Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Why A Conservative Turned His Back On The President And The War In Iraq

It is a difficult time to be a conservative. It’s almost embarrassing. In the last two years, I have slowly turned my back on President George W. Bush and have accepted that he is an incompetent and, well, shockingly bad Commander in Chief.

I have been a conservative my whole adult life. I was raised in a suburban middle class, religious home. I am admittedly a product of my environment. There are certain hot button moral issues that I lean towards the right on. I’m sure you can figure out what they are. However, I do lean a little left on a handful of social issues. Education, health care and gun control for example. I wish there was a way for gun control to work without taking guns away from law abiding citizens and keeping criminals armed, but that’s another kettle of beans. I don’t think prayer has any place in public schools. That’s why we have, you know, churches. You institute prayer in public schools and the Jewish kid in the third row that doesn’t participate gets a beatdown at recess. That’s not right. So, I suppose if you want to be more accurate, I’m a moderate that is sitting just to the right of the political Mendoza Line.

Where I see fault in the modern two party system is that you are expected to fall in line with whatever the Elephant Team Captain or the Donkey Team Captain tells you that you should believe. If you are a Democrat, you believe the following… A Republican you say? Okay, you believe this… And when you disagree, you are labeled disloyal. Bollocks. The world isn’t that simple. I don’t believe that kind of blind loyalty is what the framers of the Constitution had in mind. It’s that kind of thinking that has led to the hate the right has for the left and the disdain the left has for the right. The Blue States and the Red States have become a modern day Hatfield’s and McCoy’s. That idiotic feud began in 1865 and wasn’t officially ended until 2004. How long did it take before both sides didn’t even know what they were fighting about and hated each other because that’s what they were told to do? Sadly, that is what America has become.

While I may be simplifying the situation a tad, the most contributing factor to the current state of affairs is the war in Iraq. The war has re-divided an already divided country. I’m not a political commentator. I’m not a political expert. I’m a normal guy who reads the news and cares about his country. On September 12th I was just as upset and scared as anyone. I found myself crying watching the news reports from lower Manhattan. I took it personally. I knew we had to do something. Of course we had to do something. But what we ended up doing was a colossal error.

I, along with many, many Democrats by the way, supported the initial invasion of Iraq. And also like many others, I thought it be a matter of weeks before we removed Saddam Hussein from power and the United States and our allies would be a little safer. Unfortunately, bad intelligence and a John Wayne attitude put us in over our head. We pulled troops from Pakistan to focus on Iraq. There have been reports that Al-Qaeda has gained strength in Pakistan and there is no end in sight in Iraq. The war in Iraq is a disaster. It is approaching Vietnam levels of failure. What have we accomplished? What would be considered a “win?” Winning is impossible. There is no such thing as win.

I am well aware that the following attitude is too cynical. I may well be wrong. But I don’t understand why I should care about the Middle East anymore. Hundreds of years of unrest and infighting. Hundreds of years of religious turmoil. What makes us think that is going to change? That part of the world doesn’t want our help. They have no desire to adopt democracy or free speech or free religion or free anything. Hate is taught in schools, that is if you get to go to school. Hate is taught in homes. Last year, a children’s television program killed a Mickey Mouse look-a-like who was representing an Israeli official trying to take Palestinian land. The show was teaching Palestinian children to hate and kill Israelis. This would be the equivalent of Grover and Cookie Monster teaching kids to hate Blacks and Jews on PBS. While you’re trying to digest that thought, let me pose another question. Why should I care if the Middle East fights among themselves? Why should I care if the Middle East destroys itself? Why should I care?

One of the main reasons I gave up on this war is because I would have felt like a hypocrite if I didn’t. When President Clinton was grab-assing in the Oval Office and lying under oath about it, I was disgusted by much of the blind support that he received. The justifications that were given were crazy to me. I actually listened to “experts” insist that Clinton’s affair was not a big deal because of how many men cheat on their wives. If I continued to back the President now, I would have felt worse than those idiots making excuses for Slick Willie’s dalliances into infidelity. I have listened to blowhards like Bill O’Reilly continue to blindly defend the war. It’s insulting. It’s ridiculous.

This war is a mistake. It’s a quagmire of ineptitude that I don’t see how we can fix. I wish I knew what the answer is. I recognize this diatribe is a little like the third grade logic of Michael Moore. Pointing out the problems without offering any real solutions. But I am being sincere. I gave up on Dubya long ago. He will go down in history, and justifiably so, as one of the worst Presidents this country has ever elected. Without doubt he will. History will be right in doing so. Not that we would have been better off with John Kerry. (I mean come on Dems, you didn’t have a better candidate than a tall-tale-telling hairdo from Massachusetts with no record of leadership in his own party? Really? You are quite possibly going to make the same mistake with Hillary Clinton.) But perhaps we wouldn’t have to read about the thousands of brave men and woman that have died in Iraq. I barely even read the stories anymore. They make me too depressed and angry.

There is a difference between still supporting the American troops and disagreeing with the war. It’s not unpatriotic. It’s not. In fact I believe it is patriotism in its purest form to care so much about the country that you question the dangerous road that the nation is on. Bush has lost America. He’s lost the media. He’s lost his constituents. With approval ratings at an embarrassing low, he is destined to be remembered as the idiot that he is caricatured as in sketch comedy shows. His approvals ratings are in the twenties. That would mean the administration has lost about HALF of the diehard Republican supporters. That is a staggering reality. I have given up on this White House. I tried, I really did, but the actions and blunders and arrogance of the administration have been indefensible.

