Monday, December 31, 2012

My Last Post of 2012


Happy Early New Year!

I have so much to say before 2012 rolled into '13, but alas my last word had to wait until just before the ball dropped. In a funny way, my year began and ended with a horse; in January I volunteered to be an extra in a short film and ended up getting two lines. Earlier this month, I recorded a voiceover for another friend's short film. Both pieces ("Contested" and "Horse War") prominently featured live equines and will earn me my first IMDb credits. In the interim, I appeared in one other short film ("Zombie Lawyer") and did camera work for another ("Breaking Up with a Drama Major").

Nevertheless, I feel like the horse connection seems like a perfect metaphor for my 2012. I spent the year running all over the place, constantly on my feet, frequently in competiton with others, trying to accomplish one goal after another.  I am proud to say that one of my biggest goals was finally attained about 10 days ago, when I passed my Conservatory Level 3 audition at Second City on the 7th try. Most of my old classmates passed on the first or second attempt and have long since finished, so I am super elated to finally be back on the inside.

Next week: 2012, the year in TV. Yes, I know it'll be late.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

That Wonderful Year in Music... 2012



It was only December 19th when I started writing this, but as far as new music goes 2012 was very much over.  The industry basically shuts down from early December to early January, partially because it's foolish to market a new recording in the middle of the holidays. (I'm sure there are other reasons.) This gives the critics and music nerds plenty of time to assemble their best-of lists for the year. These lists are typically bloated yet diverse, jam-packed with memorable albums yet never totally comprehensive. This is my seventh year writing a best-of, and whittling my picks down to ten is so operose that I can't get beyond twenty.

What can I say about 2012 in itself? That was it was good to be prolific, as Neil Young, Andrew Bird, and jazz great Chick Corea all released multiple albums. That shoegaze might be having a renaissance. That the notoriously brash Odd Future rap collective can produce compelling, oddly introspective hip-hop (well done, Frank Ocean). That the best songs on AAA and alternative radio came from albums released in late '11. That a short, pudgy, uncharismatic Korean guy can not only record the catchiest pop single of the year, but also make the accompanying video the most downloaded in YouTube history. Granted, what you see below may not be a complete list (Kendrick Lamar is on my radar, just trust me) but it certainly captures what made 2012 a bountiful and rarely boring year in music.


BEST ALBUMS
1. Channel Orange, Frank Ocean. It is anaphora to say it would be tough to come out as bisexual in the typically homophobic world of hip-hop. Frank Ocean did exactly that in June 2012, and one listen to Orange indicates that Ocean is as free as an artist as he is as a man. Many of Ocean's songs, like the unrequited love ballad "Thinkin' 'Bout You" and the especially raw slow jam "Bad Religion," are emotionally vivid and generous in detail. The assured attitude of Ocean's debut album makes his attraction to men almost a footnote.
2. Bloom, Beach House. If there is a modern-day heir to the ethereal rock/shoegaze throne abdicated by Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance, than this Balitmore-based duo wearily wears the crown. More of a suite than collection of songs, Victoria LeGrand, Alex Scally, and engineer/partner-in-crime Chris Coady create a sonically gorgeous listening experience, one that seems elusive and confusing at first but pays off later.
3. Blunderbuss, Jack White. If you see the name Jack White in the liner notes of any CD, you know who's calling the shots. After all three of his bands called it a day in 2011 --we still miss you, White Stripes-- Jack finally cut his first solo album in '12. Where the Stripes were raw and primitive, Blunderbuss is a professional yet energetic effort.
4. Tramp, Sharon Van Etten
5. Celebration Rock, Japandroids
6. Attack on Memory, Cloud Nothings
7. Visions, Grimes
8. Boys & Girls, Alabama Shakes
9. Put Your Back N 2 It, Perfume Genius
10. The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than..., Fiona Apple. After all the accidental drama that surround her much-delayed third album Extraordinary Machine, Apple waited even longer to write and record her fourth effort, and it proved to be worth the wait. The surly teenager we met in the late '90s is now a strident thirty-something; her voice is front and center. Apple's songwriting is as enigmatic as its ever been, and the arrangements are sparse yet elliptical.

11. Reign of Terror, Sleigh Bells
12. Love This Giant, David Byrne and St. Vincent
13. Break It Yourself, Andrew Bird
14. Hospitality, Hospitality
15. Ghostory, School of Seven Bells. Speaking of dream pop and ethereal rock, SVIIB's third album is both a personal triumph and a compelling effort. Reduced to a duo, Ghostory retains the lush layering of their past efforts and take a step forward in texture and vulnerability. Claudia Deheza's departure is not swept under the rug by any means, as the amimosity seemingly fuels the soured relationships within the songs.
16. Swing Lo Magellan, The Dirty Projectors
17. Coexist, The XX
18. Port of Morrow, The Shins
19. In Our Heads, Hot Chip
20. Young & Old, Tennis. Less than two years ago, the husband-and-wife duo Tennis cut Cape Dory, a concept album about their honeymoon along the eastern seaboard. Their follow-up Young & Old is a more emotionally mature effort, depicting the daily grind of marriage in the eyes of an overwhelmed, almost hapless young couple. The sound is still peppy neo-surf rock, but the lyrics convey soul-searching and an unexplained yearning. Between you and me, I really hope they work their issues out.


BEST SINGLES
"Midnight City," M83
"Tongue Tied," Grouplove
"Madness," Muse
"California," Delta Spirit
"We Are Young," Fun.
"Change the Sheets," Kathleen Edwards
"Yet Again," Grizzly Bear
"Too Close," Alex Clare
"Would That Not Be Nice," Divine Fits
"Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns," A.C. Newman


BEST VIDEOS
1. "Bad Girls," M.I.A. The critics at Paste magazine deemed this video "a chaotic jumble of powerful imagery." Indeed, it's a weird juxtaposition, taking your typical hip-hop video and shifting the action to a desolate Arabian setting. The result is a thought-provoking mash-up of American and Middle Eastern stereotypes. "Live fast, die young," indeed.
2. "Oblivion," Grimes. What a remarkable year for Emily Kai Bock. She directed three pretty good videos (I liked the song "Yet Again" slightly more than the video, so it's on the singles list) but she made her finest clip to date with "Oblivion." Finding contrast in the masculine bravado of sporting events and slam-dancing with the quirky femininity of Canadian techno songstress Claire Boucher, Bock uncovers a certain, unexpected overlap.
3. "Lofticries," Purity Ring. This is not a short film so much as a series of one-minute vignettes pieced together, all depressingly commonplace yet linked by an undercurrent of loneliness and futility.
4. "Sixteen Saltines," Jack White. Simply put, the kids are not alright.
5. "Oldie," Odd Future. Either the sloppiest rap video ever made or the funniest. "I don't know my verse!"
6. "Dawned on Me," Wilco. This was a toss-up between the trippy fairy tale video for "Sunloathe" and the charming (albeit fleeting) return of Popeye the Sailor Man and his pals, the first new Popeye cartoon in several decades. In the end, I went with the spinach-obsessed maritiner.
7. "No Future/No Past," Cloud Nothings. A surreal depiction of mortality and self-awareness, embodied by a well-kept, middle-aged man being hopelessly dragged from his home and into the woods.
8. "To Be The Best," Tenacious D. You only hear about 35 seconds of the song, but the wacky "reunion" of JB and KG more than makes up for it.
9. "Someone I Used To Know," Gotye. Is any discussion about 2012 in music videos not going to include this omnipresent, much-parodied clip?
10. "Gangham Style," Psy. Ditto?

Honorable Mentions: "Let's Go," Matt and Kim; "Houdini," Foster The People; "Comeback Kid," Sleigh Bells.

Coolest Gimmick of 2012: Chairlift's "Met Before" video. Two years after The Wilderness Downtown (the interactive short film that featured Arcade Fire's "We Used To Wait"), an indie pop duo from Brooklyn takes the personalized concept one step further. This is basically a choose-your-own-adventure music video, featuring the band as grad school lab rats on the verge of an astonishing discovery.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Loss for Words


Yes, I sat out another week. If I could find the time to sit down...

In honor of Led Zeppelin receiving the Kennedy Center Honors this year and the recent release of Celebration Day, I'm going on the soapbox for one of my all-time favorite bands. There is a meme on Facebook (and other social networking sites, I'm sure) that has been getting on my nerves lately. At the top of the image is a sample lyric from "Kashmir," at the bottom either a Justin Bieber or Beyonce lyric from the last year or two. This meme is meant to point out the superficiality of modern pop music, though it's heavily biased and just a tad ageist.

Keep in mind that Led Zeppelin was a product of the '70s; lyrics about wizards and vikings were not considered "weird." Let it be known that for a brief, shining moment progressive rock was actually considered "cool." People bought records by Deep Purple, Yes, and King Crimson, three bands that would be considered strange and unmarketable in this day and age. These Bieber haters --not that I disagree with their vitriol-- pretend to forget that artists like Tony Orlando & Dawn, Wings, and Captain & Tenille were putting out cheesy, compatible dreck nearly two generations ago.  If you want musicians of lyrical substance in the 21st century, listen to college radio or any AAA format. Songcraft still exists.

On that note, I would like to raise a glass for the recently departed jazz legend Dave Brubeck. "Time Out" (1959) is one of the defining albums of jazz, and the sequel "Time Further Out" (1961) is no slouch either. What's even more amazing is that he was recording great music well into his 80s, including the underrated, understated "London Flat, London Sharp" (2005), not to mention touring until maybe a year ago.

Next Week: the year in music, 2012.

(389)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1963




In many ways, 1963 was the last year of the '50s. The repressed social mores were still intact, pop culture was largely conservative and non-threatening, and the world we knew was mostly quiet and boring. Most people will argue the '60s --or at least what we consider to be the '60s-- didn't really began until after President Kennedy's sudden and tragic assassination that November. In fact, some of the seeds were planted in the year or two immediately before that fateful day in Dallas. Surf rock was king, the Brill Building was queen, folk blared from the coffee shops, and the British Invasion was in its planning stages.

Looking at the big picture, 1963 was mostly about jazz. This was a year that could almost rival 1956, 1959 or 1964 as one of the greatest 12-month spans ever for the distinctly American musical genre. '63 was also a banner year for the legendary Blue Note label, as evidenced by nine of the twelve jazz albums listed below. The giants of the era (Miles, Mingus, Monk) could be depended upon for masterpieces and career-defining works, while the young guns (Hancock, Hill, Green) were challenging the form and building formidable reputations.


BEST ALBUMS (JAZZ)
1. The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, Charles Mingus. As much a conceptual piece about love and struggle as it is Mingus' most personal work, this is probably the greatest achievement in orchestration by any jazz musician ever. Written as a ballet in six parts, Mingus and his eleven-piece band bounce between haunting blues and dancing vivacity with equal precision. Famously deemed "The Angry Man of Jazz," Mingus was in treatment for much of Black Saint's production and his psychotherapist famously wrote the album's liner notes.
2. Seven Steps to Heaven, Miles Davis. Going into '63, Miles was in flux. Health problems forced him to cancel several concert dates, and amidst the uncertainty his original quintet left for greener pastures. Landing on his feet Davis launched his second great quintet, including Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and a teenage Anthony Williams. The result is fresh, startling blend of new and old, with the instant classic title track tag-teaming with Louis Armstrong's "Basin Street Blues."
3. Back at the Chicken Shack, Jimmy Smith. The finest session by the man who "invented" the jazz organ contains probably his defining composition, a 10-minute jam that spotlighted then-unknown saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. Recorded in 1960, Chicken Shack inexplicably sat on a shelf for three years; it likely found daylight when Turrentine broke out as a leader and composer. Is this a strong soul-jazz effort, or a fore-bearer of funk?
4. Monk's Dream, Theolonius Monk
5. Black Fire, Andrew Hill
6. Idle Moments, Grant Green
7. The Sidewinder, Lee Morgan
8. One Step Beyond, Jackie McLean
9. Our Man in Paris, Dexter Gordon
10. My Point of View, Herbie Hancock. Speaking of Herbie, his second full-length as a leader was simultaneously daring (five original compositions), adventurous (two words: "King Cobra") and incredibly skillful. Featuring Grant Green and several past and present members of Miles Davis' quintet --drummer Tony Williams was so in-demand at 17 years old, its absurd-- Hancock's versatility and innate ability to arrange his supporting cast bode well for his later work.

Honorable Mention: Good Move!, Freddie Roach; Never Let Me Go, Stanley Turrentine.

BEST ALBUMS (POP)
1. The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan. His second album (and first of mostly original music) and the one that defined who Dylan was, what he was doing, and where he was taking folk music. The protest songs steal the show, with "Blowin' in the Wind," "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," and the vicious "Masters of War" being the album highlights. Until Blonde on Blonde three years later, this was the folk album to beat.
2. Please Please Me, The Beatles. Much like the debut albums of their contemporaries Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones, the Fab Four's first full-length is a fine listening experience trumped only by their later, more essential works. The Beatles' template is already there, though there's a certain innocence and naïveté not heard in their other albums. Recorded in 24 hours, Please Please Me sounds effortless.
3. Live at the Apollo, James Brown. Give it up for Soul Brother Number One! Capturing a certain panache and swagger that his studio recordings could barely capture, JB drives through his early hits as an exuberant audience eats out of his hand. A candidate for the best live album of all time, in any genre, in any era.

Honorable Mention: In Dreams, Roy Orbison.


BEST SINGLES
"Louie Louie," The Kingsmen
"Walk Like a Man," The Four Seasons
"One Fine Day," The Chiffons
"It's My Party," Lesley Gore
"Pipeline," The Chantays
"Wipeout," The Surfaris
"Surf City," Jan & Dean
"Rhythm of the Rain," The Cascades
"I Will Follow Him," Little Peggy March
"Be My Baby," The Ronettes

Your thoughts?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

My Eighth Annual Thanks/No Thanks List


Happy Thanksgiving, or to all my Canadian friends, "happy Thursday."

I suppose some of you are wondering what happened last week. My current temp job and my other pursuits had overwhelmed me, and long story short for the first time since December 2005 I sat out a week from the blog. When something like this happens, I take a quick step backwards and try to figure out how this could happen. For the past three months I've been averaging between 6 and 6 1/2 hours a sleep per night, and rarely napping in between. My temp job is in Aurora, IL (a 35 to 45 minute drive from Downers Grove) and I'm at the office 40+ hours each week. Outside of work, I drive to the city for various improv activities (about two or three nights a week) and for a period of three weeks or so I had to do household chores and finance-related tasks that are normally performed by my mother. Real life took priority, and something had to give in.

As for my mother, though she's had more critical health issues in the past --which I've described in dramatic detail in the past-- I want to emphasize that she's okay at the moment. She went to the hospital the night of October 24th with stomach pains, which was later revealed to be a swollen gallbladder. (This was her second time in ER last month, after having a reaction to her Parkinson's medication.) She ended up spending the next two weeks in a hospital bed, than another 10 days in a physical rehab center.  For the time being, she is hobbling around the house with a mini-catheter until her gallbladder is removed sometime next month. Again, she's not in dire straits by any means, but I'll take any thoughts and good vibes you send our way.

With that said, I give thanks to...

  • The Chicago improv community
  • My temp agencies
  • Those annoying campaign ads are over with (for now)
  • Twitter and Facebook
  • The support of my friends and family

Also, I give a hearty "no thanks" to...


Next week: at long last, my look at the year in music 1963.

(387)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

My Thoughts on Anne Hathaway/Rihanna (SNL, 11/10/12)


As some of you know, I edit the Saturday Night Live episode guide at TV.com, as well as moderate the adjoining show discussion board. I cut and paste my thoughts on the show from Wordpad, but this past week I had great and inexplicable difficulty loading my review onto the site. It's a problem I've never encountered before and hopefully never again. After eight days of headaches (and no other blog  entry to write this week) I finally share my two cents on Episode 38.7, hosted by Oscar nominee Anne Hathaway:

+ Tonight's cold open was a fine capper to a zany election season. While it wasn't entirely a character assassination of Mitt Romney, it poked holes at the right wing and how the GOP lost the race more so than the candidate. Compared to her Weekend Update appearance six weeks ago Kate's Ann impression was subdued, veering into docile; save for the voice it didn't feel like a real imitation. I loved the gag about Mitt's lookalike sons, though.
+ For those of you that aren't into show tunes (I'm certainly not) the monologue was a parody of the Les Miserables showstopper "One Day More."  The meta jokes with the cast (Suds was a writer for parts of two years, Robbo and Aidy are gasping for airtime) felt unnecessary, yet refreshingly honest.
+ Of all the filmed segments this season, "Mokiki and The Sloppy Swish" was probably the closest to a real Digital Short we've seen all year. At times, it also felt like it a potential novelty hit along the lines of "Lazy Sunday" and "Dick in a Box."  The clip felt like an Instagramed fever dream, a reggae-meets-dubstep jam about a deranged man in kabuki gear, dancing (limping?) around various New York sites.
+ Last week's "Homeland" reference in a cold open might have been a teaser for tonight's lampoon. Anyone who gripes that SNL doesn't do enough movie/TV parodies should have been placated... as long as they subscribe to Showtime, I guess. Plus, I love a good jazz freakout.
+ "Four... more... years... of... gridlock!"
+ Even though "Ellen" was a spot-on parody and K-Mac's impression was aces, it often felt too detailed to connect. In fact, there was a weird lack of momentum until Anne reprised her Katie Holmes impression. More bread than sandwich, really.
+ First the Apple sketch last month, now "American Gothic." Somebody at SNL must have an intense dislike for Asians.
+ My congratulations to Rihanna upon being the first musical guest ever to appear on SNL four seasons in a row. Also, congrats on being the third scheduled musical guest to appear twice in a six month span (Leon Redbone, Levon Helm). However Miss Fenty, your new jam "Diamonds" is an audiovisual hot mess, a mashup of cheesy green-screen and unintelligible thumping. The live debut of your ballad "Stay" was dainty but tolerable.
+ Also, thank you Flaritin for finally calling people out on their gluten and yogurt "allergies."
+ I had some skepticism, but Anne is turning into a fine go-to host. Anne's not afraid to wear wigs, she runs well with the cast (especially the soon-to-depart Suds), and she has energy to spare. However, by a sliver this was probably the weakest of her three stints on SNL. After last week's triumphant Louie C.K. show, a letdown was expected but the general effort was competent enough for a passing grade.

6/10

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Morning After, 2012


With my hectic schedule of late (improv, temp work, etc.) it has been a daunting challenge to post a weekly dispatch by Tuesday evening. The only advantage to a looser deadline in lieu of my usual rigid, self-imposed cutoff is that I comment on news when they happen. I knew I wouldn't have time on Monday or Tuesday to write anything so, therefore I can write about the election almost as it happens.

+ In the words of Michael Steele: "This was not a repudiation of conservatism, but the way the our party presented conservatism." It's not so much that Romney lost as the GOP did. As the party keeps shifting further to the right, their best hope against the incumbent president was forced to flip-flop and tweak his stance on certain issues. Say what you will about Romney being an out of touch opportunist, but he is a dyed-in-the-wool moderate conservative and he was never going to appease Tea Partiers.

+ Claire McCaskill didn't win reelection in Missouri so much as Todd Akin lost. Ditto for Joe Donnelly and Dick Mourdock in Indiana. There was a sharp uptic in female voters in both states (and the nation in general) and it had a lot to do with the bullheaded comments Akin and Mourdock made about sexual assault. As a result, the second-most vulnerable branch of the government --that it to say, the U.S. Senate-- in this race tips slightly more in favor of the Democrats. (Not to salt wounds, but I also extend my congratulations to Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin, the first lesbian ever elected to the U.S. Senate.)

+ Florida is still up for grabs? Gee, what a surprise.

+ The network and cable news coverage alike was a tad over the top. NBC had what looked like a skating rink dyed with Mio, and CNN had a long, tacky graphic/musical overture combo that announced every state result. An exhausted Diane Sawyer spent all night acting like somebody's drunk aunt at a family get-together. Fox News' all-around meltdown after Obama clinched Ohio was a like a car wreck; almost unwatchable, yet you couldn't look away...

+ Finally, a point to ponder. You know all those internet memes and "shared" photos that painted President Obama as a socialist/fascist/communist/Kenyan-born radical with no evidence behind them? Or better yet, all those accusations of taking away the guns, apologizing to world leaders, and shutting down America's churches, also without any proof? How about the hack writings of Dr. Jerome Corsi and Dinesh D'Souza? You know, the empty bombast that overwhelmed and distracted from any serious, concrete criticisms of the president?

That sure worked, didn't it?

Next week: the year in music, 1963.
(385)

Friday, November 2, 2012

My Final Thoughts on the 2012 Election



Every election year, I've been writing a pep talk of sorts to the American people. That may sound grandiose, but during a contested election it helps me put the whole ugly process into perspective, and with any luck I'm helping you as well. It seems every election has grown in importance and cruciality since the last one, and the need to our faith in the state of the nation via voting constantly grows more imperative.

With Decision 2012 looming near, a fair percentage of the nation is pretty distracted. Hurricane Sandy and the lingering superstorm has caused great duress along the eastern seaboard, providing a sobering alternative to non-stop election coverage. When compared to the petty bickering and character assassination that dominates modern politics, the endless cycle of lies looks petty and irrelevant when you see the damage done in Staten Island and certain parts of New Jersey and Delaware. From the perspective of a native Illinoisan, separated from various natural disasters by hundreds of miles in every direction, part of me wonders whether I'm lucky to be where I am, or if a comparable tragedy is overdue. I'm don't feel I'm the right mindset and more than likely neither do you.

With that said there's an old saying that when if you don't vote, you lose your right to complain for the next four years. In today's polarized political arena, that couldn't be more true. For every person that intentionally stays home, a tiny sliver of democracy dies. Public opinion of President Obama and Governor Romney borders on apathetic, and their support mostly begrudging, but we have to exercise our right to vote regardless. The stakes are too high to pretend to not pay attention.

This will probably be my last missive before the election, so I implore anyone reading this to vote on November 6th. Regardless of your opinion of either presidential candidate, the fate of the nation rests in the hands of its people. As exasperating as the current establishment may be, you have to believe in America, and this is the best way of expressing that faith. Is our country better off than it was four years ago? You can tell me on Tuesday.

(384)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Uncivil Servants


Two of the ugliest races of Decision 2012 is not garnering national attention, but it's making Chicago and the outlying area feel emotionally spent. As a result of redistricting, seven-term incumbent Judy Biggert (R) is running the closest race of her political career against former congressman Bill Foster (D). Biggert's old turf was decidedly suburban and overwhelmingly Republican, now it's about 50/50 yet only slightly more urban. Considering that Judy is a grandmother in her mid-70s, there's also the question of whether she'll serve in Congress for much longer if she wins in two weeks.

Where Biggert and Foster are fighting for their political lives, another local race has turned into a barrage of name-calling and character assassination. Over in the redrawn 8th District, local war hero Tammi Duckworth (D) is running against Tea Party incumbent Joe Walsh. This race has become less about the issues than the candidates themselves; a recent debate was particularly personal and decidedly ugly. Walsh accused Duckworth of relying too much on her military background to evoke sympathy (she's a double amputee), while Duckworth has fingered Walsh as a misogynist and a woman-hater. Yeesh.

Granted, at this point the outcome of the election is all but set, and anyone expecting widespread turnover or any semblance of change will be disappointed. The GOP will keep the House, the Democrats will still (barely) control the Senate, and it appears Barack Obama will defeat Mitt Romney by a hairsbreadth. Not to be a negative nellie, but... enjoy four more years of gridlock.

(383)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Debate Talk


Sorry for the delay, everyone:

Whether you love, hate, or have no general opinion of Vice President Biden you have to admit that he made for some exciting television last week. Where the second banana debate is just that, this meeting of the minds was somewhat compelling.  However, where Biden was animated Paul Ryan was direct and caustic. Even though conservative pundits praised Ryan for keeping his cool, his lack of specificity in explaining the campaign's economic platform made me very wary.

As for the second presidential debate, I found President Obama's performance to be much stronger than it was the first time around, and the incumbent and challenger almost fought to a draw. Gov. Romney's "binder full of women" remark was pretty awkward, and it probably would've blown by if women's rights weren't a crucial issue in this year's election. My only question is, was this narrow victory too little too late for our 44th president? At least one guy thought so.

One last, completely unrelated note: the weekend before last, I made my annual sojourn to Normal, IL for homecoming. Since I graduated nearly five years ago the area has changed dramatically; the "Uptown" area east of ISU's campus is almost unrecognizable from six or seven years ago. While having a beer with my ex-roommate at one of the new restaurants in town, I stepped away to use the restroom. As I waited to use one of the stalls, I watched six or seven guys in a row walk up the urinal, do their business, than walk out without washing their hands. After I did my business, another guy at the urinal threw a beer bottle on the floor and threatened to fight me. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.

(382)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Random Notes, October 2012


There's been a lot on my mind lately:

+ I will concede that Mitt Romney won the first debate last week. It was not, however the KO that most in the media have described. Where Romney was more polished in his delivery than President Obama, he was also vague at times and much more incendiary. Where President Obama looked unfocused and tired, his responses to Jim Lehrer's questions were more specific in detail. Regardless, I don't think too many people were swayed by the overall effort, and there are two more debates to go.

+ They put an avowed creationist on the congressional science committee? Huh?

