Monday, December 13, 2010

Thanks, Paul

If you happened to watch last week's Saturday Night Live (and really, who the hell does that any more?) then you would have caught Paul McCartney fulfilling the desire of the my previous post. Well, not quite. But it was as close to the real thing that we could ever expect in the modern world of two remaining Beatles. Paul sang "A Day In the Life" and and for the most part knocked it out of the park. He then combined it with the chorus of "Give Peace a Chance"* creating a fitting tribute to his friend that was murdered 30 years previous.

It was a great television moment. And I would like to embed a copy of it for your enjoyment. But the tone deaf a-holes at NBC have decided to not allow me to freely publicize their product. For some reason, they won't stream that performance. So no one gets to watch it ever again. Brilliant decision.

So you'll just have to imagine it. Instead, here is a clip from the episode that is actually pretty damn funny. Paul Rudd shaking his hips to a tiny harmonica solo makes me giggle every time. It's a comedy staple.

*As big of a Lennon fan as I am, I just can't bring myself to like "Give Peace a Chance." It's just too damn stupid of a solution. Good political songs should diagnose, not prescribe. For example, take every single protest song Dylan ever wrote. "Give Peace a Chance" is a catchy jingle and all, but trying to change the world with a song is as effective as putting a band-aid on a tumor. My cynicism aside, it was still a nice gesture by Paul.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Way It Should Have Been

Alright. So I slack off for two months and then drop a long one on you. This little number will take some time getting through if you go in for the full audio visual experience. If you're a Beatles fan, please enjoy. And if you're not . . . what the hell's your problem?

Next week, December 8th, marks the 30th anniversary of John Lennon's murder. Between now and then, we will all be subjected to several news stories recapping the life and death of one John Winston Lennon. That news story will give a bland voiced over synopsis of his cultural significance, while we see a collage of familiar images. These will include the obligatory clip of Ed Sullivan in 64, a the Abbey Road album cover, the bed-in with Yoko and perhaps the photo of him in the New York shirt. It will then show news coverage of the crowd crying outside the Dakota and the doctor confirming his death at the hospital. The voice over will include phrases like, "Anti war activist" and "Spokesman for a generation" and will end with a clip of him sitting at the white piano as a few bars of Imagine play.

It'll be a nice story that will make you feel nostalgic, even if Lennon has been dead for your entire lifetime. But, since this annual pre-Christmas tradition will no doubt be laid on extra thick this year (the big 3-0!), this news story will lose its appeal after the fifth time you see it. By the 10:00 news Wednesday evening, you will have had your fill with Yoko Ono's face and will welcome the return of our regularly scheduled faux news minutia of Dancing With The Stars results, the Miami Heat and whatever the bullshit is that makes the Kardashians relevant.

I have no friggin clue what the hell that is, by the way.

Now, anyone who knows me even a little bit, will be happy to acknowledge that I'm a big fan of the Beatles. In fact, I can be borderline obnoxious when it comes to this subject. If you think about it, it's pretty easy to be a Beatles fan. I mean it's about the safest opinion you can possibly have when it comes to any aspect of pop culture appreciation. Who is really going to argue the importance of Sgt Pepper? You can not like it. You can say it's overrated. But no reasonably informed connoisseur of Rock and Roll can deny its bone shattering impact. It's like defiantly declaring that Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player. Well, duh. We all know that. And this reality makes it kind of boring to be a Beatles fan. There's nothing really bold about it. But that's just fine. People don't love great music to prove to the world how sophisticated and original they are. (Well, you do if you're a smug, contrarian jaggoff.) No, we love great music because it resonates with our soul. Because it both reflects and defines who we are as a culture and as individuals. Because it floods us with memories both personal and collective. And damn it, great music just makes us feel good.

And make no mistake about it, the Beatles made great music.

Let me present you with a glorious and impossible thought. What if Dr Sam Becket leaped back in time to the first week of December, 1980 into the body of the doorman at the Dakota apartments in Manhattan. (Don't pretend like you don't get the Quantum Leap reference. You loved that show every bit as much as me. Admit it.) Al would explain to Sam that his mission is to wait for Mark David Chapman to get John Lennon's autograph the morning of the 8th and then blow his crazy ass head off at point blank range. Done and done. It would be a short episode. Sam then would leap into the body of a circus performer having marital problems in 1958. (But Sam can't walk on a tight rope! What will he ever do?)

The point is, Lennon lives! What would have happened? Well, probably not much for the next couple of years. It's not like the Beatles were planning on touring the summer of 81 or anything. But John would have done the talk show circuit, plugging Double Fantasy (an uneven album but it has half dozen or so songs that are fantastic). He would have done a few tour dates and then taken another few years off to watch Sean grow up. In 1985 he would divorce Yoko's crazy ass and marry Connie Chung. (John likes them sideways.) Then in 1987 he would release a terrible record. It would be called something like "Electric Kettle Fish" and he would appear on the cover wearing a skinny tie and Ray-bans. Sadly, most of the musical greats from the 60's and 70's produced some awful music in the 80's. Touch Of Gray, ring a bell? Kokomo? Say, Say, Say?

Damn it, Paul. You should know better.

But here's where it gets interesting. In 1993, John bumps into George at a Tai Chi class in Malibu and for the first time in 20 years, they really hit it off. They've both been sober for a decade. They have each enjoyed the validation that comes from their solo success. They've raised their families. They're each happy. Balanced. But a little bored. The Whilbury's has run its course for George. And even though John just did a voice-over for a Disney movie, he's feeling the itch. Upon reminiscing about the good times (and they are both surprised at just how many good times they remember) they feel the ambition to remind the world just exactly who the greatest band of all time really is. So they decide to take the next step.

John calls Ringo. They never lost touch. George calls Paul. The four agree to meet together under top secret security at Paul's villa near Tucson, Arizona. And for the first time since 1969, they pick up their instruments and jam.

They start with a couple of standards. Some Carl Perkins. A Chuck Berry number. Maybelline. They run through Kansas City and Hound Dog. And it feels good. It feels right. Nothing at all like the Let It Be sessions. They are just four buddies playing the songs they were raised on. Then, as a gesture of respect and affection to his old pal, John plays the intro to Paul's song Helter Skelter.

Paul chimes in with the lyrics and nearly rips his throat out when he screams "AND I SEE YOU AGAIN!!!". Spontaneous brilliance is rediscovered as John and George take turns shredding the sounds of the Apocalypse and Ringo remembers the happiness that comes with having blisters on his fingers. After an eight minute musical orgasm, the four of them pause in silence for a few moments, reflecting on the magic they each just witnessed. George breaks the silence in a Liverpudlian drawl. "You know, I don't remember asking U2 to steal that song back."

At that moment, they decide to exorcise all past demons, bury any remaining hatchets and give the free world what it had lusting after for the last 25 plus years.* The Beatles decide to reunite and tour. They immediately sit down and start working on set lists. Dates, cities, venues? Those details will work themselves out later. Right now, they want to channel this energy into finding and perfecting the right songs to play for their long suffering fan base.

Six weeks later, at Madison Square Garden, the curtain raises on the first Beatles Concert since Candlestick Park in 1966. I now present what I'm pretty sure is my own invention. The hypothetical concert. Behold! The Beatles 1993 North American Tour.

The stage is dark. Sounds of an orchestra tuning up is heard. A few fans in the crowd recognize this sound and burst with anticipation. Then a flash of light ignites as the band launches into Sgt Pepper.

There's no jumbo-tron in the background displaying the album cover. They aren't wearing the brightly colored costumes. It's just a rock band wearing jeans and T shirts playing guitars. It seems as though they were influenced by Jimi's cover at Monterey. It's got more edge than the album version. The song morphs into A Little Help From My Friends as Ringo bobs his head back in forth behind his drum kit, singing the lyrics. John and Paul share a mic as they harmonize the counterpoint. "Does it worry you to be alone?" The song ends with the kind of endless applause that only decades of musical blue balls can produce. A few minutes pass until they realize the only way they can get the crowd to stop is to begin the next song.

John steps to the center of the stage, clicks a few pedals on the floor and blasts the opening power chords of Revolution accompanied by Paul's spine crushing scream. John's vocals are nearly drowned out by the crowds' singing. By the third verse, he just let's the audience sing on their own. 20,000 people scream in perfect unison, "But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, You ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow!!"

