Sunday, December 21, 2008

This Week in Mormons in the Media

I'm a little late on this, as the issue of Rolling Stone I'm referencing is now off newsstands, but I wanted to mention it anyway.

It would be very easy (and tiring) to comment on the many stories around the church and California's Prop 8 that have flooded the media over the last six weeks, but I have chosen not to dwell on it. The main reason being, I am totally and completely opposed to defining marriage as ONLY between a man and a woman and feel terrible that I'm associated with the group that served as one of the major catalysts for getting the prop passed. It's been overwhelming to try and get my thoughts in order on the subject. Rather than rant every time I read something that infuriates me, I just choose to leave it alone.

One thing I am relieved about is that the prop passed democratically, as it should have been. There aren't enough Mormons in California to affect the vote that much, so the fact that it was the majority of resident's feelings that it should not be allowed is their business. So, all of the protests against the church and its involvement are really unfair. They only do it because they know we don't fight back. Protesters just need to realize that it was democracy in action and let it be. Besides, it's only a matter of time before it's overturned and deemed common practice across the country.

Now, when I saw that Rolling Stone was going to chime in on the Mormon's involvement I cringed and squirmed in anticipation for what I might read. I was only too relieved when I read a very thoughtful article on how it wasn't the Mormon's or the Black's or any other Christian group's fault. It was the fault of the Gay and Lesbian groups that ran, what I realize now, to be an utterly disorganized campaign. It was them that did themselves in by a lack of leadership and focus and by not playing offense early enough in the process. Hearing this from RS of all things, came as a big relief. I hope people will read the article, which can be found right here, if they're interested in the subject.

Hopefully, the next time this issue comes up, voters grant equal rights for all despite race, creed, or sexual preference. While Mormons and Blacks may not be completely to blame, I do find it sad that two minority groups (I consider Mormons in that group, as they are prejudiced against in a similar fashion) who fought so hard to be treated as equal members of American society, would fight so hard to keep those same civil rights away from others. I love the church, but I am deeply ashamed of them in this instance.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Live in Concert: The Black Crowes 12/13/08

Back in the Fall of 1991, the Black Crowes came to the local venue by our house in Cambridge, England and I didn’t go because no one would go with me. I wasn’t as evolved as I am now, and wasn’t open to doing such things by myself. Now, I prefer it that way. I’ve lived with the regret ever since. I’m less a fan now than I was then and the band keeps breaking up, so it has felt several times that I missed my best window to get it right.

My other fear, and it’s one that came to fruition Saturday night, is that the band is prone to long jams that go on and on and make standing for 3 hours especially painful. I just don’t have the back for that anymore. Still, I’m very glad I went and get to cross them off my list. I’ll probably just never go again.

The show started perfectly. The first 90 mins or so went by fluidly. Songs had actual stops and starts and verses and hooks. Those sound like the basics, but when you have a band that likes to jam, many of those key elements get pushed aside in favor of indulgent noodling and psychedelia. Chris Robinson has one of the greatest voices in rock. He still looks like the heroin-addicted scarecrow he probably is, but the lungs have only improved with age. And, he has a natural stage presence that is a commendable counterstrike to the rest of the bands statuesque poses. I could have used a bit more emotion. Drop to your knees with the mic stand, James Brown style, or raise your arms to the Gods of high notes. There was no such posturing. But, his bopping and clapping was still fairly infectious.

They only played one hit, “Remedy” which I was afraid might happen. I know the hits and I know the new album a little bit, so I was lost most of the night. However, instead of anxiously awaiting a song I knew, I just went along for the ride and took what they gave. The highlight was when they brought out opening act Vetiver (never heard of ‘em, so didn’t see them) for a couple of songs. The first was “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” by the Byrds, a song I love and was elated to hear. Both bands made for about 12-15 people on the stage and it became an acoustic hootenanny, like one of those barnburner jams you see on one of those all-star concerts where different performers trade off taking a verse or solo. I was pretty proud of myself for knowing, what I assumed was, an obscure song so I made sure people could see my singing along by pulling my patented move of needlessly looking on either side of me, as if I’m waiting for someone. In my mind, I’m hoping people are not only impressed that I know the words to this weird little song, but also assuming I must be important since I’m obviously looking around with a purpose. After the Byrds ditty, they did “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”, the perfect choice.

Unfortunately, after this high point, the show turned into the jam I was trying to avoid. Three songs filled up the next 45 minutes or so and I don’t think any of them even had lyrics, depriving us of Chris’s voice which is their best asset. That part got long, but not really boring, luckily.

By the end, I was mostly satisfied. It hit me that the Robinson boys are no posers. They have a deep appreciation for roots and classic rock and aren’t wading in the shallow end of the pool. They’re in it legitimately and the love and respect run deep and naturally. God bless ‘em for it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Downtown Owl

I just read a book I really didn’t like, by a writer I’m normally very devoted to.

If you don’t know who Chuck Klosterman is, he’s a sort of pop culture critic and writer that I often enjoy. It’s similar to the affection that I have for Rob Sheffield, although I like Rob better. Chuck has published four other books, two of which I own. One of them is Fargo Rock City, which is his critical analysis of and argument for the artistic validity of 80s hair metal. Upon reading the book, I too became a fan of the genre, which I never was before, proudly, and have loaned the book out to many. He’s seen as a sort of expert on metal and has helped me see the light.

Well, that light just went out after reading Downtown Owl, his first work of fiction. Let’s just say, fiction isn’t his strong suit. It’s basically, the story of a handful of locals in Owl, ND and the flow and routines of their lives. It all ends abruptly in a cataclysmic flurry, which is the only way it could have because prior to that it was going nowhere.

My problem with the book is that everyone spoke in the same voice, which is Chuck’s critic voice. There was no sense of character because almost no one had distinct mannerisms or colloquialisms. A lot of the book takes place in bars with people spouting and philosophizing, but they all talk about the stuff Chuck wants them to talk about like music, football, cars, movies and North Dakota, where he’s from. My other problem was that the book takes place in 1983-84, yet no one spoke like that. There was no sense of time or place, except in some of the topics that were being discussed. Surprisingly, he thanks Rob in the book for helping him write it. I wonder if Rob was just too nice to tell him what was up.

If it sounds boring, good, because it was. Sorry, Chuck, but you don’t get a pass this time.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I'd Like a Side of Bacon

Has a more likable actor made more inconsequential movies than Kevin Bacon? Always a welcome presence in any film, he’s managed to have a career by being both noticeable and invisible at the same time. Does anyone not like Kev? Of course not. Does anyone care if he has a movie coming out? Of course not.

The first and last time crowds lined up for a Bacon flick was Footloose, 25 years ago. He’s smart enough to catch onto this because he rarely headlines big studio films anymore, the last one being last year’s bizarrely terrible Death Sentence and before that was way back in 2001 with Hollow Man. Anything he leads doesn’t really make money, so it seems he’s content to be a supporter, which is a role he’s suited for.

He doesn’t realize this, but he’s not a great actor. He’s good, and he has, not charisma, but a natural affability that is never off-putting. It’s only when he tries to act that he shoots himself in the foot, which is probably why he hasn’t taken a demanding role in nearly 20 years. He lacks range, which is the hallmark of any great actor. But, he is serviceable in drama or comedy, as long as neither is too broad, which is probably why he gets cast in important films like JFK, A Few Good Men, Apollo 13, and Mystic River, but none of those are good because of him (although he ALWAYS saves a film from totally sucking), nor were they hits thanks to his chutzpah. That isn’t a bad career actually, reap the benefits, but never be blamed when something fails.

