Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Blurry Eyes Ever Again Is the New Blueprint Blue

I'm even re-posting from here to there. But don't worry, little blue... I am not abandoning you.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


If I don't post, Blogger might delete this like they deleted the poetry blog. Too much history here.

I just read most of 2008. Good stuff.

Go here for the new.

Monday, July 05, 2010

New Blog Location (for the time being unless I change mind again)

New new new posts!

New new new blog!


Or if you prefer:

If I see you tomorrow, I don't know what I will do
If I see you tomorrow, I don't know what I will do
I'm not gonna cut my hair when I'm around the park
I'm not gonna drive to Dallas with blurry eyes ever again

Friday, June 18, 2010

Top 10 Opening Lyrics (Ever): Part 1 of ?. #10 - #7

Although it tends toward the well played and the popular, toward the hall of fame and the textbook, it's hard to argue with most of [Spinner's top 25 opening lyrics ever]( Now I wouldn't put "She's a very kinky girl" at the top of my list but I see its appeal and would likely put it in my top 25 opening lyrics as of 25 years ago. Human League's "She was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar" is a gem though it is undone by its ludicrous follow-up line: "that much is true." Come on, League, you've uttered one entire line - do you realy need to reiterate that it's "true"? We never thought you were lying. Speaking of that line, who the hell calls it a "cocktail bar?"

Elsewhere on the list: "Don't call it a comeback" is made even more powerful by its follow-up: "I've been here for years." But LL has a better one and it'll be on my list. Prince says "I was dreaming when I wrote this" and that's evocative and all. But then he challenges you to sue him if he goes too fast. Prince, you're eight seconds into the song. We have no idea if you're going too fast.

And: It's hard to argue with stalwarts like "Hello darkness, my old friend" and "You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips." But I wish the creators of this list had left more room for more recent openers. We did just go through the greatest 15-year period in the history of music. But this is the internet and I can make my own list. I can make a better list. But...I have a job so I'm only giving you 10.

Top 10 Opening Lyrics (Ever): Part 1 of ?. #10 - #7

10. "I sit alone in my four-cornered room , staring at candles."
Mind Playin' Tricks On Me - Geto Boys
Let's dispense with the obvious: Most rooms have four corners. The fact that the claustrophobic closing-in room of paranoid nightmares also has four walls probably doesn't need to be specified. But there's an attempt here to evoke a crazy, unreasonable kind of madness, one that will get anyone into deep trouble if it - the madness - goes too far. But when Scarface delivers the zinger - and I bet he called it a zinger - "staring at candles" we know he's in deep. We know the candles aren't there for romance or ambiance - they're there because he either doesn't want to turn on the lights for fear that the cameras in the bulbs will more accurately catch his movements OR he didn't pay the electric bill.

If you think of the four parts of this song as songs in themselves, you've got four awesome openers. Willie D. strikes a pose for positivity with *I make big money. I drive big cars." (Aside: How the hell did Willie D. get a singing part in Geto Boys? He stumbles over his own words, he lisps randomly, his attempts to go fake-crazy fall flat, and when he says he's paranoid, he doesn't remotely believe it.)_ In verse 3, Scarface comes back with "Day by day it's more impossible to cope." Hend proceeds to blow us away with his expressions of a dual mad love/crazy hate for his girl. Finally, in verse 4, Bushwick Bill delivers the line that would have made the top 5 of this list if it had started the song: "This year Halloween fell on a weekend."

9. "If I see you tomorrow, I don't know what I will do."
Drive To Dallas - The Fiery Furnaces
This is one you have to listen to: the complete utter limitless certainty that the singer holds that she will not be seeing this person tomorrow oozes through the line, as she repeats and repeats and repeats. She will NOT be driving to Dallas. She will NOT be driving to Dallas witrh blurry eyes ever again. Why? She doesn't know what she will do. Good a reason as any.

8. It's four in the morning, the end of December

Famous Blue Raincoat - Leonard Cohen
Handwritten letters didn't have time stamps. Hence, the need for context as L. Cohen makes a song out of a letter written from one old friend to another - old friends that had been better friends before the letter recipient took the letter writer's train-waiting woman away from him. But think about this for a second: 4AM. Why is he writing a letter so late (not early)? And it's the end of December. Must be cold as hell - that music on Clinton Street is coming from cars or apartments, not the street. He didn't say New Years' Eve. He didn't say Christmas. So it was one of those in-between (secular) holidays days that lengthen that joyous season beyond its capacity.

7. "I come back to town today."
Turtledove - Trip Shakespeare
What an opening line on the opening song of what is essentially the opening album of Trip Shakespeare's career. (Yes they had an album prior to this but this one is miles ahead - streets ahead - if you will. Shortly after he announces his arrival back in town, Matt Wilson mentions "I've been on the highway for days." Meaning -give him a meal. Let him take a shower. With a clean soft towel and moisturizing body wash. I listened to this song over and over again as I made my triumphant summer of 1991 return to Minneapolis. I played it on a boombox in the U-Haul. I would leave Minneapolis quietly eight months later, the soundtrack to that departing trip unremembered, unrecorded.

(top 6 coming soon)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

I Want A Name When I Lose

I'll take the blame. Yes, it is my fault that USC's football program suffered a severe penalty at the hands of the NCAA - two-year bowl game ban, forfeited wins, etc.

I try not to speak of luck or fate. Or even that indefatigable undefinable standby, karma. I'll talk about probability and random flux and likelihood. And of course the stuff that happens due to clearly seen and understood reasons (e.g., not washing ones hands -> spread of bacteria -> unhappy society).

So how do we explain the undeniable fact that every institution of higher education that I attend or work for suffers a major scandal or loss in one or more of its athletic programs. Looking backwards:

USC football: It's ugly. It's likely well deserved. The cheating was pretty blatant. But remember: I was hired with one game left in the 2005 season. The Trojans had won the 2004 national championship. The Saturday after I started working for the Family, we crushed UCLA in a game so decisive my friends on the Westside couldn't even make eye contact with me. Then, it imploded. "We" lost to Texas in the Rose Bowl early in '06. Then the bad losses to teams from the Pacific Northwest (it hurts to say it.) Yes, it all happened because they hired me and it will continue until someone buys the screenplay (for a lot of money) or the MacArthur Grant works out. (Note: one more thing: didn't the whole Pete Carroll unites a city and creates a gang truce while not drinking water seem a bit ridiculous to anyone other than me?

USC basketball: Shady Blagojovich-esque coach (allegedly) hands envelope full of cash to young superstar with infamous first two initials and friendship with extremely short minor rapper from Beverly Hills. Scholarships are given to each of the two players. Then, NCAA sanctions a bit less brutal than those the footballers got.

Minnesota basketball: In 1997, months after after I began grad school at my old alma mater, several players on my favorite school's favorite sport's team were rumored to have cheated - a lot - on academic papers. Vague tales were told about a backup point guard from the Lakota tribe in North Dakota and how he took on a hoarse-voiced ostrich farmer from Kentucky. So yeah we made the Final Four in 1997. Except we didn't - all victories forfeited.

Cal-State-Fullerton football: During my two years getting my career-delaying masters degree (but gaining a rather memorable and informative education on psychology - that faculty was solid), the school's Academic Senate voted to end the football program. The school president fought the move but eventually the team was gone, a year after I too was gone, a minor deity soaring up the 57 freeway past Diamond Bar, past San Dimas, toward America.

Cal-State-Fullerton basketball: Some time around the midpoint of my CSUF career, this guy arrived to play basketball. Yes, one of my schools was partly responsible for that blighted period (2003 to 2007) when the NBA was nearly ruined by one team (the San Antonio Spurs) and when you get right down to it, the Spurs were unwatchable because of one man - yep, him

Minnesota basketball: In January 1986, months after I arrived on the overly brick campus, three players were charged with sexual assault in Madison, Wisconsin. They were later acquitted. But if I remember correctly, at the time this was considered a huge scandal. The team, the university, the city, and the state all seemed embarrassed. That winter quarter, the campus just seemed numbed and chastened, the sex scandal combining with brutal cold to crush one's spirit. I, on the other hand, coasted to my very first 4.0 college term (on 21 credits!) and have barely strayed from higher education since.

Penn State-Ogontz and Normandale College: I speak only in whispers of my first year of college - at the delightfully hilly suburban Philadelphia satellite campus (for freshmen and sophomores only) of the Pennsylvania State University system. But yeah I was there. And yes I performed poorly. Then, the family shuttled itself to Minnesota and I ended up at the quaint fake-named Normandale College and my GPA improved and my hair got too big. What's the sports connection? Both schools disbanded all of their team athletics programs during and after my time there. (Bonus fact: I was THE sportswriter for the Normandale College paper, The Lion.)

Why me? What did I do to create all that upheaval? Nothing. It's just that this blog needed content. And no one else but me is around to provide it. It's just a coincidence. I mean, how do I even fit in Fullerton's 1995 and 2004 baseball championships or five U of M hockey titles (in both genders!) during and just after my tenure there? You see, I hadn't written much of note lately and I used my time-honored gimmick of writing in a encyclopedia-like "multiple entries" list style. Excessive? Sure but are you still reading?

Monday, May 31, 2010

When the last thing one sees before one sleeps is Fred Savage, the first thing one will feel when one wakes up is regret, that's for certain.

When traveling on business - not personal - reasons, one should not, under any circumstances, rationalize one's belief that one is sleep deprived and thus may not hear the clock radio alarm or the cell phone's silent vibratory noise, or the hotel room's land lines squealy wails. That belief has merit to it. 

The last thing I saw before I dropped into slumber was the frightened face of Fred Savage. He was on a Law and Order episode.  <>

This all happened on the 18th floor. I'm in town for a conference. It's way too humid. Chicago, do something about your humidity problem, please. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Musical Journey

The road from here

To here

Is a narrow one. It goes both ways. In the end, one is left with

Friday, May 14, 2010

Breathing Deeply, Slowly (CENSORED)

Well THAT was the most frustrating week of my life.

I should not be writing... no not until some time has passed, some perspective has been gained. I should walk away from the blogger editor. I should walk far far away.

But here I still am. Tempted to make a list. A list of all that has gone comically wrong, inconveniently wrong.... a list of little things really. But enough little things can make a little mountain and enough little mountains can make a planet.

Silence is preferable. If I list the petty thieveries and flippant injustices, I will seem petty and flippant. Better to not say a word about...

... about the co-worker who REDACTED on the desk that used to be my desk..

... about the person knocking REDACTED census worker.. 

... about the person on the phone who - despite REDACTED - used the wrong credit card. 

... about the individual who never OVERREACTION might mean something.

... about the crazed bus driver who questioned my SPECULATION.

