Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Title of the Second Track is Quite the Lie...

I meant every nice thing I said about Steven Tyler back in this piece, and I certainly have nothing against any of the music that Aerosmith recorded in its first decade and a half or so.  I agree in theory that this would be the perfect time for a judiciously selected compilation for the band, given that there’s clearly no new material in their chute.  This, however, may be the single worst track listing I’ve ever seen for a compilation by anyone.  Seriously – look at this garbage:

1. Angel
2. Amazing
3. Love in an Elevator
4. Cryin'
5. What It Takes
6. Rag Doll
7. Crazy
8. Deuces Are Wild
9. Livin' On the Edge
10. Blind Man
11. Janie's Got a Gun
12. Dream On

Given that this is a Geffen product, you can likely bet your bottom download that “Dream On”, which I’d cite as the only A-list song on this mess artistically speaking, is probably some lousy latter-day live version.  Also, on what planet is “Love in an Elevator” considered a ballad?  Adolescent tripe sadly written by middle-aged men, sure, but at least it’s got a friggin’ beat to it.

You know what?  I’ve probably now spent more time analyzing this drivel than whichever corporate lackey got the assignment put into the track list and the my-first-day-with-Photoshop art combined.  Moving on.

Recommended only if you spend a lot of time in elevators…with your clothes on.

Upper Manhattan, 3/29/11, 8:50 PM

Sometimes, there’s just something about a Manhattan weeknight. It all started innocuously enough: Rhea’s been battling a cold this week, and I decided to head on down to the city and surprise her with a bag full of food from Fairway. After all, overworked students can’t live on two-for-$3 Filet o’ Fish deals alone – not when they’re fighting the flu, anyway.

Initially, I’d been planning on hitting Fairway at 125th and then hoofing it the fifteen blocks or so south to Rhea’s school. Some sort of police/secret service activity in the area necessitated the hatching of a backup plan, so down to 74th and Broadway I went. I’d never been to that particularly labyrinthine Fairway location before, but within a few minutes the rotisserie chicken, hummus, and vegetables had been duly located, paid for and bagged. Time was slim, but the subway gods were on my side: as soon as I walked into the 72nd Street station and down the stairs, a headlight became visible in the tunnel, soon followed by a large red 1 in a circle. Through the doors, then, and into a seat; it was almost too smooth, really. Hell, no one even complained about the fairly overpowering smell of the chicken.

Fifteen minutes or so later, I’m getting off the train at Cathedral Parkway/110th Street with an unexpected minute or two to spare. As I’m heading towards the turnstiles and the stairs up to the street, and elderly woman taps me on the shoulder. I take off my iPod headphones and look at her: “Hello.”

She smiled. “I just wanted to tell you that I was enjoying your singing. You sound very happy.”

I momentarily froze. I felt my cheeks redden in embarrassment as it slowly occurred to me that, yes, in fact I had been singing out loud. I looked back at the elderly woman, who was smiling at me without a trace of sarcasm, and decided just to go with it. “Thank you. You know, there have been times in my life when I’ve not been happy enough to sing out loud. It’s always good to enjoy and acknowledge the times that aren’t like that, I guess.”

Her smile got a bit wider: “Ah, bless your heart.”

“And yours as well. You have a great night now.” With that, I started up the stairs and caught a lung full of the unmistakable smell of a beautiful New York night. There’s something to having your soul bolstered by being in the right place in the right time, and there is also something to the fact that your chances of having such an experience increase exponentially on the island of Manhattan.

Making Necessary Adjustments

I just looked at the tag list on the right hand side of the screen, and noticed that "Justin Bieber" and "Jesse Malin" had the same number of entries.  Let's go ahead and fix that, then...

Much, much better.

Bieber Fever Inoculations

Driving home from Manhattan last night, Rhea somehow got onto the subject of Justin Bieber.  You can cut her some slack: she’s a children’s performer, and as such it is her duty to stay up on such things.  One comment she made stood out to me: “It’s funny: no one over a certain age has ever even heard one of his songs.”  Very true: I’m well over “a certain age”, and I’d never heard so much as a single, assumedly auto-tuned note of his music.  Sure, I’ve seen the hair.  I’ve also heard the squeals from his fans and the slander of his detractors, but he is (sort of) a musician, correct?  So I said what the hell – three and a half minutes of your life is really nothing, right? – and dialed up “Baby” on YouTube.

If you’re expecting this to be the part where I tear the stupid thing limb from limb, I’m sorry to disappoint you.  Likewise, if you’re now expecting me to hail it as the BEST THING EVER in a manner which may or may not be ironic, you’re also going to leave empty handed.  It’s neither.  What it is is exactly what it needs to be, and should be: music created at least partially by a teenager, made for folks in his own age bracket.  It is neither Clash brilliant nor Rebecca Black awful.  It is the teenybopper groove of the moment, nothing more or less.  It adequately fills a niche that always exists in pop music/culture, and that always requires new blood.  If you really need me to rate it in some way, well, fine: Bieber is far and away better than New Kids on the Block, but he’s gonna have to do a lot better than this to catch up with the lads in Hanson.

I’d be remiss if I concluded this little bit without commenting on the YouTube comments.  It seems that Bieber is either THE MOST TALENTED 4EVA, or is simply TEH GAY.  Ad infinitum: the postings on either side of the divide were endless, and all reeked of early pubescent boys and girls teasing each other because it’s easier than admitting they like one another.  Of course, Bieber is neither: he’s just yet another teen idol trying to outrun a ticking clock.  Good luck to him; I mean that sincerely, even if I’ll likely never hear another note of his music in my life.

Last thought: without a doubt, the following was the best comment out of the page or two I read:


I’ll leave it to you, dear readers, to decide whether the two fingers were being flipped at Bieber, his haters, or whether it even matters in the slightest.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Layla, You've Got 'Em On Their Knees!

I just finished reading a four page exercise in tedium on one of the web’s more prominent music forums about the forthcoming super-expand-o-reissue of Derek and the Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.  I understand fully that the resulting headache is my own fault; if I had half as many brains as I like to claim, I’d have surfed away to something more enriching – like, say, last night’s lottery numbers in Kazakhstan.  Still, there’s something magnetic for me about grouchy old music collectors who never met a pointless reissue they couldn’t bitch endlessly about.  Let’s take a look at what we won’t be buying, shall we?

Like all modern product rehashes, there are no less than three variations of this nonsense to choose from.  The first two are negligible: one is a single-disc just-the-album straight remaster, and the second is that plus a bonus CD of outtakes, alternate mixes, and other assorted detritus.  Likely, no one will really bite on either of these: they’re aimed at the type of casual listener who long since defected from physical product to downloads, legal or otherwise.  Forget ‘em.  The third variation is the big kahuna, the one that the angry boomers have their panties all simultaneously twisted and wet about.  For just under $100 (Amazon pricing at publication time), you get all of the above plus:

** A SURROUND SOUND DVD of the album plus one of the goofy out-takes!
**A REMASTERED VERSION OF THE IN CONCERT ALBUM, itself already nothing more than an ancient profit-taker from a band destined to never record a second album, and…

But wait, that’s not all!  You also get a whole boatload of booklets and tchotchke, none of which you’re likely to look at more than once!  “So, what’s the problem?”, I can hear you asking, “This is the kind of thing that’s meant to be gawked at more than enjoyed or, god forbid, listened to, and it looks like there’s plenty of goodies for the coffee table in this big ol’ hundred-dollar conversation piece.”  Well, that’s a rational way of looking at this thing, but angry record collectors aren’t fun because they’re rational.  Witness some of the more popular complaints:

**I haven’t heard it yet, but the mastering is probably compressed and terrible.
**There’s not enough previously unreleased material on this.
**There’s more previously unreleased material on this than I wish to pay for.
**Too much junk in the super deluxe box.  I don’t need to pay for vinyl that I won’t ever listen to.
**Not enough junk in the super deluxe box.  What about the super rare Argentinean mono promo single of “Bell Bottom Blues”?
**I’ve bought the previous five reissues of Layla.  Why do I need to buy it again?

Obviously, all but the last complaint are whiny collector-goof idiocy.  Japan is receding into the ocean, spewing radiation all the way, but they’re far more concerned with the repackaging of a forty year old rock album.  That last complaint, though: that’s the essence of it all, gentle readers.  I’m neither here nor there about Layla: I like about half of it, and think the other half is dated blues-wank.  Still, the good half is pretty great, and it is the last thing Clapton did that I have any interest in at all; the rest of his solo career is elevator music to me.  As such, I have some CD or other of it that I picked up along the way.  Whichever version it is, it sounds fine; this album was never an audiophile-grade recording anyway, so whatever you’ve got is probably about as good as it’s going to get, and that's fine.  It gets the job done, as they say.

My darling Rhea loves this album dearly.  For whatever reason, she finds it particularly soothing to listen to while she does her Graduate School homework.  She listens to it either from a scratchy, common-as-muck used LP, or whatever MP3s are on her hard drive.  Either way, it works a charm; after all, she’s looking to be soothed by the music, not awed by a hundred dollar doorstop.

For you, my angry record collecting friends, there is a lesson in that: if you already have this music in a form that brings you pleasure, then your hunch that you don’t need this new product is correct.  Follow it: vote with your wallet and enjoy music that you do, in fact, already own.  Conspicuous consumption does not make you the WORLD’S #1 FAN.  There is not a thing in the world wrong with saying “nah, this is just yet another cash-grab, and I don’t actually need it.”  Y’all know that, right?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

THOR: The "worst music video ever made"?

I need to stop clicking on YouTube's automatically recommended videos.  It's really that simple.  Until that happens, likely sometime around the fifteenth of never, I will continue to enjoy things like the following:

Click here for THOR!

I'm linking rather than embedding because you really need to read some of the comments.  First, you should check out the uploader comments: this thing was nominated for worst-video-hood by its director!  Then, you should head on over to page 4 of the general comments, where you will find the following, assumedly aimed at said director:

how about remove your comment or we will report you !!Thor management

Wow.  A couple of comments on that comment, then: first off, it's capitalized and punctuated about as well as Thor sings and writes songs.  More importantly, riddle me this: Thor management allowed this video to be made and distributed, but gets their panties in a twist when the director rightly calls it a piece of unmitigated crap?  Thor, good buddy, you look like the kind of guy who can get things done.  I'd head on down and shake at least a partial refund out of your management if I were you.

Oh, and by the way: yes, it's awful.  Unfortunately, it'll never be the worst video ever made so long as this still exists in the universe.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hardly Shiftless when 'Idol': Steven Tyler, Superstar

It was inevitable that I’d end up watching more American Idol than I ever had before this year, and the blame for that falls squarely on the shoulders of the man with the large print memoirs.  Rhea is a huge Aerosmith fan; they were her first real music geek crush, and they’re the band she always comes home to at the end of the day.  I’m a fan as well, but a bit more selective: for me, it’s much more about their catalog through and including 1985’s Done with Mirrors than it is any of their post-rehab pop material.  Regardless of one’s personal taste in the band’s material, there’s no getting around the fact that Tyler is one of rock’s most iconic front men with good reason.  But did he have the specific kind of charisma that would translate well to network television?  To be honest, my gut reaction was “no.”

To be really honest, I expected to sleep-watch most of it.  Way back in high school – right around the time I was first discovering the Aerosmith catalog, actually – I perfected the art of dozing with my eyes open.  It may be the most enduringly useful skill I acquired in high school.  My expectations for Tyler’s Idol were low; honestly, I figured I’d catch enough to tease Rhea a bit and/or answer if quizzed and doze through the rest.  Imagine my surprise when Tyler – god love or damn him, I’m not sure which – had me at hello.

Well, not exactly “hello.”  He had me at “fuck a duck.”  In one of the first two or three audition episodes, he looked at one hopeful and without hesitation uttered, loudly, the following: “Well hellfire, save matches, fuck a duck and see what hatches.”  Whether it did not occur to the man that this was unacceptable, bleeped or not, for prime time or he simply did not give half a hoot is debatable.  Either way, it made me sit up and pay far more careful attention than I’d previously intended to.

Thusly engaged, I was in it for the laughs.  Tyler delivers those by the truckload, but what really surprised me was how truly into music the man still honestly seems to be.  I think I can be forgiven my surprise with this: Aerosmith’s music became increasingly generic and rote for me as the ‘90s rolled on, culminating in the artistic nadir of 2001’s largely dreadful Just Push Play.  Tellingly, they have not released an album of new, original material since.  It was shocking, then, to watch Tyler singing and dancing along with even the contestants he didn’t pass through to the next stage of the competition.  The man seems to still absolutely adore music in a way that doesn’t seem like an actor’s put-on; his enthusiasm seems far too giddy to be studied.  My respect for him has increased ten-fold since his Idol debut; I’d never have suggested this even three months ago, but maybe it’s time for the man to think solo album.

I’ve never watched Idol beyond the train-wreck audition stage before.  I’m grateful that Rhea’s willing to watch some of it by herself at this point, Tyler notwithstanding; it’s a tribute to the prowess of his presence that I can work up any interest at all in the later phases.  Once you’ve knocked out the wilder cards from the pack, you’re left with too much vanilla for my tastes, and this year is no exception.  Rhea disagrees vehemently: indeed, the other day I had to download an album by Paul McDonald for my iTunes-challenged darling.  I hope she enjoys it muchly; I may even be bored enough while working one day to listen to it myself.  I suspect it’ll prove a little too Jack Johnson-bland for my palate, but you never know.  Still, Rhea insists that there is a lot of talent among the remaining contestants at publication time, and if your tastes run toward the poppier end of things than mine, she’s probably right on the money.

Am I currently guilty of waxing snobby?  A bit, I guess, although it’s also a taste thing: I’m not much of a pop-of-the-moment kind of guy in general.  Chest thusly beaten, the truth is that I wish McDonald and his fellow contestants all the luck in the world regardless.  This bright green ball we live on is always made better by the presence of more music and musicians, regardless of whether or not they’re really gonna knock the Mekons out of my listening rotation this week.  Above and beyond the rest, my hat is truly off to Mr. Tyler for keeping this talent show fun to watch, even if most of the music is, for me at least, nothing but the same old song and dance.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dude (Writes for Your Grandma)

As you may have heard, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and current beloved American Idol judge Steven Tyler has a memoir set for publication in May.  What you and your funny bone may have not been aware of is that along with the normal hardcover and audio book editions, Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? will also be available in LARGE PRINT format.  I kid you not: the proof is in this link.

(Wait, you mean we haven’t discussed Tyler and Idol on this blog before now?  Hang in there, dear readers, we’ll be right back…)

Difficult Ghosts

Elizabeth Taylor died today.  Likely, either your ISP’s home page or the TV news has passed along the sad news to you already.  Just in case this is the first you’re hearing of it, she passed this morning from congestive heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, aged 79.

It’s always difficult to know exactly what to say or how to react when someone else’s icon dies.  I’m fully aware of the scope and magnitude of Ms. Taylor’s status among the generation or two before my own.  I’m just a bit too young to truly appreciate it: truth be told, the things I remember most about Ms. Taylor are her many weddings, and her friendship with Michael Jackson.  I mean no disrespect by that, either: it’s just a fact of generational perspective.

A quick float down the inter-tubes yielded several inappropriate responses. wasted no time in sending out an email suggesting that I remember “this true Hollywood legend” by purchasing several competitively-priced DVDs.  Tacky.  One alleged news story waxed snarky about her succession of nuptials.  I’m rarely one to turn my nose up at a good cheap laugh, but somehow it just seemed disrespectful; too soon, I suppose.  The overwhelming majority of reports and tributes, thankfully, were in far better taste.  Still, I can’t help but think I’m a bit too young to truly feel their gravitas, and I’m sure that faking it would be the most disrespectful action of all.

Thinking about it all brings me back to late December, 2002.  I was working in the music department of a Borders at the time.  It was a few days before Christmas, and I found myself skulking my way in for an unpromising closing shift.  Near the time clock we had a white board, alternately used to communicate pertinent information or total nonsense.  That afternoon, it was blank save for one sentence in my boss Dave’s handwriting: JOE STRUMMER 1952-2002.  Needless to say, it hit me like a ton of bricks.  The reactions of the other staffers were divided; they were either similar to mine, or inquisitive: “Who’s Joe Strummer?”

Despite Strummer and the Clash being iconic for me, the latter question didn’t bother me at all.  Those who posed it were all outside the generational bracket for whom Strummer was an icon, either too young or too old to know.  Once informed, all had the same correct reaction: a heartfelt “that sucks.  I’m sorry.”  In turn, I offer the same to those for whom Ms. Taylor was iconic.  I also offer a suggestion: later that night at Borders, we loaded up the CD changer with as much Clash as we could find and open.  Likewise, why not watch a great old movie or two of your choice and celebrate a life rather than mourn a death?

Dispatching the Elephant (or: Politics, Religion, etc.)

First and foremost, I’d like to make one thing clear: this is not about to turn into a political blog.  It’s not really what I do; god knows that there are many folks who are better informed on matters of the state than I am.  That said, I read this blog back to the beginning earlier today, and I noticed a few places where it seemed almost like I was playing coy with my personal political and religious views.  In the interest of not seeming evasive, then, here’s a bit about where I’m coming from.

To put it as simply as possible, I’m pro-everything.  One of the things I love most about America is that, at its best, it affords equal say and opportunity to everyone under the sun.  Are you a pacifist vegan who donates half your check to PETA every month and marches for your causes whenever possible?  Glad to have you aboard!  Are you an avid firearms enthusiast with the text of the second amendment tattooed on your shootin’ arm and a poster of Ted Nugent hanging over your fireplace?  Glad you could make it!  Are you, like me, not even remotely either of the above?  Well, there’s no reason for us to stay home from this party, either.  The ability of all of the above, as well as everybody in between, to coexist and (gasp, horror) maybe learn a thing or two from their differing perspectives is, in a nutshell, exactly what America means to me.

I believe in full and equal rights for all.  I believe you actually have the right to be racist, sexist and/or homophobic, and I also believe you have the right to thusly be dismissed and ridiculed for your archaic views.  I honestly fail to comprehend what the big deal about gay rights and gay marriage is; it makes perfect logical sense to me that two people of any gender in a long-term, committed relationship should have the same legal rights and an equal right to recognition.  The same goes for religious persecution: honestly believing that all Muslims are terrorists or that all Jews are money-grubbing thieves or that all Catholics are child molesters is your right.  It’s also so 1952.

I believe that social programs, including healthcare, should be made available from and funded by the government.  I fully understand that the moment something is put in place to do good, someone will find a way to subvert and abuse it.  I don’t believe that’s reason enough to stop attempting to give folks a hand up: the needs of the honest far outweigh the greed of the duplicitous in my book.

On the official books of the state, I’m a registered Democrat.  This is merely so that I might vote in the primaries that I’m most likely to have a strong opinion about.  If the candidate I consider most qualified for a position happens to belong to another political party, I’ve absolutely no misgivings about voting across party lines.  In most Presidential elections, I find myself voting for the candidate I consider the least of all available evils.  I mourn the fact that we’ve made the Presidential vetting process so personally invasive that the best and the brightest likely wouldn’t even begin to entertain the notion of putting their families through it.  Lord knows how many truly qualified candidates we’ve lost out on, simply because someone somewhere has a picture of them with a bong back in their old college dorm.

As far as religion is concerned, I’ve forged my own spiritual path throughout my life.  Atheism has its allure when you’re young-and-angry; ultimately, I’ve come to view it as an organized religion like any other.  It has its rigidly drawn structures and its self-appointed arbiters just like any other denomination.  To my mind, it also fails in exactly the same way as organized religion: it pretends to have the definitive answer to a question that those who have not yet died can’t possibly possess.  For me, spirituality is an ever-evolving concept, always open to new ideas and paradigms.  I feel no need to push my beliefs on anyone else, and I have full respect for whatever you wish to believe – or not believe – in.

I think that about covers it.  My hat is tipped to you, dear readers, for allowing me to put this out in the open and move on.  To those of you for whom the preceding doesn’t matter one bit or change anything about what you may have enjoyed elsewhere in this blog, my hat is completely off.

Monday, March 21, 2011

And you thought the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was bad...

Maybe now all you little whippersnappers will think twice before making up rude lyrics to “Everything I Do (I Do It for You)”, won’t ya?  Seriously, what is possibly the criteria for this?  Ah, you know what, who cares?  Wake me up when Rockwell gets one, would ya?

Green Day: Awesome as F**k

The simple review: this is a Green Day live album, released in 2011.  Those of you who are sure from that description that you either really need, or really don’t need this should skip the rest of the review and proceed accordingly.

For those sitting on the fence like me, it’s actually pretty decent.  I’m much more of a fan of Green Day through 2000’s Warning than I am of their rock-opera phase of the last decade-or-so.  Don’t get me wrong: I admire the band for finding something new to do with itself musically.  I’m just not much of a fan of rock operas in general, let alone ones delivered by bands whose true gift is for three-minute nuke-pop.  What do I know, though?  Millions upon millions of record buyers disagree – and if they can actually find a narrative through-line in American Idiot that makes sense, god bless ‘em.

At first glance, I was underwhelmed by half of the track list; while it’s entirely appropriate that there are a large proportion of songs from Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown on here, I’d be lying if I told you that I found that prospect exciting.  Surprisingly, I enjoyed the newer stuff far more than I’d have expected.  Unshackled from the Big Concepts to which they were written, the Idiot/Breakdown songs are allowed to breathe and succeed simply as fine loud pop in their own right.  Turns out I like ‘em a whole lot more when I don’t feel like I have to concern myself with where they fit into some convoluted story.  The old stuff is the old stuff: well performed and classic.  I’ll forever stand behind my assertion that “When I Come Around” remains the greatest successful pop single to emerge from the whole stupid ‘90s punk revival.

Truthfully, I expected nearly nothing from this and was pleasantly surprised; if that means that it’s probably time for me to go back and try listening to Idiot and Breakdown as songs rather than concepts, then so be it.  If none of it is better than the 2:30-ish of the Rodeo Queens song, I wouldn’t be too hard on Green Day for that: most things could probably be improved by having Jesse Malin write and sing them, this review included.

In summation: the title is pure f**king hyperbole, but the record's not half f**king bad at all.

Hot Mall Cop Action!

There’s nothing like feeling a bit like your teenaged self for a minute or two, especially in the shadow of something that’s trying to sell you that exact feeling.  It was a routine trip to the Galleria, the local mall that’s been our area’s shopping Mecca since I was six years old.  Like most shopping centers of its vintage, the Galleria has enjoyed more happening times; while not exactly a “dead mall” yet, it has seen enough national chains replaced by local dollar stores in the last few years to qualify as having undergone what retail planners might call a demographic shift.  Still, the Galleria is hanging in there enough to still support an Old Navy,  and with spring comes the need for any lazy dressin’ male like myself to add a few new ringer t-shirts to his collection.

Like most enclosed malls within walking distance of a small city, the Galleria was overrun with teenagers lookin’ for nothing to do back when I was, well, a teenager myself.  It became a bit of a game to see who was going to be hassled by the rent-a-goon security squad.  You didn’t really have to do anything per se to be selected for a fake cop scolding, which was what gave the game its element of random chance.  Kids would do outrageous things and walk clean; others would linger a moment too long outside Sam Goody and get to feel the not-so-long arm of mall justice.  No one was immune, self included.

This is where you, dear blog readers, come into the story.  I was coming off an escalator on the food court level, when a sign on an empty storefront caught my eye: FOREVER 21 WILL REOPEN HERE SOON.  CLOSED FOR EXPANSION!  “That will be perfect humorous blog fodder”, I thought to myself, and reached for my cell phone to take a picture as I thought up witty captions for the photo.  I backed up a few steps, squared the shot, and just as I was about to snap it I felt an arm on my shoulder, followed by a voice: “Yoo can’t take pitchers in da Mall.”  The arm on my shoulder fell away.

