Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Robert Mentzer's Certified Finest Musicks of the Aughts: 50+ songs & 35 albums

Well, this certainly was a lot of work, and almost certainly not worth the effort. Please argue your own point of view vehemently, quibble with my rankings shamelessly and nominate your own most slept-on favorites! That will make it all worthwhile.

SONGS

Honorable mentions: Beyonce, "Irreplaceable"; Rich Boy feat. Polow da Don, "Throw Some Ds"; Christina Aguilera, "Ain't No Other Man"; Bright Eyes, "Old Soul Song (For the New World Order)"; M.I.A. feat. Bun B and Rich Boy, "Paper Planes (Diplo Remix)"; Burial, "Archangel"; Crooked Fingers, "New Drink for the Old Drunk"; Kanye West, "Can't Tell Me Nothing; Loretta Lynn feat. Jack White, "Portland, Oregon"; Jay-Z, "Dirt Off My Shoulder"

50. Jay-Z, "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)"
You could have been anywhere in the world tonight, but you're here with me. I appreciate that.

49. Amy Winehouse, "Rehab"
Great song, though pretty sad and hard to listen to knowing what we know now.

48. Rihanna, "Russian Roulette"

47. Radiohead, "Nude"

46. Justin Timberlake, "My Love"

45. Gnarls Barkley, "Crazy"

44. Usher, "Yeah"

43. Franz Ferdinand, "Take Me Out"

42. Missy Elliott, "Work It"

41. LCD Soundsystem, "All My Friends"

40. Brad Paisley, "Then"

39. R. Kelly feat. T.I. and T-Pain, "I'm a Flirt (Remix)"
Let me remind you that I am the king of R&B.

38. Lupe Fiasco, "Kick, Push"

37. The Dixie Chicks, "Not Ready to Make Nice"

36. The Gaslight Anthem, "High Lonesome"

35. Jay-Z, "Takeover"
One of the great battle raps in rap history.

34. Outkast, "Bombs Over Baghdad"

33. Kanye West, "Stronger"

32. Kylie Minogue, "Can't Get You Out of My Head"

31. The Roots, "Get Busy"
I just love Questo's drums on this track.

30. Three 7 Mafia, "Sippin' on Some Syrup"
I eat so many shrimp, I got iodine poisoning.

29. The Hold Steady, "Your Little Hoodrat Friend"

28. Spoon, "The Way We Get By"

27. Britney Spears, "Toxic"

26. Wilco, "Jesus Etc."

25. Young Jeezy feat. Kanye West, "Put On"

24. Dizzee Rascal, "Fix Up, Look Sharp"

23. Mike Jones feat. Paul Wall & Slim Thug, "Still Tippin’"
I had them play this song at my wedding reception, at night after the grandparents had gone home. Badass driving music has never been so relaxed.

22. Brad Paisley, "Alcohol"
Sung from the perspective of alcohol!

21. Rihanna, "Umbrella"

20. Lil Wayne "A Milli"

19. Outkast, "Hey Ya"
An obscure, little-heard track, but I thought I'd include it here just to confuse people.

18. Dr. Dre feat. Eminem, "Forgot About Dre"

17. R. Kelly, "Ignition (Remix)"
"After the show, it's the after-party. After the party it's the hotel lobby." This song also, if I'm not mistaken, introduced the favorite Kells habit of announcing that you are listening to a remix version.

16. Lil Wayne, "Shooter"

15. Sufjan Stevens, "The World's Columbian Exposition/Carl Sandburg Visits Me In A Dream"

14. Kelly Clarkson, "Since U Been Gone"

13. Kanye West, "Gold Digger"
One of pop music's greatest exercises in disingenuousness. "I'm not saying she's a gold digger..." Really? What are you saying, then, Kanye?

12. Justin Timberlake, "SexyBack"

11. Beyonce feat. Jay-Z, "Crazy in Love"

10. The White Stripes, "Seven Nation Army"
Going to Wichita, to work the straw.

9. The Hold Steady, "Chips Ahoy!"

8. Eminem, "Stan"
One of the great story-songs ever, with beginning, middle and end. And, as has been pointed out, it's the only love song on the Marshall Mathers LP.

7. Radiohead, "Idioteque"

6. Flaming Lips, "Do You Realize?"

5. Outkast, "Ms. Jackson"

4. Jay-Z, "99 Problems"

3. Modest Mouse, "Float On"
One of my personal favorite songs, and I think still the most frequently played songs in my iTunes library. Drifter pop with an optimistic twist.

2. UGK feat. Outkast, "Int'l Players Anthem (I Choose You)"

1. Missy Elliott, "Get Ur Freak On"
Released in 2001, this is the song that announced the new millennium. And while this decade did not exactly turn out the way it should have, this is still the sound of how things could have gone. And it's a weird pop masterpiece. The Timbaland beat is masterfully multicultural, and Missy does a start-stop rapping thing that is just ... impressive. This is future music, still.


ALBUMS

35. Fugazi, The Argument
34. Three 6 Mafia, Most Known Unknown
33. Madvillain, Madvillainy
32. Josh Rouse, 1972
31. Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III
30. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
29. Outkast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
28. Sufjan Stevens, Illinois
27. Brian Wilson, Smile
26. Kanye West, Late Registration
25. Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I am, That's What I'm Not
24. UGK, Underground Kingz
23. Spoon, Kill the Moonlight
22. Jamie Lidell, Multiply
21. Ghostface, Fishscale
20. Radiohead, In Rainbows
19. Dizzee Rascal, Boy in Da Corner
18. J Dilla, Donuts
17. The Streets, A Grand Don't Come for Free
16. R. Kelly, Double Up
15. Modest Mouse, Good News for People Who Love Bad News
14. Missy Elliott, Miss E ... So Addictive
13. The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America
12. Amadou & Miriam, Dimanche a Bamako
11. Justin Timberlake, FutureSex/LoveSounds
10. Clipse, Hell Hath No Fury
9. Gaslight Anthem, The '59 Sound
8. Lil Wayne, Da Drought 3
7. The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
6. Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night
5. Radiohead, Kid A
4. Kanye West, Graduation
3. Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP
2. Outkast, Stankonia
1. Jay-Z, The Blueprint

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bad juju in O'Hare Airport on the day after Christmas


Late at night, things began to get weird on the F Concourse of O'Hare International Airport. December 26, 2009. Snow outside. On the F Concourse, children roamed unsupervised, giving wet willies to stranded passengers who were sleeping on the floor. I saw a stooped 90-year-old lady win a fistfight against a Mexican teenager. I think she may have had a knife. She pivoted on a heel in front of the Departures/Arrivals screens, asking "Who else wants a piece?", ready to level all comers.

