Saturday, February 28, 2009

Crazy Rant #1: The California Drought

Now, correct me if I'm wrong here, but wasn't it only just three short years ago (2006) where we had that really rainy winter and they said we'd managed to store up a comfortable surplus of water? And now only three years later, suddenly we're in the midst of "California's worst drought in decades"? Here's what I'm thinking: if we can go from a "comfortable surplus" to a "catastrophic drought" in only three years, then maybe the problem isn't the drought. Maybe the problem is that we've been using too much water. Or that the population of our state is constantly growing and growing but the amount of rainfall and snowfall is basically going to stay the same. Just a thought.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Zrbo Survives the Layoffs

I knew something was wrong at work on Monday when I sent an e-mail to Theresa requesting a file, only to get a response from her manager saying that Theresa was no longer employed here. "That's odd" I thought, usually people tend to send out farewell e-mails when they move on from the patent firm I work at. Oh well, I guess she must have decided to leave and I just missed the message.

Yesterday I was walking over to get some coffee in the other building when I heard that nice girl from Office Services got axed not an hour before. Then I went to lunch with some colleagues and that's when I heard a whole slew of people had gotten fired and that a few more were on the way. You could see the panic level rise in everyone's faces. I was a bit nervous too because, you see, I didn't exactly get the best end-of-the-year report (I spend too much time on this blog I suppose). On our way back from lunch I saw Kirsten enjoying her lunch - I had just heard that she wasn't going to be around much longer either, though she didn't know that yet. By the end of the day her name was included in the HR director's e-mail of who had been cut.

The end of the day rolls round. Okay, "Thirty minutes to go" I tell myself. Then my manager calls all of us into her office. Uh-oh, this has never happened before! She tells us that the other database department just had a bunch of cuts and that they'd be merging with our database department starting Monday. And then we were dismissed... WHEW!!

Oh yes, I forgot to add - "When they came for the database department there was no one left to speak out for me"

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Forget A-Rod; Here's A Real Baseball Scandal

From FOX Sports:
Former MLB star Roberto Alomar had unprotected sex with his ex-girlfriend while he had full blown AIDS, a sensational lawsuit charges.

In the $15 million action filed in Brooklyn Federal court, Ilya Dall, of Queens, said the ballplayer tested positive for HIV in 2006 and a doctor later told him he had AIDS.

Dall said she tested negative for the disease — but is claiming punitive damages for emotional distress. She also claims her children were exposed to the virus.

Also in 2005, Alomar told Dall that when he once was raped by two Mexican men after playing a ballgame in New Mexico, according to the suit.
Well, hey, at least he wasn't juicing!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Milk (van Sant)

Why didn't somebody tell me he was gay?

I saw Milk at the Castro Theater in San Francisco, and although I'm glad I did, in some ways I almost wished I hadn't, because it's made my subsequent attempt to judge the actual quality of the film almost impossible. Basically the audience had already made up its mind about the movie before it even began. "Harvey Milk was a great guy and this movie is a great movie!" Well hold on a second, can I just watch it first? This is why I sometimes think the only way to properly see a movie, contrary to popular wisdom, is to watch it alone in my room.

Harvey Milk didn't really have a character arc in this film. Aside from a brief scene at the beginning, he essentially started out believing in gay rights and he died believing in gay rights. That's not really a story. That might be a political stance you could support, but it's not a story. I think about my favorite movie protagonists and they're all conflicted and weak and confused and uncertain - like me! Certainty doesn't film so well. I think of Rick from Casablanca, or Charles Foster Kane, or T.E. Lawrence, or Travis Bickle. Now these are some guys I can get behind. These guys actually had some problems. It seems like Harvey Milk's biggest problem was other peoples' homophobia. That's cool, but it's not exactly going to move me.

A great biopic also has to teach me something about myself. Watching Gandhi or Malcolm X or Ray made me think about my own life and the struggles I've faced and the choices I've made and haven't made. I didn't relate to Milk in that way. I needed more of his inner experience. I wanted those long, quiet moments where I could contemplate the infinite mystery of the universe. Instead I felt like I was watching a historical tribute.

As such, it was terrific. Van Sant filmed Milk the way I think movies should be filmed: energetically, humorously, spontaneously, etc. I mean, a film like this could have been really bad. I think it deserved its Oscar nominations. Sean Penn is not an actor I've particularly cherished; as someone on Slate put it, "The man has all but Lewinskied Castro's cigar." But he didn't bother me in Milk at all, which is to say that he did his job. I never thought about Sean Penn during the movie; I thought about Harvey Milk. So am I supposed to lick Sean Penn's feet because he did what he was supposed to do?

