Sunday, February 27, 2011

Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremonies: The YouTube Clips Playing In My Dreams

If there's one thing in the world I love, it's Arrowhead's Puffed Wheat Cereal. But another thing I really love is hearing my favorite musicians talk about some of my other favorite musicians.

I once had the good fortune to catch the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on VH1 back in 1999. It was delightful to hear Ray Charles induct Billy Joel, Neil Young induct Paul McCartney, and Bono induct Bruce Springsteen. It was like my very own musical subconscious sloshing around and stirring itself into new combinations. "Hey, there's that guy...talking about that guy!" "I didn't realize that guy knew that guy." "Wow, so that guy's a fan of that guy." I thought to myself, "Man, I could watch these all day."

And now I can, thanks to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's official YouTube channel! I just don't think I can ever get my fill of the inescapably positive vibe these speeches exude. "Wasn't that band awesome?" "No, your band was awesome." "No, no, your band was awesome." "No, no, no, really, your band was awesome." So many of these bands were so awesome. And a couple of these speeches, like Pete Townsend's, border on roast territory.

While I can't post every worthwhile clip, and I recommend simply surfing around here, below are some particular favorites:

Mick Jagger inducts The Beatles:

Pete Townsend inducts The Rolling Stones:

Neil Young inducts Paul McCartney:

Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne inducts George Harrison:

Olivia and Dhani Harrison acceptance speech:

Beach Boys acceptance speech:

Brian Wilson inducts the Bee Gees:

Moby inducts Steely Dan:

Steely Dan's acceptance speech:

Elton John inducts Elvis Costello:

The Edge inducts The Clash:

The Clash's acceptance speech

Jann Wenner accepts on behalf of the Sex Pistols:

Metallica inducts Black Sabbath:

Flea inducts Metallica:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Yoggoth's Thoughts On This Year's Oscar-Nominated Films

(as told to Little Earl over the phone)

Black Swan: "The world's greatest ballerina going insane movie...could only be so good."

The Fighter: "Christian Bale - you can tell he really really wants to be an actor. Also he likes to gain and lose a bunch of weight. That's his ace in the hole - gaining and losing weight."

The King's Speech: "Why is Geoffrey Rush a 'supporting actor'? He's in like the whole movie. Like, every scene the king is in, he is in."

True Grit: "It didn't have any of the usual Coen Brothers idiosyncracies, except throughout the movie the characters keep having arguments about arcane legal terminology. I don't know if you'll get as much of a kick out of that as I did."

127 Hours: "That was like a gigantic exercise in pain tolerance. It was like 'What if you were in the most horrible situation ever, and how would it feel to be in that exact situation?' "

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Misery Central

Let's hear it, once again, for California's Central Valley which, according to MSN Real Estate, contains four of the nation's top five most miserable cities within its agriculturally oriented confines. Please give it up for:





And last but not least, let's not forget the Bay Area's own Vallejo at number nine. Oakland, be proud.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Zrbo's Favorite Games of 2010, Part 2

Limbo (Playdead Studios)
My second contender for my not-quite-game-of-the-year is Limbo, a downloadable game from the Danish studio 'Playdead Studios', a most fitting name for a game about a young boy trying to survive somewhere between life and death.

You play as a young boy who wakes up alone in a black-and-white forest. You are looking for your sister. There's something other-wordly about the place you are in... like you are in some sort of limbo. The game uses no text to explain anything to you, there's no dialogue, and the sound design is utterly superb in that there's virtually no music, with the game relying only on natural-sounding effects, such as the sound of rushing water or the wind rustling in the trees. Only later in the game does a little music pick up, and when it does, you hardly even notice the change.

This all contributes to the superb atmosphere of the game. The entire experience is done in black-and-white with a film grain effect to give it the impression you're watching some old Ingmar Bergman film (and yes, I can say that now that Little Earl has shown me the Seventh Seal). There's a certain creepiness as the young boy makes his way across a black-and-white landscape, never uttering a word. Just shades of black, white, and gray. For a look at the game check out this video here.

At it's heart Limbo is a puzzle platforming game, requiring you to figure out how to proceed as you move on. And the game punishes mistakes with a grizzly death. Didn't see that bear trap lying in the grass in front of you? BAM, the little boy dies. Luckily the game never sets you too far back, so dying becomes not only a learning experience, but also serves up a morbid pleasure in seeing just how the little boy will meet his fate.

