Saturday, June 27, 2009

Weekness

It has been an interesting week. I narrowly avoided ship duty, one of my former favorite pop icons passed away, I turned 29, I saw a movie I was truly looking forward to and was disappointed with, and I picked up a video game that I've been truly looking forward to and really haven't had a chance to play. Tuesday had a very abbreviated woot-off. I went to a steak restaurant (didn't eat any steak, though).

Also, I'm teaching myself Nightswimming on the piano, which will bring my repertoire up to two-and-a-half songs (not counting the half-composed drivel I've penned). I can play Hey Jude and I know the chords to The Scientist, but I can never remember the words. Regardless, the old adage holds: learning a new instrument is like farting, it stinks to everyone but you.

Not sure exactly what next week will bring--I've been playing things a little close to the chest and writing stuff at the last minute, but I've got lots of time off starting, well, right now, and I need things to do apart from learning the piano, so it may be a theme week, or it may not.

Time will tell. Here's hoping that, whatever next week brings, it's less interesting than this week has been.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Long Live The King Of Pop

So, Michael Jackson is dead.

I have some oddly mixed feelings about this. Obviously the man spent the last decade of his life as a bit of a sideshow freak, but he absolutely owned the 80's--an immense talent undermined by a complete inability to make decisions properly.

During my formative years I was a tremendous MJ fan--Bad to Dangerous eras. Those albums haven't aged as well as some of his older material, but Thriller is still an incredible set of songs, and I have a special affection for Off the Wall, his disco-fied adult solo debut. His achievements are myriad: he is the reason that MTV started showing videos from black artists, which is ironic since he was later ridiculed for abandoning his race. He pioneered the music video, set records with the number one singles off of his albums. What he did really can't be done again.

And then to languish in semi-obscurity as a punchline. It's odd. Let's not be quaint, though, he got really weird in later life, what with his unhealthy obsession with plastic surgery, his unending financial woes, the fact that he named all three of his children after himself. Also, the child molestation thing. I don't want to cast aspersions here--he was acquitted, after all. But that doesn't mean he didn't do it... making him either a lucky monster or a supremely unlucky pop icon.

So, I'm kind of sad, kind of relieved. The Michael Jackson that I admired has been absent for decades, but now he's absolutely and unequivocally gone, never to return. An icon is an icon, even if he is truly disturbed icon. It's like Saruman at the end of Lord of the Rings (the books, that is). He was this great foe who was soundly defeated at the end of The Two Towers, but becomes a petty annoyance up until his death at the end of Return of the King.

Is that a weird metaphor?

Actually, more than anything else, I think it's too bad that he will have no dignity in death. He spent what he had and then some in life. C'est la vie.

Et la mort.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Transformers: Reaction to the Fallen

My initial ardor with the original live-action Transformers film has receded upon repeated viewings. The novelty of the robots-as-eye-candy has worn off some, and the mildly cringe-inducing bits of attempted levity and cleverness are even more cringe-worthy. Unlike a film like X-Men, which is smart enough to be enjoyable after the special effects have stopped being nifty, Transformers, like The Rock, like The Island, like so many ex-girlfriends, makes a great hot, wild first impression, but if you keep it around for very long you start to see the problems with its worldview and get annoyed by its jokes.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is everything the first one was, only more: it's bigger, longer, louder, 'splodier ("SPLOW-dee-yer", adj., more explody). It was pretty dumb, but I didn't feel like it was nearly as dumb as its predecessor, but don't misunderstand, it was still pretty dumb. I gotta be honest, though--I've read the reviews and I was not expecting a real dog of a film, but I didn't hate it. It's not a good movie, but it's not an awful one. It's certainly not for everyone, but it has an audience--I'll get to that in a bit. Let's start with the things that worked.

The combat worked. It was frantic and chaotic, but it had a certain logic and rhythm to it. There was less tumble-and-roll-and-shoot than before, projectile weapons were used at a distance, melee combat up close. Vehicle forms were used for mobility and covering distance at speed as well as setting traps and operating stealthily. Robot forms were used for maneuverability and combat. The story at least paid homage to the mythology of the series, and it sort of worked. The archaeological tie-in was ill-advised, but it was far more believable than the most recent Indiana Jones movie. The other thing that I thought was fairly nifty was that they would cannibalize each other for parts. Seeing a handful of Decepticons turn on one of their own to revive their leader gave them a ruthless edge that was a little disturbing--in a good way.