A few years ago, I was in Washington D.C. for a friends wedding. On Fathers Day, my buddy Dayne and I went to The Mall to walk around some of the monuments. We walked by the Vietnam Memorial. There were hundreds gathered. Putting notes and pictures and flowers below the names on that wall. Some leaving photos of grandchildren that were never met by loving grandfathers. It was horrible. Folks from all over the country coming to pay their respect to loved ones who were lost in a war that did nothing except give us a blueprint of what we shouldn’t do in the future. We didn’t learn that much unfortunately. And one day there will be another memorial on The Mall for the Iraq war. And thousands of family members will come on Fathers Day and Mothers Day and Tuesday to pay their respects to their loved ones. They’ll pay respects to the brave young men and woman who lost their lives in a country that had nothing to do with the attacks on 9/11. They lost their lives in Iraq. And for what?

I have read numerous times that Jack Kennedy had plans set in motion to pull troops out of Vietnam by the end of 1965. After he was killed in Dallas in 1963, those plans were rescinded by LBJ and Vietnam lasted another decade. Imagine how different history could have gone had we jumped off the sinking ship that was the Vietnam War.

We need to pull out of Iraq. And soon. The problem is that one of Dubya’s strengths is also his biggest fault. His stubbornness and hardheaded personality have brought the country to this point. Unfortunately, our great nation is reverting back to the paranoid feelings about government we harbored during the early 70’s. After Vietnam and Watergate, our country justifiably mistrusted government officials.

It’s sad how history continues to repeat itself, isn’t it?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Don't Touch My Nuts

There are many important, interesting and noteworthy news stories that are being reported today. The NBA Playoffs, the NFL Draft, a tragic train crash in China, wildfires in California, scientists analyzing a giant squid -- actually, that's a really good one -- and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton continuing to duke it out, one cheap shot at a time, to see who will face John McCain this November in what is destined to become "The Great Lesser Of Who Cares Election of 2008." We'll see who will have a better "I Promise Not To Screw Up the Country Any Worse" platform. My point is, there's a lot going on.

Well, unfortunately, the news story that grabbed my attention was not any those. How can I resist a headline like this; Florida Lawmakers Consider Bill Banning Ornamental Testicles. Yeah, I can't steer clear of that one.

So here's what has happened. For some reason, there is a redneck trend of hanging replica ball-sacks from the trailer hitch of oversized pickup trucks.


Idiots have been hanging what looks like balls made of flesh-like rubber, stainless steel, brass and other materials. They come in different shapes and colors. Even a set that is red, white and blue. Nothing says patriotism like a stars and stripes coin purse hanging from your back bumper.

Apparently, it has become such an epidemic that a Florida Congressmen is attempting to pass legislation to ban the balls. The bill has passed the senate and is going to the house. "We need to stop these balls!!!"

If you have the truck nuts, you're a moron. We don't need a bill passed to tell us that. Here is what I find troubling. I am sure there are serious problems in Florida right now. Budgetary concerns, health care, education, ticket prices at Epcot, Everglade conservation and more. But the crusade of Senator Carey Baker is the banning of metal scrotums. I wonder if an earlier Baker bill was the proposed abolition of Big Johnson t-shirts. A bill isn't just scribbled down on a cocktail napkin and voted on at the next senate luncheon. There has to be some man hours put into it, and therefore taxpayer dollars at work. There may be a better use of time down there.

I first became aware of the truck nuts a couple summers ago while in New Mexico. My cousin Kerry and I were driving down the freeway and he said "Is that what I think it is?" Yep, balls on a truck. Flappin' in the breeze. We were blown away. Somehow, this has caught on. The hillbilly idiots that are already overcompensating for something -- wink, wink -- are now taking matters a step further. ("Dr. Freud, you have a call. Dr. Freud, a call on line three.") I cannot imagine the thought process that must take place to make one search for and purchase a set of testes for your vehicle.

What's more unbelievable is that we have reached a point in American society where "redneck" has become a term of endearment. How this happened, I'll never know. People have become proud to be uneducated, bigoted, lazy, stupid and to have bad taste in everything. If you're wondering if I am worried about offending anyone with the previous sentence, the answer is no. Rednecks don't read. Some because of illiteracy, most by choice. The only chance of them actually knowing about this rant is if there was a Comedy Central special called Larry the Cable Guy Attempts To Read The Essays of Johnny Wright. I don't see it happening.

So good luck Senator Baker. I hope you are successful in banning testicles hanging from the bumpers of jackasses trucks. I would also like to see a bill banning the use of stickers showing Calvin taking a wee on any kind of truck logo.

Let's put a stop to that today. Together we can.

Friday, April 25, 2008


Two for one posts today, kids. You are welcome.

There are subjects that I don't know why I find fascinating. Shark attacks is one of them. Don't know why, but it probably started when we had free HBO for a weekend as a youngster and I snuck downstairs late at night to watch Jaws by myself. I was probably 9 or 10. Not a good idea. Then I have been watching Shark Week on the Discovery Channel for a decade or so. Can't turn away from it. I am strangely a little afraid of the ocean, it must go back to watching Jaws with the lights off hiding under a blanket when I was 9.

Unfortunately, we had a fatal shark attack today. A 66 year old triathlete was bitten severely by what appears to be a great white. As with most shark attacks, the gentleman was probably mistaken for prey -- he was wearing a dark wetsuit and sharks don't see well -- was bitten across the legs, then left for dead. Sharks hardly ever eat men. We don't taste that good.

Just so we have a little perspective, there about two fatal shark attacks a year. Ostriches and deer kill more people than sharks do. About 50 people a year are killed by lightning. About 30 a year by hot tap water.

There is a fascinating web page that has an exhaustive list of odds of dying by ... fill in the blank. It can be seen here.

Here's some figures to think about.

Death by dog attack - 30 per year.

Death by bees, hornets or wasps - 65 per year.

Death by accidental firearms discharge - 730 per year.

Death by falling down stairs - 1,600 per year.

Death by car accident - 14,500 per year.

So, it's still pretty safe to go swimming in the ocean. But I wouldn't swim near San Diego for a while. At least until Police Chief Brody, Matt Hooper and Quint have taken the Orca out to find the shark responsible for todays death. Then shove an oxygen tank into the beasts mouth and shoot the tank with a .22 caliber rifle.

Until then, I'm not going in there.

Bloody Gibberish

There are many puzzling questions that I have that may never be answered. Vexing conundrums that will always plague my natural curiosity.

Such as;

Did Lee Harvey Oswald really act alone to kill President Kennedy?

Is Elvis really still alive and making appearances at the local Burger King?

How did Dr. Phil get away with publishing a book on weight loss and fitness? Maybe Pac Man Jones should write a book about handgun safety.

But here is one that I find quite vexing; Do other countries use American or British sounding gibberish?

Let me explain.

In Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen is not speaking Kazakh. It’s some Hebrew and mostly nonsense covered with a thick Eastern European accent. We were none the wiser. Bill Hader has a recurring SNL character named Vinny Vedecci, an Italian chat show host that interviews people that don’t speak Italian. It’s brilliant, but Bill doesn’t speak Italian. It sounds like Italian though. Or how about John Belushi screaming “Japanese” when he was the Samurai in all his different occupations.

Good comedians or performers can sound like are speaking French, Spanish, Hindi, Japanese, Chinese or Russian. I imagine that native speakers of those tongues hear the performances and cringe. Maybe become angry, I don’t know.

With that being said, are there sketch comedy shows in Germany that people perform a dumb American speaking incomprehensible prattle that the viewing audience thinks sounds like a Texan? Or a Japanese game show (those are freaking hilarious) where a guy sounds British?

One problem could be that so many in other countries, especially in Europe, can speak at least some English. Maybe too many have a grasp on basic English so you can’t do British gibberish in a French sit-com.

I can’t find any examples of reverse English gobbledygook. It has to exist though. It would make my day to hear it.

Man, I really need to bring a book on the subway. My mind wanders after two stops into ridiculousness.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Viva la Vinyl!

For once, we are seeing a positive trend in modern music. No, I’m not talking about The Spice Girls finally reuniting. (It's about time!) More and more artists are making new albums available on vinyl. In addition, older works are being re-mastered and re-released on good old scratchy sounding vinyl records. This is a rare victory for good music.

I think that the modern vinyl revival may have started with the Pearl Jam record “Vitalogy.” It was released on vinyl a few weeks before the CD. So I had already heard it 7,333 times before some of my friends had it in their car stereos. Since then, it has been a novelty for bands to put out a vinyl record. It was pretty spotty. But in the last couple years, more and more artists are making their work available to play on the ol’ victrola. Ben Harper, Radiohead, Jack Johnson, White Stripes (the most devoted to the format), Oasis, U2, Arctic Monkeys and many more have had vinyl releases recently. Just last month, one of my favorite new bands, Vampire Weekend, put out a 12 vinyl. I got a copy.

I know most won’t care, but here’s the thing; I hate MP3’s.

Yes, they are incredibly convenient and easy. The iPod is an amazing invention and I have been lost since mine died, but I still hate MP3’s. I find no joy in digital music. I have fond memories of scouring small, independent record shops in downtown Seattle to find import singles and live bootlegs of bands I love. I would find a Beatles import with songs I didn’t know, Pearl Jam singles with rare b-sides and a live Doors bootleg with a drunk Jim Morrison singing on it. (It’s rubbish, but an interesting oddity.) The search was just as fun as the purchase of the rare music. It was hunting without having to dowse yourself with deer urine and sit in a tree for three days. Not that I’ve ever done that, but I’ve read things. Now, you can type in the name of a song and download/steal it in a few minutes. What kind of fun is that?

There was a jazz record shop in downtown Seattle I frequented when I was a teenager. I can’t remember the name of it now. It was a small place, in a basement underneath an antique store. To get to the shop, you had to go down a steep iron staircase before going into the door that had a bell hanging over it. Inside was a magical place for me. It was very dim, just a few light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. Duke Ellington or Charlie Parker would be playing on the tinny sound system. There was an older black gentleman that ran the shop, he’d always greet me when I came in. “Back again, huh?” he’d say, then he’d ask me who I was looking for that day. A couple times a month, I would go into the city to find blues albums in that shop. It was mostly jazz, but in the far corner was the blues section. I would pour over those records. Son House, Howlin’ Wolf, Blind Willie McTell, Willie Dixon and dozens more. I wonder now what the owner thought about the skinny 16 year old white kid wearing Sonics t-shirts that would come in every couple weeks to score dusty old vinyl. From there I would go to a shop called Second Time Around. There I continued to build my library of rock and roll. Led Zeppelin, Simon and Garfunkel, Cream, The Who, The Beach Boys, Dylan, The Doors and so on. It was like bringing home new friends every week.