There is a movie inside Milk that I enjoyed a great deal and it was the movie about Harvey Milk, Dan White, George Moscone and San Francisco politics circa 1978. I would have rather seen a movie that focused solely on the city government intrigue. I can see Gus van Sant and Dustin Lance Black jumping up in protest and shouting "But why marginalize the most important figure?!" I don't know, because it might have been more interesting that way? As a lifelong resident of the Bay Area and as someone who currently lives in the city in question, I found the illumination of local history fascinating. I've never seen a movie that made being a city supervisor seem so...glamourous, and...and... dangerous! Usually when I think of assassinations I think of presidents or dictators, not mayors and city supervisors. Shows what I knew.

It was also nice to see a film that was really shot on location in San Francisco, and not in the same eight blocks that are featured in every other San Francisco movie. Often I find myself walking around in some neighborhood or some park and thinking, "This would be a good shot in a San Francisco movie, why hasn't anybody used this street God damn it?!" There are tons of little pockets around the city that I think have yet to be exploited. Milk only scratched the surface, but it was nice to see a little sprinkling of it anyway. Unfortunately, I don't believe the city has made it very cheap to film here, so I doubt we'll be seeing too many more exotic San Francisco locales in Hollywood movies any time soon. Unless Cosmic American Blog generates the funding for its own award-caliber movie, of course. What do you say, guys?

"Film critic" rating: ***1/2
"Little Earl" rating: ***

Sunday, February 22, 2009

17-Year-Old Gay Intern-Gate?

If it wasn't for this intriguingly complex Slate piece, I would have never gotten the chance to hear about Portland's lurid new gay mayor sex scandal. Behold:
Here in the great evergreen-and-gray metropolis of Portland, Ore., we like to think of our city as a thriving wonderland of forward thinking. We prefer our urban planning carefully considered, our light-rail and bicycle routes plentiful, our indie musicians erudite and inscrutable, and our movie theaters stocked with beer—progressive policies, all. So when we kicked off 2009 by swearing in Sam Adams, as the first openly gay mayor of a major American city, the occasion left a lot of us pretty pleased with our nonchalant open-mindedness: "Oh, did we just make civil rights history? Funny, we weren't even paying attention." But the back-patting didn't last long.
Local real estate developer Bob Ball, also gay and a political rival, had planted a rumor to end all rumors within Portland's political set: Back in 2005, he alleged, the then-42-year-old Adams had entered into a clandestine sexual relationship with a 17-year-old legislative intern from Salem. The teen's name? (Cue Y&R opening theme ...) Beau Breedlove.
The day after WW's revelation, Jan. 20, Adams hosted another press conference, this time to admit that he'd never really mentored Breedlove and that he had persuaded the teen to lie about their romance—even asked political consultant Mark Wiener to teach Breedlove how to speak to the media. (For the record: Yes, this gay sex scandal features a Breedlove, a Ball, and a Wiener.)
Some have argued that if Breedlove were female, straight men would be high-fiving Adams, but this is preposterous. We'd understand the attraction—and when you peruse Breedlove's unbelievably porny Myspace pics, you can certainly see what was on Adams' mind—but we wouldn't excuse the behavior. "Yes, she's hot," we'd say, "but they call it jailbait for a reason. You don't touch underage girls, period." The male-male relationship brings a moral gray area that helps Adams.
And to think, Gavin Newsom, you thought you were progressive!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

AMG Guy Strikes Again!

So last Wednesday I attended my second Richie Unterberger "rare '60s rock and roll film clip" presentation, and oh man, let me tell you. This time he focused exclusively on clips from the British Invasion, and his goal was to demonstrate, through chronological employment of the clips, how quickly and creatively the British pop scene shifted from early 1964 to mid-1967. And my did he ever. In fact, having realized that he'd assembled such a brutal fusillade of clips, he opted to play them all without interruption for two hours straight and bump the question-and-answer period to the end. Unlike last month's collection, it seems to me that this batch was genuinely rare, as I have not been able to find very many of these clips on YouTube, or at least in not nearly the same quality. Before he began, he stated something to the effect of this: "Let me just say that at first you might be finding a lot of these performers on the cute or the quaint side and you might be wondering why we're even bothering to still talk about this movement more than 40 years later, but hang in there, because once we get to about the 25-minute mark you're going to notice the nature of the music become much darker and edgier in almost no time flat." His final comments cut to the heart of the matter: "I think it's fair to say that, without the British Invasion, our world would be...a much less enjoyable place."

