Thursday, April 26, 2007

Linkery... Yet Another Incarnation

The Phil Spector trial is starting to get interesting.

Some old Leonard Cohen video footage. The first two videos are mesmerizing. The third one is notable for the way Leonard turns to look at the background singers when the first chorus starts. That moment almost makes up for the fact that this is the worst song ever written, by anyone. Four more observations about this video:
  • The kid in archway #4 on the bottom was getting a little antsy, wasn't he?
  • Has anyone ever lip-synched so flawlessly? (I'm 98% sure that this was the studio version of that wretched wretched song.)
  • Did all girls wear sweaters like that in 1984? Or was that a conscious decision by the wardrobe department?
  • What's up with the racial segregation of the background singers?
I'm seeing this movie tomorrow night. It's about a font and I can't wait.

To say that the first four paragraphs of this article were a bit shocking to me (keep in mind that this is the L.A. Times sports section) would be an understatement. Anyway, I think it's cool. Good luck Christine.

I want to, as requested, write more about the NBA playoffs. But these guys do it better than me. And the third picture is priceless. I will say the following about the playoffs:
  • We're two more Chicago Bulls wins from having no more Miami Heat in the playoffs. This would be a godsend. The Heat are the least interesting team in sports. I still refuse to acknowledge their victory in last year's finals. It never happened. Actually, the last NBA Finals that actually happened were in 2000.
  • The Golden State Warriors are fun to watch. Baron Davis is pretty amazing. I remember wishing the Timberwolves would have drafted him in 1999... but he was gone by the time they picked and we got stuck with this guy (the one on the right).
  • I'm fascinated by the Lakers. I think they're coming back. I can see it in the vacant/prescient stares of Phil and Kobe.
This movie isn't appreciated enough.


The Alec Baldwin voice mail. It never gets old. (He should probably know his daughter's actual age if he's going to give her grief over not answering the phone.)

I'll end on a positive note.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


1981 was probably the last year I listened to the radio constantly for my musical entertainment. After '81, I had enough discerning taste (and, eventually, discretionary income) to get most of my music from albums and cassettes and, after much consternation, CDs (and after more consternation, mp3s and the like). So, when I accidentally found myself at Wikipedia's 1981 in Music page, I was propelled down a river of memories on a rowboat of melodies.

Also, in 1981, I didn't care where my music came from. I'd later develop an anti-pop attitude (since rescinded). I'd become a snob about critical reputation. I was 15. All I cared about was a good song, whether it came from Top 40 radio (REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Hall, Rick James, Oates) or from one of those late night shows on Philadelphia's classic rock stations, when they would play entire Clash and Eagles albums at midnight. Yes, it was a time when The Clash and The Eagles could find common ground.

(Coincidentally, my earlier post today was about a book I read in 1981.)

So, looking at the Wikipedia list of albums and singles that came out in 1981, I'm kind of astounded at how good a year it was for music. In a now-classic list, I had 1981 ranked as the 26th best year for music in my lifetime. Now I think it might belong in the Top 5, nestled between '67 and '94. Just look at what 1981 brought to the table: Prince's Controversy album, Heaven 17, the best work of Genesis (Abacab), Blondie's most underrated song (The Tide Is High), the comeback of Gary U.S. Bonds, Jesse's Girl, Charlotte Sometimes, Thomas Dolby's Europa and the Pirate Twins, This is Radio Clash (!), Super Freak, Squeeze's East Side Story album, the first Replacements album, and, courtesy of Wikipedia, this gem of an anecdote from 8/23/81: "The Violent Femmes are discovered by members of The Pretenders busking outside the Milwaukee venue where The Pretenders will be playing, and invited to play a 10-minute acoustic set as a second opening act that night."

I could easily have listed an entirely different set of songs/albums/artists from '81 and my point would still stand. In fact, I'll do just that: Celebrate, I Love Rock and Roll, Freeze Frame, Tainted Love, Joy Division's Still, 38 Special's Wild Eyed Southern Boys, the single of Springsteen's The River (the album came out in '80 of course), You Better You Bet, Kids in America, the commercial peak of them, U2's October, and Waiting For a Girl Like You.

