May 30, 2008

Rachael Ray, The Terrorist

In shocking news, Food Network celebrity Rachael Ray has been caught performing terrorist actions. Reports indicate that she was overheard speaking in an Islamic dialect to unknown individuals before the taping of a Dunkin' Donuts commercial. When filming of the commercial began, Ray started screaming anti-American rhetoric and threats against our "crooked totalitarian government" before foaming at the mouth and collapsing. As security pulled her away from the scene, a map of terrorist bombing targets was found on her person. Targets on that list included the U.S. Mint, Krispy Kreme's Corporate Headquarters, and any elementary school that teaches Evolution.

Oh wait, my mistake. None of that happened, Rachael Ray was only wearing a scarf.

Yes, a scarf. A simple piece of fabric originally designed to keep the neck warm. This simple piece of fashion has ignited great controversy about Rachel's patriotism and her sympathy for terrorist organizations. This was not a middle eastern scarf mind you. This scarf was not genetically created in an Arabic lab for the purposes of hate crime, nor has it ever been used to wipe the sweat from Osama Bin Laden's brow while he pondered great acts of hate and terror. It only looks like a middle eastern scarf.

I'm sure I could probably drive to my local friendly mall, and find one just like it. And I can whip out the credit card and hand it to a nice Caucasian woman and take home my new fashion statement that was expertly created in Taiwan. I choose not to to do it because, well.........I'm not a scarf kind of guy.

Still, I should be able to wear what I like and not be accused of treason. What's next? Homeland Security can knock down my door if I choose to make some kebabs? Should I be locked up and executed because I have the guts to say that Ilham Al Madfai is pretty cool?

Of course not, and neither should anyone else. Having an appreciation for someone else's culture and loving your own are two different things, and should be regarded as such. And there's no reason at all that a person, even a famous one, shouldn't be able to wear something like this without having their loyalties called into question. If there's any atrocity here, it's that these ridiculous fear tactics actually managed to get the commercial pulled.

Wait, scratch that. The real atrocity here is that Ray, a woman who has based her success on the value of home cooking, is still out there promoting a fast food joint.

May 29, 2008

The Extremes of "Sampling"

Hip Hop has always involved a bit of thievery.

I'm not meaning to be insulting, it's just a fact of the genre. Only it's called "sampling" by those in the know. Simply put, it's the taking of a few bars of someone else's music, slapping a thicker sounding drum machine track behind it, a few little extras, then letting the rhymes flow. How much of that "someone else's music" that is used depends on the person behind the mixing board. With someone like the RZA, it's relatively minor, or in the instance of P Diddy, you might as well hand him the keys, because he's taking the whole damn song.

No plagiarism is ever called because these artists, out of respect and the occasional lawsuit, make a note to list what was borrowed and from whom. And so we all go about our lives comfortable in the knowledge that anyone who dabbles in Hip Hop will be investing in varying amounts of thievery. It's a product of the genre, and something that can occasionally yield a few moments of innovation. And as long as the creators of those backing tracks are happy to let this continue, I left it alone, figuring that there's no need for me to get involved.

But I think this whole thievery business just went too far.

Earlier today, A little unnecessary MTV yielded a track by The Game, entitled "Game's Pain." And it is the biggest piece of plagiarized crap I've heard yet. And what's worse, is that is has nothing to do with the music. Frankly, I can't tell whether the backing track was someone else's song or just randomly hitting a keyboard. Doesn't matter though, the real issue here are the lyrics. Call them rhymes, poems, whatever you want, they're bad. And it's not about capacity. This is not a question of Mr. Taylor's ability to end sentences with two words that sound alike. It's about content.

Roughly half of the words used in this song, were taken from other people. Either with incessant amounts of name-dropping of people he has listened to in his meteoritic rise to fame, or simply quoting lyrics from the songs of the people who's names he just dropped. Even with the limited amounts of rap and hip hop I digest these days, I was still able to pick out entire verses of word from Ice Cube, Nas, Wu-Tang, and Puff Daddy. There's probably a lot more in there, I'm just unwilling to listen to it again.

This isn't just four or so bars of a James Brown tune. And this isn't a brief reference to C.R.E.A.M either. This is a man doing absolutely no work in a type of music that requires limited amount of work to begin with. For as much as I appreciate Hip Hop's musical contributions and actually indulge in the work of a handful of artists, they do not have the burdens most of us do. They don't need to start with a completely clean musical slate if they don't want. Being melodic or even having your singing in tune aren't factors that cause the modern rap artists to lose sleep at night either. Hell, if someone wanted to put the glorious sounds of oxen humping as a backing track, it could probably be rapped over, as long as the beat was tight.

The basic job in Hip Hop is to take some well structured, occasionally meaningful sentences, and pair them with other well structured occasionally meaningful sentences. That's it! Expensive cars, tattoos, and gyrating asses are completely optional in this line of work. So there is absolutely no excuse for being lazy. If The Game was having a rough time getting the ideas flowing that day, maybe he should have gone for a walk. Hell, maybe he should've just packed it up and said "Nothing's happening today, let's try again tomorrow." If he needs some kind of inspiration, maybe he should try reading a fucking book from time to time! You'd be surprised how many good ideas those things are jam-packed with! But dear god man, don't put out a Best Of from the works of others and then try to make money off it. It's insulting, and it's a waste of everyone's time, including yours.

Be original man. Or at the very least, get back to singing about expensive cars, overpriced jewelery, and what a decent lay you are. Maybe then things can get back to normal around here.

May 27, 2008

Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull

*NOTICE *

THIS BITCH-FEST WILL CONTAIN DISCUSSION ON ELEMENTS OF THE AFOREMENTIONED MOVIE. MANY CALL THEM SPOILERS. IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THIS FILM AND DON'T WANT THE LIKES OF ME RUINING IT FOR YOU, STOP READING NOW.

*THAT IS ALL*

Yeah, I went to see the movie. Despite my instincts screaming about how bad this would suck, and my imminent distaste for one Shia Lebeouf, I went. I had no delusions of greatness. Much as I would have loved to have seen the Indiana Jones of days gone by brought back to life in a deserving form, I wasn't counting o it. Nor did I expect to be wowed, or to have any faith in the glory of Hollywood to be able to rekindle the kind of performance necessary from this classic. Truth be told, I was just shooting for passable.

And even with such minimalist expectations, I was sorely disappointed.

Since taking in the movie and reveling in such monumental failure, I have since read many of the movie reviews and the ensuing comments that came with them. I've noticed there are a lot of people saying some glowing things about this film. And they have no problem telling us detractors that we're far too serious a bunch, and that we need to allow ourselves the need to "suspend disbelief." Accept this fantastical tale for what it is, and don't let the burdens of reality get in the way.

am all for suspending disbelief. Fantasy is a great thing, something I encourage as much as humanly possible. And since I roll with an overactive imagination strong enough to keep me out of reality for weeks at a time, believe me when I say I that reality is overrated.

But, there is fine line between suspending disbelief, and treating me like I'm stupid.

For example, I'm willing to go along with the idea that Indiana Jones had some involvement with the Roswell UFO Crash Landing. But that our protagonist can survive a nuclear explosion completely unscathed in a lead-lined refrigerator? Not so much. Convenient, don't you think, that he was magically shot through the sky into an area outside of the contamination zone? I don't know a whole hell of a lot about nuclear explosions, but I don't think the big kaboom works that way. And if it does? Well, where's the rest of the debris? There were cars and toys and all kinds of lighter shit around. Where was all of that when that refrigerator hit the ground?

Hell, I'm willing to play along when an alien skull turns out to be made of crystal and is so magnetically charged, that it attracts shit that isn't magnetic. And yet, this thing is strong enough to attract non-magnetic gunpowder dust from across a huge fucking warehouse, but when you're standing next to it, the thing doesn't rip the high-quality and very magnetic Russian metal from your hands? The enemy was able to keep a firm yet fragile grip on those rifles at point blank range! My disbelief can only stretch so far. Shit, that was a big ass warehouse they were in. Surely there must have been some metal shit in at least one of those boxes. Hey, what about the fucking nails holding the crates together? How is it that Mr. Dead alien's mutilated magno-retard corpse not pull every single crate apart at the seams? Of course, if you're fantasy land is far more detailed than mine, explain this one: How can you have a magnetic tape recorder in the background with one of these mystical skull things? Most of you loyal readers are probably still survivors from the VHS era, so you know how nicely tape and magnets play.

The list of inadequacies can go on and on, but I'm tired and you people have lives. Needless to say that most days, I will happily run willy-nilly into a film that goes against conventional science, but please don't fuck with my logic.

Lucas and the Spiel should have known better. This is the new millennium, and the world is loaded with a smarter group of people. Folks who have taken in hefty amounts of programming like "CSI" or "Mythbusters," and have a good sense of how Hollywood magic plays in the real world. We are a society of people who are now fully aware that the human body has limits. And this should have been particularly true of a 65 year old actor.

I can acknowledge that Harrison Ford is old. I can accept that age has made him slower and more vulnerable to the types of over-the-top action we've known him for in the past. In fact, I was kind of curious to see how an older Indy would manage. I wasn't expecting him to slap in dentures and complain about arthritis of course, but time has never been kind to anyone after all.

Funny though, how it seems ol' Indy was actually more indestructible in this film than in any of the priors when he was actually younger. Punches to the face, jet engines, waterfalls, fucking refrigerators, and none of it slowed him down. Suspend disbelief you say? Every other fucking Indy movie, the man got dirty, bloody, and got his ass handed to him by movie's end. We all knew and loved the protagonist who bled like the rest of us. And yet an older, more venerated Indy can somehow take equally hard abuse on weakened muscles and aged bones without ill? Bullshit!

Of course, maybe the man was in pain. Maybe all those wacky antics really did hurt him. It can be hard to tell when everyone is acting so bored. Nobody on the cast seemed to be having any fun, nobody looked like they were excited to be doing this again. It was all gritted teeth and bad jokes. The only cats who even seemed animated were the Russians.

By this way, the Russian community is pissed about this movie. And I can't blame them one bit. I've known enough Russian people in my time to know that how they are not portrayed in this movie like they should be. Russian folks are some of the coolest, most composed people out there. Quiet, subtle, and steely resolve, that there is the M.O. of a hard and rugged people. Not this running around squawking like a bad Amos & Andy episode with bad accents. Ol' Lucas thought he could get away making the same spunky Nazi antagonists like he's did in all the prior films and just calling them Russians. No deal buddy, it's an offense to their community, and to people like myself who hold those guys in such high regard.

And of course, what bitch-fest about an inferior movie is complete without my assessment of Shia? My distaste for the bastard has made me reasonably popular lately, so I'd be remiss in not saying a few words about him. So, how did he fare?

Well, I'll admit my initial predictions were a little bit off. In place of the scrawny "I wanna be like you daddy," that I was expecting, I got a Marlon Brando clone in it's stead. Leather coat and goofy hat, hunched over the motorcycle, very much The Wild One right?

Well, I think someone needed to tell Shia, that he isn't in fact, Marlon Brando.

Playing the whole "I'm a drifter badass because I've never known the love of a father," bit to it's bitter ridiculous end gets damned old for eyes like mine. Particularly when the only thing that can be defined as badass about his character is the outfit. It's easy to look tough and untamed when decked in leathers and on the back of a motorcycle, lawyers have been doing it for years. I was right about one thing, he's still one-note. White bread generic until credits roll, and no amount of painted on goatee can cover that up.

But I did derive one moment of joy out of his performance. About midway through, when he is reunited with his surrogate father, played by John Hurt. Falling to his knees in front of an expertly placed spotlight, fresh water sprayed into those boyish eyes, providing the illusion of tears. He stares at this man, the closest thing to a father known to him through these lonely years, with a look of confusion and concern upon his face. His lips tremble as he questions what evil force would do such a horrible thing to this good man.

I've never laughed so hard in all my goddamn life. Is it me, or did anyone else expect him to look up to the stars and start screaming "STELLA!"

So, it was disappointing. I did expect it after all, The track record of George Lucas has been less than stellar lately. And trying to bring back the feelgoods from names he made famous is the act of a desperate man. So, I knew that it couldn't be great. But I at least wanted it to be good. I wanted to return to those happy days of yesteryear for a little while, and remember that wacky archaeologist and his need for epic quests. Just to revel in better times. Hell, if some justice had been done to his end, things would've been just fine by me. The man inspired a great deal in a lot of us. I know it did in me. And while I'm sure it wasn't the sole motivating factor in me studying archeology, I know he played his part.

So, for those of you naysayers who have torn the internet asunder in your claims of this film's greatness, ask yourself this: Would you still love this movie if the name Indiana Jones wasn't attached to it? If whip and fedora hadn't been donned, would this have still been a summer blockbuster, or another off-the-rack B stock film at your local movie rental store's Horror section? Using big names to tell weak stories benefits no one. It only ruins the name. I for one, can probably dismiss this movie. Forget it exists entirely, and treat it like another story from another man. And down the road, when I watch Harrison Ford and Sean Connery triumphantly ride into the sunset with the mysteries of the Holy Grail behind them, I can tip my hat to the end of a great series, and a legendary tale.

May 26, 2008

The Fall Of David Archuleta

Writing these ridiculous things is a stop and go process. Most nights, it's a mad scramble to try and find something remotely interesting to talk about, then typing it as quickly as possible before you good people wake up and carry on with your day. On other nights, I can whip out multiple things in a matter of hours, and be covered for days at a time.

This was the case last week, where I managed to have all of the week's posts generated in a single day. Nothing left to do but edit and publish, leaving the rest of the day for me to squander away with good music, bad TV, and tolerable food.

Naturally, this means that I can't always get the jump on any late breaking news. Sometimes topics that are hot and ripe for the picking don't get mishandled by me until the following week. And, I suppose I could just swap out posts to stay on top of things, but I'm a lazy man, and you should accept that.

So, I've been left with a weekend to muse and ponder over Mr. David Archuleta. Potential candidate for American Idol, and a hometown hero if there ever was one. I'm right up the road from Murray, David's neighborhood. And between my proximity and the 12 or so random minutes of local news that I take in during a regular week, it's hard to not hear about the kid. There was no doubt in anyone's mind, including mine, that the kid would win it all. He had the sympathy vote with all the "daddy issues," and seemed far more marketable than the other kid. He was destined to win.

But he didn't, and I am so relieved.

For those unfamiliar with Utah, let me give you a little precursor on this place. This is a state loaded with very nice, very decent people. And while I don't agree with a lot of the religious views of this place, I can say that I don't bed down at night with a shotgun for fear of persecution. But this is also a place that has something to prove to the rest of the country. The state secretly wants to be known for something more than tired polygamy jokes. I can't blame them really. Having been no stranger to negative stereotypes, I know what drives people to prove to others that they're different.

Utah spends a lot of time trying to squeeze itself into the general ecology of the rest of the nation. Watch a little bit of news, and you'll see how badly it wants to be recognized as one of the boys. Anything that has any kind of impact somewhere else, must have it's day here in Utah. When the conflicts in Iraq started, every news report had to hear about how the Utah soldiers felt about it. And when Hurricane Katrina wrecked New Orleans, Utah interviewed Utahans about what they were doing to help the cause. Our perspective about what's going on in the rest of the world is paramount.

When things do actually happen here, you'd need to be living in the middle of the fucking desert not to hear about it. Our claims to fame have been a couple of instances of gang violence, one kidnapped girl, and a shooting. Serious stuff of course, but compared to places like New York or Los Angeles, it's not even breaking news. But the local media will play the living shit out of stories like this for months. So much so that if you tune into one news program every few weeks, you'll pretty much be completely caught up on what's going on. To this day, having the Olympics has been such a profound deal, that people still wear the volunteer coats they were given, some six years later.

