Monthly Archives: June 2009

thoughts on michael jackson.

First I have to say, it’s beyond creepy that I write an entry in which I profess my great admiration for Michael Jackson’s work, and then five days later he dies.

Weird.

But that’s Michael Jackson.  The enigma.  Strangeness personified.

I’m feeling pretty conflicted about all of this.  And before I talk about MJ, I have to say that it’s unfortunate and uncomfortable that Farah Fawcett died on the same day.  You hate to make the joke, but she picked the wrong day to die.  Not that this message will in any way make it to her friends and families, but condolences – that was one brave woman who just left this Earth.  I hope I have that kind of courage when I meet my end.

Back to MJ, though…I am feeling conflicted.  I wrote this on 5/20, on an entry listing the 10 most influential songs of my childhood (#1 of which was MJ’s “They Don’t Care About Us”):

Michael Jackson was hands-down the defining artist of what I consider my childhood.  Resisting urge to make joke.  Hey, how could we know how he’d turn out?  Still, I try to separate the present day tabloid magnet Michael from the Michael who made incredible music.  And he did make incredible music.  I think that fact gets drowned out by all the unfortunate crazy shit he’s done in his washed-up years.  Some of the stuff Michael put out there…well, without it, we wouldn’t have some of the stuff we have today (for better or worse.)

And my thinking then was: wow, what a great artist.  What an influential arist.  To not only create as many possibilities for music out of his own career, but to create so many possibilities for future generations of musicians.  To do what he did – the complete package – singing, dancing, writing…performing.  And to do it to the degree of perfection that he did.

All those things, and all that stood witness to them were the tabloids.  That’s what I thought then, as recently as 5/20.  I thought that it was a shame such a supremely talented individual would go down in history as pedophile and not the star that he was.

But now I’m not so sure.

First – I have to wonder where all this MJ was before.  Everyone just made MJ jokes all the fine.  And that’s fine and all, but what, were they closeted MJ fans?  Did no one want to admit it?  One of my best friends and I have been bumping MJ our whole lives, even at IU.  I’ve always admitted to being a huge fan, even with the controversy associated with the man.  Where was everyone else – who apparently were also huge fans – during the controversial years?  They weren’t parading their fandom.

It just feels kinda bandwagon-y to me, that suddenly everyone is such an MJ fan.  But whatever.  What doesn’t feel bandwagon-y these days?

What’s interesting to me, today at least, in light of his death, is that I think the media coverage has actually been too lenient.  Everyone wants to remember MJ for the star he was.  Which is exactly what I was hoping for on 5/20.  But I don’t feel that way anymore.  For some reason, now that all this has happened, I feel differently.

I think an interesting and important read is the 5-page sworn declaration of an alleged 12-year-old victim of MJ’s molestation, found over at The Smoking Gun.

And let’s face it – MJ did it.  He’s guilty as hell.  If not here, then somewhere along the line of sharing beds with pre-pubescent boys and getting them drunk off Jesus Juice.  He’s the OJ of the kid-diddling crowd, except instead of an incompetent jury and judicial process, there were just a ton of bank notes exchanged between MJ and the offended parties.

(An old favorite scenario we brought up at IU was always: come on, wouldn’t you let MJ fondle you if you knew you could score a couple million outta the deal?)

Another tangent entirely is how selfish it is that most of these kids’ parents effectively sold out and settled these cases out of court, if only because it just enabled MJ to keep doing it.  Which fueled the downward spiral that ended with his death at 50 years old.  But that’s another tangent entirely, so I’ll try to avoid the discussion of parental responsibility.

What I’m thinking today is that MJ was probably a bad dude.  He did some good things with his fame and his fortune.  He made great art.  But he also did some really bad things, things that can and almost always do scar a kid for life.  I don’t think we should “overlook” that in his death.  I know I said something different as recently as the last entry.  But I don’t think we should just forget his transgressions due to this notion that, because he is now dead, we should only perpetuate “honorable” memories.