I'm not exactly longing for something gone here. Today, music is arguably better. If not better, it's at least easier to find and to catalogue. I will say with certainty that, although there were strict formatting considerations even 26 years ago, music on the radio was more interesting, diverse, and free flowing then. Of course, I'll probably say the same thing about 2007 in 2033. No, all I want to do is celebrate a great year for music, which 1981 surely was. If you don't believe me, listen to my favorite song from that year.

David Halberstam

One of my favorite writers, David Halberstam, died in a car crash at 73 yesterday. Tributes to his work are all over the internet but I wanted to add my own brief appreciation. Halberstam wrote important books about everything from the Vietnam War (The Best and the Brightest) to the news media (The Powers That Be). But I knew him from his sports books, especially The Breaks of the Game, his chronicle of the 1979-1980 Portland Trail Blazers. This book had everything that fascinated me about basketball when I was a teenager - psychology, competition, culture, race, and, of course, basketball. The fact that all of these things still fascinate me is at least a partial testament to The Breaks of the Game. I read it mostly on a trip to Europe with my family in 1981 . It was kind of funny... me carrying this huge hardcover book across the world. He wrote many other books (some of which I hope to read) and was working on another one when he died in a car crash in northern California. He'll be missed.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Spring Cleaning

I spent a lot of time over the weekend rummaging through my closets... not really for nostalgic purposes, more for practical reasons. (I need to make room for someone else, not to mention her boxes of stylish shoes and well-conceived photographs... and arty magazines and CDs full of big songs.)

I found a few cassettes of me singing songs in New Jersey. Did you know I used to sing in a band with my friend Patrick? He played drums. There were no other instruments, save for the very rare harmonica or outdated ill-played Casio. Did you know that there is a permanent record of me singing Billy Joel's The Longest Time and the Violent Femmes' Add It Up, in a sincere and dynamic fashion?

I found my old glasses. I used to require corrective lenses before my life-changing Lasik surgery in 2001. I'm wearing my glasses right now, with the non-prescription lenses. It helps with the computer glare at the office. I look cool.

I found many clothes that I had no business buying in 1997, 1999, and 2002, much less wearing in 2007. Let's just say that if you happen to be a man of strapping athletic stature and you want to inexpensively pursue a flashier, stripier, silkier look, you should maybe check out a Goodwill store in the greater Hollywood area later this week.

I also found 60 cents in the pocket of some pants I hadn't worn in a year and am wearing now. You'd think it was two quarters and a dime... maybe two quarters and two nickels. Nope. A 50-cent piece and a dime.

Friday, April 20, 2007


I wished recently wished Seymour a happy birthday. Let's wish Lily (the one staring at the camera) a happy birthday today. Is it her birthday? I don't know. All I know is that she was born some time in April 1994. Or maybe it was November. Doesn't matter. Lily is cool. Despite the photo, her eyes are the same size, though each is a different shade of green. She weighs 9.5 pounds to Seymour's 21. I mentioned that Seymour has never been sick a day in his life. Lily's had it rougher. She had bad bowels back in '03... nearly died. She nearly had her eye taken out by a mean old cat (not pictured here) in '00. Just a few months ago, she had to have minor surgery on an ingrown toenail. And early this morning she was seen vomiting on the fancy chair by the window. But she's a survivor. And she's 13 today! Or maybe not until November. Lily!!!

Pushing Mock Turtles

Rain in Los Angeles in late-mid-April is a beautiful thing.

Have you read about the Cities of America? How about Natalie and Michael? (yes, the latter poem is a much-edited version of the original 8-part series.)

My lack of enthusiasm about the upcoming NBA playoffs disappeared after reading this - Billups pretty much sums up why I love basketball. My favorite quote: "The NBA Playoffs is the anti-March Madness. Cinderella gets knocked up and doomed to a life pushing mock turtles at Old Navy. Goliath uses David as a bottle opener..."

