Friday, December 28, 2007

The Death of Music, Part 2: Give Me a Hook, Dammit!!!

Everyone who knows me knows I’m a big fan of “hooks.” No, I’m not talking about women with hooks for hands, although they’re pretty nifty too. What I’m actually talking about are “hooks” in popular music. That is, short, usually recurring, motifs/riffs/patterns which draw the listener in with “catchiness,” memorability, novelty, and/or simplicity. (I refuse to call songs with a lot of hooks “ear candy,” by the way. It sounds too much like empty calories, and a song doesn’t have to be “empty” just because it has hooks.)

Beneath the hooks, I like there to be hidden layers of depth. Not heavy-handed depth, mind you, but something of substance (musically or lyrically) that brings me back to the song for more than one or two listens. It’s rather easy for a band with a mild degree of competence and craft to front-load their songs with potent hooks, but creating a catchy song that’s rich enough and layered enough to reward hundreds of replays is much harder to do.

I guess you can think of a good song like a good date: The fun and excitement (the hooks) get you interested in the first place, and the substance keeps you coming back for more.

When I write my own songs, I think the same way. After all, who the hell gives a crap what I have to say? Ninety percent of you probably already stopped reading this article when my hook joke in the first paragraph bombed. There’s gotta be something in it for people. People don’t “owe” me their undivided attention. So, I try to include hooks in my songs so they’ll care enough to investigate the “meaning” underneath. That way, everybody wins. I’ve communicated something I care about, and the listener (hopefully) gets their ears AND mind aroused.

As a result of this philosophy, I have very little tolerance for songwriters who don’t bother to try and entice the listener. Or worse, don’t know how to, so they obfuscate matters by throwing in any one or more of the following: unwieldy lyrics, overly slick production, overly stripped-down production, meandering melodies, pointless solos, crazy sound effects, and/or pretentious, “progressive” chords.

I don’t care how “avant-garde” you’re supposed to be. Unless you’re talking about free form jazz, I shouldn’t be listening to a song for 3 minutes and then asking, “Where the hell is this thing GOING?” which unfortunately happens with alarming frequency. The answer to “where it’s going” is simple: It’s going straight into the used-bin at the local pretentious indie record store. You know, the one that told me how great this song and album were two years ago, but strangely can't move any of the 587 used copies they're selling for a buck a pop this week.

A lot of songwriters think their “message” or their “depth” or their “innovation” will carry the day. Look, if your “message” is that powerful on its own, go write a book or something. Otherwise, put a damn hook in the song.

I’m also NOT saying every song has to be 3:20 long, packed with hooks like stuffing in a Christmas turkey, and arranged in a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus format. Some of my favorite songs of all time build gradually and reveal their mysteries over an extended period of time. I also demand a good deal of originality in presentation. But Krist, you need to give me something to grab onto, something to pique my interest, SOMETHING that makes me want to keep listening. 8 minutes of some overly-pale “alt rocker” plinking away at random notes on his new Steinway as a metaphor for his ambivalence about a post-modern universe ain’t cutting it anymore. It was nice at one time, but not anymore.

The bottom line is, I don’t want to hear some guy who sounds like he can barely be bothered waking up to sing his own song trotting out whiny, ponderous lyrics about old cars or weather-beaten barns or shadows that stretch like bony fingers or some such horseradish. Wow, man, you're so "real" and "human" and "rootsy" and "daring."

Screw that; just give me a hook, damn it!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Nothing Changes on New Year's Day: Bono Still Sucks

New Year’s Eve is upon us so here are 15 random musings and fun factoids (the curiously strong facts) for you to chew on. Dig in!

1) Do you ever wonder if people like your boss and George Bush make resolutions to be even BIGGER a-wipes in the coming year? History seems to support this theory.

2) It’s often said that on January 1st, one out of every four motorists on the road after midnight is legally drunk. What they never tell you is that the other three are high on crack.

3) I wish I had a time travel machine so I could travel to the year 2111 and see how the hell they make funny glasses out of THOSE numbers.

4) Speaking of the “New Year’s glasses,” wouldn’t it be great to actually get a prescription filled using the “2008” frame? Then you could wear it all year long, just in case anyone you know forgets what year it is. And you could say something witty like, “Why, it’s as plain as the nose on my face!” which I’m sure would leave everyone in stitches each time you uttered it. Not only that, it would come in handy whenever an alien from the future pops in unexpectedly and wants to know what year it is. It would save a lot of chit-chat, ya know?

5) Fun fact: They say the people standing in Times Square actually pee on the street sometimes because they can’t get to a rest room. And if you think that’s scary, it’s even worse on New Year’s Eve!

6) Interesting fact: Musicologists believe that several bars of actual rock and roll music were played on “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve” in the years 1987, 1990 AND 1994! (This was, of course, in between performances by Escape Club, Milli Vanilli, and The Gin Blossoms, respectively.)

7) I feel bad for Dick Clark, I really do, but aren’t you glad you don’t have to hear any more stupid broadcasters making tired jokes about how “ageless” he is?

8) On New Year’s Eve, I find it oddly poetic that the world is pitch black outside at the precise moment we raise our glasses and toast the future.

9) Fun fact: Contrary to popular belief, the year 2008 is technically part of the 90’s!

10) Don’t you hate when you invite someone over for New Year’s and the person won’t commit because he/she is clearly holding out for a better offer, but doesn’t want to tell you that? For example, last year I got this one: “Oh, I want to be there, but I have to see how I feel. My treatments tend to take a lot out of me, and sometimes I’m too weak to drive my car.” Hey, if you don’t wanna come to my party, just say so man. Don’t JERK ME AROUND!!!!

11) You ever wonder why they’re called resolutions? It’s because it’s a problem you should have come up with a solution for last year, but you were too lazy or too stupid to do it, so now you have to try again.

12) I still haven’t gotten used to calling this decade the “naught-ies” or the “none-ties.” I don't think I ever will. And the "teens" or "the ten-sies" is gonna be even worse.