Have you ever been in a social situation where you didn’t know anyone, except for maybe one person and you only sort of know them, but you cling to them and chat away because they’re a safe beacon compared to standing alone? Think a work happy hour, or your in-law’s family reunion, or when you had to break into teams in a class you didn’t have any friends in. He’s that guy. He’s the good guy that’s a safe bet. He’s the guy that, if you were forced to carpool with him, it wouldn’t be too bad and you could probably share a couple good laughs. He’s the theatrical equivalent of a Chris Isaak. Some hits early on, now he just goes about doing his thing without bothering anybody. It's almost always good. Nobody minds, some are pleased to hear from him again, but it isn’t causing ripples anywhere.

He just turned 50, so he isn’t growing old tragically like John Cusack, or a past his prime blowhard like Kevin Costner, or over-exposed like Samuel L. Jackson. He just is and nobody minds or notices.

I wish him the best, I really do. He could have small roles in every movie for all I care. He has no shtick that gets old or anything. The poor guy is just going to have a career like a blue collar factory worker. Punch the clock day after day. Do your best. Don’t bother anyone and no one bothers you. Live a good life, but maybe only make a lasting impression on those that know you best, even if people in general are grateful for the service you render.

Incidentally, he has an even less notable music career fronting the Bacon Brothers. In fact, they were on Craig Ferguson the other night and weren't half bad. But, much like his movies, I wish him well, but I'm not buying the album. The rub is, I hate myself for feeling that way. He was in Footloose for crying out loud! I'll say it again, who doesn't like Kev?!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Lost Gem of the 80s #14: Glen Burtnick - "Talking In Code" (1986)

I’m going to coin a new musical genre right here: "Stallone Music". These are songs or sounds often heard during action sequences or training montages featured prominently during Sly’s 80s heyday of films such as Rocky 2,3, and 4, Cobra, Over the Top, Tango and Cash and the Rambo movies. The obvious pioneer of this genre is Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”, we all know that one. But, it’s augmented by the likes of Kenny Loggins, Sammy Hagar, Asia, Eddie Money and the unforgettable John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. Many other performers can be lumped into this group based on sharing similar DNA. Glen Burtnick is one of those guys.

Despite being a top-notch 80s songwriter, Glen was doomed from the start by being cursed with the surname Burtnick. Chicks don’t put posters of a guy named Burtnick on their wall (although they forgave Ralph Macchio, so maybe I’m wrong). Guys don’t grow up wanting to rock like Burtnick. Women don’t want to sleep with Burtnick, and Rocky is not going to spar with Apollo to a Burtnick. So, this minimizes your possibilities greatly.

Secondly, as I mentioned, he was a good songwriter for the 80s. His stuff could only truly come to life under the façade of era-specific production. In other words, Glen performing his hits acoustically in a coffee shop is not where you want to experience him (even though I’m sure he’s out there looking for that exact gig as you read this).

And, lastly, he had the kind of high registered, nasally voice and slim frame of a kid who was picked on in school, grew a mullet upon graduation, had a knack for snappy pop songs, and morphed into a rock star while those who knew him, knew the truth.

Now, why should you listen to him? Because he’s fun. Because he had the goods, even if it was never fully acknowledged. His songs are catchy and, while never used, tailor-made for 80s cinema. Stallone film soundtracks had to straddle a very fine line between machismo and sensitivity. If you were too macho (Van Halen) or wussy (Journey) you weren’t invited to the party. The template was simple: crunchy guitars to please the boys and some sweeping synths for the ladies. This was the world inhabited by Foreigner, Loverboy, and Jeff Healy. This is a world we all secretly love. This is a world we think about when we’regrinding it out on the treadmill. This is a world we miss.

Sadly, Glen never really had a hit. There might be a song here or there that sounds vaguely familiar, but that’s it. His albums are all out of print and hard to find, and his live shows have been relegated to local bars and maybe a county fair if he’s lucky. And, to make matters worse, I can’t find a youtube clip of the best song on Talking In Code, “Crank It Up” (again, only in the 80s did that phrase even sound menacing). There isn’t much out there (“Little Red House” has a video posted, but isn’t the best example of what I’m talking about). The best clip to satiate your curiosity (I know you’re dying), would be for his modest hit “Follow You” off the album that came after Code, Heroes & Zeroes.

So, next time you decide to rip the sleeves off your t-shirt, grow your hair long, test drive a Trans Am, or throw on an acid washed denim jacket, let Glen be your soundtrack. He’s good enough and, Lord knows, he could probably use the work.

The Nugget - "Crank It Up" The link has snippets of all the tracks, so you'll get the idea. This is what should have been playing when Sly was looking for the strength to work that crazy move on the other arm wrestlers in Over The Top.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

This Week in Mormons in the Media

Why does this always happen? Yet again, a movie theater chain in Utah has decided they know better than the rest of us and chosen not to show the new Kevin Smith film, Zack and Miri Make a Porno. They've saved Utahns the trouble of making such moral judgements on their own and went ahead and made it for you. Thank goodness Utahn's have the morality police to help keep them on the straight and narrow.

Now, honestly, I get where they're coming from, even if I disagree with their methods. My question is, why announce it? Not every cineplex features every film out there. So, maybe this particular chain just doesn't carry it and doesn't make such a stink about it. Why do you have to alert the world of your supposed moral superiority? These decisions never go over well (like when Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller decided Brokeback Mountain was too gay to be shown in his theaters) and only serve to draw more negative attention to Utah and it's perceived uptight attitudes.

Yes, the film isn't for everyone and it may not even be artistically or culturally relevant. But, it isn't an actual porno and is only R rated. Just let some other chain show it and shut up about it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Book Wrap Up (Steroid Edition)

Mention the word “steroids” to me 6 months ago and the first word that comes to mind is “cheater”. As sure as I am that it permeates all professional sports, I have such a love and respect for the game of baseball that that is where most of my frustration lies. We’ve gotten to the point in our culture where if anyone does anything special athletically we assume they’ve been juicing and, sadly, most of the time they have. Professional sports today are as close in reality to what we know pro wrestling to be then ever before. It is my fear that if the veil was truly drawn to show the masses what the inner workings look like, we’d be disgusted to find out how gullible we are and that we’ve been taken for a ride for a very long time.

Jose Canseco states, unapologetically, that the line between sports and entertainment is so fuzzy that performance enhancing drugs are absolutely necessary in order for an athlete to reach their true potential and for a fan to get the most bang for their buck. Critics have lashed out against Jose calling him an opportunist and a fame whore by writing the book that “named names” and gave credence to the bubbling steroid suspicion. According to him, and this was written in 2003 before we knew what we know now, most of the league, including all of the people who’ve been accused (McGwire, Sosa, Giambi, Palmeiro) are unequivocally juiced, most of them by Jose himself. What is painfully obvious while reading the book is the assurance that Canseco is telling the truth, something many critics just don’t want to believe. He’s so candid how could he not be? So, either he’s telling the truth and this book is a must read, or he’s lying and it’s total trash. I agree with the former.

One reason why few believe him or like him is because of some of the problems he’s had in the past around domestic abuse and self promotion. Both are addressed very honestly and you come away feeling like the guy got a raw deal. You position yourself as a larger than life personality, which he was in spite of his inherent shyness, then you invite others to knock you down. His claim, and this one I’m not sure I agree with, is that baseball largely shut him out because he was Cuban and they’d rather promote an American, homegrown hero. I’m not aware of a lot of Cuban prejudice in this country, let alone baseball, so I’m not totally buying that. He does make strong arguments that guys like Cal Ripken and Alex Rodriguez are just as slimy as all the rest, but they play the media better so they make them icons, which is a role they’re happy to take on.