This town isn't ready for the kind of publicity a hometown American Idol winner can bring. This is still a far too excitable bunch, in desperate need of contemporary press. And reliance on the success of an individual as means of defining a space in geography is suicide. We'll become more one-note than we were when we were a bunch of polygamists.

But admittedly, my motives for enjoying his failure are a bit more selfish. Despite the type of songs Mr. Archuleta sings, and how he's gone about finding success, he and I are still in the same business. And I don't know if I'll have any kind of real success in this industry, but I do know for damn sure that I might as well hang up my instruments and retire if David Archuleta was the American Idol. The Boogie Man and the BGO are plenty underground right now, But with his face representing Utah music, I would never even break the surface. No matter what I did, it would always be "How it compares to Utah's American Idol." Probably the only way I could establish myself would be by producing something heartfelt, yet generic for him. I would forever live in the shadow of that pre-pubescent face. And frankly, I think I have enough competition by the latest and greatest coming out of MTV's and Disney's ass without having it happen in my own town.

And yet, it was not meant to be. And after the cheers and toasts of relief to the young man's failure, I do feel bad for this town of mine. It seems like the current legacy of this place is only pulling second best. We've never seen the Jazz go all the way, and we've never gotten our own American Idol. But I know that somewhere, someday, Utah will get past the imagery the rest of the world has of it. This will no longer be a place where pioneering, salt water, and old religious ideals of banging several women and being in the clear with the lord is what we're all about. There will be something new defining it. I don't know what that is yet, but I know it will be more than a single person or group's success. It'll be bigger, something that speaks about every person that resides here.

Of course, it's possible I'm just being too optimistic. Second stringer American Idols can be very successful. It's possible that the evil of David has yet to truly come to fruition. Be wary my fellow artists and craftsmen. It may not be long before his shadow overtakes you.

May 23, 2008

Time And Cheetos

Have you noticed lately that when you wander through your friendly local supermarket, filled today with just as much new-age technology as food-related products , that sometimes it's the simple things that get missed?

I was there today in need of a couple of necessary ingredients for a fine dinner. I decided to leave my phone at home to charge, since I wouldn't be there long. I had to be back by 4, but I had a reasonable amount of time to play with, so no big deal, right? The grocery store is a treasure trove of modern convenience, surely I'll be able to keep tabs on my tight time schedules with ease.

As I collected by needs, I took a moment to take inventory of the technology available to he consumer. Needless to say, it was pretty incredible. Computerized touchscreen registers, machines that can convert change into cash, employment application stations, movie rental vending machines and flat screen televisions playing highlights from Food Network and the Tonight Show. Very impressive.

And not a single one of them had the fucking time on it.

I looked everywhere and couldn't find a single clock. Not even some old dusty analog number from years gone by. Time did not exist in this place. Those fancy flat screens hanging from the roof sensed my agony and decided to mock me by starting a kid friendly segment on how to build your own clock from a paper plate, push pin, and markers flashed over the screen. It was hosted by one of those failed children's show applicants. The kind that talks slow and is all teeth. Downright annoying, you know the sort. And she was as close as I was getting to a clock in this place. Unfortunately, I couldn't count on the damn thing to be able to actually tell me the time!

What the hell is this? Every one of these nifty conveniences are pretty damn complicated pieces of silicon and ingenuity. How hard could it have been to program the code so that some numbers that are tied into the position of the sun can be displayed?

For fuck's sake, the clock is one of the first real pieces of technology we ever developed. A wedge on a table that with some skill and imagination, you could figure out the time of day from. Ingenious. And we only improved from there. From classy brass pocket watches to devices you could wrap around the wrist, to your cell phone being able to not only tell the time, but serve as an alarm clock in a pinch. We've come a long way baby.

And yet, in a store filled with some moderately impressive technology, one cannot count on any of it to tell you the time. And it's not like time has lost it's importance. There are still deadlines out there. One can still be late for shit. As a matter of fact, people count on you to be punctual now more than ever. So the lack of such a basic thing seems, I don't know, odd?

Of course, maybe it's just me. Maybe the world expects me to have everything I need to stay within a timetable. It's certainly possible. iPods, the aforementioned cell phone, hell I could just get up and buy myself a fucking watch. There are ways to solve one's problems in time and space, and they're easy to find, and easier to own.

Still, it's disturbing thing to see how many expensive pieces of crap we have around, that are only capable of doing one thing. Uni-taskers aren't good for anybody, and this place is chock full of them. It's a waste of space and resources, that only makes for a disaster when any one of those damn things inevitably breaks down. What happens then? Well probably we'll just have to go back to the way we did things. You want your change broken into bills? Go to the fucking register. Want a job at this fine establishment? Then make a goddamned resume and hand it to customer service. It's quick, easy, and gives you the added priviledge of talking to a living breathing person instead of just staring at a big dumb box. A box that, at least to these tired and frustrated eyes, can't even tell you what time it is.

In the end, I manged to find out what time it was. And I didn't use any computer or television screen or other form of technology. Instead, I asked a very nice woman at the checkout stand who smiled polietly, and read to me the time from her wristwatch. And in the end, it's probably the best way to do things. Reliance on this kind of sophisticated crap only leads to further isolation from your shipmates on this big globe. Interaction with your peers is not only fun, but it's all part of the experience. In a time when it's easier to spend 5 minutes writing a text message to somebody, instead of calling them an talking to them for 3, we mustn't forget the value of one on one time with the people around us.

And for those who are unwilling to go that far, just remember to wear a watch.

May 21, 2008

Cher Is The AntiChrist

I am so pissed off at Cher right now.

It's got nothing to do with that whole diva attitude or the slew of inferior musical representation she's forced me to digest. Not even her screwing over Sonny Bono or Greg Allman grinds the ol' gears. No, what's got me in a rage is something minor, insignificant even. Or at least it was supposed to be.

Back in 1998, Cher decided to make herself known again to the world. She ventured forth into the studio, singing about the usual fare of love, loss, dancing, and remembrance. In those recording sessions, a piece of technology was employed to devastating effect. The program was Auto-Tune, software created to enable studio hounds to take the average out-of-tune voice, and digitally adjust it. Normally the effects are subtle......well subtler anyways, but in this instance, the effect was run at extreme settings, sharpening the vocals to the tightest pitch imaginable. It also had the added effect of making her sound like she was singing through a synthesizer, or giving fellatio to a robot. That song was called "Believe," and now you know the rest of the story.

Cher insisted on keeping that vocal effect on the final recording. And you should hate her for it.

By itself, this story is insignificant, the effects however, not so much. For some reason it spawned the need for every punk and hooligan who could sing in tenor range to plug the bastard in and sing along. Initially the abusers were A-list pop stars from Cher's era. They plugged it in to ride that celebrity train for all it was worth. Shania, Madonna, even Tina Turner dabbled. And this was expected. Annoying, but expected. Most people simply dismissed it because the aforementioned abusers had some notoriety. Shania Twain can do anything she wants in the studio, since it's already been proven that Shania can sing.

But if you pan to the present, you'll notice the recent fallout has been far more dramatic, and far less forgivable. Guys like Akon and T Pain are making careers off of this device. And their credentials are a bit more vague. I won't argue that these guys might actually be able to hold a tune, but they use the software so goddamn much, it's hard to say. I think that if they ever actually starting singing with their natural voices, nobody would even recognize them.

And the other day, while in a desperate remote hunt, I saw a Chris Brown video where he did nothing but sing through that ridiculous synthesized, overcompensated voice. And for three fucking minutes no less. I am not, nor will I ever be a Chris Brown fan, but somewhere along the line, I developed the distinct impression that the kid could actually sing. Why in the hell would you do something like that? What's the point? To prove that you can do it? Well shit, we've all known that it could be done since 1998. No, fuck that. We knew this since the 7o's when Moog starting putting Vocoders in their shit. Tons of funk bands have treaded this ground before baby.

