Tuesday, May 25, 2010

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1987


For this month's musical countdown, I'm rectifying a wrong of sorts:

Back in October 2008, around the time that I first started writing these lists, I had pointed out that the scribes at AllMusic.com --the inspiration of sorts for what I'm doing now-- had posted a collage of great albums and songs from 1987. I scoffed at the idea of doing a 1987 list, opting to cover 2005 instead, yet my reasoning was quite paltry. Looking back, this was a mistake; these past two years or so, I've covered at least two twelve-month spans (1989 and 1999) that I can barely justify as great years in music. It just didn't feel right.

Well, mea culpa. I evidentally didn't do my homework then, and here I stand correcting my blunder. After spending the last week or two pouring over the sights and sounds (mostly sounds) of '87, I present my belated homage to the year of Black Monday, Baby Jessica, and the Tower Commission. Hair metal was king, but their well-coifed debauchery was undermined somewhat by a number of college acts getting their first taste of the mainstream. Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson, both riding on the success of career-defining albums from earlier in the decade, released their follow-up efforts. From a radio perspective, it was the last vestiges of the classic rock and top 40 eras, a transition accelerated by the demise of prominent stations like KMET-FM in Los Angeles and WLS-AM in Chicago.


In the end, I guess what threw me off was the overload of kitsch in late '80s pop culture. It was a year of cheesy movies (Dirty Dancing, Can't Buy Me Love, Three Men and a Baby) and cheesy TV shows ("Full House," "Matlock," and "21 Jump Street" bowed that year), but not necessarily cheesy music. Sure, it's hard to argue that pop music was headed in the right direction then, though like recent years, the best and most challenging sounds weren't necessarily getting radio airplay. Here goes:


ALBUMS

1. The Joshua Tree, U2. Fusing the textured sonics of The Unforgettable Fire with the most anthem-centric moments of War, U2's fifth studio album plays out like the soundtrack to the aftermath of a riot. This is also the album that marks Bono's transition from distinctly charismatic lead singer to love-him-or-hate-him super-celebrity with a god complex. Divisive frontman or not, the songs on Tree are top-notch; hit singles like "With or Without You" hold their own against memorable album cuts like "One Tree Hill."
2. Appetite For Destruction, Guns N' Roses. For an album that defines late '80s hair metal, Gn'R had little interest in the usual tropes of the subgenre. Where Poison and Mötley Crüe sang fun, stupid songs about sex, drugs, and rock n' roll, Axl Rose found inspiration within the dark side of the urban sprawl. In that moment, Axl became the most compelling character in rock; he's a misogynist, drowning in his own anger and bile, yet oddly vulnerable in the sleazy
subculture he calls home.
3. Pleased To Meet Me, The Replacements. In light of his recent passing, truer words couldn't be spoken: "And the children by the million sing for Alex Chilton/when he comes around/they sing, 'I'm in love'/what's that song?/'Yeah, I'm in love, with that song.'"
4. Document, R.E.M.
5. You're Living All Over Me, Dinosaur Jr.
6. Paid In Full, Eric B. and Rakim
7. Sign O' The Times, Prince
8. Hysteria, Def Leppard
9. Music For The Masses, Depeche Mode
10. Psonic Psunspot (a/k/a Chips from the Chocolate Fireball), The Dukes of Stratosphear. An on-the-money homage to '60s psychedelic-rock, Andy Partridge and company initially denied that this was some goofy XTC side project. Nobody was fooled, and 23 years on we've benefitted from being so astute. XTC had always worn their influences on their sleave, so one might argue that a full-blown homage was a long time coming. The leadoff track "Vanishing Girl" is a sublime obeisance of The Hollies, while the trippy single "You're A Good Man, Albert Brown" evokes Sgt. Peppers-era Beatles.

Honorable Mentions: Warehouse: Songs & Stories, Hüsker Dü; Kick, INXS; If I Shall From Grace With God, The Pogues; Tunnel of Love, Bruce Springsteen; Solitude Standing, Suzanne Vega.

SINGLES

"Walk Like An Egyptian," The Bangles
"Still of the Night," Whitesnake
"Beds Are Burning," Midnight Oil
"Rag Doll," Aerosmith
"Midnight Blue," Lou Gramm
"Smooth Criminal," Michael Jackson
"Go Cut Creator Go," LL Cool J
"Wishing Well," Terence Trent D'Arby
"What Have I Done To Deserve This?" Pet Shop Boys feat. Dusty Springfield
"Heart and Soul," T'Pau

VIDEOS

1. "Land of Confusion," Genesis. Grotesque puppets resembling various celebrities and world leaders populate this uncharacteristically political clip from the English prog-rockers.
2. "Don't Dream It's Over," Crowded House. A thoughtful, nostalgic clip that befits one of the '80s most wistful ballads.
3. "Dude Looks Like a Lady," Aerosmith. After spending nearly a decade fighting their way out of a druggy hell, the bad boys from Boston broke through to the MTV generation with this silly, fun clip.
4. "Where The Streets Have No Name," U2. An impromptu rooftop concert in LA captures the essence of Bono (for better or worse) as a balladeer in a live setting.
5. "Missionary Man," Eurythmics. The stop-motion innovations of Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" clip accent this top 40 hit, one of the last U.S. chart successes for the duo of Lennox and Stewart.

Before I go, I just want to say one thing: GO BLACKHAWKS!!!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

My Fifth Annual Fantasy Emmy Ballot

Though the TV season doesn't officially end until May 26th, it's not too soon to speculate which of our favorite shows will earn some Emmy hardware come September. In spite of last year's decision to expand all the acting and show categories to six nominees --a decision I erronously overlooked on my roster last year-- it was a weak year for new shows and there were few fresh faces. 2009-10, on the other hand, gave us a plethora of promising rookies, all chomping at the bit to change the dreary status quo. With that said, here is my annual fantasy Emmy ballot:

Outstanding Animated Program, Less Than One Hour: American Dad! (for the episode "Rapture's Delight"), Family Guy ("Road to the Multiverse"), The Simpsons ("Treehouse of Horror XX"), South Park ("Sexual Healing"), and Spongebob Squarepants ("The Clash of Triton").

Best Writing for a Comedy/Music/Variety Series: "Late Show with David Letterman," "Real Time with Bill Maher," "Saturday Night Live," "The Colbert Report," and "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

Best Comedy/Music/Variety Series: "Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson," "Late Show with David Letterman," "The Colbert Report," "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," and "Saturday Night Live."

Best Reality-Competition Program: "The Amazing Race," "American Idol," "Dancing With The Stars," "Survivor," "Top Chef."

Best Supporting Actress, Drama: Khandi Alexander, Treme; Rose Byrne, Damages; Rachel Griffiths, Brothers & Sisters; Christina Hendricks, Mad Men; Elizabeth Moss, Mad Men; and Dianne Weist, In Treatment.

Best Supporting Actress, Comedy: Gillian Jacobs, Community; Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock; Jane Lynch, Glee; Holland Taylor, Two and a Half Men; Kristen Wiig, SNL; and Vanessa Williams, Ugly Betty.

Best Supporting Actor, Drama: Nestor Carbonell, Lost; Michael Emerson, Lost; Vincent Kartheiser, Mad Men; Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad; Martin Short, Damages; and John Slattery, Mad Men.

Best Supporting Actor, Comedy: Ty Burrell, Modern Family, Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men; Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother; Jack McBrayer, 30 Rock; Nick Offerman, Parks & Recreation; and Rainn Wilson, The Office.

Best Actress in a Drama Series: Glenn Close, Damages; Sally Field, Brothers & Sisters; Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit; Holly Hunter, Saving Grace; January Jones, Mad Men; and Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer.

Best Actress in a Comedy Series: Toni Collette, United States of Tara; Tina Fey, 30 Rock; Julia Louis-Dreyfus, The New Adventures of Old Christine; Lia Michele, Glee; Mary Louise Parker, Weeds; and Amy Poehler, Parks & Recreation.

Best Actor in a Drama Series: Gabriel Byrne, In Treatment; Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad; Jon Hamm, Mad Men; Hugh Laurie, House; Tim Roth, Lie To Me; and Kiefer Sutherland, 24.

Best Actor in a Comedy Series: Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock; Steve Carell, The Office; Joel McHale, Community; Ed O'Neill, Modern Family; Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory; and Charlie Sheen, Two and a Half Men.

Best Drama Series: "Breaking Bad," "Damages," "Dexter," "In Treatment," "Lost," "Mad Men."

Best Comedy Series: "30 Rock," "The Big Bang Theory," "Glee," "How I Met Your Mother," "Modern Family," "The Office."

Normally, this list is a hodgepodge of nominees I'd like to see and those that'll be nominated regardless, but this year I have a feeling that it'll balance out. I'm confident that at least 80% of my predictions this time around are right on the money. If you think I'm overlooking anyone, go ahead and call me out.