+ For the fourth year in a row, I won a fantasy baseball title. In what will probably be the last year of the TV.com league at Yahoo, I barely edged out Dolph Rudager to take first in the six-man league. My "other" team finished third despite being in first much of the year, and a team I inherited in midseason (thank you, LesNessman) finished seventh out of ten in a kinda sorta "keeper" league.

+ Over on the Chicago improv scene, I am now using my talents for a noble cause. About six weeks ago I auditioned for a non-profit organization called Funny Bones Improv. The primary cause of the group is to perform game-oriented improv to sick children in hospitals. After making the cut, I observed an FBI show at a hospital in the north Chicago suburbs; it was staggering how much the kids' morale was boosted by our wacky shenanigans. I don't have my first show for a few more weeks, but I can't put into words how humbled and honored I am to be part of this organization.

(381)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Musical Odds and Ends



As most of you know by now, I've almost run of years to cover in my monthly music blog. My four-year is almost at an end, though I may revise and revisit some lists in the distant future. Even though I've written about the sound and substance of these great musical works, I have barely covered the artistic effort and assorted intangibles of these albums.

With that said, please enjoy these arbitrary lists:


Five Great Albums with Terrible Covers
Magical Mystery Tour, The Beatles (1967)
Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! (live), The Rolling Stones (1970)
If I Could Only Remember My Name, David Crosby (1971)
Dirty Mind, Prince (1980)
Boys and Girls in America, The Hold Steady (2006)

Five Terrible Albums with Great Covers
Relayer, Yes (1974)
Chicago XIV, Chicago (1979)
Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, Stevie Wonder (1980)
KooKoo, Debbie Harry (1981)
Falling Into Infinity, Dream Theater (1997)

The Six Greatest Sixth Albums of All Time
1. Rubber Soul, The Beatles (1965)
2. Highway 61 Revisited, Bob Dylan (1965)
3. Quadrophenia, The Who (1973)
4. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco (2002)
5. Green, R.E.M. (1988)
6. Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin (1975)

The Ten Best Albums with a Naked Woman on the Cover
Blind Faith, Blind Faith (1969)
Abraxas, Santana (1970)
Electric Ladyland (original version), Jimi Hendrix (1970)
Country Life, Roxy Music (1974)
Cut, The Slits (1979)
Candy-O, The Cars (1979)
Mother's Milk, Red Hot Chili Peppers (1989)
Ritual De Lo Habitual, Jane's Addiction (1990)
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West (2010)
The Haunted Man, Bat for Lashes (2012)

Three Albums with Semi-Legible, Handwritten Liner Notes by the Artists
After the Gold Rush, Neil Young (1970)
Live/1975-85, Bruce Springsteen (1986)
The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than..., Fiona Apple (2012)

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The 47% Solution


Until a few weeks ago, this was probably the first president election in a generation where there was no clear front-runner or underdog.  In the wake of several blunders by the Romney campaign, however it seems like Barack Obama will be reelected almost by default. This is exactly what I forecasted two months ago: the 2012 election is 2004 in reverse. The more the rich, out of touch challenger trips on himself, the more momentum the middling incumbent gains.

What might have been Romney's Mondale moment occured at a private GOP fundraiser several months ago. Whether it was intended for the public or not, to suggest that 47% of the U.S. population lives on government handouts was thickheaded and irrational. In short, Romney mixed up three disparate groups: the roughly half the country that will inevitably support President Barack Obama, the half that doesn’t pay federal income taxes, and the half that receives government benefits. Sadly, this is congruent with the GOP's way of thinking; they assume that anyone who receives any money from the government, whether it's deserved or not, is a lazy bum.

Other notes:

+ Speaking of races that are all but over... really?

+ I can't complain about the Emmy winners in the drama categories, though the comedy winners were an absolute mess. Jon Cryer won Best Lead Actor for endurance, not on the merit of his performance. Even though "Modern Family" deserved to win in 2010 and 2011, the Best Comedy Series three-peat was wholly unnecessary; though "Treehouse" and "After the Fire" were both fine episodes, season 3 was staggeringly uneven.

+ Apparently, owning a black-and-white striped shirt is enough to make you an NFL replacement referee. This lockout needs to end ASAP.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Courting Infamy: A Homecoming Memoir


When I wrote my "2002 in music" blog a few months back, I alluded to a humdinger of a personal story. I was going to save it for the actual anniversary later this week, but with the Chicago teachers' strike still on my mind I decided to share my yarn a little early. Here goes:

When it came to homecoming court --at least as far as the DGN Class of 2003 was concerned-- there was little debating who would get nominated. For the underclassmen, three nominees of each gender were chosen, and for the first three years of high school it was the same two boys and a third "wild card" pick that was a mere afterthought. The same football player, the same basketball player, and some red-shirted lieutenant. The seniors picked six nominees apiece for king and queen; it was more inclusive yet a seemingly greater honor.

Somewhere around Homecoming 2001 (my junior year) a guy in my second period chemistry class suggested my name for nomination. He was half-joking; I was the antithesis of anyone that would contend for court, but that was also the point. As the school year dragged on, I occasionally brought up the topic and noticed a growing desire amongst my peers to shake up the status quo. Without blantantly campaigning, I proposed myself as the alternative. The school radio station, populated by a motley mix of geeks, hipsters, stoners, and metalheads made up the core of my support.