He also touches on his well publicized relationship with Madonna (not as juicy as you’d hope, but does paint a picture of her that you know had to come from first hand experience), the (now) shocking declaration that the one player who he never saw cheat on his wife was Roger Clemens (which we now know to be completely untrue), the owners (including George W. Bush), managers, and commissioners complicity with what was going on, and, what he feels is his subsequent blackballing from baseball (which appears to be true since Barry Bonds is also currently unemployed). The one thing he doesn’t say is whether he’s still on roids today. This was not answered until I watched the A&E special on him this week “Jose Canseco: Last Shot” which shows the aftermath of his career and his book, which is pretty desperate. On the verge of bankruptcy and with his house foreclosed, Jose is seen working with doctors to get off the juice and regretting that he ever wrote the book that blew the lid off this problem. So, what he praised in the book has now come back to bite him. It’s a sad tale of a man who traded in the rest of his life for 10 or so years of wealth and fame. But, how many of us might have done the same thing?

“Game Of Shadows” by SF Chronicle sports writers Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams is a much different read. Where “Juiced” was obviously the writing of an athlete, GoS is academic in it’s reporting of BALCO and the athletes linked to the place. Barry Bonds (who has to be one of the least likable people ever to walk the earth and that’s putting it kindly) isn’t the only one, though he’s the most focused on. Marion Jones comes away blemished for life, as are a handful of other Olympic athletes. What the book reports, and it’s confirmed by the immortal words of BALCO founder Victor Conte, “it isn’t cheating if everyone is doing it”. Pretty much the entire book can be summarized in the five segments of Conte's appearance on 20/20.

Expanding beyond the corruption in baseball, the writers paint a picture of a body of Olympians completely overrun with cheaters from the top down. I have to think the only way you’ll get busted for cheating is if you’re caught because it looks like everyone is on something and everyone knows it, but put on a face for the media. The most common excuse given by those in the know as to why the cheating is that “it’s entertainment”. My feeling on that is, if you leveled the playing field back to normal, the viewer may be even more aroused by seeing talents on display that could be just barely out of their own grasp. There will always be the athletic aberration, the one who breaks the records and sets a new bar, but drugs accelerate that process rather than letting it happen naturally. The result is not just, as the best movie of the year so far has said, “bigger, stronger, faster” athletes, it’s everything all at once right now. That’s the world we live in today, I guess, so maybe sports just mirror the global attitude.

So, I’m left with an understanding of steroids that I didn’t have before. I know why they’re used, and I can’t say I blame anyone for it anymore. It’s unfortunate but it’s like with Canseco, trade in respectability and long term success for buckets of fame now. So, I say either allow it across the board and let sports become the rigged freakshow it probably already is, or implement stronger testing and stiffer penalties for cheating. By now, however, the problem is likely out of hand and going to have to fix itself. Notice the way numbers in baseball have gone way down the last couple years. It’s because either roids are finding their way out of the sport, or the players know how to mask what they do better.

The writers of both books deserve too be commended for their reporting. Think of these books as the "All The Presidents Men" of sports literature. The way you can assess their value is that most everything they've said has come true.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

2008: It Was A Very Bad Year (For Movies)

This has to be the worst year for movies that I can remember. Usually, at this point in the year I’ve seen a handful of shows that I can’t stop talking about. Ones that really moved me and that I want others to experience. In previous years, I’d seen Once and Murderball and Little Miss Sunshine and Waitress and Knocked Up and Wedding Crashers and Capturing the Friedman’s and Fever Pitch by now. So far this year, I’ve seen ONE movie that I would highly recommend to everyone and it’s the documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster. That’s all! I guess that shouldn’t surprise me since docs are usually more satisfying than studio films. But, I’m depressed that my trips to the theater have come up short consistently for 10 ½ straight months.

The best theatrical release I saw this year was The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and that was actually released in 2007! Sure Iron Man exceeded my expectations and was great fun, the Dark Knight came up a little short for me, but was still an extremely well-made piece of comic pulp, and The Visitor and Frozen River have sustained (barely) my faith and interest in independent films, but that’s all. Week after week I venture out with my best intentions and end up trudging through middling offerings like Ghost Town, Flash of Genius, and Burn After Reading. Of the 50 films currently in wide release, according to, only ten (20%) show mostly positive reviews and of those ten, only two are considered universally praised and both came out in the summer (Dark Knight and Wall-E). Meanwhile, 16 of the 50, have received largely negative reviews.

The fall Oscar season can’t get here quick enough. Hopefully, it comes through in a big way because we need some quality in the marketplace. It’s getting really deflating to get my hopes up week after week, only to see the new releases being panned by critics (Miracle at St. Anna, Body of Lies, How to Lose Friends…, Blindness, W, the list keeps going). I guess there are some pluses to having the economy in the toilet. No money to spend on crappy movies anyway.

Friday, October 17, 2008

An Amazing Race To The Bottom

What was once one of the most exciting and even educational shows on television, the Amazing Race has now devolved into cheap entertainment tactics and even cheaper casting.

In seasons past, while the most endearing couple almost never won (thank you Uchenna and Joyce for bucking that trend), you could at least find people to root for. Sure, there were beautiful young couples with perfect bodies that look great shirtless, but there were also a couple of middle-aged married couples and maybe a couple sibling pairings and best friends as well. This all made for a well-balanced experience and provided teams worth investing in. The last couple seasons, especially the current one, have been a parade of young, hot couples, many of them “newly dating” which really chaps me beyond anything, none of whom are married and some are barely together.

It’s as if the casting directors were replaced by the team behind the Real World. No one is a person, they are characters with manufactured backgrounds that represent the fringes of the various demographics. The couples who are married are either really old or separated. Is it below the Amazing Race to give America an example of a strong couple that actually succeeds under the pressure? Does extreme goodness have no inherent entertainment value? And, if I hear one more couple using the million dollar prize purse as the final obstacle between them and actually getting married, I’m going to scream. Gay couples are always stereotypical and so are the devout Christians. This season’s Southern Belles are, of course, dumb blondes. The two sets of male best friends are two of the more lovable contestants, but, of course, both pairs are largely frumpy and nerdy, or at least that’s how the show has determined they need to be “packaged”. And, finally, and probably most noticeably, where are the minorities? Is one black or Hispanic team every season all they’re willing to muster? Couldn’t there be more, maybe even a team of friends where one is white and one is black and have it not played out like Amos and Andy?

(Don’t even get my started on the Biggest Loser. I’ve watched that show for only two seasons now and both times the black couple was kicked off straightaway, first this year and second last time. They need to have like six black couples next time and see how the fat white folks like being sent packing. But, could that show even exist anywhere but MTV? Probably not. For racially diverse entertainment cable may be your only hope and then, talk about people being characters! Dreadful.)

Frankly, I’m not sure how Phil the host can continue to do this job and not lash out at everyone every time they step on the mat. “Brad and Angelina, you’re team Number One! Now bend over, I’m going to stick this tribesman’s spear where the sun don’t shine if I have to look at either of you one more time on this trip! Does anyone have Probst’s number or know the status of his contract? I don’t know much about food or fashion, but can someone get me a meeting with Bravo? Who wants to get drunk? I’m outta here, to hell with all you narcissistic brats!” That would rule. I’d forgive him entirely.