What's scary is that it's getting to the point where this is becoming no mere toy or tool. a style of music all to itself. Years ago, electronic drums created the mindfuck named "Disco." And now it's happening all over again with Auto-Tune. Eventually, there will be more artists who base their entire careers on that software. Music journalists and a fledging industry will create a new genre for them, and make it out to be the next big thing. They'll call it "Autotronica," or "Tune-Wave" or some shit like that, and talk about it's ability to transcend genders.

And it'll probably be the straw that leads us into full-on automation. And it's all thanks to Cher. She has destroyed music for us, and civilization will fall because of it.

Only The Hardcore Play Sesame Street

I was browsing one of my favorite haunts, Wired Online, when I stumbled across an article on the music of Sesame Street. Having written a few things on what Sesame Street can do to professional musicians, I felt inclined to give it a read.

Most music from Sesame Street annoys me. It's usually the happy, moralistic chirpy crap that you can't get out of your head. But this particular read made for a fun, albeit short, trip down memory lane. I do remember some of the music from those days. The pinball machine tune in particular made for a strange brain trip in a day where sleeplessness, muscle-relaxers, and alcohol were unknown to me. I have no idea what house band pulled that tune off, but I tip my hat to them.

But there has been a lot I haven't seen. I didn't grow up with a daily expectation of talking puppets with life lessons to offer. I grew up in the analog days, out in the middle of nowhere. NBC and ABC were all I knew. On a particularly stormy night, you might get a few hours of CBS as a treat.

So, PBS was not something I got to see until I was visiting family in the real world. So, my intake of Sesame Street was very sporadic (which probably added to its more annoying qualities.) So, I missed a good chunk of what classic Sesame Street had to offer.

One of the things I missed was Stevie Wonder performing "Superstition." I had never seen it before until I read that article. And I was completely blown away with what I had missed. For those of you who are interested, and were too lazy to read the Wired article, check it out below.



Isn't that badass? Is that version not meaner and angrier than anything you heard on a proper Stevie Wonder album? Nothing wrong with the original, in fact I think it sounds disco-riffic. It's disco-tastic even. Something you'd want to dance to with happy smiles on your face and your gal at your side.

But not this version, ooooh no. This is the version you want to listen to before you hurt somebody. It's ferocity on a level unknown in those times. Even the kids dance like they're being compelled into violence.

And personally, I think we owe this ode of greatness to Stevie's backing band. Those guys in the vid are some of the scariest looking thugs I've ever seen. Hardcore, thick-veined urbanites who feared nothing. Even the hippie-love child Caucasians in the band look menacing. Look at those faces, they've done some shanking. My personal favorite is the bongo player. That man's seen some shit.

And it's wild to see a very sweet, soft spoken man like Stevie surrounded by these rough customers. But I suppose it makes sense. If you're blind, and a sensitive musical-type, having some badasses around keeps you safe and most importantly, paid.

What I wouldn't give to have a backing band like that. Groovy, tight, and absolutely dangerous. Those are the kind of guys who can say, "We're gonna walk onto a kid's program, play hard for as long as we want, and there ain't a damn thing anyone can do about it. And ain't nobody gonna accuse us of selling out."

God knows I sure won't.

May 20, 2008

Michael Jackson And The Sign Of The Times

I watched a bit of the music television today and saw that another pseudo-rock band was doing a cover version of a Michael Jackson tune. With Alien Ant Farm treading similar ground back in '01, this will make two such creatures out in the world today.

Frankly, I would love nothing more than to spit venom at this sort of thing, but I can't bring myself to do it. They're just not that bad. A weird choice of material to be sure, but the rendition is pretty faithful, and the sound pretty good for what they are. Not really my cup of tea, but nothing I can point to as a criminal act or more evidence of selling out either.

But it does signal something lurking on the horizon. A change in the generations that strikes fear into the aged musical types like myself You see, when I growing into the fine specimen I am today, the musical fodder for song covers was far different. You had old blues covers and songs by Dylan and those like him being taken to court by modern artists attempting modern sound. Hell, taking songs by the Bee Gee's and covering them was considered living wild.

Nothing has changed in terms of perspective. Oh sure, technology's improved, what's considered modern has definitely changed, and the sheer quantity of suck has doubled, at least in this author's opinion. Still, the tactics are the same. Classic songs are still popular and covers of those songs still sell.

But it's the time and era that has changed. No longer are folk musicians and hippie-induced love bands considered reasonable material. The new artist has set his sights, and now the 80's are fair game.

Michael Jackson has already become a target, and the material has garnered some success. It won't be long now before Lionel Richie gets approached. "All Night Long" will soon be a dark metal track, layered with growly vocals and a techno beat. How about a slicked up R & B version of Cindi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun?" I'm surprised Lindsey Lohan or any of that derilict bunch haven't already hopped on it and sucked it for all it's worth.

In a few years time, Celine Dion will even be considered reasonable.

And I'd love nothing more than to pin this on the new karaoke world that American Idol has created, but it just wouldn't' be true. Much as I hate to admit it, it's just those wacky young people calling music I grew up with "classic." Michael Jackson made his name with the song "Beat It "some thirty five years ago. Thirty five years! More than enough time for these young upstarts to consider that stuff "grandpa music." Natural progression at its finest, and I'm actually alive to see it. It's strange, I can almost understand the look in the eyes of my parents when I blasted Guns N' Roses performing "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" at full volume. That sense of horror, that some stranger could take something so meaningful from their time, and desecrate it with loud guitars and nasally voices. I can imagine that they lost great sleep in those days, knowing that everything they celebrated was slowly being dissolved away by my generation.

I probably won't lose much sleep over this. First off, this isn't epic poetry or storytelling at its finest, it's fucking Michael Jackson. It's catchy, groovy, and sometimes even fun. But it's still very easy to dismiss. Don't mean to knock on the man, but let's face it, he didn't set out to reinvent the wheel. Most people won't be using his name in the same sentence as Led Zeppelin or the Beatles (Well, Paul McCartney might, but his choice of words won't be very nice.)

And also, I think I'll sleep soundly tonight because I can accept that this is just the way things are. Musical evolution. Those that would inherit this place from us are starting to have their say about what sounds good, and about what part of our musical past is worth preserving. It only gets worse from here people.

May 19, 2008

Boogie Visits The Marathon

It's been said by better men than me that the mind of a marathon runner defies comprehension. Practical logic simply cannot exist with people who are compelled to run nowhere while being chased by nothing. Chastise me all you want, that's basically all a marathon is. Going against the human instinct by running without ever actually acquiring food, shelter, or safety . It's weird, impractical, causes unnecessary damage to heart and body, and accomplishes nothing in the end. These lunatics pay for the privilege to be this weird too.

This is something I would never do. Running for the sheer experience of moving in a way that your body doesn't like to do for very long seems like a waste of resources to me. If some day the wolves do come down the mountainsides, I'd like to think that the years of slow and steady movement will have left me with an untapped reserve to make my escape with. And if that reserve isn't enough, then I die knowing that the wolves were far superior all along. They deserve my calorie-riddled carcass for the feasting. Marathoning, is simply something I won't do.

But, today I find myself at a marathon. Not to test my skills in short shorts of course. I was mostly there to show support, but I was also there to observe. These are interesting people, in the pursuit of interesting goals. I felt they needed to be documented.

I arrive at eight in the morning for the events at hand, running on about two hours of sleep. More than enough I figure to fully understand what's about to go down. I wander through this crowd of strange and unusual folk. Tight clingy shorts, exposed midriffs, and bodies contorting into weird shapes to promote flexibility and endurance. All surrounding me and making my usual attire of Levi's, boots, and leather seem that much more out of place. The crowd was fairly substantial, several hundreds at least. These maniacs are not in short supply. One could form a decent-sized cult and move to Waco with what was available.

