Monthly Archives: October 2009

Halloween Etc


Halloween is great.   As a kid, it’s great, because you get free candy and you’re encouraged to eat candy.  It can’t get any better than that.  Unfortunately, I never had a great costume.  One year I was a ghost, and I don’t remember anything else I was, because I can assure it was never original, or inventive.  

In high school, I didn’t care for Halloween too much.  Maybe I felt like I was too “grown up” for Halloween being high school.  But it was probably more for the fact that I could never think of a good custom.  Why I could never think of a good one, I’m not sure.  Especially since I have a slight obsession with masks – both literal and figuratively.  (Must be the English Major in me.)  

In college, Halloween became cool again.  It was an excuse to have a party.  Can’t get any better than that.  I managed to dress in drag a couple of times.  I’d be able to pull it off a bit better these days, consider I now have long hair.  

While I like a lot of things about Halloween, there’s also a lot of things I don’t like about it.  

Favorite Things About Halloween:

Candy (Even at 27, this is still a big draw.  Especially when it involves Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.  I’m a peanut butter fiend.)

Mythology About Halloween.   The History Channel is full of specials on the devil, witches, ghosts, and all kinds of other cool stuff.  These specials also rival the specials on 2012, and all of the specials devoted to anything Dan Brown related.  Almost.  My favorite was a story involving a card game in the Middle Ages.  A bunch of guys were placing bets on Saturday night, close to the Sabbath.  Around midnight a mysterious stranger comes in and they keep on betting past midnight, and at the end the stranger reveals himself to be Satan, and burns them all because they were betting on the Sabbath.  Awesome.

Classic Halloween Specials.  It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is still the quintessential Halloween special.  When I first saw it, I kept thinking that there might actually be a Great Pumpkin.  Pretty much all of the Simpson’s Tree House of Horror specials are all fantastic.  My personal favorite is the episode where Homer sells his soul for a donut.  

Bad Things About Halloween

Horror Movies.  Okay, I know you’re going to say, ‘Matt you’re no fun’.  It’s true, when comes to horror movies I’m not.  Ridiclious plot lines, bad acting.  Need I say anymore.  I’m not a person who is scared of blood or violence, but today’s horror movies rely too much on unneccessary violence and gore.  Use your imagination people!

And while I’m thinking of Halloween, let’s take at Halloween through the years:

1517 – Martin Luther posts his 95 theses on a church door in Wittenburg, ushering in the Protestant Reformation

1926 – Harry Houdini dies.  

1961 – In the USSR, Stalin’s body is removed from Lenin’s tomb.  

1964 – Bob Dylan plays the Philharmonic Hall.  (Later released as the Bootleg Series Vol. 6.  Contains the famous, “Got my Bob Dylan mask” quote.)

1981 – Harry Potter becomes “the boy who lived” when Voldemort’s killing curse backfires.  (Did I just reveal my inner nerd?)

Man Vs. Food

Man Vs. Food has become my newest obsession.  And with the exception of Mad Men, is probably the best show on TV. I stumbled upon it by accident, and found myself shocked, horrified, and amused at the things Adam Richman could eat. And then I was hooked.

   Usually food eating contests, are quite disgusting.  Who wants to see a dude shove as much food into his mouth as quickly as he can? Luckily, the show doesn’t do that.  As Richman’s voiceover at the beginning of the states he’s “no competitive food  eater, just a guy with an appetite.”  And that’s true.  Most of the time he wins the competition, but there’s several when he lets “food win”.  

    I was excited to see that last night’s show would be visiting my hometown of Baltimore.  Sadly, they did not visit any of the place I’ve gone.  I was glad to see they included a section about crabs, and even being from around the area I did not know pit beef was a local thing.  That being said however, I was left wondering why the Baltimore area was shown as a carnivorous area.  

   If you’re looking for junk food and weird food items, what about Lake Trout?  Okay so The Blue Moon Cafe’s Cap’n Crunch French Toast has already been covered by Diners, Drive-In’s and Dives.  (Has Paper Moon appeared on any of these shows?  If anyone knows let me know.)  

   On a good note, now I know where to go to get Crab Cakes that don’t have mayonnaise.

Records Worth Revisiting

(Since I started this a mostly as music blog – though I do occasionally write on other subjects – I thought it might be fun to include a series of posts devoted to albums that I love but have kind of disappeared under the radar for some reason or another.)  

Billy Bragg & Wilco – Mermaid Avenue

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   The story goes that before his death, Woody Guthrie left a bunch of unpublished lyrics offering them to Dylan.  Dylan seems to confirm this in his memoir Chronicles Vol 1 (and just where the hell is Volume 2, Bob?).  I say “seems to” because it’s always hard to figure out the truth with Dylan.  In the memoir, Dylan shows up at Guthrie’s house only to be told off by the babysitter.  

  As much as I love Bob Dylan, I’m hesitant to think of the actual result.  For the first few years of his career, Dylan was intent on copying Guthrie while creating his own sound, so it would have been superfluous for him to record an entire album of Guthrie originals.  

  Which brings us to Mermaid Avenue.  Decades later, Guthrie’s daughter offers some of the unfinished songs to Billy Bragg, who then recruits Wilco to also contribute to the album.  Really, you couldn’t ask for a better combination of musicians to create an album like this.  Bragg whose leftist politics picks up Guthrie’s revolutionary spirit, and Wilco one of the few American bands in the past decade who constantly pushed the limits of what rock can achieve in the 21st century.  

   I’ve always been attached to this album for a number of reasons.  Unlike a lot of other modern folk leaning records, the album manages to sound contemporary and timeless at the same time.  It also contains perhaps three of the best opening tracks on record (Walt Whitman’s Niece, California Stars, Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key).  Walt Whitman’s Niece lyrically is really an absurd song, yet with its call and response would in a perfect world, be the ultimate bar anthem.   California Stars has kind of become the anthem from the album, with both Bragg and Wilco still performing in their set-lists.  

   I suppose what really makes this album a success is that it actually works.  Usually side projects like these fall flat on their faces. The musicians try to sound too much like their heroes. Or take the extreme route and create something that is unlistenable, and does not capture the spirit of the original musician.  But trying to modernize yet still have Guthrie’s folk spirit is a testament to both Wilco and Bragg.  Hoodoo Voodoo’s carnival sound perfectly fits the fun and childish lyrics. She Came Along to Me’s defiant attitude is expressed in the way Bragg sings “and maybe we’ll have all the fascists out of the way by then.” It doesn’t seem like a lament but rather hopeful.  

The second volume of Mermaid Avenue (which I like) is not nearly as good.  Perhaps this kind of combination could only occur once.  And as much as I like Billy Bragg, Wilco and Woody Guthrie, I think it’s the best thing to come from all three.  

 

Amelia (Quite Possibly The Worst Movie of The Year)

 

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So yesterday, I wrote about Where The Wild Things Are which got my vote for best movie of the year.  Well, today I nominate Amelia as the worst movie of the year. I would vote Transformers 2 as the culprit, but that movie was soooo bad that it gets a nomination for one of the worst of the decade.  

But where to start with Amelia?  Usually I like Hilary Swank, but she was not convincing portraying a woman who broke barriers for both aviation and women. You’re seriously going to tell me that a woman who flew solo across the Atlantic is as boring as my empty box of cereal?  Anything excitement that Amelia  Earheart had in her life is gone.  The movie spent so much time concentrating on her love life, and forgot why people were interested in her in the first place: flying.  There was no character development of Swank’s Earheart.  Based on the movie, I have no idea what got her into flying.  

Richard Gere as her husband gets a lot of blame too.  Upon hearing that his wife made it safely across the Altantic, an apparently relieved (though you wouldn’t know it) Gere shouts, “Wonderful news!”  Who says that?  

The worst (and best part depending on your view) is Earheart’s fated trip to cross the globe.  Apparently one of the radios at a coast guard station was broken, so Earheart had no idea where she was.  But there was one mention of this mishap, and meanwhile I’m supposed to be in suspense?  If the climax of a movie is dependent on a character’s major fuck-up, please add some depth to it!  

The real tragedy is that this could have been a great movie.  But somewhere, somebody forgot to create an actual convincing story out of events that gripped the world in the late 1920’s and 1930’s.

Where The Wild Things Are

Where The Wild Things Are, gets my vote for possibly the best movie of the year.   Even though, I remember reading the book as a kid, I don’t really remember much about it other than the imagery.  I loved the illustrations, and I’m willing to bet that plays a huge part on its lasting presence in children’s literature.  

As a kid, I had a wild (haha) imagination, and would often pretend that I was in a different world much like Max.  And the characters in my own mind, were an extension of my personality or a version of myself that I wanted to be.   This emphasis on imagination might be why when some parents (and critics) have bitched about the movie not being for kids. Kids use imagination to deal with their problems and sort out what is bothering them.  At the end of the movie, Max discovers much about life, and himself that he perhaps otherwise couldn’t.  

Speaking of  people complaining that it’s not a kid’s movie…the marketing is clearly aimed at people like this guy.

Carly Simon Sues For Terrible Album

 

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This made me laugh today.  Carly Simon decides she is going to sue Starbucks because her album flopped?  I didn’t know you could sue for making sub-par music.  But the real kicker is this:  “This Kind of Love, [was] an album that Simon had hoped would be successful enough that she could stop recording.”   So Carly, you’re going to record an album, just so you can live nicely?  

Now granted this sort of thing happens all the time.  Leonard Cohen has gone on the record as saying that he has gone on tour for the first time in years because of financial issues.  Okay, I get it.  But I don’t think that Uncle Lenny (as a friend of mine calls him) would sue over a lack of tickets sales.  

This sort of vanity that Carly Simon inhibits is the problem of the music industry at the moment.  Everyone expects something, without giving anything back.  If she had toured more often, and promoted her albums like most musicians, she would have a loyal fanbase who would have bought her new album.  

I’m just waiting for a one-hit wonder to pull this shit, and sue their fans for “lack of interest”.

Mediocrity At Its Worst

Tom-Petty

 

I have a long-standing hatred for Tom Petty.  I can’t stand him.  I know tons and tons of people love him, and I don’t care if he was in the Traveling Wilburys with the Great Bob (as I like to refer to Bob Dylan).  That was when Dylan was “lost”.   But back to Petty.  No one has ever made a career out of such mediocrity.  He had one great song – “American Girl”.  Now that is song.  But the rest of his career could be summed up by being sublimely boring.  

And to me, being boring is the worst offense in music.  His music isn’t great, it’s not terrible.  It just is.  For instance, if a song is genuinely awful, there’s a knee-jerk reaction of, “Jesus Christ!  That song is terrible!  Goddamn, I want those 4 minutes of my life back!”  If a song is mediocre, you’re just left wondering what just happened, and you can’t remember a thing about the song.  

For some odd reason though, Tom Petty is God incarnate for Open-Mic night.  (Which by the way, is also the worst offender for live entertainer.  I’d rather take Karaoke over Open-Mic night.  At least the people are entertaining.)  Open-Mic seems to attract every earnest wannabe with a guitar.  And they seem to love Tom Petty.  I never knew Tom Petty was such a hero until I became 21.  Over the years, I must have heard at least 200 different versions of “Learning to Fly” and “Free Fallin'”.  

If Tom Petty is God for the Open-Mic night, the Foo Fighters are a demi-god of some sort.  Anyone with a guitar that is 25 and under, seems to think that “Everlong” is the greatest song ever written.  Can that song be banned for the next 25 years?  Please?

U2 Washington DC 9/29/09

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I’ve seen U2 three times prior to this, and usually I’m pumped up weeks before the show.  Counting down the days.   Perhaps because I was so busy, or hadn’t been completely won over by No Line on the Horizon, I wasn’t as excited as I normally am for a U2 show.  That being said, I was still pretty damn excited.  This was U2, after all. 

I should state that I don’t normally like “big” shows.  Besides, U2 the only artist I like in stadiums is Bruce Springsteen.   Both artists redefine what can be accomplished within a stadium.  Springsteen plays every show like a small club.  U2, on the other hand is as big as big gets.  Yet, they manage to be both accessible and challenge their audience on a mass scale. 

On the way to the show, my friends and I got caught in traffic that took about an hour and a half to drive 7 miles.  (Who ever designed FedEx Field – did you ever consider that you might need more than 2 lanes to get in and out?)   To pass some of the time, we decided to play more of U2’s more obscure and odd detours.  As serious as it is, “The Refugee” from Warcracks me up, with it’s chorus of “whoa whoa whoa! she’s a refugee!”  Imagining Bono singing so passionately with his mullet makes it even more hysterical.  I’m also willing to bet that we were the only ones playing U2’s version of “Christmas; Baby Please Come Home” on the way to show.  

 By the time we got to the stadium we had missed Muse, encountered a woman bitching to the employees at the concession that she had to pay $4 for a cup of hot water, and I ate a pretzel that more like a salted damp cloth.  When we finally got to our seats, I was amazed by how big the stage was.  “The Claw” or “Spaceship” or whatever you call it, was massive.  U2 weren’t kidding that wasn’t a bad seat in the house.  Because as cool as it would have been to be down on the ground and up close, you would probably miss some of the theatrics of the show.  (But more on that later.)

“Ground control to Major Tom,” booms David Bowie’s voice throughout the stadium.  I’m already beginning to think that this might be the coolest and greatest show I’ve ever seen, and U2 hasn’t even hit the stage.  Then comes Larry Mullen starting the beat off solo for “Breathe” – the first show.  And as U2 kicks off their set, I’m overwhelmed by a barrage of media and sound. As I stated before, I wasn’t completely sold by No Line on the Horizon, but the new songs translate really well live.  “Magnificent” is given new life live, as The Edge’s shimmering guitar chords echo throughout the stadium.  

Some critics and fans might say that U2 has a tendency to rely too much on their greatest hits.  But really, what other band starts off a major tour that hasn’t sold completely well (at least in the United States) with three completely brand new songs?   The inclusion of “Your Blue Room” from the Passengers record (U2’s side project with Brian Eno) is equally an interesting.  Not only does it include some of U2’s most challenging work, but I’m willing to bet that only about 1,000 people in the stadium had that record, or even knew of its existence.  The haunting beauty of the slow-burner was a definite highlight for me.  

“This is some Zoo-Tv shit,” my one friend whispers to me.  And he’s right.  The song has link-ups to astronauts in space.  (Perhaps as both a nod to “the spaceship” and to “Major Tom”?)  By the time of the encore I’m psyched for “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)”.  It’s without one of my favorite U2’s songs, and has been ever since I was 11 and listened to my older brother’s cassette of Achtung Baby.   Never in my life, did I ever think that I would be hearing this song live.  

There are lasers pointing from the stage, and I’m thinking to myself: What the fuck is that?   Then I realize that the lights are coming from Bono’s jacket.  Only Bono could pull off something as absurd as a jacket with laser lights on it.  I suppose in theory as absurd as Ultraviolet’s chorus of “Baby, baby, baby…light my way!”   Yet, the reality is – both of these things do work fantastically, even when they probably shouldn’t.  Perhaps, that is Bono’s whole point.  

By the time of the closer “Moment of Surrender”, I feel a little bit of a let down.  I like the song a lot, but it is an odd choice for a closer song.  But when the show is over, I know I’ve probably seen one of the best bands ever, putting on one of the best shows of their life.