The other thing that I really have to credit Michael Bay (the director) with is that he did a far better job of making important robots distinguishable in this movie. In the first film, two of the Autobots and all but two of the Decepticons looked way, way too similar to be distinguished at a distance. In this one it was far easier to identify major characters, while the blending-together-ness was reserved for the myriad Decepticon drones that showed up at the finish. Although would it kill you to tell us their names?

So what didn't work? Well, there's plenty to criticize: it hinges on a very underwhelming love story, it's rude, often incoherent, littered with blatant product placement, becomes an army recruitment film from time to time, et al. You know, the normal run of Bay weaknesses. But the biggest problem is this: the running time, the running time, the running time. It dragged on, even with all the pulse-pounding action, far too long. The second act ended on such a low note that this easily could have been two movies in the vein of The Matrix's sequels. Perhaps that's not the best example, but cramming this much story into a single movie was a mistake, keeping in mind that the story is the sticky stuff between action-bricks in a Bay film. And the bits of human drama didn't really work. Neither was I a fan of the overly exaggerated characterizations of Wheelie or Scalpel, or the twins.

...It would be remiss of me to not mention "The Twins" here...

They might as well have been called the Negrobots. They were patently offensive racial charicatures, big-eared, gold-toothed, illiterate do-nothings with blaccents. Michael Bay has acknowledged that they are offensive but defends it because "the kids love it". And as much as I hate to admit it, he's right. As offensive as these characters are, the packed audience I watched this movie with loved them, laughed at them, cheered them on. Say what you want about the quality of his film-making, he has identified his audience of 12-17 year old boys and nailed their tastes, and will make a fortune off them. I sat in a sold-out house that seethed testosterone and laughed at every ball joke and swooned over Megan Fox.

These are the people who will find the plot devices compelling, who will think of starting college without a car and saying "I love you" to a girl to be sources of real drama. They aren't bothered by the movies self-importance or casual disregard for geography. To them, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is like Red Bull on celluloid.

All that said, I have some advice for Michael Bay:

  • It's seriously time to move out of the frat house.
  • Hating America is not the only trait that makes a bad guy bad.
  • Whether it works or not, a white, wealthy, forty-something gentile exploiting racial stereotypes for gags is in bad taste.
  • GIVE YOUR CHARACTERS NAMES!!!
  • But, keep blowin' shit up, man.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

That's a Lot of Crows

A while back someone tagged me on a Facebook note called "My Life In Music", in which the author detailed the fifteen albums that changed his/her life. I wanted to try, realized I could never narrow it down to fifteen, so I dropped my half-written, over-populated list into a documents folder and didn't look at it again until the other day, when I saw it for what it truly was: Blog fodder.

So I'll throw one of these out there every now and then, to fill in the gaps, you know?

Counting Crows
August and Everything After

Counting Crows erupted onto the post-Nirvana music scene with Mr. Jones, an enigmatic up-tempo devotional to, well, some guy named Jones. It was fast, thought-provoking, imminently singable, and prompted me to purchase the entire album. Jones was shortly followed by 'Round Here, a low-key song about... well, I could never figure that out either.

At the tender age of thirteen, I found August to be rich with symbolism and oblique references to things I didn't understand. Everything was new and vague--and not just the music. I had never heard of a band having seven members before. Why was the song titled August and Everything After, whose lyrics appear on the cover art, not included in the album. Did someone make a mistake? Why is the phrase "counting crows" included in the lyrics (for those keeping score at home, the words show up in the second verse, I think, of A Murder of One)? Are you even allowed to do that? And what's with all the accordions?

Counting Crows' large line-up allowed for complex arrangements that managed to never be over-powering. It also meant that pianos and accordions were commonplace, but they never dominated. The album was more or less guitar driven... more or less. But much of the disc lilted rather than motored. It took detours, not roads. It made absolutely no sense to me, but I loved it anyway and played it and played it and played it.

Looking back, I get it. The lyrical toil of August is informed by messed-up relationships and the frailty of human emotion. Having been through a few messed-up relationships, it makes a lot more sense to me. It helps to think of Counting Crows songs as musical poems rather than pop tunes, especially those early ones. Since then the ebb and tide have become more even and more predictable--Hanginaround is good; it's fun, but it's not art. And don't even get me started on their covers of Big Yellow Taxi and Friend of the Devil. Buuhhh!