... about the Charter cable REDACTED worst human beings on earth.

No... best to just accept where I am at the moment... realize that at least the cats love me unconditionally... and play a SOOTHING COVER SONG by GAYNGS.



Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Women Were Management: 2,600 Words on Billy Joel's She's Always a Woman

In 1977, I was a boy. I was in a department store in Flemington, New Jersey. Though we lived in Pennsylvania, my family did a lot of shopping in New Jersey. If I remember correctly, it all had to with the sales tax.

I don't remember the name of the department store. It was a part of one of those regional east coast variety store chains, the pre-Internet, pre-call waiting, pre-VCR equivalent of Target or Wal-Mart but with one-ninth the square footage. Back in those days, it was okay for parents to leave their young children alone in malls or large stores for a couple of hours while Mom and older sister shopped for transitional clothes and Dad priced the shovels and stared lovingly at the riding mowers. (More likely, Dad was back in PA, blasting some Wolfman Jack and frying up some extra jumbo falafel balls).

Anyway, I was trolling the music department of this since-shuttered store (now part of a giant outlet mall complex). I was carefully considering the ways in which I would spend my allowance if anyone had ever bothered giving me an allowance. No weekly pay for me... I'd get three bucks here and a nickel there and a quarter tomorrow. Not enough for everything I wanted, which in 1977, consisted of lots of Warren Zevon, Bob Seger, Styx, Steely Dan, and Steve Miller Band.  

Yeah, that says "Styx" up there. Let a boy be a boy.

Whoever was clerking this part of the store that day (i.e., making sure the rural route trash from PA and the gangly Catholic hoods from NJ didn't shoplift the 8-tracks) was a Billy Joel fan. Because he or she played Joel's then-new album The Stranger at least three times in its entirety while I was there - dutifully switching from Side 1 to Side 2 (between Scenes from an Italian Restaurant and Vienna) without too much extra silence.

I was transfixed. I didn't want to leave. Sure, a couple of times I had to leave the record area to head to the front of the store where I had my hourly check-in with my Mom and sister. (And no... of course my father wasn't there. Those weekend afternoons when the Swede took us half-breeds to the mall or to the doomed variety stores - those were the times of his life, the few hours of solitude that made his 90-hour work week worth it.) Anyway, at the hourly check-in, my Scandi-accented mother would indicate that no, she and the sister were not done with their "chopping" yet. I never knew what those two did in those endless aisles given over to girls. All I knew was that I wanted no part of it - just give me the records and the books and a couple of racks of "husky" clothes for boys and I was good. A few bucks for an Icee or a Julius or a slice would be nice too.

And on that day, The Stranger took my love of music to another level. Those songs - that freeform exotica about real-life Italians in the actual boroughs of New York City, and a few strays out in Long Island or back in Jersey - those songs were the shit. Yeah, you can pretend that y'all were swooning over the Sex Pistols in some grimy corner of the American urban-industrial sphere but I know the truth. You were really lamenting disco's decline by listening to William Joel, taking occasional breaks for Stephen Bishop and Sir Boz Scaggs. You weren't lamenting the long-ago deaths of Hendrix, Morrison, and Joplin. No, you were crying - real liquid tears - for Harry Chapin and Jim Croce (his eyes were so sad).

Either that or you weren't born yet.

I was familiar with the single Just the Way You Are. Also, WPST in Trenton - 98-point-something on the FM - had been rocking a couple of the deep cuts - Movin' Out and Only the Good Die Young. But in that unnamed department store in just-south-of-central west Jersey there were three songs that stunned my kid ears: the title track The Stranger, the epic Scenes From an Italian Restaurant (so sophisticated), and She's Always A Woman.

I was in what you might call the pre-pubescent years of my life. Women, to me, weren't yet mysterious elusive creatures who didn't love me. No, by virtue of having a family consisting of an ever-present mother, a moody brooding brat of an older sister, and a father who worked from 9 to 9, women were the people I was always surrounded by and constantly reporting to. Women were management.

On She's Always..., Mr. Joel created a picture very different from the pop stars of his day. This was a time when E.L.O. was calling women "evil" and the Eagles were labeling them "witchy"..... a time when Cliff Richard's "devil woman" had to change her "evil ways" per the orders of Carlos Santana. Here was this guy who hadn't done much of note in his career delivering a lilting deliberate tale of woman-as-woman.... woman-as-person-skillful-in-the-ways-of-human-interaction...woman-as-manipulator. In those songs by those other artists, I didn't recognize those evil devil witches. But when Billy Joel sang of the sly lady trickster, similar to the ones who manipulated me to eat my vegetables and not wet the bed, the ones who double-spoke as they sent me to corners of classrooms or stole my beloved red transistor radio - I knew exactly what he was singing about.

(Note: Before I go on, let me address my off-handed "hadn't done much of note in his career" remark. Yes, it's true. Before The Stranger, Billy Joel's career could generously be described as checkered. He was best known for the preposterous Piano Man (really Billy? The guy in the Navy had to be called Davy?) and a truly bizarre epic called Captain Jack about a masturbating cross-dressing nose-picking hippie with a tape deck whose masturbation, cross-dressing, nose-picking, and hippie-ing caused his father to drown in the family pool in one of the most ill-timed lyrical transitions ever recorded.)

