the conversation went. In general, boys with older sisters or girls with older brothers were less fumbling at getting things going and kept the exchange flowing much more naturally.

"The guys who had older sisters had more involving interactions and were liked significantly more by their new female acquaintances," says Ickes.
So, thanks, Jule, for all the women over the years who have found me to be "a good listener." Yeah. Thanks a lot.

I kid because I love. Having sisters has made me, I think, a better person than I otherwise would have been, though I'm not sure that's saying much in my case. The more specific point here is that I imagine there are some interesting things to say about the study of sibling influence, but this article skillfully avoids saying them. For a more trenchant, insider view of sibling relationships, see today's archive immediately above.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

AP Headline of the Day

Bird Droppings Survive Space Launch


Statue of Silliness

In my old age, I try to be increasingly tolerant of the religious, but boy, they make it hard sometimes. The Times reports on a Memphis megachurch that has unveiled a replica of the Statue of Liberty -- named the Statue of Liberation Through Christ -- that holds aloft a giant cross in her right hand and tucks the Ten Commandments close to herself with her left. And while it's easy to caricature the South with such a story, I far prefer to focus on this stretch of the report:
But although big cheers went up from the few hundred onlookers at the unveiling...she was not universally welcomed.

Most of the customers at the Dixie Queen food counter near the church viewed the statue as a cheap attention grab, said Guardia Nelson, 27, who works there.

"It's a big issue," Ms. Nelson said. "Liberty's supposed to have a fire, not a cross."

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Archives of the Day

Two excerpts that fit the occasion...

From "Independence Day" by Ani Difranco:
We drove the car
To the top of the parking ramp
4th of July
Sat out on the hood
With a couple of warm beers
And watched the fireworks
Explode in the sky
There was an exodus of birds from the trees
'Cause they didn't know
We were only pretending
And the people all looked up and looked pleased
And the birds flew around
Like the whole world was ending
From "America" by Simon & Garfunkel:
Toss me a cigarette, I think there's one in my raincoat
We smoked the last one an hour ago
So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field

Kathy, I'm lost, I said, though I knew she was sleeping
I'm empty and aching and I don't know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They've all come to look for America