Slowly, I turned.  Facing me was a rent-a-goon whose nicely pressed white dress shirt and black slacks did nothing to hide the fact that he had clearly already closed for expansion and successfully reopened.  So stunned was I by the situation as it was unfolding that I couldn’t come up with anything better to say than “I’m sorry?”

“YOO CAN’T TAKE PITCHERS IN DA MALL.”  Slower this time, and more emphatically.  This rent-a-goon means business, kid.  Happily, by this point, my snark had recovered: “So, what, taking pictures of an empty store in a half-empty mall might compromise our national security or something?”

Sadly, that sentence must have contained a word or two that did not compute to the rent-a-goon.  His reply was disappointingly predictable: “You take pitcher in da mall, you get kicked out.”  With that witless rejoinder, I sold my soul to the man: I put my cell phone away, and headed towards the great ringer t-shirts in the sky (well, the third floor, but you get my drift).  Being stopped by a rent-a-goon is a young man’s pursuit: I was happy to have been able to indulge in it one last time, but the full war?   That is, taking the picture and proceeding on to the ringer t-shirts?  That’s a battle for a real teenager, not one for a dude who’s eighteen twice over.

The smug snicker one can derive from it all, however, is not even remotely age specific.

Galleria marquee, stolen from their Facebook page.  Take that, society!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Price of Tiger Blood, Part Deux

                As I was putting together the St. Patty’s post, the above arrived twice in my email: first from Radio City Music Hall itself, and second forwarded by Rhea with the comment “really, we’re in the wrong line of work.”

                Ain’t it the truth, darlin’, ain’t it the truth.

The Wearin' o' the Green

                …will not be happening on this blog.  Sorry, folks, ‘tis nothing personal: it took me long enough to get the background to stop being pink, so I don’t think I’ll futz with it any more until I come up with a better name for this thing and am thusly forced to click on the dreaded OPTIONS tab.

                Anyway, happy St. Patrick’s Day to one and all!  How ‘bout some Irish music, then?  I figure that by the end of today you’ll all have heard enough of the traditional stuff as well as the Pogues, U2 and Black 47 (not that there’s a thing wrong with any of ‘em.)  Instead, here’s a good one each from two of my favorite Irish groups:

                Finding early-ish Stiff Little Fingers on YouTube that had both decent audio and video turned out to be more of a chore than I’d anticipated.  Bless yer hearts, then, Rockpalast:

                On the other hand, picking which Therapy? video to imbed could have taken days.  This old pop hit (well, everywhere but here in the USA) still seems to make every other mix I throw together, and if you’ve never heard ‘em before, this should make for a fine introduction:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Price of Tiger Blood

Go ahead: click on the above screen grab and let the information next to "Price Range" sink in for a minute.  You saw that right: tickets to see Charlie Sheen do his allegedly coked-out-and-manic thang in person will run you $93.85 (probably the balcony) or $126.55 if you live in NYC.

It's not all greed, though.  Allow me to quote from further on down the Ticketmaster page: Charlie Sheen will be donating $1.00 from each ticket for the "Charlie Sheen Live: My Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat [is not an Option] Tour" to the Japanese Earthquake Relief Fund. For more information on how your proceeds are being used please contact the Red Cross at

That's right, kids: ONE WHOLE DOLLAR out of $126.55!  Whatta guy.

So, let's recap: dude gets spectacularly fired from his job, gains higher visibility than ever, lands book deal, and charges triple digits for the morbidly curious to gawk at his breakdown live and intimate.  I've no doubt he'll sell out or at least come close.  He pockets all this money for not having to do his job any longer, and gets to - nay, is encouraged to - party like a rock star.

Am I the only one who's beginning to get the feeling that Charlie's not actually crazy at all?

The Grown Up Adventures of a Boy and his Atari

                Confessions of a Dork: I love my Atari.

                That’s right, my Atari.  In 2011. I don’t mean “my Atari” as a cutesy euphemism for my PS3, Xbox, or Wii, either.  Nope, I mean this beast right here:

                Those of you with sharp eyes, or thriving dork demons, will notice that it’s not even a garden variety 2600.  This, ladies and gentlemen with lives, is an Atari 7800: the company’s ill-fated competition for the Nintendo Entertainment System.  While it never exactly caught up to Mario and friends, it did introduce one important new feature to video game systems: backward compatibility.  Not only did the 7800 have its own modest library of NES-style games, it could also handle all of your old 2600 favorites like a champ.  If you’re looking to geek out like it’s 1986, this machine right here is what you want.
                But why?  In this day and age of HD graphics and internet connectivity, why on earth would anyone settle for a screen full of blocky, pixilated images that, if you’re lucky, might almost approximate what they’re supposed to represent?  Why Pitfall instead of Red Dead Redemption?  Why a one-button joystick instead of a tricked-out D-pad or Wii-mote?  Perhaps surprisingly, I’ve got several good answers for you.

                Nostalgia.  That much should be obvious: it’s what I grew up with.  I was an absolute Atari freak when I was a kid; even as whispers of this Nintendo thing with its better graphics and Italian plumbers began to spread through the neighborhood, I clung fast to my square balls and blocky aliens.  A couple of years ago, Rhea’s old Atari 2600 was unearthed from the dreaded “other room” in her folks’ house.  At first, I thought it would be a passing thing; two months later, still playing Berzerk daily, I decided to invest in a better-working machine that would let you move left with a bit less of a struggle.  Nostalgia started it, but the continuing fun of it made me want to dig a bit deeper.

                Simplicity.  It’s all a matter of personal preference, of course, but I’m a huge fan of games you can just pick up and play.  I use video games as a quick, 15-20 minute way to blow off steam here and there.  As such, I just don’t have the time to get as involved as many modern games require, and I often don’t have the patience to sit through tutorials, qualifying rounds, and endless back story.  Give me a laser gun and some aliens, or a frog trying to cross a highway, and let’s just get started.