So here was The Stranger, with its fetish-y cover (that's an awful small bed for a man and a mask... are those boxing gloves in the dark corner?) and its nine damn-near-perfect songs. Or should I say seven damn-near-perfect songs and those last two slight disappointments in which Billy half-assedly tries his hand at fake jazz and fake gospel (Get it Right the First Time and Everybody Has a Dream, respectively). But seven out of nine ain't bad. The seventh song, the one that brings us here today, the one that I looked forward to every time I heard the record in sequence, starting with that day in Flemington, had a profound effect on me. 

She's Always a Woman was the song that likely pushed me toward an adolescence and adulthood of appreciating the pointed sentiment of highly personal songwriting, as opposed to the more distant, more obtuse stuff that others liked. In other words, She's Always a Woman made me love the lyrical specificity of The Hold Steady and led me to be completely puzzled by the adoration of the merely serviceable Radiohead.

(Note: I could just as easily present a completely opposite version of the just-mentioned theory and use as proof of its veracity my distrust of the populist Arcade Fire and my complete adoration of those fiery Friedberger siblings. But that's another theory for another mid-week epic post.)

But what else did She's Always a Woman do? Was this song also responsible for my own clumsy, fraught-with-misdirection relationships with women and the resulting missteps, missteps that include - if you check my archives - overly detailed but historically inaccurate recollections of past relationships (and non-relationships)? Yes, some of those recollections - the more humorous ones, especially - have backfired. And this swarthy-uncle-going-through-a-break-up of a song is partially to blame.

Let's take a step back and look at the lyrics carefully. The lilting melody and soft vocals of Woman suggested a sweet sugary classic, to be played at weddings for generations. And that's exactly what happened - it was played at weddings by people who didn't listen very carefully:

“She can ruin your faith with her casual lies”
“She can ask for the truth but she'll never believe you”
"She steals like a thief"
"She never gives in; she just changes her mind"
"She'll carelessly cut you and laugh while you're bleeding"
I wrote about this song once before and I was a little harsh on it, calling its lyrics spiteful and hateful. Billy was going for something more subtle, which to him was like learning to fly. Women are crafty, he wants us to know. Women will argue with you, change their minds.... deceive you and derive joy from it. But oh they will always be women. Or at least she will. Yes, I must conclude, this song may have contributed negatively to my between-gender issues of trust, issues that as of April 2009 have been resolved or at least rendered unworthy of attention.

Actually all of my thoughts here make this song more difficult to grasp, its end and means less obvious. You see, this whole post was inspired by news about a 90-second television commercial for a British company that sells.... I have no idea what they sell but it's something - anyhow, this British company utilizes the lovely ballad to stirring (and apparently viral) effect: 

The little girl at the beginning will be a woman soon.... no she is a woman.  Daddy walks her down the aisle. Rings are exchanged. The groom's ring is understated and responsible. The bride's ring is sharp, shiny, steely and can break balls barriers. Happily they live, ever after. Suddenly the girl/woman is old but she's so well-dressed, the seeming spawn of Candace Bergen and Gena Rowlands. We see the full existence of a woman in a minute and a half, with key life transitions coinciding with lyrical imagery ("hides like a child" with image of child's birthday, etc.) Meanwhile, entire swaths of "it's complicated" relationship fodder are ignored.

In other words, what the hell is this song doing in this commercial? Why doesn't anyone notice that maybe the mocking / deceitful / immature nature of unloving brides, as interpreted by petulant / entitled / unlovable men is NOT what should be highlighted during the dance portion of the wedding reception?

The following decade delivered more widely cited examples of misinterpreted songs. But at least the stalker in The Police's Every Breath You Take could reasonably be perceived by some as dangerous and/or alluringly sexy. At least the manipulator in R.E.M.'s The One I Love is honest about his "simple props" and goes out of his way to seem enigmatic by including exactly one word ("Fire!") in the chorus. In other words, you want to know more about those guys. The narrator in She's Always a Woman? You want him to shut up. He would not do so until 1993.

Still, Joel's is by far the best song of the three. This is the great elusive mystery of the Billy Joel Dilemma: How can someone who makes so many glaring mistakes in his professional and personal life be so damn listenable? Personal relationship mistakes, business partnership mistakes, driving mishaps, The Bridge, letting Christie an album cover, and generally the ever-noticeable error of being the very thing you lyrically mock.

I once successfully/scientifically argued for Billy Joel's superiority over Neil Young (pantomimes pulling orange out of the air to compare to apple). There also exists an unpublished draft of a very similar comparison of Joel to Jack White (though that race is closer). But I can't do one-to-one comparisons of everyone in music. That would take too long. But in the interest of information freedom, let me throw you a few bones: Animal Collective > Grizzly Bear; Girls > Wavvves; Wilco > Whiskeytown (not even close); MGMT > Dirty Projectors; (Flying Lotus + Madlib) = (J. Dilla + Moodymann); Xiu Xiu > The XX.

In my struggle to finish this piece, I keep coming back to a fictional image of an unshaven haggard Billy Joel holed up in his Long Island estate trying too hard... rolling the sleeves of his flannel shirt up, not recognizing that while one middle wrist button is buttoned, the other was not... Billy then slamming his fist on the irregular wood of his way-too-big dining room table, whining to the comely maid who gave him (pre-Christie Brinkley) sexual comfort "I wanna write a Vietnam song! Waaaa! Why can't I write a Vietnam song?!" He then writes the best Vietnam song ever, topping Crosby, Stills, Nash, Mitchell, Dylan's hair, and yes, even Springsteen; he sends them all back to the spare drawing board they keep in their metaphorical wood shed. 
(Note: The maid's comfort-giving is pure speculation.)