He started and ended, shockingly, with the Beatles. The first clip of the night was of the Beatles performing "I Want To Hold Your Hand" for an Ed Sullivan dress rehearsal. Watching the clip, I somehow became filled with this powerful but bizarre notion that, as I looked back and forth between each of the four Beatles, it was as if I was really looking at one person. Because I have become so familiar with each of them, I think they appear to me as a complete entity unto itself. As potent of a personality match as other bands might be, they simply do not have this same effect.

Then came the cheesy clips: The Dave Clark Five, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Peter & Gordon, and the impressively dated Freddie & The Dreamers, among others. All of a sudden: The Rolling Stones. Richie played a clip of their first American television appearance, where they were introduced by host Dean Martin, who obviously thought they were atrocious and pretty much said so. But you could tell they were the only other band up to that point, beside The Beatles, who really had it. Mick looked great, Keith looked great, Brian looked great, and Bill and Charlie just looked like...Bill and Charlie. They played "Not Fade Away" and "I Just Want To Make Love To You." I can't imagine how shocking this performance must have been to those innocent young American girls who were seeing The Rolling Stones for the first time.

After that it was straight-up hard rock that would have broken Gerry's pacemaker: The Animal's "House of the Rising Sun," The Kinks' "All Day and All of the Night," The Yardbirds' "For Your Love," and so on. We got Petula Clark ("Downtown"), Manfred Mann ("Do Wah Diddy Diddy), the pre-prog Moody Blues ("Go Now"), a young Tom Jones, a young Van Morrison singing with Them, and the Nashville Teens, who weren't from Nashville at all.

As soon as we came to Procol Harum's 1967 hit "A Whiter Shade of Pale," though, the whole mood of the program changed. This was the point where pop music really began abandoning the love song entirely (which I think was a great move, personally). The second-to-last clip, of Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine," was probably my favorite clip out of them all, both because of its placement in the evening's narrative and because of the considerable merits of the clip itself. Since I associate Pink Floyd with a whole other era, it's fascinating to realize that they became famous just as The Beatles were achieving their psychedelic peak. So to see the clip be shown right before the clip of The Beatles performing "All You Need Is Love" via satellite was to suggest almost a changing of the guard. In fact, watching the "All You Need Is Love" clip immediately after the Pink Floyd clip, I almost felt like The Beatles seemed pompous and self-important. I mean, come on, who is John Lennon to tell me that all I need is love? What the fuck does he know about love anyway? Now hear me straight, I haven't been invaded by pod people and I'm not knocking The Beatles, but I think at this stage in my life I might be more in tune with the spirit of Pink Floyd than the spirit of the Fab Four.

Speaking of: this is one clip I was able to find. What I loved about it in the program was how it stood out from all the other clips that had come before. It was a uniquely bizarre clip representing the beginnings of a uniquely bizarre band. I think this Hans Keller fellow must have been told before he came to the studio that night that he would be participating in a discussion on Kant and Schopenhauer. Little did he know what he was getting himself into!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Do You Know The Way To Man Jose?

Looks like some reporter thinks he's a comedian. According to Bob Redell, "San Jose Looking More Like 'Man Jose'." Well I'll be a monkey's uncle:
Any guy who's tried to pick up chics at San Jose's Mission Ale House knows why it's called the Mission "Male" House.

And now this shocker from the Census Bureau --brace yourself: men really do outnumber women in San Jose.

The U.S. Department of the Obvious finds that there are 117 men for every 100 women in the age range of 20 to 44 years old.
Wow, good thing I don't live in San Jose (unlike some people I know, whose blogger names, say, start with an H and end with an O).

Side question: what else does the U.S. Department of the Obvious study? The ratio of hookers to gamblers in Las Vegas? Perhaps the number of hookers who also...gamble?

Are We Chumps?

You don't hear questions like that on CNBC! Bill Moyers interviewed Simon Johnson, current MIT professor and former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, and asked him that. His response? "The financial system is playing us for chumps, okay? The bankers think we're chumps. We'll find out. We have leadership that can handle this. We'll find out what they do."

