Tuesday, September 29, 2009

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1999


After spending the past few months writing up best-of lists from years that I knew were strong and top-heavy and contained some of my all-time favorite albums, I decided to challenge myself this time around. The late '90s and early '00s have never really been that high on my radar because I just wasn't into top 40 and CHR around that time; rather than play this by memory, I decided to do my homework. When I look back at that year, it was around the time that I really got into classic rock; I had my first real tastes of bands like Led Zeppelin, The Who, and The Rolling Stones during the summer that I turned 15. 1999 was also the year where I began pursuing a career in radio; I hadn't really thought about what I wanted to do with my life at that point, and I had listened to the old WXCD-FM in Chicago to such an extent that I was really curious about being a disc jockey.

In a way, the soundtrack to '99 gets drowned out by all the other artistic achievements of that year. It was a strong year for movies, with cinematic milestones and cult faves such as The Matrix, Being John Malkovich, Magnolia, Fight Club, Man on the Moon, Office Space, and to a lesser extent American Beauty. Over on television, "The Sopranos," "The West Wing," "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," "Freaks & Geeks," "Family Guy," "Futurama," and "Spongebob Squarepants" all bowed in '99. The year in literature alone gave us Isaac's Storm, The Onion Presents: Our Dumb Century, and the third Harry Potter novel. From a pop culture standpoint, the whole year was an assault on the senses. After five weeks of research, however, I think I've pieced together a pretty good summation of what the sounds of 1999 were all about. Here goes:

BEST ALBUMS:
1. The Soft Bulletin, The Flaming Lips. After fiddling around with an experimental, neo-psychedlic sound for a little over a decade, The Lips pieced together a career-defining album in the wake of a bizarre incident that nearly destroyed the band. (Listen to "The Spiderbite Song" for more details.) Their previous release Zaireeka was a four-disc cacophony of noise that denies any comparison; Bulletin is not as difficult or layered but probably just as weird and a lot more accessible.
2. 69 Love Songs, The Magnetic Fields. This set is paid as advertised; three CDs with 23 tracks each, all of which run about two minutes in length, each about love, infatuation, and romance. The songs bounce from one genre to another, from punk to country to the old soft shoe, with a minimalist acoustic sound that's equally cozy and charming. My only question is, why 69 songs? ;)
3. Play, Moby. Nearly every track on this disc either became a top 10 hit, was used in a TV commercial, or became the theme song of a short-lived TV show. If you churned out that many catchy tunes, you'd use every part of the cow, too.
4. Summer Teeth, Wilco
5. When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts..., Fiona Apple
6. 1965, The Afghan Whigs
7. Remedy, Basement Jaxx
8. The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, Ben Folds Five
9. Midnight Vultures, Beck
10. Californication, Red Hot Chili Peppers. I have a weak spot for a good comeback story, and the Peppers' resurgence stood out the most that year. The uneven One Hot Minute notwithstanding, this was the true follow-up to RHCP's 1991 breakthrough Blood Sugar Sex Magik. With guitarist John Frusicante back in the fold and frontman Anthony Kiedis looking at his demons in the rearview mirror, Californication is as theraputic as it is a goofy, funky party album.

Honorable Mentions: The Gay Parade, Of Montreal; Stupid Dream, Porcupine Tree.

BEST SINGLES:
"My Own Worst Enemy," Lit
"Drive," Incubus
"Let Me Go," Cake
"The Kids Aren't Alright," The Offspring
"Take a Picture," Filter
"Everything You Want," Vertical Horizon
"Steal My Sunshine," LEN
"She's So High," Tal Bachman
"Angel," Sarah McLachlan
"The Great Beyond," R.E.M.

BEST VIDEOS:
1. "Learn To Fly," Foo Fighters. In a year where the death of John F. Kennedy Jr. dominated the gossip pages, several music videos with plane crashes at the heart of the plot were pulled by MTV out of respect to the mourning family. Where Filter's "Take a Picture" and eerie and mopey, "Learn To Fly" was a fun romp. Plus, how can you go wrong with a cameo by Tenacious D?
2. "My Name Is," Enimem. The first of many topical and incediary clips by the "artiste" Marshall Mathers. His Clinton impression looks kinda like Andrew McCarthy.
3. "Praise You," Fatboy Slim. Spike Jonze's gonzo imagination runs wild again. The whole clip is the end result of a mockumentary about a spazzy small-time choreographer (played by Jonze) and his gaggle of dancing misfits.
4. "The Child," Alex Gopher. The director of this video has repeatedly referred to this effort as "word porn," though it's what happens after procreation that dominates the premise.
5. "Coffee & TV," Blur. A poignant love story about anthropomorphic milk cartons, with a mystery to boot. I can't say anything else about it without ruining the plot, though the ambitious usage of old-school trick photography is a sight to behold.