Sadly, I can’t detach myself from the show, no matter how infuriating it is. I guess I hold out for the hope of seeing some honest to goodness human nature that doesn’t seem the product of creative editing

Speaking of opportunistic reality TV show stars, I was recently watching one of those 80s sex comedies you used to see on USA's Up All Night called Weekend Pass. One of the leads was a skinny black guy I knew I had seen somewhere before. After digging around the interweb, I finally found out that it was Chip, the big, burly black guy that won of the early Amazing Race seasons. Just goes to show that some people just want to be on camera

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Lost Gem of the 80s #13: Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder - st (1985)

Consider the year, 1985. The Human League were one of the hottest bands in the world with several top 10 hits under their belt and were pioneers of the synth-pop sound that epitomized the early 80s. One would think that a collaboration between lead singer Philip Oakey and legendary disco architect Giorgio Moroder (producer for Donna Summer, Oscar winner for Flashdance and Midnight Express) would birth some cutting edge dance and club music. Instead, it produced a good, lost Human League album.

There is virtually no difference in style between this self-titled cd and the hits the League were churning out at the time. The only remotely noticeable one is the absence of HL back-up singers Susan and Joanne. However, some songs on the album do feature female backing vocals that could easily be interchangeable with theirs. One noticeable voice on “Be My Lover Now” is the unmistakable E.G. Daly. You’d know her from acting in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and Valley Girl, and also the soundtracks to Breakfast Club and Better Off Dead (she’s the singer at the school dance). Philip’s baritone is at its usual peak. What a cool, strange instrument that voice is. Dare I say, it sounds a little like if Johnny Cash were British and used synthesizers?

This album sparked no hits at the time and has been out of print and long forgotten until a few months ago when it was reissued with bonus tracks in a new cleaned up mix. If it is known at all, it’s for being the home of “(Together In) Electric Dreams” from the film of the same name, a sort of cult classic and the song the League close out every live show with. It appears on most HL greatest hits packages, even though it is not “officially” an HL track, so it’s easy to assume it was theirs all along. It’s a great song that endures to this day.

Human League are like the Hall & Oates of synth pop. There is no mistaking their pop sensibility and the hits from back in the day are still beloved and strong. The question is whether listeners discount them as being relics of the past, or momentary genius’s that added much to the pop canon. I tend to be one of the latter and love them both more today than ever. While Phil and Giorgio’s collabo isn’t essential, it is a much appreciated missing piece for those with a soft spot for the HL sound. The songs are great and familiar, just as all great pop music should be. If you have an ear that's tuned to synth-pop and are adventurous enough to look beyond the hits, you'll love it.

The Nugget - "Goodbye Bad Times". Of all the singles, it holds up the best.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Live In Concert: James 10/02/08

At this stage of my life, it’s rare that I see a band for the first time whose catalog I am intimately familiar with. After James broke up seven years ago, I assumed I would never have the chance to catch the energy of this great band in a live setting. Until, that is, I saw that they reformed, released a new (really good) album, and hit the road. Good things don’t just come in small packages, they come in surprising and unsuspecting ones too.

I have always heard that James write their songs in a jam setting. Much like the Grateful Dead, though sounding nothing like them, members just start banging away at a groove and lead singer Tim Booth provides the words, often stream of consciously. From these jams come songs that run the gamut from darkly subtle and dense to all out anthems. Seeing them live gives you the feeling of what it must be like to be in the room when their magic is flowing. The songs don’t jam endlessly at all, in fact they’re very tight, but the energy that was there at creation is obvious.

The band also did an excellent job at momentum management, a major pet peeve of mine. They started the show slowly, almost too slowly, playing three of their moodier songs including “Dream Thrum”. Just when you thought you might be lulled to sleep, out come the big guns, the James most of us are pining for. The slow songs are wonderful, but what makes James a great band is how deftly they do moody and bombastic and mix the two on an album. Too much at either speed severely off-sets the balance. The truly mind blowing thing, and let this be a lesson to every other veteran band out there, it was the new songs that got the party started. If only bands realized that if they want to sell us the new stuff, they need to present it in a package that feels lived in and also exciting. James rocked to “Oh My Heart” and “Waterfall”, both off the new album, Hey Ma, back to back. It takes major skill and cajones to get the crowd to actually increase the decibels for the new tracks instead of hitting the bathroom. Well done.

From there the show did what most shows do, jump all over the catalog for the career highlights (“Ring The Bells”, “Sit Down”, and “Out To Get You”) while sprinkling in additional new songs. The band was on fire, just as you would hope/expect, and Tim Booth’s divine voice hasn’t lost a speck of clarity. Seriously, is there a more gorgeous voice in all of rock? Possibly even better suited for the theater, it is one of rock’s tragically underrated miracles. Those in attendance uncovered another of his hidden talents, the guy gyrates like a maniac. It was funny and endearing at the same time.

I went with four friends, all of whom didn’t know each other before the night started. We chose to stand near the back behind the sound board where there was a set list. Much to my broken heart, my favorite James song, and one of my top 5 all-time, “Born Of Frustration”, was not on the list. I consoled myself by saying maybe they forgot it or the rest would be so good, I wouldn’t notice. “BoF” was a single, not some forgotten album track, so I’m confused why it wouldn’t be on there. This almost ruined the night for me. Until….

With five songs left, Tim said the beautiful words, “We’ve hit you with a lot of new stuff tonight. Let’s get back to the songs you know” and then tore into ‘Sound”, my second fave James track. It was epic, complete with bullhorn and everything. Then, like manna from heaven, I heard what I had paid for, the opening keyboard plunks of “Born” and my night was certified perfect. God had heard my prayers and magically included it even if it didn’t appear on the set list. This was followed by Tim climbing into the crowd and singing “Say Something” a few feet away from us. Then came “Sometimes” and the capper of all cappers, “Laid”. Just what you’d expect. The perfect show-ending touch was them inviting about 50 concert goers to come up on stage and get their ya-ya’s out for “Laid”, arguably their most anthemic of all the James barnburners.

(One note of interest to almost nobody. Anyone who's been around me much, knows that I wear my yellow Trashcan Sinatra's t-shirt all the time. One of the guy's who jumped on stage was wearing that same shirt, the only other time I've ever seen it anywhere. Another weird thing is that I had been wearing my shirt all day and planned to wear it to the show, but then wore it to the gym instead. Interesting little coincidence or boring tidbit?)

Being able to cross James off my list of bands to see before I die is pretty major. Any fan had to question whether the day would ever come again. Like I said, God must have been hearing my prayers.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Live In Concert: The Dandy Warhols 9/27/08

Due to a few too many artistic detours that didn’t always pay the listener back, I put the brakes on my love affair with the Dandy’s a few years ago. It hit its peak in 2000 with the release of their third album, Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia, featuring the now ubiquitous song “Bohemian Like You”. “Thirteen Tales” was just about perfect and not only have they not reached those heights in the three albums since, they don’t really appear to be trying or caring.

Their live shows are among the best out there though. The Dandy’s have extreme reverence for the Velvet Underground, and by association, Andy Warhol, the Factory, androgyny, heavy drugs, and other bands that have followed in the wake of the VU like Spiritualized, the Dandy’s closest relatives. Their band name isn’t just meant to be cute, it’s practically a mission statement. They’re fully capable of covering a wide array of styles from old country, to straight up pop, to spaced-out psychedelia, or even all three, and then some, in the same song. Their greatest strength, and the thing most appealing to me, is what I call “space management”. They create a mood by filling the air with sounds that enhance said mood, whether it be an unsuspecting harmony, or a pregnant pause before a guitar strum, or a sustained note, or a keyboard blip. The songs that last seven minutes are usually more satisfying than the ones over in three. They kicked off the night with my favorite song of theirs, “Mohammed” and ended with my second favorite “Godless”, which are the perfect examples of what I’m talking about.