Friday, February 13, 2009

Escape from City 17

Yoggoth is gonna love this one. Here's a short film based on Half Life 2, made by two brothers for 500 bucks. If this were done by a Hollywood studio it would be loaded with unnecessary CG effects plus they'd probably throw Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep in there for name recognition. Give me a full length feature made by these guys and I'd be set (and from the promo at the end it looks like they might just be making a few more).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I Heard Yeltsin Was More Of A Roxette Kind Of Guy

In one of those stories so preposterous it simply has to be true, the ABBA tribute band Bjorn Again has claimed that it was secretly whisked away by Russian agents in order to perform a private concert for Vladimir Putin:

"It was the classic 'Hello ... Kremlin ... Russia ... we want Bjorn Again'," recalled Stephen. "I thought it was one of the band members sending me up." But they soon understood the offer was serious...After flying into Moscow, they boarded a bus for a nine-hour journey on "very bad" roads and learned they were to perform before Putin.
And that performance lasted 74 hours. Just kidding. Anyway, I think this one's up there with Melvin Dummar claiming he picked up Howard Hughes in the Las Vegas desert.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

1. Oasis' Definitely Maybe (1994)

No, this album was not particularly groundbreaking. Its influence, if any, was most likely negative. But for whatever reason, every time I listen to Definitely Maybe, I feel like I can go out and conquer the world. I really don't have a better argument than that. And as the Brothers Gallagher might put it, I don't fookin' need one.

Although Definitely Maybe was Oasis' debut, it was the third record of theirs to reach my ears. On first listen, I was actually a bit disappointed. "All the songs kind of sound the same," I thought. "There's no piano, no orchestration, no anything - it's just a big guitar racket." But over time, particularly at the start of my freshman year in college, the album began growing on me. And growing. And growing.

I've been reported as saying that the bass-drums-guitar rock band is dead. For me, Oasis were the last gasp of the bass-drums-guitar rock band - but what a gasp. I think what saves the music from just falling flat as blustery, overproduced guitar noise is the manner in which they are able to simply groove. Call it the Madchester influence. It is scientifically impossible for me to listen to this album in my room and not immediately attempt to get up and dance. Later rock bands forgot how to groove - including Oasis. But on Definitely Maybe, they created a toe-tapping monolith my friends.

In a related matter, I've also pointed out that recording bass-drums-guitar rock is a delicate task, but I think Oasis pulled it off by not sounding delicate at all. The production quality on Definitely Maybe resembles that of a bootleg, with the mics all misplaced and the console in total disarray. There is no separation whatsoever between any of the instruments; they all bleed together heedlessly. Songs start and stop in the sloppy manner of The While Album or London Calling. I was shocked to learn that the album was actually recorded in several different studios under several different producers, because that usually is a recipe for crap. According to Wikipedia (with snippets from John Harris' Britpop):
Oasis booked Monnow Valley Studios, near Monmouth, at the start of 1994 to record their debut album. Their producer was Dave Batchelor, who Noel Gallagher knew from his days working as a roadie for the Inspiral Carpets. The sessions were unsatisfactory. "It wasn't happening," [Paul] Arthurs recalled. "He was the wrong person for the job . . . We'd play in this great big room, buzzing to be in this studio, playing like we always played. He'd say, 'Come in and have a listen.' And we'd be like, 'That doesn't sound like it sounded in that room. What's that?'. It was thin. Weak. Too clean."
Now, I can't be 100% sure of the source, but I believe I have some bootlegs of these sessions, and if they are what I think they are, then Arthurs is spot-on. The band sounds more like Weezer or Green Day - a fun little pop-punk band. Fortunately, they kept at it:
The sessions at Monnow Valley were costing £800 a day. As the sessions proved increasingly fruitless, the group began to panic. Arthurs said, "Noel was frantically on the phone to the management, going, 'This ain't working.' For it not to be happening was a bit frightening." Batchelor was let go, and Gallagher tried to make use of the music already recorded by taking the tapes to a number of London studios. Tim Abbot of Creation Records said while visiting the band in Chiswick, "McGee, Noel, me and various people had a great sesh, and we listened to it over and over again. And all I could think was, 'It ain't got the attack.' There was no immediacy."

In February the group returned from an ill-fated trip to Amsterdam and set about re-recording the album at Sawmills in Cornwall. This time the sessions were produced by Noel Gallagher and Mark Coyle. The group decided the only way to replicate their live sound on record was to record together without soundproofing between individual instruments. Over the tracks, Gallagher overdubbed numerous guitars. Arthurs said, "That was Noel's favourite trick: get the drums, bass and rhythm guitar down, and then he'd cane it. 'Less is more' didn't really work then."