In many ways the game is similar to 2008's Braid, which reviewers loved, and if you recall, I absolutely hated. But where Braid was told through obnoxious overwrought text, telling a story so vague that is was indecipherable (was it about loss? the trials of love? nuclear weapons?), Limbo gets its strength from its outright minimalism. There's no dialogue, no terribly written poetry to read, just a boy in a black-and-white world with a gigantic spider coming his way.

And it's amazing how much the game accomplishes without any of the usual storytelling means. The only discernible feature of the boy is his eyes. These little white dots add a certain character to the boy, and when confused by a puzzle the boy might shift his eyes towards something helpful or useful, such as rope hanging above that the player might not otherwise have noticed. They're very much like when cartoon characters turn off the lights and we can only see the whites of their eyes.

So why isn't this my game of the year? It's difficult to pinpoint exactly. It could be that the game is short and doesn't feel as big or meaty as the other two contenders on my list. Also, the ending is just a tad bit weak. As the Gamespot review notes in it's only criticism, it "ends abruptly". Just a slightly longer coda and this might have been my game of the year. Hell, I'll at least give it my "best downloadable game of the year". Limbo is available for the Xbox 360.

Next time I'll finish off my favorite games of 2010 with a look at my final pick as well as a few honorable mentions.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Michael Jackson: Songwriter

If, three months ago, you strapped me to a chair, tied a blindfold around my head, and forced me to answer the question, "Who wrote more of their own songs: Michael Jackson or Madonna?" I'm not sure I would have even been able to make a good guess. I'll never have to worry about this terrifying hypothetical scenario ever again: the correct answer is Michael Jackson. Hell, Michael Jackson didn't even need much help. Here is a list of some of the songs that only bear the songwriting credit "Michael Jackson." They are some pretty good songs and you might have heard them on the radio at some point:

"Don't Stop Til You Get Enough"
"Wanna Be Startin' Something"
"The Girl Is Mine"
"Beat It"
"Billie Jean"
"The Way You Make Me Feel"
"I Just Can't Stop Loving You"
"Smooth Criminal"
"Black Or White"
"Who Is It"
"Will You Be There"

How did he do it? Wikipedia doesn't give us too much detail regarding the melodic aspect of the compositions, mostly discussing the lyrical inspiration. But really, what I want to know is, how did this guy write those catchy, catchy hooks? Somebody knows, but it's obviously not somebody on Wikipedia. Perhaps Michael himself did not even know. As if it matters anyway. Below are some informative tidbits. The "Bille Jean" stuff, in particular, is even weirder than I thought it would be.

"Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough":
Jackson claimed that when the melody of "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" came to him, he couldn't shake it off. He found himself humming and singing it while walking through the Jacksons' Encino home. As Michael could not play, he had his brother Randy perform the melody on a piano in the family's recording studio.[3] When Jackson's mother, a devout Jehovah's Witness, heard the song, she was shocked by the lyrical content. Katherine pointed out that the title could be misconstrued as pertaining to sexual activity.[5] Jackson reassured her that the song was not a reference to sex, but could mean whatever people wanted it to.
So wait, how does "You know this ... force it's ... got a lot of power ... make me feel like a ... make me feel like a ... ooh!" not refer to sex? And yet somehow, because it is Michael Jackson we're talking about here, I believe him.

"Wanna Be Startin' Something":
"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" was written, composed, and co-produced by Michael Jackson, and produced by Quincy Jones. It was originally written for his sister La Toya Jackson about her troubled relationship with her sisters-in-law, but Michael ended up recording the song and La Toya sometimes performs the song at her concerts.
"The Girl Is Mine":
The writing of "The Girl Is Mine" was completed by Jackson as he watched cartoons with Paul McCartney.[1] Producer Quincy Jones had initially told Jackson to write a song about two men fighting over a girl. Inspired, Jackson awoke during the night and sang the song into a tape recorder. He later said, "I sang exactly what I heard in my head, starting with the melody and the keyboard and the strings and everything. So, I just orally put it all on tape." Jones also asked the singer to add a rap verse. Jackson recalled, "Quincy called me up one morning and says, 'Smelly'—he calls me Smelly—'we have to have some rapping in this.'"[2]
So clearly Michael Jackson's idea of rapping is this:

Paul: Michael, we're not going to fight about this, OK?
Michael: Paul, I think I told you, I'm a lover, not a fighter.

I don't think Ice Cube had anything to worry about.