Next week: the year in music, 1987.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

On the Make in Salt Lake


When people think of global hotspots of political upheaval and social unrest, the state of Utah normally doesn't come to mind. Two seperate yet similar incidents last weekend might change that perception. Last weekend, the Beehive State GOP rejected three-term incumbent Sen. Robert Bennett, making him the first mainline Republican of note to fall victim to the Tea Party movement. Though Bennett had won the support of various conservative organizations in and outside of Utah, his vote in support of TARP 18 months ago was his apparent undoing. The Utah Dems, on the other hand, are shifting to the left at about the same velocity. On the same day Bennett lost his party's favor, state Democrats denied Rep. Jim Matheson a direct nomination, forcing the moderate liberal into a primary with environmental activist Claudia Wright. A member of the U.S. House since 2000, Matheson drew his constituents' ire for waffling on President Obama's health care reforms and for voting against an energy bill meant to curb carbon emissions. These two consequential votes are a petri dish serving of the growing political divide that will ultimately shape the midterm elections come November; the left is consolidating their power, the right is sharping their knives, and the center is losing out in more ways than anyone can possibly imagine.

Other notes:

+ Is it just me, or does U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan look like Kevin James in drag? In all seriousness though, here's the lowdown on the biggest wild card to nominated for the nation's highest court in recent memory.

+ You may recall from last year that I was following the story of a woman who was killed by another woman as she painted her nails while she drived. Well, ladies and gentlemen, justice has been served. No word yet on a sentence, though I doubt she'll receive the bare minimum of six months' probation.

+ Last week I went to my first two baseball games of the season. I'm an autograph hound of sorts, so I often try my luck during batting practice. At the second game (Kansas City at Chicago, May 5th) I had my eyes set on Kevin Seitzer, the former Royals star and current hitting coach, and I made a note of bringing an old baseball card of his to sign. Standing alongside the visitors' dugout, I spotted Seitzer chatting behind the batting cage with a scout. As Kevin headed towards us, the guy standing next to me yelled "yo, Steve!" thinking it was bullpen coach Steve Foster. Seitzer sees that this guy has Foster's card, says "that's not me," and makes a beeline for a clubhouse. Drat!

+ Speaking of baseball, my fantasy misadventures are right on par with my first two years in roto. I'm middling in the TV.com league, yet my other team has a stranglehold on first place. I took a risk of sorts by picking up Barry Zito early on in the season; alas, I only added him to one team and not the other, and suffice to say they're reaping the benefits. I augmented my TV.com team, however with Cardinals SP Jaime Garcia and Orioles closer Alfredo Simon, who so far have been paying off in spurts.

+ Finally, last weekend marked the 50th anniversary of "the pill," the first approved contraceptive. At least, I'm 99% sure it was. ;)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Run for the Border

With health care reform in the bag and financial reform almost there, it looks like the raging debate of the summer will be immigration. This might be the most divisive topic that our government has tackled since President Obama took office; it's a really overwhelming and frustrating situation, one that I'm not sure has a clear remedy. So far, it's been a war of words between guilt-tripping liberals and embarassingly ignorant "speak American" conservatives, bickering over an issue that should've been resolved 60 years ago. To elaborate:

It's pretty easy to pin the blame on Mexican day laborers. One will argue that they're eating up our nation's resources like a vampire craves blood, though statistics suggest that illegal immigration might have already peaked. At least 100,000 immigrants have left the state of Arizona since 2008, not necessarily because of a overtly harsh law that was passed, but because the struggling economy depleted the number of jobs available. Traffic on the Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas borders, both legally and underground, have also decreased in the wake of the recession. Sadly, despite good intentions SB1070 is tainted by prejudice and racial profiling; do you expect any black or white Arizona citizens, regardless of whether or not they're American citizens, to be affected by this law? Paperwork or not, every Latino in Arizona has a target on their back.

What it comes down to is, We're paying for the mistakes of past generations. The government is finally putting their foot down 60 years after they should've gotten off their keisters. Immigration laws cut pretty fast and loose until the early 1950s, no matter what direction you were coming from. Our ancestors were perceived as cheap labor by rich Anglo-Saxons, and their limited knowledge of our native tongue kept them from asking for more money or forming unions. Looking back, it's amazing how so much has changed since the Ellis Island days. (In skimming the history of this issue I'm not trying to put these migrant workers in sympathetic eyes, though it's not like these day laborers have found any work back home.)

Whatever solution that our government arrives at will satisfy very few people on either side of the political spectrum. No matter what President Obama does, it will be perceived as either too accommodating to aspiring U.S. citizens or too forceful in deporting or detaining "offenders." Bussing out supposed illegals sounds like something out of a mobster movie and too cartoonishly simple to work, and speeding up the citizenship process is almost a concession of defeat. Sadly, the time to lay out a feasible solution may have already come and passed.