They never bested or even matched the quality of this disc, not in my opinion anyway. They developed a sheen and a niche, and that's all well and good, but the best things about August were the way it felt raw, experimental, and laid bare. Oh well.

But my biggest complaint about it, and about Counting Crows in general, is that Duritz was always changing lyrics from chorus to chorus. Seriously, choruses are supposed to be the easy-to-sing bits between verses. When they're constantly changing, suddenly you have a marathon of segments to remember the order of, and it make memorization a chore.

Highlights: everything on it is great, including the radio fare (Mr. Jones, Round Here, and Rain King), but my favorites were Anna Begins and Raining in Baltimore, which are both very, very sad songs, and I really dug A Murder of One, the upbeat closer.

Favorite lyric: "3,500 miles away, what would you change if you could?" (from Raining in Baltimore).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Or Rather The Former First Day Of The Last Year...

Today is the first day of the former last year of my life. Okay, that doesn't make any sense by itself, but let me elaborate.

For the longest time I would tell people that I didn't expect to live to see thirty. I don't know if I believed it or not, I don't know why I particularly felt that way (no doubt my foray into eschatology informed that decision), but as I've gotten older I've moved away from that mindset.

So today is my 29th birthday. I have a job that I'm interested in turning into a career. I have a wife. There's talk of children. We have a house. So this is sort of a symbolic transition for me into a more future-centric living model. A year from today, I will have been wrong. And I'm pretty much okay with that.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Taco-Flavored Keeeesses

The first girl I ever kissed had a drinking problem. At 14. Why, yes, it is a rather long story. Anyway, she was trying to hide her Zima-swilling from me with copious amounts of mouthwash, and ever since then I've sort of had a thing for girls who taste like Scope. This was reinforced by the first smoker I ever kissed, because apparently nicotine and mouthwash are complimentary flavors. Also, because of the nicotine, her kisses literally tingled. Very cool stuff.

Not the kind of thing you can really communicate to a woman, though. Just play it through in your mind for a second. You're on the couch, making out with your spouse/bf/gf/what-ev and you say something like "this is great, babe, but it would be even better if you used some mouthwash". Yeah. See where that gets you.

In college I had a girlfriend whose kisses tasted like broccoli. A little weird, I know, but I love broccoli, so I have to say that it topped the mouthwash thing. Although, again, this is not something you can really communicate to a woman. "You taste like broccoli" doesn't really work on a things-I-like-about-you list. Which is not to say that I didn't try to share... There's just that weirdness barrier. No matter how special it was to me, she couldn't get over being self-conscious about tasting like broccoli.

This is not, incidentally, what ended the relationship.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "how can you ever beat broccoli?" Okay, so you're probably not thinking that, but I would be. And, I'll have you know, I did. I had a girlfriend whose kisses had the faintest hint of the flavor of... what did Samuel L. Jackson call it in Pulp Fiction?... the "holiest of holies". For anyone who doesn't catch the reference, I am, in fact, talking about cunnilingus. Which I definitely like more than broccoli.

Again, not the easiest thing to communicate. But I'm about 95% certain I never tried, because I've learned my lesson. It won't work. I could have told her, but it would have just creeped her out. Oh well.

The moral of the story: honesty is not always the best policy. Sometimes shut-the-hell-up is a pretty good policy.

Apropos of nothing,

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

And I Ain't Talking About The Blondie Song

Every day I reschedule this entry for the following day. If it ever goes live, that means I wasn't able to reschedule it. So, if you are reading this, I've been taken in the Rapture and you must repent immediately. Or I've overslept. One of the two. Okay, go ahead and repent, and if I post again tomorrow, you can go back to sinning, k? K.

I kid. I enjoy poking fun at religion on Sundays, although I must admit that it has less to do with my distaste for god than it has to do with my over-developed sense of irony.

Anywho.

Today is my wife's birthday. So, Happy Birthday, Abby. Aaaaaand, it's time to go all mushy for a minute. Bear with me. Also, I'm a little drunk.

I've spent the last three weeks doing "crash development", which is business-eeze for "not-seeing-very-much-of-my-wife", and at some point Friday I realized how much I like her. Obviously I love her enough to be married to her, but getting to actually spend some time together over the last day or so, I've realized that we get along very well. Obviously we're married so we drive each other bat-shit crazy from time to time, but we do seem to enjoy each other's casual company.