Special thanks to mtjaws for his contribution to this blog entry.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Spare The Rod and Spoil The Toddler

Last weekend Christopher Kelly, an adviser and former fundraiser for impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, died suddenly at age 51 under mysterious circumstances. Kelly, who was convicted last month of tax fraud and was due to report to prison on September 18th, was expected to cooperate with authorities and tell them the full extent of the corruption in the Blagojevich administration. Whether or not this will hinder the feds' investigation remains to be seen; with overwhelming evidence against him, at this point it's not a question of whether Blagojevich will be found guility but how severe his sentence will be. Blago, on the other hand was nowhere near where Kelly's body was found; the former governor was in New York City, beginning another round of mugging to the cameras and stating his case to any media pundit that will listen to (but not necessarily tolerate) him. Kelly's testimony would've fueled the fire, but the government has plenty of lighters and oily rags to spare.

As one Illinois political scandal fades toward its inevitable conclusion, another might be unspooling as we speak. I'm not sure how much national media attention has been given towards Todd Stroger, the incumbent Cook County Board President, but he makes the news here in Chicago almost every night. Last week, it was announced that the Illinois Democratic Party would not endorse Stroger for another term and that there would be a party primary held in early 2010. Stroger's stint as county president has been one big botch job; thrust into office after his father suffered a massive stroke in 2006, "The Toddler" has benefited from nepotism and, like Blagojevich, has stridently defended his platforms despite decreasing public support and near-constant vilification in the local media. In his three years in office, his most notable achievements include hiking the county sales tax to 10.1% (the highest in the nation) and encouraging further nepotism and cronyism. Would anyone care to guess why Stroger has a 10% approval rating?

One last parting shot: have you noticed how Republicans don't want the public option in health care, yet they want it in their marriages? ;)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Why Your Team Won't Win Super Bowl XLIV


Ah, football season. For some, it's the beginning of the "real" sports year, when America's real pasttime returns from seven months of hibernation; for others, it's a pleasant distraction between baseball and hockey seasons. (Personally, I sway more towards the former than the latter.) Though I'm excited about my Bears' prospects this year, there can be such a thing as too much optimism. Much like my baseball preview earlier this year, with my predictions I give one or two reasons why your team will not win the Super Bowl this year. Who's got the goods and who are the poseurs? Let's find out:
AFC EAST
1. New England (11-5) Tom Brady had better be healthy. The D-line might be on the cusp of an overhaul.
2. Miami* (10-6) Same team as last year, but good luck beating anybody in the AFC East or South. Two rookie starting CBs exposes lack of depth.
3. New York Jets (8-8) Sanchez was a nice long-term pick-up. Playoffs in 2010?
4. Buffalo (5-11) This whole team feels thrown together. Lee Evans will be Trent Edwards' top target, not an aging and overpaid T.O.

AFC NORTH
1. Pittsburgh (12-4) A model of consistency that defies math and logic. However, do they really have what it takes to be a dynasty?
2. Baltimore* (10-6) Could be really dangerous if the defense stays healthy. Joe Flacco will have a hard time following up his sensational rookie year.
3. Cincinnati (7-9) Carson Palmer and Chad Ocho Cinco are reportedly sharing an apartment. How will this help matters?
4. Cleveland (2-14) Becoming the second winless team of this decade is not out of reach. Hellooooo, first overall draft pick!

AFC SOUTH
1. Indianapolis (11-5) Lots of new faces led to awkward preseason and baffling 1-3 record. Manning and Saturday remain the best QB-center combo of the decade.
2. Jacksonville (9-7) Like Seattle and Baltimore, it all comes down to injuries. Expect an increase over last year's 29 team sacks.
3. Houston (8-8) If Houston were in any other division, they'd compete for a first-round bye. Rex Grossman is Matt Schaub's understudy. Gulp.
4. Tennessee (6-10) Ancient O-line will show its age. Did somebody forget to tell these guys Vince Young is still their quarterback?