The results were still deemed unsatisfactory, and there was little chance of another attempt at recording the album. The recordings already made had to be utilised. In desperation, Creation's Marcus Russell contacted engineer-turned-producer Owen Morris. "I just thought, 'They've messed up here,'" Morris recalled after hearing the Sawmills recordings. "I guessed at that stage Noel was completely fucked off. Marcus was like, 'You can do what you like - literally, whatever you want." Among Morris's first tasks was to strip away the layers of guitar overdubs Gallagher had added. Morris completed his final mix of the record on the bank holiday weekend in May. Music journalist John Harris noted, "The miracle was that music that had passed through so many hands sounded so dynamic: the guitar-heavy stew that Morris had inherited had been remoulded into something positively pile-driving."
Yeah, seriously, let's give a hand to Owen Morris, because the final product sounds like the band just cruised into the studio and laid it down in one night and never touched the tapes again until they shipped them off to the plant. "Less is more" was exactly right (as a quick comparison between Definitely Maybe and Be Here Now will prove).

Indeed, from start to finish the album possesses the kind of feral, growling intensity not normally associated with songs so melodic. It's like crossing ABBA with Raw Power. It's funny to realize that when Oasis first appeared on the scene they were considered part of the "alternative/indie" movement. Does Definitely Maybe have more in common with early '90s Creation labelmates My Bloody Valentine and Primal Scream than later "housewife rock" icons such as Travis and Coldplay? I think the album lies at some kind of fascinating midway point between mainstream and alternative. Oasis cannily cherry-picked elements from the previous decade's parade of British pop trends (glam, punk, Madchester, shoegazing) and added a touch of the old '60s optimism/innocence, and yet still managed to turn it all into something quite personal.

I think on some level I may be at odds with my American generation here. Where many of my peers see the Gallaghers' romanticism as laughable and presumptuous, I see it as heartfelt and liberating. It might be a class thing. For me, Oasis wasn't about wanting to be the Beatles; it was about wanting to escape. And you'd have to be in a situation from which you'd want to escape in order to understand that sort of drawing power. If you're living a comfortable suburban life and your future is all taken care of, then maybe you wouldn't feel like you had anything to look forward to and so Kurt Cobain's suicidal grumblings would really speak to you. But if you're living in a trailer park and you see a bunch of rich suburban kids wearing tattered jeans as a fashion statement, you might not see Nirvana as your spokesmen (not that Cobain himself was in any way from a comfortable upper-class background himself). To quote a line from the band's second album, "Some might say they don't believe in heaven/Go and tell it to the man who lives in hell." For their part, the Gallaghers grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father in a shitty industrial town. Need I say more?

But if Definitely Maybe was more optimistic than most of the modern rock that surrounded it, neither was it shallow. A lot of people think "happy" pop music should be something like Smash Mouth's "All Star" or "Mambo Number 5" or any other number of assorted radio hits. But Definitely Maybe is filled with longing and menace. Maybe for a lot of people the idea of a bunch of guys saying they wanted to be rock stars was trite or passe, but in the case of Oasis I think such a cliched sentiment took on a new life, because for them it really seemed like the difference between something and nothing. Besides, I don't think it was about being rock stars; it was about wanting to be rock stars. And that could be about wanting to be anything. Just substitute "world-famous author" for "world-famous rock star" and you've pretty much got me.

I might deduct a couple of points for the album sequencing. The lead-off track, "Rock 'N' Roll Star," isn't one of my favorites but it gets by on sound and energy. I think the idea of titling a song "Rock 'N' Roll Star" is kind of stupid. Let's just say I wouldn't have put it at the start of the album myself.

No, the album really kicks into high gear with "Shakermaker," a woozy 12-bar blues concoction that cribs its melody from the New Seeker's "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing," which was also famously appropriated by Coca-Cola and used in a 1970 commercial as "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke". I have a live bootleg in which Liam alters the third verse of "Shakermaker" by singing "I'd like to teach the world to sing/In perfect harmony/I'd like to buy you all the coke/To get you off yer tree." I don't think he was talking about the soft drink. The lyrics achieve a kind of anti-brilliance:

I'd like to be somebody else and not know where I've been
I'd like to build myself a house out of plasticine
Shake along with me

I've been driving in my car with my friend Mr. Soft
Mr. Clean and Mr. Bum are living in my loft
Shake along with me

Initially the song just sort of creeps along like it's bored with itself, and seems to amount to no more than a silly if charming throwaway, but then suddenly the chords take a great upward sweep, and Liam proudly proclaims:

I'm sorry but I just don't know
I know you said I told you so
But when you're happy and you're feeling fine
Then you'll know it's the right time
To shake along with me

This is what I call the "immortal" verse, because whenever I hear it I feel like I'm immortal. It's the pure sound of being glad to be alive. I feel like I can go out and lift a semi with my finger. It's like they're saying, "You know, you may not know any of the answers, but you don't need answers to feel great, just go ahead and feel great!" Amen to that. It's like I'm Popeye and I just guzzled a big fat can of spinach.