MJ was a very complicated person, and in the end, that was his undoing.  I don’t know what the autopsy is going to reveal, but I think there’s a fairly clear culrpit – stress.  The man was weakend to the point of nearly dropping below 100 pounds.  He’s lost most of his worth in the past few years and spent the last decade in various court rooms trying to convince the world he didn’t have his hands down any young boy’s pants.  He’s had a love-hate relationship with his family and a hide-and-seek relationship with the media.  More than anything?  He suffered the same fate as Elvis in that everyone lined up asking him to line their pockets.  I think all those things, compounded by his strenuous effort to prepare for a comeback concert in London, just crippled him.  And he died, as mysteriously as he lived.

He died one of the greatest musicians of all time.

But he died with his bad side, too.  And after hearing about how great he was for the past few hours, I’m now thinking that it’s important that we remember his dark side too.

If nothing else, as a cautionary tale.

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the 10 most defining songs of my childhood.

NOTE that I said my childhood.  I would never pretend to speak for a generation.  I thought the 90’s were pretty sweet, but I would think everyone thinks their decade of upbringing is/was a good one.  Folks like me born at the tail end of the 80’s (I’m guessing my grad class covers 1987-1988 birthdays) have an interesting divide as far as this idea of a “introduction to pop culture” decade.  We get the 90’s until we’re about 12 or 13, and then it’s all new millenium.

I consider most of my childhood to have been in the 90’s, but I guess you could make an argument that some of my junior high and all of my high school years were post-2o00, so I can’t claim the decade entirely.  Whatever.

These are what I consider to be the 10 most defining songs of my childhood.  Not the 10 greatest.  Not the 10 most popular.  Just the 10 I considered to have the most impact on me, via playtime or just general cultural infusion.

(I might retroactively go back and post links.  I might not.)

1.  Michael Jackson – “They Don’t Care About Us”

Michael Jackson was hands-down the defining artist of what I consider my childhood.  Resisting urge to make joke.  Hey, how could we know how he’d turn out?  Still, I try to separate the present day tabloid magnet Michael from the Michael who made incredible music.  And he did make incredible music.  I think that fact gets drowned out by all the unfortunate crazy shit he’s done in his washed-up years.  Some of the stuff Michael put out there…well, without it, we wouldn’t have some of the stuff we have today (for better or worse.)  So it was really difficult to pick one MJ song (didn’t want to flood the list with ’em), because I listened to so many (bought “History” the first day it was released for $40 at Best Buy!)  But I chose this one because I was always fascinated with the rhythmical variations and it has a completely bad-ass (and controversial for its time) music video.

2.  Sugar Ray – “Cash”

I’m not going to pretend that this is, in any way, a good song.  But it was pretty much my introduction to vulgarity in music.  And you were a cool kid if you listened to this on a smuggled-in Walkman on a fourth grade field trip to the Levi  Coffin Underground Railroad House.  This is off “Floored”, which is the same album that gave us “Fly.”  And it’s easily the most vulgar track on the album, and album which at the time everyone seemed to own or want to own.  I’ll never forget passing around that surely-now-ancient Walkman at the picnic table, during lunch, and hearing Mark McGrath shout out the following lyrics: “I need some fucking cash/You need some fucking cash/We all need some fucking cash/Run and get my gun!”

3.  Bone Thugs N Harmony – “Crossroads”

This song always reminds me of AOL for some reason.  Probably because I first got “the Internet” (AOL) around when this came out.  Good ol’ dial-up!  Anyway, my buddy and I would spend countless hours trying to download clips of this song from that AOL Downloads or AOL Sounds or whatever it was called.  This was also my introduction to hip-hop.  There would be later forays, including others on this list, but this is the first I can remember.  Oh, and fact about this song: to this day, I don’t know the lyrics, so I use the same made-up ones I improvised in elementary school.

