Thursday, December 13, 2007

Flash Fiction

I was reading about Ernest Hemingway the other day. There is a story that he bet some friends ten dollars that he could tell a story in six words. Papa turned in this, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” His colleagues paid up.

That would become what is called “ short short fiction” or “flash fiction.”

It seemed that it would be a fun challenge. I decided to give it a go. It’s much more challenging than it seems.

These are some of my “flash fiction.”

Longed to have her. Bad idea.

Ninth inning, two outs, pitch thrown.

We killed Mum. She’s a zombie.

Lottery was won. Money now gone.

At the crossroads, the deal was offered
. (I cheated a bit there, that’s seven words.)

A play happening, Booth lurked behind.

He sent weekly letters to her.

The gun fired, it was accidental.

He tread water as sharks circled.

And my favorite;

After she died, the cats feasted.

Sure, not quite the poetry of Hemingway’s, but to quote the chimney sweep Bert in Mary Poppins, “they’re better than a finger in the eye.”

Well, maybe they are.

Good night and good luck.

Monday, December 3, 2007

I Boycott the Boycotters

Before I get started, a quick item of bidness. I can’t say how much I loved the story of Republican presidential underdog Mike Huckabee scoring a celebrity endorsement from, wait for it, Chuck freakin’ Norris. This is true. You couldn’t make that story up. Huckabee was quoted saying, “My plan to secure the border? Two words: Chuck Norris.” If there wasn’t a writers strike right now, the staffs at Letterman and Conan would be sending Huckabee thank you cards. Now what are the odds that Hillary Clinton will seek the endorsement of Jean Claude Van-Damme? Ten to one? Twenty to one? “Mr. Giuliani, we have Steven Segal on line three!” “Put him through!”

Okay, now to my subject.

There is a holiday movie coming out in the next couple weeks called “The Golden Compass.” It looks awful. Truly awful. The film comes as a result of the studios seeing the success of Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings and then saying, “Is there any other fantasy books that haven’t been made that we can throw 200 million at and see what happens?” “Golden Compass” had negative buzz, poor pre-reviews, and seemed destined for a box office bomb.

Then the always-in-touch-with-reality Christian right stepped up to the plate, knocked the dirt off their cleats, and announced they are “organizing” a boycott of the film. And all of a sudden, there were countless stories about Compass and miles of free publicity. The panicking studio heads sat in their office twisting their moustache’s and cackling with glee. Once again, the idiots that think it is their duty to tell the lemmings what to watch have fell into the huge pit that Hollywood dug and covered with palm branches. As a result of a boycott, these knuckleheads have assured that this probable financial failure will most likely make it’s money back.

Here’s their beef; the movie is based on the novel Northern Lights by British author Phillip Pullman. Pullman is an outspoken atheist. He allegedly wrote the Compass series as a rebuttal to C.S. Lewis’s (a former atheist, by the way) Narnia books. Mr. Pullman doesn’t believe in God. He firmly says so in interviews and in his books. What the whacko’s are saying is that Pullman has an atheist agenda and spreading his beliefs into the children of the world. And there is nothing we can so do stop it!!!


This is what I find offensive. These groups believe that people are so put-a-metal-fork-in-a-light-socket stupid that they are not able to see a film (or a read a book) with a different point of view from their own and not be brainwashed by it. As if humans are so dumb that they will go see “The Golden Compass” and think themselves, “Man, I was pretty religious when I came into this movie theater, but these imaginary characters on the flickering screen don’t believe in God. Now I don’t believe in God. What choice do I have?”

Why is it that these groups feel that we are too dumb to decide for ourselves to disagree with the viewpoints of a writer or artist? “You can’t watch the West Wing! It’s liberal propaganda! You’ll be bamboozled! Hoodwinked!” Yeah, I actually have the ability to disagree with the imaginary people reciting lines in my idiot box. Just because I read something, doesn’t necessarily mean that I will agree with it.

If you don’t want to support books, TV or films that you disagree with, don’t watch it. It’s not that hard. I find reality TV offensive. Not the content, but because it’s so stupid and contrived. So I turn off the telly and pick up my book. How hard is it not watch or read what you would find offensive? I love and revere Martin Scorsese as a filmmaker. However, I have read enough about The Last Temptation of Christ to know that I would not like the portrayal of Jesus in the film. Then, on my own, all by myself, I made the decision to not watch it. How did I do it? How did I ever muster the strength to choose for myself?

I don’t believe that mass media has a mojo casting spells on the masses that can’t be broken. People are dumb, but not that dumb.

I don’t believe that this is too far a throw from book burning. (My favorite is when they try to ban Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” which is about burning books.)We live in a free society kids, as a result you have to tolerate people that have different viewpoints from yourself. The Christian right shouts about free speech when they want to have prayer in schools, then rails against it when there is a book that denounces God. My friends, that is what we call hypocrisy. Believing in free speech means you have to allow others to express their points of view even if you disagree with them. These are the same morons that try to ban Harry Potter books because they will somehow inspire children to become witch’s. And then we will have to burn those children at the stake. It would be exhausting. The Salem witch trials were in 1692, haven’t we progressed a little since then?

