Sunday, December 30, 2012

You Don't Get To Celebrate, Muni

In the barrage of significant milestones that have taken place in 2012, you may not have noticed that 2012 was the 100 year anniversary of Muni. I wouldn't have noticed it myself, aside from the fact that Muni told me. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Muni, the transit system decided to let its passengers ride for free on Friday. That was wonderful, except I'd already paid for a monthly FastPass and Muni's little anniversary gift saved me ... no money whatsoever. But I wouldn't be writing my bitter little blog post just to rain on Muni's self-generated parade. No, my friends, I'm writing this bitter little blog post because, seconds after the driver of my rail line on Friday morning announced that it was Muni's 100th anniversary and that everyone would be riding for free, the train crawled to a halt, and she added, "There's a delay at Church and Duboce, we don't know what the problem is, I don't know how long we'll be here, if you need to get downtown I suggest taking the 43 or the 44 bus."

So let me get this straight: on the day that Muni is celebrating its 100th anniversary, Muni makes me late for work? You know what, Muni? You don't get to celebrate. I mean, OK, you don't have to apologize, or feel sorry for existing for 100 years, or anything like that. But you don't get to be proud. You don't get to boast. You still don't work very well. The day you run like an exemplary transit organization, maybe then you can do a little celebrating. But not yet.

On a similar, more uplifting note: while waiting in line on Friday at the salad buffet place where I often grab lunch, I noticed a sign on the wall that read, "Beat The Scale! Your Salad Is Free If It Weights 1lb." Now, I read that sign and I thought, "First of all, who the hell is going to bother to put just enough food on their plate so that it weighs exactly 1lb.? Is that what this country's come to?" Then I thought, "I couldn't even guess how much a lb. of food is. I have a rough sense of how much 10lbs. is, or maybe even 20lbs., but just a lb.? Forget it." Then I thought, "And even if someone does manage to make their plate weight exactly 1lb., why would the cashier even point that out? It would have to be some crazy old lady who obsessively casts her eagle eye on the scale, waiting for that moment when she can claim, 'Aha! I beat you, scale!'"

I should also mention that this salad bar place has a little card with eight circles on it that they hand out, and every time you eat there, they put a sticker on the card, and when you fill up the card, you get to eat one meal for free. So I walked in there Friday with a card all filled up.

I approached the register and the cashier said, "Since your salad weighs 1lb., you get to eat for free today."

Get out of here.

I said to the cashier, "But I wasn't even trying to do it." He said, "That's OK, it's free." Then I said, "But your not supposed to tell me!" There was no use arguing. I kept my filled-up card for another day, and ate my free meal.

So there you go, Muni. You were bailed out by the salad buffet place.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Fun Boy Three: Better Than The Specials

There, I said it. I know, I just enraged the five people who cared. But hear me out. The Fun Boy Three were catchier, funnier, weirder, more eclectic, more skillfully produced, and just ... better? Also, Terry Hall's hair became more interesting. For whatever reason, the three former lead singers of the revered ska revival band ditched the reggae for some sort of an offbeat African/Middle Eastern/Doo-Wop hybrid. However, they probably didn't influence anybody (other than Blur?) and they were only together for a couple of years. Even so, I stand by my statement.

Make up your own mind. Here's their debut single, "The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum)."
I see a clinic full of cynics
Who want to twist the peoples' wrist
They're watching every move we make
We're all included on the list

The lunatics have taken over the asylum
The lunatics have taken over the asylum

Go nuclear the cowboy told us
And who am I to disagree
'Cos when the madman flips the switch
The nuclear will go for me

Oh, that Ronnie, what a guy. Sadly, although the ascendancy of Reagan and Thatcher may have seemed quite ominous to Terry Hall in 1981, the world survived their rule and has gone on to exist for at least several more decades. Hey, maybe the lunatics should take over the asylum more often. But like "99 Luftballons," for a song about how doomed we supposedly are, it's pretty catchy!

I'm also partial to "The Telephone Always Rings":

The Fun Boy Three could even breathe new life into a ubiquitous standard like Gershwin's "Summertime":

Yes, the Fun Boy Three seemingly had everything. Everything, that is, except a bizarre female doppelganger group.