This Architecture in Helsinki song is my favorite song of this morning. Finally, they have a song that matches their great name.

And it's Friday. I like to make lists on Friday. So...

Here are my Top 6 Post Office / FedEx Experiences, in Chronological Order

1. Brea, California Post Office, 1990, back when they had the massive fortress of newspaper boxes and pay phones out front. The clerk was singing along to the Beatles' Help and she noticed me looking at her singing and she sneered "You're probably too young to know the Beatles." I wasn't. I'm not. In fact, Help was the #1 song in America the week I was born (in another country).

2. Edina, Minnesota Post Office, 1991, when the parking situation was abysmal but the interior was futuristic and old-seeming at the same time. I sent many letters from there. I can't remember a specific one but...

3. Arizona Avenue branch of the Santa Monica Post Office, 2004. You never forget the day you weigh your dissertation on one of those little metal scales.

4. Los Angeles Airport-area FedEx office, 2005. I had to ship something I didn't want to mail to someone I didn't like in Wyoming, to fulfill some ridiculous job-related requirements that didn't require filling but I needed to get paid so I did it and I remember hearing something I've since forgotten on the radio on the way there. It was a Monday.

5. Los Feliz branch of the Los Angeles Post Office, 2007, located on Vermont Ave., just across from Skylight Books and the underrated restaurant Fred 62... on the same side of the street as the staggeringly overrated House of Pies. But this isn't about restaurants. This is about mail facilities. Someone needs to fix that one machine. Other than that, I like the whole place - good parking, helpful staff, etc. But, you see, I mailed a letter from there to Beverly Hills, 5 miles away. It took 27 days to get there.

6. Los Angeles River-area FedEx office, 2007. Yesterday in fact. I picked up my sweet new phone there because the delivery guy didn't want to leave it on my porch or behind my unlocked fence. It was crazy there, right before closing. I heard one man yell to a clerk, "this is a fucking joke" before he stormed out, pushing the door with enough force to suggest that he was having a really bad day. I saw a woman offer unsolicited help to a confused man. Overall, a good experience. San Fernando Road on a cloudy pre-sunrise evening is pretty rad.

Yes I just said "rad." And I called my new phone "sweet." It's like it's 1989 up in here.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Save What You Can

There's no excuse. Waiting you make 6 days? I should be ashamed. It used to be you could come here on a Wednesday and it was very very likely that would you would see/read would be different from what you remember from Monday.

I have no excuses.

The NBA regular season is over. The playoffs start Saturday. The Timberwolves (as expected) are done. I'll openly root for every team except San Antonio and Miami. And Detroit and Denver too. I don't care for New Jersey or Chicago either. Lakers? Yes.

This is an amazing song from 1986. And an interesting video.

Here's NPR Puzzlemaster Will Shortz's puzzle from last Sunday:
Name something commonly found in an office. It is two words, with five letters in the first word and four letters in the last. Both words are the last names of famous singers. What are the office items, and who are the singers?
The deadline for posting answers has passed. But I really want to know the answer. I can't wait until Sunday. Does anyone know?

This is 14 months old but still funny, as are the other pieces in the John Moe series.

Soon you'll get an amazingly long blog entry about a strange day in 1988. I'll write about Bakersfield and Edie Brickell and this film. And Morrissey too. And myself. But mostly Bakersfield.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Lessons Learned From the Album Covers of the Seventies

In addition to the seven poems I posted at that other place today, I'm offering some poetry up right here on Blueprint Blue:

From the summer of 2002:

Lessons Learned From the Album Covers of the Seventies

The first thing to remember is that Englishmen with beards
Get the best white ladies
This has been clear to me from the start
This may change but for now, heed this advice
You can see it in the lines in the ladies’ faces
And the way they look away because they have to not because the photographer says so
You can tell from the contours of the ladies’ bodies, their natural beauty
Not an artificial thing about it, it’s all too beautiful
And we know the men are English from the liner notes and their accents

Now, the thing with the hippies and the blue suits, I can’t explain
But they’re everywhere
You see a hippie in a suit and the suit is always blue
You see a blue suit and there’s a hippie inside it
They always look right at the camera in their blue suit
Like with a blue suit they’re not afraid of you anymore
Hippies are foreground and the rest of the mad slack world is background, man.