Of course, the majority of the organizers have not seen the film or read the book. They heard it was offensive. The old “we assume it will be offensive.”

This is what the protesters don’t seem to understand; these boycotts have the opposite effect of what they want to happen. They do not result in lesser receipts, they make the film a much bigger success than it would have been. Now we have endless column space filled with stories that say the name “The Golden Compass” over and over and over gain. A boycott equals 10,000 billboards in Times Square. It’s publicity that can’t be bought. Michael Moore banks on the negative pub to put more people in the seats. The studio publicists must be throwing high fives and popping champagne corks when the boycott stories some across the wire.

It’s another example of the Christian right just not getting it. Preaching the virtues of the New Testament without understand the message inside.

I won’t see “The Golden Compass” because it looks terrible. Not because the 700 Club shouts that I shouldn’t. Make the decision on your own. It isn’t that hard.

Good night and good luck.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Finding History

There were news reports this past week about the discovery of a new photograph of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg. A historian spotted Abe in a wide shot, riding a horse, trademark stovepipe hat on and he appears to be saluting the troops are he rides by. The story – and photograph – has fascinated me. It really is discovering a little history nugget.

There are only about 130 pictures of Lincoln that we know about. A new one is a rare find. This got me thinking. What other kinds of pieces of history could be found? It wasn’t that long ago, 1989 to be precise, that a chap found a copy of the Declaration of Independence hidden an old picture frame. He bought the picture for 4 bucks at a swap meet because he liked the frame. He was taking the painting out of the coveted frame, the document fell out. Literally money falling into your lap.

There’s also the 16mm footage of Babe Ruth “calling his shot.” It isn’t definitive, but is does give the urban legend some merit. He may have called that home run in Wrigley Field in 1932.

So what else could be found? A photo found in a forgotten trunk in your Nanas attic. A journal found in a used bookshop. Or a canister of 8mm film lost in the basement.

I wonder about possible discoveries like this;

Another photo of Billy the Kid. There is only one confirmed likeness of the Prince of Pistoleers. The image was flipped for many years, leading to false stories of the Kid being a southpaw.

What about another picture of Robert Johnson. The most mysterious figure in the history of modern music. There are only two pics of The King of the Delta Blues. A couple years ago, some footage appeared that many thought was Bob playing on a street corner. Unfortunately, the footage was shot years after Bob’s death in 1936. We still don’t know how he died.

What if there is a lost letter from Jack the Ripper that gives his identity. Is he of royal birth? Was he a doctor? Hell if I know. Saucy Jack needs to be ID’d.

Maybe footage from a different angle of the Kennedy assassination in Dallas 1963. With a shot of the grassy knoll for example. Second shooter? Maybe there is a photo of Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, Lyndon Johnson, the mafia, the CIA and the Cubans planning it.

I saw this documentary once called “Independence Day.” With a historian named Will Smith or something in it. They talk about a UFO crash landing in Roswell New Mexico in 1947. What if a photo exists of the crash site that has been “lost.”

You never know.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I Hate My Cell Phone

I do. It has become this necessary evil for me. Yes, the convenience of the damn thing cannot be argued. And I will eventually purchase an iPhone so I can have the NFL game-casts on my phone, but I won’t like it.

To me a cell phone is like vegetables. I may eat them, but I don’t have to like them.

This week I saw a couple oddities. People actually using a payphone in New York City. The first was on the subway platform on 103rd Street. A guy was yelling into the greasy receiver while hundreds ignored him waiting for the train. The other was on the second floor of Barnes and Noble on 82nd Street. There’s a payphone next to the head. It was strange to see. The payphone is dying faster than the Chinese Alligator. (It’s endangered, okay. Come on kids, stay with me here.)

A couple years ago, I decided I was going to ditch my cell. My contract was up and didn’t renew. I thought it was great. The problem was, everyone else didn’t. I had to endure my family and friends constantly complaining that I didn’t have a cell. I got tired of the complaints and a year later, I got another phone. I wasn’t happy about it.

I think the system was fine the way it was. I call you, you weren’t there, I leave a message. You called me back. It worked. What was the problem?

I don’t need to be available 24 hours a day. You walk down the street and see dozens of people on the phone. Talking about what? Everyone in the car chatting away. About what? Not to mention the schmucks that keep that Bluetooth device in their ear all day. You look like an idiot with that thing in your ear.

Watch the old Seinfeld re-runs and there isn’t a cell phone in sight. It’s nice. I’m out, leave a message. The system was fine.