Once the audience relaxes a bit, the band members begin some banter. They acknowledge that it's been a long time coming and how good it is to be back. They say something about playing in New York and mention their first flight into JFK back in 64. And before they can even mention the words "Ed Sullivan" Ringo hits the toms beginning a spirited yet brief rendition of "She Loves You".

George makes a joke about screaming girls. John suggests they mix it up a bit. He then straps on an accordion (you heard me) and begins the melotron intro to Strawberry Fields.

Standing there with his shoulder length hair, round glasses with an accordion strapped to his chest, John's thin metallic voice leads the congregation. "Let me take you down, cause I'm going to . . ." A pair of cellists and a horn section appear out of the darkness, capturing that George Martin brand of studio magic from all those years ago. George's 12 string Rickenbacker weaves a warm dream over Paul and Ringo relentless rhythm. After the refrain fades out and the applause loses momentum, John says while looking across the stage to his counterpart, "You know I could never bury you, Paul." The crowd laughs hysterically, even though it wasn't that funny.

The horn section then erupts into the intro of Got To Get You Into My Life as Paul steps to the mic and belts out three minutes of unapologetic happiness. At the end when Paul begins riffing on the chorus, John spontaneously joins him in a conversational ad lib.

John then sits down at a grand piano as George takes center stage. Ringo says, "I think it's time we hear from the quiet one." George hides his annoyance at that reference as John pounds out the minor chords of While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

Standing alone in the spotlight for an extended guitar solo, George's slide work puts Clapton shame.

Staying at the piano, John savagely bangs the opening rif of Hey Bulldog. As Paul slaps the funk right of his lefty bass, he joins John with feisty barking and growling. John plays along. "Quiet boy!"

Ringo then addresses the crowd. "You know the Beatles have been known for a lot of things over the years. But, really in the end we're a simple Rock and Roll band that just wants to kick your ass."

He then hits the bass pedal beginning an ear bleeding rendition of "Everybody's Got Something To Hide, Except For Me and My Monkey." They crowd loses it. They aren't just playing the obvious songs. They're giving us the B sides. This is a concert for the true blue fans.

The stage lights darken. A spotlight appears on the piano as Paul sits down. He then plays the immortal chord progression of Let It Be.

John compliments the piano with a Billy Preston style church organ floating above the ground. The cellists and horn section take turns adding their layers. After George's sublime solo, all instruments halt as Paul sings the final verse with just Ringo's drums backing him up. Then the chorus comes back and on the down beat everything returns, like a sonic wave washing you out to sea. The strings, the horn line, John's organ and George's guitar dancing with Paul's vocals. The crowd is stunned.

Let It Be begins the acoustic set. Once the applause begins to fade, George takes the spotlight alone with a ukulele and plays Something in its entirety by himself.

George heads backstage as the stage lights come back on to reveal John and Paul sitting on stools, side by side with acoustic guitars in hand. Ringo is front and center with a snare, a high hat and brushes. And they begin a stripped down unplugged version of Help. (You'll have to imagine this one.)

Remaining with the same setup, they follow up Help with a similar rendition of I'm Looking Through You.

George returns with a Sitar, to the joy of the crowd. Ringo steps to a pair of conga drums and the four of them play a simplified version of Love You To.

George then plays the opening riff of In My Life of the Sitar, accompanied by Paul on the double bass. Ringo returns to the snare and they play the Rubber Soul classic.

George replaces the harpsichord solo with his sitar and John's voice cracks with emotion on the last verse.

John then sits back at the piano. Ringo returns to his drum kit and George picks up an acoustic guitar and begins strumming a G chord. The piano joins him playing A Day In the Life.

Ringo's fills and Paul's bass line punctuate John's unsettling lyrics perfectly. The horn line and strings again appear out of the darkness as the crowd falls down the rabbit hole. Paul wakes us all up by dragging a comb across his head. Upon having a smoke we all go into a dream as John's voice swims around the arena. We return to his surreal newspaper article and fall right back into the same rabbit hole until it the door is slammed shut with the final E chord.

The crowd is stunned. They intuitively wait for a few reverent moments before erupting in applause. The Pepper magic was just created right in front of their eyes. It's like seeing a unicorn in the wild. It is beyond belief.

Paul then steps to the mic and asks, "Does anyone remember this one? One, two, three FOUR!"

John and George lay on the distortion and really blow the doors off this song. George puts a little wa pedal into his solo. This isn't a teeny boppers diddy. It's the anthem of a sexual predator. At the end John jokes, "Paul, I think it's about time you stop looking at those 17 year old girls. If you know what I mean."

Paul laughs it off and sits down at the piano.

Smelling the finale, the crowd soaks in every note. 20,000 people swaying in unison, singing with their eyes closed savoring every second. After the false start, the chorus swells and the round begins. NA NA NA NA NE NA NA! The horn line joins in the fourth repeat. Paul begins riffing. "Well you know you can make it, Ju Jude you're not gonna break it!". On the tenth cycle the whole band cuts out except Ringo beat, the house lights turn on and each individual in the audience communes with the music. People hold their hands in the air and shake their head as if they caught the spirit at a Pentacostal service. Paul directs the crowd. "Just the ladies! Now the fellas! Okay, are we ready to bring it home?" The band joins back in with the full horn line and string section as Paul does a spot on Little Richard. "Wow woo! Na Na Na!"

Finally they fade out. The four of them stand together on stage and give a bow. John says, "We're gonna take a quick break and be back for an encore in just bit."

The crowd chants "We want more!" in the dark for the next ten minutes.

The band triumphantly returns to the stage. Without a word jump right into Twist and Shout.

Paul says something about John sounding a lot like that Ferris Bueller kid. He then dons an acoustic guitar and stands in front of the string section and makes every 45 year old woman in the crowd swoon.

Once the applause fades, Ringo quips, "For some reason I really want to eat some scrambled eggs." John then addresses the crowd and tells them what a pleasure it has been to play the old songs all over again. He thanks the audience and Paul begins Golden Slumbers from behind the piano.

Upon Carry That Weight, Paul joins the rest of the band with an electric guitar at the front of the stage. All four sing together, "Are you gonna be in my dreams, tonight?". John, Paul and George then give way as Ringo begins The End with his drum solo. He owns the spotlight as his unsung talent shines undeniably. The guitarists then launch into a three way duel, outdoing each other's licks for several minutes. Paul sneaks back to the piano with his guitar slung around his back as it all stops, leaving his happy bouncing keys.

The four Beatles and entire audience then sing together, "And in the end, the love you make is equal to the love you make." The string section then carries the band, their instruments and their harmonies off into the air as the greatest concert in the history of time comes to a triumphant end.

Yup. That the way it should have been. But some dip shit shot John Lennon in the back. I blame JD Salinger. So instead of this cultural achievement for the ages, we get a bunch of lazy, rehashed news stories every December 8th.

What a crock.

*In my years, I have seen Paul McCartney live. And I have seen Ringo Starr and his All Star Band. Let me just say, the opposite of synergy was in full effect. Paul and eight guys I don't know are not the Beatles. Even though Paul was a driving creative force behind the band and they were playing the songs I love, it was a McCartney show. Not a Beatles show. And we'll just leave poor Ringo alone. But let me say this. I paid more than a 150 bucks for McCartney tickets. For Ringo? 15 bones. He couldn't even demand a twenty. But I probably enjoyed Ringo just as much. He played almost as many Beatles songs and Jack Bruce played bass for him. So they mixed in some Cream. Good show.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Color Commentators Are Bleeding Useless

Well, we're three weeks into the College Football season and every BYU fan is ready to jump off a cliff. Myself included. Wipe that smirk off your face, Ute Fans. I predict Air Force rolls you up in a few weeks. Maybe. Who the hell knows. To be honest, I'm too emotionally broken to talk any trash. If you'll excuse me, I'm just going to curl up into the fetal position and quietly hum "It's a Small World" to myself in a vain attempt to hold back the tears of despair.

Two Quarterbacks?!!! Rotating every other series?!?!?!?! Bronco, you are an arrogant fool.

So instead of rehashing an already exhausted subject of BYU's quarterback folly, or the inability of any of their receivers to catch a pass that hits them in the hands, or the inability of any member of their defense to tackle a Florida State running back, or the . . . . hell, I'll just stop there. Instead of that bull crap, I instead choose to illustrate a mild irritant that has accompanied the last two nightmare weeks of my football loving life. I speak of the intolerable nonsense spewing from the mouth of every single College Football Color Commentator. The blathering noise that just compounds my futile anger. It's bad enough watching your beloved team suck it up on a Saturday afternoon. It's so much worse having to do that while listening to Todd Christiansen push self congratulatory excrement from his verbose, leperous mouth and pass it off as insight.

"Did I ever mention that I played for the Raiders?"

Why exactly are they called Color Commentators, anyway? Is it because their witty anecdotes add color to the otherwise drab and monochromatic play by play? Is it due to their propensity to draw yellow lines all over the screen while a key third down is in progress? Is it because many of them are black? Maybe it's one of those old timey terms that just never got updated. Like NAACP. Or the United Negro College Fund. As a squeamishly polite white person, I felt uncomfortable even typing that. It just doesn't sound right to refer to Reggy Miller as the color guy on an NBA broadcast. Of course I know this isn't the reason for the title. If it were it would be Commentators of Color. And that would just be nutty.

Now, I am willing to give the color guys a bit of a break. It's a tough job. At least they find a way to make it a tough job. Their purpose is to restate the obvious events that everyone just witnessed with their own eyes. So leaping to ridiculous conclusions and exaggerating either the success or failure of the players on the field is really just an inevitable outcome of trying to sound interesting. But that's where they all fail. I don't care what sport they are covering. Mark Jackson, Tim McCarver, Booner, Bill Walton. They should all make zero effort to sound interesting. A good Color Commentator isn't an interesting one. It's an invisible one. I'm tuning in to watch the players on the filed. Not to listen to your bull crap, Blayne Fouler. So can it. Provide a counterpoint to the play by play guy so as to create a conversational rhythm. That's your job. That's it. When you try to do more, you make it difficult for me to ignore you. And that's all I want to do.

Take Troy Ainkman as an example. I hate the damn Cowboys with all the energy of my being. And I really hated the Cowboys of the 90's. But I actually like Ainkman as commentator quite a bit. He's so freaking boring, I can tune his voice out like it was a dog whistle. The same cannot be said for Lee Corso. Instead of white noise, I am forced to roll my eyes at all the stupid crap he insists on saying. This is especially true when it's a national broadcast of a local team. Before the opening kickoff it becomes clear that the color guy doesn't know a fraction of what I, a typical fan, know about my beloved team. Don't mispronounce Manumaleuna and tell me about Riley Nelson's year at Utah State. Just blend in with the furniture.

So in an effort to provide a solution to this dilemma, the following is a list of ten things that should never be heard in a football broadcast:

1. Any word uttered by a Sideline Reporter: Color Commentators are irritating but Sideline Reporters are intolerable. Look, I like Erin Andrews in an orange sweater as much as the next guy. But that doesn't mean I'm interested in hearing her bull crap story about the assistant coach's wife during a key play. And just to be clear, they're all key plays. Just because she's an attractive woman, doesn't mean I'm fixated on whatever tangential nonsense she may be blathering about. There's a football game going on here. There's no need to manufacture interest with a bunch of warm fuzzy, human interest stories about Tim Tebow's parents. Just show the game. And since when was there a shortage of hot chicks to film at a college football game anyway? Between the student section and the cheerleaders, I think we have the random eye candy covered without having to invent an entire career. I'm pretty sure Title IX doesn't extend to the broadcast team. I think. But you can never really be sure on that stuff. Litigious business, that Title IX. You know what? I take it all back. Female sideline reporters provide an invaluable insight whose absence would leave any broadcast hopelessly incomplete.

2. "Scamper": Chipmunks scamper. Puppies scamper. My three year old niece scampers. And she's downright adorable when she does it. But a 240 pound fullback does not scamper. An 80 yard touchdown run can in no way be accurately described as a scamper.

3. "Razzle Dazzle": As a general rule, I'm against trick plays in football. I like teams that just pound it. I'm all for misdirection and play action. But end-arounds and half back passes just bug me. As does the inescapable urge commentators have to blurt out the term in question. It conjures up an image involving sequined costumes and theatric magic shows performed to the music of Abba. Which actually sounds pretty damn cool. Don't judge me. Imagine GOB preforming illusions to "Fernando". That's pure entertainment, right there. But this term needs to be retired in the football realm. Especially when it doesn't really apply. Razzle Dazzle is a stripper name. Not an accurate description of a quarterback draw.

4. "Blue Zone": I love you Bronco but that's just stupid as hell. And Greg Wrubell, you don't need to step in line. Red Zone is a universally accepted football term. So say it! Is Utah in your head that much? Sadly, I fear the answer is yes. But it's still just dumber than dirt. Do the London Monarchs of NFL Europe refuse to call a stunting linebacker a blitz due to the German bombing raids on England in World War II? I'm pretty sure they're happy to just call it a blitz. You can call the inside of the 20 yard line the Red Zone, just like everybody else. Blue Zone doesn't make you sound clever, Bronco. It makes you sound petty and weak.

5. "Indisputable Video Evidence": I, like every football fan, have a love hate relationship with instant replay. When it's not in place, then it seems that our team will consistently get dry humped by game changing screw ups made by bumbling incompetents that are wearing ill fitting white knickerbockers. When it is in place, then nineteen times a game we are forced to watch the same replay over and over while screaming the obvious verdict at the TV. It's lose lose. But without question the most intolerable aspect of instant replay is the asinine conversation between the two announcers to which we the viewers are unavoidably subjected. And no matter the scenario, no matter the play in question, that conversation is the exact same every bleeding time. Suddenly I am tuned into an episode of Law and Order and am being educated on the intricacies of the burden of proof. "Now, the review booth upstairs need indisputable video evidence to overturn the ruling on the field. I gotta say, it looks like the knee was down but since the call was a fumble, it'll be hard to overturn. Bla Bla Bling Bling Bla."

Look, instant replay works too well to ever get rid of it just because Kirk Herbstreet can't think of anything original to say. So here's the solution; mic the refs. This way we hear them deliberate. I want to hear their conversation. Make the whole process transparent. That or just cut to commercial. Show the replay from two different angles and then try to sell us some beer. If the ref announced the ruling while I was in can, so be it. At least I won't be forced to hear an announcer backtrack when his predicted verdict was dead wrong.

6. "Penetration": Yeah . . . . There's just got to be a better word to describe a D line getting into the backfield. Especially since it's almost always specifically described as "good penetration". Football has enough homo erotic overtones as it is.

7. "Pitch and Catch or Dinking and Dunking": In an effort to make their job appear to be more difficult than it is, commentators go to some extreme lengths to avoid using normal conversational verbs to describe the action on the field. Instead, they feel compelled to use a really lame thesaurus to spice up their diction. When you are reading a text, the specific words chosen by the author come under an unavoidable scrutiny. The words on the page are the only subject at hand. There are no visual images or sounds to enhance or detract from the experience of reading those words. And so writers need a variety of verbs to propel the events in question. You just can't write the word "pass" fifteen times in a single paragraph to describe a 60 yard touch down drive. It's monotonous. But there is no reason in the world you can't say the word "pass" as much as you feel the need. No ham-fisted synonyms required. If we are hearing a description of events that we are simultaneously witnessing, the value of each individual word is drastically decreased. So using the same word a million times in a row doesn't matter at all. You might as well be saying "the". It sounds right. It fits. There is no need to complicate the obvious. Again, the commentators job is the be easily ignored. And you just can't tune out a term so stupid as "He's just dinkin and dunkin his way down the field."

8. "Pick Six": One advantage that baseball has over football is the variety of cool slang terms for the events of the game. Slammies, taters, knocks, going yard. Those are just plain cool. But unofficial football terms suck. Pick six? I'm not sure why I hate this but I absolutely do. The thing is, it's a massive enough event in a football game that it deserves its own nickname. But a good one. "Interception returned for a touchdown", just doesn't roll of the old tongue. So I say we start calling them Power Pills. You know? From Pac Man? The ghosts turn blue and you get to eat them? The hunter becomes the hunted? It's perfect!

Alright, that's pretty lame. Maybe we should just choose something totally arbitrary like a Meatball Sub. "Champ Baily read the quarterback's eyes perfectly, broke on the ball and BAM! Meatball Sub." I like that one. Or maybe call it a Donkey Punch. Things were going quite well for the offense, until everything suddenly and drastically changed. Didn't see it coming.

9. "Young Man": Look, I get that these are student athletes, living in dorm rooms and taking Sociology 101. But don't describe a 6'5" 280 pound defensive end as a "young man". Even if he is 20 years old. It's inescapably patronizing. Even more so than "kid" or "fella". "Young man" assumes paternal authority on the part of the commentator. Be as complimentary as you want Lou Holtz, but that "young man" could beat you to tears while your family watched in horror. I would avoid any verbal head pats. Not because these athletes should be feared. But because it makes you sound like a condescending ass.

