Hi All

July 8, 2009

So, I’ve been saying I’d kick start this thing for real for about a year and a half. Well, the time has come. I have a friend who’s a web designer who’s going to give this thing a glossy new sheen, and I’ll be updating it close to daily (though with albeit shorter posts). I don’t know exactly when this is going to come about, but… well, it will, so secure the furniture and make sure your insurance is up-to-date, because shit is likely to get raw.

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Blarney and such

March 17, 2009

About a month ago, my father went in for some routine surgery on his hand (for the sake of hilarious irony, apparently). For the surgery, he had to put on a shower cap so his hair (though there wasn’t much of it) wouldn’t fall into the incision. Of course, the shower cap made his ears look ENORMOUS, and my mother commented that “that’s just his Swedish ears for ya!” The surgeon then lit up, and said, “Oh, you’re Swedish???” and then proceeded to talk in Swedish to him for about a minute before he pointed out that he was not SWEDEN Swedish, but actually HALF Swedish by way of Minnesota. The doctor then shrugged, pumped my dad full of anesthesia, and cut open his hand.

My issue here is that most Americans– alright, white Americans– take a little too much pride in their heritage. It’s not that I have a problem with people having pride in who they are ethnically (I’d thank God for the olive oil-drenched food every day of my life were I Italian). It’s just the idea that having a sliver of a particular nationality suddenly fills you with rabid national pride, despite the fact that your everyday life is painfully white bread American, is grating at best and grounds for having your limbs sawed off at worst. This doesn’t bother me to a limb-mutilating extent the rest of the year, but irks me to some extent on St. Patrick’s Day.

Now, if the streets were filled with red haired, fair skinned folk sloshing around a pint of Guinness with stomachs full of painfully bland boiled food on March 17 every year, hey, that’s be cause for celebration! But St. Patrick’s Day is an excuse to go out and get the 1/8 or 1/4 of yourself drunk, then scream about how you’re Irish and this is your favorite day of the year. One could argue that it’s offensive to wed the holiday most closely associated with Irish Americans to marathon drinking; I say it’s offensive to sell it as praising Ireland when all it’s really doing is praising drinking. Hell, why NOT praise drinking? It adds to social grace (at least at the time), makes anthemic music more enjoyable, gets you out of driving home, makes sex as fun as a jungle gym, and reintroduces you to the awesomeness of hugging and high fiving. But to have frat boys in baseball caps 3/4 of the way off the heads and preppie-sluts wearing green beads pounding beer and whiskey and overjoyed about how one set their great grandparents were Irish before they decided to fuck makes me want to slam my head in my freezer door.

Look, I’m 1/4 Irish, and my parents gave both me and my sister Irish names because that was the one nationality they shared. My mother boils food from time to time, and I add salt and hot sauce. I don’t tan. I get it. But as much as I enjoy getting shlammered, I don’t need a wedge of my heritage to excuse that. I will admit that the general greenness, abundance of shamrocks, and the mere idea that there’s a day dedicated to a part of my heritage is nice. But the fact that this day is used to loudly and drunkenly flout said heritage, no matter how little of you is a part of said heritage, makes me want to drive the drunk sorta-Irishmen from the country like the eponymous saint of the day (get drunk in Canada, you fucking douchebags). Getting wasted and celebrating your Irish pride amidst an overwhelming prejudice from a country you’re just trying to survive in is one thing; skipping your next day’s community college classes due to your wicked hangover is another. If the majority of the county uses St. Patrick’s Day to get righteously plastered, why not get rid of the whole Irish thing and call it Crunk Day, International WOOOOOO Appreciation Day, or Bacchanalia?

So no, Stacy Leibowitz, I will not kiss your herpes-addled lips because you’re 1/8 Irish. And no, Matty Polowski, the Dropkick Murphys are not awesome. (Being a Boston Red Sox fan and Irish immediately puts me on the defensive. I’m so tired of apologizing for guys named Smitty anywhere outside of Massachusetts…) I love being partially Irish, and I love drinking. But good Lord, I don’t know how much longer I can take shitty white people mashing the two together to form a horrific casserole of stale Guinness, vomit, green beads, and a March 18th morning filled with shame.

Loathing Out Loud… on the Internet

March 16, 2009

In my post yesterday about Larry the etc., I “thanked” him for “git-r-dun”, in that it’s a great barometer for telling who the shit human being in the room is (or whatever I wrote). Sadly, I feel the same way in internet correspondence about the dreaded “lol”. Though, lol is more troubling, in that while the vast majority of my friends are equally, if not more, disgusted by “git-r-dun”, good friends have began or have always used the “word” regularly. My hatred for lol is bottomless, and I’m afraid it’s making its way, more and more, into my everyday life. It is because of this that I put a radical thought forward: we get rid of “lol” altogether. Or at least, of course, start using it correctly.

 

I won’t lie and say that I’ve never lol-ed anyone in an electronic conversation before. But when did I employ it? When I was Laughing Out Loud, motherfuckers. For this is the meaning of this achingly simple “word,” one which demands no intellect to decipher. With certain people, I even take its use as an honor: to make one laugh out loud instead of just smile or chuckle is an achievement with icier folk, and means you’re warming their hearts, even if in the slightest. But it’s the age of Tweeting on your Blackberry in line for the first half of the last season of “The Hills” on DVD at Best Buy-ification of the English language that has made “lol” the figurehead, the sacrificial lamb, the George W. Bush of obnoxious internet speak. Sure, RTFLMAO is twice as obnoxious, because the vivid nature of the words abbreviated (in my 10 or so years of internet correspondence, I’ve sadly never gotten the impression that someone had just gotten up off the floor after laughing their ass off at something they just said), but lol is used so frequently and SO inaccurately that it’s easily the most annoying part of this up-and-coming generation’s growing lexicon of internet slang.

 

And it is for that realization that I demand we rewrite its rules. In my mind, there has to be a hierarchy of displaying laughter via Instant Message. It should begin with “ha,” an expression of mild amusement, perhaps at a joke too witty to warrant laughter in any real life situation, or maybe out of pity-cum-annoyance. Next would be “haha,” expressing amusement, though perhaps more of an internalized funny than a primitive funny (make-you-think funny in lieu of ha-ha funny, if you will). Next up would be “hahahahaha,” or some variation of it, where the word is repeated more than twice. This could indicate actual laughter, or the maximum amusement that make-you-think funny could allow. The next step up, “HAHAHAHAHAHA,” is predictably the last category, but more intensified, THEN followed by the reviled “lol,” being used in its literal sense. In other words, if I see “lol” somewhere, your ass better be laughing.

 

That is perhaps what bothers me the most. The way lol is used is denotes that either some people are just laughing at shit all the fucking time, or are using it disingenuously, which is perhaps the biggest insult of all. My first realization of this horrible phenomenon came about when I was accompanying a friend somewhere, and showed up early to find her typing to someone via instant messenger, using lol liberally and NOT LAUGHING AT ALL. Why bother using this phrase unless you’re laughing out loud? Are you that comfortable lying to people you know? Has lol suffered the same fate as MTV, forgetting the meaning of its acronym and just existing as something else entirely?

 

My biggest issue, though, is its presence in my immediate world. I’m no longer young enough to be part of the generation that uses lol and its many horrible cousins on a daily basis, so it’s a bit sad seeing my friends use it via instant messenger, email, Facebook status, and the like as if they WERE young enough to abuse it, as if a sad attempt to reclaim their place in the youth of America. A lol every now and then for those in the above 25 crowd is tolerable, I suppose, but to use it in the same flog-it-out-of-existence manner in which the 25-and-under crowd brings to mind a picture of some second-chance woman in her 40s sporting Mom Jeans and a hunger for sex for the first time since her dehumanizing divorce. It’s pathetic cloaked in faux-relevance no matter what age uses it, but a lol from someone who knows better is clearly knows better is on par with cleaning up the scattered remnants of a puppy thrown into a woodchipper in terms of sadness. Perhaps there can be no lol reform, and we should just get rid of it. But in the interim, it’s one of the (admittedly many) things that sends an icy shiver of hatred down my spine upon its sight, and perhaps my (and your) world would be better if it were  buried alive in the same graveyard as “groovy” and “tubular.”

An Open Letter to Larry the Cable Guy

March 16, 2009

Dear Larreth T. Cableguy:

In honor of your Comedy Central Roast (like a Friar’s Club Roast for the rented tux crowd, of which I am admittedly a part), I’ve decided to write down what my contribution would have been on my blog, as that’s what people who aren’t famous use for their blathering.

So, you’re awful. Just fucking awful. You’re a malignant cyst on the already pimply ass of shitty comedy. If Louis CK, Chris Rock, or Patton Oswalt are like the Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchette, and Kate Winslett of comedy, respectively, you are the nameless, 46-year old woman that has neighborhood hobos shit on her chest for $20. You are a supermassive black hole of anything funny, degrading laughter to a mocking bray toward anything that was ever likable, beautiful, or worthwhile in the world. Your unending quest to tickle the worst in the worst people for the sake of almost-humor has become the personification of why the rest of the world thinks we’re the mentally challenged gas station attendant wearing a cowboy hat and chewing Skoal of industrialized nations. You make Jeff Dunham, Carrot Top, and Bill Engvall look like the Holy fucking Trinity. You are everything I hate about America, and everything people will be telling their kids about like our grandparents used to tell us about Klan members lynching people for letting black people drink from a white water fountain. You will be nothing but a great source of shame for our nation, let alone the world of comedy.

You’re not only not funny, but the leader of a movement of people who think humor should be an aggressive attack on people that don’t consider the funyon a food group. “Git-r-dun” is admittedly something I should thank you for, in that it’s a great barometer for figuring out who the shit human being is in the room in a split second’s time.  I think you should spend the tens of millions of dollars you made last year and buy out a half hour of prime time television and fucking apologize to the people you’ve offended (and not in a PC way, but by being so fucking unfunny that people feel violated) with your Sherman’s March of anticomedy over the world Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, George Carlin, Dave Chappelle, the aforementioned Chris Rock and Louis CK among many, many others spent years building and perfecting to wonderfully play to the collective world’s joy and happiness. You’re not funny; you’re a fucking violation of the Geneva Convention. Shame on you for thinking you were anything else. Everything you’ve done is a direct assault to everything the world has done over tens of thousands of years to bring ourselves up from shivering in caves and eating roots and berries. Though you’ve made more money in a year than most comedians would make over the course of their careers, you’ve done it by sucking off the lowest common denominator so proficiently.