Early on in my senior year at Downers Grove North, my district went on strike. There had been a long-brewing debate about retirement benefits or lack thereof, and when 11th hour negotiations bottomed out, the District 99 faculty headed to the picket line Monday morning. School had only been in session for 3 1/2 weeks; being the dutiful student I had finished my homework for the previous Friday that weekend, than found myself bored out of my skull. I spent much of the week either reading, renting movies, or power-napping.

To remedy my lethergy, my dad suggested going to a White Sox game that Thursday night. The Royals were in town, and tickets were discounted for Fan Appreciation Night. As an autograph hound and a self-deluded KC fan, I jumped on the opportunity; my collection had plenty of gaps from the 2002 Royals' roster. That evening I had what was a record haul; I nabbed autos from eight Royals and five White Sox players. Even Todd Ritchie, a 15-game loser that year and easily the Sox' least-liked player, was signing generously and liberally, grinning as if he was about to be paroled from prison.

Strangely, that wasn't the most memorable aspect of that game. It was the top of the 9th inning. My father and I were sitting in the fourth row of New Comiskey's lower deck, just beyond third base. I was nursing the last drops of an overpriced Pepsi when all of a sudden, there was a commotion over at first. The Royals' bench had cleared, and there was a dogpile of players in the distance. There was a mix of grumbling, booing, and cheering all over the park. My dad was attentively watching, but even he didn't know what was going on. The jumbotron in center went black. A minute or so passed, and two shirtless men were escorted off were escorted away by security. The PA announcer made a generic annoucement about trepassing and public safety. Ten minutes after the melee, the game resumed.

Driving home from the game (a 2-1 Royals win, by the way) we turned on the Cubs-Mets game on WGN, when Pat Hughes interrupted play-to-play to explain what happened in Chicago that evening. A weird as the incident was, Hughes read the bulletin as if he was Walter Kronkite reporting JFK's death. Well, almost.

Without having heard any other news, I went to bed thinking the strike had wiped out the whole school week. To my surprise, I woke up at 8 AM that morning to discover the teachers' union and District 99 had reached an agreement, and classes were back in session. I woke up my mom, and she frantically drove me to school. (I didn't own my first car for another year.) I arrived late in the first period, than made a beeline to second period gym class.

The vote for homecoming court was held the Thursday before the strike began, and there was no mention of nominees on the first day back. It wasn't until I arrived home that afternoon fate struck again. One of the ladies in the front office called the house, asking specifically to speak with me. I gingerly picked up the receiver, and the secretary informed me that I was nominated for senior court. I accepted my honor and thanked her, than hung up and started jumping up and down. I broke the system.

After that whirlwind 24-hour period, the next week was a . All six contenders for Homecoming King were first-time nominees, and three were varsity athletes. I attended and made nice at several tie-in events, including a photo shoot and a nominees' banquet. A false sense of entitlement crept in. Getting nominated was one thing but winning was a whole different animal; the voting blocs were almost unilaterally seperated by clique, especially the team sports. Persuading underclassmen that didn't know me proved difficult, but not totally futile.

In the end, I was third place in a two-man race; the winner edged out the runner-up by only two votes, and together they combined for almost 75% of the ballot. Another football player got the edge. I went home with 10% of the vote, somewhat disappointed at first but reveling in the respect of my peers and placated by my moral victory. I felt weird mentioning my nomination, and I seldom brought it up unless somebody asked or alluded to that year's court. Beside a little extra attention, everything went back to normal in a matter of weeks.

Ten years later, these two disparate events are permenantly fastened together in my memory. My homecoming nomination proved to be, if nothing else, a nice embellishment on my resume. The 2002 Homecoming King is now the assistant manager of a Cheesecake Factory, and the Queen did some modeling before becoming a stay-at-home mom. I have led my adult life in mostly mortal anonymity, yet for a brief period in September 2002 I was almost king.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Random Notes, September 2012


+ Something about Autumn depresses me. Even though it's still summer until September 21st, the temperatures have dropped and school is back in session. Something within the poetry of foliage and all things pumpkin alludes me. When the temperatures drop and I pull my hoodie out of the closet, it feels like an opportunity blown. It reminds me of a great athlete in his prime, then watching him fade into mediocrity and complacency as he ages. It makes me wish I'd savored the time he was in peak form.

+ Now we're in the home stretch. The conventions are over, and candidates are official, and the barrage of slanderous attack ads has begun. I've been opiniating throughout this whole, gruesome process --hell, since this blog began seven years ago-- and it's going to be very difficult for me to be quiet and sit on the fence until election day. As usual, I will continue to blather about President Obama and Governor Romney when I feel the uncontrollable urge to do so. I'm sure some of you have done the same.

+ I am truly, sincerely afraid that the hockey season will be lost again. You'd think Gary Bettman and the NHLPA had joined forces to run this great sport into the ground. I truly fear that hockey will become the team equivilant of boxing or horse racing, two sports that have been much better days.

+ Yes, I am supporting the Chicago Teachers Union. Who was asking?

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

32 Teams, 32 Haiku: My 2012 NFL Preview

For the last two years, I've been posting my MLB preview with a weird, poetic twist: each of my forecasts have been styled as a haiku. After half-hearting my NFL preview last year, and  the Giants-Cowboys game going on as I write this, I've chosen to mete that approach to the pigskin. I dare Chris Berman to wax poetic like this.