There's not a very non-Hallmark way to say it, so I'll just say it. Abby, I'm incredibly grateful for you. You're supportive and understanding, and yes there have been bad times and yes there will be more bad times, but there've been some really good times too, and there will continue to be good times. And I love the fact that I wake up next to you every morning, but I think I'm happier about that fact that, even if I didn't, I'd still want to hang out with you. That's a nice sort of feeling to have.

Okay, mush over. Also, I'm a little drunk.

Abby, have a Happy Birthday and I love you very much.

And all that.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Virginia

So I just got the call, the trip I've been planning for a month and a half has been cancelled. It was a business trip that I wasn't dreading but wasn't exactly looking forward to, but now it looks like I'm going to be in the office all next week.

This means I'm going to have to return the laptop I'm typing this on a little sooner than anticipated. And I just got all my tools installed. Oh well.

The up side is that I'll now be in town for my birthday, my wife's birthday, the release of the new Transformers movie, the release of The Conduit, and Father's Day. That's good. It also means I don't have to miss another week's worth of band practice. Also good. But it's a little disruptive, I don't mind saying.

It means, for example, that the original draft for today's post is completely null-and-void. It also means I have some supplies that I don't need. Like two combination locks with the same combination, those were a pretty neat find, and now I pretty much have to return them. I have absolutely no need for two combination locks with the same combination. I don't think I could come up with two different things that would even take a padlock.
Also, now that I'm going to be in town, I actually have to put some effort into next week's posts, as I had some generic bit-wise stuff planneBlockquoted to drip out.

Still, I'm looking forward to not having to be back. Okay, better constructed sentences coming soon, I promise.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

At Least We Dig Each Other

A while back I mentioned that I had been searching for the perfect ringtone for Abby. Because I'm a dork. Anyway, I settled on Clocks, but I must confess that it was my second choice. My first was Dig by Incubus. The ringtone for that song turned out to be a poorly constructed loop of one line from the chorus--didn't really work, which is too bad.

Dig is one of those great songs that just grows and grows and grows on you. It's the kind of song I wish I could write. The main thrust of the song is that relationships are hard, that I'm going to let you down, and in those times I hope you can pull me back. Lyrics, lyrics:
So when weakness turns my ego up
I know you count on the me from yesterday

If I turn into another, dig me up from under
What is covering the better part off me
Sing this song, remind me that we'll always have
Each other, when everything else is gone
Definitely more mature and introspective than the typical drivel you scrape out of radio pop. The theme of "weakness" in the first verse is echoed by "sickness" in the second--great use of parallelism (which songwriters love, because it's less lyrics that you actually have to assemble).

And the arrangement is brilliant. The bass and guitar are doing things that wouldn't sound like much on their own but that complement each other perfectly, the drummer peppers the song with unsual fills, the keyboards sit in the background not doing much, but that's kind of par for the course on an Incubus song.

I could go on, but I think I'm past the point of sounding silly. With that, if you haven't heard it, listen to it, and if you already know it, or just thing I'm being silly and fanboyish, well, then thank you for indulging me anyway.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Good Ol', Strangely Surreal Charlie Brown

This is why I still occasionally read Peanuts.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Days of the Deads

Two big stretches coming up in the music queue: "Day" and "Dead". First, the days.

  • Soundgarden - The Day I Tried To Live
  • The Beatles - A Day In The Life (Sgt. Pepper and Love versions)
  • Nine Inch Nails - The Day The World Went Away
  • The Beatles - Day Tripper (yeah, more Beatles, deal with it)
  • The Monkees - Daydream Believer
  • Coldplay - Daylight
  • Imogen Heap - Daylight Robbery
  • The Kinks - Days
  • Van Morrison - Days Like This
And then there's the section of songs starting with the word "Dead".
  • Korn - Dead
  • They Might Be Giants - Dead
  • Thomas Newman - Dead Already (from the American Beauty soundtrack)
  • Stone Temple Pilots - Dead And Bloated
  • Korn - Dead Bodies Everywhere
  • The Kinks - Dead End Street
  • The White Stripes - Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground
  • Beck - Dead Melodies
  • Nine Inch Nails - Dead Souls
  • Moby - Dead Sun
  • Juan Schwartz - Dead, Dead, Dead (this Trey Parker singing on Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics... kind of morbid)
  • The B-52's - Deadbeat Club
  • Green Day - Deadbeat Holiday
There there's a few "Dear" songs (including more Beatles, but I'll leave it to you to figure out which) and some more Death in the form of:
  • Coldplay - Death And All His Friends
  • The Kinks - Death Of A Clown
  • Sponge - The Death Of A Drag Queen
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers - Death Of A Martian
  • Flogging Molly - Death Valley Queen
  • Coldplay - Death With Never Conquer

The next big sections are Dirty, Do, Don't (which is effing huge, just so you know),Down, Dream, and Drive (which is immediately after three songs that start with the word "Drinking"). Should be fun.

