Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dude, D'ya Have To Use S'many Cuss Words?

"What the f*ck are you talking about?"

As any reader of this blog will happily attest, I sometimes swear.

A little.

Now to be fair, I swear a lot more when I write than when I actually speak. Somehow, it doesn't feel like it counts when I just type out S-H-I-T. But the reality is, I use profanity in my casual conversation far more than I should. I like to rationalize it by saying that most of the time I use those words strictly for comedic reasons. And yes, profanity is funny. But that's not a good enough reason to continually do it. I try to hide this personal flaw in certain circumstances. Job interviews, family dinners, teaching Elders Quorum. But it's to the point where a "damn" or a "hell" sometimes slips out without prior authorization.

The real downside to this for me, is that single LDS girls do not like it when you swear. At all. They hate it. I'm not sure if they equate a foul mouth with weak character or if they associate it with a dirty mind or what. And yes both of those do apply to me, but no more than the douchebag next to me saying "flippin shiz". But if I'm trying to chat up some quality girl at a lame ward activity and I accidentally let a "son of a bitch" fly, they run like hell. I mean it's as if I had whipped out my junk and pressed it against a window, giving them the old "smooshed rat". Now, I've never actually done that (at a church activity) but I can't imagine the reaction to a smooshed rat being any different than a swear word dropped casually into a conversation. The effect is the same.

So that's one very good reason to tone down the language. But here is the reason that I want to focus on in this entry. Though profanity does have a certain inherent comic value, bleeped swear words are funnier. Now, in typical long winded fashion, let me explain.

Last night I was doodling around on the old remote control, trying to wash out the memory of yet another near collapse by my beloved Jazz and I came across one of my very favorite movies of all time on Palladia. This Is Spinal Tap.

Here is a clip of one of the many classic scenes. I'm not going to bother setting it up. If you want to know the context of them, you'll just have to watch the movie.

Here's another.

My friends and I first rented Spinal Tap back in high school, based entirely on The Simpsons episode in which they are featured. Yet another reason why The Simpsons are the greatest. They introduce me to the Tap and every Christopher Guest movie that came after it. Waiting For Guffman and Best In Show are simply glorious. It wasn't until a few years later that I learned of the Simpsons/Spinal Tap connection. Harry Shearer is both Derek Smalls and the voice of Mr Burns, Smithers, Flanders and several other Simpson characters. It's nice when two things that I love independently of each other wind up having common roots.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Spinal Tap, they are a fake band that parodies the ridiculous, over the top excesses of the hard rock scene in the late 70's early 80's. It is satire at its very finest. This Is Spinal Tap is the first ever "Mockumentary". They present this fake band and its oblivious members as reality. It's The Office 25 years before The Office. What's impressive about it, is that is was made in 1983, which was years before the Butt Rock scene of the 80's really shifted into high gear. They destroy Poison, Winger and Warrant long before they even existed. That takes an impressive cultural insight.

Spinal Tap's greatness is due to the fact that it incorporates this principle; satire is best when it exaggerates the least. You don't need to embellish the arrogance and stupidity of the hard rock bands of that era. You just need to accurately portray them. They do a good enough job of mocking themselves. Is there much of a difference between the lyrics of Sex Farm by Spinal Tap and the lyrics of Big Balls by ACDC? Read them both and tell me which one is the joke and which one is "treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality and bad poetry." But I'm nitpicking.

In fact when my buddies and I rented Spinal Tap back in probably 1994 or 1995, we weren't really clear if they were a real band or not. My friends may deny that fact now, but I specifically remember a confused conversation with Dallin Wayment and John Mann after the movie ended. "So, are they real or not? Because I have seen their CD's in metal section at Sam Goody. And some of their songs are pretty cool. (Dead on perfect!) But there's no way, they are for real. Are they?"

Palladia is part of basic cable. It is not a subscription channel like HBO, so it is limited in its content. No excessive swearing or nudity. Spinal Tap has no nudity but it does contain its share of the old F bomb. In fact when my buddies and I first rented it (we were probably about 15 or 16), we watched it at my buddy Zack's house. Their TV was right in the middle of the house. So anyone in the living room or the kitchen could hear anything that was playing. We watched it on a Friday night when his parents were gone. There was an F word here and there but nothing too bad. That is until a scene about two thirds of the way through where Nigel Tuffnel and David St Hubbins (the patron saint of comfortable foot wear) launch into a fierce argument where they just go f word crazy. Of course, it was at this exact point where Zack's parents came home.

"You can't play the f*cking part because of your f*cking wife!"
"She's not my f*cking wife!"
"Or whatever the f*ck she is!"

Zack's folks walked into the TV room and just stood for a while in silent judgment. "Nice movie you guys are watching." What was already an uncomfortable scene became much much more uncomfortable.

That always seemed to happen. You're twelve years old having a sleep over, watching Sixteen Candles in your basement and right before the boob scene, your mom comes downstairs to see how everyone is doing. As far as she knows you're watching porn. "But mom, it's rated PG!" Which it is, by the way. The worst moment like this I ever had was watching Pulp Fiction in Spencer Snow's basement and having his dad Gary come down and watch a little of it with us. Now there isn't a scene in that movie in which you would feel comfortable watching with your friend's dad, but which scene did Bishop Snow walk in on? Yeah, it was the part where Zed's hillbilly cop friend rapes Marcellus Wallace. Gary sat there in silence as Bruce Willis killed the Gimp and then just after he stabs Zed with the sword, Gary got up and left. I imagine he had a nice chat with Spencer later that night about choosing good friends. That or he got some pliers and a blow torch and went medieval.

But back to my original point. I was watching Spinal Tap on basic cable and I was interested to see how they would handle the F word. They could dub "flipping", "fetch" and "friggin" over it. But that never works. They could just cut out the entire scene in which they go crazy with the profanity. But instead they chose to bleep it.

I'm not exactly sure why, but somehow when they bleep over the curse words, it's way funnier than hearing them in all their vulgar glory. And this isn't just true for us uptight Mormons. A bleeped F word gets more laughs than regular one.

Observe the following scene from Arrested Development where the overly sheltered Buster joins his siblings as they complain about their mom. (By the way Mom, this in no way reminds me of you, so relax. No one is projecting here. It's funny all by itself.)

On the DVD, you can hear the unbleeped version and it's nowhere near as hilarious. Here's another. GOB is now the president of the Bluth Company and he has planned an office Christmas party and gives an HR sexual harassment speech.

I'm not quite sure why the bleeps are funnier than the swears. It certainly isn't due to my sensitive ears. I love the Big Lebowski (as the title of this entry suggests) and that show has a thousands F words. But somehow the censored reference to vulgarity is funnier than the actual vulgarity.

So last night when I was rewatching Spinal Tap for the millionth time, I was pleasantly surprised to see this new wrinkle in it. That scene I referenced earlier where David and Nigel go on a profanity fueled tirade was way funnier with a hundred bleeps in it. It was still awkward and uneasy, but that's what made it funny to begin with. However the bleeps took the edge off the tension. You felt the character's uneasiness but you didn't feel uncomfortable yourself.

Now, how do I apply this newly discovered information to my life? I'm not going to start "bleeping" myself. Seriously, nothing is lamer than that. But I hereby publicly declare that I will tone down the vulgarity. At least in my speech. I reserve the right to swear online. But I need to clean up my regular conversating. If for no other reason than to cease scaring away all of those single ladies in my life. I should also probably stop referencing the smooshed rat as well.

One thing at a time.

One more Spinal Tap clip for the road. Note the unbleeped f word. Believe me, it's funnier bleeped.

"I for one don't think that problem was that the band was down. I think the problem may have been that there was a Stone Henge monument on the stage that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Single Most Important Piece of American Culture, Ever

That's right. I said it. Suck on that Jackson Pollock.

Alright. This title is a little hyperbolic. By the way, I learned that word from the episode where Bart takes over Kamp Krusty Lord of the Flies style and Kent Brockman offers this line as he broadcasts from the chaos, "I've been to Vietnam, Cambodia and Bosnia and this reporter can firmly say without hyperbole that this is a million times worse than all of them put together." Comedy gold! But I don't think I'm exagerating to say that The Simpsons is the best TV show ever produced.

Yes, readers who are over 50. It's better than MASH. Unlike MASH, it's actually funny. And hell of a lot less preachy.

Right now as we speak, (well, I guess as I write and as you read) there is a box of worn out VHS tapes in my parent's basement filled with Simpson episodes recorded off their original broadcast. These tapes have been watched and rewatched and studied and cherished over the years. They have allowed me and my brothers to incorporate an entire lexicon of Simpson quotes, ready to be recited for any occasion. A hundred years ago, my little brother composed his talk for my mission farewell almost entirely out of Simpson quotes. It was seamless. Of course, I now own the DVDs of all the seasons that really matter (2-8). And even though I have seen them all countless times and they are on syndication 4 times a day, I rewatch them regularly to bask in their familiar brilliance.

Let me, for a moment, take you all back to my 13th birthday. It was a Thursday. I know because The Simpsons were on at 7:00 Thursdays back then beating the hell out of the Cosby Show, sending it to an early grave. My family went out to eat at Benihana to celebrate my awesome life. Now, I'm sure it was an excellent meal and that I received many wonderful presents. But the only thing I remember from it, nearly twenty years later, was going home and watching the last five minutes of the episode where Bart becomes a dare devil.

We went into my parent's room (that was where the VCR was and you better believe we were taping it) and saw what could be the funniest moment of entertainment I have ever witnessed in my life. I don't know if I have ever laughed that hard since. I actually gave myself a nosebleed. Seriously. In the finale of that episode, Homer accidentally jumps the Springfield Gorge on Bart's skateboard. Well, he almost jumps it.

Now, you have all seen that scene a thousand times. Homer accidentally rolls down the gorge, hits the jump and briefly thinks he's going to make it. He falls way short. He then plummets down the side of a cliff and is hit in the head with the skateboard when he lands. A helicopter then lifts him out of the gorge on a stretcher and into an ambulance that drives directly into a tree. The back of the ambulance opens and Homer then falls down the same cliff in the same way only to be hit in the head with the stretcher when he lands. There is beauty in symmetry.

Now there is nothing new about cartoon violence. It's as old as animation. But what made this so damn funny, was the fact that the result of the violence was not exaggerated to a cartoonish degree. Homer didn't turn into an accordion when he hit the ground. The effect of the fall was pretty realistic. You saw him get cut up by the rocks, you heard his bones break in the fall. Now, of course there was a clear suspension of reality. Homer's life was never in danger and the audience knows that, which makes it okay to laugh yourself into a nosebleed. This is one example of The Simpsons taking a tried a true formula (a cartoon falling off cliff) tweaking it just a little bit and in the process completely reinventing it.

Let me point out another example of why this show is so good. Ned Flanders. Now the cheap and easy route to take with a squeaky clean, ultra friendly, Christian neighbor would be to tear him down. Present him as a judgmental hypocrite. But The Simpsons never did that. Ned really is that good of a guy. He really is that kind, generous, patient and thoughtful. It's Homer who is the judgmental bastard. But we the audience find ourselves laughing at Ned. We mock his righteousness. And by doing so we reveal that we all have a lot more in common with loud, inconsiderate, stupid Homer than sincere, giving Ned. And as shameful and unavoidable as that revelation may be, we just keep laughing. That is satire that would put Oscar Wilde to shame.

(I would now like to point out that I have never actually read anything written by Oscar Wilde, nor could I even name one of his works. Just another unsubstantiated statement. All blogs are required to have at least one per entry. As well as several sentence fragments.)

Okay, I'm going to ease up on the gushing compliments. It would be difficult to write a blog entry that would effectively articulate just how ground breaking, original, and endlessly funny the pitch perfect satire of this show is. If you have been a faithful follower since the Christmas Special in 1989 up to the present, anything I say will be redundant. And I will end up using the word "awesome" like a thousand times and that just gets nauseating.

Instead, I want to focus on the fact that despite a common misconception, the show continues to be incredibly good. Yesterday, I read this article that highlighted ten episodes of The Simpsons from the last five seasons that stand among the series' best. Although I disagree with some of their selections, this article does a good job of illustrating that the last five seasons of The Simpsons have been back to their old genius ways.

Some would have you believe that The Simpsons lost their way about ten years ago. I will certainly agree that their prime was seasons 4 through 7. During that golden stretch, every single episode was saturated with layered, intelligent humor that I never tire of. But, about 1998 or so, they started getting stale. Every episode had a funny line or two, but they would slap together three or four weak storylines into the same episode to stretch it to 22 minutes. The writers of the show were fully aware of this and would often include self mocking lines ridiculing their own mediocrity. "Worst. Episode. Ever!" But that didn't compensate for the average shows. The quality definitely dropped. The popular consensus was that the show had lost its status and it was a matter of time before it faded away.

But about five years ago, the show quietly regained its edge. It's still not on par with those golden years of in the early to mid 90's, but it's been damn good the last few years. Observe the following graph that scientifically charts the show's excellence over its 20 season history.

It starts off solid, 6 out of 10. This is the T Shirt era. The "Do the Bartman" era. Back when they thought the show was about Bart. But they soon discovered that Homer is the real source of comedy. It steadily improves to those golden years of its prime. Homer Goes To College, Marge On the Lam, Homer the Vigilante, The Stone Cutters, The PTA Disbands. TV cannot get any better than this.

It then drops way down and kind of settles into mediocrity at about a 4 or a 5. This where Lisa turned from being a quizzical little girl who doesn't get the attention she needs to being an obnoxious, pseudo intellectual skeptic. Remember the episode where they discover the angel fossil? I don't want to write that one off completely because it has several hilarious moments, but didn't you just want to smack Lisa in that one? Remember, she was the one who refused to watch stolen cable in the second season. She used to be the moral center of the show. But here she is the equivalent of some snotty college freshman who just took her first Sociology class and proceeds to crap on the beliefs of every one else. That's just an example of how the show went astray.

But by season 15 or so, it rebounds to a respectable 7 or 8. That article I link earlier highlighted 10 episodes that are up the Simpson Standard. A few other moments include Lisa pretends to go to college and gets dropped off at her house. Her college buddies assume she lives in a party house because Homer is drinking a keg and singing Chumba Wumba. The one where Bart writes a comic about Homer and Angry Dad. And just a few weeks ago where Homer doesn't renew his insurance. "Inusrance is the greatest thing ever. I get hurt, I get paid! And man, do I get hurt."

You'll note that crash in season 9. Now, season 9 has some damn fine episodes including the one where Homer buys a gun and the one where Bart is forced to be friends with Ralph. "That's where I saw a Leprechaun. He tells me to burn things." However the whole season needs to take a dive because it also has the Armen Tamzarrian episode. Wow, does that one suck. Holy crap, it is awful. Not one funny line and an idiotic, nonsensical plot.

Within the last few weeks The Simpsons have added a new wrinkle. It is now in HD. Now the idea of a cartoon in HD seemed kind of stupid to me. But it really does add a new level depth. Here is the new and improved intro in HD that includes a million winks and nods to us life long fans as well as the most over the top couch gag ever.

So I want to thank the creators of The Simpsons. You really have enriched my life and I don't feel the least bit pathetic in saying that. You know, with the HD thing there is no reason this show can't keep going for another 20 years. I'm serious, guys. Run this thing into the ground.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Isaiah 15:5 My Heart Crieth Out For Moab

After a long and dreary winter, it was really nice to get a nice sunburned face in the dessert of Southeastern Utah. Seriously, I look like I've been huffing gasoline.

It was a fantastic trip that included great weather, good food, running into old friends from college, six different rappelling adventures that I had never done before and Slumdog Millionaire. Also, Justin good work on that Condo. After sweating my balls off climbing up rocks and butt sliding down them, it was nice to have a shower to go home to.

A few highlights include:
- Rock of Ages Slot Canyon which included my first time actually setting up an anchor that I then rappelled off of. Somehow it's harder to trust your own anchor than one that has been sitting there for who knows how long.

- Driving the Shafer Trail through Canyonlands with the windows down while blasting Guns N Roses.

- The Fiery Furnace which wins the award for coolest name of any trail. Oooo! The fiery furnace from the bowels of hell! The home Beelzebub himself!

- Dragonfly Canyon in Arches National Park. I will never go to Arches again and not do that canyon. The best two hours you can spend in the park.

- Showering in the condo after two days of hiking and camping. Seriously, I felt like that crap covered kid from Slumdog getting the guy's autograph.

- Watching people limp around after the half marathon, happy that I didn't run 13 miles.

- The Medieval Chamber through Negro Bill Canyon. That's right. It's called Negro Bill Canyon.

Some lowlights include:

-Not bringing a camera to the Fiery Furnace. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

- Dangling on a rope halfway down a cliff in Dragonfly Canyon for a half hour trying to get the rope / harness unstuck. Seriously. A half hour.

- Slippery Pete's Gold Spike Restaurant, or whatever it was called.

- The massive, dirty crack of U-Turn. That is a picture of the only fun rappel. But the hike up sucked. A lot of work without a lot of payoff.

- Losing my damn wallet. That continues to sucked.

- Not rappelling off of Corona Arch. Here's a picture of other people doing it. Next time.

- Shredding the butt out of my poor shorts. But it gave the ladies something to think about.

The big balls award goes to Toby and Nate for being the first to do the simultaneous rappel off of Morning Glory Arch.
Click on that picture for a larger view. They are connected on the same rope with no anchor on the top of the arch. The only thing holding them up is the other's weight. None of us had ever done this before. So it was a pretty hairy experience, and I was safely on the ground the whole time. Of course once they did it, it was easy for everyone else to. Now, I have about 60 pounds on anyone else there, so I declined the chance to tempt the laws of physics. I've seen enough Wile E Coyote cartoons to know how that would have turned out.

Here is a video of Kris and Brianna doing it. That sentence sounded strange. Let me be more specific. Here is a video of Kris and Brianna simultaneously rappelling off of Morning Glory Arch.

The best part of The Medieval Chamber was the big crowd at the bottom watching our display of massive balls. And really, what would be the point of all this stuff if you couldn't impress German tourists, take pictures of yourself doing it and then brag about it on your crappy blog? It really is all just a big ego feed. But a damn fun one.

Here are some more pictures.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Alright Gatorade, I'm Calling Bullshit.

On a pretty regular basis, we the consuming public are told by the trend setting authorities that a new fad is now deemed to be cool. The latest of these little cultural blips to be ordained by Nike, McDonalds, Sprite and the like is the Gatorade sponsored Hip Hop dance crew the Jabbawockeez. (My spell check just exploded.)

You may have seen them a few weeks ago dancing with Fatty MaGoo at the NBA All Star Game. Am I alone in being confused by the fact that a bunch of mimes are suddenly the coolest new thing? Yes, they are mimes. Are their faces white? Do they where white gloves? Do they do all sorts of motions pretending to use objects that aren't really there? Yes. Because they are mimes. And that is all they are.

Look. A mime is a mime. No matter how you try to change it up with watered down street cred and Kangol hats, it's still a damn mime. And we all know that mimes are the lowest form of entertainment in the history of mankind. Yes. The lowest. Below Nickelback. Below prop comics. Below homeless people who can't play the harmonica and yet still try to play the harmonica as they peddle for other people's change. Mimes are below them all! And just because it's a hip hop mime, doesn't change the fact that they're still friggin' mimes. Yes, that clip had some cool break dancing in it. And break dancing may be the single coolest thing on the planet. But that just further illustrates how awful mimes are. The suckiness of the mimes easily cancels out the coolness of the break dancing. So they're still operating in the negative. Mimes!?

Check out this commercial by Gatorade. It features such athletic greats as Bill Russell, Mohamed Ali and the damn Jabbawockeez? One of these things is not like the other.

I see through your lies, Gatorade.

"Hey, just how powerful are we?", one Gatorade exec said to another while polishing his monocle.
"We're pretty damn powerful. We've convinced intelligent Americans that it's worth paying 3 dollars for a 32 ounce bottle of our bland tasting Kool-Aid because they think it's healthy.", the other exec replied while twisting his mustache.
"Yeah, that is hilarious that people think our drink is healthy just because we paid Michael Jordan to tell them it was."
"Don't forget about the electrolytes."
"Haha. Electrolytes. What a bunch of crap. A 32 ounce bottle is loaded with high fructose corn syrup and has almost a thousand calories. That's twice as much as 32 ounces of Coke! And the fools think it's healthy. Hahaha."
"Man, people are stupid."
"But, do you think we have the cultural influence to convince the public that mimes are cool?"
"I don't know. That's a tough one."
"Did I mention that they were Hip Hop mimes?"
"Do they wear Kangol hats and have a ridiculous name that is intentionally misspelled?"
"Of course."
"Well, Hip Hop mimes. . .that's still a tough one."
"But what if we could convince an over rated, overweight, over the hill, underachieving NBA player to dance with this Hip Hop Mime group at the All Star Game?"
"What about Shaquille O'Neal?"
"But why are you interested in commanding our idiot customers to like mimes?"
"Just to screw with them. To make it clear exactly how much influence we wield."
"I like it!"

Gatorade, you need to stop it. Stop flaunting your cultural dominance over us.

In the 90's you brainwashed the world into believing that the infallible Saint Michael Jordan was not only the best basketball player ever (a point I will happily concede) but that he was also the single nicest, most approachable, friendliest non asshole in the world. Yes, we all want to be like Mike. Well, you snowed us over really good with that one. Seriously watch that commercial. It's a nice trip down memory lane but damn it, they piled the cheese on thick.

Michael Jordan is an asshole. There are no shortage of people that know him well that will attest to this fact. He is as big an asshole as Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Kobe Bryant, Alex Rodriguez and fifty other elite athletes that majority of the public despises. But thanks in large part to Gatorade's branding of him, (although Nike was the real machine behind it) he is still untouchable. Jordan has such an insane popularity that eleven years after throwing Bryon Russell to the floor and sticking another dagger in my heart, he is still selling underwear with Charlie Sheen in what has to be the strangest ad ever. But St Michael is in them, so they're marketing gold.

Look Gatorade, I get the Jordan fetish. Space Jam was an abomination but you didn't have a lot to do with that. The guy may be a gambling degenerate cocksucker but he does have 6 rings to his name and I can't argue his appeal (as deceptive as it is). But I draw the line at mimes. You can't tell us that mimes are now cool. I won't allow it.

Hey Gatorade, what about . . .you know, right here I was about to suggest that Gatorade take something that's lamer than mimes, slap the title hip hop on it and call that cool. But I've been trying for ten minutes and I seriously can't think of anything worse than a mime. Tap dancers? I can appreciate good tap dance. But I draw the line at mimes.

Gatorade, this is me calling bullshit.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Say It Loud, Say It Clear - 5 Cool Songs With Children's Choirs

Picture it. 1985. Two record producers are in a studio trying to find a way to take an underwhelming song and blow it out into an undeniable triumph.

"What if we add a full string section?"
"We've already done that."
"What if we had cannons going off?"
"I don't think it really fits."
"Harps? We could add tons of harp music!"
"A little too cherubic. Again, it doesn't really fit what we're looking for."
"Okay, what if on the last verse we cut out all of the instruments except a light percussion and have the vocalist sing a heart felt lyric, maybe something about his dad dying and having a baby in the same year and then we bring all the instruments back in this sweeping tidal wave of sound . . ."
"Wait, you're forgetting one thing. A children's choir."
"Holy shit!"
"Yeah! The angelic tones of innocent kids piercing the upper register will give even the most cynical dick chills."
"You want people to have chills on their dick?"
"I think you're missing my point."

And that's how it happened folks. Later that week, Mike + the Mechanics recorded In the Living Years. And 80's synth cheese history was made.

Check it out.

(Alright, I want to murder blogger. For some reason I'm having trouble embedding the video for this song. If it doesn't play for you, here is a link that should work. Also, I have no friggin idea why the font is all screwed up on this entry, but hell if I know how to fix it.)

Man, the bubbly little synth loop makes me want to drink a Fresca on the top of a mountain surrounded by puffy white clouds. Note the multiple use of the following shot: helicopter fly-over shots of green fields and foamy beaches with the singer's earnest, eyes-closed profile half dissolved over it. It reminds me of those weird studio photos from about 20 years ago. You know, the ones that have the kid's profile floating over a straight shot of them? I can't find a picture of them online, but you know what I'm talking about. Those were creepy.

Back to the song. When the chorus gains momentum BAM! your previously dormant goose bumps are assaulted by the chimes of prepubescent children in white robes lit by candlelight. If that doesn't make your eyes itch with tears than you have no soul! The guy's dad died and he never got to say all the things he wanted to. Who the hell are you, to not cry? Nevermind that the chorus is nonsensical fluff. "You can listen as well as you hear"? What? Forget that. Just listen to those little altos sing and then weep, damn it! Weep!

So with that, I would like highlight a few other badass songs that lean heavily on the children's choir.

You Can't Always Get What You Want - The Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed 1969

Alright, I'm shifting gears pretty drastically here. I'm going from sentimental cheese to true greatness. A few months ago I highlighted some of my favorite songs byThe Stones and it killed me to leave this one off the list.

A long time ago, I heard a little story about this song. Something about how this is the Viennese Boys Choir in this song and The Stones had to trick them into recording their part because such a respected musical institution would never record a song with the evil Rolling Stones. Yeah. After about thirty seconds of Wikipedia research, it turns out that that story is complete bull crap. Although I am positive that I have repeated it several times in my attempt to look like some authority on Classic Rock. If you heard that from me, consider this a retraction.

Thoroughly badass song. The last 1:30 is unbelievable.

Christmas Time is Here – The Vince Guaraldi Trio, A Charlie Brown Christmas 1965

It may not be seasonally appropriate but man, I love the Peanuts Christmas Special.
It’ll be another eight months until it’s on TV again, but do yourself a favor and watch it. There’s some serious depth to it. It features a wonderful blend of anti consumerism and heartfelt religion. Those two things aren't associated with each other as much as they should be. And this song has such a strange melancholy to it. You would think a children’s choir singing about Christmas would sound all chipper and happy but this song has a beautifully sad tone. And to be honest, there always seems to be a hint of sadness to Christmas. Whether it's that another year has gone by and not much has changed or it's the cold dark weather. I don't know, but this song captures it perfectly.

Another Brick In The Wall Part 2 – Pink Floyd, The Wall 1980

It was inevitable that someone was going to tap into the ironic value of something that is so pure (and cheesy) as a children’s choir. Leave that to Pink Floyd, the moody, angry voices of England’s industrial wasteland. By the way, it should be pointed out that the chorus of this song contains a double negative. “We don’t need no education” is really saying “We need an education.” Speaking of irony.

Common People – William Shatner, Has Been 2004

Now before your mind jumps to Rocket Man, let me correct any preconceived notions you may have about Bill. This song is the single greatest creative accomplishment in the history of time. It is nothing short of a musical orgasm. Some people will say that such a statement is hyperbole. Those people can suck it.

In 2004 Shatner teamed up with Ben Folds (he's the other guy singing) to produce this cover of a Pulp song. The original is cool, but it lacks the unapologetic balls of William Alan Shatner. And it lacks a children's choir. The whole reason I did this entry was so I could feature this song. Seriously. Listen to it. And then listen to it again.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Nickelback Ruined America

That's right. The tanking economy, the flat lining Dow, dried up credit markets, plummeting housing values, banks fleecing the government for bailouts; it's all the doing of that thoroughly crappy band Nickelback.

Let me explain.

This time last year, Citigroup Inc's stock was trading at just about thirty dollars a share. That was down quite a bit from a year previous to that but the stock still had value. At this time (around April of 08), some ad wizard at Citigroup decided to partner with Nickelback in a nationwide promotion. Here is a commercial for that promo:

"Enter to win a three city tour with Nickelback? It's a can't miss!"

Immediately after this commercial started airing Citigroup's stock tanked. Last week it bottomed out at 1.05 a share. As in, "Would you rather have a five piece Chicken Nugget from Wendy's or Citigroup stock?" I'll take the Chicken Nuggets, thank you very much. At least the nuggets won't turn into shit until a few hours after I buy them.

Listen, Citigroup. Is it a coincidence that upon equating your brand with a terrible, terrible band that peaked in 2002 and hasn't been a blip on any music scene since and whose lead singer looks like an Afghan Hound that your company's value plummeted? Absolutely not. Nickelback is a cancer. Everyone knows this. The second those commercials started airing nationwide, any confidence in your corporation was betrayed. Your share holders immediately said to themselves, "How can such an important financial institution show such inexcusable judgment by thinking that Nickelback is anything but a punchline? They must be fudging their balance sheets. I mean a bank would have to be insolvent in order to make such a terrible decision. I'm selling my stock."

Boom! Citibank goes down igniting the credit crisis we have now. Banks stop lending, company's stop spending, massive layoffs and the Dow drops below 7,000. Thanks a lot, Nickelback. You dicks.

At this point I would like to mention that I am in no way an Economist. In fact of all the Economics classes I took in College, I never did better than a B-. But I never let a complete lack of qualifications stop me from spewing out opinionated nonsense based entirely on irrational prejudices. If MSNBC can do it, so can I.

I say that the US government needs to take its $300 billion it "invested" into Citibank for their bailout and hold Nickelback completely responsible for paying it back. Since it is entirely their fault that it was needed in the first place, it only seems fair. Of course there is a limited amount of tone deaf fools that actually like this shit band enough to buy their CD's and concert tickets. And of those tone deaf fools, I would guess there are a pretty limited amount that are gainfully employed. That's a pretty dry well to begin with. So Nickelback can tour all they want, they're never going to make a dent in that 300 billion. That is why, after having their entire financial worth seized by the US Government, Nickelback must be thrown in jail. Doesn't that image make you smile? Wouldn't you love to see this guy wearing an orange jumper picking up trash on the side of the freeway? I realize that Nickelback is Canadian, so there may be a few legal complications. But most Canadians are good, honest, nonsucky music loving people, so I don't think extradition will be much of a problem. Such an idea makes me believe America will soon recover and be back on the right track. YES WE CAN!

Note: this is the third time I have ripped on a Canadian band. Nickelback joins Rush and the Bare Naked Ladies to receive my misplaced scorn. But I want to make it clear that I am in no way Anti-Canuck. I share a lot of common ground with Canadians. Maple syrup is my favorite pancake topping. I think mooses (mease?) are neat. I love The Guess Who. (At least I like the only four songs anyone knows by The Guess Who. Who doesn't love These Eyes? Oh Randy Bachman, you are my favorite Mormon 70's rocker.) I thought Rick Moranis was funny in Ghostbusters. I think Pamela Anderson used to be hot (like the 1993 Snapdragon Pamela Anderson, before she turned herself into a living breathing cartoon) . Like 95% of Canadians, I hate French speaking people. I wish no specific harm to the metric system. I once ate french fries with gravy and kind of liked it. I pretty much worship William Shatner. See Canada? We're buddies! And outside of the three previously mentioned rock groups, I can't think of any other Canadian band that totally and completely sucks. Except Avril Lavigne. And Celine Dion. And Sum 41. And Snow. And . . . well, let's just stop there.

Update: My buddy Spencer sent this link that further illustrates just how sucky Nickelback is.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The 90's Needs Its Own "American Graffiti"

There is a scene in the movie “The Wrestler” (a thoroughly sad and beautiful movie) in which the washed up Randy the Ram (Mickey Rourke) is having a drink with Cassidy, a middle aged stripper (Marisa Tomei). This is the first time they have socialized outside of the strip club that Randy frequents, and things are a little awkward. That is until Ratt starts playing on the juke box. We then see two people long past their prime enjoy a moment of fond reflection of their golden years to the tune of “Round and Round”.

“They don’t make em like they used to.”

“80’s was the best shit ever.”

“Bet your ass. Guns N Roses.”

“Def Lep!”

“Then that Cobain pussy had to come and ruin it all.”

“Like there’s something wrong with just having a good time.”

“I'll tell you something, I hated the fuckin' 90's.”

“Yeah, the fuckin 90’s sucked”

“The 90’s fuckin sucked.”

I bring this up, because I don’t want this post to sound like this conversation. I don’t want to come off as some has-been glorifying the distant past as some sort of golden age. It’s nice to indulge in nostalgia every once in a while, but if you wallow in it you just seem sad. This is meant to be one of those once in a while indulgences.

That being said and running the risk of contradicting The Ram, weren’t the 90’s just way better than the 00’s in every respect? It’s not even close. (This is the part where I falsely recall just how good the good old days were.) There was no tanking economy. No threats of terrorism looming over our heads. There wasn’t even the Cold War. There was little to no Teen Pop (New Kids died out in 1990). And yes, I roughly equate Teen Pop with terrorism. There were no reality shows. No American Idol. No hipsters. Well, there probably were hipsters but they just didn’t piss me off quite as much. And it was the last time a genuine, organic explosion of quality Rock and Roll music occurred. In short, we had peace, prosperity, new episodes of Seinfeld as well as the World Trade Center. All of those things are now long gone.

Of course, we also had Ace of Base and the Macarena. So let’s not get carried away. I’m also a big fan of my Ipod and the internet.

Look, I’m not saying we should all buy Doc Martins and be really really sarcastic all the time. Although a few months ago, I actually tried to bring back the flannel tied around your waste thing. I was always a fan of that. But I looked more like Eddie Bauer than Eddie Vedder, so I gave it up. What I am saying is that the world would benefit greatly from a pitch perfect, dead-on tribute to 1995. A movie that really gets it. And as far as I know, there isn’t one.

I’m not talking about VH1’s “I Love the 90’s”. And I’m also not talking about "Reality Bites". I mean a movie that uses the benefit of hind sight to articulate a unique time. This is something that is long overdue. We need a 90’s version of the film "Dazed and Confused". Of course "Dazed and Confused" was a 70’s version of the film "American Graffiti". Both films are classics and they need a little brother.

In 1973, George Lucas wrote and directed "American Graffiti", a brilliant homage to the end of High School in the late 50’s. Actually, the film took place in 1962 but 1962 has a lot more in common with 1958 than 1967. So I’m sticking with “50’s”. That clip features a pre-Jaws Richard Dreyfus, a pre- Richie Cunningham Ron Howard and a pre-Han Solo Harrison Ford. This film went on to be nominated for best picture, best director and best screenplay. George Lucas really is capable of writing and directing a fantastic, character driven film. So what the hell happened with that prequel nonsense? After rewatching "American Graffiti", "The Phantom Menace" is that much more inexcusable. George, you are dead to me.

In 1993, Richard Linklater wrote and directed "Dazed and Confused", a similar film of equal excellence, dedicated to his high school experiences in 1976. Since it has been 16 years since "Dazed and Confused" came out, I would say we are due for another installment.

Both films follow a similar formula. They both take place on the night of the last day of school. They feature a diverse cast of characters each trying to capture the brief moments of frivolity, freedom and arbitrary restrictions that is unique to adolescence. Both films have scenes where teenagers try to buy beer. They have moments where a squirrelly nerd stands up for himself and characters trying to figure out what the hell to do with their lives. Both films are defined by their soundtracks. The music in these films acts the emotional foundation for every event that transpires. And both have tons of scenes of kids just driving around.

I think there is a lot of significance to “just driving around.” When you’re in high school, you are constantly told (mostly by John Hughes) that this moment of your life is supposed to be an unending adventure in exploration, house parties, first kisses (can “first kiss” be plural?) and social glory. But the reality is most of your time is spent in inescapable boredom.

All day long at school, you are bored out of your mind, actively trying to kill time. Friday comes, and more often than not you end up hanging out in your friend’s basement, watching Pulp Fiction for the ten thousandth time while trying to play the rhythm part of a Metallica song on a Mexican Stratocaster (maybe that was just me).

Now there’s not a damn thing wrong with being bored on a Friday night. But in this charged environment of high expectations, you feel like you should be singing Twist and Shout on a float for the German Day Parade and anything short of that is a failure. If you are bored, you end up feeling like a loser. And that’s just unfair. So instead, you just drive around. You don’t drive anywhere in particular. You just burn gas, bullshit with your equally bored friends, listen to music and look for other people doing the same thing.

And that is why these two films resonate so well with people of different generations. The plot of "Dazed and Confused" is pretty bland. They get out of school, they go to a little league baseball game, they drive around, they go to a pool hall, they drive around again, they go to a party, they go to the football field and then they go home. That’s it. And yet it captures the urgency of the moment. Wanting like hell to fit in and belong and then realizing the thrill of actually fitting in and belonging. It doesn’t matter when or where you grew up. It doesn’t matter if you were the cool kid or the weedy, shy dork. We all relate to those moments.

Check out this scene from "Dazed and Confused". Again, the only thing that happens is that they walk into a pool hall but it feels much more significant. Badass music and slow motion shots of people walking through crowds have that effect. Dylan rules.

Heaping tremendous amounts of meaning onto events that are ultimately quite trivial is a defining element of high school life. Whether it’s a football game, a dance, a school election, a party over the weekend, ultimately none of it really mattered worth a crap. And yet at the time, it all felt so huge and important. So much angst over such silly things. And even though it sets you up for perceived disastrous failure (losing a playoff game or getting shut down by that one girl) that same urgency creates moments of undeniable triumph.

Below is a video of the Smashing Pumpkins song 1979. This is the closest thing I know of that captures this chapter of my life. It is specific to the mid 90’s but like any effective creative work, it transcends time and place.

Double cross the vacant and the bored
They’re not sure just what we have in store
Morphine city slippin’ dues down to see
That we don’t even care as restless as we are
We feel the pull in the land of a thousand guilts
And poured cement, lamented and assured
To the lights and towns below

Now a few of you knew me quite well in high school and will probably be happy to tell me that our lives didn’t resemble this video at all. It is true that I have never rolled around inside of a tractor tire. But it feels like that time of my life. Maybe it’s just the way I want to remember it. You should never let historical facts interfere with nostalgia.

So I nominate Richard Linklater to start work on a 90’s version of "Dazed and Confused". George Lucas is clearly no longer capable of anything like this. I don’t know maybe call it "In Bloom"? "Even Flow"? "Teen Spirit" is too obvious. Linklater has made several great movies since ("School of Rock", "Before Sunrise", "Before Sunset") and it’s time this window of history had it’s own "American Graffiti".