When I first saw them in 2000, they seemed embarrassed by the popular songs and chose to ignore them in favor of the more experimental stuff. Now, as their albums get more and more experimental, like this year’s extremely underrated Earth To The Dandy Warhols, their shows seem to embrace more comfortably their commercial leanings. They have 3 songs that most people know, whether they realize it or not, “Bohemian Like You”, “Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth” (sample lyric: “I never thought you’d be a junkie because heroin is so passé”) and “We Used To Be Friends” which was used as the theme to “Veronica Mars” among other things, and they played all three and played them emphatically. They weren’t just good to hear, they were good to hear from them. It seems to speak to a peace of mind that the band may finally be finding.

One moment kind of irked me though. This is a direct quote from lead singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor. “We just released our new album on our own label, so we are now officially an indie band!” A statement like that would only be made by a bunch of posers, which is a label that has plagued the Dandy’s since day one. Up until this new album, they were signed to Capitol Records and their songs were used for commercials and TV shows, surely lining their pockets in the process. The indie community sees a dichotomy in behavior with this. You can’t truly be indie, no matter how much you claim to be, if you’re on a major label and catering to the masses. I’ve never been bothered by this because I love them and want everyone to love them too, so if they hear them in a movie that’s a good thing. And, maybe being released from Capitol is what’s brought on the peace of mind they’re exhibiting. I just wish they hadn’t said something so shallow. I’ll forgive it though.

Like any worthwhile relationship, we’ve had our rough patches, but we’re soul mates. They’re the lover I’ll invite back into my life again and again because I need what they have. Coming to terms with this is a wonderful release.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bill Clinton: The Larry Bird of Politics

Bill Clinton was on Letterman this week and it was almost making me weepy for the days when we were guided by a competent leader. (Here are links to the three segments in case you missed them - 1, 2, 3) Oh, to actually have his intelligence in the White House now. I dare say we’d feel like a totally different country. It wouldn’t solve all of today’s problems, but it might mute the blows a little.

He was so articulate and intelligent about the financial crisis and how we got into it. You just know he gets it in a way that few do, definitely more than the lay man (including Dave himself) and certainly more than anyone currently in office. I realize he was no saint when he ran the country, and he carried his own gaggle of detractors. It’s only in hindsight that we realize what we had, now that his likes seem almost antiquated.

He reminded me of Larry Bird. In the Bird vs. Magic show of the 80s, I was totally a Magic man. Bird was ugly and unsophisticated. He lacked any noticeable charisma. He could play like crazy, but skills on a white guy just don’t resonate. They’re boring. I hated Bird when he played. Hated just looking at him.

Now, when I see footage of him on ESPN Classic or something, my stomach aches for the days when players (white people!) played with fundamentals and downplayed the showtime. The closest player the NBA has to someone as fundamentally sound as Bird is Tim Duncan and he’s no fun to root for either! Soon enough, the day will come when Tim retires and it will usher in the absolute end of nuanced basketball played the “Jimmy Chitwood” way. The streets rule today and the streets are all about the individual. Pick up games are not a team concept, they are individualistic in nature. And SportsCenter, while being totally necessary, may be as big a detriment to basketball as steroids are to baseball and MTV is to music. It tips the scales in favor of the star and eliminates the team. This then leads to bigger individual stars, bigger contracts, no team loyalty, and horrible indulgences like Kazaam.

My point is, we don’t know what we have til it’s gone. Bill Clinton looks near to deity by today’s standards. Same with Larry Bird. They had their issues when they “played” and could be piggish, arrogant, and unlikable. But, damn if they weren’t fundamentally sound.

P.S. If you watch the links to the Clinton interview, check out Chris Rock's critique. He was the next guest. Hilarious and dead on. Like I said, Bill isn't perfect and Chris nails him.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Nothing To Crowe About

I was asked about 5 years ago who my idol was. This was in church, so I’m sure people were expecting me to say Jesus or Paul or Ammon or some other scriptural figure. My answer was actually Cameron Crowe. To me, no one’s career has mirrored my exact hopes and dreams like his.

Some background. He starts out writing for Rolling Stone at 15. Eventually writes the book Fast Times At Ridgemont High, then the movie. After it’s a success, he’s given carte blanche to begin writing and directing his screenplays, which have become some of the most beloved American films of the last 25 years including Say Anything, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous. Not only are these films great, but they tap into the psyche of a generation, often putting words to thoughts that we all have but can’t articulate. He’s both smart and emotional and wears his interests on his sleeve (rock music, sports, girls, sex and rock music). He’s also married to a rock star (Nancy Wilson of Heart), an author (“Conversations With Wilder”) and an Oscar winner (Almost Famous). Yep, that’s the life right there. Cure cancer and you’re done.

However, around 2001 things started to come off the rails. That was the year Vanilla Sky came out. The remake of a Spanish film about a rich, womanizer starring Tom Cruise, who may or may not be dying after a car crash and being haunted by delusions, was a severe misstep. It made money and some applauded it’s daring, but it was so far removed from the “Crowe Style” that it left many fans confused, disappointed and lost.

So, he comes back with Elizabethtown which, if you can imagine, might be worse. With a flaccid lead performance by Orlando Bloom, “Etown”, not only stunk, it failed to make any money, making for his first big bomb (Almost Famous had been a financial disappointment, but was critically praised universally). From what I’ve read, the crush of “Etown” left him confused, disappointed and lost as well. If you check his website, it says he’s currently working on his next screenplay, but there is no sign anywhere as to what it is or how close he is to finishing it. My feeling is, he’s completely lost his mojo.

Which brings me to the real problem, which is that the “Crowe Style” has been improved upon by Judd Apatow. Like Nirvana did to bands like Poison, the “Apatow Style” of Peter Pan-like slackers smoking pot, hanging out and watching porn featured in films like 40 Year Old Virgin, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Superbad, and Pineapple Express speaks to this generation in a way that makes Crowe seem dated and out of style. Since the Crowe business model was already beginning to lapse, all signs point now that the one-time voice of a generation may be on the brink of irrelevancy.

What’s funny is that Crowe’s Jeff Spicoli, played by Sean Penn in “Fast Times”, is the blueprint for the modern day versions like Seth Rogan in Knocked Up. Seth could even be the grown up version of Curtis, Jeff’s little brother (“Dad says you better get up, you butthole!”). Still, the sad fact is Cameron is not likely to regain his former perceptive wit and writing because of a lack of confidence and, even if he was close, people don’t talk like him anymore. They’ve been dumbed down, yet enlightened. They know more and think less. This is not Crowe’s world. Adolescence will never change and always remain the ugliest part of life, but the way we talk about it will continue to evolve. Cameron Crowe may not be able to rejoin the conversation and, sadly, without anything profound to say, his films suffer mightily.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Lost Gem of the 80s #12: Malcolm McLaren - "Duck Rock" (1983)

Ok, pay attention. This one is special.

There are two incongruous truths about pop music. Blondie is mostly responsible for introducing mainstream America to rap music (thanks to “Rapture”, the first song ever in the top 40 featuring rap. Btw, look fast for Jean-Michel Basquiat as the DJ in the video at the 1:58 mark) and Paul Simon holds the same honor for world music (thanks to Graceland, of course), specifically African. The years that indigenous creators toiled with these sounds were not validated by the mass populace until white people showed it to them by repackaging it into something they could easily digest. Both of these artists did commendable jobs, and achieved it in a truly artistic fashion, but that doesn’t make it authentic. But, hey, that’s what rock music’s all about! We wouldn’t be here if white folks hadn’t done the same thing with their old blues records.