At one point an eagle swooped through the concourse in pursuit of a team of white laboratory rats, causing travelers to trip over their luggage to get out of the way. The fact that there were rats running through the airport was easy enough to explain -- they could, for example, have escaped from the luggage of some traveling experimental scientist. But where did the eagle come from?

*

In fleeting moments, there was a sort of camaraderie among the passengers, us against the airlines. (Which reminds me: DO NOT FLY UNITED. DO NOT GO TO O'HARE. Those are my pieces of advice to you.) But we also turned on one another, Lord of the Flies-style. I am guilty myself, though I am not the only one. A reasonably nice guy bound for Stevens Point, Wisconsin, started talking about how United ought to open more customer service stations and I said, somewhat snidely, "Yeah, you should really say something about that." As if his perfectly reasonable complaint were just too stupid an observation to verbalize.

*

Hours earlier, a group of people bound for Fort Wayne, Indiana, were marched out through the snow, put in their plane, where they sat for hours. Then they all came back inside. Then they sat at the gate for hours longer. Then their flight was cancelled. And they were shocked that they would not make it to Fort Wayne, Indiana that night. I watched it happen. This was the essence of the experience of that day.

I saw a young woman with curly hair sobbing as she walked through the concourse pulling her bags behind her, tears streaming sideways across her face.

*

They opened a third customer service station and a murmur went through the line, as if things were finally beginning to look up. A group of teenage girls tried to cut in line -- pretending they were just starting a new line in front of the new service station instead of joining the one long line we'd all been shuffling through like dead-eyed zombies for more than two hours. As if they had discovered a secret the rest of us didn't know. They got a lecture over the loudspeaker from a bearded customer service worker. Not that it would have mattered, anyway. The new station saw exactly one passenger before the bearded man disappeared into the back room again.

I believe the F Concourse of O'Hare International Airport was only hours away from devolving into a sort of post-apocalyptic universe of powerful warlords, robust trade in sex and illicit drugs, violence and contagion throughout the land. And I was prepared to fall in line with any charismatic leader who could promise me things. Not so much promises of escape -- it was too late for that, we would be in the airport forever -- but rather the promise that we the passengers could rise up to punish our oppressors. I would have been down for that.

*

Luckily, I have a permanently reserved private suite at the O'Hare Hilton, to which we now retreated. We were pursued by a pack of filthy travelers pleading to share our bed, offering inducements -- sex, chocolate, a controlling interest in various major companies. Laura had to mace a number of them as we ran for the elevator.

In the room, I opened the curtains and looked out across the snow and the parking lot on the other side of the airport, and I saw vagrants gathered around a fire they had started in an oil drum, and in the snow on the top level of the parking deck, in tremendous letters visible only from above, the message was spelled out: DO NOT FLY UNITED. DO NOT GO TO O'HARE.

Laura and I sprawled across the silk sheets, ordered two of every item on the room service menu and two bottles of Dom Perignon and then fell asleep without eating or drinking a thing.


[Note: This account has been lightly fictionalized.]

Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

Inherent Vice Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon


My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Short version: I liked it better when it was called The Big Lebowski. Stoner detective, stumbling his way into an elaborate conspiracy. That is fine as far as it goes, but Pynchon seemed to be spinning his wheels a bit. The SoCal post-hippie thing is straight out of Vineland, and I really didn't sense much of an emotional connection between the author and these characters.

Worse, it just wasn't that funny. A lot of "far out" and "groovy" and funny names for different strains of weed -- not exactly the stuff of hilarious satire, to me.

So, whatever. I still love love love Gravity's Rainbow and Mason & Dixon and especially V. God knows the guy has earned the right to write a clunker here and there. But this is one.

View all my reviews >>

Monday, December 28, 2009

Robert Mentzer's Certified Finest Movies and Television of the Oughts

Remember, the point of these things is to argue about them. Here goes:

MOVIES
Runners up: Gosford Park, Borat, Capturing the Friedmans, Punch-Drunk Love, Wall-E, Erin Brockovich, Syriana, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Far from Heaven, No Country for Old Men, The Royal Tenenbaums

20. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
19. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
18. Requiem for a Dream
17. Up
16. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
15. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
14. Elf
13. Lost in Translation
12. Spiderman
11. Being John Malkovich
10. Grizzly Man
9. Serenity
8. Ratatouille
7. Iron Man
6. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
5. A Mighty Wind
4. There Will Be Blood

3. O Brother Where Art Thou
This and The Big Lebowski are still for my money better than anything the Coen brothers have done since. Perfect synthesis of kitschy stoner comedy and archetypal detective story.

2. The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
I am counting them together as one film. One of the great achievements in all of movie history. If I have to choose a favorite, I choose "The Two Towers."

1. The New World
My second-favorite film by my favorite director, Terence Malick. (Favorite would be Days of Heaven.) I love the way this movie really lets you see through the eyes of the first American settlers as they encounter the hopelessly alien "Naturals," their word for American Indians. Later, the film captures the same sense of strangeness for Pocahontas on her first encounter with Europe. It's also a disquisition on the (sometimes false) idea of paradise and the (sometimes prosaic) nature of love. And its nature photography is absolutely gorgeous.


TELEVISION
I am not quite sure why, but I think my taste in television shows is much closer to the critical conventional wisdom than is my taste in music or movies. Arguably that makes this my most boring list. Still, these are all great shows:

15. The Colbert Report
14. Futurama
13. The West Wing
12. Mad Men
11. The Sopranos
10. Angel
9. 30 Rock
8. Veronica Mars
7. Battlestar Galactica
6. The Daily Show
5. Deadwood
4. The Office (American)
3. Arrested Development
2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
1. The Wire

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas from David Bowie and Bing Crosby:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The new Insophisticate is here!

The new Insophisticate is here! The new Insophisticate is here! We talked about year-end things. Dino argued for Blakrok, I made the case for Brad Paisley, Andy talked games. Listen and throw things at your ipod because you disagree so vehemently. It will be fun.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Robert Mentzer's Certified Finest Musicks and Things, 2009 Pt. II

BONUS CATEGORIES!!!!

WORST SONG OF 2009
Down with Webster, "Rich Girl$"
To me a really terrible song has to be one that you like just a little bit, or want to like or something. In this case, the sample reminds me of a song I like a lot, "Rich Girl" by Hall & Oates. But this song is way cheesy. For the line "you're supposed to laugh, that's a joke, hon," alone, this shit is unbearable. A big no, a wasted idea.


BEST BEEF
Mariah Carey vs. Eminem.
Mariah's single "Obsessed" is quite good, and it came with a bizarro Mariah-as-drag-king video. Eminem, meanwhile, followed his usual "go nuclear" rule with a massively embarrassing story involving premature ejaculation. Who knows if it is true or not, but I am sort of inclined to think it is.

Runner-up: Wayne Coyne vs. Win Butler
Flared up hilariously, died down disappointingly, then came roaring back. Great stuff.