                 Charm.  The best Atari games are timeless, a clear reminder that graphics alone do not make a good game.  The less good games offer an entirely different kind of fun: a game every intrepid Atari-centric retro-gamer has enjoyed at one time or another.  In some ways, it may be the most famous Atari game of all, a little number I like to call WHAT THE HELL IS THAT SUPPOSED TO BE?!

                In fact, I’m going to give you a chance to play at home, right now.  The rules are simple: boot a cartridge and try to figure out what’s being depicted on the screen, without looking at the game’s instruction manual.  So go ahead – try to guess what this is:

                If you guessed MINIATURE GOLF, then you are both insane and correct.  Your prize is ten – count ‘em, ten – prize coupons for the arcade at SportTime USA.  Sadly, they expired in 1982.  Win some, lose some, kid.

                Economics.  To hell with $50 for the latest video games; if you’re just into playing the games and not collecting NEW, COMPLETE IN BOX, 3rd LABEL VARIATION kinda stuff, the best Atari games are common as dirt and just as cheap.  The machines themselves are both plentiful and affordable, too: it seems that Atari didn’t mess around when it came to making the game systems, and a shocking number of them function just as well now as they did when they were new.  7800 systems will run you a bit more than 2600s, but I’d say it’s money well spent if you’re going to take the plunge anyway: it’s sort of like two systems in one, and a good amount of the dedicated 7800 titles are great fun.

                Aliens.  Really, you can never shoot too many aliens.  Trust me on that.  Now take your Nintendo DSs and get off Grandpa Dork’s lawn: it’s time for my daily Super Breakout.

New York Dolls: "Dancing Backward in High Heels"

                Since any review of a new-era Dolls album has to talk lineup, let’s just get it out of the way.  I have no issue with David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain continuing to use the New York Dolls name; no one left roaming the Earth has more right to it.  What’s more, all of the studio material they’ve released since resurrecting their former moniker has been of exceedingly high quality.  At the end of the day, that’s all that should matter.  With music as good as these two gents have been responsible for in recent years, I could hardly care less if they call it the New York Dolls, the Johansen/Sylvain band, Buster Poindexter 2K, or the Flying Fart Ensemble.

                The only problem with using the Dolls name is that so long as they do, there will always be a myopic contingent that wants them to do little more than simulate their shambolic ‘70s sound.  That’s unfortunate, because Johansen, Sylvain and their partners in crime have done something far better: they’ve created new material that honors the original band without pretending that time hasn’t passed.  Johansen’s trademark sass has gained in both wisdom and syllables, and the Sylvain-led band condescends to no one by pretending they haven’t acquired greater chops in the intervening decades.  They’re still unquestionably Dolls, but the two originals know firsthand just how lucky they are to have made it this far, and they’re not kidding anyone about how many years it has been.

                In a way, each of their new-era albums has focused on updating a particular aspect of the original Dolls’ sound.   One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This brought the subway train roar, ‘Cause I Sez So played the blues, and this new album breathes new life into the ‘60s/girl group sounds the Dolls have always loved.  In some ways, that’s probably the trickiest aspect to pull off: it’s a thin line between nostalgia and timelessness, but you can count on these sharp scholars to know which is which.  Farfisa organs and stomping beats abound, rendering Dancing Backward in High Heels an album that could have been made at any time since ’67 or so in the best possible way.  Their cover of “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman” may be the best record Phil Spector never made, “Streetcake” serves as an early statement of purpose, and the updating of Johansen’s solo classic “Funky but Chic” works in spades.  “I’m So Fabulous”, complete with spoken rant, is laugh out loud funny, while elegiac closer “End of the Summer” will break your heart as it charms.  Really, there’s not an ounce of filler here; each song works both individually and as part of the greater whole.  The only potential disappointment Dancing Backward in High Heels possibly offers is to those for whom loud, overdriven guitars are mandatory.  If true, timeless rock ‘n’ roll is your bottom line, this is recommended without reservations.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Wally George: The Reason the Telephone was Invented

Growing up here in the suburbs of New York in the pre-digital cable, pre-internet '80s, we didn't get to witness California legend Wally George and his, erm, one of a kind talk show The Hot Seat firsthand.  (Don't cry for us, Orange County: we were given George's arch-nemesis, Morton Downey, Jr, instead.)  In fact, I'd never heard of George until I was doing some insomniac trawling around YouTube the other night.

            George was quite the sight: there's no way on God's green Earth that's not a wig, no matter how vehemently he denied being bald.  He was also (ah, how should I put this) rather flamboyant for a guy who did so much gay-bashing.  Essentially, he was a variant on Downey's proto-Fox News shtick, only with a peculiarly fey arrogance in place of Morton’s chain-smoking thuggery.

            Make no mistake: The Hot Seat is a hoot and a half, and I’d certainly recommend YouTubing it at your earliest convenience.  As an adjunct to his main show, George also hosted a half-hour phone-in show.  As you’d imagine, the thing was a magnet for prank callers; what makes it truly mandatory viewing is George’s reactions to his tormentors.  Rather than ignoring them, making short shrift of them, or hiring a halfway decent call screener, he seemed to delight in informing them vehemently of their lack of intelligence, sometimes going so far as to flash them one of his '80s Print Shop-created signs.  Some intrepid YouTuber has compiled literally hours worth of this; that may be overkill, but you should give the sample embedded here ten minutes of your time.  There’s something pathetically mesmerizing about it that words can’t quite describe, and it's easily become my go-to laugh of the week.

            Sadly, Wally left us for the big talk show in the sky back in 2003.  That’s truly a shame: it takes a very special kind of character to make me want to place my first post-puberty prank call.

The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame II: The Cool Kids in the Back of the Room

                We discussed this year’s winners in the last post.  So, what about the losers, then?  What of the plethora of beloved heritage rock artists who get turned away from the gates to Cleveland year after year?  What gives, man, what gives?

                In some ways, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame can be thought of as a high school.  Sure, the folks on the Dean’s List were fast tracked for the Ivy League, but tell the truth: who was gonna make for more fun on a Saturday night?  The kids on the honor roll, or the inhabitants of the cool kids’ table, sitting in perfectly studied disaffection in the back of the room?  I’m pretty sure we all know the answer to that one.