Well, what is ignored and forgotten is that McLaren, the impresario responsible for the Sex Pistols, nearly pulled of an almost perfect amalgamation of the two styles himself. Only problem was, not as many people were listening. Duck Rock remains an unadulterated classic of cultural mash-ups and combined styles that was WAY ahead of its time.

Here’s some background. After the demise of the Pistols, McLaren, taking himself entirely too seriously, felt the next fad (after punk) was going to be a sort of Afrobeat and ska mix. Take some of the guitar strums of punk, strip off the distortion, and add the ever necessary Burundi drum style derived by tom tom beats and traditional African ritual music, which he called "Duck Rock". This notion crystallized for him in the form of Bow Wow Wow, the band he managed after the Pistols. One listen to “I Want Candy” and you sense the exact style he’s going for.

While managing them, he put out his own album, Duck Rock, which served as an even wilder blend of sounds from the melting pot streets of New York City. Two singles from the album (the hip-hop influenced“Buffalo Gals” and Graceland precursor “Double Dutch” complete with twirling rope sound effects) became staples of the underground dance scene. So, while neither were mainstream smashes, they were embraced by their target audience and are still often played today.

McLaren almost takes a backseat to the performers on this record. He’s more of an orchestrator than a frontman. But, the evidence of what must have been swimming around in his head is startling. Each song practically recalls a different spot on the globe, whether it be downtown NYC, or the shantytowns of Soweto, or the isles of Latin America. Just because he can, he even ends the album with "Duck For The Oyster" which sounds an awful lot like that remix of "Cotton-Eyed Joe" they play at every dance. The listener is immediately transplanted to, not only the locale, but to the hottest club of 1983 within each locale where they're hearing the hottest music in the hottest club.

The one distraction to the album, which is only a distraction on repeated spins, is that it features snippets of the actual broadcast of the World’s Famous Supreme Team, a late night hip-hop radio show in NYC in the early 80s. While the time-capsule nostalgia of listening to what radio was like in ’83 (when DJs didn’t just play music, they influenced behavior and prompted action) is interesting, it’s really only interesting once. On subsequent listens, it would be nice to mute them and just let the music play, as the snippets play over the beginnings and ends of songs, just as they would on the radio.

One other interesting tidbit. Guess who was playing on this album? Trevor Horn and Anne Dudley. If you don’t know why I think that’s cool, read here. Trevor especially has had his finger in some of the best music of the last 25 years.

The Nugget - I've played the hits out, so I'm picking "Merengue", which sounds exactly as the name would imply, a song meant to be merengue'd to.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Thoughts On The Election

In a recent email exchange with a friend regarding politics, I managed to get down in writing some of the swirling thoughts I’ve had about the current election. I pass this along mostly because it’s more succinct than anything I’ve been able to come up with to this point, so I didn't want to lose it. I tend to make a lot of political decisions with my guts and emotions, so I can often flip-flop on some issues based on the situation. But, what is written here is not likely to change.

Here's my take. McCain seems like more of the same and Bush has made a mess of our country by, maybe worst of all, lowering our morale and our pride. What Obama has the power to do, above anything else, is restore some of that pride. He represents what should be a change for the better in the way we feel and think and act as Americans. He's so green and inexperienced that it may be the only thing he's able to pull off, but that is important enough for me to want to vote for him. McCain does not have that same cache. He has more experience in leadership, but I don't think he has the power to bring about the change in morale, or, if he does, it would take him a loooong time to achieve it. And, even if McCain could right the ship, most of us are so jaded by this point that it would be equally as long a time before we feel differently. Making important decisions like this based on emotion may not be the smartest way to proceed, but I think it’s the main problem. No one feels good. We want to feel better. Obama will be more successful at that then McCain will.

One thing I like about this election is that social issues are not in the forefront like Bush vs. Kerry (of course that's because it was largely Karl Rove's strategy and he's not around this time). We're finally talking about issues that matter like the war and healthcare and education, issues that actually affect us, not gay rights. Holding so firm to social agendas has put us where we are now and that isn't good.

Friday, September 5, 2008

This Week In Mormons In The Media

I’ve been meaning to start a series about this topic for months. So few members of the church represent me the way I want to be represented that I’ve been meaning to write about it, especially the more we creep into the public eye. Unfortunately, it’s usually something that makes us look stupid.

I’ve been an Intervention loyalist since it was first broadcast. Sometimes I want to quit out of frustration over the stupidity of people, but I power through. This week’s episode was a doozy.

Jenny is a 27 year old Mormon girl who is a heroin and meth addict. If you’re not familiar with the show, it always begins with the background and family history of the addict and then facts pop on the screen that tell the story of their descent. An example would be…

“At 16, Jenny found out her sister was actually her mom.”

Then the person will comment about it for a second and then….

“Jenny began shooting up heroin. She now shoots up at least 3 times a day”

Something like that.

Well, the impetus for Jenny’s addiction was a new one for the show. Apparently, she and her sister got their Patriarchal Blessings on the same day. Her sister’s was all positive about how she would have a big beautiful family and such, while Jenny’s spoke of struggles and challenges and did not mention that she would have a family in this life. Well, not being able to be a mom in the church is like working and not getting paid.

Shortly after the blessing, she found out she had endometriosis (sp), which confirmed for her that God didn’t love her (while also confirming the blessing). This sent her into a tailspin of drug dependency, which was totally out of character for her to that point.

To those who aren’t familiar with what these blessings are, let me explain. It’s basically a one-time blessing most members receive that map out their life. We believe the blessing is given by revelation to the Patriarch. It will usually tell us what we were like before coming to earth, what we can expect while we’re here, and maybe what God has in store for us. They’re pretty powerful, not to mention intensely sacred and personal, thus having one discussed so nonchalantly on a TV show about addiction is like seeing your mom in Playboy. Not something you want out there for all to see.

The show always ends with an update on their progress and this is usually the most annoying part of the show, as many of the addicts relapse. Jenny was one of those. After completing a couple months of rehab, she fell back into it. She’s also now pregnant, but it didn’t elaborate on with who or anything.

I had heard a few years ago that Utah was the nation’s leader in meth labs on a per capita basis. Does that suck or what! You know it’s mostly disaffected Mormons, squashed under the pressures of high expectations and creative oppression rebelling against the predominant culture. Too bad more people, especially Mormons, can’t come to terms with their spiritual conflicts in less destructive ways.

Finally, I wanted to quickly mention one other show I’d like people to seek out. A recent episode of 30 Days featured an LDS woman who is totally against same-sex parenting. She lives with a gay couple with like 4 kids for 30 days to learn how they live and she’s the only person I’ve ever seen on that show who never comes around to the other person’s way of thinking. I was sick to my stomach watching this woman use the church as her excuse to be bigoted to this couple just trying to give needy kids a home and some love. She’d rather the kids be in foster care. Shameful. You can watch the entire episode here if you’re interested.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It's A Boy!!!!

We found out this morning that we are most likely having a boy, which is what we were both hoping for. We'll most likely max out at three kids and were hoping one of them would be male. Now that we've gotten one of each out of the way, I don't care what the 3rd is as long as it's healthy.

I say "most likely" because the baby was breach today and wasn't allowing for a full money shot. But, the doctor felt confident he saw the kid's unmentionables. I tried to nail him down to a percentage, but he wouldn't bite. We go back in four weeks for a follow up, so we should know empirically then. For now, I feel safe saying it's a boy. The baby is due around January 11th.

This seemed like as good a time as any to put a picture of Georgia up in here. For Grandpa's bday last month, we took pictures of her in her BYU, Utah Jazz, and Oakland A's cheerleading outfits, our family's three favorite sports teams. This one was one of the cutest.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Lost Gem of the 80s #11: Crowded House - st (1986)

I’m often asked what my favorite album of all-time is. Well, it’s this one.