The payphone/landline is integral in classic storytelling. Like Sam Spade on the horn to the cops in The Maltese Falcon. Mobsters relaying info from The Godfather to Casino to The Sopranos. (The Departed is a great film, but the cell phone stuff was a little tiresome.) And where did Clark Kent switch into Superman? He didn’t slip into the Verizon store on 5th Avenue and duck behind the “Do You Hear Me Now? Guy’s cardboard cutout.

I know this is never going to change. If I ditch my phone again, I’ll have to listen to the complaints again. I do get to talk to my nephews a lot, it’s not all bad. In fact, I was just told this story yesterday. My nephew Luke is two. Very, very two years old. He’s a mischievous little stinker. A couple nights ago, about three in the morning and for no apparent reason, Luke took off all his pajamas including his diaper. My sister-in-law has no idea how long he was roaming the halls buck-booty-naked. Luke came into his parents room, jumped on the bed, woke my brother and said, “Daddy! I’m cold!” No kidding buddy, it’s November and you’re nude. You can’t make that story up.

Last year, Stephen King wrote a novel called Cell, where a cell signal called “the pulse” starts a zombie-like epidemic. Let’s hope that doesn’t actually happen. That would be a real bummer.

Thus ends my pointless but mildly funny rant of the week. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to make a call.

Friday, November 9, 2007

I'm Not There

On November 21st, The Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There” will be released at your local cinema. The film is going to be a very unorthodox way of telling parts of Bob Dylan’s story. There will be seven different actors portraying Bob at different points in his life. Including a pre-teen African American and the amazing Cate Blanchett.


The uniqueness of the narrative is befitting it’s subject. True to Dylan himself. He is perhaps the most unique voice ever to make popular music. He’s an enigma. A rogue. A genius.

If you were to debate who has had the most influence on popular music, the discussion would have three components. John Lennon, Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan. That’s it. Not even Sinatra would be in the ring with those three heavyweights. I would take Dylan. Here’s why;

As great as Elvis is, he was not a songwriter and barely a musician. Yes, his voice is unparalleled, as was his fame, but The King was not singing his songs. The Beatles are the greatest band of all time, and John was the engine that powered the bus, but the great songwriting periods after the initial bubble-gum records was due in large part to Dylan. After John and Paul listened to Dylan’s first couple records, they determined to write “important” songs. They took lyrics more seriously. (Okay, I don’t understand I am the Walrus either, but you get my point.) after hearing and meeting Bob, we got Rubber Soul, Abbey Road and Let It Be. The Beatles evolved because of Dylan. They were also introduced to pot and LSD, but that’s another kettle of beans.

Dylan made lyrics important. He made songs matter beyond what they ranked on the top 40. Dylan couldn’t have cared less if his singles charted. He showed what it meant to have artistic integrity. He basically said, these were the songs, take them or leave them. You don’t like the electric guitar? Go to hell, those are the songs. You don’t understand what some of the lyrics mean? Piss off, those are the songs, interpret them if you want.

The main contribution Dylan made was that he showed the importance of the songwriter and what a pop song could really do. A song could do more than make you sing along in your car. A great song could actually influence change. It could make you think. Listen to Chimes of Freedom, When the Ship Comes In or Pawn in the Game to see what I mean.

I have a theory about Bob. If you have any kind of good taste in music, somewhere along the line, you’ll learn to appreciate Dylan. I honestly believe that’s true.

If you are not that versed in Dylan, I suggest renting Marty Scorsese’s documentary “No Direction Home.” And the recent DVD “The Other Side of the Mirror,” which is Dylan’s performances at the legendary Newport folk festival from 1963 to 1965. Those may help you understand why “I’m Not There” is an important film.

These are my favorite Bob Dylan songs right now. Subject to change in the next fifteen minutes.

1. My Back Pages
2. Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues – From The Bootlegs box set.
3. Chimes of Freedom
4. One More Cup of Coffee
5. Mama, You Been On My Mind – There’s also a good version of this song that is a duet with Joan Baez.
6. Most of the Time – This song was used in “High Fidelity.”
7. Man Of Constant Sorrow – No, that song was not written for “O Brother Where Art Thou?” It’s a very old song.
8. Ballad of a Thin Man – How do not like a song that mentions a “one-eyed midget?”
9. Forever Young
10. Not Dark Yet – A newer Dylan song.

Listen to Bob Dylan…

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Rags & Bones Vol. 2

I just read an article in USA Today that some astronauts just brought the lightsaber that Mark Hamill used in Return of the Jedi into space with them. The news reports that the weapon was brought along just for kicks and giggles. I’m not buying that. Sounds a bit fishy to me. I’m pretty sure that NASA is distributing lightsabers to space travelers in case there is intergalactic trouble. You never know when an Imperial Battle Cruiser could attack the space shuttle. Better safe than sorry.