(Note: The table wood was irregular because of the warping effect from the coastal Atlantic air.)
And that's the beauty of the Billy Joel legacy: All those mistakes never stopped him from trying hard... trying too hard. He knew - he had to know - that the narrator of She's Always A Woman was a dick. And maybe his insistence at having his side of the argument heard on record won out over self-awareness. But the truth is he's never really cared about self-awareness. Or he was just blissfully un-self-aware. For a period of five albums, starting with The Stranger and continuing through 52nd Street, Glass Houses, Nylon Curtain, and An Innocent Man, he let himself make mistakes and his mistakes became practice and practice became genius. 

So yeah if some British surface-skimmer wants to give him some cash for a lovely song that he wrote out of spite, let him take the money even if they use someone else's vocals on it. Billy will put it to good use. I'm sure his auto insurance premiums are super-high.

Finally, I've been (self-) accused of writing in variations of a point/counterpoint style. For example, I may start by stating a rule, then provide an exception to that rule, followed by a reason the exception doesn't apply here, followed by a justification for ignoring that reason. Thus, I will end this ridiculously long piece by admitting that there may be a devilish legitimacy to the use of Billy Joel's song in weddings and in that TV commercial. In the last verse, Joel sings:
She'll bring out the best and the worst you can be
Blame it all on yourself 'cause she's always a woman to me
Here, Billy is making a case for personal responsibility: If you are at your worst or your best, you are the one that should be blamed or praised. I realize that he says "She'll bring out" these qualities, making it seem like he's passing the blame. But he censors himself immediately and assigns responsibility squarely where it belongs (the self). He then repeats the song's title phrase. 

Yeah, that final verse is a big piece of fluffy fluffiness and you can't help but think that Billy Joel got to some real self-awareness by accident. But then you remember: his mistakes became practice and practice became genius. She's Always a Woman is kind of like a micro-version of his career: throwing it all out there, baring emotions and biases, hitting a few good points, missing a few others, projecting his weaknesses onto others, admitting his weakness for projection, and melodies so perfect you remember exactly where you were when you first heard that song in 1977.

It had to be her (a 3/4 true story)

She was walking away from the bridge. That's what I told myself. That's what I insisted to myself. In a tone of voice reserved for stage poets and lone lobos along a dry riverbed.

I had no idea. I had no desire and no idea. I had no desire and no idea and no way of knowing I'd say the wrong thing. I always said the wrong thing, it seemed. What was interesting was how little I said anything. Out loud.

The words got out in poetry. The thoughts were covered in verses - 4 or 6 or 8 lines. Rhyming or not. Ghosts along ridges of nation-bisecting rivers. Her skinny lament a planned song on the playlist of the day.

And ridges rise up and suddenly....

To bridges, still rising, still sudden.

It's a long way down from the pedestrian path to the mud of the river. And I didn't want to see her take that fall. She never took that fall. It never occurred to me that when I stopped looking, she didn't stop existing. No, she did walk away from the bridge and this I witnessed. I then retreated into a classroom building on the riverside. While she returned to the bridge and tried again.

To jump. To fly. She was so close that next time. As that taller lankier one in my class gave her end-of-term presentation on the psychology of Abraham Lincoln. As the younger one, with her catacomb wrists and lists of old men to read, gave it another shot. Gave it her best shot.

She did not jump. She did not fly. She merely fell into the water from a low height. A living height, several feet shorter than a suicide height. Witnesses arrived and fall jackets became swaddling blankets. Three women held her from two sides in three ways. Two men gripped cell phones and waited for the ambulance. Two police officers - a man and a woman - questioned her in the warmth of a squad car. She was not being arrested, they insisted. She shivered, she spoke, she told them about the godforsaken prairie and the motel key card left in the popcorn pile.

She lived. I did too. We're not that far apart. We were never that far apart. 

Monday, May 10, 2010

Circular Logic

When is it just too much?

Is it:

A. Waking up on a train.

B. Selling legally purchased electronic goods to orthodox Jews in Beverly Hills operating a fly-by-night operation that must be seen and experienced to be believed and regretted… and then standing in the doorway of the world’s most successful “lap band” company in order to be free of cell phone reception-destroying torrential winds in order to make a crucial phone call.

C. Waking up in a train station.

D. Arguing with a Napoleon-Complex-ridden bus driver about who is blocking whom at a gas station, a bus driver clearly not impressed with the giant painted arrows beneath the soles of his white shoes, beneath the tires of his unnecessary bus going the opposite way of the arrows… the arguing made more vehement because there existed the need to stand next to a fax machine to receive several faxed pages relating to a joint tax return from 2006, a return that the IRS might have problems with.

E. A and C.

F. B and D.

G. None of the above.

H. All of the above.

I’m still breathing so I will choose G.



(Checking answer key)

I’m right!
(Note: Not all of these things necessarily happened to me.)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Streets Ahead

The "controversial" post stayed up there a bit too long I think. I realize I'm risking reopening a worm can that no one asked to open in the first place but a few points about my Fallen Women post:
  • 45% of it was true
  • 40% of it was mostly true (i.e., exaggeration, plausible theory)
  • 10% of it was mostly untrue (i.e., implausible theory)
  • 5% of it was false that out of the way. Now, a few unrelated questions:

I know that The Beatles' Yesterday is a nice song but isn't it a bit maudlin to be the noon-time song that plays in the USC clock tower?

Where exactly is this clock tower? Why can I hear it so clearly?

Will I eventually like the new Hold Steady album? The opening track Sweet Part of the City is a masterpiece but the rest of it hasn't connected with me yet. I'll answer my own question: Yes, I will eventually like it but not without a lumbering sense of self-doubt that will slowly crumble (internal rhyme!) away, revealing the particular music-appreciating neurons necessary to like the new Hold Steady album. In other words, the problem is me.

Will the universe praise last week's episode of Community as much as I have been praising it? Jesus, that was amazing. PLEASE WATCH IT. It should be up on Hulu for a few more weeks.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fallen Women and the Death of Hope: A History of My 20 Relationships and their Memorable Endings

In honor of my 666th post, I'll get self-indulgent and give you a recap of the 20 breakups I've experienced in my lifetime. We'll hit all the states: PA to MN to CA to MN to CA to MN to CA. We'll find the highlights of the low points (i.e., my twenties).

Are these stories exaggerated to (a) make me appear more interesting / mysterious / fascinating? (b) make the relationship appear to be more than what it truly was? or (c) make the breakup seem more historic and tragic than it really was? No, yes, and sometimes.

Part 1: The 1980s
1. First girlfriend accuses me of only being attracted to her because she's a "fallen women" and says it just won't work. She disappears and may have become a lesbian. As far as her status as "fallen," she was only 21 - way too young to fall. I was 18. Anyway, her accusation was spot-on.
2. My next girlfriend - a real college girlfriend -  leaves me for a sorority but not before starting my frustrating pattern of relationships with women who LOVE Annie Lennox way too much begins.
3. Okay, this one was so close to being a relationship that I'm going to allow the rosy spectacles of memory make it as if we dated and consummated and all that. This made-up relationship  pretty much ended when she ended a phone conversation with "I have to go mail a letter." It was 11:00 am. On President's Day.
4. She sleeps with another man in my bed. Or at least I think she does.

Part 2: The 1990s
5. We only dated for a few weeks. It ended in the Barnes & Noble in Roseville, MN. She ordered me - commanded me - to believe in ghosts - right there, hovering around us in the bookstore! She couldn't accept that I could not see the ghosts. She ended it. Or I ended it. Don't remember.
6. My first California girlfriend leaves me because she needed to move across the country to hook up with some high school dude she met on the Internet. Oh and just to reiterate re: #4: It was a postal holiday.
7. The next one is a blur. I believe we broke up five times. At least one of those times was precipitated by her saying the worst thing anyone has ever said to me. No, I will not tell you what she said.
8. Back in Minnesota, I'm a T.A. with too much time on my hands. The girlfriend-who-wasn't-really-a-girlfriend needs to talk. She explains to me that she can't continue to date three guys at once and has to make a choice between me, the guy who looks like Eric Stoltz, and the guy who looks like Ed Begley, Jr. She chooses Stoltz. She later marries Begley. In between, she gets drunk at my wedding and says to all 162 guests - in a rambling but entirely-audible-over-the-intercom toast "It could have been me."
9. I got her Scooby Doo slippers for Christmas. I made her a mix tape. I thought that would be sufficient. It wasn't. On the plus side, she did wean me off my annoying habit of trying to "save" the women I dated. 
10. I marry #10. We're together in one form or another for 8+ years. The breakup here is probably the least interesting one of them all ("growing apart," etc.) . It's also the most painful (2005 = the year of too much therapy) but I'll say this: It wasn't my idea; we're still friends, and there was too much Annie Lennox. Anyway, this relationship extends into the mid-2000s and takes us from Minnesota back to southern California. 

Part 3: The 2000s to today
11. This is where it starts to get interesting (or ridiculous, or even sad, depending on your point-of-view). Also, almost everyone from this point on is a Facebook friend so I'd really better be careful. My first post-separation relationship ended because... because I was only separated and not divorced. Completely legitimate reason, although I brazenly said then that it didn't matter.
12 and 13. These relationships were occurring simultaneously, sort of. Or at least there was enough overlap that it would be unfair to put one chronologically ahead of the other. So, there are a few ways to interpret what happened but really it comes down to this: One of them liked the show Lost too much and the other one felt I fell in love too easily. Or maybe it was that one of them liked my friend more than me and the other one lived too far away. Or was it that one was an ROC (relationship of convenience) and the other a lesbian. Or was it because ?
14. Yeah I blew this one. She said I had "too much of an ego." Me? Just because I wanted her to hear my mid-90s-west-coast-hip-hop-influenced rap My Name Is Ali?
15. Would you believe only seven months passed between #10 and #15? Okay, this was interesting. And she refused my friend request so there's no need to hold back: I broke up with her because I didn't like her and she reminded me way too much of my sister. She also seemed weirded out by my request to download a couple hundred of her albums onto my iPod. She had the Zombies box set! She said no to that request too.
(Free advice for all of you: Do not break up with someone - even a half-Jewish someone - right before Christmas, especially if her birthday is the day after Christmas. She won't be happy.)
16. In a cruel irony, my longest post-marriage relationship ends when she moves to Minneapolis, the very place I didn't want to leave six years earlier (right after 4 other people close to me hightailed it away from California for the Midwest. Bastards. See how it feels in JANUARY.)
17. I'm not exactly sure what happened. I do know I kept falling asleep at inopportune times.
18. I should probably not say anything at this point.
19. My first breakup via email (she was the sender). Somehow I make it to the post-email texting era before I'm involved in an ermail breadkup. Again, too soon for a lot of details but this one piece of information should be enough: The subject line in her email was The Death of Hope.
20. We get in a fight. A huge screaming argument. I cry for only the fourth time since 1983. She takes a picture of me crying because she thinks it looks funny. (Postscript: I saw the picture. It did look funny.)