Enter Bananarama.

Monday, December 24, 2012

John Belushi Lectures The Go-Go's About Using Coke ... And Then Offers Them Coke

On Miles Copeland's orders, the Go-Go's traveled to New York to record their debut album. But making a hit record was hardly the only activity on the band's mind:
Before leaving L.A., some of us had started to get into cocaine, though none more than me. I finally had enough money coming in to afford such an occasional indulgence. The funny thing was, I only knew one person who dealt it - a guy in a photo lab on Santa Monica Boulevard. I had to have him FedEx it to me in New York.
Ah yes, here comes the coke. But if Belinda thought she already knew how to do the dust, she had another thing coming. Time to meet a true master:
One day I got a package with half a gram in it and later that night I went with Kathy to the Mudd Club, where we were having a good time when John Belushi sidled up alongside us. John was one of my favorite comedians, and he was an equally big fan of the Go-Go's. He had seen us play the previous December at the Whiskey and partied with us a bit backstage afterward. After Kathy and I traded hellos with him and explained why we were in New York, I asked him if he wanted a hit of my coke.

Because of his reaction, I almost felt like I had insulted him. First his eyes widened, then he pulled Kathy and me close so we could hear him better, and then he proceeded to give us a stern lecture on the evils of drug use, fame, and the sycophant-filled world of show business. I was shocked. I felt kind of embarrassed and stupid for having offered him coke.

A week later, the phone in my hotel room rang at one in the morning. It was John. He said he was in the lobby and asked if he could come up. I said, "Sure, we're up." A moment later, I let him in and then stood back, shocked, as he blew past me like a blast of wind and circled the room. He was wild-eyed and obviously wired. He took a huge vial of coke out of his pocket, dumped it on his hand, and looked at me and Kathy and the other girls with the face of a toxic teddy bear.

"Do you want some?" he asked.
Uh ... wait a minute. What about that whole ... lecture?

Turns out Belinda hadn't been stupid for offering John Belushi coke. She'd been stupid for taking anything John Belushi said seriously.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Hooked On Polkas" - Part I

Beginning with "Polkas On 45" from Weird Al Yankovic In 3-D, Weird Al discovered the comedic value of the "polka medley." I can see him in the studio now: "I've got it - imagine if all the great pop hits of the day were randomly slapped together ... and covered in the style ... of a polka band. I don't even need to write my own lyrics!"

"Polkas On 45," being Weird Al's first polka medley ever, featured a few contemporary hits like "Every Breath You Take" and "Burning Down The House," but mostly drew from classic rock, sampling snippets of songs by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Doors, and Jimi Hendrix. He probably figured, "Hey, this is the first and last time I'll ever do a polka medley. I mean, surely the gag will wear out its welcome, right?"

For his second polka medley, "Hooked On Polkas" from Dare To Be Stupid, Weird Al stuck exclusively to contemporary hits. (I managed to find a clip of the medley on YouTube, but it "contains content from SME and Warner Chappell, one or more of whom have blocked it in your country on copyright grounds"; little do SME and Warner Chappell realize, but their precious Weird Al polka medley is still available on YouTube ... as part of the complete album, which has been posted elsewhere and remains unblocked. Damn, I'm good. You can listen to the whole album if you'd like, but the medley begins at the 33:07 mark.)

Now, imagine hearing "Hooked On Polkas" in 1995. At the time, I recognized several of the tracks he'd crammed in there, such as "Footloose," "What's Love Got To Do With It," and "Owner Of A Lonely Heart," and I chuckled upon hearing them performed in such a bowdlerized fashion. But it's not very funny if you hear a polka version of a song you don't actually recognize, is it?

Now, imagine, years later, finally hearing the songs that Weird Al had performed with bicycle horns and hand claps as if he were playing at Cousin Morty's bar mitzvah. Yes: Weird Al's polka medleys introduced me to many a popular '80s song. See, what happened was, so much time had passed between these hits' heyday and 1995, I found myself listening to Weird Al's polka parody versions without ever having been exposed to the originals. This, I suppose, was amusing in its own roundabout way, although not in the way which Weird Al intended.