Tonight, the timeless classic “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” is on TV. It never gets old for me. If I ever find myself thinking Chuck, Snoopy and the gang are no longer funny and charming, it’s time to re-evaluate my life. Did you know that after the special aired (in 1967!) that children all over the country mailed “Charlie Brown” candy because they felt sorry for him when he got a rock for Halloween. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

The other day on the 1 train, I saw an orthodox Jew. Always a happy sight. But, this gent had a yarmulke on AND the wide brimmed hat. He was rocking double Jew headgear. I’d never seen this before. Maybe this happens more than I know. I’m going to keep my eye out. May be he is really pious and wanted to make double sure he was being faithful.

On the subway, I usually listen to more mellow music. Because I read on the train. Mellow rock, folk, jazz and a lot of blues. When walking through the city, I play more up tempo cuts. These are some of my favorite songs to listen to as I walk through the streets of New York. They make me walk quicker.

1. Acquiesce – Oasis

2. You Got To Me – Neil Diamond (I’m serious. I love Neil.)

3. Baba O-Reilly – The Who

4. I Happen To Like New York – Bobby Short. That song played over the opening credits of Woody Allen’s “Manhattan Murder Mystery.”

5. Here Comes My Baby – Cat Stevens

6. Leaving Here – Pearl Jam

7. It’s A Long Way To The Top If You Want To Rock & Roll – AC/DC. You have to love a rock song that employs the use of bagpipes.

8. Twist and Shout – The Beatles

9. Land of a 1,000 Dances – Wilson Pickett

10. Tweedle-Dee – Laverne Baker. That song is best known because it was used in Uncle Buck. Man, do I miss John Candy.

I caught The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford the other day. I thought it was brilliant. Now it’s not a typical Hollywood western. In fact, it’s more a period drama than a western. It’s a beautiful film and one of the best I have seen this year.

Speaking of films, if you are looking for advice on a movie to watch on Halloween, I have five suggestions. This is what I may watch.

1. The Shining; 1980 – If you have never seen it, now is the time. If you have seen it, a re-visit wouldn’t be out of line. With all the so-called “torture porn” that Hollywood is churning out – Saw, Hostel, Hills Have Eyes, Devil’s Rejects, etc. – it’s good to remember what a truly scary movie can do.

2. The Mummy; 1932 – No, no, not the Brendan Fraser one. The original classic featuring the immortal Boris Karloff. This is creepy, campy fun. You’d be okay going with any of the “Universal Monsters.” That would include Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman, Creature from the Black Lagoon or The Invisible Man. They’re all great. Especially if you have never seen them. I’m choosing The Mummy here because my nephew suggested that I go as a Mummy for Halloween. His other suggestion was a “Vamp-pirate.” That would have been awesome.

3. The Thing; 1982 – In a move that contradicts my usual patterns, I am suggesting the re-make instead of the original. I do love the Howard Hawks original, The Thing From Another World, but the 1982 John Carpenter version is scary as hell. Carpenter also has other good Halloween films. See: Halloween (obviously), The Fog, Christine and They Live. The Thing will scare the crap out of you.

4. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein; 1948 – It’s on AFI’s top 100 Funniest Films for a reason. It’s hysterical. And okay for the kiddies.

5. House of Wax; 1953 – Now back to the original versions. It’s hard to pick a Vincent Price film, but I love this one. A beauty. Don’t screw up and rent the one with Paris Hilton in it. That would be embarrassing.

The other night, I went to a Halloween party. I went as “Floor of a Movie Theater.” I bought a black shirt, then pinned popcorn boxes, soda cups, hot dog cartons, candy wrappers and glued popcorn on. Bingo: Floor of a Movie Theater. Feel free to steal the idea.

Happy Halloween…

Saturday, October 27, 2007

What I Wonder About The Star Wars Universe

There are many questions that crop up when thinking about the vast Star Wars universe. How does Jabba the Hutt go to the bathroom, for example. Does he have to give a half hours notice to the staff and slither slowly to the water closet? How do we overlook that Princess Leia gave her BROTHER Luke a full-on frenchified kiss in Empire Strikes Back? That was not right. Why did the Stormtroopers wear cumbersome suits of armor at all times? Didn’t this limit their mobility in a fight? And the armor didn’t seem to protect them at all from laser blasts. Wherever they were hit, they went down anyway. Seems a wee bit counter productive to me. Like the British soldiers in the Revolutionary War wearing bright red jackets so the rag-tag American militias could shoot them easier. “You believe this Willy? Them Brits are wearing red and marching in a straight line. Fish in a barrel! Let’s shoot ‘em!”

Those and many more questions have plagued curious minds over the years. But this is what I really wonder; what are the sexual practices among all the different species in the neighboring galaxies?

We’ll start here; is there interspecies dating and mating? Is it forbidden? Or just frowned upon? Maybe it’s perfectly acceptable. For example, let’s say a male Wookie with a sharp sense of humor and who is good at sports meets a cute female Mon Calamari at the Mos Eisley Cantina. The Wookie – let’s call him Henry, I’ve changed his name to protect the innocent – he’s at the bar telling jokes and the Mon Calamari broad starts making googly eyes at him. (I know, a Mon Calamari eyes already look googly, that’s not the point.) What could happen? Would society shun them for hooking up? Would it shock the galaxy? Would their parents disown them for not being with their own kind?

In the animal kingdom, the creatures don’t cross-breed for the most part. Dogs and cats of different breeds will bone, but a dog won’t hump a cat. I’m not a scientist, but I believe this is true. Monkeys don’t mate with chickens. Frogs don’t get it on with salamanders. But the aliens on Kamino or Coruscant are intelligent life forms. Higher intelligence. They can reason right or wrong. Maybe it’s no big deal for a Bith (look it up) and a Dug to have a committed relationship.

What about aliens and humans? On earth, there is interracial dating all the time. It’s accepted in most educated societies. A Jew can marry a Kenyan. No big deal. Mazal tov, kids, good luck to ya. Only a bigot thinks that is odd. So, could Greedo have a human girlfriend? Maybe a blond from Tattoine has a thing for a Rodian. Would that technically be considered a fetish? I don’t know what the official ruling would be there? Is it fetishy (that’s a new word) for a human to be attracted to a bounty hunter with walrus tusks? Actually, that probably would be a fetish. Maybe a girl has a Cosmopolitan with her girlfriends and says, “I’m really into walrus men. I don’t care of you all think it’s gross. I like those ivory tusks, they’re foxy.”

Is there an underground band of mad scientists cross-breeding different alien species? Like the weirdoes that concocted a liger? (Was that really necessary?) Maybe there are these eccentric genius’s that talk like Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff who are breeding a half Wookie, half Rancor super warrior. Man, that thing would be unstoppable.

The sexual habits of Star Wars aliens. My mind sure wanders on the subway. I need to remember to not forget my book anymore.

I believe these questions and more justify three more rounds of Star Wars films. If George Lucas doesn’t write them, that is.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

It's Good To Be Home

Ah, autumn in New York. Glittering crowds and shimmering clouds, in canyons of steel. They’re making me feel, I’m home.

Here’s when I first felt that I was back in New York. On the ride into the city from Newark airport, I was in the back row of the Super Shuttle. In my row were three Spaniards, the row in front of me had two woman conversing in one of the African dialects, next to them was two very pretty French twenty-something students and in the front row was two blue-haired octogenarian women that came to attend a few Broadway shows, both of whom were named Dorothy. Yep, that’s my town, kids.

For the most part, not much has changed. A few different store fronts, a few restaurants that looked new. And I have seen the NYPD riding around in those electric Leonardo-DeCaprio-mobiles. The subway smells the same, sounds the same. The city smells the same. Some of the summer funk is still lingering in the air. The strange humid-like smell that is hard to describe but is basically Manhattan itself farting through the storm drains.

You never know what you’ll see in Manhattan. While walking through mid-town yesterday, I saw a hobo with two cats asking for change next to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. I’ve seen plenty of winos with dogs, but a hobo with cats; that was a new one.

Many of my favorite buildings and streets seem like old friends. I have found myself saying hello to them in my head as I walk by. Not out loud, that would be nuts. I walked through Central Park the morning after I arrived. Though one of my favorite paths was closed for renovation, I could still make it over to Bow Bridge and look out into the Upper West Side. I made a wish, flipped a penny into the drink and felt like I was home.

I love New York.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Worst Bands of All Time

Last night The Office had it’s season premiere. Which means exactly one third of the shows I think are funny on television was on. The rest of that pie being Reno 911 and Family Guy. That’s pretty much it. Anyhoo, after The Office ended, a promo came on for the season premiere of E.R. I can now give a startling revelation; E.R. is still on the air. Shocking isn’t it?

Everyone has their own musical taste. Not everyone has good taste. In fact, America, for the most part, has atrocious taste in tunes. Case in point; American Idol is still moving products. I rest my case your honor.

(SIDENOTE – I have always hated American Idol. It’s ridiculous to me. Just a karaoke contest with corporate sponsors. I was hanging out with a girl a while back who insisted I give it one more chance. I relented because I’m a pushover and she was cute. That night’s episode had one of those jokers doing Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line.” I have a bad feeling about this. The hack began singing, “I keep a close watch on this heart of mine…” He slowed the tempo in half and tried to sing it as a Barry Manilow ballad. I couldn’t take it. I didn’t through half a song.

That is similar to when a different girl tried to get me to reconsider on Sex and the City. You know, that show on HBO about three prostitutes and their mom. I hate that show, some of the worst, most corny, forced writing in the history of the telly. One bad pun after another. The episode she tried to get me to watch had the hookers going to Atlantic City. The older one with the weird voice looked at a busty restaurant hostess talking to her boyfriend or something and said, “who picked this breastaurant.” DONE! That’s it for me.

Jeez, I’m rambling way off topic with that sidenote. Sorry.)

Okay the worst bands of all time. I am not including performers that don’t play instruments and therefore are not a band but a group. This eliminates the boy bands (not bands) and TLC and Destiny’s Child. They don’t qualify. Also not included are the annoying solo artists. So, no Richard Marx, Celine Dion or Michael Bolton. And no hip hop, or Insane Clown Posse would be number one with a bullet.

The Dishonorable Mentions

Jethro Tull (they had a flute), Emerson, Lake and Palmer, The Gin Blossoms, Asia, Chicago, Garbage, KISS (I’m serious), Nelson, Extreme and Marilyn Manson.

The Losers

10. Jefferson Starship – They were not bad in the 60’s as Jefferson Airplane, but “We Built This City” is one of the worst songs ever made. You know it’s bad when out of touch politicians use it as a campaign theme.

9. Poison – What the hell happened here? How did people fall for this train wreck with an extra order of cheese? Nice makeup job boys.

8. The Cranberries – Why was that girl yodeling?

7. Milli Vanilli – One of the great con jobs in pop culture history. I don’t know they got away with it at first, but I blame it on the rain.

6. Limp Bizkit – These guys were selling our arenas. If I ever do a list for Worst Lyrics Of All Time, “I did it all for the nookie, so you can take that cookie” is a candidate for number one. “Hey, cookie and nookie rhyme!”

5. The Black Eyed Peas – When a reporter asked her about what she says to those that think she can’t sing, Fergie once said something to the effect of, “gifts are from God, so when people say I can’t sing, they’re insulting God.” Fergie, I’m only insulting your band. And you peed yourself once onstage. That’s gross.

4. Air Supply – A little vomit rises when I hear their songs in the elevator at Macy’s. You know it’s bad when it seems corny for adult contemporary radio.

3. Motley Crue – Truly awful.

2. The B-52’s – If this list was Most Annoying Songs of All-Time, “Shiny Happy People” wouldn’t have any challengers. That’s the Muhammad Ali of annoying songs. That guy yelling “bring your jukebox money!” sends a shiver down my spine.

1. Creed – In a runaway win. What a load of crap. Trying to convince the red states they are a “Christian band.” Heaven help those that listened to that rubbish.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Jack & Meg

I remember the first time I saw Jack White play guitar. And the same as how I know where I was when I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time, I’ll never forget the experience.

I was working at The Late Show with David Letterman in New York. When there was a band I liked playing on the show, I would sneak up to the balcony and watch the sound check before the taping. I saw some amazing music up there by myself. Pearl Jam, Pete Townsend, U2, B.B. King, Tom Waits, Ben Harper and many more. I was told that the White Stripes were going to play the show the next day. I had heard a little of the buzz surrounding them and had read a couple blurbs in some British music magazines. I wanted to see it for myself.

So the next afternoon, I snuck up to the balcony. When I looked down to that historic stage I only saw two people. A cute barefoot girl sitting at a small drum kit and a guy with a cheap guitar I had never seen before standing in front of a stuffed zebra head. Both were dressed in red, black and white. There were peppermint swirls decorating the drums. I was intrigued.

Jack got the cue from Biff the stage manager and the Stripes started playing “Fell In Love With A Girl.” I’d never heard anything like it. It was simple and pure and, well, amazing. I was really interested. Then, something incredible happened. Biff asked the band to play something else while the sound guys played with a few of the levels. Jack nodded, pulled a metal slide out of his pocket and said something to Meg. Then he ripped into a version of the Son House classic “Death Letter,” one of my favorite songs of all time. “I got a letter this morning, what do you reckon it read? It said the gal you love is dead.” Now tell me that’s not poetry. My mouth hit the floor of the balcony. What the hell was this? Are you kidding me? I was blown way. I’d never heard the blues sound like that. And that was it. I was a convert. I was on board with the White Stripes.

The tourists in the audience that night seemed a little confused when they heard the Stripes, but that didn’t matter. It wasn’t their crowd. Even Letterman looked up from his desk when they were playing. Something he rarely does. Dave saw it too. There was something special about this little (literally) band from Detroit.

After work that evening, I walked the nine blocks down Broadway to the Virgin Megastore in Times Square and bought the first three White Stripes albums. They have been one of my favorite bands since that night. I could tell they were the real thing. Some may have thought the Stripes were a gimmick. And I suppose that in some ways, there are. The difference is, they are a perfectly executed gimmick accompanied by a world-class guitar player. Jack is, without doubt, one of the most gifted guitarists of his generation. Not that long ago, Rolling Stone magazine named him the 17th greatest axe player of all-time. That ranked him ahead of George Harrison, Buddy Guy and Freddy King. Record after record for ten years, Jack has shown us that he is a musical force. He’s a creative genius with the musical morals that rarely exist outside of Eddie Vedder.

I tend to gravitate towards bands that have longevity and a strong body of work. Bands that have their sound grow and evolve. (An exception being the Ramones. They are in a class by themselves.) And I’m very selective. It’s not that I think that Maroon 5 is a particularly bad band. But, the way they sound, you know, here today, Third Eye Blind tomorrow. Same with bands like Matchbox 20, Nickleback and Dashboard Confessional. Here today, Gin Blossoms tomorrow. Okay, I do think that Maroon 5 is a bad band.

The only other time I have seen the Stripes live was by chance when I scored Saturday Night Live tickets and they happened to be the guest. That was good time, amazing to sit in that historic theater and see SNL in person.

The last few years I have missed the Stripes live shows. In New York they were playing the Bowery Ballroom and I couldn’t get tickets. A couple years later in Los Angeles, I was out the state on a job and missed another set of shows in The Greek Theater. It was frustrating. But a few months ago, I finally got White Stripes tickets. To see them in one of my favorite rooms, the historic Paramount Theater is Seattle. My cousin Aaron and I bought a couple pre-sale seats in the balcony and I have counted down the days until I was going to see Jack play guitar live.

And then, wouldn’t you know it, with the show just days away, I get an email from The White Stripes. Meg is suffering from “acute anxiety” and is “unable to travel” and tour. For crying out loud. I never make light of anxiety, depression or the like, I’m not angry at Meg. I’m just disappointed and bummed out. The Stripes are the band I have not seen that I want to see the most. They have eluded me over the years, like my White Whale I haven’t been able to catch. And now I have to wait who knows how long to see them.

Maybe after the next amazing record, and the ensuing tour, I will be able to in the audience with thousands of others and appreciate the chance to hear Jack play his Airline Res-O-Glass guitar.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Rags & Bones

I’m in a bad mood. The White Stripes cancelled the rest of their tour because Meg is sick. Really bummed me out. I’ve had tickets for five months. Just in case Meg reads this though, Meg, I hope you feel better soon and I don’t blame you for ruining my chance to see Jack play the guitar.

So, if Orenthal James Simpson goes to prison for armed robbery of a memorabilia dealer in a Las Vegas hotel room, is that like Al Capone going to the clink for tax evasion? Methinks so, kids.

Seriously Juice, how stupid are you? Did you not think the guy would recognize you? Do you not remember you are one of the most infamous celebrities of all time? As I recall, your sham of a trial received some attention 10 years ago. Your guilty mug was on the telly just a bit. For crying in the night.

I’m not a fan of people who ask, in an obviously un-fun situation, “so, you having fun yet?” (sigh…) It’s nearly as annoying as those that think it’s clever to ask, “so, you working hard or hardly working?”

(For those of you keeping score at home, that’s Johnny the Arrogant - 737, Johnny the Nice Guy – 9. Come on Johnny the Nice Guy, you can do better than that.)

While I’m being rude—Why do some old people have a smell? Have you ever been to a nursing home? It’s an olfactory nightmare in there. What is that smell? Mold? Mothballs mixed with oatmeal? I don’t know what it is. It just smells stale and, well, old. My Grandmother didn’t smell before she passed on. I honestly have been confused about this since I was in junior high and delivered newspapers to a retirement home. Bad memories of those deliveries. “Hey you! Sonny! Help me find my teeth! You’re late with my paper! I want to do my word jumble!” (shudder…) I would sprint out of that joint.

(I think that’s another point for Johnny the Arrogant. Man, I’m getting creamed here.)

I was watching The Daily Show the other night. During the commercial break, an ad came on for a service that sent “psychic answers text messages sent right to your cell phone!” Wow. I’ve wondered who are the yokels that spend a dollar for the cell phone background of the dancing frog or the farting panda or whatever those are, but this one made me a little more disappointed in our society. Here’s what I picture this operation looking like; In a small office in suburban Detroit is a room of part-time college students sitting in cubicles with five cell phones in front of them. They rotate the phones and “answer” each question from the dupes across the country. Not one employee has any psychic tendencies, nor claims to. The boss just tells them, “text back something positive and reassuring.” How much you wanna bet I’m right?

Here is why there is no such thing as psychic. Or paranormal mediums. Or fortune tellers. Or those that have telekinetic abilities. First of all, it has never been proved by anyone. If it was real, if I could see the future, I could go on The Late Show and show off for an hour. Predicting the next three days weather, what’s going to happen in the news, and how long it will be before Britney Spears poses for Playboy. (Put the line at 18 months and I’ll take the “under.”) This is the problem; you’re asking me to believe that EVERY PSYCHIC IN THE WORLD IS AN HONEST AND MORAL PERSON. If there were psychics, there would be no gambling in casinos, no betting on football, no lottery, no Power Ball, no stock market, no horse racing, nothing that there is the possibility of manipulating the outcome like Biff Tannen in Back to the Future II. It’s a trick folks. I’ve heard people say things such as this. “there’s no way she could have known some of the things she knew.” You know what? I saw David Copperfield turn a 747 into an elephant with a showgirl on its back. Doesn’t make it real.

In addition, no conjurer ever gives the mark bad news. “Sorry, your dog is going to get hit by a car, you’ll lose your home in a blazing inferno, and you will die of cancer in 7 months. That will be 75 bucks please.” Doesn’t happen.