                So, let’s take a good hard look at the major players of the cool kids’ table.  Although breathless cases have been made for nearly every classic rock band to ever hit the top 40, as well as several who’ve never made the top anything, there are three names I see cited more often than any others.  In descending order of near-ness and dear-ness to my heart, then:

                Cheap TrickIt’s hard for me to even feign impartiality here, given that they may well be my all time favorite rock and roll band.  Their exclusion from the Hall remains a bit of a mystery: certainly they’ve sold enough records in their career, and their influence on later artists is wide-ranging.  It’s unlikely that Steve Albini and Nikki Sixx, to make an example of two near-polar opposites, agree on too many bands, but both have flown the Trick banner proudly.  On the downside, their recorded legacy is admittedly spotty, particularly through the ‘80s, and it’s often been rumored that Jann Wenner has taken umbrage to mad genius Rick Nielsen’s comments about Rolling Stone over the years.  Still, they’ve got some influential voting fans – Little Steven comes immediately to mind – and I’d say they have the best chance out of the big 3 of eventually movin’ on up.

                Rush.  Of course they’re irredeemably dorky: that’s not only half their charm, but all of their allure to generation after generation of awkward teenage boys.  Self included: Rush were probably my first real geek crush as a music fan, the first band wherein I absolutely had to track down every note of music they had released.  It could only have happened when I was fourteen, and while I’ve moved into far “cooler” waters of music geekery since, I’ve never denied or turned my back on my love for Canada’s three nerdiest stooges.  Last year’s excellent film documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage has done great things for the rehabilitation of the band’s image, and their work of the past twenty years or so has left the prog-rock hobbits and space travel of yore far behind in favor of far more adult concerns.  Still, Rolling Stone has always hated them; at the end of the day, I’d give them about a 20% chance at a mercy induction.  Most likely they’ll have to settle with simply being the world’s most popular cult act, which is no small runner-up prize.

                KISSI’ve never taken them seriously and I’m not about to begin now, but having shared the last seven years of my life with a KISS fan has made me come around a bit.  Besides, you’re not really supposed to take them seriously, are you?  I hope not, because they are purveyors of some of the most delectable empty calorie rock imaginable.  I’m talking about their ‘70s records of course: anybody who really wants to discuss their music after Dynasty’s disco move is either truly kidding themselves or far more of a hair metal fan than I’ll ever be.  Still, it’s likely that out of a cross section of your ten favorite rock bands, at least four will hold serious KISS fans among their ranks: the Replacements’ cover of “Black Diamond” never struck me as particularly ironic, y’know.  Unfortunately, their chances at the Hall are zero: Wenner and friends are far too self-conscious about their supposed highly selective palate to ever admit that sometimes a high-calorie, nutritionally worthless desert is just what the stomach ordered.  Since the Hall doesn’t offer a cash prize, it’s assumable that Gene Simmons doesn’t care one way or the other.

                There are others with loud backing as well: a quick spin around the inter-tubes shows that fans of Chicago, the Moody Blues, Deep Purple – hell, even the Monkees for Chrissakes – are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.  I implore their fans, as well as those of all the others not yet enshrined – to please save their heart attacks for a worthier cause.  Relax, folks, ‘tis just one self-appointed body’s opinion.  Why not do something more worthwhile, like spin one of your favorites from your neglected favorite, and let their music live for forty minutes or so in a way it couldn’t possibly hope to in some stuffy exhibit somewhere.

                As for me, I’ve already started: Jann’s all right, the Hall’s all right, they just seem a little weird.  Just don’t give yourselves away, true believers.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Whine, Rinse, Repeat

                I would have forgotten all about it were it not for some DJ running his yap this morning, but the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony was last night.  In and of itself, this is barely worthy of note: last I checked, they couldn’t even manage to broadcast the ceremony on a higher profile station than VH1 Classic, if even that. (This year, it appears to have not been broadcast at all.)  In a broad sense, that’s my point: who really cares?

                Two groups of people, apparently: DJs trying to fill out talk time on their shift, and middle aged men on the internet who feel that [insert classic rock act here] has been unfairly slighted, year in year out, by the Hall’s voters.  The DJs can be forgiven: you’ve gotta fill a few minutes with something other than Charlie Sheen, right?  The whining fans are another shade of obnoxious entirely.

                For most of them, it’s not enough to simply be annoyed that their favorites have been thus far denied entry to an oddly shaped building in Cleveland.  It’s a conspiracy!  I mean, after all, look at all the CRAP that Jann Wenner and his friends let in.  Even worse, some of that CRAP is [c] RAP.  Sometimes, I as an angry aging music fan use “clever” spellings like that to barely mask my inherent racism!  Why won’t Wenner and his lackeys listen to me and vote in Peter Frampton already?

                [As I realize that sometimes sarcasm faces detection challenges while hurtling down the inter-tubes, I’d like to take this moment to make explicit the fact that all but the first sentence of the preceding paragraph was myself adopting the persona of a pissed off forum dweeb.  And now, back to the in-progress skewering.]

                Okay, Tex, let’s check out what you’re saying.  First off, let’s have a moratorium on this “[c] rap” spelling: it’s not only exceedingly un-clever, it marks you as both an out of touch old man and a likely bigot.  Disliking rap and hip-hop based on your own musical tastes is fine; that’s why they’re called personal preferences.  Claiming that it’s not music, or even if it is that it has nothing to do with the continuum of rock ‘n’ roll is blathering idiocy.  So what’s next?

                “...the CRAP that Jann Wenner and his friends let in.”

                The latter half of that is the only point that Tex may really have in his semi-favor here.  Wenner and Rolling Stone have been borderline useless for at least a decade and a half now.  [Guess that’s one writing gig I can now forget about.  Oh well.]  Which begets the question: how can you get your panties that far in a twist about the opinions of the publisher of the Justin Bieber special?  Personally, I can’t, but just for laffs let’s put this year’s list* through the crap detector anyway.

                Alice Cooper.  Undoubtedly belongs in the Hall of Fame; the only question here is how it possibly took this long.  Every performer since the early ‘70s who has tried to either shock the nation or merely add a dollop of theatricality to their presentation owes the Coop a Christmas card and a round of golf at the very least.  Plus, he and his band wrote “Schools Out.”  And “No More Mr. Nice Guy.”  And “Under My Wheels.”  Next.

                Neil DiamondHe’s never been my particular size of sequined pants, but his influence over decades of rock-leaning pop is absolutely pervasive.  The only thing I find shocking about this one is that, in the year 2011, there were still Brill Building-associated songwriters who hadn’t yet been inducted.  Worthy?  He is, I said.

                Dr. John.  Again, not exactly my personal bowl of gumbo, but he’s the first name that comes to mind when New Orleans rock ‘n’ roll is mentioned.  I’m not incredibly familiar with a lot of his music, but in a way that makes the point for his induction: I don’t need to be to know that he’s legendary.

                Darlene LoveIn five words and two parentheses: “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”  Most rock ‘n’ roll holiday music is lame beyond belief, but only the Grinch himself could dislike this one.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s the only indispensible rock holiday song in the music’s history.  The fact that her voice is all over several of Phil Spector’s other most beloved classics is merely icing on the cake.

                Tom WaitsAt the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’m not a huge fan of Waits the recording artist.  To me, he’s the musical equivalent of creamed onions: I enjoy a small amount of them a few times a year, but any more would be too much for my system to handle.  Regardless of my opinion, he’s one of the most enduring cult artists in rock, and he’s bequeathed to the genre two of its most enduringly covered standards in “Ol’ 55” and “Downtown Train.”  Hard to argue with any of that.

                Leon RussellInducted as a side-man, which is appropriate enough for the man who orchestrated Joe Cocker’s legendary Mad Dogs and Englishmen ensemble amongst many others.  Still, that feels like a bit of a back-handed compliment, given that Russell was also responsible for some fine platters of his own.  Honestly, I thought he’d already been inducted years ago.

                Why won’t Wenner and his lackeys listen to me and vote in Peter Frampton already?

                Honestly, Tex, I don’t know.  Look, I understand that it’s fun to argue about who should be in this or any other Hall of Fame that isn’t, but the above list is fairly unassailable.  I’m saying this as someone who owns more than two recordings by only one of the above artists (Cooper), and whose personal all time favorite classic rock band has been repeatedly snubbed year after year.  I’m also saying this as someone who doesn’t really care one way or another.  Cheap Trick’s 1977 debut made them Hall worthy the second I heard it as a fourteen year old and it upped the ante on everything I demanded from my music, but that’s another story.

                The fact that Jann Wenner et al don’t hear it that way doesn’t dull its luster for me one bit.  That, my friends, is my point.

* Non-performers category purposely omitted: no one has ever argued over why their favorite label head hasn’t yet been inducted, and with good reason.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Earthquake Weather

I'm not a Hallmark-y kind of guy, as you may have guessed from the other content in this blog.  Nor am I really one to tell you how to think, what to believe, or how to spend your hard-earned.  All I can tell you is that I've been glued to CNN for days, and just like Two and a Half Men before it, it inspired me to do math:

1 fast-food lunch/dinner [or Starbucks for the coffee fans among you] + 1 drink on St. Patty's Day = about $10.

Given how easy the above two items are for me to live without, I took the $10 and did this with it instead, because the good folks in Japan need a bite and a stiff drink far more than I do.  Purified water counts as a drink in this case, folks.

Again, I'm not here to wax sanctimonious; like everything else in this blog, I'm just telling you what I did.  We'll be back to our regularly scheduled music geekery and cultural skewering tomorrow.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

And now, the Obligatory Charlie Sheen Post!

Honestly, this is the first time I’ve ever been entertained in any way by Charlie Sheen.  I’ve no idea if he’s a talented actor or not; truth be told, I don’t ever recall anything he’s appeared in holding my interest for more than ten minutes or so.  It’s probably fair to say his tastes and mine run differently and move on.  Still, I’ve learned much from the winning-est winner in this winning world these past couple of weeks.  To wit:

1)      Damn, Two and a Half Men was one popular show.  Somewhere in the back of my head, I knew it was a sitcom that had been on for a few years, but I had no idea that it had become quite the juggernaut that it was: sort of an Everybody Loves Raymond for the ‘00s, I guess.  Me?  I saw five minutes of it five years or so ago, and found it so entertaining that it inspired me to actually do math: Precocious kid + Charlie Sheen = Where’s the Remote?

2)      Cocaine is a hell of a drug.  Rick James RIP.  I’ll bet that Charlie’s “goddesses” are indeed the kind you don’t take home to mother.

3)      Sober Valley Ranch is the best name given to anything, ever.  Seriously, if it were a salad dressing, I might even rock the lettuce and croutons once in a while.  

4)      For entertainment purposes, we need more downward spiraling celebrities, and I’m not referring to any of this Lindsay Lohan-style passive-aggressive has-been-dom, either.  No, I’m talking about folks like Charlie who understand the art form of flying on white powdered wings straight for the sun.  Really, who else is going to completely fuck up their lives so that we may vicariously binge through them at the current moment?  Who’s going to fill the rockstar void now that all of the real ones are dead, rehabbed, or have gone all emo on us?  I mean, Steven Tyler has become a beloved old American Idol judge fer Chrissakes.  Thank you, Charlie, for burning out so brightly so that all of us boring, normal sheep can just enjoy the hell out of it on TV.  From those about to flock, we salute you.

5)      What is it about the Jews that sets all of these whack-a-loons off?  I mean, really, pick a less predictable target, would ya?  First Mel, and now this: if Chuck Lorre really is half the asshole that Charlie makes him out to be (and who the hell knows – or honestly cares – if he is or not), the fact that his real name is Chaim Witz or whatever has nothing to do with it.  C’mon, Charlie, I’m beggin’ ya: just let me enjoy your self-immolation without actually having to develop a moral stance about it, okay?

In conclusion, ‘tis simple: I couldn’t care less if they ever shoot another nanosecond of Two and a Half Men, but I truly hope that this show has a renewal or two to go before it’s done.  Bravo, Charlie, bravo.  Role of a lifetime, buddy – keep on winning!