10. "Two Quarterback System": AAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!!!!!! (Banging head against brick wall repeatedly.) AAAAAAAAAGGGGHHHH!!!!!!! (Stabs self in eyeball with screwdriver.) NOOOOOO!!!! (Burns effigy of Robert Anae.) WWWWHHHHYYYYYYYYYY???!!! (Finally runs out of energy and cries himself to sleep.)

You know after all of this, I think the real solution for me is to watch the game on mute and play soothing ocean sounds on my iPod. Maybe some Enya. That way when the true freshman Jake Heapes throws another five yard pass into the ground, I can counter with some breathing exercises and relaxation techniques.

"I am safe in my cave. I am going deeper into my cave. And there I will find my power animal."

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I've Always Wanted to Ride In A Helicopter . . .

The inside of Pandora's Box Slot Canyon near Torry, Utah.
None of these photos are mine. I got them from this site.

There is an ancient Buddhist tale that goes something like this:

While walking through the woods a young man was suddenly attacked by a tiger. He frantically ran in fear for his life until he was confronted with a massive cliff. Trapped between a hungry tiger and a deep precipice, he began climbing down a series of vines that had grown up the side of the cliff in a desperate attempt to escape certain death. As he dangled hundreds of feet from the ground, he heard the roar of a second tiger below, patiently waiting for him to drop. At this point, the young man knew for certain that he was going to die. It was unavoidable. As he struggled to hold on to the last few moments of his existence, he saw a wild strawberry growing from the vine he was clutching. He picked the strawberry. He gently inhaled its fragrance. He popped it in his mouth and slowly savored its bursting flavor. That strawberry was the sweetest most delicious thing he had ever experienced in his life.

Now, I actually have no idea if that story is indeed ancient. Or Buddhist. Somehow attaching those descriptions gives it more credibility. I heard it on an episode of King of the Hill. That's about the extent of my knowledge of Eastern Philosophy. The point is, confronting one's own mortality on an elemental level deepens the appreciation and enjoyment of the simple and often routine joys of life. Why do I choose to relate this somewhat heavy allegory on a blog that is mired in trivial nonsense? Because last Sunday I had the ever loving crap scared out of me and I've been eating sweet strawberries ever since.

Sunday morning, my buddy Matt and I ventured into a slot canyon near Capitol Reef National Park called Pandora's Box. A fitting name for the canyon from hell. Long story short, it was too narrow for me to fit through. We were able to escape the canyon but became stranded on a mesa surrounded by cliffs with no foreseeable way to return to civilization. At 6:30 Sunday evening, with little water and only about an hour of daylight, Matt finished the rest of the canyon solo, a very dangerous thing to do (just ask Aron Ralston*). He then hiked eight miles back to a bike we had previously stashed, then road an additional 3 miles back to our car. He called Search and Rescue and at 10:30 the next morning my dumb ass was air lifted to safety. Matt's courage and heroism can not be overstated. I keep offering to kiss him on the lips but he won't let me.

Over the last two and half years I have taken up the sport of canyoneering. I have completed 27 different technical slot canyons throughout Utah and have done several of those 27 canyons multiple times. I have taken workshops in anchor construction, read several books on the subject and have consistently exercised what I consider to be good judgment and an abundance of caution in my various adventures. I know my strengths as a canyoneer and my weaknesses. My biggest strength and my biggest weakness is the same thing. My size. I'm a big dude. Being 6'5" and on the plus side of 250 can really come in handy when you are boosting people out of potholes and acting as a meat anchor. But it can really hold you back when you are navigating a tiny crack hundreds of feet into the earth. Being well aware of that limitation, I have been very selective of the canyons I choose to do. Pandora's Box has long been a destination that has both tempted and frightened me. It is a really tight canyon. But not the tightest. It'll be challenging, but I figured I should be able to squeeze my way down through it.

One of the web sites I often use for descriptions, directions, maps and GPS way points provided a warning for large frame canyoneers. It said that big fellas will have to work a lot harder to get through the canyon. Instead of being able to slither through the bottom of the slot, I would have to put my feet on one side of the canyon, my butt on another and chimney up the slot and then inch my way over the narrow obstacle. I am fine with a hard working day. That's all part of the experience. So on the Friday of Labor Day weekend, my ambition got the better of me and I suggested to my buddy Matt that we hit Pandora that coming Sunday.

We drove down to Capitol Reef (a totally underrated and neglected destination in Utah by the way), we camped near the trail head and got an early start to what was going to be the longest day of my life. We hiked up and around on top of a mesa, ascending about a thousand vertical feet. We then bush whacked over open dessert to the entrance of the Pandora Slot.
I was pretty disappointed to see a complete absence of any giant, sexy, blue lizard people riding dragons and sticking their spinal chords into dino horses. Total letdown. I was looking forward to blowing up their massive tree house and murdering their children to gain access to the precious unobtainium. I am, after all the offspring of evil, imperialist, American settlers that hate the beauty of nature, and only understands greed and violence.

Holy balls! Avatar was stupid.

Anywho, as we descended into the canyon, we reached a few rappels and a couple of tight stretches of slot. We were making good time and enjoying the glorious combination of claustrophobic trenches and endless vistas that only a good slot canyon provides. Here are a few more photos. Again, these aren't mine. I don't know who these people are. But feel free to check out this entire photo series from the previous link.

About an hour into the slot, I realized that I had foolishly brought a pair of sunglasses with me. I never do this. The canyon is too dark to need them and anything taken into a canyon will get crushed. In a moment of misguided inspiration, I decided to unscrew a Nalgene bottle full of water and put the glasses inside of it. That way, they would be crush proof and they wouldn't rattle around. I am problem solving genius! However, I didn't screw the cap on all the way and when I put the bottle back in my pack and I lost one of the three liters of water I had taken with me as it spilled out onto the sand. All in an effort to save an eight dollar pair of gas station sunglasses that I didn't care about.


This was bad. If we hadn't already committed to the canyon with a couple of rappels, I would have turned around right there. But we were in it, with no going back. There was no water anywhere in this canyon and once we exited, we still had eight miles to hike before we returned to civilization. I could do it on two liters, no problem. But his meant that I would have to budget my water. It's now something that I'll have to think about. And I prefer for basic survival not to be an issue when I'm just trying to have a good time.

As we proceeded down the canyon it got tighter and tighter. We kept expecting the end to be near, only to turn a corner and be slapped in the face with yet another squeeze. There were moments where Matt would have to kneel on the ground and I would have to walk on his back to get up and over a tight obstacle. Matt would then lie on his side in the dirt and I would pull his dead weight below that same obstacle. Team work is essential for the type of problem solving that is required to safely make your way through these places.

Upon reaching what we thought had to be the final section before the rappel out of the canyon, the walls opened up. I remember noticing two washes on either side, intersecting the slot canyon. They looked like a way to scramble up and out of the canyon, if escaped proved necessary. Looking at that dark crevice, I swore under my breath (or possibly very loudly) sucked in my belly and began yet another birthing experience. This squeeze ended with a very tight crack that opened up into what appeared to be a ten foot drop. This is an obstacle that I cannot climb up and over. I would have to squeeze my way through this tiny orifice and then prepare for a reasonably long drop into a pool of stagnant water like the rancid turd that I felt like.

That last sentence was probably more graphic than it needed to be. Sorry.

I tried going feet first. No way. Feet first, sideways. No way. Head first (I have no idea how I was expecting to land safely that way). No friggen way. At this point we were both beat. We were sick of this canyon. It had scraped the ever loving hell out of our knees, hands and backs and we were just done. That 8 mile hike out loomed over my head and I cried mercy. I suggested we backtrack to the wash that was just behind us, hike up it to the top of the mesa and navigate our way back to the car. I had been beaten by Pandora. And I didn't care. I just wanted to get the hell out of there.

The east wash looked pretty easy to scramble up. But the west wash was pretty hairy. East was more in the direction of our car, so we slowly scrambled up the rock slide and out of the canyon. I was very relieved to see flat ground on top of the wash. Thinking we were on the home stretch, we found a shady rock, relaxed, ate some food and looked at the map. We'd have to walk about a mile and half due south and then turn west for about another mile and connect back to our original trail. From there we would have about an hour and half of easy downhill walking on a well defined trail the get back to our car. We'll make it back before sundown and have time to grab a shower and eat a pizza. Not a bad day.