IN A WEIRD WAY 2009 SORT OF BELONGED TO
Lady Gaga. Am I wrong? As music, sorta so-so. As postmodern performance art? Kind of interesting!


NOT-NEW ALBUMS THAT WERE AMONG MY FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2009
Talking Heads, Speaking in Tongues
Michael Jackson, Thriller
Michael Jackson, Off the Wall
Michael Jackson, Bad
The Beatles, Let it Be

Two good times of year were a.) around the time the Beatles reissues were coming out and everyone was talking about the Beatles for a minute there, and b.) just after Michael Jackson died, and the outpouring of emotion took the form of an ocean of unreleased demos and DJ mixes that were all amazing. Those were sad days, but they were also some of the greatest days for music listening I think we will ever experience.

Robert Mentzer's Certified Finest Musicks and Things, 2009 (Pt. I)

I am going to do a best of the decade list, too. Why not? So argue with my choices below, or send links to your own lists and I will post 'em.

Without further ado, my favorite albums and songs of 2009.

--
ALBUMS
I know, what is an album? But collections of song do either hang together or not, and there is still something to records that work on a 45+ minute loop.


10. Rancid, Let the Dominoes Fall
Like the Raekwon record (#3), a total throwback. Hey everyone, it is 1995! No, I am not complaining.

9. J Dilla, Jay Stay Paid
Posthumous Dilla still better than 99 percent of the cats out there.

8. Lil Wayne, No Ceilings (mixtape)

7. Flaming Lips, Convinced of the Hex

A fuzzy, jammy session. Just what we haven't heard in a long time.

6. Jay-Z, The Blueprint 3

5. Amadou and Mariam, Welcome to Mali

4. Steve Earle, Townes
Sad songs in tribute to a sad man, Townes Van Zandt, a great and underappreciated songwriter.

3. Raekwon, Only Built for Cuban Linx Pt. II

Wu aesthetic lives on. I would not have thought the best rap record of 2009 would sound almost like it came out in the mid-'90s. But here we are.

2. Rihanna, Rated R

1. Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night

People, it is not even close. This is absolutely the best, best-crafted album of 2009. Soaring choruses, shredding guitar solos, funny lyrics. Brad Paisley is big-hearted, likable, honest. They're just perfectly constructed songs built around sweet conceits. ... Just a stray thought, but how much better would that movie "It Might Get Loud" have been if it had swapped in Brad Paisley for Jack White?

I understand that many people's ears are not really tuned to modern Nashville country. Get them in tune.


SONGS
21. Britney Spears, "If You Seek Amy"
Hey, let's see you release a song that spells out a curse word.

20. Flo Rida w/ Ne-Yo, "Be On You"
Hey, let's see you release a straight R&B ballad that is based on a scene from "Anchorman."

19. Drake w/ Kanye/Eminem/Lil Wayne, "Forever"
Eminem wins this one, but all the verses are pretty good.

18. Jay-Z, "Run This Town"

17. Kelly Clarkson, “My Life Would Suck Without You”

16. Rihanna feat. Young Jeezy, "So Hard"

15. Mariah Carey, "Obsessed"

14. Tortoise, “High Class Slim Came Floatin’ In”

13. Miley Cyrus, "Party in the USA"

12. Wilco, “Wilco (The Song)”
Kind of sly in a way. Nice song.

11. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, "Afraid Ain't Me"

10. Major Lazer, "Hold the Line"

9. The Flaming Lips, "I Can Be a Frog"


8. Black Eyed Peas, "I Gotta Feeling"
I think conceivably the Black Eyed Peas will be the Hootie & the Blowfish of 2019 -- mega-popular band that no one now admits to ever liking. (Btw, isn't it about time for a critical reappraisal of Hootie?) Whatever. They are good. Both "I Gotta Feeling" and "Boom Boom Pow" are monster singles.

7. Lady Gaga, "Paparazzi"

6. Amadou & Mariam, "Masite Lady"


5. Brad Paisley, "Then"

4. Steve Earle, “Pancho and Lefty”

It's weird but because it's the best-known Townes Zan Vandt song, it's also somehow the most personal of Steve Earle's covers. And it's just a great goddamn song.

3. Jay-Z, "Empire State of Mind"

2. Raekwon "10 Bricks"

1. Rihanna, "Russian Roulette"
Taut! As soaring and suspenseful as pop music can be.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Portrait of Thomas Pynchon as a young man

Short but good piece in London Review of Books:
One of the things Pynchon liked was to be driven around LA by one of the young women from the neighbourhood while rehearsing his theories about the defence industry. His favourite hangout was a joint called Tommy’s which had good chilli cheeseburgers and Tom would always eat two in a hurry. He stuttered, and when he was excited, the words didn’t always flow. He told me at one point, almost vengefully, that one of his quests was to ‘keep scholars busy for several generations’. He said he had written The Crying of Lot 49 under the influence of Borges and for money, but it didn’t make money, and he dismissed it. He thought V a good effort. He was at work that summer on Gravity’s Rainbow, which he felt had real prospects. There was a pile of papers on a desk – scraps, handwritten notes, different coloured paper – and he would add to it if you said something he thought worth keeping. He said he didn’t go to the beach anymore.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Zombie Reagan


Zombie Reagan Raised From Grave To Lead GOP

Blog namesake edition

A University of Plymouth study tests the "Infinite Monkey Theorem."

Who and when: Students at University of Plymouth, 2003, paid for from a £2,000 Arts Council grant

The aim: To test the "infinite monkey theory", which states that if a monkey hits keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time, it will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.

And the kicker:

What was learnt: The theory is flawed. After one month...the monkeys had partially destroyed the machine, used it as a lavatory, and mostly typed the letter "s".

[NB: I was reminded of this brilliant one-act by David Ives.]

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The LSD No-No

I love this animation set to audio of Dock Ellis telling the story of how he pitched a no-hitter on LSD in 1970:

"I said, 'Oh, wow. What happened to yesterday?'"

Friday, November 27, 2009

Empires

Pretty cool thing, via kottke. As he says, "France pretty much just explodes around 1960."

Visualizing empires decline from Pedro M Cruz on Vimeo.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle



Pretty fascinating. Not penetrating exactly, but honest and true to the writer's experience of life as an outsider inside a totalitarian state. It is pretty dull, occasionally terrifying, with flashes of the saddest stuff ever.

View all my reviews >>

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pull Up On Da Scene

Via Diplo's twitter feed, a rap video from the city where I was born, Peoria, Ill.:

Monday, November 09, 2009

Thursday, November 05, 2009

About Wausau's recent zombie infestation

I have mentioned that I am a fan of Twitter. Some time a couple of weeks ago, I began following a Twitter user named Wausau Loner, who was writing about life in rural central Wisconsin. A typical tweet was something like, "Walked down to the river along the path we neighborhood locals use. It's strange to see it so low, especially in the rain." An interesting person, but nothing too out of the ordinary.