Please retire. Retire to an island in the middle of the Pacific no one knows about, and wear clothes made out of palms and drink rain water out of coconuts. It’s much more than you deserve, but so long as you’re out of our collective consciousness, what the fuck should I care?

…I’m just kidding, big guy. I lov ya!

Sincerely,
Shaun

Tolerating the intolerent

March 11, 2009

The most shocking thing about the recent news that Burzum’s Varg Vikernes is going to be released from a Norwegian prison in the near future isn’t so much the music he’ll make once he’s out, the actions he might take (what with his ties to Neo-Nazi groups and such), or even the crime that put him in Der Biggenhaus to begin with (stabbing a dude more than 20 times– a few of those stabs in the head). No, it’s that you can stab another guy 20+ times, be paroled once then be promptly brought back to jail after going AWOL and being caught with a bunch of knives (which Varg did a few years ago), and still get out of your 21 year jail sentence 5 years early in Norway! Mr. Vikernes’ crime would be pretty extreme here– certainly enough to earn him a life sentence or a trip to the gas chamber or… injection bench– in my Country of Origin, and the dude would never see the light of day again had the aforementioned AWOL incident happened during parole. One would hope the man has matured enough not to horribly injure and/or kill anyone in the foreseeable future, and I can’t figure out if Norway’s faith in the goodness of man is endearing or infuriating. (I’m leaning toward the latter, though a lifetime of fatalism and cynicism has a whole lot to do with that.)

 

My biggest issue with Varg and Burzum– one and the same, in that the former is the only member of the latter– is properly distributing the significance between the man’s horrible beliefs and actions as a younger man and his sizable contributions to the world of black metal. Burzum are a part of the Unholy Four of True Norwegian Black Metal, along with Mayhem, Emperor, and Darkthrone, and their influence is perhaps the most heavily weighed upon in the four. While Mayhem’s sloppy almost-punk approach paved the way, Emperor’s regal flourishes gave it a nice coat of polish, and Darkthrone made it nice and dirty again, Burzum’s claim to fame were those sad, morose, buzzsaw guitar arpeggios that inform both the basement-recording one man bands (whose approach and desire to record by themselves was no doubt a fire lit by Varg) and the more weighty elements of Nachtmystium, Krallice, and Wolves in the Throne Room (among many others both in and not in America) are rooted firmly in Burzum’s raw yet rich stylings. And yet, the one man responsible for them is an adamant racist and anti-Semite that stabbed a man to death over a business dispute (though he claims the attack was preemptive), not to mention the church burnings. Like the Sex Pistols, Burzum (along with Darkthrone) represents everything that’s come to be viewed negatively (and, due to the extreme nature of the elements, rightfully so) about black metal: Nazi fetishism, the hypocrisy of fighting against the church’s oppression by pressing one’s heathenist views upon it, and, of course, corpsepaint and raspy vocals with the occasional demo that sounds like it was recorded via a boombox with a sock over it. Varg Vikernes was perhaps black metal’s Sid Vicious, even if he was astronomically more talented than the man (read: any talent at all).

 

Burzum’s music was always dangerous, though. Hatecore and other music written by and for racists always had the wonderful handicap of being boring, derivative hardcore with lyrics about racial holy wars or white power or whatever. But Burzum and the so called NSBM (National Socialist Black Metal, a subgenre of the subgenre of black metal) bands that cropped up later on were creating a new kind of music, seemingly rooted in hate and prejudice. And though I agree with many that to dismiss black metal as nothing but the music of racists and exclusively for whites is horribly ignorant, Varg doesn’t necessarily make our argument easy. In fact, I avoided Burzum until about a year ago because his personal views so differed from mine. Though I’m unaware of any Burzum Classic songs that are about white power or genocide (though there are probably more than a few anti-Christian numbers, calling out a metal band for being anti-Christian is like putting out a hit on an ant), the fact that it may have been there– and Burzum did move on to be an ambient music act later on, mainly due to Varg’s realization that black metal was rooted in rock and roll which was created by *gasp* black people but also due to the fact that the prison wouldn’t allow him to make and record music anymore– was always off-putting enough. I heard them a few times in passing, and recognized the influence in many of my favorite black metal bands (Xasthur is essentially the American remake of Burzum), but never sought them out. They remained taboo to me. Of course, that eventually changed.

 

In an almost completely overmatched comparison, Richard Wagner– the brilliant composer who, on top of being the most respected and influential figure in music since Beethoven at that point, served almost solely as the bridge between the Romantic and Modern eras– was a raving anti-Semite in his personal life, to the degree where Hitler regularly employed the music of Wagner for rallies, parades, and so forth. And yet, Wagner’s operas were never ABOUT anti-Semitism, but Norse mythology and all the other crap people wrote Romantic operas about. To dismiss Wagner because he was an anti-Semite is ridiculous, as his music serves as an important and substantial base in much of the music we enjoy today, even outside of the classical realm (though I don’t excuse him for hating Jews because “everyone else did at the time!”, and have always found that a bogus explanation for being a fucking bigot). And, to a much lesser extent, it’d be silly to simply ignore Burzum simply because it was composed of an angry, silly, hateful, pasty kid in his twenties. So, I checked the band out about a year ago after flip-flopping, and felt slightly guilty even as the albums were downloading. And the results, unsurprisingly, were middling!

 

After all that buildup, I’d forgotten that Burzum are a True black metal band, i.e. one of the progenitors of the genre and massively influential, yet undercooked and derivative, just like early Mayhem, Darkthrone, and Emperor. The difference is, of course, that those bands would go on to do much more substantial and interesting things later on in their careers. Burzum, due to the whole little stabbing thing, never got that chance, so the music is stuck in a state of arrested development, never improving upon its fundamentals in the way Varg could (and perhaps should) have. The self titled/Aske release is interesting but overall underwhelming, stretching good ideas entirely too thin over the course of 7-8 minutes per song. The real indicator of Vikernes’ squandered potential, though, lies in Filosofem, the record recorded right before the murder that put him in jail and released after his sentence began. Though marred by a 25 minute instrumental ambient track situated smack-fucking-dab in the middle (a pretentious and confusing decision on his part), the album is full of mean-but-melancholy black metal, peppered with what is my favorite Burzum (and perhaps favorite black metal overall) song “Jesu Dod”. The song is based around one killer straight up black metal riff, and some fussy drums that are oddly propulsive, both for black metal and for Burzum itself. The songs rhythmic fussiness almost gives it a dark post-punk sheen worthy of Joy Division or Dead Can Dance, making the fact that the song goes on about a minute or two longer than it should not an issue. One could listen to the main riff over those drums endlessly, and Varg apparently takes you up on that.

 

It’d be cool to think that perhaps he’s made an American History X-style turnaround, and leave jail a new, open minded man. Varg stated last year that when he begins making new music again, it will resemble old Burzum and not the ambient road they took after their sole band member was incarcerated. Who knows if this is for artistic, fiscal, or ideological reasons. But the issue with thick-headed white guys is that they tend not to change their minds, even after losing sixteen years of their life to a stupid thing they did almost two decades prior. Varg will probably keep spouting the same boneheaded, racialist tripe that has become so closely associated with him. And, as a consequence, those who enjoy black metal will continue to be thought of as the sort of people that enjoy music made by racists. And even despite the fact that Krallice’s drummer is a big ol’ Jew and a Burzum fan, Wolves in the Throne Room have said they denounce Nazi ideology and hold “eco-feminist” views yet listen to Filosofem while working on their farm, and Blake from Nachtmystium has constantly said his band is strictly “apolitical” and clearly has a Burzum fetish, people will continue to oversimplify. Even though, admittedly, they’re oversimplifying for an incredibly valid reason, is it fair to attribute the intolerant views of one onto many?

 

Winds of Plague’s Unintentional Psychology Lesson

February 8, 2009

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance

…clearly the fact that theirs music fucking sucks only makes things more unpleasant.

Refusal’s Acceptance

February 4, 2009

Being ambivalent about Morrissey’s solo material comes with the territory of being a Smiths obsessive. While the Smiths’ catalog is remarkably consistent and somewhat plentiful for a relatively short-lived band, Morrissey has spent the last 20 years being incredibly hit or miss, dropping some great songs on the general mopey populous while surrounding them with bland, lifeless filler. And it’s not fair to hold Morrissey to such high standards: How many solid Paul McCartney albums can you name? Neil Young has spent the last 30 years making spotty-to-unlistenable records. And though Dylan’s late career Renaissance has been inspiring, it followed almost 2 decades of shoddy material. Most artists and bands are inconsistent, as they’re staffed with people and not futuristic, chrome pop robots. Morrissey, though inconsistent, also has his great, even classic, moments: “Suedehead”, “Every Day is Sunday”, “Tomorrow”, “The More Your Ignore Me, The Closer I Get”, “First of the Gang to Die”, “Irish Blood, English Heart”, “You Have Killed Me”, “The Youngest Was the Most Loved”, and so forth. A Morrissey album can be tough to get through; a Morrissey hits collection (of which there are several, in that good ol’ Steven Patrick can’t pay for that Roman villa on Vauxhall and I money anymore) could suffice.

Of course, this is up until recently, when Years of Refusal collectively kicked whiny Smiths fans (redundant?) in the unlovables. Morrissey’s latter albums (You are the Quarry in ’04 and Ringleader of the Tormentors in ’07) have both been rousing returns to form in many respects, but still felt bloated and partially forgettable. There’s nothing forgettable about Years of Refusal, a succinct and hungry record that is probably the most punk thing Morrissey has done since the Smiths (and the Smiths weren’t really punk). Recorded with Morrissey’s full band live in studio, it feels urgent and energetic, even despite the occasional mid-paced romp or ballad. The grandiosity of Ringleader of the Tormentors often felt overblown and overorchestrated– epic for epic’s sake (see: “Life is a Pig Sty”). But “It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore” rattles the rafters, lush and beautiful by nature instead of by effort, as do many of the record’s other songs. And though Morrissey has never sounded tired or pathetic on his solo work– right on up through Ringleader— he sounds renewed and punchy on Refusal, hitting notes he seemingly abandoned after the Smiths disbanded. Morrissey has usually been best for rainy days (or “under slate gray Victorian sky” as the man himself once miserably opined), but Years of Refusal is righteously pissed, trading his penchant for Wilde-ian camp for his other penchant for the New York Dolls. Its energy and urgency leads to, arguably, the best and most consistent album Morrissey’s done on his own.

Of course, “on his own” is an inaccurate statement: Morrissey’s band– together in their current incarnation for only a few years– are top fucking notch, thunderous and melodic to perfectly compliment Moz’s velvety croon. Though the guitars are enormous and fitting, the MVP goes to former Filter/Smashing Pumpkins sticksman Matt Walker, all over the drumkit in a jaw dropping fashion. Though Morrissey’s solo work is usually consumed for purposes of admiring the lyrics, vocals melodies or just the timeless voice itself, Years of Refusal is the first– if ever– Morrissey CD worth returning to for the songs. (The fierce/tender opener “Something is Squeezing my Skull” gave me the same sort of chills I received upon hearing “London”, “Panic”, or “The Queen is Dead” for the first time.) I’d never really counted Morrissey out, despite seemingly constant touring on the nostalgia circuit and a few Best of packages, but this is the first time he’s come storming into my consciousness in a good, long while. Welcome back, Moz. It’s good to see that you’re still a miserable prick after all these years. And rest assured, I mean that in the best way possible.

Perhaps We Misunderestimated You After All…

January 21, 2009

So, in a moment that my office was kind enough to give me leave time for, I watched former (former!) President Bush board a helicopter– Executive One, not Marine One, as CNN unendingly informed me– after giving a half-assed wave to the public that had so intensely turned on him. Seeing him fly off, his supervillian vice president in a Strangelovian wheelchair off in a motorcade, filled me with a surreal moment of joy. Though my knowledge of the Constitution isn’t as thorough as I’d like it to be, I do know that Presidents are limited to two terms. That being said, I genuinely, though not necessarily consciously, thought we were doomed to a lifetime of watching our President bumble through and consequently destroy everything the past 42 had worked so hard to shape. But here we are, that loathsome asshole finally being relegated back to Texas indefinitely, giving the occasional Frost/Nixon-style interview when not clearing brush, wearing a multi-thousand dollar cowboy hat, or drafting a memoir made up entirely of three-syllable-or-less words (My guess for a title? Leading is Awesome.) And it also came as a relief to see our new, shiny Commander-in-Chief walking back up the stairs to get back to business, much like how I would say goodbye to my parents after having lunch with them in college. “It’s been nice, but I have things to do.”

 

All that being said, there are some things that I will miss about George W. Bush. Yes, miss. Some of this may partially come from the fact that after being swept up in a message of capital-C Change, I’ve apparently forgotten that I hate change, even if it’s from a negative circumstance to a positive. (Hell, I lived in the same apartment in Yonkers, NY, for 3 years instead of moving to the much larger City just south of it.) But some of this comes with the decent ways W affected my day-to-day life. I was surprised as well to find that there were positive ways in which his abysmal administration and his generally dunderheaded ongoings touched me, but they’re there. I suppose I’ll miss the following:

 

1) Hilarity factor.

The scariest part of an Obama administration, for me, was that I have yet to see a successful lampoon of him. The guy seemingly spent his campaign in a Teflon Bob Mackey suit, brushing off allegations and negative stereotypes like dandelion seeds, from a crazy former pastor to links to a bomb-crazy anarchist to directly stating a large portion of the electorate he was pursuing clung to their guns and religion when things weren’t going their way. And while this was an inspiring bit of political mastery on one hand, it also meant it was damn near impossible to poke fun at him. At first, I shrugged off Fox News’ sad, sad attempt at Daily Show-style comedy via the Half Hour News Hour as further proof that Conservatives– obsessed with the status quo, rules, and morality– have nothing to rage against, therefore aren’t capable of being funny. And while I don’t necessarily disbelieve that, it became apparent that NO ONE could make fun of him. After Amy Pohler and Tina Fey’s inspired takes on the candidates du jour, seeing Fred Armison do an admirable impression of Barack left me empty, in that while it was accurate, there was nothing funny about it. With Bush, you could watch the man sans any commentary but your own sense of decency and find something to laugh at, let alone the hours of material he provided our nation’s laughmeisters. But I’m genuinely afraid that after Bill Clinton’s chicken-fried accent, George H.W. Bush’s neutered blathering, Ronald Reagan’s inimitable diction and senility, Jimmy Carter’s hayseed sensibility, and Chevy Chase’s brilliant non-impression of Gerald Ford, Obama could be the first President since Lyndon Johnson that can’t get a firm comedic prodding. Conservative assholes will insist this is a symptom of the Left’s love affair with him; I argue that there’s really nothing to laugh at. It has nothing to do with the man’s ability as a leader or his personal life, but instead the fact that he’s just not funny. I’ll miss that about W, I suppose: though it usually accompanied nauseating amounts of corruption, dead troops, and disturbing incidents of job-related ignorance, every day was a new day to laugh at something involving our borderline-retarded leader.

 

2) Moments of disappointment peppered with slivers of less disappointment

For me, it was hard to differentiate between the man and the men behind the man for the last 8 years. Though Bush readily made himself the figurehead of the evils of his administration, I never truly got the sense that he was an evil man. A profoundly dumb man, yes, but never the Nixonian devilry of his vice president or the ulterior motive-packed intentions of his cabinet. When pressed to give an example of a thing Bush did of which I approved, I always point to Christmas 2003, which he spent with the American troops in Iraq. The war was still in the eerie calm before everyone and their mother in Fallujah was bombing shit, and America still hadn’t seen the proof that would justify our thick-headed charge into the country. Bush has stood by his decision to this day and beyond, but it was then that he seemed truly sympathetic, briefly acknowledging the human cost of the war he had waged. Though he’d do worse things after it, and doing the worst thing in sending our guys in there to begin with, it was a moment where I nodded and thought, “Actually, that’s kind of cool.”

 

Same goes for the day his daughter got married. The Today Show (I caught it in passing. Please don’t mistake me for a Today Show enthusiast.) showed a picture of said daughter and her twin sister on the day they were born, with their wide eyed, dumbly grinning father holding one of them on each arm. He wasn’t the man I’d come to despise after stealing the election in which my first vote ever was cast, but instead someone’s beaming father, right down to the hospital scrubs and the profound look of hope and possibility on his face. Neither of these moments really defined what he did in his presidency, and ultimately didn’t shape my opinion of him. But those bits of sympathy and humanity were welcome breaks from the bile-blooded hatred I reserved for him and his ilk, as that can get tiring after a while, let alone the better part of a decade. I suppose I’ll have to be moved by actual moments of achievement now.

 

3) Being an immovable member of the opposition.

The great thing about the ’90s was that everything was OK. Things weren’t great, and there were most certainly problems, but for all the bellyaching the Right and Far Left did (and do) about Clinton, he kept things A-OK. Case in point: Rage Against the Machine could rage against more underground issues, like Mumia Abu-Jamal or Leonard Peltier. The underground, radical issues they shed light on would have been lost in the fray in the last 8 years of broad quasi-tyranny and stark partisan divisions. Which is why it always irked me that they broke up right before Bush really started to tear shit apart (the same goes for At the Drive-In and the “on hiatus” Fugazi). But because I was only 7 when Reagan left office and hadn’t even been thought of being conceived in the ’60s, I’d never known what it was like to stand in total opposition to those in power. And I’m not saying that I’m planning on being a total sycophant for Team Obama, but there’s a difference between being displeased and being outraged. Outrage, while more exhausting, makes for better stories and a more concrete sense of victory when the symbol of all the injustice and possible undoing of your nation walks onto a helicopter to go the fuck home after wreaking as much havoc as legally allotted.

 

 

 

That being said, I won’t MISS him miss him. But there are aspects on the fringes of his time as the head of us that I’d grown to enjoy. Now, where’s my new job, Obama? Get on that.

 

The Overwhelming Meh-ness of Scrubs

January 7, 2009

Our increasingly bipolar culture has come to loathe the middle ground, seeing it as a noncommittal realm where those who don’t have the courage to suck or excel reside. Of course, in actuality, it’s here where most entertainment lies, much of it either unjustly panned or ridiculously praised in order to make it seem more important or offensive than it really is. Though being a moody bastard precludes me from truly appreciating the middle ground, I still wade there, confused about how Night Court is considered a great sitcom, or Bon Jovi is a tried and true band worthy of copious praise or “they ruined music” venom, or even how Spanglish is a movie that marks a new low in American cinema or a true slice of emotional transcendence. To me, they’re just sort of… there. My life is no different knowing they exist, and I don’t think I’d be lacking any enlightenment were they to remain in oblivion. Apparently we’re here to polarize, even though most of what we encounter truly exemplifies “OK.”

The epitome of this for me right now is Scrubs. I’ve spent almost all the time since its inception trying to figure out what in the fuck I think about this show. Is it a slice of impish comic brilliance or a melodramatic succession of unfunny jokes book ended by shallow emotional framing devices that leave the show somewhere between fatally uneven and unwatchable to anyone not run by their gut? Early in the show’s run, I thought the former, and in the last few years, I came to think the latter. But now, with the show in a completely unnecessary amount of syndication (it currently runs on ABC with reruns on Fox, Comedy Central, and TV Land– the latter being a channel devoted to reruns of all television up to now– while 30 Rock currently runs in my darkened living room with a giggling me as its audience), I’ve had time to reconsider. The show is the apex of completely acceptable comedy. It is not, however, the worst show on TV, nor its most consistent. It’s just OK, which of course confounds me as far as its divisive reaction is concerned.

That last sentence isn’t exactly true; I know the show’s Achilles heel/Christ-like figure of emo-humor is douche extraordinaire Zach Braff. His “OK guys, let’s get serious for a minute” voiceovers virtually ruin every episode to some extent. But watching Scrubs regularly makes this akin to having an adorable, sociable, playful puppy come to your house a few times a week, roll around and be insatiable, then end your time together by taking a shit on your floor. You knew it was possible, you knew there was a distinct probability it would happen, and after spending more time with the animal, it becomes apparent that the puppy will do that every time. But it’s not your puppy, so you can’t do anything about it. It’s not your fault, but the fault of the owner. However, it’s still shit, and I can’t think of that many people that want dog shit on the floor.

The “feelings” portion of each show has been justified to me as both “necessary, because it’s set in a hospital” and as postmodernism. I disagree with them both (comedy doesn’t always need to observe the boundaries of realism and decency and that referencing the “feelings” portions within the episode is postmodern, not the existence of the “feelings” monologues themselves, respectively). And that ruined the show for me at first, magnifying the bucket of cringe-inducing earnestness that was Zach Braff’s tour de self important shit Garden State. But there are elements of the show that are damn funny, even inspired.

Like most mainstream entertainment, especially in the time we’re stuck in, it isn’t half bad once the blatant and dissonant emoting is removed from the equation. Though lacking the ensemble brilliance of 30 Rock or the complete absence of regard for sentimentality of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Scrubs has many, many enjoyable moments. Though many of the show’s bits, cutaways, and running gags fall dismally flat, the ones that don’t are the reasons to come back to the show. They range from goofy to shockingly subversive (Scrubs’ more inspired jokes touch upon surprisingly candid jabs at race and filthy, filthy sexual innuendos, among others), and almost always have at least one really exemplary bit in each episode. Not to mention John C. McGinley’s Dr. Cox, whose violently anti-emotional counterpart to Braff’s wounded faun makes for the show’s most consistent element, and probably provides the show’s few genuinely likable sentimental moments. Scrubs is like Taco Bell: it’s bad to live on a steady diet of it, but it’s not nearly as bad as they tell you it is.

But of course, this is where my problem lies: to the hipster crowd, defending Scrubs is like drop kicking a child in the middle of a mall. To the legions of its devoted fans, pointing out any of the show’s obvious flaws is akin to murdering their house pets. I have friends who think less of me for liking the show, and  have a friend who’s becoming an EMT due to her fondness of the program. I just don’t get it. I’ve never gone out of my way to watch the show, but if nothing else is on and I want to shut my mind off for an hour or two, there are certainly worse ways to go about doing so. And even in that, Scrubs is fine entertainment, with the upside of its constant seesawing consistently enjoyable, sometimes so much so that it drowns out the “serious” portions. But I refuse to call it a great show, or even one of the best shows on TV. It’s OK, I guess. I don’t think that’s enough, but I also don’t think that’s grounds for calling for the heads of all involved. Really, when television is home to The Hills and Rock of Love: Charm School, there are bigger fish to fry. Or incinerate.

The Ten/Fourteen Best Songs of 2008

December 21, 2008

Though Metal Sucks had me write a top ten albums of 2008 list (which, in the interest of full disclosure, had me squealing giddily, as I’ve always wanted to write a top ten list for more than just my own amusement), in cliched retrospect, one has to wonder what the point of writing about albums was in a time where the youngfolk essentially pick and choose their favorite songs anyway. While I think declaring the album dead is a bold and inaccurate statement, it seemed to matter less.

Or maybe it just seemed to matter less to me. When putting together my top ten for Metal Sucks, I considered throwing in a few non-metal curveballs. I thought otherwise, thinking that this was a metal website, and that it should rightfully be the top ten metal records of 2008. However, upon thinking of my favorite new records, the only ones that rung with me were metal. Upon looking at Rolling Stone and Pitchfork’s choices, I couldn’t help but notice how I almost angrily didn’t give a fuck about what they thought were the best releases of the year. While I confess I’m still ignorant about My Morning Jacket (and have been putting it off for the better part of a decade), I must say I have no desire to know anything about the Hold Steady, Of Montreal, Deerhunter, Vampire Weekend, or Fleet Foxes. I had no particular ill will toward MGMT or M83, but I also personally saw no cause to give a shit. The non-metal music I got into this year all seemed to came from the past (and occasionally deep past): Simon and Garfunkel, Yes, the Zombies, Fleetwood Mac (and not hip Fleetwood Mac, but the lame, multimillion selling shit), 1999-era Prince, Maggot Brain, and Charles Mingus, to name a few. Is it because I’m getting older, and I even need an alternative to the alternative to today’s terminally ill pop mainstream? Almost definitely. But there was still stuff to like out there, some of it even without screaming, growling, or having Erik Rutan put the drums way too high in the mix.

10) British Sea Power- “No Lucifer”/ “Waving Flags”
The richness of British Sea Power’s Do You Like Rock Music? resonated throughout the year. While indie rock got seemingly endless mileage on forced quirk, dreadful faux-kitsch, and the fumes of overhype, the band seemed to have the goods to thrust themselves deep into the soul, with warm production and somehow simultaneously combining subtly sad melodies with epic, triumphant crescendos. “No Lucifer” sounds like the sun reemerging after a week of rain, while “Waving Flags”– with it’s plentiful melody backed by enough reverb for several rooms– sounds like the national anthem of an underachieving but goodhearted country. Both songs sounded big and heartfelt, which was more than welcome in a year where indie further doused itself in 80s minimalism fetish. I spent the end of this year wondering if I’d fallen out of love with indie rock as a whole; British Sea Power pointed out what I’d be missing.

9) Neuraxis- “Phoenix”
Though The Thin Line Between wasn’t short on great riffs or good songs, “Phoenix” was its centerpiece, pulling all out the melodic death metal stops while not sounding like a bland retread. The Zao/Poison the Well chords of the chorus could put a smirk on the face of the most hardened grindcore devotee, which coupled with its lyrics (predictably about rising from the ashes) was nothing short of anthemic. The first few seconds of “Phoenix“, no matter where I am, result in a raised fist and a sneer, which then proceeds to stay that way for the five minutes that follow. I could go on about the nuts and bolts of it, but its greatness lies simply in the fact that “Phoenix” is just fucking balls.

8) Kanye West- “See You in My Nightmares”
The epic kiss off at the center of this year’s (relatively) understated 808s and Heartbreak warrants the aforementioned raised fist, even if it’s to leaving the girlfriend I don’t have for treating me wrong. And Lil’ Wayne, pulling from his bottomless (diamond encrusted) bag of tricks manages to make his cathartic/borderline unbearable verse worthwhile by sprinkling some Weezy dust on it. But it’s West’s robotic croon of “I don’t love you no more” that lifted the song into the stratosphere. That being said, if I never hear an autotuned voice after this year, I will shed no tears.

7) Lil’ Wayne- “Mr. Carter”/ “A Milli”/ “Nothin’ on Me”
And speaking of Wayne, apparently he put out a record this year. Tha Carter III felt like many of my other favorite hip hop albums: 4 or 5 songs too long, and almost impossible to listen to from start to finish. But there are very few completely solid rap records, and one must give the man credit for not stumbling down the skit/interlude path that ruins most releases. The good on Carter III was stellar, and lived up to the half decade of hype. Wayne’s genius lies in being better than anyone around him, thus when dealing with the combative egos of other rappers– even ones that have sold tens of millions of records and are firmly established in the public’s consciousness– they tend to bring their A+ game, resulting in the best guest verses of their careers. “Mr. Carter” saw Lil’ Wayne standing eye-to-eye with the towering legacy of Jay-Z while Jay brought an almost Reasonable Doubt smoothness to his performance. “Nothin’ on Me” sports the first good Fabolous verse I’ve ever heard, and has a Juelz Santana contribution that makes me stop wondering why the fuck I should care about Juelz Santana. Of course, these dudes still couldn’t top Wayne himself, who with the brilliantly sparse “A Milli” showed he could hold down a ridiculous, ridiculous beat by himself.

6) American Me- “Said Nothing, Began Firing”
The mean riff that “Said Nothing, Began Firing” is based on the sort of instant gratification that hardcore has long forgotten. Slowing a breakdown down to a just-above-drone pace could induce boredom, but here, it provides menace. There’s nothing about Heat that was nonviolent, but this song is the apex of its temper. A hundred listens later, “Said Nothing, Began Firing” still brings about a heavy nod, and tickles the primal urge to, well, fuck shit up.

5) Darkthrone- “Hiking Metal Punks”/ “Hanging out in Haiger”
After doing away with banshee rasping and sloppy blast beats altogether on last year’s F.O.A.D., Darkthrone fully embraced their inner dopey-ass man on Dark Thrones and Black Flags, augmenting the occasional flourish of black metal with top-notch riffery and Motorhead-inspired drumming. “Hiking Metal Punks” and “Hanging out in Haiger” are both great songs, but really knock it out of the park with their outros: “Punks” rides a blackened punk riff like an icy fjord wave (is that a thing…?) and “Haiger” closes things out with a delightful ode to Boston or Deep Purple. After spending the last decade scowling in the forest, they’re getting around to enjoying themselves on this one. Oddly enough, this is probably the first time they’ve been listenable to anyone living outside of Oslo in 1992.

4) Jesu- “The Stars that Hang Above You”
I didn’t think Jesu could top last year’s Conqueror and Lifeline. And, per usual, I was right. Though this year was pretty slight for them in terms of quality, this gem taken from their split with Japanese post-hardcoresters Envy is the tender emoting by way of Justin Broadrick’s down tuned chugging guitars that made his slobbering fan boys show up in the first place. I’ve already written about this song before, but it’s worth noting again that, despite my misgivings with the Jesu of 2008, this song stands shoulder to shoulder with their premo shit. Let’s hope 2009 will be another great/ambiguously depressing year for Jesu.

3) Cult of Luna- “Ghost Trail”
Though they don’t necessarily blow their wad 3 songs into this year’s excellent Eternal Kingdom, nothing quite topped “Ghost Trail” on the three-quarters of the album that followed. Sweden’s finest post-metallers managed to sound both stately and savage, using their warm guitars to build up to crushing storm cloud-complimented peaks they seemingly promised. Cult of Luna have earned their place in art metal, and ideally, they’ll be around for a fucking while.

2) Fuck Buttons- “Bright Tomorrow”
Fuck Buttons spent all of Street Horrrsing testing patience– letting parts of songs run a minute or two longer than our pop music attention span would allow and counteracting a nice, mellow techno part with fierce, static-y blare– but nailed the formula on it’s lead single “Bright Tomorrow”. The almost-black metal noise that obliterates the cautious, polite buildup that preceded it comes from nowhere, but makes enough sense to make you think that it was always just hanging in your periphery. The music milks every bit of evocative potential from its two word title, ranging from quiet promise to jagged disappointment. An enlightening listen every time.

1) Nachtmystium- “Assassins”
Though the “psychedelic black metal” thing is already starting to feel played out, it’d be criminal to talk about music in 2008 without mentioning this solid slab of blackened goodness. Shifting from midpaced black metal to bar-punk anthem to chilly Norwegian-style blast fest to an almost post-rock coda, “Assassins” starts the album of the same name out on an Alps-ian high note. The ambition of “Assassins” probably still stands as the best single representative of the genre shifting to come, and the daring moves it takes in the interim.