The runners lined up to the sound of bagpipes and muffled megaphones. The sense of excitement was......was.....well let's face it, there was no excitement. Determination and resolve to be sure, but no one seemed very excited to be here. This wasn't a concert or a sports event or even a blind date. This was going to be painful, and everyone knew it.

The marathon begins and I look towards the crowd of supporters and cheerleaders who stand on the sidelines of the action, only to see nothing. Aside from a handful of husbands/wives, live in partners, and acquaintances, these marathoners are alone in this quest. The few who remain seem to be using this event as much as an excuse to walk the dog than to support the people doing the running.

It's seems like a sad thing. While this all seems ridiculous to me, it cannot be argued that it is also difficult and takes some degree of passion to do it. And passionate people should be supported in their endeavors, no matter how insane they may be.

And yet, these weirdos are not alone. As I watch the participants rush past me, completing their first lap, I can hear words of support and encouragement uttered amongst each other. "Come on you can do it," and "keep up the pace, you're doing great," can be heard, spoken to the complete strangers sharing this bit of asphalt with them. The group collective is strong. They tend to their own, the encouraging words spoken in hushed tones are almost a language unto themselves. As if almost to say "Welcome to the flock, you are one of us now, and we are not like the others." Perhaps these strange people need no legions of people who cheer for them. They have each other. And the company of those who would run appears to be more than enough.

I watch the finish line as the sweaty come around the bend. There is none of the fevered intensity present in other types of sports. No countdowns or photo finishes here. There are no signs of Marathoners pumping everything they have into those last few yards. The few who do kick it up a notch are usually engaged in friendly competition with the person next to them, and even they aren't running full bore. Entire families cross the finish line together, a better sense of familial bonding I have never seen.

Most Marathoners cross the finish line, hear their time, and nod quietly as they catch their breath. This is no spectacular feat for most. Just an idea of ability, a simple acknowledgment of what they're capable of.

And I suppose in the end, that's what defines these people. This isn't an athletic event that puts participants in an adversarial setting, like most sports fare. No these folks actually support and protect each other, encouraging one another to push harder and stick with it. Even if that encouragement means getting passed up by the very people they were trying to encourage. It matters not, the true victory is in finishing the race. Your claim to fame is not in where you finished in this monumental task, but the fact that you could finish it. And when feasting on oranges, water, and granola, they look at their peers they've shared these few miles with, and smile happy to share the victory with them. It's a thing of beauty, one that can be appreciated by even the most jaded and cynical of us.

You still won't get me to do it though.

May 16, 2008

In The Name Of Someone Else's Love

The other night I was wandering through the store in search of fine edibles when I heard a very nice cover of Pride (In The Name Of Love.) A smooth female voice laid like silk over a delicate acoustic arrangement. It was a very pleasant experience.

In many ways, it was much better than U2's original version ever was. Granted, it didn't have that mean backbeat that U2 is so notorious for, but I liked it much better overall. Then I remembered how the only reason I even tracked down the original U2 version was because a section of the chorus was in Moulin Rouge. And that I liked that small section of song so much, I tracked down the CD.

And that's when it hit me: U2 is this generation's Bob Dylan.

And it's not because of the epic storytelling (please) or because they've managed to revive new life into a traditional genre (ha!) Just the mere fact that their music only seems to be digestible when other people are singing it.

Now the reasoning is different with Dylan. The man actually did some pretty revolutionary things musically. And no one can argue that he could definitely tell a story. But Dylan was held back by a couple of minor details: He strummed too fast and sung like a bullfrog.

The man was barely comprehensible, it's a sad but painful truth. He mumbled everything and when he actually did attempt to sing, it sounded like a seizure. Love the man all you want, but you have to acknowledge the fact that if artists like The Byrds, Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul & Mary hadn't done versions of his songs, Dylan might not even be a fart in history.

Even today, the best Dylan songs are those being covered by other bands. Ministry, Clapton, and slew of others who have taken that gravely voice and made something ethereal out of it. Even Dylan has knows this and rolls with it like a true gentleman.

Now, there's no question that U2 can play, and there's no question that Bono can sing. In my professional opinion, the brunt of their work is finely penned (well, except for the Pop album, but hey you can't win them all.) So, the comparisons to Dylan aren't related to musicianship or singing ability.

It's mostly due to the fact that the world at large cannot get over the fact that Bono is a douche.

Come on, admit it. Look past all those charity's and the nobility, and big glasses, and you can see it too. The man annoys you. Gets under your skin and irritates you like a rash. I've seen pictures of him with poor underprivileged kids in news articles and so forth and even they're looking at him like, "Step off me! What's your problem?"

The man is unsettling, and when you put something righteous with something unsettling, it's a recipe for a lynch mob. He's got the greasy smugness of a man who'd be trying to buy you drinks and steal your undies at a bar. It's only considered acceptable because the man can't talk about anything but charity and goodwill.

And it is that notion of "doing good for the world" that ruins the music. You start to enjoy a song like Pride (In The Name Of Love) and suddenly Bono has to start saying shit like "This song is a tribute to all the starving people of the world, and to those who would fight oppression and war in these perilous times." And you're sitting there like, "Fuck man, I just wanted to hear this song and reminisce about an ex-girlfriend! You're ruining this for me!" Like songs that have special memories to them are now going to being replaced with images of hungry African kids and crying mothers. Granted those are some mighty sad things, but just once, wouldn't it be nice to have a song be for you what you want it to be?

Which is why U2 covers are going to get mighty popular. Without the shadow of Bono over these songs, people can now say "You mean I can actually listen to this song, and have it actually be about simple love? Oh, for joy!" How liberating would that be?

So I think as the world grows older , and the church of Bono grows a firmer grasp on the patent of the world "righteous" that we'll be hearing more of these bands generating a fresh and inspired energy to these well worn songs. And Bono will get place (who'd stop him?) in the pantheons of musical history, but we will all know that when the need for a U2 song to fill the soul and memory comes along, we'll be looking elsewhere.

May 14, 2008

Oh Britney, You Crazy

Britney Spears, who's a pop singer or something like that as apparently been in a car accident. While in a state of reported distraction, she bumped the owner of a red Ford Explorer at a red light. And although there was no serious injury to either party, the damage was severe enough to warrant the exchange of information.

This falls on the one month anniversary of Britney in another auto accident, this time on the Los Angeles freeway system in which three vehicles were involved. And if memory serves, there was an incident in August of last year involving Britney once again, this time in a hit and run incident with another vehicle. These incidents don't include being stopped by the LAPD for speeding and dangerous driving.

For fuck's sake, why does she still have a license? What, my grandmother hits a light pole and the DMV come a'running, but when Ms. Spears endangers a few lives, you say "Oh well, mistakes happen?" Bullshit! Pull the license, so people like me can feel safe about going out on the streets at night without some crazy whack-job celebrity running my ass over because of a few attention issues. She's Britney Spears goddamnit, she can afford to take the fucking bus!

May 12, 2008

Where No Raza Has Ever Gone Before

Here's something that's always bothered me about Star Trek...

Yes, I'm a fan of Star Trek. Not a trekkie of course, those people are weird, but a normal average individual who grew up with the show and still finds reasons to appreciate it in his maturing years. It's good entertainment and I make no apologies for it.

But, like I was saying, there is something about the program that bothers me. It's a subtle undercurrent that few would notice, but with keen eyes and a sense of balance it becomes very hard to miss. My problem is this: Where are all the Latinos?

Think back on the show. If time permits, maybe watch an episode or two. You will start to notice that despite a representation of every major cultural entity, as well the weird and crazy space-born types, that the whole of hispanic-dom, Chicanos, Tejanos, Mexicanos, Latinos, and every other variant in between is very much in absence. Sure we've got blue guys and women with breasts in triplicate, but not one person of the Latin persuasion.