You see, at this stage in his songwriting career Noel Gallagher possessed an amazing ability to alternate completely ridiculous phrases with shockingly sincere moments of soulful expression. For example, "Supersonic." This song boasts one of rock's most ingratiating openings: a propulsive if generally elemental drum beat, followed by the sound of Noel sliding his hands slowly down the neck of his guitar, like a teasing grind. It's like the world's most beautiful woman slowly running her fingers down your spine...but better. The riff comes in, but the grind keeps on grinding, until it's eliminated after a couple of bars when Liam and the rest of the band enter and overpower it and by that time you're caught helpless in the gaping maw:

I need to be myself
I can't be no one else
I'm feeling supersonic
Give me gin and tonic
You can have it all but how much do you want it?
You make me laugh
Give me your autograph
Can I ride with you in your B.M.W. ?
You can sail with me in my yellow submarine

I love that last line, and not particularly for the rather unsubtle Beatles reference. Rather, it's like a justification of his worth. I picture some rich fat cat executive leaning out of the window just so he can drool on Noel's forehead and bark, "Hey I've got a B.M.W., what the hell have you got kid?" Instead of saying, "Nothing," Noel replies, "Hey man, I've got a colourful imaginary world filled with my new Beatlesque tunes, and that's worth something, isn't it?"

The chorus seems like it's about to trail off into a guitar solo or some other nondescript nonsense, but Noel throws in just a couple of chord changes that don't appear anywhere else in the song, and some magical "ahh" backing vocals, and it's like POW!, "Supersonic" turns right back around with a whole new energy. Maybe any monkey could have done it, or maybe it takes a certain kind of musical instinct to know how to pull off crap like that. Or maybe some combination of both. Whatever, it works. Then the lyrics really take off with some true English poetry that would make Keats and Shelley blush:

You need to be yourself
You can't be no one else
I know a girl called Elsa
She's into Alka Seltzer
She sniffs it through a cane on a supersonic train
And she makes me laugh
I got her autograph
She done it with a doctor on a helicopter
She's sniffin' in a tissue
Selling the Big Issue

I detect a faint hint of laughter behind the word "helicopter." It's as if, in the process of singing, at some point Liam began thinking, "This is the best my brother could come up with?" And yet, despite acknowledging the deficiency, he decides, "Fuck it, I'll just pretend like I'm singing 'Brown Sugar' or 'God Save The Queen.' " I love how Noel doubles back on the first verse by re-using the whole "laugh/autograph" trope. Did he just write down the first thing that came into his head after he came back from the toilet? (Also, to clear this up: my brother once explained to me that the Big Issue is a paper homeless people hand out in London in order to make money. Right on!)

The outrageous lyrics continue. "Digsy's Diner" is the only rock and roll song I know of that's about a guy who's trying to convince his girlfriend to come over so that he can cook her lasagna! But not only does he claim that his girlfriend will enjoy his lasagna; apparently her friends will also "go green" for said lasagna as well. Perhaps this was the inspiration for the Spice Girls' "If you wanna be my lover/You gotta get with my friends." Behold:

What a life it would be
If you would come to mine for tea
I'll pick you up at half past three
We'll have lasagna
I'll treat you like a Queen
I'll give you strawberries and cream
And then your friends will all go green
For my lasagna

These could be the best days of our lives
But I don't think we've been living very wise
I said oh no no

I love how while Blur's protagonists on The Great Escape are breaking into a cold sweat when you tell them that these might be the best days of their lives, Oasis' are more like "Well, maybe we're not living quite as wisely as we could be, but damn, man, I'm having a fookin' blast!" They may be hedonistic, but at least they recognize it.

Speaking of hedonism, you know how I said that Definitely Maybe was danceable? "Columbia" is the most intoxicatingly danceable song in the universe. See, this is what I thought the Stone Roses were going to sound like. Boy was I in for a disappointment. Let's also take this moment to give a hand to Tony McCarroll, the soon-to-be-sacked drummer, who on this album at least is a crackling beast and he totally pushes every track over the edge. I have never read a single review of the album that highlighted his contribution but to me it's essential. Just listen to the opening of "Slide Away" and you'll see what I mean. I try to imagine Alan White playing drums on Definitely Maybe and I...I just shudder.