After about a half hour break, we decide to get going. Let's find our vector and get some distance behind us. However we were presented with a serious problem. There was a ravine directly south of us obstructing our way. We walked up and down it looking for a way through or around but we couldn't see and clear solution. More unnerving was the possibility that there were five more crevasses just like it waiting behind this one. These were intersecting slot canyons that were too skinny to appear on our map. We didn't have the water or the energy to be able to risk crossing one of these ravines, only to get more stuck. We were on an island with no clear way out.

Earlier that day, I had texted my brother that we were going to be in this canyon. I estimated that the latest we would exit would be about ten o'clock, assuming we had no serious problems. Alan was actually in Capitol Reef as well, camping with his family. So we had hope that if this turned into a long term situation, rescue should be coming but it would only be coming through the Pandora slot. If we were to separate ourselves from our only known location, any rescue team could pass us right by. So after considering our options and saying several silent prayers, Matt suggested that he record my location via GPS, solo the rest of the canyon, hike back to the bike, ride to the car and call in search and rescue. He is a triathlon running beanpole and should have very little trouble squeezing out of our trap. I got the impression that he really didn't want to do this. But after considering our options, I flat out asked him to be the hero. Matt complied.

He lightened his load, keeping only the gear needed. He gave me a long sleeved shirt he had, a flint for starting a fire and a little of his water. Considering the amount of physically demanding work he had ahead of him, it was beyond generous.

Matt left at six thirty. I figured he would be back to the car by midnight to one in the morning. So I nestled in and tried my best to kill time.

It was a moonless night in the desert. The air was cool but comfortable. I was in an isolated enough of a location that I felt safe from any nocturnal wild life. No polar bears or tigers were going to come chasing me down. So I could relax. I tied my bandanna around my face, train robber style to conserve the moisture from my breath and to prevent my inclination to spit. I hate that phloemy, sticky tongue you get when you're thirsty and instinctively try to scrape it clean and spit it out. But a gross feeling mouth was the least of my worries.

There was an abundance of sun baked, dead wood around that was just aching to be burned. But in my infinite wisdom, I had taken the flint with the assumption that I knew how to start a fire with it. Matt even asked me if I knew how to use it. “Oh, yeah. That's not a problem.” I had started a fire with one of those back in Scouts. But I forgot that I had used steel wool to catch the spark. So I found myself alone in the darkened wilderness sparking the hell out of that flint wondering exactly how Bear Grylls lights up a fire so easily on the Discovery Channel. The answer is, you shave off the magnesium on the other side of the flint and the spark catches immediately. Sparks falling on dry pine needles result in nothing.

The lack of fire certainly didn't keep me warm, but the effort in trying to start one did. I would strike the flint for about fifteen minutes at a time and take an hour break. Again, the air was just chilly enough to keep me from sleeping. A fire would have made me comfortable enough to doze off. But it wasn't necessary. Instead I did the six year old kid in a night shirt trick and tucked my knees up into my shirt, pulled in my arms and dipped my head into my cocoon and warm myself with my breath. This was a very comfortable position and I was able to get some limited sleep until my butt just got too sore from sitting on the rock.

All the while I kept trying to occupy my mind with time killing distractions. Name every team in the NFL. NBA. MLB. Okay. Too easy. What about the NHL? Now, name every state going from west to east. Now, east to west. Every country in Europe. Don't forget Lichtenstein. Name every school in the different conferences in college football. The Big East tripped me up. I had forgotten that Louisville joined them a few years ago. But that conference sucks, so who cares? Count backwards from a thousand by 7. Now do it by 13. I was pretty much Seymour Skinner trapped under a pile of newspapers. “I kept my sanity by bouncing a nearby ball. I made a game of it. Seeing how many times I could bounce the ball in a day, then trying to break that record.”. All the while I was running from the reality that I was significantly dehydrated with only a quarter of a liter of water remaining.

I was certain that I would only need to last through the night. " In fact, if Matt gets back by midnight, the rescue chopper just might show up by one or two. No. I can't hope for that. That'll make the night even longer. Besides, there's no way they're going to try and land a helicopter here at night. The sun comes up at seven o'clock. So that's my goal. Eight, nine maybe ten o'clock at the latest. They have a GPS way point of my exact location and even though I am totally isolated, I am only a few miles from the highway. So I can be thirsty for a night. No problem. The second I drink the water I have left, I'm on a countdown. I will not touch that water."

I would tell myself that at two o'clock, I'll take just a sip and not swallow it. When two came around I would convince myself that I didn't need it. So I would extend my objective to 4 o'clock, thus exercising control over my needs. Hell. I'm an unmarried 32 year old Mormon. I have a lifetime of practice at that. I may want it but I don't need it.

By the way, the human body totally sucks. There I was dying of dehydration and I had to take a massive pee. You call that evolution? Come on kidneys! How's about you do a little reverse engineering. I finally broke down and took a leak. But in an act of foreshadowed desperation, I decided to not let any kind of precious bodily fluids go to waste. You know. In case I needed them later. So I peed in an empty Nalgene bottle. The same one that spilled the water earlier that day. I wanted to punish that bottle for screwing me over, so it must now face the wrath of my frothy, warm, nearly orange pee. Take that. Of course this also meant that I chose the leaky bottle to hold my urine. I'm not sure if my act of vengeance was really that well thought out.

I took my camera out and considered making a little video explaining my circumstances. But I refused to let that thought linger. That last will and testament kind of crap is for people who are about the die. That's not me. This situation sucks but it's far from the end. Just sit and be patient.

As my mind faded between half sleep and consciousness, I would hear phantom helicopter noises. I kept having involuntary flashes of every helicopter image I had absorbed through a lifetime of watching TV and movies. I would have visions of the opening titles of MASH and Magnum PI. The Airworlf theme song would loop itself in my brain. I kept imagining the Ride of the Valkyries scene from Apocalypse Now. I would hear the beginning of the song Goodnight Saigon by Billy Joel. “We met as soul mates, on Paris Island. We left as inmates from an asylum.” I would even think of references that had nothing to do with helicopters but featured the word "chopper".

"Whose motorcycle is this?"
"It's a chopper, baby."
"Whose chopper is this?"
"Whose Zed?"
"Zed's dead, baby. Zed's dead."

My brain was like a looped episode of Family Guy. Random pop culture references that were more annoying than amusing.

Sunrise came at seven o'clock. This is oddly the coldest time of the day. The sun had been absent now for eleven hours, so the air has cooled significantly. And even though the dawn light is peering over the desert, it was simply light without heat. There was just enough of a breeze to shatter any warmth my skin would feel. I finally let myself shiver, knowing that I was probably just an hour away from being warmed back up.

"I can see the morning light. I can see the morning light! It's not because I'm an early riser, I just didn't get to sleep last night."

I can't make it through a post without a Dylan reference. I know. I'm a douche.

I found a rock on which to sun myself, where I would be nice and visible when Frank Lapidus from Lost flew to my rescue. I closed my eyes in the morning sun and fought back the nightmare that had lingered in my mind all night long. What if Matt got hurt on the way out of the canyon? What if the rope got stuck on the first rappel? What if he landed wrong and broke his leg on that drop that I couldn't squeeze through? My night has been pretty crappy but his would be agonizing. Not only would that mean that no rescue was coming for me, it meant that it was my job to rescue him.

I think I've watched too many episodes of "I Shouldn't Be Alive".

No. He's fine. He's a smart, experienced canyoneer that just ran an Iron Man triathlon last month. He was miserable hiking out. But he was totally safe. You just have to be patient.

As I was fighting these urges to panic, a crow landed next to me on the rock. I broke out into laughter. “Get the hell away from me. My life will not end like a Far Side cartoon.”

"Hey! Look at me! I'm a Cowboy. Howdy. Howdy. Howdy!"

I shewed it away. But that damn buzzard stayed in the area. You filthy sky rat. You're gonna bet against me?

Eight o'clock came and went. As did nine o'clock. There had now been two hours of daylight. I was a two minute helicopter ride from the highway and they knew my exact location. The later it got, the less likely they were coming. And if they weren't coming, then I would have to make a decision.

