Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2004 American League champions!

I went to the Sox game last night—good win despite a very shaky second inning for Schilling. My favorite part was when he gave up a hit to the first batter he faced and my friend turned to me and said "Well, there goes the no-hitter." (My second-favorite part was not paying $6 for Budweiser, I assure you.)

I rode the glorious B train—really at its best during rush hour with Boston College and Boston University back in session—to meet up before the game. Next to me on the train was a couple with their young son, all decked out in Sox gear, obviously going to the game. Great. Only, the woman was sporting a 2004 AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONS tee shirt. Who wears this knowing a WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS version is available?

More importantly, who buys it in the first place unless the Sox lose to the Cardinals? I remember being in Target after the Sox beat the Yankees but before the World Series had started, seeing all the AL shirts and saying to myself "Yeah, it makes perfect sense to buy something that could be obsolete next week."

Defeating the Yankees was huge but not renting-a-shirt huge, especially since the Cardinals series was over so quickly. It's like getting a hole-in-one and bragging that you broke par for the hole. Or winning an open ticket to a Gillette Stadium event and electing to go to a Revs game.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Alien 3(a)

Caught a bit of Alien Resurrection on cable the other night. Kane is rolling over in his infinite space-grave.

I like the idea of having scientists mess around with the aliens on a biochemical/molecular level, but they really took that idea and went nowhere with it. Instead we get a bunch of macho characters we don't care about (including Ripley, in this context) who try to out-moron one another while queuing up for the slaughter.

But the real problem begins earlier with Alien 3. I remember seeing it in the theater and actually enjoying myself. Thing is, with each subsequent viewing I found myself liking it less and less, and then disliking it more and more. The things that made the first two so fantastic were the strength of the stories and the well developed characters. I remember reading a review online a few years ago that asked the reader to name three non-Ripley characters from the first two movies. Piece of cake. But try doing that with the third and fourth. I don't even know Roc's or Winona's names in these movies. How are you supposed to care about these people? The wonderful thing about the first two movies is that, beginning with Kane's death, you know that anybody could be killed at any time. And you are concerned! Except for Burke (eventually), you root for them to live because they are genuine, frightened and funny people. You like them. 3 and 4? Throw them all in a pit of molten steel, for all I care.

So back to the reason I'm writing this. Alien 3 could have been amazing, and here's the rejected script to prove it. Too bad William Gibson got the shaft, because Hicks and Newt (two of the aforementioned Aliens characters we care about) are actually part of the story! They weren't killed off during the opening credits! That's good writing!

One nice twist that surprisingly works in his script (and is probably the reason this movie was never made) is that a comatose Ripley is barely in it. But she's the Ripley we loved from the first two, before she got all smug and weird, so we're still concerned about her survival. Anyway, without giving anything away, Gibson's script enters great new territory of politics and genetic experimentation. And it left things open for a fourth movie to take place on Earth, which is something the producers had been trying to do for years. Shamefully missed opportunity, but for a fan of Alien and Aliens the availability of the script rights a couple of bad wrongs.

While we're at it, this is marvelous.

Friday, August 19, 2005

I am it

I'd like to thank some internet dude for asking me to list ten songs I'm currently digging.

The downside is that I now have to tag five new people. This wouldn't be a problem if I weren't so new to blogging, and as a result I'll have to do some serious NEXT BLOG clicking when I return from vacation. Hopefully I'll have better luck with it than I've had so far, as I usually end up reading about Miami-based contractors and discount contact lenses. The Dolphins suck and their fans should welcome blindness. Anyway, this one goes to eleven because… I don't know, what are the hours?

1. Le Tigre – Deceptacon
2. The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Servo
3. White Stripes – My Doorbell
4. Stooges – Fun House
5. Cat Power – Free
6. Dead Meadow – The Whirlings
7. Mr. Lif – Phantom
8. Mountain – Sittin' on a Rainbow
9. Kinks – Wicked Annabella
10. Blue Cheer – Out of Focus
11. Dr. Octagon – 1977

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Get behind me critics

I'm listening to the White Stripes' Get Behind Me Satan and liking it more and more. Remember the kind of WTF response it received from much of the press? "Why is this so different? What's with all these weird instruments? Where is 'Seven Nation Army, Part 2: Eight Nation Army'?"

On the same day GBMS was released, Coldplay (a band I don't like) put out X&Y. The big critical response to this was "Boy, they just keep putting out the same record!" How do these assholes hold onto their jobs? Oh yeah, because they accept promotional copies as payment. And not a lot is expected from them:

"Hey junior, c'mere a minute. I'd like you to review a couple of records for us."

"Sure thing, boss. What have you got for me?"

"The new White Stripes and Coldplay albums. Have you heard them?"

"You bet!
Get Behind Me Satan is different from their last one, which I liked. It sucks! And then X&Y is the same as their last one, which I liked. It sucks!"

"Great work. Now get me a chicken cutlet, you fucking maggot."

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Kevin Millar is on dope

I nicked this Kevin Millar quote from the Sports Guy's site and couldn't resist:

"It's just like Tom Brady. If you had a fantasy football draft, he'd be your eighth, ninth, tenth quarterback picked. You'd want to take [Daunte] Culpepper, and you'll finish in third place. You want to take [Michael] Vick and Peyton Manning and all these guys. I may not hit a home run the rest of this year and we might win the World Series. And I'm a part of this team. Somehow, somewhere, I bring something."

Aside from the obvious insanity of comparing his own role on the Sox to Brady's on the Pats, I'd like Kevin Millar to tell me who, other than Culpepper, Vick and Manning (and they are all very arguable, especially Vick), he would pick for quarterback over Brady. Who?? McNabb? Big Ben? Maybe Favre if he comes equipped with a time machine? Kevin Millar, do you even watch football or just Pardon the Interruption?

Also, is this a standalone quote or was it part of some larger discussion, with him equating everyone on the Pats to someone on the Sox? As in, was he explaining who is the Tully Banta-Cain of the Sox? The Josh Miller? The Lonie Paxton? This is a exercise we need to fully explore. And we need the Tom Brady of the Boston Red Sox leading the way.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Enhanced offerings? No thanks.

I used to work in publishing, first in marketing and then selling college textbooks on campus. Sales was a decent gig, I got to meet a lot of nice people and see some beautiful New England schools. But after two years my conscience intervened and I resigned. (I also wasn't the best salesman.) At the time I was fresh enough from college to remember how tough it was paying prices that I recognized as outrageous. To make it worse, most books were used minimally throughout the semester before being refused at the buy-back counter because a new edition was forthcoming. Fast forward a few years and it's suddenly my job to keep that scam going.

So why am I bringing this up now? Because my new heroes, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, have called the publishing industry on it. Today they've released the results of a study of skyrocketing price increases across the education market, and it's a fantastic summation of everything that made me wash my hands of it (here is the abstract, with a link to view the complete findings). Essentially, books are expensive because more and more money is being poured into technology to accompany them. The Association of American Publishers, representing such titans as Pearson and Thomson (both of which have seen me come and go), would have you believe this is necessary in order to "meet the needs of students." Said technology likely consists of basic quizzing software that caters to students who've slipped through to college without being able to multiply fractions or string together sentences into a paragraph. At best. (View the AAP's full response. A golden calf!)

College publishing is a business of dirty tricks. See, in particular, "Concerns About Bundling," "Concerns About the Frequency of Revisions" and the first three paragraphs under "Concerns About Other Publisher Practices." These examples constitute ninety-five percent of my old job. It sucked.

Think of it this way: shopping for a new car, you're given the opportunity to customize what you want. All-wheel drive, sun roof, stem lube, whatever. And the price inches up with each of these options. In other words, the dealership isn't saying you have to buy a fully loaded vehicle or else nothing at all. Aha, but publishers do! Don't want a study guide? Too bad. Don't think you'll use the planetarium software? Too bad. Bundle? Bundle. You, my friend, are stuck with a fully loaded package. And what if the dealership imposes some hot custom paint job on the hood, only you don't want to advertise that you'd like to wine, dine and sixty-nine everybody in sight? It might hurt your resale value, much like a custom book with select chapters from here and there most definitely would, but that's not their problem. In fact, not reintroducing your… book… into the market ensures the sale of a brand new one down the line.

I know publishers aren't solely to blame. Campus bookstores are guilty of huge markups and many instructors are too lazy and/or apathetic to recognize a book's value or to seek out reasonable alternatives. But publishing is a big enough industry that it could clean up the whole operation, itself included, and produce stronger graduates. I'm all for capitalism, but don't tell the student with the $150 organic chemistry book under his arm that you're helping him become a better student—he's a goddamn consumer.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Keeping music evil

As far as I can tell, the marvelous Brian Jonestown Massacre has made all of its recorded output (excepting the new We Are the Radio EP) available as free-and-legal downloads on the band's website. What a refreshing example of putting art above commerce. I still recommend buying the CDs because I'm "that guy" who's a sucker for packaging and liner notes, but this is a great way to make sure you like what you're paying for.

I've been a fan since '98 when "Wisdom" from Strung Out in Heaven was in heavy rotation on Boston College's WZBC (90.3 for those of you in eastern Mass.; and I mean eastern Mass., because you can't tune it in much past 128). Picked up that album and a few others since. Anton Newcombe may catch a lot of heat, most of it earned, but goddammit if he can't write a great song. Full-on chaos surrounds his band like skin but that shouldn't affect how someone feels about the music. He probably agrees.

I'm not one to hype a "best of" compilation but you can't go wrong with their double-disc retrospective Tepid Peppermint Wonderland. It's well sequenced and highlights everything you'd want in an introduction while encouraging more thorough exploration. Good liner notes too, even if the cover looks like it was designed using PageMaker in 1996. As it happens, just like all three albums they released in 1996—"Come and get me motherfuckers," indeed!