I could sort of sense at the time that I was experiencing a joke that I was not "in" on. For example, why was Weird Al shouting such nonsensical lyrics as "She looks so great/Every time I see her face/She puts me in a state/Ooh, a state of shock"? What forgettable pop hit was this? And why was he proclaiming "We're not gonna take it"? Take what? What was it that he was not going to take? Or "Bang your head/Mental health will drive you mad"? Or "So why don't you use it/Try not to bruise it/Buy time, don't lose it"? Or "Relax, don't do it/When you wanna go to it/Relax, don't it/When you wanna come/Relax, don't do it/When you wanna sock it to it"?

After listening to a Weird Al polka medley, you might come to the conclusion that most '80s pop song lyrics are completely ridiculous and make no sense. Let's take these one by one.

Question: does the presence of Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger automatically turn a song into a hit single, even if it kind of ... stinks? I.e. if a Jackson/Jagger collaboration falls in the woods, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

I'm guessing that young American teenagers listened to "We're Not Gonna Take It" by Twisted Sister and thought that they were being rebellious. But don't you think that, if it's 1984, and you really wanted to be rebellious, you would have been listening to something like Black Flag? Or hell, even if we stick with metal, how about Ride The Lightning?

What goes for Twisted Sister goes double for Quiet Riot. Quiet Riot are mostly known for "Cum On Feel The Noize," which was actually a cover of a song by '70s glam rock group Slade. Is it sad when your biggest hit was actually a cover? If it's any consolation, Quiet Riot did have another, smaller hit with "Metal Health." Listening to Weird Al's rendition, I thought the lyrics were "mental health will drive you mad," not "metal health will drive you mad." Because why would Weird Al be singing about metal?

Duran Duran's "The Reflex" was a #1 hit in both the US and UK, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. It has the same problem all the other crappy Duran Duran songs have - a lot of noises are being made but none of them blend together in a pleasing fashion. I think Simon Le Bon manages to sing "Why-eye-eye-eye-eye" in a more irritating manner than even Weird Al does - and Weird Al was trying to be irritating.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Zrbo's Five Favorite Songs of the Year

It's nearing the end of the year, so it's time to start rolling out those year-in-review lists.  Here's my selection for my favorite songs of the year.  And yes, just like last year, you may notice that some of these songs aren't necessarily from 2012.

#5 - Psy'Aviah - "Timor"

My fifth favorite song of the year is a Shakira song. No, really! Belgian duo Psy'Aviah (not to be confused with that other Psy who dominated 2012) deliver a fresh take on a song from a completely unexpected artist and genre. While the song has a completely different structure and delivery than the original, the underlying political themes still come through. Psy'Aviah's album "Introspection-Extrospection" is also my favorite album of the year. Oh, and hey, look who uploaded that video!

#4 - Pepsi & Shirlie - "Heartache"

In last year's list I included a song that was most definitely not from 2011, and this year the trend continues. It may be 25 years old, but Pepsi & Shirlie's "Heartache" is like True Blue-era Madonna musical gold. While this version is fine, I've actually been listening to the extended remix more often.

#3 - Armin van Buuren featuring Sharon den Adel - "In and Out of Love"

I realize it's just a trite piece of euro-trance, but there's something about this song that has me hooked. Maybe it's that piano riff that gets stuck in my head, or maybe it's because I'm somewhat in love with Sharon den Adel (who was also on this countdown last year). Considering that it's one of the most watched videos on Youtube though, someone else out there must also be hooked. Like the previous entry, I've been listening to the extended/album mix more than the original.

#2 - The Gregory Brothers - "Oh my Dayum"

I was seriously tempted to put this song at number one I love it so much. I've probably listened to it an average of once a day since I first heard it. I've already discussed my love for it here on this blog. I'm not sure what else to say besides DAYUM!