And no, I'm not going to count Robert Beltran. Despite being a wonderful person, a proud Latin man, and someone with the ability to shoot off the mouth in a way that only I can appreciate, I can't in good faith count him. Why? Because the smart people in charge decided to take him, and paint him into some weird tattooed new age mystic who had zero ties to Hispanic culture. They didn't want a proud Latin man. They wanted some noble Native American that you'd expect to see on postcards in gas stations. And while Native American roots are definitely part of the Hispanic experience, He obviously wasn't made into someone with those facts in mind. They just wanted a gypsy boy with a medicine bag. Nothing more.

Many years ago in my more rebellious days, I was irked that no Chicano ever got to be captain. I mean hell, everyone else got a ship. Sulu insured the Asians were represented, Picard nailed the European vote. Avery Brooks stood proudly for African Americans, and the very uptight Kate Mulgrew made for the surliest, mother hen of a female representative ever put on the tube. And yet, never a Chicano. Basically, it's us and the Australians who never got their fair shake at helming an intergalactic starship.

And I'm not knocking the captains of days gone by (well except Kate Mulgrew, I can't stand that woman.) Kirk in his heyday could've probably seduced me into the sack. And Picard could be quite the badass. Cultured, but he'd crush your nuts if he had to. So, I'm not going to stand on the podium and say my culture could one-up these fine specimens, but it would've been nice to be invited.

But hey, what do I know? I was an angry kid with lots of venom to flick at a vicious world (I'm so much more mature now.) I simply dismissed it as foolishness. Pure paranoia. But, as I've had more time on my hands, and am actually around a television in the daytime, I watched the program again. As I watched I stood ready to dismiss the lack of Hispanic leadership on these programs as my overactive imagination. But, I never prepared myself for how underrepresented we were to become.

We're not in charge, we're not in the command chain, shit we're not even cleaning out grease traps in some intergalactic kitchen. We are simply not there.

So where exactly did we go? Was there some ethnic cleansing in the Third World War? Was brown declared illegal? Couldn't have been genetics, since any good geneticist would tell you those more people are likely to be Hispanic than any other cultural denomination. We're a culture of mixed bloods and the integration of polarized traditions, we ain't going nowhere.

Well, nowhere except space apparently.

This may sound like defensive nitpicking, but consider the times. This country's government has painted us to be just as dangerous as any terrorist organization. Our sheer presence has become a national threat. There are armed civilians pointing guns at a line in the dirt to kill people who look like me. And for what? Swimming? Trying to work and make a little money? Sure, there are some unruly types in the bunch, but no breed is perfect. The average American citizen is far more dangerous than any immigrant crossing that dusty river, so what the hell? I know at least half a dozen people who are undocumented citizens from places as extreme as London, Canada, and even New Zealand. Meanwhile I'm a born citizen and have been interrogated by Border Patrol officials at least three times that I remember. The present has not been kind, the future showing no improvement on celluloid.

it's scary that this fictionalized utopia doesn't include people like me. Maybe the current political situation can actually carry on to the 24th century with great effectiveness. Through tired eyes, you can almost look at those beautiful CGI images of futuristic San Fransisco, bear witness to clean air and a lack of crime, and know that if you drove south to that aged border line, you will see the Mexico of old still there. Even in this new civilized time, kids still run the streets without shoes. Poor people continue to sell Chicklets and cheap wares to hovercraft-riding tourists. That even in this era of civilized folk, we will remain a source of cheap booze and cheaper amusement amongst the status quo. And instead of angry rednecks, we will have honorable young men with plasma rifles and shiny brooches on their chests, keeping the heartland clear of our kind. We are a sin to this nation even in this new day, crimes stretching deep into the future. We are the galaxy's dirty little secret, a mistake of conquest and drunkenness. Unfit to lead, unfit to bear witness to the hopeful futures that only Hollywood can create. And in the end, a person with the face I see every day in the mirror has nothing to look forward to as we venture forth into the future.

And don't you Star War guys start acting all ultra righteous either. It's not like your representation of my kind has been any more generous.

Shortcuts

Talk to any of those professional musicians creating genius in professional studios, and you're likely to hear some strange, duty-specific lingo. Words like "Pro-Tools, "Auto Tune" and "Propellerhead" will float all around you like they mean something important. These are the new English in modern music recording

Start throwing those words around in my studio, and I'll laugh at you.

Truth is my studio is old school. Hell, calling it old school may even be an insult to old schoolers. My studio is hanging off the hinges, barely practical, crap sonic manufacturing. If there was anything past bare bones, It'd be what I work with. Bare marrow maybe...or bare calcium even. Kinda catchy actually.

Anyway, without going into mind numbing specifics, here's the basics. My recording platform was designed to work with Windows 95. My computer runs Windows 2000, has never known a Gigahertz, nor seen the joys of RAM above 200 megabytes. The only saving grace being that it doesn't take much juice to run.

No fancy audio interfaces or vacuum-loaded preamps. A single device, originally designed to be cheap and quick entertainment for the burgeoning musician, now acts as sound processor and pre amplification for every single device I use. It's plugged into less than professional, weatherbeaten and abused instruments that have no business in a studio, and run straight into whatever low budget sound card came with the computer when I bought it some eight years ago.

It's primate recording, I make no excuses for it. Wholly impractical, completely outdated, and probably nightmare-inducing to those aforementioned professionals out there. But, it is also something else: Completely functional.

Through this half-assed mockery of a setup, I've managed to record a great deal of music. Half finished ideas of course, but there is at least one album of music that the world knows about , and at least one they don't. Even if you're disgusted with my methods, you must admit that I've created a substantial output with crap.

I haven't operated this way out of some rebellious streak, or with any great deal of pride. It's what I had, and I needed to make it work. And I could either wish and want for the fancy glamorous stuff of my adept peers, or I could get some shit done. So, I opted to keep working.

Truth be told, it's always been a topic of shame for me. I've been practicing guerrilla recording tactics while the rest of the world has moved on to grander pastures. Programs like Pro-Tools are not top of the line toys anymore, they're gold standards in this business. And I'm so way off the benchmark, it's a wonder there isn't a wanted poster with my ugly mug on it. "If you want success, record deals, and hot chicks, avoid what this idiot does!" I feel like a lazy person who has somehow cheated. I'm not a real musician, I don't even deserve the title. I've cut so many corners in what I do, that it shouldn't even be acceptable. Some days I stare at the studio, study the nicks, crust and age on my rig, and feel very very ashamed of what I've made.

That stopped today. Today I got me some perspective, and from a cook book no less.

While reading a few pages from Anthony Bourdain, a personal hero of mine and one hell of a writer, I learned the word d├ębrouillard. Translated, it means being skilled at adapting to any situation, to be resourceful. Bourdain called it "System D," and used it as a metaphor for the shortcuts cooks would have to take in order to deliver good food consistently, and quickly. Things like using microwaves, swapping ingredients when stocks are low, anything to stay on the ball. These are skilled talented people in a well respected establishment cutting any corner necessary to keep the customer fed.

It was brilliant.

I realized that I'm not motivated by laziness when I do things the way I do. I didn't design this to make things easy. In fact, I think if any modern professional watched me work, they're probably say I invest too much time making this crap work right. I bust ass to create results and anything I lose in fancy recording gets made up with solid, articulate performances. If a track doesn't pass the mustard, it gets cut. Even if that means doing the whole thing all over again, that's what has to happen (and has happened many many times.) I get the result.

And as for the quality of the result? Shit, I'll stand behind it. My ears function pretty well, and what I hear sounds good to me . As for the masses? Well, I've never heard one complaint. Nobody's ever told me that any song is horribly mixed, or poorly recorded. Sure folks, hate the songs, loathe the lyrics, or simply just don't like me. Still, it seems that, despite these heinous guerrilla recording tactics I employ, people acknowledge what I do as being professional.