13) Fun fact: Auld Lang Syne roughly translates to: “Boy, I hope everyone around me is too drunk to realize how off-key I really am.”

14) Fun fact: There are 278 verses to Auld Lang Syne, but most people only know the first 108. Usually, they’re too drunk to remember singing anything other than the first one. Also, the song is really about the establishment of the first official Satanist Church in 1969.

15) If you wanted to shoot someone, I think New Year’s Eve would be a great time to do it, preferably right around midnight. Most people would think you were probably opening a loud bottle of champagne, or setting off a cherry bomb in your living room to entertain some guests. Plus, if a stranger caught you dragging the body to your car, you could always say, “WOW! My friend SURE overdid it tonight! WOOOO!” and make a drinking motion with your free hand.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Eggnog: Coming to Kick Your %#$@$*

I love eggnog, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I think I'd take big gallon jugs of egg nog and pour it all over my body, if it was socially acceptable and didn't cost so damn much. Strangely, I often find that many people do not share my unrelenting enthusiasm for this tasty, viscous beverage. The f*ckers.

Sometimes, I'll ask people why they don't like egg nog, knowing full well their feeble excuses will most likely be more inadequate than the second single from whatever band NME is hailing as "the new Beatles" this week.

After all, who could not like the nog? Are they just trying to f*ck with me? Is that somebody's idea of a joke? Well, ha-freakin-ha. I wonder what else these sickos think is funny. Maybe kicking homeless kids in the street?

Sometimes a person will actually have the sheer audacity to inform me he/she hasn't even TRIED eggnog; that he/she is turned off because of the belief it has raw eggs in it! This is, in fact, a myth. I try to inform these misguided souls there are NO eggs in most store-bought egg nog; in reality, eggnog is derived from the pureed fallopian tubes of the duck-billed platypus, the only mammal to lay eggs, and hence the snazzy moniker. Oddly enough, this tantalizing tidbit of information doesn't create a lot of converts to the eggnog cause. What the hell is wrong with these people?

Let me relay a little yuletide story to give you a better idea how deep my love for egg nog runs. Many years back, Salma Hayek propositioned me at a Christmas party wearing nothing but elf stockings and a long string of popcorn balls wrapped loosely around her torso. Needless to say, I was quite flattered. However, I politely declined the offer, for I had witnessed the Oscar-nominated beauty refuse a big, brimmin' cup of egg nog (garnished with cinnamon, no less) earlier that very same night. Perhaps "politely" isn't the correct word; I actually tossed a large glass of merlot in her suddenly-astonished face (I wasn't going to waste the egg nog), shook my fist righteously, and proclaimed at the top of my lungs:

"WAIT! WAIT! Come back!!!! I didn't know what I was doing!!! Don't leave!!! I saw Once Upon a Time in Mexico 12 times!!! In the THEATER!!! For the LOVE OF GOD, WAIT!"

Eventually, she did come back and we laughed about the whole thing over a couple of tall, frosty glasses of eggnog. Nothing else happened of course, and a few months later she ended up suing me blind for mental cruelty, but DAMN, that was the best freakin' eggnog I ever had.

After hearing this tale I'm sure you can appreciate my fondness for the magical holiday elixir even more.

And if not, then f*ck you.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

American Idol Lessons, Part 2

As Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis continue to pollute the airwaves with their new CD's this month, I thought we'd take a continuing look at some of the things I've learned from both watching American Idol and frequenting American Idol message boards, two activities I would not recommend to anyone without a strong grip on their own sanity.

Lessons Learned from American Idol, Part 2:

16) After making fun of someone's weight mercilessly, she becomes "our own so-and-so" once she goes on to win a golden globe and an Oscar.

17) Live (the band) was a lot more influential than you thought.

18) What hair products Blake Lewis uses is suitable news fodder for the "serious" news program that follows American Idol in your local market.

19) As long as your private parts are covered, then it's not possible for a pose to be suggestive. (From the American Idol boards)

20) If you just came in second place, it's great manners to tell the winner on national tv, "MAYBE WE'LL COMPETE ON THE CHARTS!" rather than letting the champion have their moment of victory.

21) The TV GUIDE CHANNEL can save you from a life of cooking french fries.

22) The best way to move musical artistry forward is by mimicking the trends and styles of artists who were generally regarded as hacks even 30 years ago.

23) If you glare at the camera like you just lost a member of your platoon in 'Nam, people will think you're "edgy" and "intense" and that you "rock," even if you're singing a song made popular by Celine Dion.

24) Any song recorded after 1991 is "edgy."

25) If you have more than 2 drops of color in your hair that is not a natural hair color, you must be "edgy" and have that "little wild thing going on" as well.

26) It's really, really happening to wear a suit jacket/ t-shirt combo 790 days in a row if you're the host of AI. Score extra points if you wear the t-shirt of a band that wouldn't be caught dead letting their songs appear on AI.

27) It's totally ok to be patronizing to people who just had their dreams crushed, as long as they're clueless and/or unattractive, and you're a happening tv host with gelled hair and a pre-selected wardrobe who acts really "concerned."

28) Rude, pretentious, callous, pompous, insensitive behavior is called “being right” or “telling it like it is” when you’re a British 40-something commenting on music he can't possibly hope to understand.

29) Middle-aged housewives have no lives. Ever. No matter what. (From the AI boards)

30) If you suggest a photo of an Idol may be in questionable taste, and possibly inappropriate for a younger fan base, then you must also be in favor of burning the Constitution.

31) If you sing a standard that has been around for almost 70 years, you are automatically copying off the person who sang it most recently.

32) If you can't come up with anything resembling a good song, throw more and more gospel singers on stage. At least 5,000 or so. Have them sway and move around a lot, and be sure to change keys a couple of times. Add balloons and confetti, then cross your fingers and pray to Clive Davis that no one notices your song blows.

33) Aliens abducted Rod Stewart and Elton John and erased their memories of who they were and what they did before 1975.

34) Since the AI producers hold chart success in such high regard, we can fully expect future contestants to be mentored by the likes of Carl Douglas ("Kung Fu Fighting"), Rick Dees ("Disco Duck"), and the surviving member of Milli Vanilli.

35) Making the disclaimer, "These people know what they're going into" gives you carte blanche to be as morally repugnant toward another human being as you can possibly be.

One month to go!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Starbucks Mints Better Be Made Out of Gold

AKA: What's It All About, Owlzie?

The Nite Owlz All Night Blog Spot has been open about a month now, and a lot of people (read: my mom) keep e-mailing and asking, "What the heck is this place? And when are you going to get your junk out of my basement?" Well, I'd like to take this opportunity not to clear up any confusion about the nature of this blog, nor to make arrangements for removing junk from my mom's house, but rather to whore myself and engage in a little shameless branding, all under the transparent guise of savagely satirizing those very same behaviors in corporate America. Cool how that works, huhn?

With that in mind, I'd like to extend a warm Nite Owlz welcome to everyone out there, and kindly ask you to think of us as your newest, and favorite-ist, coffee house. That is, a place to hang out, sup on some overpriced java, and get a little reading done. Since the internet offers unlimited access from almost anywhere in the world, we're now available in ALMOST as many places as real, free-standing Starbucks stores. So, the next time you're in "town" be sure to come on in and get yourself an inhumanly hot cup of overflowing coffee, even though I actually serve nothing of the kind, and offer no real means of getting any. (This is theater of the mind, folks! Go with it!)

Like all trendy coffeehouses, be sure to plop down in one of our big comfy chairs next to the other "customers," and try to look all bohemian and interested in what you're reading just in case that cute number from up the street comes sauntering in the door. For God's sake, you don't want her/him to think you actually couldn't care less about Nietzsche, and have really been thinking about getting splash-wild with her/him all day??!!! Try to look intellectual for once in your life, will ya??? Have another double-espresso-vanilla-mocha-almond-assante-twist-latte and bury your nose in whatever you're reading. If you have to look, try not to take more than six furtive glances a minute and act like you're contemplating the price of a nutmeg and stinging nettle frappuccino. Pretend you really ARE grooving to the pretentious Elliot-Smith-rip-off mewling in the overhead speakers. You know, the music that's so "indie" it's only playing in 98 percent of the corporate coffee chains throughout the country.

While you're here, be sure to check out our oversized stuffed toy owls and gargantuan "Nite Owlz" coffee mugs (large enough to hold six days' worth of coffee). Then, on your way out, you can purchase some eight dollar breath mints. Sure, you COULD get the same mints for about 50 cents at the corner grocery store. But hey! These are in a snazzy little tin with a Fleur-de-lis pattern, and it sort of looks like an antiquated snuff box from England. After all, everybody knows that anything from England automatically confers "style" and "class" upon the owner, even if he's just a bad-breathed schlub who likes over-priced coffee!

So get with it! Stop standing outside in the cold. Come on in, check out my latest ramblings, leave a comment or two, and while you're at it, try to figure out if that nine dollar cup of coffee is SUPPOSED to taste like the burnt underside of a rusted diesel engine, or if you're just too bourgeois to appreciate true gourmet excellence.

I should point out, however, I don't have internet access here at the Nite Owlz all night blog spot. I did for awhile, but everyone kept logging on and going to some OTHER dude's coffeehouse while sitting in MY coffeehouse! I'm sorry, but I find that a bit disrespectful.

Have fun!

Nite Owl

Monday, December 10, 2007

Phrased Out, Part 3: "Sexy"

AKA: I'm Taking Sexy Back.

This week, in our ongoing series about words that need to be excised from common parlance, we examine the word "sexy." Now, don't go spilling your fat-free mocha-chinos all over your laptops, I'm NOT talking about "sexy" as in the Victoria's Secret ad "What is sexy?" although something tells me that's less of a question than it is a command.

No, what I'm speaking of are the corporate tools and other dunderheads-at-large who insist on using "sexy" to refer to things that are about as far removed from actual sex as a pack of fanboys arguing over the recent decision to change Clea's costume from purple to off-purple in the upcoming big-screen adaptation of "Dr. Strange."

At some point, someone decided that "sexy" could be used metaphorically to describe ANYTHNG viewed as "new, alluring, exciting or scintillating," especially in the realm of business. It doesn't even matter if the subject in question is diametrically opposed to sex, like a picture of Donald Trump doing the frug in a polka-dot speedo. If there is something frighteningly boring, corporate, or unsexy, you can be certain some creatively-bankrupt drone will plaster the label "sexy" on it to in effort to artificially induce excitement.

As a result, the following items (and many more) have become "sexy" under this terrifying new worldview: spread sheets, computer software, casserole dishes, toenail fungus cream, toxic waste dumps, stocks and bonds, bathroom porcelain, Taco Bell coupons, slide projector transparencies, mp3 technology, Kenny G, cheese doodles, office buildings, Hong Kong Phooey toilet brushes (ok, maybe that last one IS a little bit sexy), and just about anything else you can think of. As a result, the word has lost all meaning, vitality and potency. It could probably use a little Viagra itself.*

Like most of the words we examine here, "sexy," as applied to the business-world,was probably pretty clever and novel the first few times it was used in a non-traditional sense. For example, "We are unveiling a sexy new business model this week" probably sounded pretty good the first 9,547,648 times it was said. It also makes sense at a deeper level, if you figure about 98 percent of the time media and big businesses are trying to exploit our baser impulses in a continuing effort to fuel the engine of consumerism.

Consumerism and sex are so deeply intertwined in this country I suppose it was only a matter of time before they were completely fused in everyday language. After all, it's only a hop, skip and a hump from dubbing a sheet of paper in a magazine "sexy" to calling a deep dish pizza or a 4th quarter sales graph the same thing. (By extension, a pie chart, which conceptually combines both pizza AND graphs, is probably about the sexiest damn thing there out there. I often find myself in need a cold shower after reading USA TODAY'S breakdown of where we're buying our odor-eaters this week.)

But I digress. Most of these stooges aren't saying "sexy" because of some deeper symbolic intertwining of sexuality, consumerism and commerce. No, in all likelihood they're merely parroting someone else with more birdseed and brighter plumage who they heard squawking the same empty adjective while hovering around the corporate birdbath. True to their nature, these scavengers couldn't resist the urge to pluck the semi-digested linguistic morsel from the larger bird's mouth and roll it around on their own tongues for awhile. Mind you, half the flavor had already been sucked out, but hey, no one ever accused these birds of having discerning palettes.

The bottom line is this: Despite what you're being told, flow charts aren't sexy. Frozen, imitation bison cutlets aren't sexy. Your local paper's obituary column isn't sexy. Heidi Klum wearing a French maid costume at the breakfast table and arguing with a bikini-clad Jessica Alba over who gets the last of the waffles before settling their differences with a good old-fashioned boysenberry syrup fight isn't sexy. Just wanted to see if you were paying attention on that last one.**

There's nothing wrong with trying to spice up everyday language with words that don't normally apply in a given context. However, when it's done repeatedly and with little thought, words like "sexy" quickly devolve into cliches and meaningless job-speak with little impact on anyone. Let's stop neutering words like "sexy" by using them indiscriminately to prop up our flaccid conversations. I think it's time to leave "sexy" where it belongs, at the NiteOwlz All Night Waffle House.

Oh, and one more thing: I'm glad Justin Timberlake has been single-handedly "bringing sexy back" given the relative dearth of sexually-oriented material in the media. How refreshing!


* I'd also like to stress here that I'm NOT talking about infusing typically non-sexual things WITH sexuality, like painting erotic art on the side of a toaster, or running toaster ads with lingerie models in them. I am specifically objecting to people who think the toaster's extra heat setting qualifies as a "SEXY!" new feature. Well, it's not sexy unless you're intimately involved with your toaster, I suppose. For most of us non-toaster-philes, it's just another setting for us to accidentally burn our toast.

** I am aware that "Heidi/Jessica" is a gender-centric example. If I had tried to make a universal example, or presented an "or" scenario featuring Brad Pitt and Jude Law, I would have seriously diminished the comedic effect of the passage. SO THERE!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Song Commentary: "Imaginary Man" by Ray Davies

AKA: God Save Ray Davies!

Ray Davies of Kinks fame has recorded a new CD called "Working Man's Cafe," which is out now in the UK, but won't be out in the US until February 2008. I've already heard it, and I can tell you it has a lot of stirring tracks. "You're Asking Me," "Working Man's Cafe," "No One Listen," "One More Time," and "Voodoo Walk," are all thoughtful, well-crafted, tuneful numbers with interesting themes and chord progressions.

However, if you are a long-time Ray Davies/Kinks fan, there is at least one track that you absolutely owe it to yourself to listen to. If you're a fan who sat enraptured by songs like "Waterloo Sunset," "Days," "Celluloid Heroes," or just about anything off of Arthur or The Village Green Preservation Society, then I'm telling you that you must listen to the song "Imaginary Man."

This is not because the song necessarily SOUNDS like those tunes. If anything, it sort of sounds like "Still Searching" from 1993 (with a pre-chorus that quotes "This Strange Effect'). No, the reason you need to listen to this song is because of the themes it explores and how damn moving it is, especially if you're a fan of Ray's famous band The Kinks.

Ray, who turned 63 this year, quite craftily jam-packs several of his heavy duty themes all into one song. The song explores, in no particular order:

1) Mortality (his own, and by extension, everyone's)

2) Reality and Existence: What is real, what is unreal

3) Existential longing and regret

4) Memory/Nostalgia/Loss

5) Identity/Self-doubt

6) The meaning of celebrity / relationship between the performer and the audience

So, in about four minutes, Ray covers a lot of ground and pulls no punches. Basically, the song plays (at various points) like a heartfelt letter to the fans, an apology, a rumination on life and a heartbreaking journey through the past.

The thrust of the song (if I have this right) is that Ray is entering his twilight years and is looking back on his life. He's saying it's been great and it's been fun, but at the same time he's saying his life has gone by like a dream, and in a sense feels "unreal" or has an intangible quality to it (hence "imaginary"). He's saying, "What does existence mean? There's nothing to hold onto once the past is gone so in what sense did I exist? What sense, if any, will I continue to exist once I'm gone?"

At the same time he's dissecting his own "unreal" status, he's intersecting this theme with the idea that he has existed, from the fans' perspective, primarily in our heads. He is only "imaginary" to most of us; he only exists in our heads. We may feel like we know/knew him, but in a very real sense, he is/was only a figment in our heads, brought into being by his songs.

Ray then gently tells the listener "I offered my very best to you" and that he took us to all sorts of places in his songs. He sings about walking down to the Preservation Hall and looking for the "old trad band", an allusion to his musical past. He wonders who he is, who he was, what it meant, and where it's all gone. He employs musical phrases (the aforementioned "This Strange Effect") that invoke past glories. Listening to this, it's easy to conjure an image of Ray walking past empty town squares, weather-beaten gazebos, deserted music halls and the now-overgrown "Village Green" he once fought so hard to preserve. This time, however, it's not the Village Green that Ray wants remembered, it's himself. Heady stuff.

The tone of the song is contrite, intimate, reflective. One of the most striking features about it is that Ray is almost speaking directly to the listener/fan, which is quite disarming. Ray employs characters and situations to convey his inner life so effectively it's sometimes easy to forget that he rarely uses overtly direct tactics. Here, it's almost like the defenses and some of the layers have been stripped away, and the effect is twice as powerful since it's so seldom used.

The song is almost like a Ray Davies version of "My Way," if that makes any sense. However, where "My Way" was about a proud man looking back on his life and re-affirming his belief in himself, "Imaginary Man" is a re-affirmation of all the insecurities and doubts that (we assume) have plagued Ray Davies throughout his life.

The song ends with Ray's fragile voice repeating over and over "I'm the imaginary man, I am." His voice strains to hit the high notes like a man railing against his destiny, longing to be remembered, longing to be heard in the void. Which is, when you get right down to it, what we really all want, isn't it?

All this adds up to an extremely touching moment in a career that's been loaded with tons of tender, poignant moments. Hopefully, there will be even more in the future.

Kinks fans: Check this one out.

The songs from "Working Man's Cafe" are available now on iTunes, and the full CD will be out in the US in February, as mentioned earlier.
There are also some clips on Ray's MySpace.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Death of Music, Part One: American Idol

In this series of posts, ("The Death of Music") I will ruminate about music, both at the commercial level and at the meta level, and discuss factors I believe contribute to the death of music, and possibly even reasons why I think music should "die." I'd like to kick off the series with one of my favorite topics (what else?): American Idol.

The Death of Music, Part One: American Idol

Woo-hee! Only a month to go before the public, televised execution of American music resumes on national tv! Yes, that's right, American Idol will be back, and I will once again get my perverse jollies (is there any other kind?) watching American pop culture slide down a slippery slope of genre cannibalization, diminishing returns and safe, amorphous, blobs of balladry. You can confidently let your two-year-old run around the AI original songs for hours without fear he will fall and puncture his tender little noggin on a sharp corner.

As far as the covers, most of the songs that American Idol so gleefully plunders were spawned by genres (rock, disco, new wave) which were the result of a confluence of factors and came into being for very specific reasons at a very specific time in the ongoing narrative that is/was popular music. American Idol strips away any contextual meaning these songs might possess, and does so without a whit of irony, commentary, or artistic innovation. The result is usually either unwitting parody or a pointless pastiche. In other words, AI brings nothing to the table other than some (questionably) pretty voices. AI has an awful lot of singing, but, ironically, not a whole lot to say.

There’s only room for SO MANY pretty voices, and you need something more than vocal chops if you're going to endure and have a long, meaningful career outside of Vegas. You need either (a) some kind of artistic vision, (b) some kind of compelling, innovative style, and/or (c) super-phenomenal songs to sing. So far, there haven’t been many of those attributes coming out of the AI camp, and that is precisely why most of these “idols” won't have music careers that last beyond 5 years or so (unless they shrewdly divert into film, broadway, journalism or fast food).

But the big picture is even bleaker than that. American Idol, by design, is a self-defeating venture, doomed to implode on itself, or just make American music worse and worse. Without artists and pioneers to push music forward, music becomes stagnant, irrelevant, and non-vital. If every artist in the 70’s was exactly like Barry Manilow, where would music be today? Nothing wrong with Barry, but eventually, something (like punk and rap, for example) will always come along and make waves. American Idol, by constantly looking back and distilling musical history down to its blandest, safest elements (without adding anything new to the mix) is a dead-end enterprise.

Sure, they claim they’re being “edgy” from time to time by superficially mimicking (the worst) trends of “only” 10 years ago or so, but if American Idol continues to dominate the music industry and the billboard charts, who will the AI contestants of 2017 mimic? Chris Daughtry? Shudder to think. Chris Daughtry is ALREADY a watered-down amalgam of Fuel, Live, Nickelback and a few other latter day grunge-lite bands. Can you imagine an even MORE watered-down and derivative version of Chris Daughtry? It’s like getting a copy of a copy of a copy.

Without the true artists, you can’t have listenable or remotely amusing imitators. The problem is, American Idol is trying to dominate the landscape and a lot of potentially interesting music is getting short shrift. If AI has its way, the landscape will be littered with metaphorical Barry Manilow’s, and it doesn’t matter if they’re wearing “edgy” clothes or singing country tunes or shaving their head to disguise their Manilow-like status.

Yes, Chris Daughtry is the Barry Manilow of 2007. In a very, very real sense (except I think Barry probably has a little more talent, to be honest). Don't agree? Think about this: The guy won the adult contemporary award at the AMA's this year. That was something we used to give to people like Celine Dion. There's no shame in that, per se, but if this guy becomes the template for music's future, then man oh man is music dying.

On the one hand, that makes me sort of sad.

On the other, it just tickles me pink.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Phrased Out, Part 2: "Think Outside the Box"

Words and Phrases That Need to Be Banned, Part 2: "Think Outside the Box"
-OR- Creativity in Corporate America: Where We Are

There was a time when "Think outside the box" PROBABLY meant something. It meant something like "Try creative or unorthodox solutions." Regrettably, that was a long, LONG time ago in a dreamy, fog-enshrouded past where you could still buy lemonade in a dirty glass for a penny and spend all day at the local swimming hole without fear of being abducted by evil clowns hiding in the sewers. Like all things associated with true creativity, the UNCREATIVE masses (including roughly 95 percent of the corporate world) pounced upon this phrase like slavering fanboys descending on the latest variant edition of "Spider-Man Gets a Hangnail, Part 19."

After blithely appropriating it, these mindless twits then proceeded to twist the phrase for their own nefarious ends and rendered it inert. "Think outside the box" now roughly translates to: "Please think really, REALLY hard about how we can get more work done in less time, while paying you even less money, because I'm an overpaid corporate doofus who can't be bothered coming up with new ways to screw you over anymore, and I need you to do it for me." This is accompanied by the unspoken caveat that if you actually DO come up with a way to accomplish this self-defeating goal, said doofus will take full credit for it and be praised by HIS superiors for successfully "thinking outside the box."

Similarly, if you actually DO have a genuine creative breakthrough (as opposed to just coming up with a method for elevating your superiors while maximizing profit and marginalizing yourself), it is a given that you will be patronized or humored, while your idea is smacked down and ultimately passed over. Naturally, 5 years later, some savvy upstart company will make a million dollars when they accidentally stumble upon and implement the very same idea.

At that moment, your company will suddenly leap into action and come crashing through the metaphorical skylight like Adam West and Burt Ward trying to get the drop on King Tut. They will become frantic dynamos of action, flailing limbs in every direction as they desperately try to duplicate the lightning-in-a-bottle success of their competitor. If they DO manage to successfully mimic the winning formula, you will receive none of the credit, while the people you gave your idea to will be hoisted in the air, hailed as conquering heroes, and rewarded with the kinds of sexual favors you didn't think people REALLY did, but only made up funny names for.

The sad truth is, I've never met a creative person who says, "Think outside the box." It's time to ban this phrase. It's been perverted, and the people who use it don't really mean it anyway.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Phrased Out, Part One: "My Bad"

Words and Phrases That Need to Be Banned, Part One
AKA: No, I Don't Care If "That's Just What People Say Now"

"Oops. My bad."

Can anyone even tell me the origin of this phrase? Is this supposed to be baby-talk morphed into some kind of cutesy slang? Whatever it is, it's way played out. "Bad" is not a noun, and never will be, unless we're talking about the Michael Jackson album. "My bad" has the distinct feel of someone trying to downplay the severity of their screw-up while ostensibly owning up to it at the same time. "Oh, I screwed your best friend, honey? Sorry, MY BAD!" or "Oh, I let the radiation containment field down? And now you're dying a slow, horrible, excruciating, flesh-seared death? Sorry, MY BAD!"

AWWWWWW. How could we possibly be mad at this rascal when he uses such cutesy phrases like "My bad?" I say to hell with that. How about letting the AGGRIEVED party decide the severity of the offense and whether or not to whoop your ass? Stop trying to cushion the blow with wishy-washy, coy, watered-down language like "My bad." Stand up and face the consequences, even when YOU think the offense is a small one. Whatever happened to "Sorry, I made a mistake?" I know it's A LOT asking a nation of stunted adolescents to actually use honest-to-goodness fully formed sentences instead of grammatically incorrect baby talk, but I always was a pie-in-the-sky kind of guy. You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.

Another perfectly agreeable option is "I f*cked up." Whatever happened to "I f*cked up?" Sure, it's a swear word, but it's a lot more direct and blunt and to the point than "My bad." Let me put it this way: If you were an innocent victim at the scene of a bank robbery, and you were caught trying to slip out the back door, do you think the bank robber would be more likely to spare your life if you said, "I f*cked up!!!! I f*cked up!!!!" or if you said, "Hey dude, MY BAD!!!!! COWABUNGA!" If you ask me, the latter choice is a road that can only lead to heartbreak and tears. More likely than not, the bank walls would get an impromptu crimson-red "extreme makeover."

And when they take the guy away in handcuffs, he can tell the cops, "Oops. My bad."


Monday, November 19, 2007

The Rolling Stones Super Computer

Hey there rock and roll fans! It's the year 2007, and technology has come so far that computers can now accurately predict (or create) the content on the next Rolling Stones album, which we hope will materialize sometime in 2008. We have correlated all the available data and fed vinyl copies of every Stones album into the NITE OWLZ BLOG SPOT PATENTED ROLLING STONES TITLE GENERATOR, and the results are available below. Remember, the computer has an 87 percent accuracy rate, so these ARE the tunes you will be grooving to come next year, or whenever the Stones get off their saggy old asses and make a new CD! Enjoy!

Track One: "Brawl Until Dawn"

For the leadoff track on the new CD, our Rolling Stones supercomputer randomly combines a series of phrases with subtle and not-so-subtle references to violence, some intertwined with sex. The result is this hot new single, "Brawl Until Dawn," that also helps perpetuate the "street fighting" image of the Stones, even if Mick hasn't been in a real fight since 1971, unless you count all the times Jerry Hall beat his ass before he walked out on her. Note: This will be the album's token "feisty rocker."

Track Two: "Hit That!"

To generate the second single, "Hit That," the computer uses the same alogarithm as "Brawl," but also includes the obligatory attempt at aping recent urban trends and lingo, even ones that are falling out of favor as we speak. The song will contain a funky bass line, and possibly a "hip hop" section, which will come across as awkward and forced as Paula Abdul trying not to slur her words on "American Idol."

Track Three: "Stairwell of Good-byes"

The computer slows down the tempo a bit and spits out a "moody" ballad, based on some words Mick scribbled down on a cocktail napkin with four Brazilian model's phone numbers written on the back.

Track Four: "Roll It When U Rock"

This is the token "bluesy" Keith Richards number, that the computer predicts will somehow be indistinguishable from the LAST ten "Take It So Hard" clones. The title doesn't mean much, but still seems shockingly coherent when compared to Keith's usual booze-addled ramblings.

Track Five: "Vegas Virgins"

Despite the weak alliteration, our computer is predicting a Stones trifecta: money, sex, and a "hot" topical tourist attraction. This will be one of those Stones songs that seems to highlight Mick's social conscience, by focusing on runaways and prostitution in sin city. However, the computer wisely deletes any mention of how the Stones have blithely fostered a climate of misogyny, sexism, and moral decadence in American pop culture for five decades straight. The hypocrisy bar will be raised a little higher when the song blares prominently in a future "what happens in Vegas" ad that features a smiling Mick driving to a chicken ranch.

Track Six: "Devil's in the Details"

The computer foresees a mandatory "satanic" Stones song, trotted out once again in an effort to milk whatever stimulus-response reactionaryism remains in the three people whose sense of propriety was seriously imperiled by the unholy sight of the band wearing wizard costumes way back in 1967. Listen for the slinky rhythm track on this one, which is supposed to, something.

Track Seven: "Slutty Little Thang"

In the Stones catalog, "sluts" is one of the few heretofore infrequently used derogatory terms for women. Well, the computer definitely feels the need to remedy that situation pronto! Look for this toe-tapper on the new CD, but don't expect too much subsequent controversy, since worse language regularly appears at 7pm on ABC family channel these days.