AFC WEST
1. San Diego (9-7) This team does not deserve to be coached by Norv Turner. With anybody else the Bolts would be a contender.
2. Kansas City (7-9) Matt Cassel is a perfect match for Todd Haley's shotgun-happy offense. Question is, will the new 3-4 scheme work?
3. Denver (6-10) Kyle Orton will make no attempt in replacing Jay Cutler. Also fiddling with that trendy 3-4 scheme, but with all the wrong parts.
4. Oakland (3-13) Adding aging D-liner Richard Seymour won't fix the Raiders' myriad issues on and off the field.

NFC EAST
1. New York Giants (12-4) Losing Plaxico Burress won't make a difference. Wondering if the pass rush can keep it together for 16 games will.
2. Philadelphia* (10-6) If Brian Westbrook gets injured again, that last wild card spot will go to the Cowboys. Is Michael Vick worth the distraction?
3. Dallas (9-7) The Cowboys will underperform simply to prevent Tony Romo from getting humiliated in the playoffs again.
4. Washington (5-11) For Daniel Snyder, the 'Skins are like Beanie Babies; it's a big, trendy investment from 10 years ago that hasn't paid off.

NFC NORTH
1. Chicago (9-7) Cutler's a stud, but will his petulance wear down the rest of the team?
2. Minnesota (7-9) All Day and his fellow receivers will keep this train wreck competitive.
3. Green Bay (6-10) Second-easiest schedule in the league doesn't hide the Packs' inability to convert a first or second down.
4. Detroit (3-13) Will improve on 2008 win total. Need I say more?

NFC SOUTH
1. Atlanta (11-5) The Dirty Birds have a narrow edge on a tight --albeit humdrum-- division. Can Matt Ryan avoid a sophomore jinx?
2. Carolina (9-7) This franchise underwhelms year after year. A winning record might actually be too generous this time around.
3. New Orleans (7-9) Quite possibly the worst pass defense in the NFC. Drew Brees and his pass-happy offense will be stuck doing the Lord's work.
4. Tampa Bay (6-10) Signing Kellen Winslow, Jr. automatically enhances a mediocre offense. Too bad the Bucs couldn't fix their defense or secondary.

NFC WEST
1. Seattle (11-5) The She-hawks will pound anything in sight... as long as the offense stays healthy.
2. Arizona (10-6)* Lack of a clutch defense, post-Super Bowl hangover will hinder an otherwise talented lineup.
3. San Francisco (5-11) Coach Singletary will push fundamentals and old-school grit on a brash young team, but where's the talent?
4. St. Louis (4-12) There's a glimmer of hope here... in two years. That's not sarcasm; I can see the nucleus of a playoff contender in the baby Rams.

*Wild Card

In all seriousness, here are my straight-up predictions for the 2009 NFL season:
First Head Coach Fired (During Season): Brad Childress, Vikings
First Head Coach Fired (Post-season): Josh McDaniels, Broncos
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Mark Sanchez, Jets
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Tyson Jackson, Chiefs
NFL MVP: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
Super Bowl XLIV: Giants 24, Steelers 20

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

September? Already?

I'm working extra hours at work this week, so I'll have to keep this short:

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) was an eloquent statesman, no friend of the conservative think-tank yet respected for his negotiation skills and many years of hard-fought service to the American government. A lot of people have argued in the past week that his death at age 77 has been blown out of proportion by the media, a criticism that isn't completely invalid. If Teddy wasn't part of a legendary political family, or the last living reminder of a halyconic dynasty frequently beset by tragedy, coverage of his passing would've been incredibly basic: "Breaking News" status on all the cable and internet news outlets, a handful of mournful blurbs from those who knew him closest, and a proper funeral that would've merited (at most) 30 seconds of attention on the 10 o'clock news. Alas, Kennedy was no ordinary public servant; he carried the burden of his older brothers' premature deaths --not to mention his own unfortunate youthful discretions-- to become the face of the Democratic party and one of the most crucial liberal movers-and-shakers of the past 50 years. Whether you liked him or not, there's never going to be anybody quite like Teddy blustering through the U.S. Senate ever again.

Other notes:

+ I somehow managed to draft Adrian Peterson and LaDainian Tomlinson onto my fantasy football team this season. Even though my league has just six teams, I still have no idea how I pulled that off.

+ Meanwhile, in fantasy baseball I dropped Johan Santana following his bone chip injury and picked up Randy Wolf, who'd been a workhorse on my other team. From the looks of it, both of my fantasy teams will make the playoffs this year (one has already clinched).

+ Did the Associated Press completely forget that Utah is a dry state?

+ Scientists have discovered the coldest, driest, calmest place on Earth... on the other side of Gov. Mark Sanford's bed.

+ Happy 70th anniversary, World War II!