In my own private little way, I've become a d├ębrouillard. I took what I had and made results from it. And it's pretty goddamn liberating. Like nothing can stop me. When the muse hits, I can take this mountain of worthless crap, and continue to whip out product at a ridiculous rate. And when one component in this little turd-machine finally craps out on me, I know I'll find some other way to make it work. I've gone against the standard and somehow managed to succeed in all this. I'm unstoppable baby!

System D. Who would've thought?

May 9, 2008

3:40 A.M. On A Rainy Day

One of the great joys I have in this time is to sit on the couch in the wee hours of the morning, stare out the window, and write. The house is dead quiet, as is the world, what little of it I can see. It's almost like for a few moments out of everything, I have this whole disjointed place to myself. And while I'm sure there's still pain and suffering out there, it seems far enough away for the moment to not hurt over it.

I usually waste moments like these. Locked into one of my single-minded rants on the things in this world I can't control. Tearing through dictionaries and thesauruses trying to find that perfect world to sum up some little thing about this place that burdens me. I walk out of most of these things like a prize-fighter. Adrenaline peaked as I hit those last few keys to sum up the object of my daily fury. Out of breath and a little sweaty, but a feeling of victory in this exhaustion. I've driven a spike into the collective consciousness. It's a small spike, I admit, but it's something.

And yet, on a n evening like this, where the rain is falling and the night is still, none of that seems to matter. For a few moments out of my day, the world is quiet enough to actually look at. People running around like fools, driving here and there meeting deadlines and paying bills, it gets easy to assume that everything around us is a ticking time bomb. That one day we're all going to explode in some mass implosion caused by stress and a bad diet. In times like this, that thinking isn't there. Simple peace. Like nature's deep breath. That's what this time is.

It's a deep breath for me too. The need for me to stay furious and productive isn't necessary here. I've fought as hard as I could against everything, and now the tiredness can overwhelm me. I can feel my muscles sag and my mind defuse. I welcome it. Most days I feel like I need to be prepared for anything. But not here, not now. "Your war is over son, lay it down."

I can feel the mind drift as I stare down the street and write these lines. This is when I ask the real questions. The heavy stuff that most people only discuss with their pastors or with close friends over a bag of dope. This is my time to try and figure shit out. Not sure I've made any headway with any of it, but once in a big while things sort of click. My legos match and the universe makes just a little more sense to me.

Need to be careful here and not try and force this into something meaningful. This time of night isn't meant for morals. For most people, this is right about where REM sleep is attained. The slip into dreams, following the subconscious to wherever it's whim leads it. Then there are those of us who thrive without sleep and fear dreams. Expending precious energy on lost thoughts. The world belongs to us in these wee hours. Before the birds begin their songs, we are kings. Staring upon this land and for one gleaming second, feeling like you won't drown in it all. It's as close to a dream as the likes of me ever needs to get to.

Not sure why I decided to write this. This was never meant to go anywhere, never meant to be surmised into a firm point. This is what it is, whatever it is. I guess in everything I feel compelled to say, in all the inadequacies and confusions that drive me to spill word upon moldy word, that maybe just once, I need to speak when in this state. Not so much for you folks, who have to read it, but for me I suppose. To know one day, when I'm flipping through these things, that it is possible to feel this way. That in times when I'm burned and ready to crumble, I can remember a place where I could go to fall.

Dribble, pointless dribble. Somebody stop this man before he starts thinking he's deep.

May 8, 2008

Sound And Fury

This one's been some time in the making so forgive me if it seems outdated.

I'm one of those musical-types, as I'm sure everybody knows by now. And as such, I consume the music of others slightly different from the average person. Most folks buy a new album, and they're immediately filled with joy and excitement at the plethora of happening grooves and dulcid tones they are soon about to partake of. While there's definitely some of that, there's also something else: judgment. You see, these are not artists with works designed for me to enjoy, they are my colleagues and my competition.

If I've been tossing around a musical or melodic idea when I buy this new music, I take the chance that maybe I'm about to hear my idea made into something great before I get my shot at it. And naturally, that sucks. Yeah, it's great that this sonic majesty gets it's place in the world, but damnit, I was here first. And I'm well aware that there is very little in music and melody that hasn't been done before somewhere, but I'm an artist. And every artist will always believe that any idea they create is theirs and theirs alone.

So any album I'm considering undergoes brutal scrutiny to meet my exacting standards. Unpleasant tones and bad choices in chord selections are cause for immediate exile. And the scorn? Well you've read these pages long enough to know that the scorn is tremendous. Music done wrong is an insult to us musical-types and will not be tolerated. Ever.

So as you can imagine, I'm a lot of fun when I'm music browsing. Particularly in any store with a listening station. Earphones and volume controls make me into a music criticizing Hitler of sorts. Not really sure why, but I suspect it's because I'm typically surrounded by the hip kiddies of the world, checking out the latest in hip-hop, pop, and the not-so-metal metal acts. And their presence and bombardment of musical tastes tend to make me extra furious. As such, any album I'm listening to had damn well better be perfect if I'm gonna invest any kind of serious time into it. Several decent acts have never made it five minutes before I've dismissed them as generic dribble. And rarely, holy-grail rarely, does an album ever impress me with every single track on it.

Rarely.

So, the other day I'm wandering around the local Borders, and happily head over to the listening station. Unlike the Best Buys and other hip locales of the world, I've noticed I can actually stumble onto the occasional gem every once in awhile. Yeah, most of it's crap, but once in a big while, there's something noteworthy and great. And on this day I was to be blessed with just such a thing. For on this day I stumble across:


When I originally heard that such an album was being made, I was pretty pissed. Alison Krauss is a pretty amazing artist, one of the few modern country types that I actually respect. And to see her selling out to the highest bidder by doing something with the singer for Led Zeppelin was infuriating. C'mon, this is Robert Plant for fuck's sake! Mister, "I sing like a squeaky hinge while I grab my sack" Plant! No good can come out of that.

But, it was at the listening station, and admittedly I was curious. So I slapped on the 20 lb. headphones, hit the requisite buttons and prepared for the worst. At the very least, it might be so horrible, so ridiculously dreadful, that I'd have no choice but to laugh at it.

First song comes on and I listen. Not bad. Not bad at all. In fact, it's kind of good. On to the next...hey, this one's pretty good too. Third one's even better. This is incredible. Typically I never get past three tracks before I start to hear the flaws. Erroneous decisions that they made in their song construction. Something that a professional like me would never do. Doesn't matter that their sonic vision may be completely different from mine, I'm a musical type. And as such, my vision outweighs everyone else's. But, no such case with this album. Nope, three songs down, all perfect, all great.

Before I knew it, I had taken a sample of every single song on the thing. And I'll be damned if I didn't like every single one. I'm shocked! With all the music I've listened to and loved, the number of albums that have delivered 100% greatness could counted with one hand. Most albums have at least one flawed song, usually more. The perfect game just doesn't happen with me too often.

But here we are. A strange pairing like this has beaten the odds. Naturally, I made it mine. And months later, after repeated listenings, I still adore it. Stranger still, it seems to have made for some interesting musings. I feel as though somehow the vibe of that work has filled a sonic space in my psyche. Like anything I create from here on out will somehow be reflective of that album. Not a dead on impersonation, I don't do that. But something. Hitting a chord differently, or looking at a vocal line another way, I don't know what. But I know things have and will change as a result.

Obviously it's rare for me to be so impacted by a musical body of work like this, but god I love it when it happens. It's why I'm in this business to begin with.

May 7, 2008

A Few Thoughts On GTA IV

Apparently some game called Grand Theft Auto IV just came out and it's supposed to be pretty popular or something.