Some notes:
- One person shows up on this list twice and probably doesn't realize it.
 -If you know me well enough to do the math, #1 to #10 took me 21 years. #11 to #20 took me 4 years. Progress? Or the opposite of it?
-15 of the 20 are Facebook friends. I need to stop being so nice.
-Two of them managed to get me to take care of their cats, well after the breakups. Which explains the presence in my home - to this day - of Ringo and Lily, those loveable balls of fur.

They dumped me  9 times. 
I left them  4 times. 
It was mutual on two occasions. I don't remember - twice. 

I shouldn't be so flippant. There were good times. I mean this with all my heart: I had some amazing memories with every single one of you. Except #5.

For the rest of you - a lovely song by my most famous Facebook friend (if you get headaches easily, please don't watch. That's some shaky movement):


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Seven Sunday Morning Wake-Up-Enjoy-Your-Sunday Songs

7 for the 7th day

Lessons Learned From Rocky I To Rocky III - Cornershop

Now that's how to lyrically frame a rock anthem.

Hello 2morrow - Moodymann

"We don't roller skate. We roller boogie."

My Egyptian Grammar - Fiery Furnaces

Slow it down just a bit but stay hopeful, stay positive. It could happen to you!

We Gotta Get You A Woman - Todd Rundgren


Good Intentions Paving Company - Joanna Newsom

I went outside and I found one! Perfect song. Gorgeous ending.

Lemon - U2  

Just imagine how insufferable I would be if all of U2's songs were this good. Just imagine how insufferable Bono would be if all of my opinions of his band were this high. Anyway, now we're well on our way to enjoying our day. If only we had a waffle iron.

Paul Bee and His Nutria - The Channel

You'll have to take a chance and click on that weird all-caps link. It'll take you to my experimental side-site. What you'll hear is a strange pop masterpiece. From "Let me introduce myself. My name is Paul Bee" to "Na na na na na na na" with "Think about your corazon" to the 1986 southeastern United States production value.... you've got a song roughly 12 times better than the entire recorded output of that band you like that I don't. 


Things I Should Have Known

How did I not hear about this? Tarantino saved the New Beverly back in February. Granted, it's been over a year since I saw anything there and they need to lighten up on the grindhouse but that is some amazing (and underreported) news. Even a Google news search revealed just a few mentions of it. Almost as if it's entirely fictional. Next thing you know someone will tell me that Jon Bon Jovi is a genuinely decent philanthropist.

And why did no one tell me about the unreleased-in-the-U.S. post-Reed/Cale/Morrison/Tucker Velvet Underground album with the horrible cover called Squeeze

And why did I just learn that Super Pretzels are far tastier when prepared in the oven than the microwave?

And when was I going to find out that Monica was pregnant? News shouldn't travel that slowly from Wisconsin.

Enough complaining. I am enlisting your help. I'm trying to find an album that was released in 1987 or 1988. This is all I can remember about it:

I owned it on cassette.
It was by a man named Bill or Bob or Robert.
It was a sort-of-bitter (for it's time) break up album.
It was.... oh I remember the name of the album. It was called After Words.
By Bob Pfeifer, who, I'm surprised to learn, later became a record executive and was involved in the notorious Pellicano wiretapping case. Why did I not know that?

I used to know everything. I was on game shows.

Now? My head hurts. My eyes strain. I work late. I sleep late. I get to work late. I work late.

Enough feeling sorry for myself.

Time for some sunshine and informational reading on a Sunday. I have some catching up to do.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

"And Now They've Gone Too Far"

I recently read something in a music review that blew my mind. I've seen some amazing things in my life - a solar eclipse, a cat wearing headphones, one of the most touching musical performances ever occurring in a Borders bookstore in Rapid City, South Dakota. I've been moved by emphatic words and resonating statements of purpose... been disturbed by manifestos and intrigued by philosophies. I've rejected religion and tea and embraced statistics and art. But I was not prepared for a particular sentence in a review I just read on the arts/culture/criticism site PopMatters.

Reviewer Justin Cober-Lake was writing about the Fiery Furnaces' 2005 album Rehearsing My Choir. (Yes, I'm allowed to read five-year-old music reviews; I had a lot going on back in '05. These days? Nothing but time.) Cober-Lake spend much of the piece lamenting that despite the fact that the Furnaces were getting "progressively better" over three previous albums, they continued to favor self-indulgent experimentation over short tight straightforwardly delivered pop songs. 

Before I get to the sentence in question, let me respectfully disagree with the reviewer about that last sentiment. Asking the Friedberger siblings (Matthew and Eleanor aka The Fiery Furnaces) to cut back on experimentation is like asking a horticulturist not to work with plants. It's what they do

Let's go back to the previous album Blueberry Boat. At first, I liked the song Paw Paw Tree because it sounded cool and had funny lyrics about mango mush (the best mush). Then I realized that the long slow nearly-two-minute lyricless slog at the beginning was the narrator-soldier's attempt at ensuring anonymity as (s)he comes to a clearing of silence (or a vista of allies). 