(Aside: it kills me that the Eagles' Their Greatest Hits is one of the best-selling "albums" of all time. Shouldn't a collection be disqualified from this hackneyed achievement? Give me something a band constructed, preferably with liberal distortion, instead of a record company chump picking and choosing from a Billboard hit list.) (Full disclosure: I own The Best of Mountain. But it's fucking Mountain.)

While browsing the catalog on Amazon you might as well pick up Dig! as well. I enjoyed watching Anton single-handedly write and record a track—guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, tambourine and sitar if I remember right—while the rest of the posse was off getting messed up. He'll outlive all of us.

Saturday, August 6, 2005

Zenith year!

Driving home from dinner the other night I tuned in the local oldies station. They were having a "this week in 1968" show and playing the hits of the day—in a 10-minute span I heard "Time Has Come Today" (alas, the single edit), "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Hurdy Gurdy Man." Those are great songs! I mean, can a better case be made that 1968 was the year in music? What year was better? Can you tell me? No! You can't!

In the mainstream (or its proximity), 1968 brought us the following:

Jeff Beck, Truth
Blue Cheer, Vinebus Eruptum + Outsideinside
Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison
Cream, Wheels of Fire
Donovan, The Hurdy Gurdy Man
The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Electric Ladyland
Kinks, The Village Green Preservation Society
John Mayall, Bare Wires + Blues From Laurel Canyon
Monkees The Birds, the Bees and the Monkees + Head
Os Mutantes
Pink Floyd, A Saucerful of Secrets
Pretty Things, SF Sorrow
Rolling Stones, Beggars Banquet
Small Faces, Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake
Spirit, The Family That Plays Together
Steppenwolf, Steppenwolf + Steppenwolf the Second
Taj Mahal, The Natch'l Blues
The Velvet Underground, White Light/White Heat
Zombies, Odessey and Oracle

Arguably, the best each of these artists had to offer. Imagine if other contemporary bands got their shit together and put out albums that reflected their skills that year. The Beatles, though popular, is only great with an ability to ignore dreck like "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and "Birthday" on your way to "Dear Prudence" and "Revolution 1." At least this was the year of the "Hey Jude"/"Revolution" single so it was no throwaway for the lads. Though maybe improved if Paul did turn out to be dead? Harsh!

As for the Doors, '68 was the beginning of a slide they amazingly recovered from two years later. We can probably blame Elektra for Waiting for the Sun—they pushed for an album, any album, despite two '67 releases and Morrison's empty art-school poetry well. "Five to One," "Hello, I Love You" and "Not to Touch the Earth" are fantastic songs that point to the album's potential but filler reigned ("My Wild Love"??) after side-long suite "The Celebration of the Lizard" fell apart in the studio and was largely discarded. "We were afraid to touch it." Drag.

Mourning over what 1968 wasn't is just greedy. Great singles like Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Suzie Q" and the Animals' "Sky Pilot" legitimized FM radio in the States and carved a counterculture out of some heavy shit. It wasn't the Summer of Love and it wasn't Altamont but it had a little of both. From chaos, etc., etc.

In celebration of this time and spirit I recommend Cumular Limit by the Yardbirds. It compiles some tracks they were working on in '67 and '68 (presumably for a new album) alongside a few live hits and alternate mixes of Little Games material. Out of print but easy to find on eBay, it's a great bridge from Page-era Yardbirds to Zeppelin. Another is James Brown's Say It Live and Loud, a white-hot blast documenting a '68 Dallas performance. Come for "Cold Sweat" and stay for a very interesting booklet indeed.

(Incidentally, I'd give the silver to 1970 and the bronze to 1969. Typecast!)

Friday, August 5, 2005

So I’m a blogger

It's about time, too, since I set this account up two months ago after enjoying Paul Shirley's fun blog and deciding to jump in. I've never kept a journal or anything so my first goal will be to write in my own voice and not one resembling Shirley's (or Bill Simmons's, Ken Tremendous's or Jason Josephes's) (S apostrophe S is correct in all instances). In general these things are about reaction instead of debate, preferably well written though mostly unimportant, and if you can't speak for yourself then why bother? We'll see how it goes.

"Biff, Bang, Pow" is the title of a Creation B-side from 1967 as well as a repeated lyric from a Make Up B-side ("Pow! to the People") from 1998, so there you go, the perfect marriage. (I guess it's also the name of an eighties English band but that doesn't concern me.) As a result (and as a recovering music snob) I'll try to make some song or album recommendation from time to time, in keeping with a "theme." And who knows what else? Sports? Television? International debt? "Don't be so gullible, McFly."

I do like my plain-Jane design—clean lines and squared corners forever! The only thing more powerful than my words will be a zealous approach to minimalism and proper grammar, qualities at which people often stare blankly or roll their eyes but that I find to be intellectually stimulating. Sorry ladies, I have a girlfriend.

Thank you for reading post number one.