As the month went on, Wausau Loner's tweets started to get ... weird. He wrote about a domestic standoff that never appeared in the newspaper. He wrote about a massive traffic crash, also undocumented: "We’re at the scene. Cops. Another ambulance. Fire trucks. Big fire. The rig fell a long way down. No survivors. Damn damn damn." The story got stranger and more violent. "We’re going back to Wilmuth’s to tell him his son is dead. It’s been a bad night."

At some point, I figured out that Wausau Loner was telling a fictional story. But even then, it was hard to get a bead on it -- just someone making stuff up? Some kind of elaborate hoax?

It all became clear the day before Halloween, when the story blew up: There were zombies loose across central Wisconsin, and Wausau Loner, along with fellow Twittering story participants Professor Pierson, Carl Phillips and Ramon Raquello all played a role in relating the story. By noon on Thursday, the zombies were all over the Wausau area, and the story was in full swing. I was refreshing my Twitter page every 15 minutes to see how Wausau Loner and Prof. Pierson were doing. Ramon Raquello and Carl Phillips, sadly, didn't survive the day.

To me, it was a great idea to use Twitter for this sort of fictional storytelling -- especially since, at the beginning, it wasn't clear that Wausau Loner was a fictional creation.

I emailed Wausau Loner with some questions about his Halloween story.

First of all, who are you? Name, age, town you live in?

My name is Dave. I’m 43 and live in Rib Mountain, close to where WausauLoner lives in my story.

What gave you the idea to create this Twitter story? I am not sure I've ever seen something like this done. And why Twitter as opposed to a blog, novel, comic book, etc.?

I work in advertising and marketing. We’ve been doing a lot of social media projects for clients lately, but for my own account, I didn’t feel like being _another_ marketing advice guy (do we really need more?). Tweets from characters of The Office gave me the idea of having a fictional character. At first, my plan was to have WausauLoner do what he’s doing now: tweeting a few times a day about life after the zombie apocalypse. Then I hit upon the idea of kicking it off with a big event.

I ran across a saved mp3 of 1938’s War of the Worlds and it all clicked: I had to do an homage to the show on Halloween Eve 2009, the show’s 71st anniversary! I’ve enjoyed listening to that show since I was a kid. The more I thought about it, the more I thought it would be fun to do use the tempo of live tweets to replace the original’s we-interrupt-this-program bulletins.

How far in advance did you map out what you would do? When did the story actually start?

WausauLoner was a fictional character from the beginning. I thought about my plans for a week or so before starting the account in late September. At first, I concentrated on establishing who he was, where he lived, and that something strange was happening in his neighborhood. All the mysteries can now be explained by the start of the zombie plague or what might be causing it, if you look at them knowing what we all know now. Some of the details have yet to be filled in. Farfel’s demise is part of that storyline.

I also decided to leave some hints for fellow fans of War of the Worlds. I opened accounts for ProfPierson, RamonRaquello, and CarlPhillipsTV and figured out how to incorporate other hints as well. Having a cast of characters helped the story develop rapidly from there.

I typed up some story bits and pieces now and then, figuring out how the outbreaks would happen and wrote backwards and forwards at the same time. It was a challenge to put things out there early and know I had to make it all fit with what I hadn’t yet figured out would happen later. It was fun breaking important story elements into 140-character chunks.

Did you make any on-the-fly changes to what you had planned?

I realized early on that the only way I could run multiple accounts and a rapidly advancing story was to automate the process. There’s a site I recommend to our clients that you can pre-load tweets onto for release at specific times. I used it several times during the run-up to play tweets at different times of the day and night. For Friday, I had everything programmed in until mid-evening. I’d intended to have the whole day set, but getting around some anti-spam policies had me up late Thursday fixing the timeline. I ended up going into Friday without knowing what would happen in the last 5 hours. I wrote those on the fly Friday night.

I have noticed (with the help of Google) that you put little clues/homages into the story -- Wilmuth is a character from War of the Worlds, WGON is in Dawn of the Dead. Are there others? Why did you want to include those?

Grover’s Mill, the Wilmuth Farm, Ramon Raquello, The Meridian Room, Professor Richard Pierson, and Carl Phillips were all included as hints for astute readers who might know the War of the Worlds story (or hear it as Halloween approached). The WGON-TV helicopter appeared in both the original Dawn of the Dead and the re-make. I included all those hints as treats/tips for fellow fans.

I also wanted the reader to be able to pick up the fact that WausauLoner wasn’t real – but I didn’t want to make it too easy. As I got closer to Halloween Eve, I pushed further. Obviously, there’s no WGON in Wausau, no traffic chopper, there is no Grover’s Mill in Wisconsin, and there were no high school playoff football games on Friday. I thought I made it really obvious when I directly contradicted news reports about the WIAA rescheduling the Grover’s Mill game due to H1N1 right after the real WIAA said that no rescheduling would occur. If anybody caught any of those hints, they didn’t say anything until late Friday morning.

It seems like a big part of what you were going for was that sort of War of the Worlds-type "is this real?" moment. With some of the early tweets, it worked on me, and I know it did with others, too. Why approach it in this way? What makes that better/scarier/more interesting than just a straightforward story?

I did it that way to salute the original. I quickly realized that the brevity of the tweets and the anticipation of the next one would ratchet up the tension. The principal applied to both the live action and the earlier unsolved mysteries.

I also had Pierson deliver a couple of lines from George Romero’s movies that have become key zombie lore (they can be stopped “by removing the head or destroying the brain,” and so on – I just had to get that out there!) Pierson’s final speech modified a phrase or two from Orson Welles’ closing lines in War of the Worlds and incorporated some of the more unusual word choices from that script. It was preachy, but it felt right for the character.

Where do you go from here? What happens in the story, and what happens to the concept?

WausauLoner’s story will continue. He’ll be reporting from the Zombie Apocalypse as he’s able, but on a much more infrequent basis. A few tweets a day at most.

Last question: Why did you want to tell THIS story? Why zombies?

Zombies are fun! I’ve always been a fan of movies and books about various apocalyptic scenarios, and zombies are one of my favorites. They’re hot now, too, so people have a good general idea of how they work. It means I don’t have to explain very much in the tweets about basic zombie facts.

[crossposted from What's Your Beef?]

More movies about salt, please


I am such a nerd that when I first heard about this movie Salt I thought it was an adaptation of this book about salt.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Wausau Tweetbus Project


Attention transit fans and Internet people! This project by my friends at Citizen Wausau looks like it will be pretty fun. This Saturday, people will be getting together to ride the Wausau Metro Ride all around town and write about it on Twitter. I am sort of a Twitter addict -- my Twitter feed is @robertmentzer -- so this sounds pretty cool to me:
TweetBus starts with a simple goal: we want to increase both awareness and use of the Wausau Public Transit System, the bus. Public transit is a vital part of our city’s growth. Sadly, every year Public Transit seems to be attacked around the time of the city budget. So we want to do something fun and progressive that uses technology to create awareness of the Public Transit System.

Members of the CW family will be riding the bus all day on Saturday November 7th. We would love your company, but we’ll get to that in a second.

[...]

1. We will be meeting at 8:45am Saturday November 7th at the Downtown Transit Center, and getting on the bus for our day long sojourn. We would love to meet you there, and start the day together. If you cannot make it there, or just want to do a part of the day, see below. We would welcome you to the fun of a day on the bus.

2. Follow our progress on Twitter. Participants in the event should use the hashtag #tweetbus at the end of any relevant tweets. You can follow all the #tweetbus posts on the TweetBus website, or by searching for them on Twitter.
One thing I like about this is that it's an opportunity to find out all the places the buses go. (But then I am one of those weird people who thinks it would be fun to ride around and around the different loops.) Citizen Wausau has a Tweetbus site set up here that is going to pull together all the tweets that people post with the hashtag #tweetbus, which means anyone can participate and anyone can read what's happening as the project goes on.

I am going to join in with this on Saturday. You should, too! All the info is here.

(crossposted from the work blog)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

The Savage Detectives The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño


My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Awesome book. At the beginning it is all about the excitement and energy and ambition of young artists, and then through the 400-some pages in the long middle section it morphs into a sad story of talented but aimless people who've screwed up their lives. Well, that is sort of what it's about -- that plus relationships, groups of friends, sex, traveling, poetry.

Also, that description does not quite do it because the protagonists, Ulisses Lima and Arturo Belano, still have a certain mystique or appeal throughout the novel. This is in part because of the brilliant way their story is told indirectly, through the monologues of dozens of people who knew them. There's a double-meaning to the "detectives" in the title because not only do Lima and Belano set out on a search of their own for an obscure poet, the whole novel is structured as a search after Lima and Belano.

I admit I read it in small chunks while reading other books. It is not boring or difficult, but it is not a traditional narrative, either -- more like a hundred mini-stories within a loose larger narrative. And as with any great book that has this sort of structure, the tangents and digressions can be some of the best parts of the work.

Everybody loves this book and everybody is right. I assume credit has to go to the translator, too, because the sentence-level language is unfailingly incredible. There are lines -- especially the last lines at the end of sections; Bolano has a talent for last lines -- that are just crisp and juicy and perfect.

View all my reviews >>

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

DeRogatis on Dylan's Xmas album

From the latest Sound Opinions, Jim DeRogatis on the new Bob Dylan Christmas album:
He's like the horrible alcoholic black sheep of the family come to Christmas dinner uninvited, who says inappropriate things, knocks things over, breaks people's presents, pinches everybody's bums. Right? And you just want to throw him out! ... Truly one of the worst albums ever made.
Why does this make me want to listen to it more?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Flaming Lips on Conan

The Flaming Lips' kickass performance on the Tonight Show this week:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On health care, what's left to talk about?

By the way, even though it is still pretty obvious that Olympia Snowe will have an outsized impact on health care negotiations, it is hard to see her saying "When history calls, history calls" before voting yes in the finance committee and then not voting for the final bill. Right? I am pretty sure history would not have called to say, "Let's just get this thing as far as the floor of the Senate and then we'll kill it there." That doesn't sound like something history would say.

So we move on to questions about the centrist Democrats vs. the liberals. I would guess that the centrists will wield quite a bit of power when it comes to backroom negotiating, but at the end of the day it is just very hard to see any one of them -- not Ben Nelson, not Blanche Lincoln and so on -- actually being the Democrat who votes against cloture on health care. I could be wrong but I don't see it.

If they're all gettable on cloture (all except Lieberman), then a lot of the coming negotiations are really going to be about whether or not Ben Nelson et al. will actually vote in favor of the final bill -- the difference between a 60-40 vote and, say, a 55-45 vote. That's not nothing because the bills that get you those outcomes are probably different in some key ways, not least of which is this little matter of a public option, triggered or non-triggered or opt-in or what have you. Still, those things aren't really the same question as whether or not health care reform dies. That question seems to be basically in the past.

UPDATE [10/15 3:21pm] ... Liberal Sen. Sherrod Brown and conservative Dem Sen. Max Baucus play the expectations game here. Lots of difference between the bill that gets no Democrat to vote against cloture and the one that actually gets every Democratic vote.

Jay Smooth on Roman Polanski

A little late I guess but I just watched this tonight and it is pretty great:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Friday, October 02, 2009

Sesame Street does Mad Men

Via Aziz Ansari:

Really captures the slavish devotion of Don Draper's staff.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

On Inglourious Basterds' rampant stereotypes


Saw Inglourious Basterds, which I know you have all probably seen already. Most of my thoughts about it are relatively common -- it's a compelling and sometimes confusing mishmash of tones and styles; probably Tarantino's best since Jackie Brown (still my favorite of his films); it seems to be much more about movies than about life and consequently a little empty in the end. I did like it, pretty much. But you don't need me to tell you that stuff. 

(Some oblique spoilers follow, nothing too bad I hope.)

However, one thing that stood out to me, especially in light of this Tyler Cowen post about how the movie romanticizes Naziism, is that every ethnic group in the movie is portrayed as some sort of super-ethnic caricature.

The Jews, the basterds, are all super-Jewy, to the point of being ridiculous Jewish stereotypes. The Nazi Hans Landa, meanwhile, is the epitome of the movie-Nazi-aesthete. Hitler is super-movie-Hitler -- his first line is "Nein, nein, nein!" And it goes on. The single representation of a gentile American is Brad Pitt, who is a symbol by himself but who is given a dramatically exaggerated southern accent to make the point. There's even a scene in the movie featuring of all people Mike Myers, playing a British guy and made up into a kind of grotesque bad-teeth-bad-skin Englishman.

So, OK. Tarantino is definitely up to something with all this. What? I think Brad Pitt gives a hint when he talked about Inglourious Basterds being the "end" of all WWII movies. To me that seems like an idea Tarantino would fancy. Roll up the tropes and conventions of WWII film, including of Nazi cinema itself, turn them inside out by embodying them -- then put a symbolic end to all of it. The fact that the film also involves a scene where thousands of feet of celluloid are burnt in a giant fire would seem to fit with this theory. This is the culmination and teleological end of WWII cinema.

That's what I think the idea was, anyway, or the pretense. Whether Inglourious Basterds was actually successful at it, or even whether that's a good aim for a movie to have, those are different questions. I would guess the answers are no and no. Still, this is a somewhat more satisfying explanation for some of the movie's choices than simply that Tarantino thinks Nazis are cool.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Is Eliot Spitzer reformed yet?


OK, just thinking out loud here. But compared to John Edwards, Mark Sanford, John Ensign and Michael Duvall, Spitzer is, like, practically a model husband and father. In fact, the politician whose transgressions Spitzer's resemble most is Sen. David Vitter -- and Vitter still has his job.

So let's consider. Health care is almost certainly going to take the rest of this year. That means reform of the financial system is very likely to spill over into 2010. And even if/when new financial system regulations are enacted, presumably there's going to have to be someone to oversee their enforcement. Isn't there some potential spot in for Spitzer in all this? In certain respects he seems like the most qualified person for a job like that, no?

I get that Spitzer's self-righteousness as a prosecutor made his fall from grace more dramatic. Still. I don't see why he has to be done with public life forever. At what point plausibly could Spitzer return to public life, do you suppose?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Wire, dissed!

Ghostface has what I think is the first ever negative reference to The Wire in the history of rap music:
Real talk, it's not that bullshit from The Wire
It's them disco kids that clap iron
That's from "Mean Streets" on Raekwon's really great Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009

David Byrne's city, and my favorite cities

David Byrne designs the perfect city. This is one of a bunch of qualities it would have:
Mixed use
This is a Jane Jacobs phrase. A perfect city is where different things are going on, relatively close to each other, at different times of the day. A city isn't a strip of hotels and restaurants on a glorious beach; it's a place where there are restaurants and hotels, but also little stores, fashion boutiques, schools, houses, offices, temples and banks. The healthy neighborhood doesn't empty out at 6 p.m., as most of downtown L.A. does. In my perfect city there would always be something going on nearby.
I think my perfect city would be somewhat different than Byrne's -- smaller, probably, and greener. But I like the idea of thinking through all the different qualities that make a good city. What is most important to you?

I'll have to think about which specific qualities matter most to me. In the meantime, I can list some of my own favorite cities I've visited.

Abroad: Amsterdam; Barcelona; Dublin; Liverpool; Montreal.

In the U.S.: Athens, Ga.; Columbus, Ohio; Madison; Portland; San Francisco; Washington, D.C.

Of course there are a lot of place I haven't been, so this list is not yet even close to comprehensive or complete.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Best line I read today

From the GQ review (not online I don't think) of The Informant!, which looks great by the way:
Reversing the two mediums' original bailiwicks, TV is now awash in sophsticated storytelling, can-of-worms character motives, and provocative themes. But when America hits the multiplex, we want Transformers. The industry has only itself to blame for convincing a generation of moviegoers that that's all big screens are good for.
Maybe it is my age, or my general bias toward staying home, but I found myself asking: What are big screens good for?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

My 25 favorite Beatles songs

I tried my hand at doing a list of my top 25 Beatles songs.

A couple quick notes first. I must say I intentionally did not include "Strawberry Fields Forever," "All You Need is Love," "I am the Walrus" or "Yesterday." Some of the songs I really do like that probably would make up the next few slots on a longer list are "I'm a Loser," "Ticket to Ride," "Come Together," "We Can Work It Out," "Blackbird," "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," "Dear Prudence" and "Revolution."

I took the videos for these from the Entertainment Weekly's list here and here, which is a fun read.

25. Lady Madonna


24. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
"So I looked around and I noticed there wasn't a chair." Good early use of the sitar, and a great, half-funny story.

23. Something

22. I Saw Her Standing There
"She was just seventeen, and you know what I mean." That's a great rock 'n' roll lyric for you right there.

21. I'm So Tired
Great John epic.

20. Can't Buy Me Love

19. While My Guitar Gently Weeps

18. Let It Be

17. Getting Better

Optimism!

16. Michelle

15. I Want to Hold Your Hand
The band's first U.S. hit, a monster.

14. Dig a Pony

From the first hit to one of the last ever Lennon/McCartney collabos. This is full-on late-stage weirdness, but it really works for me.

13. She's Leaving Home
The empathy Paul shows for the parents of this teen runaway is actually sort of stunning for a 1960s rock album, or any rock album.

12. In My Life

11. Here Comes the Sun

10. Taxman

An ode for today's Tea Partiers, maybe. Has a groove!

9. Hey Jude
Written by Paul for John's son, which I think is nice.

8. Good Day Sunshine

7. Help!

6. Eleanor Rigby


5. Tomorrow Never Knows

4. Hard Day's Night


3. A Day in the Life
John and Paul, separate but together. "Woke up, got out of bed/ Dragged a comb across my head" gets me every time.

2. She Loves You

Just one of the great rock 'n' roll songs of all time. Perfect.

1. Penny Lane

I just love the innocence/weirdness of this song. Before Sgt. Pepper's, the original idea was to make a concept album of songs about Liverpool, and this song sort of makes me wish they'd gone through with it. Here's something a tour guide in Liverpool told me: The lyric "fish and finger pies" refers to getting to third base with a girl, in the Penny Lane bus shelter which was a common make-out spot.

--
So. The point of doing these lists is to argue about it. What's your number one? What's too high, what's too low? What am I missing?

So long, Hank Hill


King of the Hill ends tonight, apparently with a whimper -- since the show was cancelled after these episodes were already finished, these probably won't feel like last episodes. I haven't watched King of the Hill every week for some years, and after a 13-year run it's hard to feel that sad about the show being put to bed. But I still have a soft spot for it and will watch it in syndication sometimes and think, man, what a good show.

From the beginning, King of the Hill succeeded by being everything The Simpsons wasn't -- deliberate, conventional, understated. Where Homer Simpson was Homer Simpson, Hank Hill was the deeply moral, essentially admirable straight man who each week found himself surrounded by the frustrations of an insane, out-of-balance world.

While there's no doubt that Hank Hill's values are small-c conservative, one of the cleverest things the show did was consistently show the old-school authority figures that surround him to be just as incompetent and backwards as the California/hippie/liberal foils who sometimes made their way to Arlen, Texas. Hank sees himself as a kind of bastion of old-fashioned values -- but his Greatest Generation father, Cotton, is a crass, inconsiderate, tail-chasing old coot. Similarly Hank's boss, Mr. Strickland, rich Texas good ol' boy of an earlier generation, and also a thoroughly terrible person. Hank feels like a man out of step with his time, but we in the audience can see that his strong moral code would have made his life harder no matter when he was born.

The Simpsons, especially in its early seasons, had plenty of heart -- but what it never really offered were actual life lessons. Every character on The Simpsons tends to be equally buffoonish, whether it's evil Mr. Burns or hectoring, self-righteous Lisa. King of the Hill not only felt deeply for its characters but also offered a real vision of how to live in the world. I think that's a genuine accomplishment.

It's not really The Simpsons' fault that it spawned the empty, unfunny, basically repugnant Family Guy, but it did, unmistakably, as Family Guy picked up its gag-a-minute pacing and added a heavy layer of hackish nihilism and misanthropy. King of the Hill's TV descendants, meanwhile, are ... what? Maybe there aren't any, and Hank Hill really was a man out of time. Happily, that would seem to be the perfect recipe for a long, long run in syndication.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

"Trigger" option is it

Despite the persistent uncertainties and various matters in flux, I actually think we have a pretty clear picture of where health care reform legislation is headed. The trigger option is it.

Crass politics, now:
a.) If Sen. Ben Nelson supports it, that means the rest of the Senate Democratic moderates probably will support it, too.

b.) If Sen. Olympia Snowe also supports it, that probably gets Democrats to 60.

c.) If Nelson and Snowe support it, it seems reasonable to believe that some House Blue Dogs will also support it, for the same reasons.

d.) Last but not least, if Rep. Anthony Weiner says House liberals probably will accept it, they probably will.
Looks to me like the politics say that this will be the compromise. Or, of course, the whole effort could fall apart.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Wayne Coyne: Arcade Fire "were just dicks to everybody they came in contact with"

Wayne Coyne makes a welcome return to the hating-on-the-Arcade-Fire game in this Pitchfork promotional video [This part starts around 4 minutes into part two, "Wayne Coyne interview"]:
My experience even with Arcade Fire is like, yeah I like some of their music. But we were around them at times and they were -- they weren't even dicks to me, they were just dicks to everybody they came in contact with. Not even just the band, their crew (too). Everybody was just like, "We are better than you and you need to get out of our way." They kicked people out of their dressing rooms. They kicked people out of their dressing rooms! It's like, we're just sitting in here talking.

It puts people on the spot, because most people who are at festivals like this aren't -- not that they're submissive but we just don't want hassle. If a guy comes in here and says get out, we get out and we're like, oh well. But that gives us the perfect right to say, "That guy's a dick. Fuck 'em." You know what I mean? That is the nature of your behavior. You are what you behave as.
Glad to see Wayne is no longer pretending to regret his trash-talking.

Previously:
Wayne Coyne disappointingly backs off his Arcade Fire diss
Win Butler is so missing Wayne Coyne's point

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Playing with the Pitchfork list

I agree with my friend Mike that Pitchfork's list of the top 500 singles of the aughts is very strong, and in fact I find myself nodding more vigorously the lower the numbers get. Pitchfork's #1 choice is perfect and actually the whole top 10 or 20 are a nice, varied list. There are a lot of songs there I adore like "Get Ur Freak On" and "Idioteque."

But it's no fun to read someone else's list unless you can argue about it. Using this site's list as a simpler way to scroll through the rankings, here are some quibbles I came up with...

Songs not on the list that should be:

- Spoon, "I Turn My Camera On"

- Kanye West, "Can't Tell Me Nothing." Everybody likes "Flashing Lights" off Graduation but I like this one.

- The Hold Steady, "Your Little Hoodrat Friend"

- Bright Eyes, "Old Soul Song (For the New World Order)"

- Clipse feat. Pharrell, "Mr. Me Too"

- The Dixie Chicks, "Not Ready to Make Nice"

- The Hold Steady, "Chips Ahoy!" Beats "Stuck Between Stations" in my book.

- R. Kelly feat. T.I. and T-Pain, "I'm a Flirt (Remix)" Not better than "Ignition," I agree, but pretty great.

- Young Jeezy feat. Kanye West, "Put On" !

- Justin Timberlake, "SexyBack" !!

- Eminem, "Stan" !!!

Songs that are on the list but are undervalued:

- Rich Boy feat. Polow da Don, "Throw Some Ds" (351)

- Loretta Lynn feat. Jack White, "Portland, Oregon" (305) Top 100 at least, right?

- Three 7 Mafia, "Sippin' on Some Syrup" (222) A classic.

- Britney Spears, "Toxic" (141)

- Kelis, "Milkshake" (113) On my list "Toxic" beats "Milkshake" but both probably break into the top 50.

- UGK feat. Outkast, "Int'l Players Anthem (I Choose You)" (43) Top-ten material for me.

Songs that are on the list but are overvalued:

- Daft Punk, "One More Time" (5).

- Animal Collective, "My Girls" (9). I like Animal Collective but to me they are about a groove, not any single song.

- Antony and the Johnsons- "Hope There's Someone" (28).

- Dr. Dre feat. Eminem, "Forgot About Dre" (68). Great song, but it's ranked as the best Eminem song of the decade, which it is not.

- Kylie Minogue, "Love at First Sight" (208). Sure, "Can't Get You Out of My Head" is a great single of the decade. But this one is strictly an also-ran.

My overall score on the cool-o-meter: 246 out of 500. A lot of artists I sort of know about but never actually listened to. What's your score?

Streak of songs I recognized: 21 in a row -- from 69 to 49. The fact that I never bothered to listen to the Knife or Hercules and Love Affair messed me up in the top 20.

UPDATE [8/26 11:40pm] ... VERY IMPORTANT! I just realized the list contains the absolutely inexplicable and unforgivable omission of "Shooter" by Lil Wayne. INSANE. That is all.

Media critic criticism

I love that Howard Kurtz is scolding Usain Bolt for being immodest. Dude. He is the fastest human being in history. "Legend" is a reasonable word-choice.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Kellz

It is R. Kelly so it cannot be bad, but I am not sure I'm really feeling "Number One":

For instance, I don't think this is as good as "Skin," the single from the scuttled/retooled/reconsidered 2008 non-release 12 Play, 4th Quarter.

On the other hand, I'm very excited to learn that the new album contains yodeling!

Friday, August 14, 2009

An ounce of logical prevention...

I've been, over the past several months, been engineering a new personal political equilibrium, that is something at odds with my traditional knee-jerk libertarian instinct. It's not a rejection, per se, but an accommodation of certain physical and political realities. I realized that I'm willing to make compromises on certain dogmatic fronts in order to weakly achieve Pareto improvements. It all really started with an NPR interview with Doug Holtz-Eakin a while back where he actually made some sense on these kinds of tradeoffs Republicans have to be willing to make. A full response to him has been in the works for some time, and some day will appear here.

For now, I just want to ask the obvious questions begged by this Charles Karauthammer column. He writes:
This inconvenient truth comes, once again, from the CBO. In an Aug. 7 letter to Rep. Nathan Deal, CBO Director Doug Elmendorf writes: "Researchers who have examined the effects of preventive care generally find that the added costs of widespread use of preventive services tend to exceed the savings from averted illness."