No, I'm not that far out of the loop. Of course I know about the GTA series. How absurd to think otherwise. I'm well versed in this gaming legacy, read about the history of the series, played it on many occasions, even owned one of the less-than stellar entries in the lineup. And I have also been very curious about how this latest entrant would spin out.

GTA III was a pretty intense ride. Even if you hated everything about the game, and despised the nature of your actions in it, you had to admit it was something pretty special. An imaginary world where one could be as despicable and naughty as they liked? It's a hard thing to pass up, and few did. There wasn't a corner of this place where you couldn't hear about it or see about it. Explosions, carjackings, murder and mass destruction. Even a fair bit of intercourse from what I understand. People loved it....well most people loved it. Everyone else got real nervous. Thought that the culmination of pixels and code could drive decent people to some serious deviance. It's possible they're right, I don't know. I'm just not conservative enough to consider a form of entertainment some threat to our national state. Well, except for maybe TV, that shit'll kill you.

I'm not gonna take a stand either way on this new incarnation of GTA's level of ferocity, nor that of it's predecessors. We're bred from violence folks. And no matter how many forks we put in front of us for a meal, or how well we can lift that pinky while we sip tea, fact remains there's still a beast roaming free under that skin. And it's tendencies are to feed, and defend itself. Both, without the luxuries of things like Mcdonald's, are inherently violent. It's who we are.

And having some way of venting frustrations without actually stealing cars and killing people can be a good thing. Better to do it with several hundred dollars worth of technology than on somebody's child. But I know it's not for everyone. Some can't release their inner adrenaline-fueled beast through sheer button mashing. Some only get more ravenous with such things. It's a toss up.

Wow, it seems like in trying to avoid speaking on this, I ended up speaking too damn much. My apologies, I'll get back to the point.

As I've been reading the reviews and criticisms for GTA IV, I've noticed a lot of the same praise being said. It's a realistic thing apparently. True choice in things. You can make friends (simulated friends,) go out on dates (simulated dates,) and have some decent choices in how you conduct yourself. If you want to deliver pizzas and drive a cab, thus sparing the imaginary masses? Shoot, go right ahead. I'm sure they'll thank you as you conduct yourself like a gentleman through all this. Do you crave darker fare? Shit, we got that too. Just walk up to someone and start wailing on them. The good times have begun.

Sounds pretty damn realistic to me. You've got a life outside of your life ready and waiting any time you want it. And for something that is notorious for keeping people busy for weeks and even months, it has to be a far more interesting life than what you already got. You're free to do anything you like with no consequences beyond the occasional restart.

That's pretty all encompassing. Getting to pick up on women and make chums with arms dealers with the option of any minute, pulling out a weapon and unloading a few clips. It's definitely a way to see what kind of person you are. The limits of your rage, your willingness to befriend the shady, to test your ability to pick up on the type of ladies you'd never even approach in real life.

So my question is this, if you're into something this epic, where you have free reign over your decisions and decide who you are moment by moment in this fantasy world that you're engrossed in for 50+ hours..............then who exactly are you when you turn the thing off?

Think about it, you've fulfilled all the dark little tidbits in your psyche. Taken things you've wanted, gotten angry and attacked strangers. Shown the man talking on his cellphone in front of you how annoying he's really making you. What happens when those urges have passed and your back amongst the fleshies?

It makes me wonder if you spend so much time living out something dark and depraved you've fantasized about, do you miss it when it's over? The quest is, after all, as good as the end result. Do those that get their twisted wishes stare into their memories and wonder to themselves, "What's next?"

Or maybe I'm looking too much into it. Even if it is a pretty close proximity of real life without limitations, it's still not real. You may beat that computerized business man while thinking about your boss, but you'll still have to deal with him the next day. And no matter how much of a womanizer you are in the game, you'll still be going to bed alone.

So I guess something like this is simply a way to sample the freedom of choice while still trying to build the life you want for yourself. A place to be the studly badass before heading back into the world as the respectable citizen. We'll see I guess. I'll eventually give it a try myself. See what dark roads it takes my weird ass psyche. And maybe, just maybe I'll come out of it unscathed.

Anything is possible.

May 6, 2008

Food Network Sellouts

I've spent the last few days sick and bedridden. In situations like those, when the mind is shot and the body in agony, there's really only one thing you can do; try and maintain on junk food and lots of television. So, that's what I did.

In the process of that, I noticed something unsettling brewing on one of my favorite sources of programming, the Food Network. Nothing within the actual content, mind you. Your average day is still filled with bakers proving their masculinity and women with many teeth. Par for the course for anyone who's devout. No, the problem lies under the surface...in the advertising.

It would appear that the celebrity chefs are starting to sell out.

I know this is nothing new. Emeril and Wolfgang have had their name on spices and stocks for a long time. I'm pretty sure Julia Child even had a line of stuff, don't quote me on that though. So, it's not uncommon for the culinary-minded to seek a little endorsing. But, this is a bit different.

I kept my mouth shut when "Rachael Ray EVOO" came out, which wasn't easy. Paying a premium for something that was already pricey just because her buck teeth were on the label is insane enough. But putting the stuff in the wrong kind of container? That goes way too far. Everybody knows that olive oil breaks down in excessive light and heat, and yet she approved packaging her oil in a clear glass bottle. And when good people put that newly acquired EVOO in their spice rack, as they are prone to do, they will find out that the quick decay of the stuff may force them to spend twice as much just to see her pearly whites again. For a woman who's made her career cooking food, you'd think she would've known better.

But hey, what do I know? I'm still an amateur at this. And besides, shhe's got her face on foodstuffs. It means people are gonna be using this stuff to prepare their own meals, which is what the programming is all about. If someone wants to spend the extra bucks to get Ray-approved olive oil, then goes home and makes a stellar meal for the family, all is right with me.

But this new wave of advertising is far uglier than any of this. We're no longer in the frontier of pretty people who can cook slapping their trademarks on barbecue rubs or seasoning mixes. Nope, now they're endorsing the enemy.

At first it was subtle. Rachael Ray did a brief ad for Ritz crackers. It was so well played that no one stopped to wonder why a person, who works for a network that spends a lot of time trying to avoid branding on their programs, would be promoting a brand name like Ritz. The world took no notice, paving the way for the second strike.

So Ray started promoting Dunkin' Donuts........Wait, what? This woman, who's been preaching the value of cooking at home, of making things simpler for people to enjoy home-cooking meals, is now promoting a fast food place? Donuts and breakfast sandwiches stuffed into an oven? What the hell is this? It not only goes against her supposed purpose, but against the mission statement of the very fucking network she works for! Didn't anyone stop and tell here that this might be considered a conflict of interests?

And now it's only gotten worse. Guy Fieri is off promoting TGI Fridays (which is a horrible restaurant filled with crappy food, I don't care what anyone says.) And Ingrid Hoffman is now calling Tostitos lard Cheese her "secret recipe."


This is only going to get worse people. With Emeril seeking retirement, Bourdain getting less an less airtime on the network, and the harsh treatment of Robert Irvine, it's clear that the studied and learned chefs are losing their place. The masses demanded people who were easier on the eyes, less gritty, and without all that fancy "chef jargon." Gone are the days of having good chefs work on TV, today it's the celebrity chef. Pretty people who are just so darn adorable that the fact they can barely cook is excusable. And unlike a real chef, who works hard to develop their name that they're a bit more cautious of what they endorse with it, these people have no qualms about selling out. Looking good and talking slow is really all they've got going for them. They're going to take anything out there.

And we're gonna suffer for it. Probably not today or even tomorrow, but soon. Food Network is already turning away from thought-provoking recipes and performance cooking, and going into promoting the restaurants of others. The interest is no longer in what you are capable of cooking, but at which locales your credit card can be accepted. And those who actually enjoy cooking their own meals will be out in the cold once again.

And for those of you who welcome this sort of thing be warned: It will not be long before your favorite cookster Rachael will be selling you underwear.