4.  Third Eye Blind – “Semi-Charmed Life”

Probably a safe pick for a generation, but yeah, I was big into it too.  Like the next song on this list, I took pride in knowing all the lyrics.  And impressed many a kid at recess.  Which should tell you how easily impressed kids are.  My greatest memory about this song in particular was the fact that I never actually owned the album, so I really only heard it on the radio.  Until I decided to attempt my first attempt at pirating music.  I had this old microphone that hooked up to my computer, and I don’t even remember why I had it, just that all I did with it was record skits with background music/sound FX to clown on teachers I hated and play them back for friends.  So my strategy, which I also tried with Puff Daddy’s “Come With Me” (not on list), was to play the radio version from my boombox while having my microphone record it.  At the time, I can’t remember the quality being horrible.  But I can’t remember when I got my first pube either, so I mean, I don’t necessarily stand by my historical word.

5.  Barenaked Ladies – “One Week”

I was somewhat upset to see BNL break up.  I’ve always thought BNL were a great thing for music.  They were always original, always fun and came out with my favorite cover of all time.  “One Week” was great, though, because it took Third Eye Blind’s ability to record difficult-to-discern lyrics and took it up another level.  I can clearly remember being challenged to lay down the “Chinese chicken” verse (as we called it) in the morning before class started in fifth grade.  Got me so many ladies.  Just kidding, of course.  The only thing I got in fifth grade was suspended.  And the clap.

6.  Notorious B.I.G. – “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems”

I was really debating what the “definitive” hip-hop song was, for me, back in the day.  I owe a lot of this to my good buddy from back then (who is, coincidentally, still my good buddy – I can’t believe anyone would tolerate me that long either!)  He was big into the Bad Boy/No Limit scene.  Posters and everything.  So I was debating between a lot of tracks from this era:  Silkk the Shocker’s “It Ain’t My Fault”, brother Master P’s “Make ‘Em Say Ugh!”, Puffy’s “I’ll Be Missing You.”  But in the end I went with Biggie and Bad Boy, because it probably got the most playtime and I can remember it the clearest.  It’s weird though – I can’t really remember ever witnessing the Bad Boy/Death Row beef, Tupac and Biggie’s deaths, etc.  I know I was around.  Maybe it was just being a kid and not paying attention to the news.  I think it’s that, because the first things I can really remember keeping up on in the news were Columbine and Princess Di’s death.

7.  “Water Runs Dry” by Boyz II Men

You are a liar if you say you grew up in the 90’s and didn’t give a shit about this song.  This, more than anything (well, okay, Montell’s “This Is How We Do It” is a close second) takes me back to the roller rink days.  United Skates of America to be specific.  God, I couldn’t count how many times I went there.  School field trips, day camp trips, with friends, for birthday parties, to test out new in-line blades for street hockey, etc etc.  And then they’d dim all the lights and announce that it was a slow skate, then throw this song on.  Do I remember that because I held someone’s hand and romantically made my way around the oval?  Hell no.  I remember it ‘cuz I always got yelled at for skating past all those stupid couples that were actually skating slow.

8.  Eminem – “My Name Is”

This holds a special place for a couple of reasons.  One: my stupidity.  We were shooting around out back in someone’s backyard basketball court one day and talking about this song, because it was on the radio.  I remember one of the neighborhood kids saying something to the effect of “he’s good for a white guy.”  My response?  “He’s white?!”  Yeah, I didn’t know Eminem was white, even as this song started to get big.  My bad.  The second reason is because this was one of the first songs I illegally downloaded.  Still remember a neighborhood kid showing me this crazy P2P program, and this was even pre-Napster.  I forget what it was called.  And think about how old that is for a second: you probably weren’t even downloading porno until you got to Kazaa or Limewire.  This was a good three or four programs before that!  But, yeah, Em was a Walkman (or is it Discman?  Shit, I should go back and correct this maybe…probably not) staple.  “The Real Slim Shady” was probably the more impactful song playtime-wise, but this list isn’t just about playtime.

