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.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Scenes From a Holiday Weekend

Act 1, Scene 1:  Los Angeles. I leave work at 6:30pm Friday... much later than I should be leaving. My cell phone, presumed to be "charging" all day long, was near the end of its ropes, its "power" relegated to a few blips and bleeps. There was no getting around it: I would have to go to The Valley.

Act 1, Scene 2: The Valley. The voices are familiar. The streets are familiar. What the voices are saying is unfamiliar. I park around the corner. I check for parking meter change. I find it but it may not be necessary. It's not as if I'm parking on Ventura Blvd... just around the corner from it. Moments later, the lanky girl with the bruised heart hands me the nine dollars I am owed.

Act 1, Scene 3: Long Beach. I keep circling the neighborhood. It's as if they took my street away. Where did it go? Truth is, I'm in the wrong place. I find my way. Never trust the numbered streets of Long Beach. You see 3rd Street and then 4th Street and you're probably expecting 5th any moment now. There is no 5th Street. You see a street sign for the street you live on, a street named after a famous island nation.  You see where this street begins and where it ends.  You don't see anything familiar; you're confused.  You consider asking a homeless person for directions to your own home.  You choose not to, out of respect.  The next thing you know, it's the next morning and your cats are hungry for new food.

Act 2, Scene 1: San Dimas. I switch back to first person. I am in a town famous for exactly one reason. It is where the film Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure was set and (partially) filmed. It is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The city's meager streets are decorated with the following ubiquitous sign: 

Do you see the bottom of that sign - those final three words?  I thought it was a dream but it was not. They really are holding on to that.  And I totally respect them for it.

Act 2, Scene 2: Long Beach. I am speaking to my ex-wife on the phone while my ex-girlfriend's cat plays with another ex-girlfriend's packing peanuts. Meanwhile, I am texting two other people (ex, possible future ex) and considering plans to Facebook-message one of the two text recipients about the other text recipient.  Where does it all end?  I fall asleep on my living room floor before 10:00 on a Saturday night while watching a 30 Rock episode I have seen twice before.

Act 3, Scene 1: Long Beach. Same floor, same cat, same TV. The next morning. Now I'm watching a paid-pay-per-view movie, Funny People. I cry sincerely during the film. It is toward the end when..... when that one thing happened, when they came up with the perfect ending.

Act 3, Scene 2: Los Angeles. The sign on the 7-11 soda machine says "No refills." I am determined to get my money's worth. I wait until the man at the counter is distracted by a customer. I stealthily add Orange Whip to my Orange Gatorade. I am a superhero.

Act 3, Scene 3. On a Freeway. (Edited seven times because I keep changing my mind about the ending).  I'm on a freeway heading south, going home.  The 605 perhaps. Or maybe the 710. Or maybe the mythical in-between 657.5?  (Why? It's the mathematical average of 605 and 710.)  I'm listening to the one CD I listen to all the time in my car and I repeat to myself one more time: Get a new car stereo with the auxiliary jack!  And before I can say "My name's not Jack" I hear this song not over the speakers but in my head:

And I imagine myself in that tree.  Hoping, praying that I am in control of the mango mush. 

But if you're really not down with the long loopy songs about jungle trees and fruit exotica, then I recommend you listen to the future anthem of the current soundtrack of our times:

And if that doesn't work, some comedy is in order:

Thursday, April 01, 2010

a few short notes

Yes, I censored myself. I removed a post for the sole purpose of not wanting someone to see it. I will quietly repost it in the future. No, this isn't about some budding relationship or a jealous rage. It's about making fun of famous, better writers and realizing that it doesn't take others that long to find me.

Yes, there's some text about New Jersey appearing in the upper right corner of the blog, all loose and I have no idea where it came from. My blog is haunted.

And I just realized. JUST NOW. That it is only Thursday. Since 4:00, it has felt like Friday. I didn't miss the deadline. I have time!

Gigantic ambitious post coming soon. In the meantime, something for a Thursday night: