Monday, April 30, 2007

The Impulsive Donut Purchase

It was supposed to be a routine stroll through Albertson's on a Sunday night. I was there for a few items, and a few items only: onions, zucchini, bell peppers, olive oil, milk. No frills, no gratuities.

Suddenly, there they were: Entenmann's chocolate-covered donuts. It hit me in the gut, right off the bat. Just from the picture on the box, I could already feel them sliding sweetly into my mouth. A voice cried out in my head. "Aw, whaddaya need those for?" it said pointedly. "You know you're only gonna eat one and then you're gonna be sick." Maybe so. Maybe it would only be a foolish waste of my money. But it was too late to turn back. I'd already tasted their fluffy goodness in my head, and I'd be damned if I let caution stop me now. I picked them up and threw them in my cart.

Finally, after a scrumptious dinner of black bean soup, I opened the box. With trepidation, I grabbed the first donut. It was just as I'd hoped: soft, tangy, expansive, sugary. Thrilled by having read my appetite so successfully, I reached for a second one. It was then that I began losing momentum. The voice inside my head was right; I couldn't even eat two of these things. Midway through the second donut, I maxed out.

The refrigerator came through, in the clutch, to save the day.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Eternal Question: Bueller or McFly?

Who's "cooler," Ferris Bueller or Marty McFly? - IMDB Message Board

Think about it. At first, the question seems simple. But upon further investigation, the matter becomes quite thorny. Each character is "cool" in his own distinct way. Bueller may trump McFly in a certain department, but McFly will dominate Bueller in a separate department. After thoroughly dissecting the issue, I've concluded that there really is no definitive answer.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Lynch Effect

A mild mannered husband and wife, successful and happy, watch the David Lynch oddity propaganda piece Inland Empire, and then decide to release their perfectly normal and unassuming album of indie folk ..... BACKWARDS!

See the whole story over at Pitchfork.

"'s not just boring, it actually becomes depressing."

Pink Floyd: The Wilderness Years (1968-1972) - Part II

Before I give a track-by-track breakdown of my amazingly well-chosen Wilderness Years mix, I'd like to provide a cursory overview of each of the six albums that comprise the Wilderness Years (I've linked the AllMusic reviews to each title):

A Saucerful of Secrets (1968): As Syd Barrett became more and more unreliable, the band initially held hopes that, even if he wasn't able to tour, maybe he would still be able to write studio material a la Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys (and we all know what a great arrangement that was). Eventually even that proved too much to ask for the young Barrett, and suddenly the rest of the band had to slap together a decent follow-up album and hope that nobody noticed their lead singer's almost complete absence. Considering the circumstances under which the album was recorded, then, it's amazing that it's as good as it is. Fortunately for us, the standards for albums at the time meant that even half-assed albums were pretty eclectic and rewarding. Sure it's a hodgepodge, but it's never a boring hodgepodge; not every song is a highlight, but they all at least have something to offer. Rick Wright continues his apparent lead singer duties with the pleasant (if dated) "Remember A Day" and See-Saw," while Waters rumbles his bass for 6 minutes and calls it "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun." The entire band freaks out on the 12-minute title track, and if it seems a bit like album filler, at least it's interesting (also keep in mind that this was still 1968, and that this stuff must have seemed pretty far out at the time - at least with the aid of cough syrup or whatnot). Syd gets his last gasp with the delightfully warped "Jugband Blues," in which he brought a Salvation Army band into the studio and told them to play "whatever you want." Judged as a debut album (which it essentially is), A Saucerful of Secrets is pretty good. I probably like it more than their real debut album.

More (1969): Here's a soundtrack album to a film nobody has seen. While most Pink Floyd fans will agree that the album is wildly inconsistent, with some great highs and some skippable lows, no one actually agrees on which songs are the highs and which songs are the lows. There are at least four or five short instrumental pieces that aren't exactly real songs, but were never meant to be either, so they're enjoyable as such. Let's just say that, for a band that didn't know how to write lyrics yet, soundtracks must have seemed like the perfect career move.

Ummagumma (1969): Here's a document of a group that really doesn't know what to do with itself, and figures it might as well fart up its own asshole. Ummagumma is a half-live, half-studio double-album set. The live album is pretty terrific, but the truth is, aside from a seriously reworked "Careful With That Axe, Eugene" (which was only previously available as an obscure B-side), it's all old material. With the studio album, they decided to copy the Who's formula of A Quick One While He's Away, and divide up all the songwriting equally among the four members. That's right, drummer Nick Mason gives it a shot with "The Grand Vizier's Party, I-III." Gilmour and Waters come the closest to actually writing real songs, but it's clear that even they still need more practice (although Waters does come up with the memorably titled "Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict"). The end effect of the album is basically: "Here's a bunch of stuff we tried." Nevertheless, Pink Floyd still prove that, even when they're not very good, at least they're interesting.

Atom Heart Mother (1970) : Floyd begin smoothing out their rough edges, and as a result they make an album that's pretty even all the way through. The first half is a side-long collaboration with an obscure British composer that doesn't really go anywhere great, but it doesn't go anywhere bad either. The second half consists of a Waters song, a Wright song, a Gilmour song and a whole band song (Nick thankfully wasn't asked to contribute a piece of his own). Surprisingly, Rick Wright comes up with the most enjoyable number, the Kinks rip-off "Summer '68". Waters' folky "If" at first seems like a throwaway, but it improves with repeated listens. Gilmour's "Fat Old Sun" isn't amazing but it's nice. The band ends with the meandering jam "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast," which is exactly what it describes: the sound of their roadie Alan eating breakfast. As Rolling Stone so aptly put it in their 1970 review, "Try freaking out again, Floyd!" In sum, it's an album or fans only - but fans will probably like it.

Meddle (1971): It might have seemed like Floyd had been making genuine albums for the past fews years, but in retrospect, they were pretty much slapping them together. Saucerful was recorded with the line-up in transition, More was a soundtrack album, Ummagumma was half-live, half-studio, and Atom Heart Mother was an orchestral prog rock experiment. Meddle is, for all intents and purposes, the first real post-Barrett Floyd album. That's not to say, however, that it still isn't a Wilderness Years album. The first side is the typical grab-bag, with a Doctor Who-ish instrumental, a lounge jazz number, and a bluesy throwaway sung by Gilmour's dog. Sure, they were still filling up the album space, but they were getting better at it. Side Two's "Echoes," however, is basically where the Wilderness Years end: stylistic chaos gives way to carefully-blended atmospheric and compositional control. Millions of frat boy stoners were waiting around the bend.

Obscured By Clouds (1972): Tossed off in a week, it's hard to believe that this album officially precedes Dark Side of the Moon in the discography. If anything, it really belongs between Atom Heart Mother and Meddle. If you're not expecting too much, this might be the most underrated Floyd album of all; almost every song has a memorable hook and the production is pleasantly warm and pastoral. Most of the lyrics, however, are extremely dopey. Anyone expecting something along the lines of "Did they get you to trade/Your heroes for ghosts/Hot ashes for trees/Hot air for a cool breeze/Cold comfort for change" will be best advised to look elsewhere.

Some other bits and pieces:

Early singles: If you want to witness a band in its actual moment of awkward adolescence, these are worth checking out. As serious attempts at psychedelic pop, "Paintbox," "Julia Dream" and "Point Me at the Sky" are pretty laughable, but they're extremely evocative of late 60s Swinging London. To hear Waters, Wright and Gilmour try to be the next Donovan is a bit like getting your own private glimpse of the universe before it expanded.

Zabriskie Point soundtrack: Floyd also cut a couple of stray tracks for Michelangelo Antonioni's entertainingly clueluess late 60s counterculture movie (in which a rebellious young man answers the phone by saying "Goodbye?"). The highlight is a reworked version of "Care With That Axe, Eugene" with the much-improved title of "Come In Number 51, Your Time Is Up."

Monday, April 23, 2007

Still Playing

I put the Clockwork Orange soundtrack on after 2001's. Wow, is that music annoying when listened to outside of the movie. The pieces that are interesting are the snippets of Beethoven's Ninth, and let's be honest, the Ninth would sound good played by my dog on a toy fiddle.

Oh, that song 'I Want to Marry a Lighthouse Keeper' by Erika Eigen is pretty good. I don't remember actually hearing it during the movie but it would be a good song to put into a band's set list as one of those cute old songs that somehow are more fun to listen to than anything the band has actually written. I'd love it if you'd polish my lamp by the light of day Erika.

Next up on 'Great Things Taken Out of Context' I'll read Dostoevsky to a starving man and paint my kitchen with scenes from 'Antigone'.

Until then, watch this amusing new anti-drug PSA.

Now Playing

So I found a copy of the 2001:A Space Odyssey Soundtrack in my pile of records and I have to say, Kubrick was cheating. I just watched the sunset and was spooked out. Just a normal sunset, no volcanoes or dramatic cloudscapes to gussy it up, and it was more disturbing than watching Blow-Up alone and in a romantic mood.

No wonder a camera spinning around some crappy models seemed impressive. Now that I think about it, where would Star Trek be without the great theme music--original and Next Generation? Can you make a movie about space without some sort of Bachsploitation soundtrack? Would anyone but science majors and their prospective suitors enjoy it? Maybe I need to make a silent movie in space, in the interest of realism! OR a reggae movie set in space. What's a reggae movie? Stay Tuned.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Milos Forman Fest!

I didn't really plan it this way, but on my latest DVD purchasing spree I bought two films by the same director. Both One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and The People vs. Larry Flynt had been on my "to buy" list for a while, and their numbers just kind of came up at the same time I guess. Milos (pronounced "mee-low-sh") Forman is one of those "dependable but stylistically amorphous" directors along the lines of Sidney Lumet and Roman Polanski: ie., he made a lot of great movies but he isn't really an "auteur." He actually started out as an acclaimed Czechoslovakian director in the 60s (The Fireman's Ball is supposed to be really good), but fled Czeckoslovakia because...well...because it sucked, I imagine. He is also the director of Amadeus and Man on the Moon (otherwise known as The People vs. Larry Flynt Part II).

Czech out these features:

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

Commentary by: director Milos Forman and producers Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz
New 2001 digital transfer from restored elements
Soundtrack remastered
"The Making of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," a 48-minute documentary featuring the actors, the moviemakers, and writer Ken Kesey recounting the history of the original novel to its stage and movie adaptations
8 additional scenes

The People vs. Larry Flynt

Commentary by: actors Woody Harrelson, Edward Norton & Courtney Love, writers Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski
Deleted scenes with optional filmmaker commentary
Two featurettes: Free Speech or Porn?, Larry Flynt Exposed
Photo gallery
New York Times film review

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Pink Floyd: The Wilderness Years (1968-1972) - Part I

People often talk about Pink Floyd as if they were just one band that did their Pink Floyd thing and that was pretty much it. But in reality, like the Beatles, Pink Floyd were a long, consistently evolving entity that, by virtue of their own artistic instability, never recorded the same album twice. Most people haven't taken the time to explore their entire output, and until recently, I was one of those people. But in the name of completeness, considering that I call myself a serious fan, I finally decided to listen to every single Pink Floyd album. Instead of confirming the conventional opinion (often voiced by the gleefully ignorant such as myself) that they floundered around in half-baked psychedelic mediocrity until they hit Dark Side of the Moon, what I've discovered has only deepened my absolute, limitless allegiance to the band.

Part of the pleasure and fascination inherent in this period in the band's discography is that most people barely realise it exists. There are millions of hard-core Pink Floyd fans, particularly in America, who've never really felt that they were missing anything. To them, Pink Floyd began with Dark Side of the Moon, and everything before that was just a meaningless prelude. Then there are the snobby, cultish Nuggets fans who worship at the altar of Syd Barrett and heap scorn upon the frat guy masses trying to cue up Dark Side to The Wizard of Oz while stoned because they've never even heard of Piper at the Gates of Dawn. But what about that period between the flame-out of Syd and the ascention of Roger? We know one part of the story, and then we know another part of the story, but what about all those years in between? How did they get from Point A to Point B? Or to paraphrase Tom Waits: "What were they building in there?" Since nobody really knows about this era of the band, and since this period consisted of a relative lack of direction (when compared to the periods before and after), I have dubbed this period "The Wilderness Years."

The Wilderness Years represent a rare occurence in the rock world: namely, a situation where a famous and successful rock band suddenly consisted of four people who hadn't really planned on actually being in charge of a famous and successful rock band. Syd Barrett wasn't just any old member of the group: he was the lead singer and songwriter. It would be like if Pete Townsend went crazy and the other members of the Who suddenly had to cover for him. Forever. In other words, by all rights and privileges, post-Barrett Pink Floyd should have sucked big donkey balls. But talent works in mysterious ways, and by some strange combination of skill, chance, situation and luck, Pink Floyd not only remained a good band, but, in my opinion, actually became a better band.

Nevertheless, as a result of this situation, Pink Floyd spent several years grasping (some would say floundering) with their sense of artistic identity. At first, they tried to do imitation-Syd, but they soon realized that they simply weren't mentally deranged enough to do it right. So then they tried anything and everything, throwing songs at the wall and seeing what stuck. They did Kinks-style music hall pop. They did bad "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"" rip-offs. They did Grateful Dead-style country rock. They did Hendrix knock-offs. They did Nick Drake-esque baroque folk. They did long, meandering sonic freakouts - not so much because they liked doing them, exactly, but probably because they didn't require the band to come up with any actual lyrics. Even Roger Waters at this stage had no idea what the hell he was doing. Often you get the sense that they were just trying to fill up the album space.

So while this means that the era is inconsistent and disjointed, it also means that the era will hold a certain fascination for people who think of Pink Floyd only as the ultra-cautious AOR mega-concept album monsters of the mid-to-late 70s. While that Floyd was meticulously crafted and allowed little room for the chaos typically associated with great rock and roll, the Floyd of the Wilderness Years could be a lot more off-the-cuff and unpredictable (they were a little more Velvet Underground, a little less Eagles). So while most mainstream music fans will probably find the Wilderness Years mostly half-assed and annoying, certain indie rock fans might discover that this is the only Floyd for them. I've always felt that no matter what a person's taste, there is almost always, without fail, at least little bit of Pink Floyd that they will like. Because, contrary to popular belief, Floyd dabbled in a little bit of everything.

Probably the most interesting aspect of the Wilderness Years, for me, was discovering that these guys I thought I knew so well had tried out styles I simply did not associate them with. "What if Waters tried to write a love ballad?," you ask. Turns out he actually did. "What if Gilmour tried to sound like Jimmy Page?" He did. "What if Rick Wright became their lead singer?" For a time, he actually was. Since Pink Floyd were not yet "Pink Floyd" as we know and worship them, they displayed traits and influences at this stage that they would eventually abandon entirely. Instead of being a detriment, it's actually this era's strength. It's like discovering that The Rolling Stones tried to do Sinatra, and didn't suck at it either. Or it's like learning that the boring girl in the cubicle across from you used to be a stripper. Just when you thought you knew Pink Floyd, you realize you didn't know them at all.

Ultimately, for the fan like myself that is sick to death of the famous albums, exploring the Wilderness Years is like suddenly finding six brand new Pink Floyd albums. While I can admit that these albums are not as "good" as the famous ones, I'm more inclined to actually listen to them, because they still have some secrets to give up. Nevertheless, for every hidden gem they threw out there, there's an equal amount of pure wankery. Thus I felt that a compilation would be the best way to show off the virtues of the Wilderness Years, both for myself and for others.

To be continued...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

MY Favorite Singers

As Dave Berman once said, 'All my favorite singers couldn't sing'. I pretty much agree completely. Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, and Captain Beefheart are the three singers that add something to their music with their voices. I've heard many people say that those guys aren't good singers, and while I can understand this on a technical level, they are my favorite voices. When I listen to most other music I'm aware of good singing, but it doesn't make or break the song for me.

I can, however, think of some songs that wouldn't be any good sung by someone else. 'Oh Darling' would be crap if McCartney hadn't sung it. 'It's a Man's World' would come across terribly if James Brown himself didn't concede that 'it wouldn't mean nothing without a woman or a girl'.

New Malkmus Album

Read over at good old realiable Pitchfork.

The news guy over at pitchfork mentions 'hyper-literate slackers' and Pynchon. What a fallacious stereotype!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Favorite Singers

Often when people start talking about how "so and so is such a great singer" it usually sounds like a bunch of nonsense to me. I rarely think about my favorite music in terms of the quality of the singing. Usually I'm paying more attention to so many other things: the production, the lyrics, the overall energy level, the vibe, the intangible whatever it is. However, I will admit that there are certain singers whose voices, whenever I hear them, just sound terrific to me. Some of them may have conventionally appealling voices. Others might be acquired tastes. Often my favorite singer in a band isn't even the lead singer but rather the secondary singer whom almost everyone agrees has the supposedly "worse" voice of the two, but I like the other guy more for reasons I find hard to describe but are immediate to me. My favorite singers are the singers who, when I hear them singing, I instantly warm to the sound of their voices. I can tell right away it's them. They always sound like they're completely "there" in the song while they're singing, like I can feel their personality jump out at me with no bullshit in between. Others might complain that their voices sound weird, or weak, and I would agree, but perhaps those are the qualities that I happen to love. You can't really think about it too hard. I can tell you whose voices I like, but I can't really explain why. It's like sexual attraction; you're either attracted to a person or you're not, but you'll know it.

Below is my off-the-cuff list of favorite singers. Some of these singers are considered to have ideally "great" voices and to say they're great singers is almost a cliche. But I like them anyway. Some of these singers are actively considered to have "weird" or "bad" voices, and I've even seen several people in writing just plain say that these people could not sing, or even should not sing. But I think they're great, for whatever reason. Thinking about my favorite music in terms of the singing, I realized that a lot of my favorite bands or performers have good singing, or even great singing, but I had to ask myself if I really gravitate toward the singing itself in my affection for that artist. To say that someone is a great singer is not to say that they're a favorite singer. I could say that Mick Jagger and Robert Plant are great singers, for example, but I wouldn't say they're favorite singers. I understand what makes them great, and I don't think they should sing any other way, but I don't feel the personal connection to their voices alone. I understand why Aretha Franklin, and Hank Williams, and James Brown, and Thom Yorke are great singers. I understand what makes them distinctive and why they are appealing. In some ways I like their music more than the music of some of the people listed below. But I wouldn't call them my favorite singers. It's just a gut feeling. (I think Yoggoth understands what I'm talking about, and I'd like to see a similar list from him. I'm sure there are all kinds of indie rock singers whom I'm not even thinking about where he would say, "Yeah! Other people can't stand this guy but for whatever reason I just love his voice.")

There are also all kinds of singers in genres that I can't even think of whom I would say have great voices, if pressed. But I didn't include them in the list because I can't really say I know their work. For example, Astrud Gilberto has that great voice on "Girl From Ipanema," but is she really one of my "favorite singers"? Sure, I guess so. I don't know. Lauryn Hill's got a great voice, but I don't even have any of her songs lying around at the moment. Then there are the singers who sang on one-off hit singles and nobody even knows who they are. Who was that guy who sang lead on "Smiling Faces Sometimes"? That guy had a great voice. But is he one of my "favorite singers"? Or how about Brenton Wood ("Gimme Little Sign")? John Lennon once said that "Rosie" of Rosie & The Originals ("Angel Baby") fame was one of his favorite singers. But John Lennon could do whatever he wanted; it's not the same when I do it. My point is, the list below has all sorts of omissions, I'm sure. But here goes:

Colin Blunstone (Zombies)
Karen Carpenter
Johnny Cash
Ray Charles
Sam Cooke
Ian Curtis
Bobby Darin
Donald Fagen
Bryan Ferry
George Harrison
Joe Jackson
George Jones
Mick Jones (Clash)
Janis Joplin
John Lennon
Stuart Murdoch (Belle and Sebastian)
Willie Nelson
Roy Orbison
Ozzy Osbourne

Gram Parsons
Elvis Presley
Leon Russell
Elliott Smith
Cat Stevens
Pete Townsend
Roger Waters
Brian Wilson
Stevie Wonder
Neil Young

Sunday, April 8, 2007

South Park Is A Trip

Every night at 10:30, Channel 44 shows South Park re-runs, right after the Simpsons. I've spent a lot of time appreciating the Simpsons in the course of my life, but I've never really taken a good long look at South Park...until lately. I used to think they were a little too snarky and Gen-X for their own good, but watching these re-runs I'm beginning to appreciate the show's underlying intelligence. Yes, they often fall back on easy gross-out humor, but more often than not they head into weirder, less adolescent, and generally more uncategorizable comic territory. Maybe about 30% of the jokes are easy, but about 70% of the jokes are quite layered and thoughtful. One thing I like about the show is that almost every episode explores an idea. Whereas the Simpsons and Family Guy sometimes just turn into a series of endless, random nonsequiturs (which can be funny, don't get me wrong), South Park episodes often have a definite point to make. I don't always agree with that point (Trey and Matt seem to have a strong resentment toward obnoxious celebrities that I don't particuarly share), but at the end of the day, they usually leave me with at least something intelligent to think about. Allow me to give a (rambling) example:

There was one episode where apparently Kenny had died for a reasonably permanent amount of time, and so the other three held a reality TV contest to choose their Kenny replacement. There was a segment where the three of them stood at the bus stop the way they always do, and the little countrified audio cue that tells us "We're back at the bus stop" would play while one of the contestants stood in Kenny's spot. After a second or two, Stan or Kyle would say "Next!" and then a different kid would stand in Kenny's spot, and the audio cue would come back on - the idea being, "Who stands at the bus stop with us the best?" Anyway, apparently Butters doesn't get picked for the final round, and in his bitterness he decides to become an evil supervillain named Professor Chaos. What I like about Butters is that he's more innocent than the other three kids; he can't be rebellious even if he tries. In his bid to bring chaos to the world, he goes into a restaurant and switches two different soups around, and then he hides in the corner. One of the customers says, "Hey, I ordered the Chicken Gumbo," and the guy sitting behind him says "Oh, that's what I got, they must have given me your soup and given you my soup," and the other guy says "Oh yes" and they amicably switch soups. Butters laughs pseudo-maniacally as he leaves, but later he's shocked to read the local paper and see nothing about his soup switching in there. He hijacks the jumbotron in the Colorado Rockies' ballpark and threatens that he's going to flood the world, and everyone runs around panicking, and then he turns on the garden hose and sits there, making a little puddle on his lawn. A few minutes later, the fire department pulls up. A guy says, "This is the house, right?" and then he walks over to the water line and calmly turns it off.

But that episode was clearly only a warm-up for the next episode. While watching TV Cartman is entranced by an ad for "sea people" and he has a musical fantasy where he's living in peace and harmony with the sea people as he envisions them to be (the song is in South Park's patented Care Bears-esque musical fantasy style). But when his sea people finally arrive, he's crushed and angry to discover that they're only little shrimp you can buy in any pet store. The kids decide it would be funny if they secretly fed the sea people to their teacher Miss Choaksondick. Suddenly we cut to a quick shot of Miss Choaksondick being hauled away on a stretcher dead. The kids, fearing that their little practical joke has killed their teacher, decide to ask Chef for his trusted and confidential advice. "Children, whatever it is I'm sure we'll work it out somehow," he tells them cheerfully. Then Stan says, "Our teacher's dead and they found our sea men in her stomach." Cut to a shot of the four kids, all sitting on Chef's couch, staring ahead silently, as Chef incrementally nudges the couch out his front door.

Meanwhile, threaded throughout this episode is a sub-plot involving Butters' continued attempts to be Professor Chaos. A smaller kid whose name I forget also gets rejected from the Kenny replacement contest, and in his disappointment he joins Butters as "General Disarray." The kid has Harry Potter glasses and an amusingly nerdy speaking voice. Anyway, Butters keeps coming up with evil schemes, but when he mentions one of the schemes to General Disarray, General Disarray points out that something similar had already been done on an episode of the Simpsons. Butters then steals the head off a famous South Park statue, hoping to bring more attention to himself, but when he watches the newscast, the anchor just says, "Somebody has stolen the head off a statue in Downtown South Park. This is just like the time Bart Simpson stole the head off a statue on an episode of the Simpsons. Let's use this event to spend some time talking about how much we love the Simpsons." Butters crushes his hands against his head in frustration. He tries to think of evil schemes that have never happened on the Simpsons, but after everything he thinks of, General Disarray shouts out passively "Simpsons did it!" Soon General Disarray is running around the room, stating in his obnoxiously nasal voice, "Simpsons did it! Simpsons did it! Simpsons did it!" like a broken record from the deepest recesses of Butters' tortured psyche. Finally Butters is convinced he has hatched a scheme that he's positive has never been done on the Simpsons before - something along the lines of sticking mayonnaise in people's shoes. Suddenly on the television behind him, an announcer says, "Coming up next on the Simpsons, Bart sticks mayonnaise in people's shoes." This tips Butters over the edge, and he lapses into a Simpson-induced madness. Suddenly the whole show starts looking like a hideously creepy Simpsons-South Park amalgam (it was quite disturbing in a way I find hard to describe).

Back with the "sea people" thread, the kids realize that they need to sneak into the hospital where Miss Choaksondick's body lies and take their sea men out of her body before anyone else discovers it there. They tell Tweak (who won the contest as the Kenny replacement) that if he hears anyone coming, he needs to shout "Hammer time!" Tweak pleads that he won't remember that, but the other kids go on. When Tweak hears people coming, he runs through the whole lyrics of "U Can't Touch This" in his head until he gets to "Hammer time!" and he shouts it out. The kids all scramble to hide, but Cartman, running out of time, hides in Miss Choaksondick's rancid stomach. When the hospital staff leaves, the other kids come out of hiding and say "Wow, that was a close one" and they go home. This leaves Cartman to rise slowly and silently from the stomach of Miss Choaksondick, like a pus-covered baby.

Talking to Chef again, the kids let slip that they were referring earlier to "sea people" and not "sea men". "Ohhhhhh," says Chef, nodding slowly to himself. "I thought you meant... oh man...'sea people' is a whole different thing from 'sea men,' children. Your teacher probably died from something else!" Relieved, the kids decide to continue with their normal lives. Cartman, however, takes some of the sea men/semen concoction that he stole from Miss Choaksondick's stomach and puts it back in his fish tank. Suddenly the shrimp are somehow fertilized by the sperm, thus creating THE SEA PEOPLE THAT CARTMAN DREAMED OF! (I love how Cartman will be just as excited with the creation of a fish/man hybrid as he is when he's watching Terrence and Philip). Egged on by the others, Cartman decides to find more semen so that he can create the ultimate sea people society. He walks into a sperm bank, and the woman behind the counter says, "We don't usually have eight-year-olds coming in here." He tries to sweet talk her into giving him gallons of sperm while clearly demonstrating that he doesn't really understand what sperm is. He comes back with a big bowl of sperm, and with a spoon he scrapes it all into the fish tank.

Suddenly the sea people civilization is thriving beyond anyone's wildest dreams, resembling something like the ancient Egyptians. Cartman tips the tank upside down and all the sea people scream in terror as they fall to the bottom. Butters comes in to Cartman's house, still seeing everything as quasi-Simpsonesque. He rants and raves that everything he thinks of has already been done on the Simpsons. Mr. Garrison and Chef explain that it's no big deal and that everything has already been done by somebody else and nothing is really original. Even Cartman's idea of shrinking himself so that he can go live with the sea people had already been done on the Simpsons. Amazed by this insight, Butters is cured, and the show looks normal again. Now they peer down at the sea people civilization and by this time it resembles ancient Greece. One side of the tank has built a giant statue of Cartman. Then they realize that the other side of the tank has built a giant statue of Tweak. Suddenly the two sides go to war and everyone is amazed at how rapidly the sea people society has evolved. Finally two giant missiles are launched, there's a series of explosions, the tank shatters and all the sea people fall horribly on the carpet. Stan says, "Wow, I guess war is the inevitable outcome of all civilizations." The show ends.

I know it was just a stupid cartoon, but this ending really made me think. Is it really inevitable that all societies will destroy themselves? Sure seems that way to me sometimes. Maybe if war is inevitable, then it's not immoral to just go around and fight in wars, because it's just going to happen anyway so you might as well take part. Then I thought, no, that's wrong, there are plenty of reasons to be moral. But my point is, I was just trying to pass the time watching South Park and I found myself pondering all these deep, philosophical questions.

That show is far out.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

XTC - Nonsuch

Nonsuch was released in 1992, but I don't think of it as a 90's album. I don't know anything else released during that decade you could compare it to. The Elephant 6 bands got a lot of attention in indie circles but I've never heard anyone talk about Nonsuch, and that's a shame. Sure, XTC preferred more polished recording techniques (recording with Elton John's producer for godsakes) but their love of pop melodies and weird sound effects strikes me as coming from the same musical place.

The album starts with 'The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead', a wonderful song that follows the adventures of a modern day Jesus figure who does good and is eventually killed for it. The idea is to point out the differences between the church and Jesus' actual teachings. Although that difference has become painfully obvious--it's hard to imagine organizations further from Jesus than most modern churches--it still makes for a good song that I can agree with melodically as well as philosophically.

The next two songs, 'My Bird Performs' and 'Dear Madam Barnum' are two songs addressing the pressures of expectation and performance. The first is by Colin and the second by Andy, and I have to say that Colin wins this matchup, but they're both great songs. "A thousand Cheshire cats grin inside of me." Me too.

Then we've got 'Humble Daisy' and 'The Smartest Monkeys', two songs which I don't like as much as the first set, but which aren't bad. 'The Smartest Monkeys' is just a bit too simple and 'Humble Daisy' a bit too slight. But then we get to 'The Disappointed', my favorite on the album. This is the song the 80's should have had. It's about romantic let downs, but I can't think of any song that addresses the topic in quite this way. He's not destroyed or amazed, just disappointed, and I think a lot of people can relate to that. Many relationships don't end with anger, the way it's usually shown on TV, they end with one party just liking the other more, and it falling apart. One side is is relieved or indignant, the other disappointed. I probably have more experience with the disappointed side. Unless we widen the definition of relationships outside of the romantic. Then I've probably disappointed my good share of folks.

'The Disappointed' through 'Then She Appeared' all deal with relationships--actually I should say they deal with women, why beat around the bush--with the exception of 'Rook' my other favorite song on the album. On the XTC forums, Andy mentioned something about people saying that this song doesn't belong on this album. Allow me to assure you, those people don't know what they are talking about. Placing 'Rook in the middle of the want-to-get-laid, isn't-it-great-I'm-getting-laid songs is a wonderful move. In the song, Andy plaintively asks nearby birds to 'break the code of the whispering chimneys and traffic signs'. He wants to know 'if there's a secret can I be part of it?' The song breaks up the pounding pop beats of Nonsuch with strings, piano, and horns, and it's the only song without Colin on bass.

After observations about different colors of women and whether they 'make your shakespeare hard and make your oyster pearl' and a song about being orgasmically(spell check suggestion--orgasmic ally) devoured, or at least feeling that way, we get to 'War Dance'. Of the three political songs on the album I like this one the most, even though I've seen it described as preachy. You could make an American version of the song by replacing a few nouns here and there and it would be remarkably applicable to our current situation.

'Wrapped in Grey' is a good song about creative people being better than everyone else. I agree of course, and I often feel this way, but I do feel a bit embarrassed listening to it. 'The Ugly Underneath' continues a theme that Andy has addressed in other songs, 'Respectable Street' from Black Sea comes to mind; so-called normal people are really just as fucked up as everyone else, perhaps even more so. Then Colin takes his shot at ridiculous middle class life in 'Bungalow', 'So we're working every hour that God made so we can fly away saving it all up for you -- Bungalow'. And he sings that last 'bungalow' like he's praying to god, it's enough to send shivers up your spine if you're the kinda David Lynch fan that gets off on that kinda thing. 'Books are Burning' ends the album on a nice meaningful note. 'Smell of burnt book is not unlike human hair' may be exaggeration but it's a good lyric.

Overall, I'd say Nonsuch is a complete success. It seems like a much more social album than Skylarking. I'd listen to Skylarking while driving along a country road out by Exeter. The dry gold California grass is a wonderful environment for that album. Nonsuch has more of a city feel. I'm curious how Apple Venus will feel. Onward and Upward!

I Cooked The Pasta Too Long

It's funny the things that bother you sometimes. Even though pasta is usually just the "too tired to cook a real dinner, let's just cook pasta since it only takes ten minutes" kind of meal, I have to say, I do enjoy it more when it's just the right texture. But achieving this balance proved too daunting of a task for me this evening. I had one bag of macaroni pasta which was only about 1/3 full. I wasn't sure that would be enough to satisfy my hunger, and I've learned from too many disturbing nights that if I don't make enough pasta, I'll be too hungry to fall asleep and I'll just have to cook something else later on anyway, so I always try to make too much rather than too little. So I decided to open up the bag of lasagna-style pasta, and put a little bit of that in there as well. But you see, here came the tricky part: the maraconi needed to cook for 8 to 10 minutes, while the lasagna needed to cook for only 6-8 minutes. Simple enough, right? Well you see I was so cocky about my abilities in this area that I didn't even time it, I just sort of estimated. Somewhere along the line I must have miscalculated. Maybe I got the times mixed up. I was so sure that I had it. But no, the macaroni ended up way too soggy. It had been a long time since I'd really had soggy pasta, and it was a shock to realize how unsatisfying it could be. The meal still served its purpose, but the sogginess has strengthened my resolve to get it right the next time.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

You Have to Start Somewhere

Today marks the beginning of my XTC project. I'm planning on listening to each of their albums and giving my thoughts. There isn't much content to this post because I haven't finished writing up a piece on any one album, but I thought I'd give a quick overview of my project anyway.

I think I may be discussing my life, the Central Valley, dry grass, highways, and many other fun subjects as well as XTC. It should be fun.