#1 - Covenant featuring Necro Facility - "Lightbringer"

The album this song is from came out late last year but I didn't appreciate it until I saw Covenant live in San Francisco a few months ago. Covenant continue to turn out some great tunes, and Lightbringer is no exception. Turn up the volume for maximum danceable effect.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Further Madness

By 1982, Madness were probably assuming that, as long as their music remained disarmingly chipper, their lyrics could be as dark as humanly possible. "Cardiac Arrest" put that notion to the test:
The song was written by Chas Smash and Chris Foreman and tells a story of a workaholic who suffers a fatal heart attack on his way to work. The song received little if any airplay, other than on the Top 40 show, on BBC Radio 1 due to deaths in the families of two DJs; this was cited as one reason for the record's disappointing chart position. It was the first Madness single since "The Prince" not making it to the top 10.
Now, just read these lyrics and imagine what sort of music might fit in here:
Never get there at this rate
He's caught up in a jam
There's a meeting this morning
It's just his luck oh damn

His hand dives in his pocket
For his handkerchief
Pearls of sweat on his collar
His pulse-beat seems so brief

Eyes fall on his wristwatch
The seconds pass real slow
Gasping for the hot air
But the chest pain it won't go

Tried to ask for help
But can't seem to speak a word,
Words are whispered frantically
But don't seem to be heard
What about the wife and kids?
They all depend on me
Naturally, the music is extremely jaunty and exuberant:

While "Driving In My Car" returned them to the Top 10, the provincial English references were arguably starting to approach self-parody by this point:
I've been driving in my car, it's not quite a Jaguar
I bought it in Primrose Hill from a bloke from Brazil
It was made in fifty-nine in a factory by the Tyne
It says Morris on the door, the G.P.O. owned it before
I drive in it for my job, the governor calls me a slob
But I don't really care, give me some gas and the open air

I've been driving in my car, it don't look much but I've been far
I drive up to Muswell Hill, I've even been to Selsey Bill
I drove along the A45, I had her up to 58
This copper stopped me the other day, you're mistaken what could I say
The tyres were a little worn, they were O.K., I could have sworn
I like driving in my car, I'm satisfied I've got this far
Say wot? We've got "Primrose Hill," "Tyne," "bloke," "Muswell Hill" - this is Anglo overload! Indeed, this might be the most "Madness" Madness song ever, and not necessarily in a good way. We've got actual honest-to-goodness honking car horns, bells, whistles ... even a saxophone bridge that sounds like it was lifted from a Supertramp song. Keep your eye out, however, for the Fun Boy Three, who around the 2:00 mark attempt, and fail, to hitch a ride in Madness' extreme Britmobile.

Unlike "Driving In My Car," the sentiment in "House Of Fun" was universal: young people trying to get laid.
The lyrics tell the story of a boy on his 16th birthday attempting to buy condoms at a chemist. The UK age of consent is 16, and he makes a point of stating that he is "16 today and up for fun". However, the boy is misunderstood by the chemist, as he asks for the condoms using slang euphemisms, such as "box of balloons with a featherlight touch" and "party hats with the coloured tips". The confused chemist behind the counter eventually informs the boy that the establishment is not a joke shop, and directs him towards the "House of Fun".

N-n-n-n-n-n-no no miss
You misunderstood
Sixteen big boy
Full pint in my manhood
I'm up to date
And the date's today
So if you'll serve
I'll be on my way

Welcome to the House of Fun
Now I've come of age
Welcome to the House of Fun
Welcome to the lion's den
Temptation's on his way
Welcome to the House of

None of which was the least bit apparent to me until I read the Wikipedia article, of course. While the song, which became Madness' only UK #1, wasn't even released in the US, apparently the video ended up in heavy MTV rotation, thus laying the groundwork for Madness' only "hit." Indeed, that hit, which I need not name, helped to also turn an earlier Madness song, "It Must Be Love," into a smaller US hit as well (it peaked at #33). Yes, technically, Madness had two American hits. What does Selsey Bill have to say about that, eh?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Zrbo Reviews: Halo 4 (343 Industries, 2012)

Reviewing Halo 4 is no easy task. As the first in a new trilogy of an already storied franchise, reviewing Halo 4 is perhaps a good exercise for what critics will face when reviewing the new Star Wars movies when they inevitably arrive. Developer 343 Industries has the weight of a massive franchise to carry, with huge expectations to meet, and they mostly succeed.

It's nearly impossible to review Halo 4 without taking a look at it's reason for being. Franchise creator Bungie has moved on to develop its own new franchise (codenamed Destiny), leaving Microsoft, the owner of the Halo franchise, to find a new developer. Instead of hiring an established development studio Microsoft went ahead and created its own. Enter 343 Industries (named after 343 Guilty Spark, one of my favorite characters of the series). Microsoft was not stupid in doing this: Halo is its multi-million AAA premier franchise, and the folks there knew they had to get everything just right. They made plenty of good decisions. First, they brought on former Bungie member Frank O'Connor as the Franchise Development Director. Frank, or Frankie as he's generally known to the Halo community, has been deeply involved with the integrity of the franchise since Halo 2, the keeper of the never-seen "Halo Bible", ensuring story cohesion and integrity throughout the games. Next Microsoft poached some of the best talent in the game industry, bringing people in who worked on the highly acclaimed Metroid Prime games, former Bungie staffers, and as Halo 4 Executive Director the amazingly named Kiki Wolfkill to helm the project.

Seriously, that really is her name

On top of the burden of assembling a new team, there was the problem of finding a story to tell. At the end of Halo 3 the war had been won; Halo 3: ODST was a nice, moody side story; Halo: Reach was a prequel. Everything was wrapped up nice and tight. Again, going back to the Star Wars analogy, creating a new trilogy in the Halo universe must be what it's like over at Disney right now, trying to come up with a new story while honoring what came before. Luckily for 343 Industries, Bungie left them an out.

I've spoken before about how I thought the end of Halo 3 was a brilliant move. As in many blockbuster trilogies there's the question of what to do with the hero at the end. Do we have him (or her) make the big noble sacrifice, securing freedom and safety for the world through their death, or do we have them overcome the odds and win, coming home to a hero's welcome and living happily ever after? Bungie did neither. Series protagonist Master Chief saves the galaxy but instead of making it home to celebrate with everyone else, he's in a sort of limbo, adrift on a derelict spaceship thousands of light years from nowhere, sleeping in a cryosleep tube, with only his holographic Artificial Intelligence companion Cortana to watch over him. Those who were willing to go all the way and complete Halo 3 on its highest difficulty (or who were lazy and just went to Youtube) were treated to a tease of the derelict ship approaching some sort of planet. And that's exactly where 343i picks up the story.

We're not in Kansas

Halo 4 does two things incredibly well: the core gameplay is nigh perfect, arguably the best it's ever been in the series, and second, for the first time a Halo story has a strong emotional core.

Instead of opening on the adventures of Master Chief, the game begins with an exceptionally executed cinematic. We're treated to a scene of Dr. Halsey, the ethical boundaries pushing scientist who created  the supersoldier 'Spartan' program, of whom Master Chief was one of the first. Halsey is being interrogated by someone unknown. The scene has arguably more depth than anything in the Halo franchise before it. It not only gives us an understanding of who the Spartans are and why they were created, but provides the thematic thread of the story by questioning these soldiers' humanity. Are these Spartans saviors or brainwashed killing machines? Lastly, I want to point out the technical achievement of this scene. It may not come through on a Youtube quality video, but the CGI in this scene is incredible. I would swear that Halsey is an actual actress, not a digital creation. Simply phenomenal work.

The game proper picks up with Master Chief being awoken in his cryosleep tube by Cortana (who has never looked so well defined or... sexy). The derelict ship is being boarded as it drifts towards this unknown planet. Cortana, who has served as the series way of guiding you and providing details and insight, is going a little crazy. In the established Halo fiction Artificial Intelligences begin to deteriorate after a certain amount of time, entering a state known as 'rampancy' where they essentially think themselves to death. This provides the impetus for the rest of the story.

This is where things get interesting, as that motivation is kind of odd. While the first two entries in the series portrayed Cortana as your computer sidekick, Halo 3 began hinting that there was something more between this blue hologram and the cybernetically enhanced Master Chief. Halo 4 pushes this even further, moving the relationship towards that of a love story, though never quite going so far as to verbalize that, leaving players to ponder just what the relationship is that these two have. It's actually quite well done, and there's something about that never-actually verbalized love makes the relationship, and Cortana's deteriorating situation, that much more powerful. And it ties in wonderfully with that opening scene. While Master Chief becomes almost robotic in his killing, Cortana's increasingly volatile state seems to make her more human - after all, in order to be crazy you have to exhibit some sort of emotion.

They're in love... I think?

Eventually Master Chief and Cortana are sucked inside of the mystery planet, known as Requiem, which turns out not to be a planet at all, but a completely artificial hollow world built by the ancient long-vanished civilization dubbed 'the Forerunners'. The Chief fights his way through new and interesting foes, uncovering ancient secrets and mysteries. The game is quite fun, though at times the encounter design isn't quite up to par with previous games. Also, the story and your motivations become a little muddled, though I've found this to be an issue with all Halo games.

And a little muddled is probably what someone would feel like if they hadn't played a Halo game before. If you aren't familiar with the fiction, you would rightly feel confused as various elements are brought to light. In fact, the entire plot of the game is pulled from these hidden computer terminals you could find in Halo 3. These terminals provided a backstory that was arguably better written and more compelling than the surface story. They detailed the fall of the Forerunner civilization by simplifying that downfall in the form of two lovers, the Librarian and the Didact, penning letters to each other as a soldier might send letters to his wife from the front lines. There's a fairly exceptional scene in Halo 4 where this story is brought to the forefront, but, if you hadn't played a Halo game or read the terminals from Halo 3 you would have no idea what's going on. Even if you had found the terminals you might not understand what's going on as they progressively revealed more story as you played on higher difficulty levels, so you could only get the full story if you played through Halo 3 on the highest difficulty AND found all the secret terminal locations.

This leads me to a few of the game's faults. The story presented involves knowing the Halo universe in detail and often involves the player having to go outside the game to get more of those details. An example: once again there are hidden terminals in Halo 4 that provide access to short cinematics that fill in some of the backstory. But in order to view these you need to go to the 'Halo Waypoint' app or website, log in, and view them. Why these cinematics aren't on the game disc itself is beyond me.

Most of my other gripes are mainly concerned with technical issues. 343 Industries has revamped Halo 4's multiplayer (where most players spend most of their time anyways) to be more competitive with the juggernaut that is the Call of Duty series. While many of the changes are controversial (essentially adding in the perk-unlocking system that the Call of Duty series is known for) I have actually come to enjoy them. But in the process they trimmed some of the options that have become staples that the Halo franchise was known for. For example, 1-flag capture the flag has been removed (where one team is defending the flag and the other is trying to get it), precision editing in the Forge level editor has been stripped out, and the campaign theater mode is missing (which allowed you to rewatch your story-mode games, edit movies, and take screenshots). These features have become such a reliable part of the franchise that they've become known as 'legacy features'. There's been some talk that some of these features may be patched in later, but for now they seem like oddly missing gaps.

Another misstep is in the music. As I mentioned recently, Marty O'Donnell and his music are out, Neil Davidge of Massive Attack fame is in. The music works decently, and it does have a few memorable moments, but all in all it's just somewhat lacking. As one reviewer noted, the music seems much too reactive. I'll just go ahead and quote him as I think he says it best:
The music gets sad, exciting, or ominous in all the right places. But it is reactionary. It builds upon feelings I am already feeling. In previous Halo games, O’Donnell’s music would actually change the way I played. As The Silent Cartographer [level] begins, O’Donnell’s thunderous drums and pounding cello lines prepared me for a battle that wasn’t even on the screen yet. By the time my [ship] touched down on the beach, my adrenaline was already pumping. I hit the ground and slammed head on into the awaiting Covenant forces with everything I had. I played aggressively, because the music made me aggressive. This is the power Marty O’Donnell’s music commands, and it is noticeably missing from Halo 4.
The second thing of note with the music is how hard it is to hear. Someone in the audio department had a field day adjusting volume sliders. Mainly, the guns in the game sound loud, really loud. It makes them feel visceral and powerful. But no one bothered to turn up the music, leaving the score often times obscured by the sounds of really loud guns going off in your face. There's one brief moment when the classic Halo monks can be heard, while it's not until the credits that we at least get a reworking of the classic 'Never Forget', though it's oddly and unfortunately not included on the official soundtrack.

This is what we came for Neil

Overall, Halo 4 is a fairly amazing accomplishment. The team at 343 Industries had the unenviable task of being a new studio working on an established franchise with a devoted fanbase. They not only managed to create a game that feels like a Halo game, but they arguably created a much more emotionally engaging story than any previous Halo titles. On top of that, they created an exceptionally good looking game, pushing the boundaries of current generation console hardware. Seriously, those opening and closing cinematics would make Pixar jealous. There are some odd missteps however, mainly in the technical and audio department, though there's some hope that these can be rectified through patches.

Ultimately Halo 4 provides a terrific foundation for the new trilogy. The world has more surprising stories to offer, and I'm excited to see where they go with the work they put into character development, and most importantly, I can't wait to see where they take the Master Chief both physically and emotionally. Disney - the bar has been set, your move.

4.5/5 Zrbo points

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Meet Miles Copeland: The Founder Of I.R.S. Records

*courtesy of the Dash Cafe

Ever wonder what it would be like to be the son of an American CIA officer and a Scottish intelligence agent who grows up to found a record label? Miles Copeland doesn't. From Wikipedia:
Miles was born in London, England, to Miles Axe Copeland, Jr., a CIA officer from Birmingham, Alabama, United States, and Scottish Lorraine Adie, who was in British intelligence. Due to Miles Jr.'s profession, the family moved throughout the Middle East, in particular Syria, Egypt and Lebanon. As a result, Miles and his brothers became fluent in Arabic.
One of those Arabic speaking brothers happened to be Stewart Copeland, drummer for the Police. While trying to get the Police signed to a major label, Miles founded a new record company with the intention of giving New Wave acts a leg up in the industry.

For years, I simply knew I.R.S. as "R.E.M's record label." Rock writers would always talk about I.R.S. as some sort of significant label, but the only band I ever consciously realized was actually signed to I.R.S. was R.E.M. I mean hey, that's a pretty good act to have. All five of the albums the band released on I.R.S. in the mid-'80s were more or less great. And you couldn't miss that logo on the LP and CD covers. If all I.R.S. ever did was sign R.E.M., then they would have had a legacy worth remembering. But while I will now admit that R.E.M. was probably the most significant act ever signed by I.R.S., they would have to be my second-favorite act. What I didn't know was that, long before Europe began handing out free radios, the label's biggest band was the Go-Go's.

The Go-Go's made I.R.S.

Also, I.R.S. made the Go-Go's. Let's just say it was a mutually beneficial arrangement.

You see, by 1981, the Go-Go's had become an extremely popular concert attraction, but could not, for the life of them, get a record deal. Do you know why?

Because they had vaginas.

None of the major record labels wanted to sign the Go-Go's, because they were all girls. That's it. Liked the music, thought they were talented, but said they were missing penises. Actually told them to find a boy and insert him into the band - even just one. According to Charlotte, “They basically said, ‘No, we can’t sign you because you’re an all-girl band.’ Literally said that." In a 1994 interview, Jane observed, "In 1980, a record company wouldn't think twice about saying 'Oh, we don't want to sign you because you're girls.' I mean, no one would dare say that in 1994. They might think that, but they'd never say it out loud."

Well, back in 1980, they would say it out loud. But oh, my friends, the Go-Go's would have the last laugh. And so would Miles Copeland III.

Miles Copeland is the one person in the Go-Go's story who comes closest to being a father figure. He was, shall we say, the man of the house. While working on Urgh! A Music War, which prominently featured the Police, as well as several other acts who were either signed or soon to be signed to I.R.S., such as the Cramps, Oingo Boingo, and Wall of Voodoo, he started sniffing the Go-Go's out. From Lips Unsealed:
In April, following months of back-and-forth between Miles and Ginger, he finally signed us to I.R.S. Records. We were very excited to finally get a deal and have the chance to make an album, but in private we shared disappointment that we weren't getting a million-dollar advance from a big label, which had been our dream and probably would have happened if our band hadn't been all female ... at that point, we said a collective Screw it, screw everyone, we'll show the entire industry.
Indeed, show the industry they did. Those clueless record label executives who turned down the Go-Go's have now gone down in history as spiritual heirs to legendary Decca Records A&R man Dick Rowe, who passed on the Beatles in 1962, famously uttering the words, "Guitar groups are on the way out, Mr. Epstein."
We officially signed on April 1, 1981, and celebrated over dinner and drinks - lots of drinks - at Kelbo's, a kitschy Polynesian restaurant in West Los Angeles ... After dinner, we went with Miles to the premiere of the movie he was creative consultant for, Urgh!: A Music War, and I was impossible. I had done a bunch of coke at the restaurant and taken a quaalude before we left. Buster was out of town and I brought a cute skateboarder for company. We sat right in front of Miles and made out through the entire movie.

At one point during the film, I got up to go to the bathroom and glanced over at my new boss. I felt his steel-blue eyes cut through me like a carving knife. Too wasted to care, I smiled and waved.

He probably wondered what he had invested in. No, on second thought, he knew exactly what he was doing. He was going to make a Go-Go's album and I think he had the same feeling the rest of us did - that it was going to be great.
Miles Copeland would ultimately be right about two things: the Go-Go's album was going to be great, and Belinda Carlisle was going to be impossible - for thirty years.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Having Internet Problems

I'm posting this from work. No, I am not going to start posting about '80s music from work. We're having internet problems at my apartment. Might not be fixed until Monday, possibly even later. So don't think I'm slacking off this weekend, because I'm not. I know the world can't wait for my next post about '80s music, but my hands are tied.

Maybe an internet cafe can save me. My readers will not be denied!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

James Brown's "Living In America"/Weird Al's "Living With A Hernia"

When I think of the '80s, I don't usually think of The Godfather of Soul.

Released in 1986, "Living In America" became Brown's first Top 40 hit in a decade, and as of this writing, his last (sure, he's dead, but come on, that never stopped 2Pac). However, I'm wondering just how glad Brown was to have been living in America just a couple of years later, when he was arrested for drugs and weapons charges, then led police on a high-speed car chase, and was ultimately sentenced to six years in prison (of which he served three). I suppose one could say that James Brown "served for his country."

But before all that image-burnishing, there was Rocky IV. I'm not sure if "Living In America" was written specifically for Rocky IV, but it might as well have been.

I remember my roommates in college catching Rocky IV on TV and laughing copiously; I wandered in and out of the room, and did not feel like I was missing a cinematic treasure. I just read the plot summary on Wikipedia. Let me get this straight: over-the-hill Apollo Creed challenges a young and studly Soviet boxer who's pumped up on steroids to a fight, Apollo dies in the ring, Rocky avenges Apollo's death by training in the Russian mountains with an axe and a sled, he beats the chemically enhanced Soviet boxer using nothing but his hard work and determination, and then he gives a big speech about the Cold War? Hmmmm. I seem to recall the first Rocky being at least somewhat plausible. I mean, why not have Luke Skywalker swoop down and blow up the Death Star while we're at it? And have hobbits and oompa-loompas help Rocky train?

Ah, but thanks to Weird Al, whenever I hear "Living In America," I never think of Rocky Balboa saving the free world from communism. Oh no. I always think of a man with a very painful medical condition.

"Living With A Hernia" became the lead-off track to Polka Party, which, according to Wikipedia, "holds the dubious honor of being the lowest charting studio album released by Yankovic." I'm not sure how Weird Al managed to receive parody permission from a man with such a bad attitude, but props to the Hardest Working Man in Showbusiness for being willing to go along with jokes about intestines. It also probably helped that at the time, James Brown and Weird Al shared record labels.

The song quickly becomes a contest to see how many words Weird Al can come up with that end in "-ation." We've got: "aggravation," "ruination," "location," "humiliation," "irritation," "medication." I'll bet if the situation called for it, he could've come up with more. There's also a highly educational section where he names several different types of hernias, in lieu of Brown's naming several different American cities. I mean hell, I already know the names of American cities.