And you’re well aware that birds are significant
Often they portend flight
Or freedom
Cats suggest danger, in the same way as a man selling pretzels in a park
Empty rooms evoke loss, especially if the paint is peeling
A lead singer sitting in a chair means he’s fat and sad from drugs
Montages are creepy

They often fill the background with random strangers
This suggests mystery, a weight, an angle
They do this to distract you so you don’t stop listening
This is why the best critics never look at the covers
They only look at the labels
So they can write down the titles and count the stars they’ll give

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Go here for a fun game. Just hit the "write a new movie" button. (I liked Blades of Glory... I really did.)

And look who's coming to my workplace on swim in my pool.

Yesterday, I was fooled by this. At least I wasn't the only one.

About a month ago, I canceled my HBO (budgetary reasons)... so I was pleasantly surprised to see that my (unnamed) cable company is still giving me HBO for free (I checked.. they're not charging me). My review of the recent season premieres: The Sopranos: Great. Entourage: Bad. And nothing beats spending hours reading post-Sopranos analysis.

Sad news. Poor Andy Richter. Maybe I'll conceive of an Odd Couple-style vehicle for him and Jason Alexander.

I like this song by The Twilight Sad (warning: slow download, slower song).

Oh and Billy Joel's daughter sings too.

Here's a funny Daily Show video. They perfectly approach, analyze, distill, and skewer a controversial topic (the "N-word"). And it features the best of the sort-of-new Daily Show guys, Larry Wilmore and John Oliver.

I like this video. I love the song.

Speaking of Prefab Sprout, their second album Steve McQueen has been remastered (by Thomas Dolby) and rereleased. Considering it's one of the three greatest albums ever recorded, this event should be celebrated.

Pink is still hot. And smart. So is Lily.

And I would be remiss if I didn't link to this.

And go watch Grindhouse. They need the money. It's worth it. (But if you see it at the Vista in Hollywood, DON'T sit anywhere near the air conditioning vents.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

English Is My Second Language

It really is. I could even make a case for it being my third language. My first language was Swedish. This was the language my parents communicated in. Not because it was practical for them to speak in Swedish in Alexandria, Egypt (where, after a month or so in Sweden, I spent the first 2 1/3 years of my life)... but because that's the only language they had in common. I was around them more than I was around the rest of the world, so I spoke Swedish. When the family found itself living in an apartment on the Hackensack River in New Jersey in January, 1968 a few months after my second birthday, a decision had to be made.

My parents knew Swedish wasn't the most practical language for me to continue speaking. In fact, listening to the Arabic spoken around me in Egypt (by my father's dozens of relatives), I developed an understanding for the mood and message of Arabic, if not for its characters or written words. In New Jersey, my mother didn't speak much English but it was easier for her to learn than Arabic. My father, on the other hand, spoke fluent English. Oh and the national language (even in New Jersey) is English.

So English it was. Within a year, we were living in Feasterville, Pennsylvania and I was in Mrs. Harrison's kindergarten class, reciting nursery rhymes and devouring soft pretzels. I learned the language fast. I know I picked up a lot of English from books and even more from TV. Aquaman and The Dating Game were particular favorites of 1969-1970 Ali. I also read books about the moon landing. And baseball.

I picked English up fast. But it was the written and spoken (by others) versions of English that I excelled at. Speaking it myself was the hard part. I was painfully shy. I was sent to speech therapists all through elementary school and junior high because my teachers assumed (correctly, maybe) that I was shy because of a speech impediment. I had difficulty with my r's. I had a lisp (still do, a little bit). The "th" sound was nearly impossible.

I don't know if the speech therapy helped but it did leave me with me the indelible memory of reading aloud articles from National Geographic for my 5th grade speech therapist, in a tiny room in the school library. I remember the therapist taking one particular issue away from me because it had naked pictures of natives in it. I don't know if he tossed it in the trash or put it in his briefcase.

Despite my problems with English, something interesting happened. On the way to learning English, Swedish was forgotten. Purged. This mostly had to do with practical reasons. I was switching languages between the ages of 2 and 3, a stage at which children have a hard enough time picking up one system of words, much less two.

Anyway, back to speech therapy, which was a far better treatment than what my first grade teacher did to me once. Mrs. Badman (her real name) was incensed that I didn't participate in a class sing-along. She ordered me to leave the room and stand outside, in the hall. There, I was singled out and forced to listen to the other kids in the room having fun. Then she called me in and asked me to sing the song alone, for the entertainment of the class. I refused (one of my proudest moments). I was sent to the principal's office. I don't remember what happened next.

And that pales in comparison to what my third grade teacher Mrs. Tenebruso did to me. Actually, what she did to me has no place in this blog and it doesn't really relate to the topic at hand (language, speech, etc.) It was just a horrible thing to do. Don't worry - it doesn't involve any laws being broken. I mean it was sort of funny but still...

The shyness didn't go away. I was painfully shy in elementary school, slightly less painfully shy in junior high, and about the same in high school. The issue faded slightly in time. By adulthood, shyness is slightly less of an issue. You're in situations where you pretty much have to talk - jobs, dates, parties. Standing around in brooding isolation is less of an option. I think I'm a functioning speaker now. I can make small talk. I can answer questions. Often, what I do say is brilliant and memorable.

But, you see, it's still not easy. This is easy. Typing words in the white blogger box is easy. Speaking is more difficult. Some of you, especially those of you I've dated or married or lived with or collaborated on screenplays with, may scoff. You may say "Ali, you have no problem talking." You may think "Who is he kidding? Dude never shuts up." You have a point. But part of the reason I talk too much is that I take long circuitous routes to insights that others can offer more concisely (in other words, I talk too much because I have to.) There is the lack of a smooth connection between my thoughts and my spoken words. This is true of everyone, to a certain degree. But, with me, it seems to be a stickier bridge. And my only reason for why this is so takes us back to language.

Anyone who learns a new language often thinks and processes information better in their first language. But I forgot my first language. It's gone. I hear Swedish spoken now and I have no affinity for it, no "innate" understanding of it. I hear Arabic and there's a familiarity, although the Arabic words I tend to recognize are the words for "no" and "don't" and "stop." And "water." I hear Spanish enough to understand it far more than Swedish. For me, a trip to IKEA should be a visit to the inner core of my developing mind. It's not.

So all I have is my second language, my backup. I think I've mastered it in many realms of my life - creatively (I write good stories), professionally (call me Doctor, please), as a reader, as a listener of music, and as a viewer of dialogue in visual arts. But, as a speaker, the link is still a slow one. I find myself watching myself speak as I speak. I get nervous, pompous, mumbly, breathy, and theatrical. When I hear recordings of myself, I cringe. When I read my writings, I smile.

I've been told I'm a good out-loud reader. I'm good with scripts. There's less thinking to do, less processing to complete, less weighing of options (do I use "actually" or "really" here?... do I reference Aldous Huxley or Hall & Oates?) I've even been paid professionally for my ability to recite a good script.

In the end, I want the words to free more naturally. I'm reminded of what happens when my dentist asks me to, for example, open the left side of my mouth wider. It takes me a full second or two to pass this information from my ears to my brain to my mouth. Before I can open the left side of my mouth wider, the aggressive dental assistant will use her mirrored implement to yank my mouth agape. It's the same with words. You just have to wait. They'll get out of me eventually. Often, it will be worth the wait.

Finally, you may note the irony of what I put in parentheses above: I talk too much because I have to. Yes, I just spent 1,272 words on something I could have said in ten:

Words are trains for moving past what has no name

Paddy McAloon (Prefab Sprout), 1984.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Top 18 Train Songs

I've emerged from an odd 14-hour period of sleeping and half-sleeping, interspersed with sitcom watching and cereal eating. To say this was one of the best 14-hour periods I can remember spending (alone) would not be an understatement. I want to particularly praise the creators of The Office and Trader Joe's Raisin Bran.