That’s the problem with digital downloads. They are so impersonal. There is no cool tangible artwork. No cool and cryptic liner notes. Nothing cool to display proudly on a shelf. There is nothing cool about MP3’s at all. They are easy, and that is about it. They are disposable, which I find a strong metaphor for the state of modern music. Who cares if you lose a song, you stole it anyway and the cut is no longer trendy, what does it matter?

Last year I decided to move backwards and I began collecting vinyl more seriously again. I went to my parent’s house and got my old record player out of the attic and the boxes that had the records I bought when I was a teen. I have been going to used record shops and thrift stores and finding some amazing gems. There are incredible record shops in Manhattan, my favorite being Bleeker Bob’s in the Village. And you know what? That old feeling I used to get when I was 16 has returned. It’s incredible. Recently I’ve ordered three White Stripes 7 inch singles for the song “Conquest” (one red, one black, one white), found a 10 inch Arctic Monkeys EP, The Beatles debut album for 50 cents, a narrated version of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from the 1950’s and a rare Ramblin’ Jack Elliot record from the 60’s. Not to mention a copy of Robert Johnson’s King of the Delta Blues album. (That one wasn’t a bargain.) I also found a website that sells plastic sleeves that will protect my new found treasures.

I’m proud to say my Peter Pan Complex is, for the moment, somewhat satisfied. I’m never growing up. Now excuse, I’m headed out to buy some PEZ refills.

Viva la vinyl. Spin the black circle.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Shine A Light

This past weekend my buddy Adam and I went to experience -- that word is chosen carefully, we didn't see a movie, we experienced one -- the Imax presentation of Marty Scorsese's brilliant "Shine A Light." It was quite a sight to see Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie rip through the classics on a 60 foot high screen.

The Rolling Stones remain the most successful and resilient rock band in history. The greatest band is, of course, always going to be a debatable issue. Most will argue for The Beatles, I would vote for Led Zeppelin and the snobby music critics (who have lost what it means to love music) will say it's Echo and the Bunnymen or The New York Dolls. But you can't deny the Stones' staying power and importance. "Shine A Light" is a celebration of rock and roll and the blues on 70mm film.

Mick is as campy as ever. Never stopping to act like a man who has fire ants in his boxer shorts and epilepsy at the same time. He is, without doubt, the most fit 64 year old on the planet. Ronnie continues to display his mastery of slide guitar. The human metronome Charlie Watts barely breaks his poker face as he drives the tunes along in perfect time. And Keef continues to defy medical science by just being alive. No man has ever made the guitar look more natural or effortless. I see his gnarled, arthritic looking hands and marvel at how the riffs sound perfect and the bluesy solos remain inspired. There are two things that would survive a nuclear explosion; cockroaches and Keith Richards. (I think I stole that joke, but don't remember where from.)

Besides the masterful camera work and seamless editing, these were the highlights for me;

Two of my favorite Stones cuts were included. "Far Away Eyes," a sardonic country song. And "You Got The Silver," Keef's great ballad that he sang while Mick took a break.

After Buddy Guy blows the doors off the joint doing Muddy Waters' "Champagne & Reefer," Keith walks over and gives him his guitar spontaneously. "It's yours," he slurred. Very cool.

Keef just gets more and more funny as he ages. The man is high comedy. His declaration of "I don't think on stage, I feel," was poetic.

When Jack White strode onstage with his Gretsch Rancher to sing one of my favorites "Loving Cup," with Mick the hairs on my arms stood at attention the whole song. I hope no matter how old I get, I never lose that feeling.

Let's wrap it up with a Rolling Stones version of YouTube Gems. These are some of my favorites.

I'd think twice about rushing the stage while Keef is trying to play his axe. You may to get decapitated.

A great version of "Far Away Eyes."

Keef showing his mastery of the blues, doing Robert Johnson's "32-20 Blues."

Very early performance of "Heart of Stone" on Ed Sullivan.

Excess nearly killed Keith. In an unreleased documentary, it appears a groupie prepares and gives Keef a shot of heroin.

Probably my favorite Stones song, "Beast of Burden."

The trailer for "Gimme Shelter." The film that documented The Stones efforts to have a Woodstock West that resulted in the Hells Angels -- who were acting as "security" -- stabbing Meredith Hunter during the show. That event, along with the Kent State Massacre and the deaths of Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix, effectively ended the optimistic hope of the 60's.

Thank heavens the music lives on.

Good night and good luck.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Patiala County Prison Blues

I cannot resist a good monkey story. I am drawn to them like a shark to a bucket of chum. Monkeys crack me up, always have. Especially when they blow raspberries or work with an organ grinder. Put a funny hat or glasses on a chimp and I’ll laugh. Have them smoking a cigarette and I’m the floor. How about a monkey washing a cat? I could laugh so hard that a little pee might come out. Monkey washing a cat, good times.

I wish that Ricky Gervais was here to cue up the Monkey News jingle. If he was, he would yell “Oooh, chimpanzee that, Monkey News!”

I preface this story by saying that I haven’t exhausted all my journalistic skills here. Some of this may be apocryphal. But come on, I’m not Dan Rather – wait, bad example – I’m not Walter Cronkite. That’s better. This is Chilled Monkey Brains, my silly, rubbish blog, not The Washington Post.

It’s my understanding that it is illegal to kill a monkey in India. This is in large part out of respect to the monkey god Hanuman. I’m sure that if I was Hindu, Hanuman would be my favorite god. Even more so than that elephant babe with the four arms. Since you cannot exterminate the little buggers, they run rampant. My buddy Joel spent some time in India and he had a book of monkey shagging pictures. They were boning everywhere and causing all kinds of mischief. Not all monkeys are as well behaved as Cheetah in the Tarzan films. There are monkey criminals. Stealing fruit from vendors, attacking tourists, throwing rocks at the kiddies, I think one robbed a bank with an AK-47, some bad monkeys.

Since there is not a monkey death penalty, the naughty apes are being sent to a monkey prison. Really. In Patiala, a city in the state of Punjab, there is a monkey hoosegow. It’s hard to find a lot of details about it, there has been a few random articles, but apparently it does exist. The first inmate was a rascal that was biting shoppers in a local market. There are also stories of monkey gangs terrorizing students, stealing purses, defecating in water sources and taking over elevators. Those monkeys were going … bananas! Thank you! I’ll be here all week! Drive careful! You see what I did there was I took bananas, a fruit monkeys love and used it as an action word to describe … never mind…

There are stories about monkeys being released for good behavior. I can see the little guy sitting in front of the parole board like H.I. McDunnough in Raising Arizona. “Now Bingo, have you learned your lesson? Are you done taking dumps in the temple fountain? Yes? He’s nodding his head I think. Okay, you’re free to go.”

Since I couldn’t find a whole lot of details, not even a picture, I do have some questions.

Who works at the monkey prison? Is there a warden? I would think that guard duty at the simian grey bar hotel would be appropriate punishment for inmates at a regular prison. You don’t get stuck in the hole for inciting a riot, you get sent to the monkey jail. You’d learn your lesson methinks. It would have to be crazy in there. A bunch of delinquent monkeys going nuts day after day. Can’t be a very desirable gig.

If there is only one jail in humongous India, are there prisoner transfers from other parts of the country? Maybe they fly them in once a month. Like a monkey version of Con Air.

What happens to the baby monkeys that are born in the jail? Are they set free? It’s not their fault their parents are convicted fruit thieves.

Are fruits and nuts used as currency like cigarettes in human prisons? It seems likely.

Has there been any escapes? For instance, hypothetically, let’s say there is a banker monkey sent to the pokey for killing his wife. Except he didn’t do it. Let’s call the monkey, oh, I don’t know, Andy. Andy has been incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit. He has been spending time with an orangutan who was busted for murder. Let’s call him, let me see, let me see, uh, Red. That’s it. We’ll call him Red. One day, the warden opens Andy’s cell and he doesn’t waddle out for roll call. The cell is empty. Andy has disappeared like a fart in the wind. The warden brings in Red to question him, even offers him three ripe bananas for information. Nothing. Red won’t talk. In frustration, the warden chucks the bananas at the poster of Dr. Zira in a bikini hanging on the cell wall. The fruit flies through the poster, revealing a tunnel that has been used to escape to freedom.

A short time later, Red is released on parole and he meets up with Andy on the Malabar Coast. There the two former monkey ex-cons go to work restoring an old boat and running a monkey bed and breakfast.

It could happen. Before you read this you didn’t believe there was a monkey prison.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Suzy Lee

I have a new axe.

That's a guitar to the hip impaired.

A few weeks ago, my awesome father gave me a birthday budget to get my first electric guitar. I slaved over the decision. Walking through Manhattan guitar shops and testing different models, pouring over mail order catalogues and spending hours researching guitars online.

My criteria was simple. First, of course, I had to stay within my allotted gift fund. Second, I had to get the most bang for my buck. Meaning the best instrument I could get for the money. And third, and most important, the axe had to have character and style. Call that shallow if you want, but I don't see the point in playing a guitar that doesn't have some expression of your personality. I'm not going to buy a boring guitar.

Think about your favorite players. They play instruments that fit their playing style and personality. Like Jack White with his trademark lo-fi JB Hutto Montgomery Airline Reso-Glass. The truth is, it's a piece of junk. Originally they were sold at Sears & Roebuck. They're plastic, Jack has a hard time keeping the bloody thing in tune and by most accounts, even Jack's, they are difficult to play. But, that thing just sounds wicked. The Airline used to be available at pawn shops and swap meets. Good luck finding one now. Or, how about Brian Setzer with his vintage Gretsch hollow body's. You hear Angus Young and you think of his Gibson SG's. The point being, your choice of guitar is an extension of your personalty and musical taste.

With those factors in mind, and with great conviction in my decision, I adopted a black and white Danelectro 59 DC. She is a reproduction of the original model from 1959. Originals go for a few thousand bucks. Dano made a limited number of them, in fact, I may have got one of the last ones. Already they are pretty scarce online. I found one at Manny's Guitar Shop on 48th Street. It was like those kids in The Goonies finding a treasure map in Mikey's attic. She called to me. Besides having a historical legacy and looking cool as hell, the Dano has a steel nut. So my efforts to learn to play slide sounds better than I actually am. I'll be honest with you, I'm rubbish.

Slide on the Dano 59 could potentially sound like this:

I gave her the handle Suzy Lee. Yes, there are reasons why, but I won't bore you with that. It feels like a 1950's name though doesn't it?

I picked up the guitar fairly late compared to when most people learn. I got tired of being one of the guys that thinks, "Man, I wish I learned to play the guitar." Like Harold Crick, I wanted my life to be more musical. So, on my birthday a couple years ago, I went to Guitar Center and bought a cheap acoustic guitar and a few books. I honestly feel it is one of the best decisions of my life. My life has been enriched, as corny as that sounds. I'm not going to make a record. I'll probably never play an open mike night. I doubt I'll have a band. (Though if I did, we would be Johnny the Kid and the Gunslingers.) That's not the point. Playing my guitars makes me feel better. Simple as that.

Don't continue to wish you could play an instrument. Invest in a cheap guitar. Or an electric keyboard. Or a harmonica (I've picked that up too), ukulele, concertina, melodica or kazoo. Just do it. You won't be sorry.

Now excuse me, I'm going to play the blues.

YouTube Gems

Here's a few of the beauties I have found on YouTube recently.

How about a public service announcement on the dangers of crack cocaine from ... Pee Wee Herman.

One of the great instrumentals of all time. Sleep Walk by Santo & Johnny. 1959.

Dick Van Dyke cracks me up. I've been watching The Dick Van Dyke show on A very cool site.

Perhaps my favorite video on YouTube. A Converse ad for the best basketball shoe of all time, The Weapons. Who doesn't love Larry Bird attempting to rap?

I miss George Harrison. Here is his immortal appearance on Monty Python.

Cab Calloway is one of my favorite performers. In 1964 he performed his trademark song Minnie the Moocher.

A very funny video by my buddy Adam. A "trailer" for an upcoming epic film starring yours truly. But the real star is my handlebar mustache. Wait till the end to see it. I'm quite proud of that greasy stache.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Rags & Bones Vol. 3

For the uninitiated, Rags and Bones was once called The Ramblings. It is basically random topics that don’t warrant a full entry so I lump them in together in a big bowl of omnibus stew. Mmmm, stew.

On the 1 train a few weeks ago, a dapper looking gent boarded at 86th Street. He had some tweedy looking trousers on with a sharp crease in them and a pair of brown wingtips. A very expensive looking camel hair overcoat on his back. Covering his pate was a grey Borsalino fedora with a small feather in the hat band. (I thought it was a Borsalino, which is the brand that was favored by Al Capone and countless other wise guys, along with former Japanese Emperor Hirohito, a quick peek at the pin on the band confirmed my suspicion.) A silk scarf with a paisley pattern was loosely draped around his neck. A pretty impressive ensemble already. But here’s the topper; the chap was also sporting a monocle. It was amazing. I have never seen one that wasn’t in a photograph, a cartoon, or a Mr. Peanut advertisement. Oh, and Colonel Mustard in the board game Clue. It was memorizing. He – I am betting his name was Roman, Clive or Nigel – sat down and began to read the New Yorker. With the aid of a monocle! I still can’t get over this. Famous monocle wearers in history have included Fritz Lang, Anton Chekohov, Karl Marx, Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson and famed British astronomer Sir Patrick Moore. A monocle on the subway, man do I love New York City.

Speaking of the subway…

The red line (1,2,3 on the west side) on weekends is a circus. There is always construction, express lines go local and vice versa and service is sporadic at best. Anyhoo, last weekend I was heading downtown and the muffled voice comes over the intercom to announce that instead of stopping at 72nd Street, the next stop will be Times Square 42nd Street. For crying out loud. The lady across from me says, “never fails on the weekends does it?” We exchanged a little Manhattan small talk/whining. Then out of nowhere, the bloke with seven teeth total that seemed to be sleeping in the corner pipes up loudly “What the %#$&! I told them when I got on the train in needed to go to 86th Street! I showed them my insane card! I’m insane. What do you want me do to?!?” Uh, I don’t know Mr. Insane Straphanger. I really don’t know. He then went back to sleep until Times Square.

Seriously, I love New York City.

(Sidenote: a google search for “insane card” only produced links to card tricks.)

I’d like to date a girl named Bobbi. Extra points would be awarded if her last name was McGee.

The NBA season is wrapping up. The playoffs should be nuts. My MVP votes – how do I not actually have a vote? – would be:

1st - Chris Paul – New Orleans Hornets - The guy took a team that many didn’t even know existed to second place in the monstrous Western Conference.

2nd - Kevin Garnett – Boston Celtics - KG has the Celtics playing tenacious defense. (Yep, I did wrote that on purpose.) He makes a difference on nearly every play on both sides of the floor.

3rd - Kobe Bryant – Los Angeles Lakers - I cannot stand him, I hate his whining, and I think he is a bad teammate, but he did lead the Lakers to the best record in the West. That’s as much of a compliment I could ever give to Kobe Bryant.

I am sticking to my pre-season prediction from the Finals. Phoenix vs. Boston. Phoenix in six games.

There is a film (that’s a loose definition) coming out called “What Happens In Vegas.” Not only does it have a preposterous rom-com premise, it stars Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz. Two of the most irritating, overacting and overrated performers of all time. I cannot imagine two people I would rather not see in a movie. It might as well be starring Rosie O’Donnell and Sean Hayes. My theory is that the flick is an elaborate proposition bet between two bored studio execs. The bet being “I can take two unlikable stars, a moronic premise but stick to the romantic comedy formula and still turn a small profit. Hundred grand says I can.” It’s the only explanation.

I find Activia Yogurt, the one that helps ladies poop, more funny than I should. I love how the commercials subtly say that the product helps you make a deuce. I wish they would just come out and say it. “Problems with number two ladies? Have a mango yogurt.” There was a lawsuit earlier this year claiming that the product did not do what it is supposed to do. I do not want to know how they tested the data. I don’t know why there isn’t a male version of the yogurt. Of course, we have Taco Bell. Maybe that’s good enough.

And finally, my favorite news story this week was the man in Bosnia whose home has been hit five times by meteorites. FIVE TIMES! What makes the story art is the man’s explanation. “I am obviously being targeted by extraterrestrials. I don’t know what I have done to annoy them but there is no other explanation that makes sense.” That is amazing. I can just see little grey aliens taking bets as they launch meteorites out of a flying saucer aiming for the same house in a Bosnian village. “I hit it again! Pay up Glorp!”

What did we do before the internet?

Good night and good luck.

Sports Bigamy

I take being a sports fan seriously. I know it’s silly, but I do. I get annoyed (and sometimes offended) at others haphazard ways of being a fan. I don’t even like it when people wear a team’s hat because “they like the colors.” That one makes me nuts.

I believe that there has been unwritten rules to being a fan for years. An understood code between knowledgeable sports nuts, but they haven’t been written. Well, I’m about to change that. I propose that the following be adopted as the official rules of being a fan. A sort of Sports Bigamy Manifesto. I honestly feel that I am just the nut to do this. Who else would take this seriously?

These rules are basically like the Constitution of the United States, while the tenets are inspired and well thought out, they are subject to change and/or amendment. Let’s get started.

1. The teams you loved as a child are your teams for life. You cannot jump teams due to wins and losses. The guys 10 years ago whose favorite teams were the Chicago Bulls, the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Yankees, those better still be your teams. If you have jumped to the San Antonio Spurs, New England Patriots and the Boston Red Sox, I think you should have your toenails pulled out by a pair of rusty pliers. If you have grown up in an area that does not have major sports teams, you can adopt a favorite club. However, if you grew up in Montana and decided that you are a Lakers fan, you better still be a Lakers fan. The teams you chose as a child, you are stuck with them forever.

2. You cannot wear a teams hat or jersey because you like the colors. Absolutely not. If you do wear another team’s jersey, it must be a “throwback” jersey of a player who is no longer active. For example; me wearing a New York Knicks Earl “The Pearl” Monroe jersey would be okay. Me wearing a New York Knicks Nate Robinson jersey would not be okay. Even though Nate played at the University of Washington. (U-Dub to the hip impaired.) Larry Bird, Bob Cousy and Ted Williams jerseys are fine. But unless you are from Boston, Tom Brady, David Ortiz and Paul Pierce are not. (The hip-hop community is a major violator of this rule. Who’s your favorite team there Snoop Dog?)

3. If your team is eliminated in the playoffs (or they stink so bad they weren’t even invited to the party), you can pull for another team to win. You may not purchase the others teams gear and you may not, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE refer to another team as “we” or “us.” It is far more acceptable to root against a team than root for a team that is not yours.

4. It is okay to refer to your teams as “us” or “we.” Fans do matter, ask any professional athlete, they’ll tell you the same thing. It’s not called “home field advantage” for nothing. The phrase team extends beyond the lines of the playing field.

5. In an established rivalry, you cannot like both teams. You cannot like Duke and North Carolina, the Yankees and the Red Sox, Michigan and Ohio State, USC and Notre Dame. You just cannot. You must prefer one and hope the other loses every game in a blowout.

6. It is in bounds to criticize or question your team’s management, coaching strategy or player performances. It shows you are knowledgeable and that you care.

7. You should not be a fair-weather fan. While you may not be as engaged when your team is good and winning, you still must hang in there with them when they are struggling. Los Angeles fans are the absolute worst when it comes to this rule. When the Dodgers are losing, nobody will even admit to following them. But if they’re winning, you see flags flying from every car. It’s ridiculous. Clippers fans are even worse. There are also those who flip back and forth between USC and UCLA depending on who is more trendy at the moment. And you wonder why the second largest city in America doesn’t have an NFL team.

8. You may not leave a ball game early to “beat the traffic” unless the game is an absolute blowout. Your team must be down 7 runs in baseball, 25 points in basketball and 3 touchdowns in football. Beating traffic is not important to a true fan.

9. If a player from your team leaves, these are the rules.

A. If he is traded, and seemed to not want to leave, you may still pull for him to play well unless he is playing against your team. For me, Gary Payton was a good example of this. I still love The Glove.

B. If the player signs as a free agent for more money, you hate him. Especially if that player has gone on the record as saying that his new contract will not be a money decision. There is a reason that Washingtonians hate Alex Rodriguez. There is a reason there are signs in the crowd reading “Pay-Rod” and people showering the field with phony money when Pay-Rod is up to bat in Safeco Field. I hate him for good reason. I stood in the Mariner locker room as an intern for KOMO 4 holding the microphone and listened to Alex repeat his “Will not be a money decision” mantra. I wish him a severe case of jock itch.

C. If the player signs with a RIVAL team for more money, you can hope his career is ended by a tragic groin pull. See Johnny Damon for this one.

I feel that violations of these rules should be a punishable offense. Maybe we should have a committee to decide to the severity of each violation. I would be Chairman of the Board of course.

Punishments could go something like this:

Minor Offense – No Sportscenter for three months.

Medium Offense – No cable/dish for one year.

Major Offense – One year in a minimum-security prison facility. While there you would be forced to watch tapes of WNBA games every day. The Supreme Court may rule that as cruel and unusual punishment however.

Years ago, right before I moved to New York, I sat down with my 93 year old grandmother to tell her I was leaving Seattle. Keep in mind that I was scheduled to move to New York the week of the 9/11 attacks. My move was delayed a few weeks. So, with the country racked with fear and New York having just survived the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil in our history, my Grandma only had one question. She looked me right in the eye and asked “Honey, you’re not going to become a Yankees fan are you?” No Grandma, I am not. Hand to heaven I am not going to become a Yankees fan.

Now that, my friends, was a sports fan.

Johnny Wright
Chairman of the Board

Monday, April 14, 2008

I Put A Spell On You

We may be seeing the most entertaining sports story since Najeh Davenport took a steamer in a co-ed’s laundry basket. That is absolutely true. People still call him Najeh Davenpoop. After he agreed to do community service for the deuce in the laundry, Davenpoop said, “Where’s the evidence? Where’s the manure?” Good times.

The story I am referring to is a construction workers attempt to jinx the New York Yankees by encasing in cement, wait for it, a David Ortiz Red Sox jersey. I am not making this up. The guy is a die hard Boston fan and was laying cement for the new Yankee Stadium. He had the bright idea to bury a Red Sox jersey into the cement like Jimmy Hoffa underneath Giants Stadium. I don’t believe that story either, but it is funny.

Only problem is, someone blabbed to the New York Post, a publication not really known to keep a scoop to themselves. I think he just couldn’t help himself he was so proud. Well, next thing you know, the story is on the front page and it’s all New York City can talk about.

The rational person or persons would laugh this off as a childish and creative prank. I thought it was hilarious. But we are talking about the Yankees and the Red Sox. In the Northeast people take the rivalry more serious than you can imagine. Plus, the Steinbrenner’s run the Yanks and as a whole they are a bit crazy-go-nuts. In fact, heir apparent Hank Steinbrenner, who is a gift from the unintentional comedy gods, was asked about the alleged burier of the jersey and was quoted saying “I hope his co-workers kick the s#*% out of him.” How many owners of a professional sports franchise would encourage violence among the teamsters building his new stadium? Fantastic.

You would think the Yankees would laugh this off, but no, they actually broke out the jackhammers and dug the bloody thing up. At a cost of $50,000. Five hours of drilling through two feet of concrete. Fifty large! You honestly could not make this story up. It’s as if the Yankees are run by Archie, Jughead and the gang and they are hatching a scheme to steal back the Riverdale High School mascot from Pembrooke Academy.

I firmly believe that other than the practitioners of voodoo, those obsessed with sports are the most superstitious people on the planet. The Curse of the Bambino sure seemed to be real. Ask Chicago Cubs fans if they believe in The Curse of the Billy Goat. Poor Steve Bartman can’t show his face in Chicago without the risk of lynch mob justice. The guy lives in hiding. In 1969, some Mets fans somehow snuck a black cat into Shea and released the beast in front of the visiting Cubs dugout. The hex continued.

I’m no different. I have weird habits with the numbers 11, 7, and 33. I use those numbers in every situation imaginable. It goes back to my childhood. I can’t help it. In city league basketball games, I have a hard time playing without number 11 on my back. It’s ridiculous. I know it’s ridiculous. However, I’m not sure I would take a buried shirt curse so seriously as to jackhammer the ground I order to avoid the new stadium being cursed.

Ah, who am I kidding, I probably would.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Death of an iPod

On April 11th 2008, Johnny Wright’s iPod, a constant companion and good friend, died of natural causes. She was seven years old.

The iPod was born in the Best Buy on 23rd Street of New York City on December 15th of 2001. She led a very happy and full life. The iPod loved walks through Central Park, long drives along the West coast while on shuffle and cross country airplane rides. She also enjoyed how much more pleasant she made the subway for Johnny. The happy sounds of the Beatles seemed to decrease the smell of urine and the homeless.

After a long life, Johnny’s iPod began to show complications in recent months. She began skipping songs on carefully designed play-lists, and her battery was running shorter and shorter. The morning of the 11th, all 6,237 songs stored in her body disappeared without a trace. They have yet to be found. Shortly thereafter, Johnny’s iPod was unresponsive and refused to turn on. Efforts to resuscitate were unsuccessful. Then, in her sleep, she peacefully gave up the ghost. “It was sad,” Wright said, obviously still in mourning, “but at least she wasn’t in any pain.”

Shortly before her death, Johnny’s iPod had begun to write her memoirs. In the opening chapter, the iPod stated that the key to her longevity was “the loving care of my owner and the soulful and amazing music that I stored.”

“She was a good friend. And she loved music,” Wright said. “I miss her every day.” The iPod did indeed have a great love of music, spanning many genres. Especially British rock, 40’s blues, Bob Dylan, singer-songwriters, Johnny Cash, 70’s punk, rockabilly, Pearl Jam, The White Stripes, 60’s folk and so on and so forth. The iPod also enjoyed taxidermy, wind surfing and bocce.

A brief service will be held on Monday April 14th, and then the iPod will be interred in a shoebox underneath Johnny’s bed. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in the iPod’s name to Johnny’s iTunes account.

Johnny’s iPod is survived by a seven year old pair of earbud headphones.

Johnny Wright’s iPod
December 15th 2001 – April 11th 2008

You Can Buy My Article At Barnes & Noble

Yeah, I hardly ever do any kind of self promotion and I feel like a jackass doing it, but you can pick up a copy of Eliza Magazine this month and read a page of my drivel.

Specific store locations carrying the mag can be found here:

Now, this is a fashion magazine. I know, me writing for a fashion magazine is a natural oxymoron. It’s jumbo shrimp in literary form. But, I do write the "Guys Guide." This particular installment is "A Guys Guide To Television." Basically I sing the praises of Mythbusters and Cheers and take cheap shots at Grey’s Anatomy, Oprah and American Idol. That is like striking out the blind kid, but that rubbish deserves to be taken down a peg or three.

So if you feel like a chuckle or two while you’re making a deuce, head down to Barnes & Noble and pick up a copy.

Good night and good luck