And the she-singer playing the he-soldier is relaxed and just sitting up in that tree and the slogging beat with its quirky flourishes of melody and it's off-beat odd tones is the enemy. And no amount of tree camouflage will protect her. She/he will be mango mush.

So I'm trying to say there's a lot going on in that song and if it had been presented or performed in a straightforward pop-song way, it would not have worked nearly as well. Which brings us to Rehearsing My Choir.

In all fairness to the PopMatters reviewer, this is a difficult album to even approach. Despite having the finest vocalist of the 21st century in Eleanor Friedberger, the Fiery Furnaces decide to make their grandmother Olga Sarantos the album's primary voice. This decision is made perhaps because the subject matter of many of the songs is the mid-century Chicago of Greek immigrants (like Sarantos): the 1930s through the 1960s, small-time criminals and elevated trains.... knives used for making candy and for committing small-time crimes.... barely concealed back rooms and barely explained octets of priests.... and broken hearts. And if you were expecting the voice of a sweet old lady - perhaps a quiet, if coarse, wisdom lilting on the simple notes - your expectations would be dashed. You get a full voice, a masculine European ladymouth of syrup and finger-pointing storytelling. She's not pleasant. But she's present.

Which makes it rather amazing when Eleanor Friedberger's voice suddenly shows up, simultaneously sounding more sleek / professional AND less full-throated / full-ranged. Eleanor will sing a verse or two here, trade some lines, and then retreat back to the shadows as the grandmother sings the grandson's lyrics and you learn more about old Chicago than you ever would watching those old movies that you just knew simplified a complicated town.

But does the critic - the neglected-for-several-paragraphs Justin Cober-Lake - have a point, that these messy chorus-less songs, these narrative-less narrations aren't as good as the Fiery Furnace's songs? Well yeah but that's the price you to hear an experimenter. Sometimes, as is the case of Radiohead, the experiment adds nothing to the song (nor does it detract). Other times, as is the case of U2's Zooropa, the experiment justifies the band's existence. For the Fiery Furnaces, the experiment is the band. That's why Eleanor knows her lesser presence on Rehearsing My Choir's songs is nothing to get too upset about. She'll be the big star on the next album. This is Olga's time, that lovely grandma of ours.

What does Justin write? I'll be fair to him and put it in context:
"The previous album, Blueberry Boat stretched out the art-pop aesthetic with its songs in parts and large narratives, but the Furnaces have always been at their best when matching compelling hooks to intelligent lyrics. It’s about songwriting, not about Art. And now they’ve gone too far."
It's that last sentence that still slays me. And now they've gone too far. Really? Can an artist (capital A or not) really go too far? Of course. Pull up a chair; let me tell you about a young man named Billy Corgan. But the Fiery Furnaces went too far in the name of telling an as-yet-untold story, through the voices of three people from two generations. The story was made of songs busy with images and cluttered with ideas. They had to get out and make a city out of themselves. They needed the grandmother; the grandmother needed them. They had to go far. Maybe even too far. Too far is where the story lived.

Even the one story that stands out among the others on the album - track 2, The Wayward Granddaughter - needs a soaring stacked structure. The wayward one dated not one but two Kevins. The grandmother judged her for both of them, the black one and the white one. The "wh" sound in white is withering as it comes out of Olga's mouth. It's also the one song that needs a different era: the 1980s. And it's apparently a partially true tale about a different grandmother/granddaughter combo.

The way I see it is that there's not enough room in the band for the typical 10-12 songs every 16 months. They want more. And in order to write the tight ambitious pop masterpieces like Take Me Round Again off of their latest I'm Going Away... in order to create the cohesive-but-still-fucking-crazy song cycles like the entire album I'm Going Away, they needed to go even farther first with Rehearsing My Choir

You can't stop progress, Mr. Cober-Lake. Progress needs to progress. Olga needs to sing. Eleanor needs to watch. Matt needs to preside. The other rotating members need to rotate their nights away,

A little more than two years after the album's release, the Fiery Furnaces would release two more albums and Olga Sarantos would die. Eleanor would sing better than before. Matthew - god bless him - would still be unable to sing his wonderful songs in an effective manner. The band would keep getting better and better.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Scenes From a Holiday Weekend, Postscript

Act 3, Scene 4, The Final Scene: Long Beach. I open my door.  I put my things on the table that is there for the purpose of holding my things. I turn on the light to the living room.  Ringo (cat) keeps the floor bed warm for me, even though I am determined to sleep on the bed bed.  But Ringo has an offering laid out on the blanket.  It looks like maybe one of his plush toys infused with catnip.  Nope, look closer.  Is it Ringro excrement, which he likes to distribute - randomly - from time to time?  No, that's not it.  It's the giant flying cockroachfrom a few weeks ago.  Ringo has destroyed it, sending it to its final resting place:  my comforter cover, its red-yellow wings still and useless.  I put an empty plastic bowl over the giant flying dead cockroach.  I lift the blanket from below, ensuring that if the cockroach is suddenly revived, he/she will have nowhere to fly.  I carry the entire balled-up blanket with its bowled-over dead vermin to the balcony.  I hurl the whole sad mess over the balcony, holding on to the blanket tightly.  The bowl and the roach fall to the wet grass, sickly and never coming back.  Ringo doesn't speak to me all night long.