At any rate, the lyrics to "Columbia" say nothing and yet they say everything:

There we were, now here we are
All this confusion, nothings the same to me
There we were, now here we are
All this confusion, nothings the same to me

But I can't tell you the way I feel
Because the way I feel is oh so new to me
No I can't tell you the way I feel
Because the way I feel is oh so new to me

On the chorus, Noel sings the lines in falsetto while Liam sings in a lower register, and to hear the two of them singing "I can't tell you the way I fell/Because the way I feel is oh so new to me" together like that is invigorating. Then there is the fade-out, oh the fade-out! The fade-out is just as long as the actual song. Noel plays around with his guitar overdubs in a manner reminiscent of Hendrix's solo on "All Along The Watchtower," which I once heard someone describe as "like he was passing a series of batons between himself in a relay race." Finally, after a teasingly low series of "come on come on"s, Liam emits the most inspiring "Yeah yeah yeah!" since, well...some group from Liverpool, I can't remember their name. On the greatest, most triumphant day of my life, this is the song I would play.

And while we're still on the topic of hedonism, let's try "Cigarettes and Alcohol" on for size:

Is it my imagination
Or have I finally found something worth living for?
I was looking for some action
But all I found was cigarettes and alcohol

You could wait for a lifetime
To spend your days in the sunshine
You might as well do the white line
Cos when it comes on top . . .

You gotta make it happen!

Now, drinking, smoking, and snorting coke is about as far from my own personal behavior as you could possibly get, and yet why do I love this song so? I suppose I don't take it quite so literally. To me this is song is essentially their way of saying "Live it up and hold nothing back and seize the freaking day." And I am down with that. Really this song just makes me laugh. Also, why would I snort coke if I could simply listen to a song that makes me feel as though I'm snorting coke anyway?

But all that is neither here nor there. Definitely Maybe might merely be a fun guilty pleasure or a clever update of choice British rock and roll stylings without the presence of "Live Forever." Noel was inspired to write it after sitting around one night listening to the Rolling Stones' "Shine A Light" from Exile On Main St. Not a bad place to start. It opens with a hauntingly brief whistle and a husky voice (presumably Noel's) whispering "Ooh yeah." At first the song doesn't sound noticeably different from every other song on the album:

Maybe I don't really want to know
How your garden grows
'Cause I just want to fly

Lately did you ever feel the pain
In the morning rain
As it soaks you to the bone

I used to think the lyrics were "Maybe I don't really want to know/How you got in-growths." Hey, it could have fit, right? But then, hello, what's this? Suddenly it's not your usual "I'm so cool and you're a fool," etc.:

Maybe I just want to fly
I want to live I don't want to die
Maybe I just want to breath
Maybe I just don't believe
Maybe you're the same as me
We see things they'll never see
You and I are gonna live forever

Pretty beautiful stuff from a band that, in Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffield's words, "didn't seem like they could count to twenty without eating their shoes." The casual listener might interpret "Live Forever" as a love song, and I suppose it is, in a way, but not quite in the way you might assume. Noel confessed that he wrote it as an ode to his mother. It doesn't get better than that. In some ways I like the second chorus even more:

Maybe I will never be
All the things that I want to be
But now is not the time to cry
Now's the time to find out why
I think you're the same as me
We see things they'll never see
You and I are gonna live forever

After Noel tosses off a solo that sounds like it's straight from the essence of his aching soul, Liam gives the lyrics one more go-around before repeating "We're gonna live forevahh" several times over, after which the chords take an almost menacing, angry turn before fading out in a blaze of crashing drums and screaming guitar runs. The Gallaghers sound like they want to live forever so badly it almost makes them depressed.

Yet depression was not Noel's game. When talking about "Live Forever," he explained:
At the time . . . it was written in the middle of grunge and all that, and I remember Nirvana had a tune called "I Hate Myself and I Want to Die", and I was like..."Well, I'm not fucking having that." As much as I fucking like him and all that shit, I'm not having that. I can't have people like that coming over here, on smack, fucking saying that they hate themselves and they wanna die. That's fucking rubbish. Kids don't need to be hearing that nonsense.
I'm glad to see that Noel is so concerned over the state of British youth. But you know what he means. He goes on:
Seems to me that here was a guy who had everything, and was miserable about it. And we had fuck-all, and I still thought that getting up in the morning was the greatest fuckin' thing ever, 'cause you didn't know where you'd end up at night. And we didn't have a pot to piss in, but it was fucking great, man.
So honestly, what's better than that?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Speaking Of Super Bowl Halftime Shows