8.  Marcy Playground – “Sex and Candy”

This was the first song I ever listened to so much that I got sick of it.  The radio was largely to blame for this.  Actually, I didn’t even like this song at first.  But since WZPL played it approximately 20 times per hour, I grew to like it.  And that lasted a while.  Until I left the radio on just a little too long during some intense N64 sessions.  Then I didn’t like it.  These days?  I like it!  It reminds me of the N64.  Which is a very good thing.

9.  Rappin 4-Tay – “Message For Your Mind”

This was another tough choice.  I had to throw in something from the “Dangerous Minds” OST because it was party of a birthday haul that brought me a minted Metallized Michael Jordan card (that I think I have since lost) and a bunch of als0-minted Reggie cards.  Basketball cards.  Damn.  The obvious would have been Coolio’ “Gangsta’s Paradise”, but honestly I remember Weird Al’s “Amish Paradish” more than I remember that joint.  So it was between Big Mike’s “Havin’ Thangs” and Rappin 4-Tay’s “Message For Your Mind.”  Big Mike (of Geto Boys fame) just misses the cut because he would have made it for the same reason one of the other tracks on this list did – because I had to play it very quietly so as not to upset my parents, back when they gave a damn about that stuff.  Rappin 4-Tay makes it because I liked the song back then and I’ve grown to appreciate it a lot more through the years.  That song is just ill.  The sampling is more on-point than any other sampling track I can think of, and the lyrics are rock-solid.  Give it a listen.  You’ll agree.

10.  R. Kelly – “I Believe I Can Fly”

Two words: Space Jam.  Space Jam embodies pretty much everything important about my childhood.  Basketball, cartoons and original soundtracks.  It’s pretty incredible to look back and see all the artists on the “Space Jam” OST: Seal, Coolio, B-Real, Method Man, LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, D’Angelo, Salt-N-Pepa, Jay-Z, The Spin Doctors, etc.  Gee, you think this OST might have had something to do with my current taste in music?  What amazes me is that it’s all these artists, but the kid-friendly verses from them.  I think it was a specific attempt to create hip-hop heads out of young audiences.  And I think it worked.  I remember the day I lost this CD and the extent of my sadness as a result.  A good primer for future depressions.  But why this song?  Why not the “Space Jam” anthem by the Quad City DJs?  Or “Fly Like An Eagle”?  Well, this song just makes me think of ‘Space Jam’ more than any of the others.  Specifically the basketball driveway scene.  And then all of my childhood experiences of playing basketball in driveways.  So that’s why.

Just Missed the Cut:

The Immortals – “Techno Syndrome-7” (Mortal Kombat theme song)

Los del Rio – “Macarena”

Matchbox Twenty – “3 A.M.”

Outkast – “Rosa Parks”

Oasis – “Champagne Supernova”

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ben cooper (pre-radical face/electric prez.)

I love this little excerpt I just now noticed on Ben Cooper’s Radical Face blog:

And I off and on have people ask me how to play certain songs on guitar. But since I write everything down in this little shorthand that helps no one but me (I’ve never learned to write music properly), it’s always tough for me to explain just how to play everything. I’ve never used tabs either. So I filmed a couple quick videos on how to play the ones I get the most questions for, and once I figure out how to edit them down properly, I’ll upload them here. Hopefully within the next couple of days. Stay tuned for that, if you’re interested.

You’re kidding me this guy has never learned to write music properly!

Anyway, the following tracks entertain me.  I love how Ben Cooper just dicking around with bargain bin sequencing programs and broken mixers is still better than half the crap out there today.  Though given the absolute lack of talent out there currently, that’s not too surprising.

(I should note that, if you have no idea who the hell I’m talking about, Cooper is half of Electric President – which I wrote a spotlight on – and all of Radical Face, which I’ll feature a little later as his next album comes together.)