When ten o'clock the previous night came and went and Alan never heard from me, he must have called Search and Rescue. That team would know how dangerous this canyon was and would send a team down first thing in the morning. An experienced team that knows Pandora well could get to the point where we got stuck in about five hours. But, they would have no way of knowing that we had climbed up and out. They could go right past me with no way of reversing the canyon. So I decided that at ten o'clock in the morning, I would hike back down the wash and into the slot canyon and wait. I would still be able to see any helicopters flying by and would be found by a team going down through the canyon. If by four o'clock in the afternoon, there was no helicopter or rescue team, I would climb up the sketchy looking wash on the other side of Pandora Canyon and hope the same rocky terrain wouldn't trap me like it had the in other direction. I would have enough daylight to traverse the open desert and hopefully find the trail back to the car.

It was doable. I was tired but I wasn't weak. I was, however, significantly dehydrated. I had taken my contact lenses out of my eyes a few hours earlier because I had no tears and they felt like shards of glass. I am severely near sighted and wouldn't be able to climb down safely without at least one good eye. I cleaned the contact off with my scratchy cat tongue the best I could and stuck it in my left eye. It might as well have been a thumb tack. But I blinked and swore away the pain until my eyeball submitted.

As I stood up, I began cramping severely. Both legs and my back seized up. Realizing that I had to prepare myself for the possibility of a physically demanding day, I needed to make the best of the resources I had at hand. I looked over to my left and saw that bottle of pee staring me down.

“Just plug your nose and pound it. Worst case scenario, you spit it out. Your muscles will fail you without some kind of liquid. You have only had a liter and half of water in the last 30 plus hours (counting back to the drive down to Capital Reef) and you have spent those thirty hours sweaty your nuts off in a hot, dry desert at a reasonably high elevation. Your life and Matt's life may very well depend on you trekking through open desert for miles. Not to mention the sketchy down climb that's standing between you and the canyon floor. You can supposedly drink your pee twice before it becomes dangerous.** You have to have fluid.”

So I plugged my nose and pounded it. I drank about a half liter of pee. It had cooled off and actually didn't taste too horribly. This could be because my body was desperate for any kind of liquid that any sense of disgust was silenced. Or it could be that my pee naturally tastes like mountain spring water. Either way, I immediately felt better.

I took several branches from my unused pile of firewood and spelled out “SOS” with an arrow pointing to the wash that I was about to hike back down into. I gathered my gear and began a very slow and deliberate climb down a boulder field. The last thing in the world I needed was a turned ankle.

When I got to the bottom, I peered into the dark slot canyon. If Matt did hurt himself, there's a good chance it was on that drop that stopped me the day before. I screamed his name into the slot. Nothing. That was either really good, or really bad. And for some reason, this was the point where I felt my first sense of mortal terror. This was the first time I truly considered the possibility that I wouldn't make it out of this canyon alive.

My mind flashed back to the night my little brother died from cancer, eleven years ago. I begged God to spare my parents from having to lose another child. Especially in such a stupid, preventable manner. I thought about my nephew and nieces and how much I loved making them laugh and how complete they made me feel by simply being happy to see me. I thought about my brother Alan and his wife Kristen, and the senseless tragedy of him being the only brother left in our family. I even briefly imagined my own funeral. Just for a second. And I gotta say, in that flash of a moment I felt deeply sad but also overwhelmingly blessed. I was flooded with the realization of just how many people knew and loved me. That I was a truly wealthy man when it came to the assets of good friends and family. My life has certainly been disappointing in some aspects but at this moment of soul searching confrontation, I didn't feel regret or despair. All I could feel was the strength coming from the undeniable value of the hundreds of people that are close, integral aspects of my life. More than ever, I wanted to live.

This gave me resolve.

I was going to relax here in the sand and wait until four o'clock. " I'm okay. If no one comes by then, it's time to take control of my situation. But until then, I'm gonna get a some sleep."

My body finally relented and I fell hard into a deep, exhausted sleep. Just when I floated away, I heard another phantom chopper blade. But this time it was loud. I jumped up to see a helicopter at the top of the slot. But there's no way for them to see me. I frantically raced back up the wash trying to make a visual contact, hoping like hell they see me. I could hear it circling where I spent the night. It then buzzed the washed where I was running up the boulder field. I saw a guy hanging out the side. He gave me a thumbs up.

Matt's alive and I'm gonna be okay.

The chopper landed and two Search and Rescue guys came hiking down the hill. “You okay?”

“I'm really thirsty but other than that I'm fine.”

As I was running up that damned wash, oblivious to my cramping legs I realized that breath reeked of pee. Son of a bitch! I drank my pee a half hour before rescue came! I mean that's just comical. So I started scraping my tongue with my teeth and spitting. After all, I wouldn't want my pee breath to embarrass me in front of the Search and Rescue guys. By the way, I just realized that a potential nick name for me after all this may become Pee Breath. I'm shutting that down right now. That is not an option, people. Is that clear?

They met me half way with a bottle of water and I sucked that thing down. I was quite embarrassed that I put myself in the spot to need rescue but at this moment I was way too grateful to care. I climbed into the helicopter and we lifted off. I had never flown in a helicopter before and let me tell you, it was awesome. We flew really low over the slot canyon that had tried to kill me and over the terrain Matt and I considered crossing the day before. We were right to stay where were. We wouldn't have made it far. In fact, other than entering the canyon in the first place, I'm confident that every decision we made was the best one given the information we had at the time.

I was also incredibly impressed with how cool the Search and Rescue guys were. They were legitimately thrilled to see that I was okay. There wasn't any “What the hell are you thinking?” kind of attitude. I was a little nervous that they'd stick an IV in my arm and admit me to the hospital in some sort of insurance ass covering effort. But when I got back to the road, they just loaded me with bottled water, asked me to write up a brief statement and sent me on my way. They couldn't have been more professional and friendly.

So here's what happened. Matt had gotten back to the car at about 1:30. He immediately called 911 and got into contact with Search and Rescue. The problem however was that the rescue helicopter they typically use had already been sent to Zion in another rescue effort. What can I say? Labor Day weekend. It's a busy time for theses guys. So they called all over the state all night trying to find another rescue chopper. They finally found one but it was in Salt Lake and it had to be flown down over night. This was the reason for the delay in the morning.

Matt had also left several voice mails with my brother Alan, updating him on the rescue status. It turns out that Alan was camping with his family out of cell coverage. He never got my text telling him that we're going into Pandora and should be out by 10:00. When we met up with Alan later that morning, he had no idea anything had happened. In addition, the text I sent didn't specify anything about sending for help if he hadn't heard from us. I don't know, maybe I figured that acknowledging the possibility of disaster right before we started would be bad luck. Either way, I was a moron.

Al, his wife and his kids were visiting an old pioneer school house in the National Park when we met back up. His three year old daughter Annie was sitting at a Little House On The Prairie style school desk doodling on a chalk slate when I walked into the room. Surprised to see me, she came running over. I couldn't hold back the impulse to pick her up and squeeze and kiss her with every ounce of love I possessed. Don't worry. I had washed the pee smell out of my mouth by then. (I hope.) I put her down and began describing the previous night's events to Al. Annie pinched my knees to get my attention. When I looked down at her she said in her chirpy three year old voice, “Bwian, I'm going to run and you try to catch me, okay?”

It was one of the happiest moments of my life. I was overwhelmed with a intense gratitude for life that I have never felt before. Less than an hour before I was contemplating my own funeral and now here I was being invited to play with the happiest little girl on earth.

Strawberries never tasted so sweet.

*This scene was filmed in Leprechaun Canyon. It's just south of Hanksville. How do I know this? Because a few friends and I tried to do this canyon last spring when they were filming this movie. They shut us out, so we had to wait a day. Why do I tell you this? Because there is no crystal clear pool of spring water below Leprechaun. Any water there would be putrid, stagnant poo water that smells worse than death. It kind of bugs me that Danny Boyle felt the need to exaggerate the beauty of this place. Why not add some CGI palm trees and Jar Jar Binks while you're at it? It's called gilding the Lilly, dick. Don't do it. It's perfect the way it is.

** I'm pretty sure most people have heard this but I must admit, I have no idea if it is true. Come to think of it, pee could be worse than sea water and dehydrate you quicker than no liquid at all. But I do know I felt much better after downing it. Either it really did help or I had one nasty placebo working for me

Friday, August 20, 2010

I Don't Care If It Is A Chick Flick Starring Drew Barimore . . .

. . . I'm still looking forward to this movie.

Why would I admit anticipating this movie? Do I love the Mac PC commercials so much that Justin Long has become a box office draw for me? No. In fact it looks like they finally retired those damn things. But I do genuinely like Long even if Die Hard 7 was beyond lame.