"Beat It":
Producer Quincy Jones had wanted to include a rock 'n' roll song, though Jackson reportedly had never previously shown an interest in the genre.[2][3] Jackson later said of "Beat It", "I wanted to write a song, the type of song that I would buy if I were to buy a rock song... That is how I approached it and I wanted the kids to really enjoy it—the school kids as well as the college kids."
"Billie Jean":
There are contradictory claims as to what the song's lyrics refer. Some believe that they are derived from a real-life experience, in which a mentally ill female fan claimed that Jackson had fathered one of her twins. Others, pointing to the fact that Jackson was an avid tennis fan, believed that the song was about tennis great Billie Jean King; however, King's sexual preferences since 1968 render implausible any contention that the song's narrator, who claims to have had both a romantic encounter with Jackson and a child resulting from that encounter, was modeled on King. Jackson himself, however, stated several times that "Billie Jean" was based on the groupies he and his brothers encountered while part of The Jackson 5.[1][2][3]

"Billie Jean is kind of anonymous. It represents a lot of girls. They used to call them groupies in the '60s." He added, "They would hang around backstage doors, and any band that would come to town they would have a relationship with, and I think I wrote this out of experience with my brothers when I was little. There were a lot of Billie Jeans out there. Every girl claimed that their son was related to one of my brothers."[4]

Jackson biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli promoted the theory that "Billie Jean" was derived from a real life experience the singer faced in 1981. The Magic & The Madness documents how a young woman wrote Jackson a letter, which informed the singer that he was the father of one of her twins.[5][6] Jackson, who regularly received letters of this kind, had never met the woman in question and ignored it. The woman, however, continued to send Jackson more letters, which stated that she loved him and wanted to be with him. She wrote of how happy they would be if they raised the child together. She pondered how Jackson could ignore his own flesh and blood. The letters disturbed the singer to the extent that he suffered nightmares.[5]

Following the letters, Jackson received a parcel containing a photograph of the fan, as well as a letter and a gun. Jackson was horrified—the letter asked that the pop singer kill himself on a certain day and at a specific time. The fan would do the same once she had killed their baby. She wrote that if they could not be together in this life, then they would be in the next. To his mother's dismay, Jackson had the photograph of the woman framed and hung above the dining room table of their family home. Afterward, the Jacksons discovered that the female fan had been sent to a psychiatric hospital.[5]

Jackson wrote "Billie Jean" with his female fan(s) in mind, and later stated that when he wrote the song, he knew it would be a success. "A musician knows hit material. Everything has to feel in place. It fulfills you and it makes you feel good. That's how I felt about 'Billie Jean'. I knew it was going to be big when I was writing it."[1][7] The singer explained that he was so absorbed by the song that, in one instance, he did not notice that his car had caught fire as he drove down a freeway with a friend until a passing motorcyclist informed him. Jackson noted, "The kid probably saved our lives."[1][7]

"There never was a real Billie Jean. The girl in the song is a composite of people my brothers have been plagued with over the years. I could never understand how these girls could say they were carrying someone's child when it wasn't true."
"Bad" was originally intended to be a duet between Jackson and musician Prince, although the plans were not followed-up on.[1] In Jackson's 1988 autobiography Moonwalk, Jackson discussed the concept of "Bad", elaborating that,

" 'Bad' is a song about the street. It's about this kid from a bad neighborhood who gets to go away to a private school. He comes back to the old neighborhood when he's on a break from school and the kids from the neighborhood start giving him trouble. He sings, 'I'm bad, you're bad, who's bad, who's the best?' He's saying when you're strong and good, then you're bad."[2]

In a 1988 interview with Ebony and Jet magazines (which was released on Hulu shortly after his death), Jackson said that he had gotten the idea for the song from a true story that he had read about in Time or Newsweek magazine.[3] Jackson stated that the story said that a student that went to school in upstate New York, who was "from the ghetto", had tried to make something of his life and planned to leave all of his friends behind when he returned from Thanksgiving break.[3] He added that the student's friends' jealousy resulted in them killing the student; Jackson stated that the student's death was not included in the music video.[3]
Shades of "Jenny From The Block"?

In conclusion: Michael Jackson was one talented dude. Although he did not write some of his most famous hits, he wrote many, if not most of them, and did so without a collaborator. I, for one, would like to hear some of those demo tapes.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

So What? I Have A Masters In Herman's Hermits

University Awards First Beatles Degree - Reuters

Rejoice, Art History and Religious Studies majors everywhere: finally, a liberal arts degree that may be more worthless than yours.