Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Well, yeah

You scored as Serenity (Firefly). You like to live your own way and don't enjoy when anyone but a friend tries to tell you should do different. Now if only the Reavers would quit trying to skin you.

Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? (pics)
created with

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I don't know whether to be relieved or concerned

Was it Groucho Marx who talked about not wanting to belong to any club that would have him as a member? Yeah, that's how I feel right now.

As I mentioned a while back, my roommate Tommy is getting married in July. He's now all but moved out of our apartment, since the lease ends this month, and I shall be going as well -- I don't want to stay here, and our landlords don't want us to stay here. So I'm heading off.

Trebor and I found an apartment that would well suit the two of us -- it's about eighty dollars cheaper than this place, it looks nicer, the landlord doesn't appear to be flagrantly incompetent, and, praise Hetfield, it's downstairs. You really have no idea what that means to me. I've been living on the second floor my entire damn life. I am in love with the thought of not having to walk up and down stairs four or five times a day.

So we went in yesterday, saw the place, liked it, and filled out our applications. Which then has to be put through the acceptance process.

Hoo boy.

The background check involves calling one's place of employment, verifying that one does indeed have a job. No problem there, yeah? But then comes the credit check. Yeouch. And then calling one's currently landlord -- double yeouch. The landlords here could tell blood-chilling horror stories about this place -- lack of upkeep, late rent payments, and so on and so forth. I was extremely worried we'd get turned down. Which, of course, would leave me homeless.

But I called back today...and we're approved.


What kind of low-ass standards does this place have? Jeez. I mean, if they'll let me in, who else might living there? And, even more frightening, who got rejected? I know it happens -- the downstairs apartment is available because the women who was going to take it didn't pass. What terrors has she perpetrated?

But, on the bright side, I won't be living under the overpass. Which means I should be able to finish both the new Revolver and Metallica's Musical Snapshot sometime next week, after the move is done. (Mercifully, every piece of furniture in this place, with the exception of the bed I'm throwing away, is Tommy's. Makes my move much easier.)

When we move, I'm dumping AOL -- Trebor's got DSL through Verizon, so we're going with that. This means a new e-mail address and probably a new AIM handle. Obviously, you'll hear about it when it happens.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Cheney's got a gun

So, the Vice President accidentally shot some guy this weekend.

There is nothing I can add to that that wouldn't be tasteless, so I will add nothing.

Except to laugh at the horrible luck the Administration has been having lately. And to once again reconsider the existence of karma.

What goes around comes around, fuckers.

(And I think this makes Cheney the first VP since Aaron Burr to shoot someone while in office. Congrats, Dick!)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Grammys

I didn't watch the show, but I dutifully found a list of the winners soon afterward. Here's the good and the bad:

The Good
  • Green Day winning Record of the Year. (Even if "Holiday" was a better song, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" completely dominated the airwaves.)
  • Each Grammy Kanye West won.
  • System of a Down winning Hard Rock performance over Nine Inch Nails and that awful Audioslave song I won't shut up about.
  • The White Stripes won Alternative Music performance, which doesn't make up for not being nominated for Album of the Year, but at least it's something.
  • Linkin Park and Jay-Z winning Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for "Numb/Encore." (Even though several tracks on that disc are better than that.) (And yeah, that's what the category is called. Rap/Sung Collaboration. Don't ask me, I just work here.)
  • Steve Lillywhite winning Producer of the Year. He's a groovy guy.
  • Each Grammy Mariah Carey didn't win. Including Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year. Ha ha. I love it when I'm wrong.

The Bad

  • Everything else.

Seriously. U2 for Album of the Year? And Song of the Year? I mean, don't get me wrong, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb was a fine record (and I'll even ignore that it was released in 2004, because I understand the Grammys have a weird October-September eligibility window), but...come on. Kanye West was right there. Once again, the Grammy voters' apalling fondness for long-established artists and old fogeys has cost someone a trophy they deserve. They did it to Eminem and Radiohead in 2001, when Steely Dan was given Album of the Year over two of the very best albums I've ever heard in my life; they did it last year, when Ray Charles (who managed to be long-established, old, and dead, so there was no beating him) was awarded for his moderately received Genius Loves Company while Green Day and (hey!) Kanye West were left standing on the sidelines.

But hey -- at least U2 are cool guys, and the album was pretty good. It could have been handing Kelly fucking Clarkson a bunch of awards. At least they're not that stupid.


Best Pop Vocal Album. Fiona Apple somehow manages to wrangle a nomination, despite all odds. And who wins? Kelly Clarkson, an continuing trademark of the FOX network, the very nadir of soulless, empty pop garbage. Blah! What's next? Nickelback winning Album of the Year? Creed sweeps the Grammys?

(Creed will sweep the Grammys, actually. Twenty years from now, their reunion album -- titled Resurrection, obviously -- will take home nine awards, including Album, Song and Record of the Year. Scott Stapp will be so filled with hope and the love of the Lord that he'll overdose on heroin immediately after the show and die.)

(Can't wait for that, huh?)

I'll have a dissection of the Oscars -- who should win, who will win, and who was snubbed -- once I finished seeing the appopriate films. Actually, once I see Brokeback Mountain, which is the only Best Picture nominee I've yet to see.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Movie stuff

Trebor and I caught Capote last night. It wasn't bad -- it felt a hell of a lot longer than its 1:38 running time, but the cast was excellent and it had some truly great moments. Not sure if I'm down with a Best Picture nomination, but it was certainly better than the year's other critical darling, A History of Violence.

And it might just do the impossible: make Phillip Seymour Hoffman a movie star. Stranger things have happened. (Though not often.)

The Da Vinci Code looks fucking awful. Now, this may come as a shock, 'cause you know I like to stay on the cutting edge of pop culture, but I still haven't read the book. I read another Dan Brown novel, Angels & Demons, though. It was an entertaining enough diversion, but it didn't seem exactly stuffed with actual substance. It was like a Lifesaver -- sweet, easy to eat, quickly ingested, but there's a big hole in the middle. I think once I actually sat down and read it I finished it in a few hours. Brown's action sequences are pretty effective, and he knows how to string together some cinematic set pieces...but the last twenty pages were pretty retarded.

But this trailer is painfully bad. Tom Hanks looks like a mutant. And ninety percent of the thing is just closeups of him looking in awe at something off-camera. Maybe he's staring at Ron Howard's own rapidly disintegrating hairline.

The movie doesn't come out for a few months, which means I'm going to have to watch the same damn teaser over and over again until release. And most offensive, to me anyway, is that the trailer doesn't even say anything -- I still have no idea what the damn thing's about. Something about Jesus, and pissing the Catholics off. And I wouldn't even know that from the trailer. But, according to Trebor, it gives away the plot's "big twist"...but that I would've had to read the book to spot it. Which isn't really a spoiler, then.

The point I'm trying to make here, Opie, is that your trailer -- much like most of your filmography -- sucks. You can't just pile up spooky images with no context like you're M. Night Shyamalan and make me excited.

Speaking of M. Night Shyamalan: Lady in the Water. Yyyyyyeah. I can't say I'm wild about this trailer, either. I know I'll see it, because it's Shyamalan, and I have an unhealthy love for his films. (I even adored The Village, remember?) But the whole "bedtime story" thing ain't doing it for me.

And what's with the name Cleveland Heep?

Anyway. One last thing. Before the movie started, there was a commercial for the Oympics. It was this weird short movie, about these three idiotic man-children who go to Italy for the Winter Games. Two of them show up barechested, one painted with the letter U, the other with A. They look around in vain for S for a few seconds...and then they spot him. He's wearing this red-white-and-blue afro wig, and he has his entire body pained blue. He runs up to them like a spaz, grabs them by the shoulders, and soon they're all jumping up and down screaming "USA! USA! USA!"

I leaned over to Trebor and said, "This is what we look like to the rest of the world, isn't?" Gleefully stomping around a foreign country, bleating our greatness to everyone around us, the thin line between patriotism and jingoism obscured and slathered over with grease paint.

It gets worse. After something happens, S decides to celebrate by prancing across a frozen lake. But the ice gives way, and the poor jackass falls in and freezes solid. Thinking they'll look stupid without their S (riiiight), U and A drag him around to other events and prop him up between them. A few girls think the frozen guy's "cute," so U and A continue to haul him everywhere, strapping him to the roof of their SUV, to impress these women.

There's a metaphor in there. The center of the USA -- the core, if you will -- cynically used to gain favor, by people who obviously don't care about the USA at least, outside of how it concerns them directly.

Yeah, okay, so it's not as delicious with meaning and irony as when a woman is prevented by police from hearing a speech promoting political freedom around the world because she was wearing a protest t-shirt, but I'm trying. The commercial certainly didn't make me want to watch the Olympics.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Musical Snapshots, Part 1: Everything was roses when we held onto the guns

(Yes, I know I said I'd have it before now. But as you'll see, my tardiness was actually some brilliant meta-textual commentary on my part. See, 'cause the artist I'm focusing on here is infamous for promising and never delivering. Or delivering long after everyone has stopped caring.

And if you'll buy
that, I have some very interesting real estate opportunities to discuss with you...)

This is the first part in the Musical Snapshots series. For the introduction/exposition, read this.

Musical Snapshots, Part 1.

But now the damage's done
And we're back out on the run
Funny how everything was roses
When we held onto the guns
But just because you're winning
Don't mean you're the lucky ones
For reasons known only to its designer, our apartment in Canoga Park, California, was two-leveled. The matchboxy kitchen, the tiny dining area, the one shoebox-sized bedroom -- that was all on the main level. But, in what I guess was supposed to seem whiz-bang-neato-sexy-cool, the living room was lower by about four feet. A few stairs on one end let you down; this left a long ledge, not unlike a stage, running directly through the middle of the apartment. The designers must have realized that such a large drop was inherently dangerous -- though again I'm guessing here -- so they decided to install safety precautions. Namely, a black wrought-iron railing, exactly like the ones outside. I think it was much more likely my sister or I would get our head caught in the gaps between bars, but the rail was there to stay, no matter how stupendously ugly it looked.

When I was seven, I use to jump on that railing and pretend I was Axl Rose.

To me, there was no one in the world cooler than Axl Rose. (Except maybe Mario. And it was hard to pretend I was Mario. I don't like mushrooms. But I digress.) "Welcome to the Jungle" was one of the first music videos I remember watching -- Axl's got his hair completely puffed out and horrible-looking, and he does this dance around the microphone stand. Except it's not a dance, really; it's more like he...writhes around it, this totally strange and yet completely awesome wriggle thing.

My seven-year-old mind was blown.

My mom bought Appetite for Destruction at some point. I'm actually old enough to remember records, but my mom was ahead of the technological curve -- we already had a CD player. It was bigger than our VCR, of course, and had to be hooked up to the stereo seperately from everything else. But she bought the Appetite for Destruction CD, and I use to listen to it every single day when I got home from school. My mom worked until after five, and my sister was safely tucked away at day care, so I was free for a couple of hours to turn the volume up loud, run up the stairs to our little stage, and make pathetic attempts to duplicate that dance. I never quite pulled it off.

The opening lyrics to "Welcome to the Jungle" were the only ones I really knew. I still have them etched on my brain to this day.

Welcome to the jungle
We got fun and games
We got everything you want
Honey, we know the names
We are the people that can find
Whatever you may need
If you got the money, honey
We got your disease
It was the seventh line there that got me hooked, I think -- the rancid way Axl spits out "money, honey" hit a nerve in my head. And before I could get over how cool that was, he gets to the chorus, with that "bring it to your shananananananananana-knees, knees!" part. Was this even singing? It sure as hell didn't sound like anything else they played on MTV.

The first electronic device I learned to program was our CD player. Play tracks 1, 6, 9. Repeat. Volume up. Over and over, until Mom came home.

And just before 5:00, when I knew it was getting close to her arrival, I'd turn off the stereo, put the disc in its case, and return it to the exact spot where I found it. I don't know why I tried to hide the fact I was listening to it. Maybe I was afraid Mom wouldn't like me using her CD without asking first. Maybe I didn't think she wanted me messing with the stereo. But most of all, I think I realized it wasn't something I should be listening to at all. Even without the skulls on the cover or the disturbing painting with the half-naked woman on the inside, the music didn't sound like it was meant for seven-year-olds. This wasn't like Def Leppard (which I also listened to a lot in those days) or Bon Jovi, which was loud and somewhat heavy but totally harmless -- Guns N' Roses, "Sweet Child O' Mine" aside, were dirty. Ugly. Dangerous, even. Only someone who truly didn't give a fuck about anybody, after all, would have gone on TV with that stupid hair.

And how did Slash keep that big hat on all the time?


Oddly enough, I played that album virtually every day for almost a solid year, but I only listened to the three big radio hits: "Jungle," "Sweet Child," and "Paradise City." Never once did I listen to the other nine songs, which strikes me as rather odd. But it's just as well -- I'm pretty sure my mom would have had a pretty big problem with me listening to some of those other tracks, what with such charming lyrics as:

Ya get nothin' for nothin', if that's what you do
Turn around, bitch, I got a use for you
Besides, you ain't got nothin' better to do
And I'm bored
That's from "It's So Easy." Though I guess it's worth noting that, at seven years of age, I would have had absolutely no clue what he was talking about anyway.


Eventually, of course, I did sit down and listen to those other songs, but not until after we'd left California and wound up in Hagerstown, Maryland. I remember very clearly the first time I ventured out of the safe waters of the three big hits into uncharted territory. Selecting it solely because I liked the title, I clicked over to "Mr. Brownstone." Of course, it's common knowledge that the song is about heroin use. But I didn't know that -- I was ten by this point. And I s'pose I'd been remarkably sheltered in some ways: at the time I didn't have any tapes or CDs of my own, and most of my mom's collection was comprised of stuff like Peter Gabriel and Toto. (Not that there's anything wrong at all with the former, who we'll get to someday.)

So there I was, sitting in a big green beanbag chair, oversized headphones on, listening to "Mr. Brownstone" for the first time. It's a pretty awesome song, and I was just starting to kick myself for never listening to it before when Axl stumbled into the last verse...

Now I get up around whenever
I used to get up on time
But that old man, he's a real motherfucker
Gonna kick him on down the line
I let out a strangled gasp and sat up straight. I backed the song up and listened to that verse again. Yeah...that's what I thought he said. I was in awe.

See, get this: I had never, before that moment, heard anyone use profanity in a song before. In movies, sure. On TV, yeah -- on HBO, at least. And in person, definitely -- my mom was not shy about letting the four-letter words fly. But in songs? I thought you, like, couldn't do that or something.

Yeah, I was kinda naive, I suppose. But "Mr. Brownstone" cleared that right up.

On an unrelated note, I think I've said "motherfucker" at least once a day since then.


The first tapes I ever owned for my own self were Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II. I begged for them for Christmas. Whenever we'd go to the local wannabe-Wal-Mart down the road, I'd always wander into the music section and gaze at the packaging for all the stuff I couldn't afford. And top of that list were the two Use Your Illusion albums. Though for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why they released two albums at the same time. (And for that matter, I still haven't figured it out.)

I was willing to settle for the first one -- I simply had to have "November Rain" -- but, lo and behold, I was lucky enough to get them both. They were gifts from my mom's boyfriend at the time, Rick, who was trying to win my admiration and respect the same way my father did: by buying me shit. I guess he wanted to shore up his status as Mom's Cool Boyfriend. (It worked, kinda-sorta, but he lost all his Cool Points and was disqualified from competition the night he woke me up by beating up my mom and trying to strangle her. Which we kinda frown on. And remind me to never tell you that story. But I digress.)

Unfortunately, his generosity was unnecessary: my mom had already bought the first Illusion for me, along with another tape and my very own stereo, and was just saving them for Christmas. She was heartbroken -- frankly, in those days, every present had to count at Christmastime, and she didn't need to be upstaged by her goofy-looking new boyfriend. And to make it worse, she'd already wrapped all my gifts, so she didn't know which of the two tape-shaped packages it was, and was forced to allow me to open it on Christmas morning before sheepishly taking it back.

It all worked out in the end, though: I listened to Use Your Illusion I so much that I eventually wore the tape out completely and it shredded itself in my tape deck. Good thing we had the backup, huh?

(The other tape she bought me that Christmas was We Can't Dance, the Genesis album. I mention this only because it factors in another of these Musical Snapshots deals. The next one, in fact.)

At the time, the first one was my favorite, because it was louder and heavier (I was starting to get into that Metallica phase around then), and it didn't have the stupid excesses the second one did -- like the awful electronic track "My World," one of the worst songs I've ever heard in my life, or the redundant "alternate version" of "Don't Cry." But as I've grown older, it's Use Your Illusion II that has stayed with me the most. It may be because of Axl's wannabe Elton John aspirations (doubters turn to "You Could Be Mine," which quotes Elton's "I've Seen That Movie Too")...but it's probably because of "Estranged."

"Estranged" is (was?) the best thing Guns N' Roses -- and by that I mean any of them, under any name -- ever recorded. The majestic "November Rain" was merely a warmup for this. Axl once referred to the song as his "baby," and it's easy to see why: armed with fantastic piano melodies and the most heartfelt lyrics he's ever written, "Estranged" is GN'R's "Stairway to Heaven." And Axl even has the good sense to step out of the way and let Slash burn everything down again between verses -- in what is possibly the only humble act Axl's ever committed, he thanks Slash for his work on this song in the album's liner notes. Cool, huh?

I didn't really discover "Estranged" until we'd moved down here to Dickinson, TX. But once I did, it was Appetite for Destruction all over again. I actually had to force myself to not listen to it, for fear I'd ruin another cassette -- we didn't have a backup of this one.

And I watched the video over and over again, too. While the "November Rain" clip managed to suit the epic nature of its song without going overboard, this one was just a tad too bloated. I mean, really, I don't think all that stuff necessary -- you know, the flying dolphins, or Axl jumping off what looked like an oil tanker, or the helicopter, or Sunset Boulevard turning into a river. You know? (Funny story, though: MTV ran a list of the 500 Greatest Videos of All Time in the late '90s, and "Estranged" weighed in at number 493. Five years later, it was featured prominently and mocked on the same channel during their When Bad Videos Happen to Good Artists special. What a difference time can make.)

The first night I spent living alone -- after vacating my old apartment, where I'd lived my mom and my sister -- I was going through some of my big boxes of stuff, and I came across my old tape of Use Your Illusion II. I was in a depressed, nostalgic mood -- my mom in the hospital, my sister living with our aunt and uncle, and me all by myself -- so I put it in the stereo and sought out "Estranged."

Well, I jumped into the river
Too many times to make it home
I'm out here all alone
And if it doesn't show, give it time
To read between the lines
'Cause I see the storm is getting closer
And the waves, they get so high
Seems everything we've ever known is here
Why must it drift away and die?
The silence after the track was deafening.


The first CD I ever owned? GN'R's followup to the Use Your Illusions -- The Spaghetti Incident?, a third-rate collection of covers. Once again, it was a gift (along with a Sony Discman to play it with) from a goofball trying to get on my good side -- this time, though, it actually was my father.

And maybe that was a bad omen of some kind, because Guns N' Roses flamed out in spectacular fashion. The band shattered, the core farted around for years before forming Velvet Revolver and somehow becoming popular again, and Axl began working on Chinese Democracy, the imaginary new GN'R album, which will be released just any day now, we mean it this time, for serious. As I understand it, he's gone through about twenty-five "members" of Guns N' Roses during these apparently endless sessions. The one tour he tried was a joke, with Axl's ego ruining the whole enterprise, just like always. It's kind of a shame, really, but there is something gratifying in knowing that, in the last ten years, I have released exactly the same number of new songs as Guns N' Roses.*

And maybe it's better that way. Axl's voice is a calling card from my childhood and adolescence -- a jerky, shrieking reminder of days when I outgrew my shoes every two months and my biggest concerns in life were doing my math homework, following baseball like a religion, and trying to get the girl in front of me in English class to notice me.

I guess Axl needs to accept that it might just be time to move on.

'Cause I'm pretty sure he won't be able to do that dance anymore.


To close us out, I present what the GN'R best-of album should have featured -- this is the best bunch of Guns N' Roses songs I could fit onto one CD. If you don't have any of them, you should remedy that immediately. (And no, there's no "Sweet Child O' Mine." It wouldn't fit. Consider it a B-side or something.)
  1. "Estranged" (Use Your Illusion II)
  2. "Welcome to the Jungle" (Appetite for Destruction)
  3. "Don't Damn Me" (Use Your Illusion I)
  4. "November Rain" (Use Your Illusion I)
  5. "Bad Apples" (Use Your Illusion I)
  6. "It's So Easy" (Appetite for Destruction)
  7. "Breakdown" (Use Your Illusion II)
  8. "Paradise City" (Appetite for Destruction)
  9. "Patience" (GN'R Lies)
  10. "Civil War" (Use Your Illusion II)
  11. "Mr. Brownstone" (Appetite for Destruction)
  12. "Coma" (Use Your Illusion I)

That does it for this installment. Next week: the four horsemen draw nearer, to frantically seek and destroy the unforgiven, wherever they may roam. With liberty and justice for all.

*That number, by the way, is one. Axl contributed the monstrously awful "Oh My God" to the soundtrack for the equally bad End of Days; my band, the Disposable Heroes, recorded one single: "Perky New Wave Number" (a title swiped, by me, from Kurt Cobain's working title for "Very Ape"), a track considered by some to be just as bad. But at least it wasn't in fucking End of Days. I declare myself the winner, because I least I didn't make anyone pay to hear my song, and all known copies of it have since been lost or destroyed. The sacrifices we make, huh?