Is it because I finally overdosed on rehashing Action Movies from the 80's and need a nice long chunk of estrogen to compensate for my brain turning to an explosion/car chase/one liner induced mush? Perhaps. As per my previous post, I can say I have officially scratched that itch for another decade.

Is it because I hold a secret fondness for dopey, "it all worked out in the end" kind of Romantic Comedies springing from my Mo Syzlak level of desperate loneliness? No. Seriously, the answer to that is no. But just because I don't get a lady boner for "Eat, Pray, Love" doesn't mean I have any sort of predetermined animosity toward a well told story that revolves around the romantic relationship between two people that may or may not include effective comic relief. (I really hate the term Romantic Comedy, so I go out of my way not to say it.) I would never accuse it of being a great movie but I dare you to watch "When Harry Met Sally" and not feel good. Go ahead. Try it. You can't do it. And admitting that doesn't make you an easily manipulated, emotionally needy, McConaughey jock sniffing sap. It just means that you were entertained by a perfectly fine movie. Good for you.

Do I anticipate this movie because of a previously stated declaration that Kelly Bundy should be required to appear in every single movie produced? Yes. But that's not the main cause for my anticipation. But it's along the same line.

The real reason that I, a culturally sophisticated, adult, heterosexual man am looking forward to the release of "Going the Distance" is a very simple two word answer. Charlie Kelly. Or Charlie Day, depending upon which reality you choose to live in. (To be clear, Charlie Kelly is the character, Charlie Day is the actor.)


"Yeeeaahhh, but I am who I am."

Charlie Kelly of "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" is the funniest, most entertaining character currently on television. Better than Jack Donaghy, Dwight, Homer*, Murry, Funkhauser, Stewie, Abed, Kenneth and the fat, gay guy on Modern Family. Charlie wins. And it's not even close.

(You may have to register with Hulu to be able to view some of these clips. But seriously, do it. This is very good way to kill an hour at work. And since these links will probably be dead in a weak, take advantage.)

When you consider the waitress stalking, the long johns, the glue sniffing, sharing a fold out sofa with Frank, his apartment, the eating of the cat food, his various costumes, Day Man, Night Man, The Night Man Cometh, his illiteracy, his alcoholism, his dental hygiene, Kitten Mittens, Pepe Silvia, gun fever, his Ali Baba sword, the McPoyle feud, Green Man, his religious enlightenment, his effortless charm, his eagerness to please, dancing to Alphaville, the duster, his fits of rage, the fact that he's never eaten a pear, his love of Peter Ninkumpoop and Garbage Pale Kids, then the crown goes to Charlie. Especially when you take into account that "Sunny" has significantly dipped in quality over the last two years or so and yet Charlie remains on top of his game. You might have to endure a slightly obnoxious Dee/Mac/Frank storyline but Charlie always comes through with the goods.

So any movie that has even a single minute of Charlie in it deserves my most eager of anticipations. In fact, I say we mobilize. Let's make this the cause of our generation. Get Charlie in more movies! Let's circulate petitions, force legislation, storm the offices of CNN and Fox News demanding that our voices be heard! We want more Charlie! We want more Charlie! Go ahead. Chant along.

Chanting is fun.

*To clear, Homer Simpson is without question the funniest TV character of all time. But I am comparing the last five years of Charlie to the last five years of Homer. And even though This Simpsons have been very strong over the last few seasons, Charlie has the edge.

Friday, July 2, 2010

If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It

What says "Happy 4th of July Weekend" better than Carl Weathers and Arnold fighting an invisible alien in the Costa Rican jungle? If Predator doesn't get your patriotism pumping then we just don't have any kind of common ground. You should probably just go back to watching the World Cup.

I am a man who enjoys his movies. This is because although I enjoy being creatively stimulated by thoughtful and talented expressions of the human condition, I am also far too lazy/dumb to read a book. Movies provide me with a form of intellectual challenge while requiring little to no effort on my part. And that is a smoking deal. In fact, I need to join the movie version of a book club. Everyone agrees to watch a particular film and then we all get together and eat cupcakes and talk about its themes, symbolism and all that crap.

It's about time someone really sat down and deconstructed Wicker Man.

Sarcasm aside, I really do like a movie that succeeds in its aspirations of depth and substance. Note how I said "succeeds". Movies that shoot for the moon and suck are pretty damned intolerable. Of course, you can go too far with this sort of ambition. Recently, my Netflix queue accidentally became entirely too heavy and depressing. Months ago I would get the idea to add a particular film or director to the queue and forget all about it. I then received six straight weeks of David Lynch, Jim Jarmusch and documentaries about the Holocaust that I barely remember ordering.

I'm all for intellectual stimulation but sometimes you gotta lighten it the hell up.

To remedy this, I decided about a month ago to relive a certain type of movie from my childhood. The 1980's R rated Action Flick. Hell yeah! Needless violence, snappy one liners, brain dead plots and the occasional boob. That'll cleanse the palate. The 80's were a golden age of action movies. We were far enough away from Vietnam that violence seemed fun again but still close enough to it that we can have every hero be a former Green Beret thus giving him nearly omnipotent killing ability. This also provides a heavy handed sub plot as we watch our hero battle his personal demons and often an old war buddy turned drug dealing traitor. The Cold War was still in existence, so there was a big, bad villain just waiting for us to fight. Action movies only really work when we want to see the bad guy die. Depth of character in a villain leads to sympathy. And that shit doesn't do anyone any good. Commie Ruskies make for excellent nameless villains that we can kill without the least bit hesitation. The drug trade was in high gear, so coke dealers also were in the mix. And hell, when that's played out, let's just pit our hero against a dread locked alien with a human skull fetish.

Man, I really want to shoot some faceless, drug dealing, Commie predators right about now. With that rotary gun that Jesse Ventura uses in Predator.

So in my effort to appreciate these classics with fresh eyes, I loaded my queue with every piece of cherished contraband from my childhood. I had a few requirements. I had to have personally seen the original R rated version at some time in my youth. It was also required that I had not rewatched the R rated version since then. TV edited versions don't apply. No "You slug in a ditch!" or "Yippee Ki-Yay Mr Falcon" kind of crap. Nothing but the real deal. So such a classic as the first Terminator didn't apply since I never actually saw it. This little project only applies to movies with which I have a long standing but neglected friendship.

R rated movies weren't an easy thing for a kid like me to see twenty years ago. I grew up in a practicing Mormon house with two very involved parents. Now don't misread that by imagining some weirdo, orthodox, horse and buggy farm house with lots of belt woopins in the name of the Lord. No, I had a remarkably normal childhood. But the rules in my house were never in question. When challenged, my folks liked to appeal to the collective authority. Which is to say, when asked why we don't swear, the answer was simply, " We don't say those words in this house." And that was it. No need to apply further logic. We don't do it because we don't do it. (Of course the "we" didn't always seem to apply to the parents in this scenario, but whatever.) And when it came to F word dropping, terrorist shooting, explosion escaping, hot chick scoring action movies, well we just don't watch those movies in this house.

So I took my game on the road. This meant that in addition to implicit thrill every ten year old experiences when he watches John McClain take on Hans Gruber, I had the added bonus of mild rebellion thrown into the mix. It was a different time and I was different person when I first watched theses movies. Back then the word "shit" stung my little ears. This was before my tender sensibilities were calloused by Quentin Tarantino and HBO original programming. Back when I flinched when RoboCop shot the one rapist guy in the crotch. It was definitely memorable.

And that's what was so surprising to me. When I watched these movies over the last month, I was shocked just how vivid those memories were. Memories of both specific scenes in the movie and memories of where I was when I first saw it. Whether it was in my cousin's basement (the Day house was a regular venue), or at a sleepover at Steve Earl's house or at Luke Geddes's birthday party, I was transferred back in time two decades to when I first experienced the magic of classic Schwarzenegger. Watching Total Recall is like stepping into a time machine set for 1990.

So here's a quick list of badass action movies that I had neglected for too long but have rewatched over the last month or so. But like any good friend, it was easy to become reacquainted even after twenty years apart. Surprisingly, a few of these movies hold up pretty well. Not so surprisingly, many of them suck beyond belief.


"Dillon! You son of a bitch!"

Hell yeah! This baby has it all. Snappy one liners delivered by Pro Wrestlers? Check. Implied homo-eroticism? Check. Mystical Indian soldier in touch with the jungle? Check.* Skinless corpses? Check. Invisible alien that somehow bleeds glow in the dark green blood? Check. Black guy constantly shaving his cheek and doing lots of eye ball acting? Check. Carl Weathers? Check. Carl Weathers getting his arm shot off? Double check.