Wikipedia comes through once again. Turns out the Super Bowl halftime show wasn't really much of anything until Michael Jackson came along in 1993. Listen to the names of some of the performers featured prior to Jacko: The Anaheim High School Drill Team; The University of Texas Band and Judy Mallett (Miss Texas 1973) on fiddle; The Los Angeles Unified All-City Band; Elvis Presto; Tops In Blue; and of course the perennial Up With People. How come the same attitude that went into the advertising never extended to the halftime show until only recently? I like the program titles as well: "Happiness Is"; "A Musical America"; "Carnival Salute to Carribean"; "KaleidoSUPERscope"; "Winter Magic." The Super Bowl XXII halftime show titled "Something Grand" featured "Chubby Checker, The Rockettes, 88 grand pianos, and the mighty CSUN Matador Wall of Sound." Now if that isn't grand I don't know what is.

Even after the appearance of Gloved One, it still seems like it took a few more years before the halftime shows really became the exclusive province of a single, very famous arena act (sorry, Diana Ross, you're not quite U2). And yes, after Nipplegate, it's been Baby Boomer rock legends all the way (question to be debated later: Are Prince and Tom Petty Baby Boomer rock legends?). At this rate, they'll run out of first-tier choices. I mean, hell, who's left? The two surviving members of The Who? Queen with Paul Rodgers?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Another Contender

In my quest to play through the Metal Gear Solid series I've begun the third chapter of the saga: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (yes, that's the title!). Ladies and gentleman, I think we have another contender for the Best First Levels in Videogames. I am continually impressed with what this series has to offer. Hideo Kojima must be some sort of mad genius, as he is able to expertly take traditional western-fare and infuse it with a distinctly Japanese flavor, and by that I mean, a distinctly strange flavor. It's almost as if Kojima sat around watching western action films his entire youth and then attempted to go make his own in videogame form, but with everything not quite how we've come to expect from such films, and all done in a quirky, something's-a-little-bit-off kind of way. You could even say he's like the Japanese equivalent of Quentin Tarantino (is that going too far?).

Take for example, the opening to Metal Gear Solid 3. This time Kojima is aiming for the prequel treatment. We find Solid Snake traipsing around the jungles of southeast Asia sometime during the late 60s/early 70s. The first hour of the game opens with Snake dropping into the jungle via parachute, encoutering old foes from the previous two games (or are they new foes since this is in the past?). The gameplay is all done quite expertly. But what really seals the deal here is the opening song which plays once you've finished the cold opening, like, say, a James Bond film! Oh, did I say that? Because the opening song that plays is nearly a shot-by-shot parody/send-up of every James Bond opening music video ever made. And just like Kojima is want to do, there's just something not quite right about it.

Oh sure, it's got the soulful female vocals (man they really need to get Tina Turner to sing this song), they've got the big band sound, they've got the trippy silhouette images (they forgot the naked ladies though), but the lyrics... At first they sound typical, but when they start to get going they're just... Well, here's an example: "Someday you'll go through the rain/And someday, you'll feed on a treefrog" Huuuhh?? Please, just watch and enjoy for yourself:

I love it. I can't get the song out of my head. It's just so spot-on. What's even better though? Watching other people sing the song on youtube! Hot Girl, check. Girl in her bedroom, got it. These two guys take the cake though, tell me which one you think is better, the one labeled The Definitive Cover, or the "WTF were they thinking?" Karaoke guy? I could seriously watch these all day.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Super Bowl XLIII

I have to say that was a pretty good one. One of the Cardinals players was being interviewed after the game and he was going on about "We came here for one reason and one reason only, and that was to win a football game, and we didn't get that accomplished," etc. etc. Come on buddy! You guys kicked some ass. Hell, if somebody had actually bothered to tackle James Harrison at the end of the half, you would have won. I mean really. Who expected the Cardinals to ever have a lead at any point in the 4th quarter? Go treat yourselves to a spa or something.

I always assumed people called Ben Roethlisberger "Big Ben" just because it sounded cool, but my God that man is huge. He looks like he just ate the running back. He could almost star in Shrek 4.

I think Bruce Springsteen is a talented guy, but seeing him perform the halftime show, I have to say I'm still a bit mystified by the almost universal critical adulation he's received. Something got out of hand somewhere along the line. Anyway Tom Petty was better.

I think my favorite commercial was the Cheetos one where the plain girl got so fed up listening to the obnoxious ditzy girl talk on her cell phone that she threw Cheetos under her seat, and by implication, invited birds to attack her. Now here was a commercial with a protagonist I could really identify with! I also liked the Doritos man getting hit by a bus. Nothing makes me want to buy a product like schadenfreude.

Sunday, February 1, 2009