And as for Cooper’s discarded circa 2002 tracks while he was just experimenting with all his sound design, listen to these:

Ben Cooper – Cinnamon
Ben Cooper – Voyage of the Mimi

(And obviously this sound eventually graduates to Radical Face/Electric President, with much better mastering and audio technology in general.)

Also, a special mention goes to a zombie anthem performed by Ben Cooper and Corey Loop back in 2002, when they were known as Unkle Stiltskin.  According to Cooper, this unreleased track is from an album called “The Title of this Album is Unimportant Because We Don’t Exist Anymore, You Fucking Idiot.”  I have no idea what’s with the random fades but when I make my zombie epic (post-literary success, of course), it will feature this song in the bad-ass opening credits sequence.

Unkle Stiltskin – Undead Anthem

Anything with zombies is pretty much the best thing ever.

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one of my favorite books becomes a movie.

I am very unsure how to feel about The Road in cinematic form.

That trailer is fairly garbage.  I don’t think that’s an inaccurate assessment.  But trailers are often cut/edited in a way such as to present them as “most marketable” to the largest audience.  So I’m not completely surprised that we got the trailer we did.

(Though Cormac McCarthy’s last book to be adapted to the big screen – No Country For Old Men – actually had a pretty bad-ass trailer.)

Anyway, I don’t even know how this book could be made into a movie.  I’d say roughly 90-95 percent of the book follows a nameless father and son as they journey south to escape the winter in post-apocalyptic America.  Every other character (which apparently drew the likes of Guy Pearce, Charlize Theron and Robert Duvall) has a handful of lines in the book.  And that’s it.  Not to mention the fact that – outside of flashback form – they don’t really do anything.  I’d have to assume that, from that knowledge, the movie will veer outside the plot of the book and do more to include these folks.  Not sure if I’m excited to see that or not.

Then the fact remains that it’s just difficult to make a movie about this book in the first place.  Even if you don’t consider the fact that so much of the book revolves around two characters simply walking and scavaging, so much of the (relatively short) novel relied on dulled, grayscale visuals.  Ashen landscapes and such.  Judging from the trailer, that color palette is not present whatsoever.  In the book, not only was that palette used almost exclusively, but the dialogue itself mirrored the bleakness and emptiness of the environment containing it.  If the movie does that, I would think the audience would be bored out of their minds.

So – weird book to choose to turn into a film.  But the studio execs are probably banking on some coat-tail action after the success of ‘No Country’, which still remains one of the more disappointing movies I’ve ever seen (remind me from now on to only watch the first two-thirds.)

Anyway, as per this site…sorry no music updates lately.  I pretty much get home after work every day, pass out for a couple hours, eat dinner, watch some TV and go to bed.  Love the job but the M-F schedule is draining.  Then consider the extracurriculars on the weekends and – godforbid – my computer time is cut down quite a bit.  Though I did manage to write another two chapters for my novel.  80,000+ words now, I feel like I hit some sort of milestone.  I’d imagine it’s about two-thirds complete.  I’m hoping I don’t go the ‘No Country’ route with the last third.

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thoughts on ‘deadgirl’

So I recently caught a viewing of Deadgirl.  And I’m still not sure what to think.

Let me rewind this back for a second.  ‘Deadgirl’ is one of a couple films I had really been excited to see that had been caught up in distributory Hell for quite a while (the others being the as-yet-unreleased Trick ‘R Treat and the recently released Arc.)  Of the three, it’s probably easiest to understand why ‘Deadgirl’ had such a hard time finding anyone willing to buy the rights and eventually release it – the question of how the hell you market a film like ‘Deadgirl’, whose content matter resonates heavily with themes of rape and necrophilia.  Yeah, ‘Arc’ definitely pushed (and probably obtained, though it was released unrated) the NC-17 barrier, but ‘Deadgirl’ just blasts right through it.