Baby, we got a stew going!

Yeah. This is the complete package. It's Apocalypse Now without all that artistic ambition, nuanced storyline and you know . . . quality. And like Apocalypse Now, it's a really good looking movie. It's no where near as seductively evil as AN but Predator has aged pretty well.

Although, here's a question that I think we all asked ourselves when we first saw this little beauty. Why exactly does the mud make Dutch invisible to the Predator? I get that the Predator sees in infer red / thermo whatever and that the mud is probably slightly cooler than Dutch's body temperature. But wouldn't the mud warm right up after it dries and starts flaking off?

But you know, I'm nit picking here. You can't blame a brainless movie for being brainless. Predator strikes the difficult balance of being just good enough and just dumb enough to transcend any plot holes. If you complain about a plot hole in Predator, it just illustrates that you have spent too much time thinking about a movie that does not deserve that much thought. The movie doesn't look stupid. You do. So disregard my question.

"Please put down your weapon. You have 20 seconds to comply."

This movie messed me up when I was a kid. I saw it at my cousin's house when I was probably 9 or 10 years old and the violence and gore screwed with my head. I had nightmares of the guy falling into the toxic waste. Remember how his fingers melted and how he turned to gooey liquid when he got hit by the car? Or when Murphy got shot to hell in the beginning and his arm fell off? I'm talking nightmares.** In fact a year or so later, I was at a sleepover at Gavin VanWagner's house and everyone wanted to watch Robo Cop. I had to smoothly bypass that movie without admitting that I was scared of it.

"Let's just watch Red Dawn instead. RoboCop is boring.", he said thinly hiding his cowering fear.

Well twenty some years later and guess what I learned upon my review? RoboCop sucks donkey balls. It is a historically awful, stupidly funny movie. That toxic waste mutant that haunted me for years? The corniest pile of rubber you can imagine. This movie wasn't threatening or disturbing. It was just bad.

Guess what else I learned. The main bad guy is the dad from That 70's Show. It was kinda weird to see Red Foreman shoot that one guy in the knees. The guy who just snorted coke off the hooker's chest as he watched the video of Dick Jones explained the evil plot just before the house exploded from the grenade whose pin Red Forman pulled with his tongue. Man, what a tool. I'm glad Red got stabbed in the neck.

Die Hard
"And the quarterback iiiiis toast!"

Shit, yeah! The definitive action flick. It's perfect. You like the villain almost as much as the hero. Good old Hans. Such a lovable bastard. It's a movie that manages to make all the cliches that seem so lazy and hackneyed in other movies feel like home. You don't roll your eyes when the coked out yuppy tries to betray everyone. Instead you exhale in satisfaction when Hans kills him. We all saw it coming but it still felt right.

My favorite part of Die Hard is the authoritative assholes who are inexplicably working against McClain for no other reason than to add tension. I'm talking about the lady at the radio dispatch ("Do I sound like I'm ordering a pizza?") the dirtbag news reporter ("Listen Dick. That is your name? Dick?") and Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson ("He could be a f*cking bartender for all we know."). They have no reason to not believe McClain. They have no reason to resist his information or advice as how to best proceed. But they are dicks just for the sake of being dicks. Arbitrary secondary villains are a staple of many movies. They make us hate them early on and then in the closing scenes they get their comeuppance. Usually by getting punched in the face/kicked in the balls by the female lead. The interesting thing I noticed this time around watching Die Hard though is that the two main arbitrary secondary villains are played by people who have made a career out of playing that character. The police chief is the same guy that plays the dickish teacher in the Breakfast Club. And the weasel reporter was the EPA guy in Ghostbusters. "It is true. This man, has no dick." Like I said. The cliches feel like home. This really is a satisfying movie. I can't believe I hadn't watched the unedited version since 8th grade.

Rambo: First Blood
"He was just another drifter who broke the law! "

Speaking of villains who have no reason to be the assholes that they are, let's talk about Brian Dennehy and his gang of evil cops from Jerkwater, USA. I am all for the stereotype that small town cops are authoritative assholes that get off by jamming up regular tax paying shmoes. Anyone who has been pulled over while driving through Price, Utah can relate. But really? "That guy has long hair! Better keep him out of our little town. He came back? Throw him in the clink and spray him down with a fire hose! Now he's in the woods and surrendering to our helicopter? Shoot him! Kill him dead! Because we're just stupid small town cops and we like to beat and murder people with long hair." Take that, War Veteran! You filthy drifter.

Why is a badass like Rambo afraid of rats? Remember when he dives into the cave with the torch and rats start falling on him? He freaked out. You're a POW, dude. There weren't rats in the Hanoi Hilton? Indiana Jones wasn't afraid of rats. Indy stormed right through the masses of rodents in the catacombs below Venice to the tomb of Sir Richard.***

Rambo was a pussy.

Now with the criticism out of the way, it is worth pointing out that Rambo is a pretty intelligent commentary on the United States' involvement in Vietnam. You know. Intelligent for an 80's action flick. It's a sliding scale. But consider the storyline. An arrogant and superior force engages a skilled and determined adversary that is fighting for its survival in a location that marginalizes any technological and logistical advantage. Once committed to the conflict, the police gain little if they succeed but still can't risk failure by stopping short of victory. Eh? Think about it.

Lethal Weapon
"You really like my wife's cooking? "

I just have one observation to share about this movie. Do you remember the hot topless chick that commits suicide at the beginning? Do you know who that is? The actress is named Jackie Swanson. Why is this relevant? Jackie Swanson is best known for playing one Kelly Gaines. Who is Kelly Gaines you ask? This is Kelly Gaines.

Woody Boyd's hot girlfriend is topless in the first Lethal Weapon. Thank you IMDB. Now would be a good time to adjust your Netflix queue accordingly. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Your welcome.

Total Recall
"Twooo Weeeeeks."

Before last month, I had seen Total Recall just once in my entire life. And that was in Steve Earl's basement in probably 1991. When I rewatched it, I was astounded at the details I remembered. There is a part of my brain whose soul purpose is to exactly remember the X Ray scanner that Quaid smashes through. And the secretary digitally changing her nail polish. And "Get your ass to Mars." And Arnold's googly eyes when his helmet gets smashed. And the midget hooker firing the machine gun. And the bad guy getting his arms chopped off on the elevator. And the aborted fetus talking out of that one guy's chest. I saw tons of movies in Steve Earl's basement and somehow it was Total Recall that just stuck in my brain. Which is weird because I don't remember liking it all that much. And for good reason.

This is a crappy movie.

Total Recall is a perfect example of a movie that should be remade. I've never understood the impulse to remake and ultimately destroy a movie that was already undeniably great. Are you listening, Tim Burton? Especially when there are so many mediocre to crappy movies that could have been good if they were treated right. Why waste your time stinking up The Pink Panther or The Day The Earth Stood Still when so many movies failed to prosper due to lazy film makers.

Total Recall was based a short story by Phillip K Dick. He is the legendary Sci Fi author who wrote the original stories behind Blade Runner, Minority Report and A Scanner Darkly. Three brilliant movies by three brilliant directors. But Total Recall got the Paul Verhoevan slop job. He's the genius behind such crap as the previously mentioned RoboCop as well as Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers and Showgirls. Subtly and human realism really aren't his strong suits. Imagine Total Recall in the hands of Christopher Nolan or JJ Abrams or Jon Favreau. This story is a layered, compelling mind f*ck that deserved better than sassy black character #3 and three titted hooker jokes. By the way, that just looked gross. One might think that three is always better than two. Well, not in this case. It reminded me of my Beagle after she had puppies.

So this 4th of July weekend, give yourself a well deserved break. Become reacquainted with your old friend, the 80's Action Flick. Or save yourself a little time and just watch the paintball episode of Community. You'll be a happier person for it.

* I love how no explanation is given as to why the Indian guy cuts himself right there other than, "He's an Indian.". Apparently white people are happy to accept the assumption that Native Americans will randomly cut themselves if the jungle tells them to do so.

**Little kids can get freaked out by random things. I watched Return of the Jedi with my 5 year old nephew a few months ago and the poor kid had Yoda nightmares for days. Not Rancor nightmares, or Darth Vader nightmares. Yoda. He's barely in that movie. But somehow that was the image that stuck with him.

***Yes, Indy had a fear of snakes. But snakes are undeniably scary. Rats are gross, but not really scary. I'll say it again. Rambo was a pussy.