Even while making such a huge declaration, I struggle to find a reason why that would compel everyone to listen to it. What I’ve decided is that it sounds like home to me. Not my house, or where I was raised, or even the era in which I grew up. It sounds like home because the sound, the melodies, the songs, the voices and instruments are so comfortable and familiar.

Lead singer Neil Finn gets my vote for the greatest songwriter in rock history. Well, him and Paul McCartney. The reason being, he/they seem to have a wellspring of catchy, familiar, yet fresh melodies inside of them that never dries up. Nothing is flashy or edgy or on the fringe. It’s so simple and honest and it rings true every single time. That is an urgently underappreciated talent, especially in today’s music environment. His contemporaries are not other rockers, they are Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Henry Mancini, and Irving Berlin. Artists that contribute to the canon of musical history. If Neil has one weakness, I would have to say it’s his lyrics. They are not always as universal as the melodies are. But, that’s a small complaint.

Of course, everybody knows “Don’t Dream It’s Over”. Almost no one seems to know it by name until you say the “hey now, hey now” part and then the light goes on. The album had one other top 10 hit, the far less enduring “Something So Strong” and that’s it for hits from Crowded House. A few others flirted with the top 40 over the next seven years, but nothing quite cracked it, leaving CH with the moniker of “two-hit wonder”. This is another one of life’s true travesties.

This album itself tossed out three other singles, the comparatively dark “World Where You Live” and the brighter “Now We’re Getting Somewhere” and "Mean To Me". None found the masses, but they’re equally as good as the hits and serve to make the spectrum of songs on the album more robust. Adding to the depth is producer Mitchell Froom. His distinctive and immediately identifiable style has since become really stagnant, claustrophobic, and redundant (sadly, Neil continues to use him on his solo albums, much to my chagrin), but it was fresh and powerful in ’86. Some complain it makes the songs too busy with an organ here and some brass there, but I think it gives it heft and greater reasons to revisit the album since sounds sometimes surprise and come out of nowhere. Considering CH is just a trio, Froom becomes a crucial fourth member that helps round out and fill up the sound and spaces. You don’t always want that from a producer, but it works here big time.

So here it is, the gold standard of contemporary pop music. And if it weren’t you’d never be able to convince me otherwise.
One sad postscript. Drummer Paul Hester committed suicide in 2005, breaking my heart. CH put on a great live show, full of audience banter and loads of comedy. Paul was often the biggest clown of all. He was actually a really sad person behind the act.

The Nugget: Man, this is next to impossible. “That’s What I Call Love is the one I probably play most often, and "World..." has been creeping up recently, but today I’m feeling “Hole In The River” (I prefer the album version to this live one, but it's all that's out there). It’s definitely a Froom driven track, a vast soundscape and collage of swirling moods and sounds. It’s what I’m digging right now.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Things I Don’t Like About the Olympics

The Olympics are great, so I don’t want to focus on the negative, but I kind of get off on it.

The Redeem Team have to be the least interesting thing in the entire Olympics. Why would I wish a gold medal to a thugged out criminal like Carmelo Anthony or a spoiled brat like Kobe Bryant or a wife-beater like Jason Kidd? These guys already make millions of dollars, are VIPs of every strip club and swank spot in the world and have all their sex crimes swept under the rug, what do they really need a gold medal for? To put on the shelf next to their Collector’s Edition Scarface DVD? I couldn’t care less about these guys. I don’t watch the all-star game anymore for the same reason. It’s a bunch of show-offs showing off. How is that interesting? It’s an obvious revenue generator is all. The NBA makes millions off the marketing, so of course they trash any ideas of good taste. Also, someone explain to me why every other sport is made up of amateurs, but professionals are allowed to play basketball? I get that the other countries do it too, but why? I’m serious.

Why is beach volleyball getting twice as much coverage as regular volleyball, which takes twice as much skill and is far more interesting to watch? I’ll tell you why. One word: bikinis. Notice how much more of the women you’re seeing than the men. Granted, they are the best team in the world, but you put them on the sand fully clothed and no one is paying attention. The crazy thing is, neither of the Americans are hot. At all! Again, this reeks of a marketing opportunity. Before the last summer Olympics, no one cared about it. Now, advertisers are seeing the potential of marketing a sexy sport with sexy players hanging out in the sun all day and seizing their opportunity. I get it, but I don’t like it.

Any sport dependent on judges needs a governing body to monitor their decisions. Much like the frustrations I’m suffering through with the NBA now, I think refs/judges need to be held accountable for their decisions. They should be interviewed afterwards. Hold a press conference and send them to the wolves (ie, the Press). Make them explain and also take the criticism. We’ve seen Alecia Sacramone (sp) and that Nastia chick both fall victim to this confusion. It’s pretty deflating, even for a spectator, when you smell foul play.

NBC is paying WAAAAY too much attention to only a few sports. I know they’re trying to be as live as possible, but why can’t they just run down every event that took place that day with an American involved and show some quick highlights? I know they have the secondary channels like USA, MSNBC and CNBC covering a lot of them, and they’re always pimping out their website, but it wouldn’t hurt anything to give a little attention to the smaller stuff. Do we really need another Michael Phelps interview?

Which brings me to the last problem. I’m completely Phelps’d out. He did great and I’m happy for him, but there are a couple hundred other Olympians that could use some airtime too. It’s his Olympics, we're just along for the ride.

Hopefully, we can all move on now that he's done his thing. Isn’t there an archer somewhere that we could get on TV. In keeping with the Phelps/Walsh/May theory, maybe no one else’s abs are good enough.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Live in Concert: The Regeneration Tour 8/7/08

The best word to describe the Regeneration Tour’s stop in SLC is “efficient”. Four bands keeping a tight time schedule. This was an example of professionals conducting business.

The show began promptly at 7 with Naked Eyes getting right to the point by leading off with “Always Something There To Remind Me”, lest anyone forgot who they were. They did eight songs in 35 minutes. Show over. Fifteen minutes later, ABC comes on stage. Same thing, eight songs in 35 minutes. Show over. Fifteen minutes later, Belinda Carlisle comes out. Again, eight songs in 35 minutes. Finally, the Human League took 30 minutes to take the stage. They did ten songs in 45 minutes. Evening over by 10:30. You figure each band had to pocket a couple grand each. How do I get a job making all that money for 35 minutes of work? Oh, maybe I do that already, actually.

Aside from Belinda, I’ve been a huge fan of all involved for as long as I’ve known what pop music was. In fact, “…There To Remind Me” and “Don’t You Want Me Baby” are some of the first songs I remember taking notice of and ABC has steadily climbed to near the top of my list of all-time faves. There was no way I could pass this night up, even if it meant driving from Denver to Salt Lake City to see it. Unfortunately, A Flock Of Seagulls were supposed to be there, but weren’t. I never heard why.

Luckily, I’ve seen the bands I wanted to see previously. So, while the short set lists were kind of a bummer, at least I know I’ve seen them do their thing before. For not being a fan of Belinda, or the Go-Go’s really, her set was a pleasant surprise, mostly because it was the only one that was new. She still looks great. Slightly thicker, but still hot.

Naked Eyes sound the exact same as they always have. Led by Pete Byrne (collaborator Rob Fisher died nine years ago), they ran through all 3 of their top 40 hits, “…Remind…”, “When The Lights Go Out” and “Promises Promises”. He sounds just the same. He pulled out a few of the cult faves, for those of us who have been paying attention to their lesser known hits. Same thing with ABC. “Be Near Me”, “The Look Of Love” and “When Smokey Sings” were all accounted for, as well as a couple new tracks. Front man Martin Fry remains one of the classiest acts in rock. He’s battled back from cancer to look as debonair as ever.

Belinda played all the songs I knew, but never liked. “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” and “Mad About You” as well as a couple Go-Go’s classics. And finally, the Human League trotted out all their usuals too, like “Fascination”, “Mirror Man”, “Human” and “Tell Me When”. They are an especially good time. Leader Phil Oakey roams the stage going from point to point, almost like he’s on a calorie burning regimen. For a band that created such great dance songs, he doesn’t appear to have much in the way of moves. Meanwhile, the girls, Susan and Joanne, remain on either side of the stage wiggling their hips and flirting with the crowds. All of the artists look great, considering they’re each around 50.

When I tell people who I saw, most of them know the names, but can’t place the songs. They know enough to know it’s been years since they were big, so they usually crinkle their noses or laugh. The truth is, you’d probably know at least 2/3 of the songs that were played that night. Between the four of them, they’re responsible for around 20-25 top 40 hits. Granted, none in the last 15-20 years, but each song remains a staple of life’s background music.

All in all, it makes for a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Get some good friends and let loose. I hope they do something similar every summer. Maybe pull together a different collection of bands. Maybe I’ll quit my job and manage it. That could easily be my life’s calling.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Best Music of 2008 So Far...

Duffy – Rockferry
She’s being hailed as the “new Amy Winehouse” which is meant as a complement from an artistic standpoint, but, unfortunately, carries negative connotations not just because of Amy’s behavior, but because of the glut of “new Amys” that are already bottlenecking the record bins.

For my money, Duffy is actually an improvement over Amy. Her voice is just as rich and lush, like a modern day Dusty Springfield, and the music is more organic. Amy was a classicist to be sure, but also seemed to be appealing to the hip-hop audience. Duffy relies more on her talents, than on the producers and studio gimmickry. Amy is good, but Duffy is solid.

Unfortunately, the single is not the best song on the album. That is a recurring theme this year. It’s satisfying to see the album is selling well anyway. Artists like her deserve the kudos. I don’t know if her career will span decades or if she’ll come and go like the other “new Amys” are bound to do. But she’s a bright star now.

Best Song - "Rockferry"

Mudcrutch – st
It’s the best work Tom Petty has done in over a decade (or two in my opinion, but I’m not a long-term Petty disciple). Who knew reuniting his first band would trigger the creativity like this?

Last year, director Peter Bogdanovich released a four hour documentary on Petty called Running Down A Dream that premiered on the Sundance channel. The reception was very positive and in the film viewers learned that the band that started it all was actually Mudcrutch. They were the ones that made the cross-country drive from his native Florida to LA to score a record deal, only to have the label axe Mudcrutch in favor of Petty, who they saw as the real value. A couple guys stuck around for what would become The Heartbreakers, and a couple other guys went home and lead normal lives for the next 30 years missing the entire circus. Petty must have felt guilty or deeply nostalgic because he reformed his original band after the doc’s airing and released a beautiful album.

More so than with his Heartbreakers stuff, Mudcrutch (terrible name, btw), sound even sunnier than he normally does. Honey-soaked melodies of bright yellows and oranges permeate the album. Even the darker stuff still sounds like dusk on a warm summer night. It’s folkier than the normal stuff too. He’s always been heavily influenced by the Byrds, but he wears it more on his sleeve this time out. At 14 tracks, it could have lost 2 or 3 to make for a tight, perfect offering, but it’s pretty close as it is.

Put it this way. I’ve resisted being a big Petty fan his entire career. It took Mudcrutch for me to stand up and take notice.

Best Song - "Scare Easy"
There are many, but you may as well start with the single.

Nada Surf – Lucky
Some people just don’t get this band, or find them inconsequential. Me, I find their last 3 albums, especially 2002’s Let Go, some of the most beautiful pop ever written.

Imagine a gorgeous girl without any make-up on. That’s Nada Surf. Pure, simple, lovely, natural, unforgettable. Singer Matthew Caws has a voice like a lovelorn romantic on a late, dark night. Full of passion that is haunted and yearning. Yet, his love is perfect, just as his melodies are perfect. His thoughts and emotions are clear. His muse is on his shoulder. No frills. Just bottomless heart.

It's certainly a far cry from their one gimmick hit "Popular" from '96. They aren't even the same band anymore.

Best Song - "Beautiful Beat"
The bestest of all the "best" songs I point to here.

R.E.M. – Accelerate
They’re still around? Yep, and finally recapturing the fury of their youth. Many have criticized the last 15 years of the band’s career. Surely, the sales have shown that one of the biggest bands ever, and a one-time monster revenue generator, have dwindled to a core of cultist fans who just haven’t moved on with their lives yet. (That being said, I thought 2002’s Reveal was one of their best, but I’m the only one who feels that way).

REM are smart businessmen and couldn’t help but notice their star plummeting, so they tried to infuse some life in their seemingly forgotten careers. Thus, Accelerate, a fast and lively and energetic shot of adrenaline that reintroduces them as artists to take seriously once again. Will they be rediscovered? Probably not. The young don’t care about the old unless they’re on a dating show on VH1 and even then it’s not for their music. But, fans will finally feel repaid for their investment.

The easiest touch point is to compare the album to 1986’s Life’s Rich Pageant. To call it a carbon copy is not meant to minimize the greatness of Accelerate. It just means that they took their best template for a rock record and reworked it for 2008. The songs are urgent and vibrant and straightforward. No experimenting. No obscure lyrics. No drama.

Again, the single “Supernatural Superserious sucks and is the worst song on the album. Don’t let it, or your dubious feelings about REM, keep you from checking it out though. I know you’re sitting there thinking, “But, I really don’t care anymore.” In fact, their fall to mediocrity might even cause you to forget that you ever cared (chances are you did once). But fight that impulse. They’re handing you a reward. Take it! It’s yours!

Best Song - "Man-sized Wreath"

Vampire Weekend – st
Yes, the hype is deserved. Yes, they’re that good. Yes, they’re worth your time.

It’s this simple. They sound like ivy-league college kids who were heavily influenced by Paul Simon’s Graceland album. That also happens to be exactly what they are. If you’ve seen them live, you know they wear v-neck sweaters, sear-sucker pants and boat shoes, the Cape Cod uniform. Not to be clever either. That’s them. The music is rich white kids versions of afrobeat and ska and new wave. It doesn’t sound at all pretentious (to me, at least), and, in fact, sounds like the freshest music of 2008. No one else is doing this.

Best Song - "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa"

Wussy – Left For Dead
Take Nada Surf’s girl with no make-up and smear some lipstick on her. Maybe some thick, black eyeliner. Dress her up in a white t-shirt with a pack of cigs rolled into the sleeve and make her road weary and you have Wussy.

They manage to take the pop simplicity of Nada Surf, but run it through the DIY aesthetic. Crunchy, fuzzy guitars, even lower-maintenance production, a chick lead singer (on most of the songs), and some attitude. What they’re calling on, are the spirits of long gone bands like Replacements and Husker Du. It isn’t totally ramshackle. In fact, it’s often quite beautiful, just as those bands could be when they chose to dial it down. It’s real and raw and earnest.

Best Song - "Jonah"
Truthfully, it's one of the only ones I could find a link for. But it is good.

Honorable Mention
Black Crowes - Warpaint
Estelle - Shine
Moby - Last Night

Gnarls Barkley - Odd Couple
Bob Mould - District Line
Spiritualized - Songs in A&E
Deathcab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs