Monday, December 22, 2008

Come, They Told Me, Rumpa-pum-pum, Rumpa pum-pum, Rumpa-pum- Bappity-bappity-BIPPITY! Crash! Crash ! CRASH!!! Boppity-boppity-BOP-bop-BOP-bop-BASH!!!

Early this morning I was walking around silently warbling “The Little Drummer Boy” like some kind of Bing-Crosby-possessed lunatic and I eventually got to wondering: Is it me, or is drumming NOT really something you’d want to be doing for a newborn messiah? I really have to question the wisdom of this timeless classic.

There he is, sleeping all peacefully with sparkly blue light beaming down on his cherub-like little head, and then suddenly YOU come busting in and go all Neil Peart 2112 on his most-holy baby butt. Does that sound like a good idea to you? You ever wake a NORMAL baby up with some loud noises like drums? He doesn’t smile approvingly at you; he wails his damn fool head off.

And why does the little drummer boy say, “I have no gifts to bring”? He’s got the drum, doesn’t he? What, you’re not willing to give up your most cherished instrument for your LORD and SAVIOUR made flesh??? I can see it now: “Oh, yeah, I know you’ve come to save me from my sins and grant me eternal life, but this is ONE WICKED DRUM!!! I can’t part with this baby; Carl Palmer signed this bad boy during the Brain Salad Surgery tour!!!” I think God might be a little unhappy with that. To be frank, incensed is a better word.

Hey, enjoy playing your drums little drummer boy…IN HELL!!! HO HO HO! Merry Christmas! And take your rhythm section of satanic, cloven-hoofed barn animals with you. Yeah, maybe next time, you’ll be more willing to part with the skins. Not that God is a vengeful god, or anything. He’s just not down with the prog rock and all.

Happy Holidays folks. Rock on in 7/16 time!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Review: Kaiser Chiefs, Off with Their Heads (B-Unique)

What the…? Another Kaiser Chiefs album? Wasn’t the last one like three weeks ago? What are these guys trying to prove? ARE THEY TRYING TO MAKE ME LOOK BAD??!!?!? Hmmm, let me check…holy crap. OK, “Yours Truly, Angry Mob” actually came out way back in February 2007. That’s almost two years! Well, that’s still relatively quick compared to most bands, but hell… I must be getting older because 21 months seems like 21 nano-seconds these days.

Anyway, enough about my daunting mortality; let’s talk about the album. First off, let me say that it IS refreshing to have a band pump out albums with Woody-Allen-like regularity when every other band outside of country music seems to take their pansy-ass time between discs.

What the Kaiser Chiefs seem to be doing here is harkening back to a more “innocent” time (the 60’s) when quartermaster-like record companies treated musicians like their own personal b-words and forced them to generate a full album’s worth of product every few months or so, or at least until the artists went batsh*t crazy and suffered career-crippling nervous breakdowns. (Ah, good times!) This pressurized approach generated both some of the most startlingly inspired and drop-dead brilliant music ever created by man and some of the most disposable throwaway crap to ever foul up a turntable. So, which camp do you think the Kaiser Chiefs and their abbreviated time-table approach land in?

Well, I wouldn’t call this the most brilliant music ever made by man, but YEE-HAW it sure is hooky fun, in a mod-rocker, new wavey sort of way. Sadly, you wouldn’t necessarily know it from the lead-off track, “Spanish Metal,” which, quite frankly, stinks. This song bursts out of the gate all blustery and shrill before meandering into a so-so melody and almost non-existent chorus. I’m not exactly sure why this track is first on the album; maybe the Chiefs wanted to trick everyone into thinking they suck real bad so the next track would seem even more uber-awesome by comparison.

If that was the strategy, it pays off big time because uber-awesome is what the next track is! “Never Miss a Beat” (the first single) is everything “Spanish Metal” should be: big, boisterous fun with a slightly menacing edge and hooks galore. The throbbing, vaguely terrifying intro quickly gives way to a pressure-cooker melody before eventually erupting into Kim-Wilde-ish glee in the chorus. At that point, huge, swirling keyboard lines threaten to devour your brain as Ricky Wilson bellows, “Never miss a beat! Beat! BEAT! BEAT!!” like it actually means something.

Ironically, the riot-inducing maelstrom of music on “Never Miss a Beat” belies some kind of thinly-veiled but cheeky message (I think) about being cool, staying in school, and not doing drugs. It’s sort of like Nancy Reagan (or Margaret Thatcher) telling you to “just say no” before she mercilessly tramples you to death with her Doc Martens. Seriously though, I’m totally fine with this more “polite” approach to rock music. The Kaiser Chiefs wisely eschew tired, played-out “RAAAAWK” clichés in favor of huge dollops of melodic British drollness. Hmmmm. Okay, maybe they’re both pretty played out at this point, but I’ll take the latter over the former any day, unless we’re talking about some pretentious crap from Morrissey, of course.

After “Never Miss a Beat” ends its crumpet-crushing reign of terror, we’re treated to nifty tracks like “Like It Too Much,” which reminds me of Gary Numan in the verses, but quickly morphs into a quirky XTC number in the chorus. “Good Days and Bad Days,” which you’ll be doomed to sing for weeks (or until someone shoots you in the face), is like The Kaiser Chiefs doing Howard Jones’ chipper new-wave optimism shtick without the little shirtless ball-and-chain dude. And yeah, while it’s easy to make these kinds of comparisons, “Off with Their Heads” never feels derivative or (god help us) ironic thanks to the up-to-date production and seamless songcraft on display.

Other highlights include the happy-go-lucky (!) chorus of “Addicted to Drugs” and the strum and drang coda to “Half the Truth.” Honestly, there are no real naff tracks in the lot, although “Can’t Say What I Mean” seems to be trying to convince me it’s a lot more exciting than it really is, and oh, yeah, “Spanish Metal” is ready for the scrapheap, as we’ve already discussed. So, even though this album is pretty damn good, I can’t really give it classic status, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, while the Kaiser Chiefs are above-average songwriters - and that fact alone is enough to distinguish them from many of their peers – they don’t really have a unique enough vision beyond banging out the hookiest rock songs they can (with some clever wordplay thrown in the mix). “Well, what’s wrong with that?” you may ask. (Or you may have already stopped reading this review and are now 12 porn sites away.)

While there’s obviously nothing wrong with cranking out super-catchy pop/rock nuggets, history tells us those bands always need a little extra “something”- a sensibility, a gimmick, a subtext, a flavor – that helps set them apart from the pack and give them longevity. Hell, even Cheap Trick had that dude with all the wacky guitars. Whatever it is, people just need that little extra “x” factor which makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts and an album more than a collection of really good songs. I haven’t seen that emergent property in the Kaiser Chiefs yet, but it could still be there. I’m definitely willing to give them a little more time based on “Off with Their Heads.”

The second reason I can’t give this album classic status is a result of the band’s efforts to rush it out so quickly. No, there are no sloppy performances. The problem is the disc only runs 35:40! And two minutes of that is spent on “Spanish Metal.” Sure, way back in the 60’s thirty to thirty-five minutes was fine for an LP. Since the advent of CD’s, I just can’t see any album being less than 45 minutes, even if that means having to wait an extra few months for the final product.

If you think I’m being unfair, you’re probably right. But shortening your disc so you can get it our quicker seems like a cheat to me. Yeah, I’d rather have 35 minutes of solid material as opposed to 70 minutes of pointless jams and crappy filler songs, but can’t we meet halfway (across the sky)? I’ll endure a little Trey-Anastasio-ing if it means I’m getting my full 12 bucks worth. I don’t want those a-holes at Best Buy thinking they got one over on me (especially that jerk who says “Hello” every time I walk in the damn door).

Look, either way, I’m recommending the album, so don’t get in a snit over it. “Off with Their Heads” is pretty damn good and hopefully the Chiefs’ next one will be even better…and longer.

*** (three out of five stars)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Signs That You and Your Band Blow, Part 1

Does your music suck? If you’re a serious musician, you’ve probably asked yourself this question at least once in your life. That is, unless you’re an arrogant tool like the dudes in Oasis or something. (They don’t have to ask that question because they know the Beatles and the Kinks don’t suck.) With that in mind, I’ve taken it upon myself to draw up a handy-dandy cheat sheet for determining whether you are flirting with musical suck-osity. See that? I’ve got your backs, folks.

I would like to stress, however, that these signs are not across-the-board or conclusive. It is possible to possess one or more of these qualities and STILL be in a good band. So please don’t send me angry missives trying to prove that you - or famous band X – are utterly awesome and really do rule the cosmos despite an unhealthy predilection for zebra striped codpieces and WhiteSnake covers (or whatever).

Consider this a general guideline! If you find yourself nodding your head and chuckling, “That’s sooooo me” to more than two things on the list, you may want to take a moment to gaze pensively in the mirror, look deep within your soul, and honestly ask yourself, “Do I suck big ass?” If the answer is a resounding, “Yeah, you kinda do, a-hole,” then it may be time to seriously rethink your career path.

So, without further ado, here are some of the more glaring signs of suckiness to watch out for, if you can see anything at all looking through those silly fake emo glasses you’ve been wearing.

1) When people ask what type of music your band plays, you answer (more or less), “We play good old-fashioned, no-holds-barred, back-to-basics rock and roll.” For some odd reason, “no-holds-barred, back-to-basics rock and roll” always seems to sound like crappy Kiss outtakes.

2) Someone in your band smells like an odd mix of SlimJims and patchouli and has actually “followed” another band around the country for more than four shows on one tour. Extra points if he had a parent dying in the hospital at the same time.

3) You appear on the cover of Rolling Stone with your lead singer lunging at the camera while making a screaming face. The headline proclaims, “Real Rock Is Back…Honest! We Mean It This Time!” As usual, no one is convinced.

4) The words “astronomy,’ “dilettante,” or “extrapolate” are featured prominently in the chorus of your first single. Extra points if you try to rhyme the word “dilettante” with “boysenberry croissant.”

5) More than one out of every 100 of your songs in your repertoire is in a time signature other than (straightforward rock rhythm) 4/4. Corollary: If you have less than 5,000 songs total and more than even one of them is in the tricky 7/4 time signature (and you don't have the word "Combo" or "Trio" in your band name) you’re teetering dangerously close to wearing an invisible sign that says, “I need to be taken out back and beaten with a rusty pipe.”

6) Your band photo consists of four portly dudes decked out in black clothes and scowling at nothing in particular. At least one band member’s arms are firmly crossed because he’s pissed off about something (either the impending fiery Apocalypse or he’s gotta pull a double shift at KFC). Extra points if your band features a “hot chick” (hot relative to the rest of the band, that is) looming in the foreground and decked out in an all-leather bodice she bought on sale at Hot Topic. Extra, extra points if any of these words appear within the first 5.6 seconds of every song you play: dark, black onyx, swords, bloodletting, tormented, or Elizabeth Bathory. In fact, it’s probably a safe bet that I just named the first 6 songs on your debut CD.

7) Your band name is cloying, twee, or trying WAY too hard to be clever. If your name is anything like “Planes Have Left the Aquarium,” “The 16th Century Basket Weaver Convention,” or “Does Mirabelle Adore Meringue?” you’re way overdue to rethink your strategy. If you read this and immediately started wondering if those are fake band names you might be able to use, it’s time to hang up the instruments forever.

8) Your album was made after 1999 and it boasts (ironically or otherwise) the 50’s/60’s “retro look.” That is, all the songs are listed on the cover along with the words “in glorious hi-fidelity stereo.” Likewise, the band members are all wearing tacky bowling shirts and piled in a phone booth with hula hoops around their necks (or something). This was really cute and clever for awhile there in the 90’s, but isn’t it sort of overdone at this point?

9) During rehearsal, you’ve actually reprimanded your guitarist for sounding “too much like the Clash, and not enough like Nickelback.” Earn extra points if no one busts out in convulsive fits of laughter after these words are uttered.

10) You’re a female pop star who seems hell-bent on telling your ex how you don’t need him, and you’re gonna key his car, or blow up his house, or engineer a bio-virus to kill every last descendant of his loins, and oh-boy-oh boy-he-BETTER-be-sorry-he-messed-with-you! Like anything else, the “spurned female anthem” was kinda novel at one time, but now it’s way played out. My reaction whenever I hear these songs is “Me thinks thou doest protest too much!” After all, nothing sounds more needy than someone who has to loudly announce she doesn’t need her ex, right? If you were really over it, wouldn’t you spend your time singing about something else, like floor tiles? Trust me, that guy you’re so mad at isn’t ruing the day he met you. More likely he’s taking some perverse delight in the fact he messed you up so bad you’ve gotta sing a “revenge” song on the radio while he practices getting it on with his new girlfriend in time to the chorus.

11) You still think flipping the bird to photographers makes you “edgy” and “rebellious,” something it clearly hasn’t been since, oh, November 1979. You’re not Johnny Cash or a member of the Sex Pistols; move on. (Avril Lavigne, are you taking notes?)

12) People say you sing “real country” and epitomize what “country is all about,” and yet somehow your latest single sounds like an over-blown Diane Warren/Chicago power ballad from 20 years ago, albeit sung with a Southern accent and featuring an extremely obnoxious lap steel guitar.

13) Your record label re-releases your first CD before your second one has even hit the shops. Nothing screams “Let’s milk this cash cow one last time before the public wises up and realizes that he sucks big time” like the cynical reissue that materializes before most people have even gotten past track 5 on the original CD. Of course, the only bonus material on your “deluxe” package is a crappy demo-that-should-have-remained-a-demo and a lame video that everyone has already watched a billion times on youtube.

14) Your “indie” sound is so anemic and whispery that even Starbucks has to pass on it as being “too soft.”

15) You think Nirvana “saved” rock and roll.

16) You and your band spend roughly 2 hours fixing your hair and about 2 seconds tuning your instruments. (Thanks to our friend Nick over at for this one.)

17) You’re appearing at venues that hold a maximum of 12 people – as long as everyone is anorexic and holding their breath – and you’re still smacking the hands of people in the front row like you’re Radiohead playing their final encore at MSG. You and your “fans” (aka friends who got roped into coming) are all gonna be standing at the bar 5 minutes after the show anyway; if you really want to touch their hands I’m sure you can do it then.

18) You think that making anything “lo-fi” automatically gives it a DIY charm that can overcome your same-two-chords-every-time songs, ironically monotonous singing voice, and painfully “clever” lyrics that compare love to shopping in a thrift store, or some such bullsh*t.

19) You write overwrought, melodramatic lyrics about spiritual longing and man’s isolation in the universe. Extra points if you mention dolphins. (Oops.)

20) You’ve put out 5 albums and they all sound exactly the same (and your name is not The Ramones or AC/DC). However, on your most recent album, you added a 5 second string intro to one track, a backwards guitar solo on another, and 10 seconds of yodeling to the final song. Other than that, it’s musically identical to everything else in your oeuvre. As a result of your superficial additions, the major critics have hailed you as “expanding your sound,” “growing by leaps and bounds,” and “exhibiting a startling new maturity.” In reality, the Beatles grew more between writing lines 1 and 2 of “Love Me Do” than you’ve grown in the past 25 years.

Mind you, these traits are not exhaustive… so don’t breathe a sigh of relief just because you don’t recognize yourself on the list! There’s still a chance you’re dangling directly above the gaping maw of musical mediocrity and it’s hungrily waiting to slurp you down, pseudo-goth eyeliner and all. However, after reading over this list you will hopefully begin to glean a general sense of what constitutes full-blown awfulness (basically, anything I don’t like, it would seem) and strategically avoid those pitfalls in the future.

Or don’t. Hell, you’ll probably be more successful if you DO posses all these traits. Look where it got hacks like Chris Daughtry and Green Day. I guess you need to ask yourself, what’s more important: making billions of dollars and having millions of adoring fans, or winning the approval of some curmudgeonly online a-hole with a blog no one reads?

I think the choice is clear.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Phrased Out, Part 6: PERverted Language

Time for yet another installment in our never-ending examination of words/expressions that need to be banned from the English language, at least for a couple of millennia or so. Today we'll be looking at the word "per” (or the phrase “as per”).

I’m sure you all know this one. This is the one corporate toadies whip out every time they want you to do some petty job for them (usually something THEY should be doing), but they’re deathly afraid you’ll realize how pointless the request really is. So, instead of just ASKING you to do them a favor, they’ll try pulling rank and invoking the name of some higher-up in the vain hope you’re as scared of Joe or Jane Muckety-Muck as they are.

For example: “Per Mr. ScaryBossMan, stop working on that multi-million dollar project for our highest paying client and start scanning in pictures of me playing softball at the company picnic. Did I mention it’s per Mr. ScaryBossMan?”

Trust me, 99 out of 100 times the alleged superior isn’t even AWARE he’s being namechecked in a futile attempt to make it sound like the company’s imminent collapse or booming success is singularly dependent on whether or not you color-code the pointy cup receipts from 1978.

Basically, the boot-licker who exploits the word “per” knows his/her request sounds weak or trivial to begin with, so he/she feels the need to prop it up a little – you know, give it that extra “oomph.” A little memo Viagra, as it were. If the request really carried any weight, it would speak for itself and not need any help. For example, you’ve never seen a memo that said, “In the event of an all-consuming fire rapidly tearing through floor after floor of the office, all employees should get the hell out of the building as fast as their little feet can carry them…as per the CEO.”

Hence, to include the word “per” in a memo is pretty much the same as (a) implying the recipients are too freakin’ stupid to discern what merits their immediate attention, or (b) trying to force co-workers into wasting their time on really dumb, unimportant stuff by hiding behind the guise of sweeping, mandatory, executive edict. Either way, it's pretty lame. As per me.

In my view, a person either has authority over someone or he doesn’t. If he does, he shouldn’t need to bandy about words like “per.” If he DOESN’T have the authority, then he should just ask nicely for whatever he needs. He shouldn’t try to sound all bad-ass by throwing around the names of people who don’t know he exists and would be pretty pissed if they knew what he was up to.

In the rare (VERY rare) instance that an underling DOES need to disseminate orders from Mount Olympus – the urgency of which cannot be immediately apprehended – I think the best course of action is to simply say, “Mr. VaguelyTerrifying asked that we handle this project next. Would you be able to do that for me?” Sure, it’s not as impersonally obnoxious as slapping a “per” in there, and yes, it saps the requester of precious seconds that could be used kissing backside or texting annoying abbreviations, but it is more - dare I say it? - POLITE.

Sadly, "polite" is a word that seems to have been banned a long time ago.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sweet Nothings

Some random thoughts and observations on that most fattening of holidays, All Hallows' Eve...

*I’m really disheartened by what people have done to Halloween. It’s just too commercialized these days. I mean, Halloween is meant to be a serene and reflective time. The air is getting colder, the leaves are changing color, and the dead are rising up to terrorize the living and feast on their flesh. Meanwhile, Satanists are having ritualized orgies to honor their overlord and master, the dark beast. And all Hershey’s cares about is selling more candy? Man, that just makes me sad. I really feel like we’ve lost something.

*Remember when you were a kid, and you wanted to dress up as Batman or Wonder Woman or Aqua-man or Spider-man (or whoever) and you’d have to settle for one of those lame-ass store bought costumes with a picture of the hero ON the chest? What the hell was THAT crap? Everyone knows the real Spider-man didn’t have a picture of HIMSELF on his costume! I think Dr. Octopus would probably pee himself laughing if he ran into Spider-man wearing his own picture on his torso. That is, right before he pummeled the webslinger to DEATH for being such a freakin’ pansy! I wouldn’t be caught DEAD in one of those get ups. Damn it, if I couldn’t look like the REAL Strawberry Shortcake, then forget about it, know what I’m saying?

*Speaking of costumes, what about that time you dressed up as Scooby Doo in the official Scooby Doo costume and you were all psyched because you begged your mom to get it for you, and you thought you looked totally bad-ass? And then you walked to the first house and some lady goes, “OH MY! There’s a wolf at the door! HENRY! COME LOOK AT THE WOLF!” Didn’t you just want to grab the clueless old crone by the collar and go, “HEY! GRANDMA! I’m SCOOBY DOO! GET IT RIGHT!!! SCOOBY DOO!!! What, you never seen a HANNAH-BARBARA cartoon??? SCOO-BEE-FREAKIN’- DOO!!!! Like it says on the FRONT! NOW GIVE ME THE DAMN SNICKERS BAR!!!!”

*One more thing about costumes: I think it would be a kick to dress your kids up in totally anachronistic characters, and then insist they picked them out themselves. You know, dress your 5 year old daughter up as the 1920’s comic strip heroine “Winnie Winkle” and insist that YOU were pushing for “Sharpay” from High School Musical. For extra points, get REALLY pissed if anyone mistakes her for “Tillie the Toiler.”

*Halloween is the perfect time for fears and phobias. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: You’re thinking how could an unbridled, testosterone-fueled he-beast like myself possibly be afraid of anything? Er… what’s that? You weren’t thinking that at all? Well why not? Ah, go eat some Mary Jane candy bars, why doncha. Anyway, it’s time for a confession. Ever since I was little, I’ve kind of had an irrational fear of giant squids. Yeah, you read that right. Squids. The giant kind. I don’t know what it means, so don’t ask me. I suspect it’s probably some kind of weird sexual thing, like every other phobia and fear out there. Hmmm. Maybe I shouldn’t have had sex with that giant squid back in the day.

*I loved that feeling of danger I would get when I went trick-or-treating in the suburbs as a kid. The sun would start going down, and we had already hit up everyone in our neighborhood for candy. Some of them twice. So we would start venturing over into the OTHER neighborhoods... It was never spoken, but there was always a clear line separating "home turf" from the "strange and alien worlds" of the suburbs we didn't know. We felt like we were really taking our lives into our own hands by crossing the "line," even though we were probably less than a quarter of a mile away in reality. The air would start getting colder and there was something very forbidden about it all. You never knew if the weird people who lived in the giant brown house at the end of a cul-de-sac no one ever went down were going to ax you to death and feed you to that dog barking its ass off in their backyard. And then, inevitably, you'd stay out too damn late and have to start making your way back in the dark. Sometimes, you'd knock on people's doors and you could barely find the way up to their house because they had the audacity to turn off their lights!!! Having a young, undeveloped noggin we didn't understand this was courtesy-speak for "It's time to stop trick-or-treating, kids." We were undeterred!!! How dare they turn off their lights at 10:30pm? Didn't they know Halloween officially runs until Midnight on All Saints Day!!??? Hey, spare the candy corn lady! I don't care if you gotta work in the morning. Bastards.

*The coolest person in the neighborhood back in the day would give out Marathon bars. They were like 19 feet long, I think. You could work on one of those a month or two, easy. Anything after the house giving out Marathon bars was truly anti-climatic. Snickers??? The "fun size?" They should have just called it the "lame size," for a little truth in advertising. And they're getting smaller too! I think nowadays they're roughly the size of, oh, an electron particle. The worst part of that is, the candy bar both exists and DOESN'T exist until you actually open your candy bag and look at it!!! That's quantum physics humour, kiddies.

Now get out there and invoke the wrath of evil spirits by emulating their form!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Coffee Calamity

My god, what is this world COMING TO?

Earlier today I went to purchase my morning coffee and the sign CLEARLY advertised vanilla, hazelnut and amaretto flavors. Having always been partial to the almond-tinged spirits, I asked the server to brew me up a cup of amaretto-flavored java and he had the utter temerity to inform me - get this - “No, we only have the vanilla and hazelnut.”

Naturally, my response was swift and unmitigated. “WHAT THE …??? No amaretto? What are we, philistines? NO AMARETTO??? That’s downright barbaric!!! Are you suggesting I ONLY drink the hazelnut, or even worse, the REGULAR coffee? What’s next, sacrificing virgins to the volcano god while TALKING TO PEOPLE FACE TO FACE instead of texting them???”

After a moment of palpable silence, which I’m sure was spent in ruminative penance for his barista-based sins, the server ever-so-contritely asked me, “So you want the vanilla or not, buddy? You’re holding up my freakin’ line here.”

Excuse me, VANILLA? HOHO! Can you imagine anything more plebeian? “Good LORD MAN!” I exclaimed. “That’s what the book-sniffers down at BARNES AND IGNOBLES drink, for heaven’s sake! SURELY you’re not suggesting I imbibe that swill? Do you honestly think I can sit in a meeting with the aroma of common VANILLA beans wafting from my mug? I’ll be laughed right out of the room!” Oddly, he seemed singularly unmoved by my fervent argument.

Then the server – by sheer accident, I’m sure - reached over the counter, knocked my blackberry out of my hands, and proceeded to spill a full pot of piping hot hazelnut coffee all over it. I know he immediately regretted his error because he loudly announced, “OOPS! SORRY!” while looking me straight in the eye. Sadly, he must have been having a bad day because he somehow managed to grab a SECOND brimmin’ pot of coffee (praline flavored) and likewise spill ITS contents all over my helpless “berry.”

Wow. Talk about clumsy! I almost felt bad for the poor schlub. Can you imagine being that clueless?

Consequently, my feet and lower legs are now are scorched with disfiguring third degree burns from the coffee splashing off the counter and soaking straight through my clothes. However, that indignity is but a trifling when compared to the social shame that comes from being forced to drink a rather pedestrian blend of medium-roast coffee beans.

Never mind that throwing some fancy flavors into a pot of coffee hardly makes it the epitome of refined living. The important thing is that I FEEL enlightened and cultured while continuing my endless descent into being a mindless tool. I’ll tell ya, it’s not easy being an upwardly-mobile pretentious a-hole in today’s fast paced society. You can’t even get a decent cup of overpriced amaretto coffee when you want one!!!

I have gazed into the inky black bottom of the coffee pot, and I have seen non-flavored coffee staring back at me.

The horror, the sheer horror of it all.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

New Jersey and Me: Weird Together

So a couple of weird things to report this month, which makes sense since you all know what month this is…

That’s right: It’s ROCK-TOBER!!! (Insert tasty electric guitar lick here)

Sorry, I was having a lame classic rock radio flashback… (shudder)

Anyway, the first weird thing to report is that there’s actually a new song up at ...Check it!

The second weird thing is that there’s a picture of yours truly in the latest issue of Weird New Jersey. It’s the most god-awful likeness of me ever committed to film, so be forewarned. No, seriously, I'm not kidding.

See ya soon.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Whole Foods, Semi-Nuts

I ventured into an organic food store this weekend – I won’t say the name but it rhymes with WHOLE FOODS – and it made me wonder about a few things, like how anyone can shop at Whole Foods on a regular basis without ending up wholly broke. Personally, I was only there to buy some super-powered probiotics, because it’s hard to maintain optimal levels of bile and venom unless you reinforce your stomach with mega-doses of amicable bacteria from time to time. At any rate, here are a couple of my random musings, with the maximum dosage of CSC units (cynical, snarky comments) per observation.*

First of all, does every stray herb, mineral, plant, fruit, vine, weed, berry, thorn, bacteria, bean, and clump of dirt to ever grace Gaea’s green earth have "miraculous" healing properties that some remote tribe has utilized for "thousands of years?" It seems that even the ones that look like they could kill you deader than my site traffic (stinging nettle, anyone?) possess amazing "regenerative and healing" properties. Wow! Fancy that.

You would THINK there would be at least one or two herbs that just f*ck your ass up and don’t have much to recommend them, but health food stores give me the distinct impression that every herb does something beneficial, if you look hard enough. What, none of them are just inert? You know, they don’t do a damn thing one way or the other? Apparently not. I think when all else fails, they just slap the old "refreshes your spirits" on the label. I normally leave that to my bartender, but hey, who can argue with "refreshes your spirits?"

Also, why is it always "thousands of years" of health benefits? I guess "cooked up by our marketing team a few weeks ago" just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Can’t you just see the research team at Eden’s Natural Garden of Bountiful Organic Harvest coming up with their latest "miraculous" product? "


R&D Guy 1: Hey, what the hell are these berries?

R&D Guy 2: I don’t know, but they taste like ass.

R&D Guy 3: That means they’re bursting with anti-oxidizing properties.

R&D Guy 2: Tastes more like pro-ass-tasting properties.

R&D Guy 1: If this is anti-oxidizing, I am definitely pro-oxidation. Go oxidation!

R&D Guy 4: Those are heineyassa berries. They’re extremely rare.

R&D 1: Thank god.

R&D 2: So what do they do?

R&D 3: Well, nothing is proven, but several studies suggest heineyassa berries may increase the tensile strength of one’s nostril hair by as much as 3 percent.

R&D 4: Ok, it’s not much, but I guess we can work with it. What kind of dosage are we talking in order to achieve the desired effect?

R&D 3: Six hundred and sixty eight billion grams a day.

R&D 2: Six hundred and sixty eight billion grams!!!

R&D 3: Roughly equivalent to filling a ’73 Gremlin with heineyassa berries. Including the trunk. And the glove compartment. Maybe a couple strapped on the hood.

R&D 4: *Sigh* Well, can we do a concentrated form? You know, one one of those nasty drinks that never mixes properly?

R&D 1: You mean the ones that leave a mound of purple sludge at the bottom of the glass, even if you stir it until your arm comes out of its socket? And then you have to take our overpriced glucosmaine supplements until your arm heals?

R&D 4: Yeah, those.

R&D 3: We could do that. Then you’d only have to drink about 2 oil drums of heineyassa juice a day. However, you WILL have the strongest, thickest, and most manageable nose hair on the block.

R&D 2: By 3 percent.

R&D 1: Literally by a nose hair.

R&D 3: One other problem: They’re grown in Florida.

R&D 2: So?

R&D 4: Yeah, that’s bad. Florida is too pedestrian. We need to come up with some exotic sounding locale where the natives are shrouded in a mystical aura simply because they’re not American.

R&D 2: People who wouldn’t be caught dead eating heineyassa berries, but can be safely exploited from a distance.

R&D 1: Right, and make sure the label has a lot of "spiritual" looking symbols like birds and people dancing. Or some crap like that. I’m telling ya, people eat that sh*t up.

R&D 2: They sure do. Hell, if they’ll eat heineyassa berries they’ll eat anything.

(Everyone laughs as they pile into an SUV and then drive over to McDonald's for Big Macs. With extra large fries.)


Can't you just see it? Can't you? Huhn? What do you mean "No?" Ah, go eat some heineyassa berries, why doncha.

Another thing: it always gives me pause when I see products which have supposedly been in existence since the dawn of man, yet amazingly no one has heard of them. You know, ones like "Raphael's Toenail Tonic" or "Trenton Tom's Backwater Soda Pop." These are the guys that proudly broadcast their longevity on the label with phrases like "Since 1543," "Family Owned and Operated Since 1102," or "The Trusted Name in Ear Lobe Ointments Since 5,648 B.C."

Now, I'm all for the little guy and privately owned small businesses. Not every cookie (for example) has to be tasteless mega-conglomerate paperboard like Chips Ahoy! On the other hand, doesn't it strike you as a little curious that some dude's family has been making anise flavored tea biscuits since before the Salem witch trials and yet they've remained relatively anonymous? Wouldn't an impressive feat like that seem to demand some national attention?

How have they managed to fly under the radar so long? Is there a cookie conspiracy with "Big Cookie" operatives who systematically eliminate anyone who threatens to bring "Andy's Anise Delights" to the masses? Are the owners of Andy's consciously keeping their business "small" and resisting larger forms of distribution, or do their cookies just suck? Most small businesses are lucky to last a year or two, and yet somehow the unknown biscuit guys from Hoboken have been semi-flourishing for half a millenium. How does that work?

And don't forget the obligatory, self-congratulatory "Our Story" which has to appear on the back of EVERY single organic, "homemade" product out there, with the squiggly lines that look like they were drawn by a two year old riding a bronco and the half-ass pictures of cows strewn throughout the borders. Nevermind that we've got cows on a bag of licorice or a jar of coconut oil. Cows are organisms, you know, and therefore "organic."

Is it possible, and I know this is a crazy thought, that some of these companies aren't quite as small, folksy, and "quaint" as the packaging would suggest? Is it possible that some of the "organic" imaging is just a little bit cynical and calculated? Are all these companies really motivated by "lifting your spirits and purifying your mind?" More to the point, can the "down home community values" embodied by such products exist comfortably with the capitalist/consumer mentality and the demands of being a publicly traded company in corporate America?

Hey, I just ask the questions; I don't have the answers, folks.

* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, because they can't hear anything lodged way up Big Pharma's backside.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Is It Dark in Here, or Is It Ladytron?

Music Review: Ladytron, Velocifero (Nettwerk)

Just like the cover of their latest studio effort, Velocifero, electro-pop purveyors Ladytron just keep getting darker and darker. At this rate, you’ll need infrared goggles just to listen to them soon. Where past tracks like "Evil" were almost deceptively poppy, Velocifero finds Ladytron painting a relentlessly glossy black canvas.

Opening track "Black Cat" sets the nocturnal scene with synthesizer notes twinkling like distant stars, only to be quickly eclipsed by grinding guitar chords and pounding drum beats. After that, Mira Aroyo emerges from the swirling mix like… well, a black cat. Eerie Bulgarian vocals round out the picture, accentuating Ladytron’s icy European image and foreboding aura.

Unfortunately, I don’t speak Bulgarian, so I have no idea what’s being sung. The lyrics could be "My feet smell like Combos," and it would still sound exotic and deep to an uncultured boob like me. It probably doesn’t matter though, because specific lyrical content seems to take a backseat to the overall mood of Ladytron’s songs.

Once "Black Cat" has caught the listener’s attention, Velocifero proceeds to pull the listener deeper into its inky vortex. Minor keys and off-kilter chord changes abound - I don’t think there’s one song here that starts off with a major chord - and Ladytron draws upon a variety of influences to weave a velvety tapestry of electro, new wave, pop, rock, psychedelia, and even industrial.

"Ghosts," the first single, comes hot on the high-heels of "Black Cat" and boasts a smooth, infectious chorus, as all first singles worth their weight in ectoplasm should. For some reason, it sort of sounds like "Destroy Everything You Touch" turned on its head, but hey, that was a great song and we all like trying new positions from time to time, right? The militaristic drumming and creepy soloing don’t hurt things, either.

After that, it’s time for "I’m Not Scared" (of ghosts and black cats, presumably) which comes barreling out of the speakers like their previous single "Sugar" with a bad-ass new engine mounted on its hood. Why this song was not chosen as the second single as opposed to the decent, but rote and over-long "Runaway" is beyond me. "Season of Illusions" has a distinctly Roxy Music vibe (think "Chance Meeting" or "Sea Breezes"), while "Burning Up," sounds like Nine Inch Nails trying to give Tears for Fears some much-needed balls.

The only real misstep here is "Predict the Day" with its X-Files-ish whistling and a thumping beat which makes me desperately want to fight the future.

But wait! Saving what is arguably the two best cuts for last, Ladytron hits us with the one-two punch of "Tomorrow" and "Versus" before calling it a day and hightailing it back to their ice-beds, or wherever it is they go at night. "Tomorrow" features an enchanting chorus brimmin’ with lots of reverb and retro-80’s goodness. It’s almost enough to make you pull out your old Pet Shop Boys albums. Still, as good as "Tomorrow" is, it’s merely a warm up (ice up?) for what comes next…

"Versus" is clearly meant to be the epic closer. Impassive female vocals counterpoint fragile Andy-Partridge-ish male vocals and give the track an added sense of melancholia and depth. Meanwhile, dreamy "ooo" vocals drone away in the background and nervous organ licks skitter across the mix. It’s a sublime moment, and possibly a herald of even better things to come from these guys.

Thank goodness darker doesn’t always mean oppressive and depressing; by going "darker" on Velocifero, Ladytron’s future just got even brighter.

*** ½ (three-and-a-half out of five stars)

For more insightful musings, great music and exclusive interviews, check out

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Death of Music, Part 6: iPod Is Dead

You know what you never see anymore? You never see a guy (without any gadgets) just walking along humming a song to himself, or whistling a little tune. At the very least, you don’t see anyone born after the release of “The 10 Commandments” engaging in that kind of musical self-entertainment. What ever happened to that?

And I’m not talking about an insane guy belting out “Love Is in the Air” while wearing yellow footie pajamas in the middle of Times Square. I’m talking about regular joes and joe-esses like you and me, just bopping along happily to our own private soundtrack in our heads.

Nowadays, you’re more likely to see people gliding silently around with those omnipresent earbuds growing directly into their heads like parasitical vines, presumably rocking out to their favorite tunes. Strangely, their faces are almost always ashen and lifeless, as though they’ve been listening to an endless loop of “The Complete History of Carpet Tacks, Volume Five” as read by a heavily doped up Alan Greenspan. And they’re hardly, if ever, singing.

Oh sure, once in a while you’ll still see a lone subway rider jamming out to Joe Satriani like he’s having some kind of freak-a-delic hard-rock meltdown, but more often than not the iPod legions move in stealthy, icy silence.

You would think the technology that allows us to listen to a steady stream of music would enhance our ability to appreciate the stuff, and maybe even make us more artistic, creative individuals. However, the iPod seems to primarily serve two functions: (1) turning music into a totally passive, background experience, which requires little imagination, attention or exertion, and (2) locking us inside our own heads and making us oblivious to the world around us, so we can continue living on our own insular “islands” without engaging the world in any meaningful way.

While it is true that music has always been used to varying degrees as background fodder (in the car, for example) the iPod has made the “background” experience the PRIMARY way many people listen to music. Instead of focusing on music, they’re engaging in all sorts of other activities: they’re texting; they’re talking on cell phones; they’re buying crappy overpriced coffee; they’re getting in everyone else’s way. Basically, people are doing a jillion and a half other things while allegedly “listening” to music. I’ve experienced music this way, and I can tell you there is a big difference in how much you get out of a song playing on your car stereo vs. a song coming out of your iPod as you cross a busy city intersection with a taxi cab bearing down on you.

Don't get me wrong: it’s fine if you want to chill out with some music on a long bus ride, or listen to your favorite band while you jog on a lightly traveled back road. There’s also nothing wrong with using music to relieve stress, and no one doubts that music can, under certain conditions, benefit human cognition. However, people who spend their whole lives plugged into an iPod diminish both their experience of music and (sometimes unwittingly) the world around them.

If you’re constantly listening to an iPod, you can’t pay enough attention to actually glean any meaning from your music. Likewise, you can’t engage the world or avoid looking like an annoying, self-absorbed fool if you’re always cutting off 1/5 of your sensory input. (People who wear iPods inside crowded buildings are particularly irritating.)

All of which brings us back to our singing/whistling friend. When you see someone singing or whistling (who isn’t mentally deranged), you know you could say “Hi” to him and he would hear you. He wouldn’t raise a finger as if to say “Hold on” and then spend 10 minutes tugging at the intricate network of musical diodes protruding from his noggin. He’s at least semi-aware of the world around him.

Not only that, but I strongly suspect he is more mentally active than the the average iPod addict. At least the lone hum-man is using some part of his brain to recall the melody and recreate it through his lips. He's not just passively listening, letting a steady stream of meaningless notes erode his consciousness like waves slapping lazily against a mushy, pliable shoreline.

In short, people need to turn off the iPod's, turn on their brains, and get back in the real world already. Hey, if I have to live on this ridiculous planet we call earth, then they should have to live on it too.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

You Know What We Need? A Peppy Pop Song About Existential Nothingness!

I’m very pleased to add a new demo to my MySpace page, "Cosmic Orphans," which has always been one of my very favorite original compositions. I wrote this song back in the 90’s, during a somewhat darker time in my life. The driving force behind the lyric was that feeling we all have eventually when we wonder if we really are alone in the universe and ask if there’s a deeper meaning to it all. It’s about that moment in your life when you realize we can really only depend on each other, but even then we have trouble bridging the gaps between us. Or some such happy horse-**** like that.

"C.O." has always been a sad, reflective song, but I thought it might be nice to also have a more "rocking" demo, since not everyone is as moody as I am! (Hard to believe, I know.) Fortunately, Payton Stiles and the good folks at Music City Studios stepped in to produce and perform the version you hear on MySpace. Their patience and skill helped bring this demo to life and I am greatly in their debt. I hope you like it as much as I do.

Find it here:

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

News Flash: Spielberg Refuses to Concede


In a shocking turn of events (although not as shocking as what Miranda’s husband did, OMFG), Steven Spielberg gave a vague yet impassioned speech early this morning thanking everyone who went to see Indiana Jones this past weekend, while failing to concede Sex and the City’s box office triumph over the aging archaeologist.

Speaking in Johnny Funkmeyer’s mother’s basement to a room full of zealous, equally-aging fanboys, some decked out in full Indiana Jones garb, Spielberg made a series of triumphant statements about the box office success of “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull,” even though it got pulverized in its second week by the debut of a movie actually featuring Sarah Jessica Parker in a prominent role.

“A man came up to me yesterday,” Spielberg solemnly intoned as a somber hush fell upon the crowd. “Well, actually, he was more of a man-child, but nonetheless, he came up to me with tears in his eyes,” Spielberg continued. “He said, ‘Mr. Spielberg, what are you going to DO to ensure that I don’t have to watch four shallow women shrieking about nothing for two hours, while they rhapsodize for the umpteenth-billionth time about the way sex is like buying shoes? What are you going to do to ensure that I get to see Harrison Ford punch the fear of God into some Commies this weekend?’

“My friends,” Spielberg whispered, “that is an America I do not want to live in. You know, the one where people can actually approach me on the street and talk to me.”

“Sex and the City” made 57 million this past weekend, while “Indiana Jones” slipped to second place with 46 million. Despite the final weekend tally released on Monday, Spielberg continued to speak as though the numbers were still rolling in. “I say we will not stop until every ticket stub is counted,” the acclaimed director exclaimed to the frenzied crowd. “What about the art theaters which have to show a big blockbuster now and then just to keep themselves from being turned into an IHOP? Did we count all those stubs? You can’t keep a theater in business when all you show is ‘La Bonne (The Maid)’ for God’s sake.” Spielberg’s comments prompted the crowd to raise their fedoras in approval and chant, “Indiana! Indiana! Indiana!”

Ultimately, Spielberg left the door open to a double-bill featuring both “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and “Sex & the City,” which some analysts have dubbed the “dream ticket,” especially for every aging nerd who somehow managed to con a woman into marrying his pathetic ass.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Rain Spotting: A Field Guide to New Yorkers on a Rainy Day

So it was raining in New York today, and of course, that brings the pointy-head brigade out in full force, even more so than usual, if you can actually imagine such a thing. Every time it rains in New York, you get to see all different varieties of human silliness on full display, and I’ve taken the trouble to break them down for you, so the next time you’re in NYC you can have fun spotting and avoiding them all. It’s sort of like bird-watching, but with less attractive plumage. Here is a short breakdown of the different species you will encounter on the average rainy day in New York:

1) Vlad, the Impaler: Whenever the droplets begin to fall, this single-minded creature of the night tends to run at you full force when the pointy-end of his umbrella angled right at you for maximum injury. It’s almost like Vlad just came from a rousing exhibition at Medieval Times, and now he wants to do a little jousting of his own with any and all hapless passerby. His blood thirst is insatiable, so don’t get in his way; you could be the next unwitting victim of his endless reign of carnage.

2) Mr. Super-Size-Me Umbrella: This commonly sighted fellow likes to run around town with an umbrella twice as tall as he is, and wide enough to keep a couple thousand Mogwai from getting even remotely damp. His umbrella is so big that you have to wonder if it got pelted with a b-movie dose of radiation at some point. Watch out for this breed, for he is usually quite oblivious to his surroundings and will plow down all would-be challengers to his presumed umbrell-ic awesomeness.

3) Sponge Bob Dumb-Ass
: An umbrella-less species, this is the guy who struts around like he’s impervious to H20 and it’s not even raining out. This is true even when there are monsoon-like winds buffeting his frame and the rain is turning hot dog carts into makeshift gondolas floating down Third Avenue. This guy doesn’t want you to know he’s affected by the rain, SEE? So, in addition to walking around umbrella-less, he often wears nothing more than jeans and a t-shirt. Yes, this aqua-male has a clear message for us all: it’s US who are the sissies, running around trying to avoid hypothermia like a bunch of little girls! Either that, or he’s just an ego-maniac who’d never dare admit he left his umbrella at home.

4) Marathon Man: It’s bad enough the rest of us have to be out in the rain trudging to our jobs; this cretin is just out “for a jog” in the middle of a rainstorm of Biblical proportions. No one knows for sure if this fool works for a living, but you’ll usually spot him (or her) dashing across the windswept streets decked out in the obligatory silver and red spandex uniform. Marathon Man is always plugged into an iPod as well, just to remove any remote chance he might actually hear the bus bearing down on him at 50 MPH. Some people believe this is a built-in genetic disposition to keep Marathon Man’s population numbers down, while others believe it’s a learned behavioral trait scientists like to call “being a self-absorbed tool.”

5) Lot’s Wife: She’s completely made of salt, so she whips out the umbrella while the rest of us are still trying to figure out if that even WAS rain we felt on our left arm for half a millisecond, or just a very nimble sex offender. Lot’s Wife is also well-known for her persistent habit of leaving her umbrella up while passing through extremely dry stretches of sidewalk covered by awnings and scaffolds. As a result, she is constantly jeopardizing innocent passerby with the threat of impromptu, un-anesthetized head removal surgery. She also likes to keep her umbrella open while moving through revolving doors and hotel lobbies, even though no rain has ever been known to fall inside a well-constructed hotel lobby in the history of recorded man. Not outside a Stephen King story, anyway.

6) Mr. Never-Say-Dry: He absolutely REFUSES to get a new umbrella, even though his umbrella is falling apart with dangerous phantasm-ball-like projectiles sticking out at every possible angle. In fact, his umbrella hardly even looks like an umbrella anymore, but more like Spider-Man’s nemesis Venom in mid-transformation after getting blasted with sonic waves. Still, he bravely soldiers on, futilely propping a pathetic wad of torn fabric and dangerous metal spikes high above his head. Ironically, he always ends up getting soaked three times worse than those with no umbrella at all. See also: Mr. Floppy Umbrella.

7) Benny on Broadway: A close relative of Mr. Super-Size-Me Umbrella, in the same way a dope is a close relative of a dolt. This is the guy (or gal) who couldn’t scare up a semi-normal umbrella, so he ransacked his summer supplies for a beach umbrella. You half expect this clown to be walking around with a dollop of sunscreen on his nose and a picnic basket under one arm. Large, dichromatic colors (usually white combined with red, blue or black) are the tell-tale sign of this exotic breed, as well as a care-free, lumbering gait more suited to staking out a sunny spot on the beach than navigating a crowded, rain-drenched avenue.

8) The Free Spirit: She looks like she should be plastered on the side of a package of Morton’s Salt rather than walking a city street, this term applies to any of the giddy young females you see whisking around in neon-pink and bright yellow raincoats and protecting themselves with nothing but frail, petite umbrellas. Likewise, these umbrellas are usually adorned with some kind of artsy-fartsy pattern like ladybugs, leopard spots, Betty Boop’s, Van Gogh’s self-portrait, or Andy Warhol cows. While these fun-loving, impish sprites can sometimes bring a smile to one’s world-weary face, they can also make you wish the city would just grind them down and pulverize their souls into dust already.

And that’s it for this week, kiddies! Stay dry!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Death of Music, Part 5: No One Likes "All Kinds of Music."

Hey there music mourners! Put away your tear-stained hankies, ‘cause it’s time for yet another installment in our bile-filled series devoted to the never-ending public execution of music. Which makes me wonder, couldn’t we just get this over with already? I mean, why don’t we just grab music from behind, strangle it with an iPod cord, and bash it over the head repeatedly with the latest Fall Out Boy CD until its lights are snuffed out for good?

Do we really have to keep protracting this grisly murder with near-fatal blows (and new releases) by Madonna, Weezer, Mariah Carey, The Raconteurs, White Snake, The Rolling Stones, Ashlee Simpson, Louis XIV and many others? Do we need to stand by helplessly as yet another musical “savior” shows up, trots out some semi-competent but derivative melodies, and then promptly slips into obscurity within a year or two? (By the way, this week’s semi-competent contenders are Vampire Weekend, with their English Beat/Joe Stummer-ish rock/Caribbean sound. And if you’re sitting there thinking “Vampire Weekend is so 2007!” then that just kind of proves the point, doesn’t it?)

Sadly, it looks like we enjoy torturing music’s once-vital and robust form way too much, so music won’t be COMPLETELY dying off anytime in the foreseeable future. With that in mind, I’d like to offer a little friendly advice in case you ever find yourself in the awkward position of actually having to DISCUSS the damn stuff.

If anyone ever asks you, “What kind of music do you like?” Never, EVER answer (with a playful toss of your bountiful locks) “Oh, I like ALL KINDS of music!!!” unless you want to immediately slay a conversation deader than the buzz surrounding the Arctic Monkeys. In fact, it is better to profess your undying devotion to the complete works of L.A. Guns before you utter something as mindlessly tiresome as “I like all kinds of music!”

Why? Well, first of all, nine billion out of nine billion-and-six times it’s patently not true. A lot of people think their musical proclivities are the metaphorical equivalent of a Save the Children necktie just because they groove around to both the White Stripes AND Led Zeppelin on their iPod shuffle. Either that or they view themselves as “audiophiles” because they have the audacity to listen to melodic, whispery rockers like Snow Patrol back-to-back with anthemic, blow-hard rockers like U2. You heard right; not even a Travis cut between them to buffer the blow. Holy god, I almost had a massive coronary just contemplating the chocolate-in-peanut-butter-lunacy of it all.

In truth, there is an infinite number of styles and sub-genres of music on this planet and Western pop music only comprises a tiny fraction of that music. The music that is aggressively marketed and made available to most Westerners is an even smaller amount, as you are no doubt marginally aware. So when someone says, “I like all kinds of music,” he usually means all the music currently in “hot” rotation on his favorite radio station.

Unless you actually ARE getting down to French film scores in the evening, atonal 20th century classical in the morning, free-form jazz in the afternoon and meringue dance mixes on the weekend, it’s better to just admit your unhealthy fondness for bleating Diane Warren-ish pop ballads or tepid southern-rock-boogie and be done with it.

Which brings me to the second reason you should never say “I like all kinds of music!” In my experience, there is nothing more dish-water dull than a person who can’t get fired up about one type of music, at least once in a while. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with EXPOSING yourself to many styles of music - in fact, I highly recommend that you do - but if you’ve never been moved enough to feel “loyalty” for one type of music, then I believe you’ve never fully experienced the power of music.

While there ARE definitely people who can glean profound meaning from a myriad of musical forms, I believe these true musical connoisseurs (and I am not one of them) are few and far between. More often than not, the people who listen to a large variety of music and then profess to dig “all kinds of music” are really pretentious Paste-subscribing poseurs who want to impress people with their mind-blowing cultural acumen. Their listening may be wide and varied, but their “hearing” tends to be cursory and superficial. Sorry, not impressed.

Similarly, I have a hard time taking seriously any band that lists more than 600 other bands as major influences on their sound. Are they really that non-discriminating? Because I have a hard time believing ANYONE could be that diverse, or immerse themselves fully in that many bands without losing something along the way.

For god’s sake, man! If you’re listening to THAT much music (and you’d have to have it wired into your head while you sleep, if you believe these guys) you should be riled up enough to single out SOMETHING!!! Does nothing jangle your ganglia or make your limbic system want to do the limbo? There’s no style, genre, or artist that makes you want to profess your undying allegiance from the highest mountain top? No? Then you, my friend, have never really been moved by music.

So, let’s review: On the one hand, it’s not a good idea to say you like “all kinds of music” when Clear Channel’s hot AC consultant has your musical knowledge in a triple-head lock, or you own exactly 3 CD’s, and at least one of them is “The Eagles’ Greatest Hits.” On the other hand, it’s a sad state of affairs when you seek out every obscure beat ever committed to digital media and then claim to love them all because you can’t FULLY appreciate any of them, or you don’t want to risk looking like a musical philistine.

Take a stand! Have a viewpoint! Feel the passion! Don’t be a poseur! When someone asks you what kind of music you like, don’t just toss out some nebulous non-committal non-answer. Instead, have a thoughtful response ready to go. Trust me, if you’re trying to flirt with someone you just met, he or she will respect you more if you express your opinions and stick to your guns.

Yes, even if they’re L.A. Guns.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Phrased Out, Part 5: "Soonest"

It’s time for another entry in our ongoing series “Phrased Out,” in which we try in vain to disabuse people of their irritating linguistic habits. Ironically, I suspect there are people who would say MY linguistic habits are a tad bit annoying, but those people simply lack panache and imagination. Either that, or they're just poopy-heads. Simply stated, I like to garnish my speech with the occasional seasoning or two; I don’t pour salt all over everything like a demented fry clerk trying to give someone a stroke.

The latest word that’s giving ME a stroke is “soonest.” Why, you may wonder, would such a seemingly benign word raise my blood pressure so? Well, it’s not the word itself but the way it has been twisted and perverted in the name of pretentious corporate-speak. In this instance, I’m annoyed by people who use “soonest” to mean “as soon as possible, and make it snappy, salmon-breath.”

The last time I checked, at least here on this toxic blue and green ball, the word “soon” meant within a short span of time or in the near future. Of course, what that period of time actually IS can be relative to a lot of factors; what seems “soon” to a Galapagos turtle or someone waiting for a Kate Hudson movie to end may not be the same as what is “soon” to you or me.

Similarly, the SUPERLATIVE form of “soon” always meant (roughly) “coming before all others in linear time.” For example, “Matt will be here soonest,” USED to mean “Matt will be here before Joe, Roy, Sally, and Stevie the one-armed drug dealer.” If you wanted your copy of “S&M TODAY" to arrive “soonest,” you wanted it to show up in your P.O. Box BEFORE the leather masks and whips you ordered. Or, at the very least, before your frail old mother found it and suffered a massive coronary.

Now consider “ASAP,” which, of course, is shorthand for “as soon as possible.” You would think the corporate mannequins would adore a term like “ASAP.” First of all, it’s compact and concise. Secondly, it conveys the image of someone who needs to conserve every available nanosecond for blackberry’ing, cell-phoning, power-lunching and screwing-over. In other words, someone who is MUCH too busy (and much too good) to waste .0004 seconds typing out the words “as soon as possible.”

But not so fast (fastest?)! “ASAP” has lost a lot of its pretentious cache over the years due to indiscriminate overuse. It appears in everything from greeting cards to love letters to everyday conversations. That’s DEFINITELY no good for corporate climbers who pride themselves on being as trendy, cloying, and obnoxious as possible. Their goal is to create a self-perpetuating system of masturbatory corporate-speak that reeks of self-importance and presumed superiority.

Exit: ASAP. Enter: Soonest.

Why is “soonest” so annoying? Well, if by “soonest” you mean “first,” then you should just say “first.” “Please do this first” is a perfectly acceptable request. However, you better be the boss if you’re gonna go around issuing such demands. If by “soonest” you mean “before all other tasks coming up” (a legitimate use of the word) you should also be the boss, and not some schlub who thinks his latest vanity project supersedes the 9,678 other menial tasks I’ve been given today.

However, even if you ARE my boss, there’s usually no good reason to say “soonest” instead of “first.” I suppose if you wanted to acknowledge that I’m probably in the middle of a project you could use the word “soonest” (read: after my present task) but even then the word “next” seems much more appropriate.

All of which brings us to the most annoying use of all. If you are using “soonest” to mean “as soon as possible,” then just SAY “as soon as possible! "Soonest” DOESN’T TRANSLATE TO “AS SOON AS POSSIBLE” any more than “best” translates to “as good as you can possibly be.” “Soonest” sounds cutesy or precious at best; obnoxious and demanding at worst.

So, if you’re a co-worker and you send me an e-mail that reads, “Can you dub my home movies for my personal website? Please handle soonest,” you had better be prepared for a long, long wait.

Simply put, if you want your requests handled in a timely fashion, the words “soon” and/or “quickly” are sufficient. “Please handle soon,” is all you need to say; you don’t need to throw an unwarranted “-EST” on the end to try and create the illusion of urgency. That is, unless you actually think you ARE my boss and you’re telling me to encode your home movies before I do anything else.

If that’s the case, I would kindly ask that you please go to hell soonest.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

She Sells by the Seashore: the SI Swimsuit Issue

So the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue came out this month. I personally haven’t picked it up, probably because I don’t want to get a double hernia from its sheer mass. However, over the past few days I have walked past several newsstands with extra-large pallets piled high with the SI swimsuit extravaganza. Are they trying to tell me something?

Anyway, when I see the cover, it invariably gets me thinking. Usually I start thinking something like, “How do the necklaces and hair always fall right where they’re supposed to when the models emerge from the ocean? That never works for me.”

After I mull that over for a couple of hours (or 6 or 7), I begin to muse nostalgically about how far we’ve come from ye olden days of yore. My, how things have changed since the innocent wide-eyed early days of chicks in see-through mesh bikinis!

Back when I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, the SI swimsuit issue featured a paltry 8 or 10 page supermodel spread in an otherwise regular, boring, mind-numbing issue of Sports Illustrated. I actually felt sorry for the “regular” athletes who were featured in a swimsuit issue back then. Something tells me not many readers were flipping the pages furiously to get to the all-star backgammon spread on the opposite side of Christie Brinkley’s latest tensile-strength experiment in the emerging field of nano-fiber technology.

Of course, the situation gradually changed over the years. After realizing that the swimsuit issue sold about, oh, 50 ga-jillion times better than the rest of the year combined, SI had a startling epiphany: men like pictures of backgammon tournaments. Ha! I’m kidding of course. The editors realized they could fill a WHOLE magazine with pictures of bikini-clad nymphets, and men would gladly plunk down a shekel or two for leering rights.

Meanwhile, back in prehistoric times, if you were an ardent bikini fan you were forced to suffer further hardships like some kind of voyeuristic Job. Not only did Sports Illustrated limit your bathing suit fun to a measly 8-10 pages per year, but you had to actually purchase your issue well within the standard seven days allotted for weekly publications. If not, you were S.O.L., buddy boy.

Nowadays they leave millions of copies of the swimsuit issue on the stands well until December, but back then it was just another regular issue ready to be replaced in seven days’ time. There was nothing more soul-crushing as a 13 year old boy than riding your bike a grueling 2 miles to the nearest 7-11 and running directly to the magazine section, only to be greeted by a frighteningly tight close-up of Wayne Gretzky’s face contorted in agony and replete with thousands of glistening mircobeads of sweat.

And that’s because Wayne Gretzky had made the trip to 7-11 and was pissed he missed the swimsuit issue too!!! If somehow you managed to dodge Gretzky’s wrath, you could pick up the latest copy for yourself only to find an “action” shot of some dumb-ass tennis player on the cover. I mean really. Who cares? But that’s how it went if the precious seven-day window elapsed before you wrangled up your own copy. (To tell the truth, I never lived through the harrowing ordeal described above; my older brother had a subscription to SI.)

Another thing I wonder about the swimsuit issue is if they’re ever in danger of running out of cute titles for the pictorials. You know the ones I mean: “California Dreamin’,” “Kissed by the Sun,” “No Strings Attached,” “Throwing in the Towel,” “Bahama Mamas,” and stuff like that. Surely after 30 years of this silliness they must be running low. Do they ever have to recycle? It’s not like the target audience looks at the words for more than .0006 milliseconds anyway.

I suspect they’re going to be scraping the bottom of the title-barrel soon, and it won’t be long before we see pictorials with names like, “More Locals on Boats Gawking at Models,” “Stuff You’ll Never See a Woman Wear on a Real Beach, Ever,” “Caught in a Fishing Net… Again!” and “Lots of Lots of Sand Strategically Glued to Lots and Lots of Butts.” Hell, I think I like those titles better anyway. At least they’re honest.

Speaking of the guys on the fishing boats, I always think they’re poor locals who really want to beat the hell out of the camera men and chase all the models away. After all, I’m sure they’re thrilled by the presence of these “Sirens of the Surf” who make about as much on a bad day as they made all last year.

I think the models and photographers are at least tacitly aware of this, and that would partially explain why they relentlessly try to convince the public what hard work it is being uber-glamorous. They lead sickeningly charmed lives and deep down they feel they need to justify themselves to people like you and me who work real jobs. How many times have you heard these models on TV blathering on about how “freezing” the water was when they did a recent photo shoot on the beach of (for example) Puerto Rico?

Really? Puerto Rico? Isn’t it like 80 degrees there year round? Nope! If you believe these guys, it never inches above 18 degrees Fahrenheit the day the SI swimsuit models are there. And they’re always forced to stay in the water for 67 hours straight! With NO FOOD or bathroom breaks!!! Then, after we hear about that, we always get treated to some obligatory footage of someone rushing over to swaddle a model in a blanket ‘cause she’s so “cold” from being in the water. Man, I’ll bet the workers down at Wal-Mart are relieved they don’t have to do THAT job.

To be fair, I suppose the supermodels have to portray themselves as put upon, because let’s face it. If you really knew how much one of these cuties makes for rolling around with a starfish taped to her ass, you’d want to blow your brains out.

Hmmmm. I guess we haven’t really come so far after all.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

McDonald's: They've Got Your Number

In theory, I have no problem with McDonald’s “extra value” meals (read: twice the death at half the price) but that does not mean I ALWAYS want an extra value meal. Call me crazy, but (whoa, that was fast) sometimes I just want a hamburger and a Coke. And maybe a mouth-scarring apple pie as an after. Sadly, this seemingly simple desire seems to cause great difficulties wherever I go. I am beginning to think I would gladly do away with the extra value meal concept if it meant avoiding this conversation:

Nite Owl: “Hi there, how’s it going?”

Clerk: *GRUNT*

Nite Owl: “Ok, then, I’d like to place an order TO go, but not an extra value meal…”

Clerk: A number TWO? Extra value meal? (pushes some buttons)

Nite Owl: Uh, no… TO GO, but NOT an extra value meal.

Clerk: *GRUNT* (pushes some “undo” buttons, disgustedly)

Nite Owl: Right then, I’d like a hamburg… (barely gets to finish the word)

(Sound of final receipt printing: CHA-CHUNK-CHA-CHUNK-CHA-CHUNK-BING) 95 cents please!!!

Nite Owl: Uh, yes. A couple more things actually.

Clerk: GRUNT! (Rips up receipt)

Nite Owl: So I’d like one hamburger…

Clerk: A number one extra value meal?

Nite Owl: (Grits teeth to avoid smashing a napkin-holder into the cash register)
NOOOOOOO… just a hamburger and…

Clerk: With cheese?

Nite Owl: What?

Clerk: Do you want cheese on your hamburger?

Nite Owl: (Fighting back urge to tell clerk that a hamburger with cheese is actually a cheeseburger, until he realizes that some idiot costumers probably DO complain that they wanted their “hamburger” with cheese after the fact.)
No THANKS, just a HAMBURGER.. with uh, just plain, I guess. Nothing on it. And a small Diet Coke… (again, barely gets to finish sentence)


Nite Owl: Wait… wait!!! A medium Diet Coke? I said a small.

Clerk: We don’t have small anymore, just medium, large, and oil tanker size.

Nite Owl: You realize that makes no sense right? You realize that you can’t have “medium” if there is no small, right?

Clerk: (Eyes glaze over, like grease-coated McDonald’s fries glistening in the sun)

Nite Owl: Forget it! Medium is fine. I also want an apple pie FOR dessert.

Clerk: A number FOUR? Extra value meal?

Nite Owl: NO! Not a number four! A hamburger, a Diet Coke, and an apple pie! Can’t I say anything that phonetically resembles a number without your extra-value sensor going off???
I’ve got to get home by FIVE, you know?

Clerk: What did you say?

Nite Owl: I said I have to get home by FIVE!

Clerk: What?

Nite Owl: Five. FIVE!!!

Clerk: OH! He’s our shortstop!

So you can clearly see my lack of fondness for the “extra value” concept. It’s enough to almost (repeat, ALMOST) scare any sanity-loving man off of artery-obstructing sodium-enriched food for life.

And for what it’s worth, the first time this happened, when I got home I discovered that my “plain” hamburger (with no cheese) was SO plain that it had no ketchup, pickles or shredded onion either. It was just a lonely, forlorn beef patty stranded on a McDonald’s bun.

Apparently, if you don’t walk into McDonald's and simply shout, “NUMBER THREE! LARGE! TO GO! WITH A COKE!” then you are seriously jeopardizing your chances of getting anything that even remotely resembles what you asked for. Of course, you’re still going to get a stale fish fillet or two that you didn’t want, and a couple of items will be missing completely… hell, that’s a given… but at least your order will be in the BALLPARK, and you’ll avoid the long, drawn-out vaudeville routine with the counter help.

It’s not that McDonald’s workers CAN’T take an order properly, it’s just that many times they’re either disinterested or rushing because they’ve got so many damn people to serve. I worked in fast food for eight years, and can tell you it’s not a pleasant job; it can really wear you down. Believe it or not, I’m a bit more patient than most customers when it comes to fast food service. But come on. Even I have my limits.

If things keep going this way, I may end up recruiting a bunch of my friends to dress up in costumes that represent my order. You know, like the old “Let’s All Go to the Lobby” guys from the movies, only with a McDonald’s theme. Steve can be the burger, Jon can be the hot apple pie, and I’ll be the Coke, and we’ll all just dance in the door and sashay right up to the counter. Who knows? Visual aids could be just the ticket to getting me what I want. Either that, or we'll end up getting our teeth kicked in by both the staff and customers. I say it's worth the risk! Besides, Jon dresses up as a hot apple pie on the weekends, so it wouldn’t be a big stretch for him anyway.

I don’t WANT to go to such extreme lengths, but it may ultimately come down to that. After all, trying to get a burger and a Coke isn’t supposed to be so stressful it clogs your arteries more than the meal itself.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Life: So Good, They Named a Prison Sentence After It

Life on Earth, I think we can pretty much all agree, is a royal suck-fest. If you think otherwise, then you haven’t been paying close enough attention. War, pestilence, disease, famine, poverty, racism, sexism, John Mayer videos… yeah, it’s pretty much an all-around open-all-night pain-rodeo. This is not to say there aren’t smatterings of pleasure and meaning to be had, like rainbow-colored sprinkles on a turd-filled cupcake. But let’s face it folks. This planet and all its inhabitants, by and large, pretty much blow.

And we really don’t know what to do about this dire situation in which we find ourselves, do we? As a result, we often catch ourselves aping the same empty platitudes and clichés that everyone else says, even though we know it’s all a crock. When was the last time you told someone, “Cheer up, it’s not so bad, things are going to get better” when you knew deep down things WERE that bad and they WEREN’T going to get better? You knew your words were empty, and yet you said it anyway because you didn’t know what else to do. Even worse, everyone knows that these expressions are just things people say and no one ever takes them to heart, which makes them even more pointless.

In this sea of human heartbreak and woe, I find myself alternately peeved and amused by the new-age-happy-bots who want me to find joy and beauty in EVERYTHING, be it the luminescent glow of the impending brake lights on the car three inches in front of me, or the enveloping feeling of warmth right before drowning, or the relief of being homeless and not having to worry about falling out of a nice, soft bed every night. These nutters genuinely believe that if the rest of us would only adopt the correct perspective (and walk around in a state of constant mental disconnect) we could really convince ourselves that the world's a pretty spiffy place afterall, where pink unicorns romp and frolic and there's a bonanza sale at Whole Foods every day. These are the same loonies who read "Real Simple" magazine, drink kiwi-flavored tea and need to de-toxify their bodies every six days.

Don’t get me wrong: I can certainly understand the value of being optimistic in certain adverse situations. Perhaps being fired from my job would be a good thing, because it would allow me to pursue my dream of playing the bongos on the streets of Pango Pango in a leather speedo for the rest of my thigh-chaffed days. On the other hand, what does it say about our existence that we feel so compelled to search for vestiges of “transcendent beauty” in everything from the ordinary to the mundane? Is reality SO sucky that we need to front-load our battered psyches with delusions of omni-present beauty and goodness in EVERYTHING? I guess we do.

And please don’t hit me with the gratitude routine. I’m extremely grateful everyday that I wasn’t born blind or deaf, among other things. But if you want me to find meaning/beauty in life by comparing my “fortune” to the misfortune of others, then count me out. If the best thing one can say about life is “At least I’m not that poor sucker” or “Thank god life didn’t kick me in the ‘nadz THIS go-round,”… well, that’s not exactly a glowing recommendation for the whole existence-hootenanny is it?

However, since existence on this planet is currently the only game in town, I guess it makes sense to hope for a couple of straights and flushes along the way until it's time to cash out. But please don’t kid yourself into thinking that somehow you’re ultimately in “control” of the game just because you’ve won a few hands. Sure, you can better your odds if you work on your strategy, but in the end the house always wins, and the game is always rigged against you.

And admiring the pretty lamination on all the pretty playing cards is never going to change that.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Spider-Man's "Brand New Day" Unmasked: They've Failed; Just When It Counted Most, They've Failed

AKA: Why Amazing Spider-Man #545 and #546 Are Total Disasters

OK, a word of warning: If you're not a fan of the Spider-Man comic books you'll probably want to check out right now. I don't want to alienate any one, but this “One More Day/Brand New Day” situation has me seething, and I have to vent somewhere.

This is the most asinine, ill-advised, wrong-headed move in all of comic book history and I am not exaggerating. It fails on so many levels it's PATHETIC, and I can’t imagine it won’t be ret-ret-conned within a year or so. Don’t get too attached to these new villains and characters, because I predict they’re ALL gonna be jettisoned completely when Marvel wises up and tries to erase this debacle from history.

For those of you who don’t know, here’s a quick paraphrase of where we are: Joe Quesada, the EIC of Marvel Comics, decided that Peter Parker’s 20-year marriage to Mary Jane (in real time) was a storytelling hindrance and he needed to get rid of it SOMEHOW, without killing her off or divorcing the characters, which he believed would age them.

So, he came up with this cockamamie notion of Peter Parker making a deal with the devil (Mephisto, in the Marvel U) to save his Aunt May’s life… on the condition that he would “lose” his marriage to Mary Jane in the process. Somehow… we’re not quite sure how… all the events “pretty much” played out the way we remember them the past 20 years, except that Peter and Mary Jane weren’t married. Oh, and everyone has forgotten that Spidey unmasked in public. And Harry Osborn is alive. And Peter’s living with Aunt May again. And hundreds if not thousands of little things we don’t know about have changed too. RIGHT. OK.

Once that outlandish, out-of-character plot contrivance was clumsily executed in the 4 part “One More Day,” we were then told by Merry Marvel that we should embrace “Brand New Day” as the jumping off point for the “second chapter” in Peter’s life. (You would think they’d want to avoid words that remind us of John Byrne’s “Chapter One.”) We’re also being told we should “LOOK FORWARD!” (read: not back at that crappy Mephisto stuff.)

Sorry guys, the ends don’t justify the means, and it’s not so easy to just “roll with the punches.” I submit this would be true even for readers who have never read a Spider-Man comic book before "BRAND NEW DAY.” This is just too egregious to overlook; and violates so many rules of good fiction/narrative that one would have to be brain dead to not be at least SOMEWHAT troubled by the whole thing. This has nothing to do with me being "older" (late 30's) by Joe's standards, and thereby lacking the ability to relate to this "younger" incarnation of the character. This has to do with bad storytelling, plain and simple. Tell a good story, and people will want to read it, regardless of their age. Tell a sucky one, and they'll flee in terror.

So why does the overall structure of “Brand New Day” suck so much? Let us count some of the ways.


When you watch an ongoing TV show, you know that the characters are really just actors and everything you see is fiction. However, when we immerse ourselves in fictional characters, we imagine them to have full lives and memories that extend back before the show (and presumably after). That’s why we ask questions like, “what do you think happened to them after the episode ended?” Likewise, we don’t imagine that when a character leaves a scene, that they simply cease to exist. At the very least, they exist no less than before they left the scene.

In other words, we develop a coherent, working model of the characters which allows them to be “real” within a certain schema. To introduce a plot device which effectively replaces characters with parallel-universe versions of themselves and remember a world that may or may not have existed, is to SERIOUSLY undermine the reader’s attachment or investment in that world. BND feels flat, forced and artificial at every turn, and I blame Joe Q., not Dan Slott.

Here’s an analogy: If someone came along and told you all the characters on the TV show “Brand New Jar” are all brains in a jar (for example), and possess no physical bodies, that would overshadow your perception of what’s happening on the show. This would be true even if you had never seen the “One More Jar” episode. You wouldn’t have to. You could TRY to “look forward” and get involved in what the characters are doing now and become invested in their lives, but that nagging feeling that they’re all just jar-brains is going to undermine everything you see.

There is no doubt that the weight and meaning of every event you witness in that context would be altered, because what you’re seeing is LESS real (in a sense) than fiction already is. Even worse, what if someone told you that before everyone became jar-brains in a fictional world, they were ACTUAL PEOPLE in a fictional world? Wouldn’t that dampen your enjoyment of those characters even more? I think it would have to.

Now, at this point I would expect Mighty Marvel to protest “mightily” that Peter and his friends aren’t jar-brains, they’re the real deal; they actually ARE Peter and Mary Jane and Harry Osborn, etc. I flat out reject this. Either Peter and his cohorts in “Brand New Day” are from a parallel reality, where all the events THEY remember actually did occur, or they are altered versions of the original characters living in a world which has been seriously tampered with to confirm their falsified memories.

If we accept scenario A, we are not reading Amazing Spider-man anymore, we are reading Amazing Parallel-Reality Spider-Man. That’s fine, I guess, but that means we don’t get to read about the Spider-man we all knew and loved for the last 20 years plus.

If we accept scenario B, the altered “one-Peter/one-universe” scenario, then why should I care about ANYTHING that happens to the characters in Brand New Day? They’re living a lie, and I can’t tell them!!! Everything they do is a hollow mockery of what really is, or what should have been, until the devil came along. They have memories of things that never happened, or altered memories of things that did. Worse, nothing has a feel of permanence. What’s to stop the devil from sashaying into town and shaking things up again? Who gives a crap what happens to so-and-so at the end of “Brand New Day?” It can all be undone with a little mystical mumbo-jumbo, if need be, at least in THEORY. It doesn’t matter if the editors say these changes are permanent; the narrative is FOREVER UNDERMINED. It doesn’t feel like anything’s at STAKE anymore. I don’t think they realize how damaging this Mephisto contrivance really is to the integrity of the story.

I believe part of the problem is Joe wants to have his cake and eat it too, and he expects us to just “accept things” that aren’t clear, using the pretense of “magic.” Well Joe is no Criss Angel. Marvel expects us to believe that Peter in BND and Peter in OMD is the same guy, but that can’t be (in a very real sense) without having him and the rest of the world live a lie. And that’s a problem.


We could almost make sense of all this if we view “Brand New Day” as the adventures of parallel reality Spider-Man. But Marvel is trying so bad to resist the notion of parallel worlds in its main universe that the whole concept as executed in BND is an unholy, unintelligible mess. If this was a parallel reality, we could at least believe these characters have SOME sort of claim to legitimacy. We could imagine that they have full lives that are playing out differently than 616 Spider-man; we just never got to see them before. Obviously, it would take some time for the reader to get invested in such a story. But it could be done. Unfortunately, as many people have pointed out, Marvel already has an Ultimate line which ostensibly serves this function.

Likewise, rather than EARNING our emotional investment, Marvel wants to hedge its bets by keeping up the pretense that this is the SAME Peter Parker in the same universe (with altered memories) and we should still feel the dramatic gravitas that stems from a lot of key moments in Peter’s life. They want to cherry-pick what we should keep and we should dispose of. In other words, they implore us to “LOOK FORWARD!...but oh! -wink wink- Keep this! And this. Oh, and that wasn’t too bad, if we tweak it a little… but LOOK FORWARD, true believers!” To which I answer: Huhn?

The end result of trying to straddle two different narrative interpretations is the story loses its power on both counts: It has neither the dramatic impact of watching a whole new reality reveal itself, nor the emotional impact of watching the same character in strange new circumstances.


Did no one think this was a bad idea? I know they’re probably planning on using Mephisto for some “dramatic” stories down the line (who the hell knows anymore), but if this is really the new status quo, and the beginning of a “bold new chapter,” couldn’t we have predicated it on something other than the Prince of Lies? Sort of taints/overshadows the whole thing, doesn’t it?

If you don’t think that’s a big deal, let me re-emphasize for you: PETE’S ENTIRE LIFE IS NOW THE DIRECT RESULT OF MAKING A PACT WITH THE MASTER OF ALL THAT IS EVIL. Not only that, but the REST OF THE WORLD HAS CHANGED TOO!!!! So now the entire universe is a grotesque, Diablo-determined distortion of what was and was “meant” to be. And try not to think about the butterfly effect of all the people who will probably live or die because of the imperceptible changes in the fabric of reality, because Joe sure isn’t. That was really nice of Peter to do that.

Of course, all Peter’s worried about in OMD is HIS kid who won’t get to be born. I’m sure Marvel would probably tell us that no one else will have their fate changed in any appreciable way by this pact. Are we really supposed to believe that an event like having Harry back from the dead (for example) wouldn’t have major repercussions on people’s lives, somewhere along the line? And yeah, this time PETER would be responsible for things that go wrong. Most of the time Peter just whines about stuff he really has no control over. This time he’s FULLY responsible for SCREWING THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE. Wow.

Ah, who cares, if it gets us to where we need to be, right? NOW LOOK FORWARD, DAMN YOU!


This has been mentioned in reviews and on many message boards already, so I won’t delve into it much here. Suffice it to say, Peter would know better than to make a deal with Mephisto; he would know that Aunt May wouldn’t want him to change reality so she could live; he would at least contemplate the consequences of such a drastic, sweeping change; and it’s questionable he would willingly give up his marriage to MJ for such a selfish reason. (HE can’t live with the guilt over May? How narcissistic can they MAKE this “lovable” loser be, for kripe’s sake?)


There is nothing wrong, in theory, with wanting Peter to seem younger and more unencumbered. But the whole “swinging single” vibe which pervades the comic book is downright weird. And the first page of BND, JOKE OR NOT, plays like a big middle finger to the fans. (I don’t know if I should admire or be pissed off by the colossal balls on Marvel. It’s like they’re re-affirming their intentions and really want to rub your face in it. It reminds me of George Bush stubbornly digging his heels in the sand, refusing to admit he’s made any real mistakes and foolishly thinking he’ll be vindicated by history after his presidency goes down in flames.)

The 2 page “crib notes” in Brand New Day really captures the outdated creepiness of it all. JRJR gives us a lovely rendition of Gwen and Mary Jane with the caption “Pete’s Girls” (because that’s really all they are, ya know) and a brief description of their roles in this brave new world. Hey yeah, and one of ‘em’s DEAD! WHOA, DON’T BRING ME DOWN MAN! BUMMERS-VILLE! (CUE TEARS) OK, ENOUGH OF THAT! NOW LET’S GO SHOOT SOME WEBS!!! THWIP! THWIP!

Even though the early Spider-man stories were groundbreaking in many ways, they were still pervaded by a sensibility that was informed by the era in which they were created. To try and shoehorn that sensibility into a 2008 comic book, especially one that’s being built on the flimsiest of premises, is a risky endeavor at best. In more capable hands, it could be a bold statement of artistic intent. In Joe’s hands, it comes off as inept attempt at shipping a few more units and recapturing the glory days he never knew, but is single-handedly trying to destroy.


Some of the more pivotal moments in recent Marvel history have been either shrugged off or fudged in an attempt to get this clumsy reboot off the ground. Spider-man’s unmasking, Peter’s running from the law, Aunt May’s shooting, Aunt May’s discovery of Spider-man’s identity, Peter Parker’s rebirth, organic webshooters… like ‘em or hate ‘em, these storylines could have given GOOD writers years and years of fertile material. Many fans were looking forward to seeing these issues addressed or resolved in a dramatic, ORGANIC fashion.

But there is nothing organic about BND. (Guess that’s why they got rid of the organic webshooters.) Apparently, Joe’s plan for the past few years has been to just throw as many crazy plot devices out there as possible because he knew he was going to flush it all away with OMD/BND. Viewed in this light, Spider-man’s unmasking comes off like a cheap ploy to sell more comics instead of a measured attempt to tell good stories. It’s shoddy; it’s a disgrace. People care about these characters and the editors are just screwing with them.


Now that Marvel is claiming Peter and Mary Jane were never married, (and Harry is alive, and the webshooters are back, etc. etc.) hundreds of issues of backstory have been rendered inaccurate or unclear in Marvel’s ongoing continuity. This is not the same as ignoring an arc of Ghost Rider, or pretending a year or so of stories in Moon Knight was a dream. This is far-reaching and almost universal damage to the Marvel U. at large.

Marvel (or Joe) can poo-poo this and say the stories are still there and people can read them at anytime, but that shows a stunning failure to grasp what comics are all about. Part of the fun in reading comics is immersing yourself in a sweeping mythos that you can go back and explore at any time. At the very least, you know there IS a history even if you don’t read the old books. Spider-man and Mary Jane’s marriage is not a small thing that can be undone without affecting tons of stories, because Spider-man is their flagship character and is ubiquitous in the Marvel U.

Not only that, the dramatic import of an event like Harry’s death has just been completely negated by his return. How the writers cannot see this is beyond me. Part of the reason Gwen hasn’t come back (except as a clone) isn’t just because her death defines a lot of who Spider-man is; it’s because it would drain, in hindsight, a lot of the drama associated with her death scene.

It is disingenuous for people like Joey Q to just say, “The old stories are still there for people to read.” If they REALLY believed this, then why the hesitation in bringing back Gwen? I’m sure there are writers who have wanted to do this. And hell, that would make Pete seem even younger if his FIRST girlfriend was still around! The reason they DON’T bring Gwen back (at least not yet) is because they KNOW comics aren’t only about what’s to come, but the drama derived from what has come before. To feign ignorance of that fact just to forward some hackneyed agenda is downright insulting.

The craziest thing of all, believe it or not, is that I am by no means a continuity nut. I don’t care if they play fast and lose with the rules from time to time, or prune away stories that were kind of crappy to begin with. But this is like cutting off everything below the waist just because a toe is infected. Were things really THAT bad that there was no other solution other than throwing the entire Marvel Universe into a state of flux? Considering the amount of ass kissing for JMS at the end of OMD you would think things were going GOOD for Spidey!


While the goal of Brand New Day is, ostensibly, to return the character to his roots, I can’t help but feel like this is just another trip down a well-traveled road, and the device used to get us here ain’t helping things. There MUST have been a better way to inject freshness into the title than THIS. Or, maybe not. Maybe The House of Ideas has just gone to the well one too many times over the years and sucked the very life out of their most important property. It’s very hard to come up with fresh, new stories that are “true to the character” when you’re cranking out like 986 books a month that feature that character. Maybe it’s too late to reverse the rot. Maybe it’s time Marvel stop relying on Spider-Man to prop up their sorry asses every two seconds and actually have a new idea for once.


In summary, I’d like to mention that when I first heard about OMD, I actually thought the concept was intriguing. Peter has had a lot of tragedies in his life, and another death would be redundant at this point. But I think there is pathos in the idea that two lovers would just forget each other and not even remember the love they shared. It’s a different kind of tragedy, I thought, and I held out hope that OMD and BND could be good.

Boy was I wrong. The execution has been horrid (barring some decent writing from JMS in spots), and you can see the hand of editorial mandate forcing the pen across every page. That can’t be something an EIC aspires to, can it? To make you PAINFULLY aware of his involvement? Basically, OMD comes off like a rush job designed to get rid of Mary Jane as quickly as possible without tapping into any of the real drama inherent in the scenario.

BND then grabs the torch and ends up feeling ephemeral, fake, inconsequential and unearned, asking us to empathize with characters just because they are running around with the names of characters we once cared about. Sorry, no dice. The whole thing is built on the most dubious of foundations, and as a fan, I hate it. A house built on a weak foundation is doomed to collapse, no matter how great the paint and wood and furniture inside are.

The most ironic thing about all this? They didn't want to kill Mary Jane so they devised OMD, which ended up killing all three of the leads instead. Peter, Mary Jane AND Aunt May have now been, in effect, killed and replaced by alternate reality versions of themselves. R.I.P. , guys.

Way to go, Marvel.