The basic plot goes something like this: high school burnouts Rickie and JT (unfortunately, played by ~25-year-old actors, something I find annoying with movies) decide to ditch school one day to do nothing in particular.  Nothing in particular involves getting drunk, breaking into an abandoned mental hospital and laying waste to all the clutter left behind.  It also involves stumbling across a hidden room in the catacombs of the building, door rusted shut and blocked by an assortment of tables and cabinets.  Obviously, no one has been in the room for quite some time.  The guys eventually force the door open and discover a nude female body inside, chained to a table.  She looks dead.  But as they soon find out, she is not.

Saying much more would probably ruin the movie, so I’ll leave it as basic as possible.  This is a film that really asks a lot of questions, and on the surface, probably shouldn’t be as “deep” as it is.  But then I wonder if it was really deep or not after considering the ending, which is fairly reductive and perhaps makes one of the more unflattering suggestions about men (humanity?) in cinematic history.  It’s certainly a movie about ethics and humanity, the extent of depravity, objectification…all in a really bizarre coming-of-age framing, at ages where characters are surely primarily motivated by their sexual desires.  I got those things.  For all the questions they propose, though, perhaps the greatest is whether or not we should care if the ultimate assertion is that this journey ends in all the wrong places.  I doubt a whole lot of other people have seen it, but if they disagree, I’d love to hear their take.

That said, it was still a fascinating movie, and probably the most daring movie I’ve ever seen.  It’s easy to label this sort of film, but thanks to some skillful directing and at least enough good performances where it matters (namely Shiloh Fernandez), it eschews these attempts to pidgeonhole ‘what’ the movie is per se.  The soundtrack is also pretty damn good.  It’s worth a watch, if nothing else to say you saw it, and dare someone to top it with a more messed up movie.

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thumping my melon

i’d like to pass along this link from a friend of a friend’s blog. thumping my melon. he was the Executive Director of the Association of Professional Journalists and he passed away last week. the blog is an account of facing his death sentence of cancer and coming to grips with mortality. it’s a really powerful URL that can help give some travelers perspectives on the situational dramedy of life.

Sigur Ros – Olsen Olsen
Yo La Tengo – I Heard You Looking

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enough with the penis!

It’s just not that funny anymore.

I’m not really sure where it started, but somewhere along the line – specifically in the Apatow crowd – it became a staple to start putting male nudity into movies.  After two years, I no longer laugh.

(And listen, I’ll get this out of the way earlier: I get why.  It’s not just shock value, it’s a response to our conditioning of seeing female nudity and some sort of double standard in regards to our acceptance of female nudity over male nudity.  In a way, it’s some sort of equality movement.  Except let’s not pretend that’s the primary motive: it’s supposed to resonated with the ‘WTF’ area of the brain.  I’m just arguing that it doesn’t anymore.)

The first movie I can remember really playing this up for shock value was Walk Hard.  And then of course was Jason Segel’s naked breakup in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  This year alone, we’ve had something like five continuous minutes of ball-bouncing in Observe and Report and, this past weekend, a pissing Zack Galifiniakis, a nude Asian criminal and a couple BJ photos in The Hangover.  The shock value isn’t there anymore.  The comedy value isn’t there anymore.  And this isn’t some sexist double standard…it’s just become an unnecessary inclusion in a movie that is painfully pandering to the “OMG there’s a dick” crowd and just not getting the laughs anymore.

(Side note: not that the audience has any sort of penile preference I’m guessing, but why is everyone who chooses to flash their junk for the film’s sake hung like a field mouse?  Wouldn’t that be embarrassing?  I guess these guys are just clearly already six miles into IDGAF territory.)

I’ll leave it at this: step up your comedy, son!  All the visual dick gags (…) just waste time where Paul Rudd could be giving more surf instructions or Zack Galifianakis could be making more ridiculous observations.  The penis joke has worn its stay.  Get back to the writing part of this thing.

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