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Ringtones and Twitter and Facebook, Oh My

So I got internet turned on for my new phone, which enabled me to start downloading ringtones. And the big fun of this is the ability to assign them to specific people. I realize that this is old hat for everyone except, wel... me... but I'm still jones'd about it.

Default: Beck - Cellphone's Dead. Mostly for irony, but it's a pretty cool tune too.

I've assigned my old ringtone, E-Pro, to Evan, since that's one of the occasional nicknames I have for him. The tough one to figure out is Abby. I'd love something that is equal parts sentimental and not-sucky. Best I can find is Frou Frou's Let Go, which just doesn't quite achieve what I want. There's tons of stuff I can download, but what? Go With The Flow by QOTSA? Gnarls Barkley's Going On? The theme from Super Mario Bros?

Must consider.

Nevermind. Just figured it out. Clocks. Done and done.

Other fun services that I now have include IM access. This is a tremendous boon, since I have a number of friends on IM but I hate the app so much that I'm hardly ever online. The two things I was really hoping to use are unavailable to me: Google maps and Bank of America. My phone doens't run Javascript (at least not very well), so Maps is out, and BOA just doesn't support my phone model.

Damn you, BOA.

Syncing to Twitter is pretty easy. Facebook works, but is less than ideal. Google Calender doesn't sync, but I can send updates via SMS easily enough. I was hoping to integrate RememberTheMilk, which doesn't so much work, but it apparently integrates with Twitter, and it does have a mobile interface that's sloppy but functional.

I can access Digg, but I won't ever try that again. The sites linked to from that page are over-taxed as it is, and trying to browse through a single-tab HTML-only browser with the equivalent of a dail-up connection--not happening. At all.

So, it's a mixed bag. I've got unlimited data and SMS, so I'm not going to accidentally bankrupt myself. And yes, I've double-checked. I don't have all the access I'd hoped for, but then, this was a step-towards smart-phone-itude to see if I liked it or not. And so far I do, enough to upgrade to a more current model when my contract finally comes due. In March.

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Dancing Nancy is a British Dancing Queen

Hey, we've made it to the D's, which started out with a truly mediocre tune called D.W. Washburn by The Monkees.  It has now been excised from the iPod.  The first big block is the Dance's, which I've expanded to include derivatives ("dancing", etc).  Kick it off with:

  • Van Halen - Dance the Night Away
  • Jason Webley - Dance While The Sky Crashes Down (one of the ultimate drinking songs)
  • Peter Brown - Dance With Me
  • The Wonders - Dance With Me Tonight
  • Jonathan Coulton - Dance, Soterios Johnson, Dance (album and demo versions)
  • Ace of Base - Dancer in a Daydream
  • David Bowie - Dancing In the Streets
  • Dave Matthews Band - Dancing Nancies (album and live versions)
  • ABBA - Dancing Queen
  • Tora Tora - Dancing With a Gypsy
After that we get a brief haitus in the form of a song called Dandelions, two songs called Dangerous, Dani California and Daniel.

Finally we finish with a couple of classical pieces from Claude Debussy (he was French, but I've decided "danse" is close enough): Danse Profane (Unholy Dance) and Danse Sacree (Sacred Dance).

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

They Were Originally Going to Call it "Binge"

Microsoft's Bing launched today.  And...

It's not bad.  It's fast, it's easy to use, it returns relavent search results.  The interface is a bit busy for my taste, but it's not nearly as distracting as Yahoo.  Also, I can't find any official source that says that the name actually stands for "But it's not Google", so I'll let that slide.  For now.

If you think of it as a Google-killer, then it's a bit underwhelming.  It has not immediate advantages over the beloved G.  But if you think of it as a much-needed upgrade to MSN search, then it is a leaps-and-bounds success.

The lesson: don't worry about beating anyone.  Just try to be the best you can.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

Ugh

Three weeks of crash development start today. If I miss a few posts... sorry. Also, I may be quite brief.

Spent yesterday helping my brother-in-law and his family get moved into their new place. Sooooooooorrrrrrrrre.

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