You want to know what your horoscope is? I’ll tell you. It’s a random, generalized statement that, with a little imagination, can be applied to just about anyone.

That will be 25 bucks please.

I told you I was in a bad mood. Thus ends my pointless, mildly funny rant of the week.

Good night and good luck.

Friday, September 14, 2007

I Got The Blues, Honey

I don’t know if I fit the typical profile of a blues fan. But then again, I don’t know if such a profile exists. The blues is something that grabs a hold of you. And if you have at least a little musical soul, the blues is going to stick with you. I love the blues like I love my Mom; unconditionally and without exception.

I grew up in a religious home, middle class, sports loving, suburban life, white as the day is long. I’m very white. Greg Brady white. And yet, the blues lives in me as much as my Scottish heritage.

My older cousin Mark got me into music when I was 13 or so. I had no older brothers, nobody to teach me. A young person trying to find music on their own without a mentor to guide them is a dangerous thing. (That’s how I ended up with The Jackson 5 “Victory” cassette.) Those are the people listening to top 40 disposable radio. Those are the people that bought Fat Boys and Falco records. When we would go to visit our family in Bellingham Washington, Mark would play music for me. Something I’m very grateful for. When my friends were listening to Poison, Ratt, Motley Crue and the rest of the interchangeable hair-sprayed, eyeliner wearing hair bands, I was listening to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Cream, The Yardbirds, Simon and Garfunkle, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. I didn’t understand the butt rock, MTV bands. Just a bunch of pricks in tights to me. Why were they all trying to look like drag queens? Why did all the guitar solos sound the same? What is this garbage? I was a snotty little bugger.

As I went through high school listening to those great old records, I began to want to know more about what influenced the bands that I loved. Zeppelin quoted Robert Johnson. (And J.R.R. Tolkien, by the way.) Clapton played songs that were written by Muddy Waters. The Doors had blues songs. Dylan had a song about Blind Willie McTell. The more I dug, the more I saw that the majority of the bands I loved were influenced by early American blues artists.

I vividly remember hearing Robert Johnson for the first time. He was mentioned the most by Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. It was Crossroad Blues. “I went to the crossroads, fell down on my knees. Asked the Lord above ‘Have mercy, now save poor Bob, if you please.’” It sounded so viral, so gut wrenching. Reading about Robert entranced me. Did he sell his soul to the devil at “The Crossroads” to play guitar like that? Was he poisoned by a jealous lover’s husband? Was he out barking at the moon the night before he died? It was amazing to me. To this day, we still don’t know how he died. Or which one of the three gravestones is the correct marker. I still can’t believe that is only one guitar on those records.

From there I started listening to John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, B.B. King and Willie Dixon. That’s where I started. A few of my friends thought I was nuts listening to music that was 50 years old, but I didn’t care. They didn’t know what I knew. The blues mattered. The blues spoke to me. The songs were about love and pain. They told stories. They had wit and depth and soul. Songs that were written for black juke-joint audiences in segregated southern America decades before I was born moved me, a white, Mormon son of a public school teacher. I felt those songs were just as important to me as they were to Clapton and Page.

My love of the blues has grown. It has matured. It has spread like influenza. Many modern bands that mean something to me still have blues influences. From Mike McCready’s blues infused solos, to Jack White’s damn near reinvention of the blues. I read an interview with Jack the other day and the interviewer asked how he would like to be remembered. Jack replied, “A good husband and father, good upholsterer, and he loved the blues.” Here here Jackie.

From the core blues artists I progressed to more blues greats. Tommy Johnson, Son House, Lead Belly, Mississippi John Hurt, Charlie Patton, Taj Mahal, Big Bill Broonzy, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Little Walter, Freddie King, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Willie McTell. Just to name a few. I continue to find a little gem-of-a-song here and there. Not too long ago a found a song called “Rabbits Foot Blues” I didn’t know from Blind Lemon Jefferson. What a beauty.

So much of modern music is pre-packaged, over-marketed garbage. I read about record companies using an algorithm that can figure if a song is going to be a hit or not. You plug in a verse, a chorus, another verse and a scantily clad girl “singing” and presto; a top 40 hit. That is offensive to me. People complain that the arts are suffering. Music isn’t as good, films are weaker, novels are boring. This is true, sadly. The reason is because the suits are killing the arts. Jackass’s that are more concerned about where they are having lunch and with who than letting a burgeoning artist grow and mature. They believe they can predict what will sell, not what is good. Nobody in an office building in Santa Monica told Son House not to record a song about a dead girlfriend in the morgue. (See: Death Letter, a blues classic.) The blues was (and is) raw and unfettered. The songs were about life around the artists. They mattered.

Part of my definition of good or important music, whether I like it or not, is it must last more than one generation. The blues lives on. The blues breathes. She has life of her own. Thank God she’s a part of mine.