Now? I'm at the office and I have work to do, lots of it. Well, maybe just a little. The campus is teeming with the news of a (seemingly) overblown scandal. The weather is perfectly gloomy. I'm reminded of 1997. April, to be precise.

But I've temporarily sworn off the past. So no melancholy sentences about that magical/regrettable spring (the spring of Pavement and the first playoff appearance by the Timberwolves). You see, that wasn't a sentence - thus, the period goes after the right parenthesis.

I haven't written about music lately. It's time for a list. In honor of my trip to the train station tonight, here are the Top 18 Train Songs.

(this is not so much a list of old-timey "hobo" train songs; it's more a list of songs that invoke trains from my lifetime)

(also - this list is meant for train-as-train songs, not train-as-metaphor songs)

(and I thought of this list before they did... they just executed it first)

18. The Train - Tahiti 80
17. Peace Train - Cat Stevens
16. Albemarle Station - Silver Jews
15. 52 Stations - Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians
14. Trains to Brazil - Guillemots
13. Marrakesh Express - Crosby, Stills, & Nash
12. Born on a Train - Magnetic Fields
11. National Express - The Divine Comedy
10. The Metro - Berlin
9. City of New Orleans - Steve Goodman
8. Love Train - The O'Jays
7. From A Late Night Train - The Blue Nile
6. Peace Train - 10,000 Maniacs
5. Midnight Train to Georgia - Gladys Knight & the Pips
4. I Often Dream of Trains - Robyn Hitchcock
3. Driver Eight - R.E.M.
2. Fear of Trains - Magnetic Fields
1. Freight Train Rain - Reivers

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Happy Birthday Seymour!

As some of you know, I've had my cat Seymour for a long time. He's been a loyal scruffy companion to me for more than one-third of my life. And today - roughly - is his 14th birthday. All I really know is that he was born in the first week of April 1993. So let's just call April 3rd his official birthday.

Seymour's mom was a stray cat who lived in and around the ratty apartment complex where my long-ago ex-girlfriend (the goth) lived. It's in the Highland Park section of Los Angeles, next to a big park where scary people used to do scary things. Now, that the area has been (slightly) gentrified, all people do in the park these days is play soccer.

Seymour's mom was an exceedingly friendly Siamese-looking cat. One night, I got into my car to go home and the mom cat jumped onto my lap in the car, before I could close the door. She was offering herself to me as my future pet. I already had one cat (the unnamed one) and didn't think I could take another. I had to decline her offer.

Months later, safely ensconced in the corner of a carport, the mother cat gave birth to a litter of exceedingly cute white-ish kitties. The litter was temporarily adopted by a nice Mormon family in the complex. I saw the batch of kittens and was struck dumb by their cuteness. I took Seymour. I gave him a home in nearby Pasadena. From there, he's joined me in Monrovia, Newbury Park, North Hollywood, Ventura, Amherst, Eden Prairie, three places in Minneapolis, two places in Santa Monica, and my current place on the hill. Counting his first few weeks in Highland Park, that's 12 homes in Seymour's 14 years! (actually 14 because twice I moved to a new place within the same apartment building.) So he's proven his loyalty and versatility. As he says to me often: "Just give me some food and water and a roomy place to do my business and we're cool, Pappy."

Did I mention that Seymour is 20.5 pounds? And that his weight has more to do with his massive muscle mass than fat? And he's never been sick a day in his life?

I don't know what's happened to Seymour's mother. Or his siblings. But that doesn't matter. Seymour is really his own man. He sleeps on the couch or on my feet - alone, content, zen-like. For years, he existed as peacefully as anyone could with his unnamed sister cat. These days, he exists even more peacefully with Lily (that's her in the background of these pictures.)

So wish Seymour a happy 14th! I have a feeling he'll outlive his weight. He has 6 years and 6 months to go.

(photos courtesy of ...)