Think of it this way. Assume that a screening test for disease X costs $500 and finding it early averts $10,000 of costly treatment at a later stage. Are you saving money? Well, if one in 10 of those who are screened tests positive, society is saving $5,000. But if only one in 100 would get that disease, society is shelling out $40,000 more than it would without the preventive care.
Clearly. But then isn't the correct adjustment to at least fund population-wide preventive care for those diseases where the benefits outweight the costs? That is, fund the screenings for diseases that occur with higher frequency and also have sufficiently high late-stage treatment costs. Maybe there are none that meet this criteria - I dont know. But an out-of-hand dismissal seems, well, dismissive. From CDC and private research, we have a pretty good idea of how common various conditions are in a given population.

Also, if preventive care is instead restricted to sub-populations (maybe this is unacceptable to some people), then we can increase the positive/population ratio by selecting into higher risk populations. We do this informally by telling women there's no need to get a mammogram until your 30s (at least) because occurrence of breast cancer is so low among teens and young adults. In the same way, we could fund heart disease preventive care for say those over 40 (or 30 if you have a family history of heart disease), but not 20-year olds with no known risk factors.

I would think somewhere in either of those criteria would be a preventive care regime that passes the cost-benefit muster. Maybe the data says otherwise...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Regrets

I am kind of sad that I am not really a blogger anymore. More on this another time.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

J Smooth on Michael Jackson

J Smooth on Michael Jackson:
On the night Michael died I went to 125th Street to join in with the spontaneous memorial that jumped off in front of the the Apollo. And the scene I found there fascinated me because it was this mix of powerful human emotion and bizzaro media circus at the same time. ... After awhile I started to feel like we were all caught up in this collective ritual of trying to process our own grief by making media out of it. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I'm not sure if it's good or bad. But I couldn't help thinking how this mix of deep human connection and weird media circus was a perfect metaphor for Michael's career.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Jay-Z as rap hegemon vs. The Game as rising middle power

Tour de force post by Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy about the international relations politics of The Game's spectacular (in the sense of creating a spectacle) attacks on Jay-Z and analysis of Jay-Z faces now. Made my whole day.

I have to run but will have some thoughts on this later tonight. [Internet problems last night. Never mind, it's too late now. Good post though.]

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

'It shows you how crazy people can get'

Overheard conversations in the YMCA steam room:
1.

A: You remember Josh? He was crazy. Really crazy. He tried to kill himself you know, jumping off a bridge in Duluth. But he didn't kill himself -- he just went splash in the water! [Hard laughter.] Yeah, he ended up shooting himself though.

B: Really?

A: Yeah. He was crazy. It shows you how crazy people can get.


2.

B: I was in Chicago and I went to one of those gyms they have in the bottom of a skyscraper? Like a Gold's Gym, a chain, I don't remember the name of it. In the bottom of a skyscraper. I went in the steam room they had there. The room got steamed up, but it was cold. The steam never got hot. It was like a greenhouse or something. I was like, bring some plants in here.

A: Do you garden? Plant things?

B: No. Well I grow some marijuana out in the woods. On county land. For parties, you know.

A: Me too.
I overheard both of these just today. (Same two dudes, these exchanges separated by a few minutes.) And I was in there for like 10 minutes. I really need to get a waterproof pen and pad and just hang out in there and take notes...

Monday, July 06, 2009

Roland Martin does not stop talking

The news that CNN commentator Roland Martin is getting his own Sunday talk show is a good enough reason for me to tell my Roland Martin story:

You may or may not already know this, but I attended a wildly prestigious J-school, as befits my overall awesomeness and elite status. Part of what made it a fun place to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go was the fact that the school had a working news bureau in downtown Chicago, where student journalists covered actual news events and wrote stories that were published by actual news publications -- not the Trib or the Sun-Times, of course, but by a handful of other, smaller Chicago papers.

I remember the first day of classes in that downtown newsroom. Exciting! We weren't going to do any actual reporting that day, but it was a full, tightly scheduled orientation day with a lot of different parts to it -- tours, explanations of newsroom rules and so on. And one part of that orientation was a talk to the students by then-editor of the Chicago Defender, Roland S. Martin.

Martin is a charismatic guy, and he gave a good talk. Importance of journalism, holding public officials accountable, etc. The thing was: He was very comfortable talking about himself and his profession. He talked and talked. And he exceeded, by some margin, his allotted block of time. The professor whose job it was to shepherd us out of the room and into the next part of orientation -- a great teacher named Jon Ziomek -- was visibly nervous. At some point Martin was going to throw off the entire day's schedule. Ziomek stood up, walked to the front of the room, where he hovered to the side of Roland Martin like a handler about to usher him offstage.

No matter. Roland Martin had more wisdom to impart to us. Kept right on talking.

Finally, Ziomek broke in. "Well, our time here is --"

And Roland Martin said: "Oh, it's okay, I've got time."

For all I know, he realized a split-second after he said it that our professor wasn't actually worried about his time. But to me it was a hilarious moment, the hilarious obliviousness of someone who could listen to himself talk all day long.

I think that must say something about the sort of people who end up making their living as television political pundits.

However I should also say that I have nothing really against Roland Martin as a TV commentator. He is certainly not one of the worst talking heads, and arguably is even in the top half. Maybe his new show will be good!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Ways Michael Jackson is different than the Eagles: A meditation

Q. Does this mean that we will see a spontaneous outpouring of love and grief when Don Henley dies?

A. Hahahahahaha.

...

But why not? If it's true that the Eagles have the top-selling U.S. album of all time (more on that below), then why does it seem like they aren't even in Michael Jackson's league as musical/cultural figures? Why is it that Michael Jackson's music brought the world together, while the main redeeming quality of the Eagles is that they made for a good punchline in The Big Lebowski.

I can think of a few reasons:
    a.) no compelling/grotesque personal story. As far as I can tell, Eagles are just rich dicks. Not very interesting!

    b.) No real artistic reach. Like Michael Jackson, the Eagles occupy a hybridized musical niche -- in their case, country-rock. But while country music in recent decades has certainly incorporated more rock influences, there simply isn't a tradition of Eagles-influenced artists the way MJ spawned a billion baby MJs.

    c.) We grew up with Michael Jackson. And in more than one way: People roughly my age have our childhood memories of the Thriller era, while people my parents' age actually remember MJ as a child star. That's a different relationship than the one anyone has with some boomer-centric country-rock act, or some released-after-the-fact greatest hits collection.

    d.) Video. Via MTV, Michael Jackson reached millions and millions of kids who didn't buy his records. Like me! I was too young to be buying records, but I was well aware of Thriller and Bad.

    e.) Last but certainly not least, there are lots of reasons to doubt that RIAA number. The primary one, though not the only one, is that RIAA measures U.S. sales only. Contra Greg Mitchell, if you take plausible high-end estimates it's possible that Thriller sold more than twice as many copies as that Eagles album.
In summary, let's always remember that Michael Jackson is awesome and the Eagles suck.