Track Eight: "She Knox Me Out"

This one's bound to sound bluesy. And violent. And sexy. Whatever. It's gonna be a filler track anyway, probably using yet another watered-down version of the "Brown Sugar" riff, so don't sweat it. Lord knows they won't.

Track Nine: "Dancin' Down on South Street"

While running a systems scan, the computer spews out the requisite "dance" reference that appears on every other Stones album. As a double bonus, the title generator alludes to a "gritty" well-known city (in this case, Philadelphia) that also has a long-standing connection to music or the music industry. This will help reestablish the band's "street cred" for the 459th time (on this album alone). Of course, there will be no lyrics that address getting shot because you're dancing like a damn fool in the middle of a city street at four in the morning.

Track Ten: "My Bad"

A couple of minutes have gone by without The Stones reminding us they're the "bad boys" of rock, even though Mick and Keith are old enough now to actually play "The Sunshine Boys" without stretching credibility. As a result, the computer tosses out this little nugget consisting primarily of Mick mumbling in his "evil but seductive" voice while Keith plunders a couple of dead blues guys' riffs in the background. Sadly, Mick's "seductive" voice sounds really creepy at this stage of the game, sounding like an unholy hybrid of your drunk uncle talking up your new girlfriend and a Star Trek ensign possessed by the Lights of Zatar. The song runs upwards of 7 minutes in an effort to make us think we're getting a lot of value for our money, since the CD's total running time reads 74 minutes when we plop it in the player. However, this glosses over the fact that at least 30 minutes of this disc, including this track, is grade-z padding and will ultimately be programmed right out of existence on future listens by everyone. Everyone, that is, except for that one mustachioed fat guy who shows up for every Stones concert wearing his "emotional rescue" t-shirt, even though it faded from black to slate gray about 15 years ago and fits so tightly he looks like one of those impossibly red holiday gift basket sausages.

Track Eleven: "Blood Brothers"

More social consciousness, this time focusing on issues such as war and homelessness. The Rolling Stones super computer tells us this song will be a hodgepodge of half-formed political observations and leftover 60's Utopianism designed to convince the average listener that Mick thinks about something other than champagne and women's body parts from time to time. Basically, "Blood Brothers" is an attempt to maintain the Stones "everyman" appeal by giving off the impression that Mick and Keith can "relate" to and "care" about what happens to the average joe on the streets, even though Mick spends more in one night tipping strippers than the average worker makes in two years at Walmart. If the average fan had to confront this reality on a regular basis, his head might explode. Among the more affluent Stones fans, the Wall Street demi-demons and corporate whores will spend 2000 dollars for front row seats on opening night, and then sing along with this anthemic song of solidarity and humanism louder than anyone, pumping their drunken fists in the air. Afterwards, they'll call the cops on the Vietnam vet who asks them for some spare change as they run to their rented limo's outside MSG.

Track Twelve: "Into the Fading Twilight"

Our computer anticipates there will be one, last "heartfelt" opus on the new Rolling Stones album. This is somehow intended to deflect attention from the fact that Mick and Keith's emotional growth has been stunted since 1963 or so. Despite that, the computer effectively draws upon the rich reservoir of philosophical insights that can only be gleaned from a lifetime of self-indulgent behavior and reckless substance abuse. The result is a beautiful tapestry of musical self-reflection which weaves together sentimental and novel rhymes like "real/feel," "fears/tears," "long/strong," and "bitch/scratch this itch." Guaranteed to be a real tear-jerker and a future "classic," the Stones will be signing a 5 million dollar endorsement with BIC in an effort to cash in on all the lighters which are sure to go off during this song's live performance. For added measure, the lighters will have the Stones "lips and tongue" logo emblazoned on them. However, in a conscious effort to remain hip and edgy in the year 2008, a machine gun will protrude from the Rolling Stones "lips" and point directly at a nun's groin.

There you have it... 12 tracks coming soon from the Rolling Stones. Now, be honest. Would it REALLY surprise you if the computer got these right???

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

New York Quotes You'll Never Hear (Ever, Ever, Ever).

Ten quotes you can bet were never uttered in (or about) New York City:

10. "My, that's quite the ambrosian fragrance emanating from this corner street grate!"

9. "Hang on, let me take my ipod off and hang up the cell phone... I want to be able to focus on my surroundings in such hectic, chaotic surroundings."

8. "Oh, excuse me. I didn't mean to bump into you."

7. "You know what? We better TRIPLE check the (choose one) steam pipes/buildings/electricity/falling dumpsters. It would be REALLY bad if something went wrong, and we'd be responsible."

6. "Don't worry; we've got plenty of money to fix these problems!"

5. "You saw some rats in the storage room? Oh my god. We better close the restaurant IMMEDIATELY and call the exterminator!"

4. "Wow! What a bargain! We could rent TWO apartments!"

3. "Man, I honestly can't remember the last time I heard someone make a quasi-ironic or cynical, knowing comment!"

2. "I gotta tell ya, this overpriced coffee in cups designed for image-obsessed, unwitting corporate shills really tastes like ass! Let's just buy a cup at McDonald's!"

1. "You know, all these deep-rooted, irreparable problems have really made me reconsider my ill-advised romanticization of a city based on the fact I can get good pizza at three in the morning and I saw a catchy musical here when I was in college."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

American Idol Lessons Part One

In my somewhat shameful past (in direct contrast to my extravagantly and illegally shameful present) I used to watch a little known tv show called American Idol. I was drawn in by morbid curiosity and my disdain for modern pop culture more than anything else. I loved watching the egos of the future mall entertainers and fry clerks of America (FMEAFCOA) grow to wildly unwieldy proportions like vines on Kong Island, threatening to entangle, smother, and ultimately pulverize everything in their path.

I marvelled at (most of) the would-be idols' abilities of self-delusion as they convinced themselves that anyone would care about them 8.4 seconds after they fled the stage, let alone purchase large numbers of CD's filled with their overwrought bleating. I had a perverse desire to watch these no-talent hacks have their dreams dashed to pieces week after week. Slowly, steadily, I watched them march toward their inexorable fate of elimination followed by abysmal album sales . If their careers didn't founder right away, I knew it would happen eventually, if only because the greedy producers had over-saturated the market. The contestants reminded me of movie-goers filing into the latest Adam Sandler or Vince Vaughn vehicle on opening weekend. OH how quickly the looks of glee and delight turn to sheer terror as the metaphorical slaughter begins en masse!!!

However, it cannot be said that I have not learned some valuable lessons from my time spent watching American Idol, and even lurking about the American Idol message boards (before I had to stop for fear of a self-induced aneurysm). As the new season approaches, I thought I would share some of these valuable lessons with you all.

Things I Learned from American Idol and AI message boards, Part One:

1) If you don't like someone (especially an Idol), no matter what reasons you give, no matter how sound your logic, you must be jealous of them.

2) Artists who made a million dollars last year and scored one of the most high-profile record deals in the country need defending on a message board they will never read, and care even less about, by someone who had to save two months’ salary just to go to one show by said artist.

3) If someone posts anything against your favorite Idol, even if it is less profane than the average ABC FAMILY special, be sure to report it immediately (usually for reason number 2 given above). Such a post could cause the media empire of said Idol to crumble, and scorch the eyes of all who behold it.

4) Mean-spirited posts or disguised bad language are not tolerated on AI message boards, despite the fact that mean-spirited judges and disguised bad language run rampant on every audition show since season one of AI.

5) A guy who played bass on tour with Journey way past their heyday, produced a bunch of schlocky dance records, and fell hindquarters-backwards into a hit tv show is better equipped than most to recognize true talent.

6) You can be completely 90 sheets to the wind and people around you won't even notice or comment.

7) If you run into the audience enough times, people will actually believe you're doing something exciting.

8) If an Idol contestant comes out with a bold, fresh style that the public immediately responds to and embraces and votes for every week, the best way to reward them is by releasing a sub-par pop album devoted to the worst trends of the day and sounding nothing like what people were voting for in the first place.

9) One year is not nearly long enough to come up with songs better than "My Destiny" or "Tatoo," even when the best songwriters in the country would kill to have a song on the show, and even though acts like the Beatles used to crank out 10 killer songs in one week.

10) Middle-aged housewives have no lives. Ever.

11) The 2 words "Soul Patrol" can actually control minds and force people to dial phones against their will.

12) If you suggest a revealing photo of an Idol may be in questionable taste, you are against the United States.

13) If you sing a standard that has been around for almost 70 years, you must be copying off the person who sang it most recently.

14) If you are a finalist on AI, don't bother to keep your ego in check while the world falls at your feet for 6 months. Your star will surely continue to shine even once the NEXT season rolls around. That guy who was 8th runner up in season 2 and pumping gas for Simon Cowell's limo when he drives through Arkansas isn't going to be YOU.

15) Dressing in leather, throwing your hair around, and looking "hot" is the equivalent of "ROCKING" if you're female on AI. Sometimes, just dressing in "hot" clothes makes you "ROCK."

More lessons to come.

Monday, November 12, 2007

And Now a Message from Our Sponsors, Big Pharma, Inc.

A friendly health reminder from your friends at Big Pharma, Inc.:

Do you sometimes find yourself closing your eyes for a split second repeatedly throughout the day? Do you often find yourself mindlessly and without conscious knowledge quickly opening and closing your eyes, sometimes up to 10 or 12 times a minute? If you answered yes, then you may have "Repetitive Shutting Eyelid Disorder" or RSED. This excessive, intrusive, life-disabling affliction can make you feel "less than whole," "imperfect," or like a "completely useless bastard," and rightfully so.

RSED can rapidly eat away at your quality of life. You'll watch every last vestige of hope fade from view, seen through the flickering and fluttering filter of your diseased eyelids. Eventually, in its final stages, your eyes will be closing up to 16 times per minute. This final stage - known as "blinking" – can actively interfere with your ability to traipse around with your grandchildren or go kayaking in the mountains, just like all those other folks in the big pharma ads. There is no cure for Repetitive-shutting-eyelid-disorder, but there is hope. Hope that there never is a cure, that is. Our hope, mainly.

Now there's BLINKEX. In clinical trials performed at "Bill's Tests R Us" people who were given Blinkex for 2 months blinked 92% less than people who didn't take Blinkex. Of course, the former group had to sleep in the same room as a group of brutal serial killers who were trying out an experimental new medicine, and the second group of test subjects was already dead. Ask your doctor if Blinkex is right for you, because Blinkex is not right for everyone, especially those who like breathing and have a certain fondness for being alive.

Side effects may include: itchiness, sore throat, watery eyes, liver spots, spots on your liver, runny nose, head bursting into flames, dry cough, sudden desire to rent "Glitter", flaky rash, internal bleeding, bloody stools, watery stools, bloody watery stools, bloody watery stools that burst into flames, dizziness, headaches, hair loss, toxic shock syndrome, paralysis, voting Republican, itchy balls, listening to Nickelback, tiredness, confusion, and/or alien growing in belly and then bursting out six weeks later.

Also, Blinkex causes a hormonal change in the body which will cause most adult human males to release a mating pheromone which, for unknown reasons, attracts large full grown black bears and drives them wild with carnal lust. If there's a male black bear within 50 miles, and you're taking Blinkex, trust us, he'll find you. Further side effects of Blinkex include dry mouth. Oh, and horny bears hate dry mouth. Just a heads up. Side effects are mild in some patients, but not most. BLINKEX….. Because there's so much to see out there!

Warning: Some patients who take Blinkex for an extended period of time develop “Dried-out-eye-syndrome” (DOES) and need to take TEAR-EX, about 586 times a day to keep their eyes properly saturated. Ask your big name pharmaceutical company if Tear-ex is right for you. (What the hell, cut out the doctor... he's just our bitch anyway.)