Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Weekly iPod Shuffle: 3/31/07

1. "Roll Over Beethoven," The Beatles
I've actually never been that fond of the covers the Beatles did in their early years, and this track in no exception. George's vocals are a little thin, and the entire thing sound a little too proper for rock and roll, a little too stiff, a little too...well, British.

2. "Clash With Reality," Pantera
Imagine what a song called "Clash With Reality" by a band like Pantera would sound like. That's what it sounds like.

3. "Wings for Marie (Pt. 1)," Tool
Part one of the centerpiece of Tool's most recent album, 10,000 Days, "Wings for Marie" is actually the weaker half, but only because it's all setup and no payoff. Together, they represent what is probably Tool's greatest accomplishment to date. (The Marie of the title is Maynard's mother, Judith Marie, about whom he also wrote A Perfect Circle's breakthrough hit "Judith." She was left crippled by a stroke, but refused to let her deep Christian faith go. Prior to her death a few years ago, she was incapacitated for twenty-seven years, or roughly 10,000 days. You didn't want to know any of that, but I had no choice but to tell you -- on my character sheet, next to "Nature," it says "Pedagogue." I just regained a point of Willpower.)

4. "Revolution," R.E.M.
And the theme of obscure R.E.M. tracks continues from last week with his obscure throwaway from the soundtrack to Batman and Robin, one of the most ungodly films ever created. I have nothing else to say about the song, except to inform you that it's not a Beatles cover.

5. "Twist and Shout," The Beatles
This, however, is another cover by the Beatles. This one fares a little better than "Beethoven," though, largely in part by John Lennon's infamously hoarse vocals. After hearing it so many times through the years, though, I'm pretty sick of it.

6. "Signs of Life," Pink Floyd
A tame instrumental that opens the Floyd album with both my favorite cover and title, A Momentary Lapse of Reason. This was the first album recorded after their songwriter, Roger Waters, quit, and it shows very little signs of life at all -- the record is, for the most part, dull as dishwater. But hey, cool cover, huh?

7. "Secret World (live)," Peter Gabriel
One of Gabriel more poignant love songs. I prefer this live version to the studio, in part because it's longer, and in part because, paradoxically, it sounds better. Who knows.

8. "One Chance," Modest Mouse
I love Modest Mouse. This song takes what should have been a straightforward pop song and mauls it with shouted overdubs and off-kilter harmonies. As does pretty much every track they've ever recorded.

9. "Policy of Truth," Depeche Mode
Hey, remember when they made a comeback a while ago? No? Me neither.

10. "Come On Eileen," Dexy's Midnight Runners
It's great. Fuck you. Actually, you know, if you're willing to ignore the 80's stigma attached to this track, you'll find a quirky, completely original pop song that doesn't sound like anything else at all. How did they end up as just one-hit wonders?

It occurred to me

I had to go to court to take care of a traffic ticket last week. Nothing major, just had to show the judge the paper that said I'd gotten my car inspected, and that was that.

But while I was waiting to pay my court costs ($15 -- it's gone up in the last two years) and get the hell out of there, I watched some guy's trial. He was cited for criminal mischief and was pleading not guilty.

The story itself is rather boring, revealed by the judge's "I will chew off my own arm to get out of here" expression during the entire six-minute proceedings. The kid allegedly set off a fire extinguisher, a lady called the cops, they wrote the kid a ticket. But nobody actually saw him do anything, so the judge dismissed the charges and everybody went home.

So why am I relating this story? One thing occurred to me. Before this little "trial" began, I saw an interesting sight: all three witnesses (the two cops and the lady who called them) stood before the judge.

"Okay," he said. "Raise your right hands."

They did so.

"Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"

They agreed to do so.

"Okay, let's do this," the judge said.

Yes. A kid was written a ticket for setting off a fire extinguisher, and three people were sworn in under oath.

Meanwhile, eight US Federal Attorneys were fired for grossly political reasons, the entire Justice Department has been subverted to become the strong arm of the Bush Administration, every word the GOP has uttered in response to the scandal has been abruptly proven false, and the President refuses to allow two of the principals to testify under oath. Or even in public. Or let them be recorded. Or even transcribed.

Like I said, it occurred to me.

Friday, March 30, 2007

And the CAPCOM spake, saying "Let there be second-stage booster separation"

Spotted this driving home from BJ's the other day:

The Church of NASA

The church of NASA? Now there's a church I can get behind.

Speaking of churches and goofiness...

The Pashion

Yes, that's the church right across from Dickinson High School. Yyyyyeah.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Hey, it's a new feature

All right, I've grown weary of the iPod top ten, because it very rarely ever changes: "Call Me When You're Sober" and "Mercy Street" are so far ahead of the other 4000 songs in my iPod that it's unlikely they'll ever change. I've searched in vain for an auto playlist that could keep track of the songs I'm listening to most within a certain period of time -- like a weekly top ten -- but no such luck.

So, I cave to something even more lazy: a weekly iPod shuffle. The first ten songs my iPod (which is named Defiant, should you give a crap, and I don't see why you should) spits out when set to Shuffle. The goal is to show off what I think is a rather eclectic musical taste, and also to embarrass myself by revealing songs I like but probably shouldn't.

I'm going to do this every Saturday, as part of a determined plan to force a post at least once a week. You'll remember that I've tried these methods before, and you'll remember that they've all failed. But it's worth another shot.

The Weekly iPod Shuffle: March 24, 2007

1. "Woke Up This Morning (Chosen One Mix)," Alabama 3
You probably know this one better as the theme from The Sopranos -- it's one of my favorite songs.

2. "Nutshell," Alice in Chains
This version is from their performance on MTV Unplugged, and was frequently referred to as "the applause song" by my friends in high school for the intro, which features an endless ocean of applause as the four band members walk out on stage one at a time. This version is also superior to the original, as the acoustic lead guitar works much better than the electric distored guitar solo on the studio track.

3. "Driver 8," R.E.M.
From way, way back in R.E.M.'s history, this song is fascinating, not just because it's a good song, but for Michael Stipe's bizarre Southern twang he adopts on the lead vocal. Very strange -- I don't know if it's fake or not (another song from the same time, "Don't Go Back to Rockville," has the same twang).

4. "Doll," Foo Fighters
This is the first track of The Colour and the Shape, my favorite Foo album. It's only a minute or so long, but it serves as a good intro to the record.

5. "Dog Eat Dog," "Weird Al" Yankovic
A flawless style parody of Talking Heads, circa 1982. In fact, you'd be forgiven for thinking, upon first listen, that it was the Heads. Al's vocal yelps and warblings are so perfect it's amazing.

6. "Long Line of Cars," Cake

Every Cake song sounds more or less exactly the same. Which isn't a bad thing.

7. "Hit That," The Offspring
Ooooh. Yeah, this song sucks. It's stupid, it's cheesy, it's annoying, and the lyrics are downright insipid. Yeah. I don't know why it's on my iPod. And that five-star rating's gotta be a typo, right? Right?

8. "For Those of Y'all Who Wear Fannie Packs," Ben Folds Five
An improvised jam recorded during sound check, this is the Five at their most playful. Apparently, they're big fans of Rage Against the Machine, which is surprising. At the end, the three of them collapse with laughter and note that everyone fled from the cacophony: "Oh, they've left. They gave up. 'These guys are fuckin' idiots...'"

9. "Flamenco," The Tragically Hip
Inevitably, the Hip. And, also inevitably, my least favorite Hip track. Oh well. "Fireworks" will show up here eventually.

10. "Half a World Away," R.E.M.
Hey, they're back. This is from the early '90s, so no twang. This song was actually on Scrubs a few episodes back (the one when Private Dancer was discharged; they played it when he and Elliot were talking in the parking lot).

If you'd like, leave a comment with your own random shuffle from whatever music-playing software you prefer -- for some bizarre reason, I love reading these things.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Hip, Hip, hooray

I had my hands in the river, my feet back up on the banks
I looked up to the Lord above and said, "Hey, man, thanks."
Sometimes I feel so good I gotta scream
She said, "Gordie, baby, I know exactly what you mean."

The girl is about twenty-five, I'd say, maybe a little older -- it's hard to tell in the dark. I think her hair is curly, but, again, with the only illumination coming from a purple stage light twenty feet away, it's not easy to spot. I can see she's got a beer in her hand because of the way the amber glows in the gloom, but that's all.

She's looking at me, and I don't delude myself into thinking it's because she's at all interested in me. It's probably because we've been standing next to one another for about thirty minutes now, and she's seen (and heard) my reaction to the set so far. She's seen that I know all the words, both to the old stuff ("Boots or Hearts") and the new stuff ("In View"). I even spotted "Ahead by a Century," one of my favorites, solely from Gordie's somewhat oblique intro ("We'd like to do a song now for the girls..."). That was a dead giveaway.

She turns to me and speaks, but it takes three tries for me to understand her over the din.

"You know the band!" she shrieks.

"Yeah!" I answer. "I love them, one of my favorites!"

"Where are you from?" she says, straining to be heard as the band prepares for another song.

"Here!" I say, and wait for...there it is. Her mouth opens into a nice, round oval of shock. Her free hand -- the one not holding the beer -- draws up to her face in awe.

"I'm from Toronto!" she yells, and it's not really all that surprising.

I turn back to Rene. "What was that all about?!" he asks, and I start to answer, but they've started "Gift Shop" now. "I'll tell you later!" is all I have time for.

The Tragically Hip -- touring to support their unspeakably great new album, World Container -- played at Scout Bar Thursday night, for about 100 people. I'd say 98 of them were Canadian. The other two were Rene and me. I was afraid that the band's ecelctic and violently passionate lead singer, Gordon Downie, would be a little restrained in front of the small crowd, and I was very, very happy to see that wasn't the case. He leapt across the tiny stage like a loon, took apart his mic stand and twirled it like a baton, put it back together and used it as a lounge chair, and basically kicked 100 asses. The sound was so thick and massive in that small space that I couldn't hear for a day and a half. The swampy "New Orleans Is Sinking" became a stomp through fire and apocalypse, and "Springtime in Vienna" put invisible pogo sticks underneath everyone in the crowd. I've never -- never -- seen a crowd as enthusiastic for a band as I saw that night. (In fact, I'll bet most of my hearing problems weren't caused by the band at all, but by the screaming girls and whooping guys.)

I've read that the Hip had a live energy that was impossible to capture on record; now I know what they meant. This is a group that pulls absolutely no punches, and would've made a fan out of any newbie in the bar that night.

Here's the setlist, which is going to be incomprehensible to you, but I include because I like writing these things down, and also because it might help Rene dig through the stack of Hip CDs I'm burning for him:

01. The Lonely End of the Rink (World Container, track 2)
02. New Orleans Is Sinking (Up to Here, track 3)
03. Yer Not the Ocean (World Container, track 1)
04. Boots or Hearts (Up to Here, track 6)
05. The Drop-Off (World Container, track 9)
06. Ahead by a Century (Trouble in the Henhouse, track 3)
07. In View (World Container, track 3)
08. Gift Shop (Trouble in the Henhouse, track 1)
09. The Last of the Unplucked Gems (Road Apples, track 12)
10. World Container (World Container, track 11)
11. Putting Down (Music@Work, track 4)
12. At the Hundredth Meridian (Fully Completely, track 3)
13. Bobcaygeon (Phantom Power, track 4)
14. The Kids Don't Get It (World Container, track 6)
15. Springtime in Vienna (Trouble in the Henhouse, track 2)
16. Wheat Kings (Fully Completely, track 10)
17. Luv(sic) (World Container, track 5)
18. Blow at High Dough (Up to Here, track 1)

19. Grace, Too (Day for Night, track 1)
20. Substitute (an awesome cover of an old, old song by the Who)
21. Family Band (World Container, track 10)

They didn't play "Fireworks," my favorite song. They didn't play "Courage" or "Nautical Disaster," two classics I was looking forward to hearing. And the only song they played from my favorite album, Road Apples, was the weakest one, "The Last of the Unplucked Gems." But it still might be the best concert I've seen.

And the image I will take it away from it most, the one that stays with me, is that woman next to me, the Toronto native, who was in such profound disbelief that an American had even heard of her favorite band, let alone loved them just as much.

But World Container has now been released in the US, and is apparently selling well. There is hope.

Maybe next time there'll be 5 Americans in the audience.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Oh, you have GOT to be kidding me

April 23?

There are no new episodes of Heroes until April 23? After that episode? You fucks!

That's...that's just mean, man.

24 and Lost have the right idea: show your entire season in one uninterrupted block, week after week, no repeats, no hiatuses. Certainly not a hiatus lasting six weeks, you bastards.

Of course, Lost is squandering their nonstop schedule by wasting episodes -- the last two have been of substantially lower quality than usual (last week's particularly, one of the worst the show's ever aired), and the unmistakable impression is that of a show shuffling its feet and waiting for sweeps to start before rolling out its big events. Uncoincidentally, that's exactly what Lost did last year: tap their feet for the first half of the season, then unleash a barrage of brilliance in the final ten episodes to redeem themselves.

The commercials for this week's episode show promise, but then I spotted this synopsis on a Lost fan page:

Sigh. Why not a dance competition while you're at it? Or a karaoke jam? Anything else that will sap the episode of any tension and suspense. 'Cause we know at least half of the show will already be taken up by uninteresting, masturbatory flashbacks we don't care about anyway.

One of the (many) reasons it takes me so long to write an episode of Revolver is that I formatted myself in a corner: I decided at the beginning that each episode would take place in the living room of the house. (This was because I wanted the focus of the piece to be the dialogue, which is the one aspect of my writing I've never, ever been happy with.) It took me all of two episodes to violate that concept, and seven for me to stage an episode where the house isn't seen at all. But the basic structure has remained, and it turns out that I don't find it that easy to write several interlocking stories in long, unbroken scenes in one or two rooms. The structure has handcuffed me into spending less time thinking about what to write and more time thinking about how to write it. So it takes an awfully long time. (Well, that's one of the reasons, anyway. You probably know the others.)

But Lost has the same problem. At the beginning, the writers decided that each episode would feature pre-island flashbacks for one character, revealing some of their backstory and developing themes that would illuminate the present events. Of course, they've violated that exact premise several times already (we've had a couple island-only flashbacks, and married couples have had to share their flashbacks), but the basic structure still remains: every ten minutes or so, we hear the whoosh noise, and we're looking at someone's past.

The problem is we've been on the island with these people for two and a half years now (in real-world time, anyway; 74 days in the show's chronology). And, frankly, I don't care anymore about the flashbacks -- the present is far more interesting to me. I say drop the flashbacks and just tell me what's happening now, especially if the most compelling past events you can tell me are "How Jack Got One of His Several Tattoos" and "Hurley's Greedy, Deserting Dad Is the Reason He's Fat."

But then, if the best present events you can come with are "Hurley Fixes an Abandoned Car in the Jungle" and "Sawyer Plays Ping-Pong," maybe I should just be grateful with what I have.