*denotes Wild Card


NFC North
1. Packers (13-3) Only more to hate/for the petulant Bears fan/more dominance? Damn...
2. Lions* (10-6) Go Megatron go/menace of the vertical/our most worthy foe.
3. Bears* (9-7) Cutler to Marshall/looks good on paper; the D/has this fan concerned.
4. Vikings (3-13) All Day, you must play/even if your team fails you/you're here to compete.
NFC East
1. Eagles (11-5) Vick, the X factor/the dog killer, boom or bust?/Keep the ball, he runs.
2. Giants (9-7) Above average/in so many ways, I doubt/they'll repeat as champs.
3. Cowboys (6-10) Still overrated/improved secondary, sure/but O-line will flop.
4. Redskins (5-11) Welcome RG3/the DC field general/star of the future.
NFC South
1. Falcons (10-6) Solid division/do not underrate Ryan/someone must be first.
2. Saints (9-7) Oh yeah, Bountygate/no quicker picker upper/can clean this mess up.
3. Panthers (8-8) Cam Newton's apple/the running backs are quite ripe/can they play spoiler?
4. Buccaneers (2-14) Linebacker train wreck/that terrible run defense/still unwatchable.
NFC West
1. 49ers (10-6) Alex Smith? Okay/unlikely Super Bowl fave/with a damn fine D.
2. Seahawks (7-9) Matt Flynn will suffice/competant sans protection/the D will surprise.
3. Cardinals (6-10) No pass protection/a QB controversy/poor Fitzgerald seethes.
4. Rams (4-12) Poor Steven Jackson/Bradford blows, the team is limp/such a great burden.

AFC North
1. Steelers (12-4) Big Ben throws that ball/but must avoid turnovers/get well, Mendenhall!
2. Ravens* (11-5) Rice is a beast, but/the O-line can't cover left/otherwise, flawless.
3. Bengals (6-10) Outstanding D-line/squandered by unproven backs/and overwhelmed youth.
4. Browns (2-14) They're still terrible/rivals: you're not missing much/expect a quick win.
AFC East
1. Patriots (13-3) The easiest sked/nobody likes the Pats, but/obey thy master.
2. Bills (8-8) Most improved roster/their defense is no secret/can Fitz stop the picks?
3. Jets (7-9) The Tebow drama/tires many; distraction/for a weak offense.
4. Dolphins (3-13) On paper, awful/an unproven QB and/too many questions.
AFC South
1. Texans (10-6) Finally, playoffs!/Two in a row is likely/with Foster and Tate.
2. Titans (7-9) Least improved roster/old QB and a weak draft/barely .500.
3. Colts (5-11) Andrew Luck won't suck/a future great earns his chops/amongst weak talent.
4. Jaguars (4-12) Love the receivers/they'll make the Jags worth watching/because '12 is lost.
AFC West
1. Chargers (11-5) Their misfit head coach/is a liability/comes up short again.
2. Broncos* (10-6) Enter P. Manning/mile high expectations/the genius fights on.
3. Chiefs (7-9) '10 was a big fluke/Jamaal Charles, young hero/when his knee is fine.
4. Raiders (5-11) Allen, young head coach/the bar has been set quite low/there is no pressure.

Super Bowl XLVII: Patriots 35, Eagles 20

Your thoughts?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1972



Nobody guessed, therefore nobody wins that cookie...

I saved one of the best for last. In an era of unprecented creative freedom and genre-defining masterworks that were the result of that constant experimentation, 1972 extended the all-encompassing winning streak that began in the mid-to-late 1960s. Nearly every LP in my top ten is a five-star, "A" effort. Even if the psychedelic era was over and most of its core players (Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin) were already dead at this point, that sense of progressive thinking was still alive and kicking. Glam rock ruled the seas, and my #1 album pick captained the ship. Makeup wearing, androgynous bands like T.Rex and Roxy Music --who both put out fine recordings in '72-- were merely riding Bowie's wave.

If 1972 wasn't all about the glam, it was about the twang. America and The Eagles weren't critics' darlings, but they sold albums like hotcakes. This was also the singer-songwriter era, and sensitive souls like Paul Simon, James Taylor, and Carly Simon gave pop music a mellow, acoustic aftertaste to the "free love" '60s. R&B was at its sexy zenith courtesy of Al Green, and Roberta Flack gave us the best of both worlds. The void left by The Beatles (whom as seperate entities, mostly sat out '72) begat power-pop and a generation of rock acts heavily influenced but not contempory to the Fab Four. Over in Central Europe the Kraut-Rock movement was in full swing, though the general agoraphobia and weirdness of their output would barely make a dent in the US until years later, if at all.


BEST ALBUMS:

1. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars, David Bowie. I love this album to the extent that I have a poster of the album cover hanging above my bed. A concept album in which the plot falls apart by the third song, Bowie's debauched swagger and paranoid lyrics matches well with Mick Ronson's heavy yet energetic guitar. Already the leader of the glam rock movement, Bowie's vision and execution match seemlessly in a manner not entirely seen on hisfirst four albums.
2. Exile On Main St., The Rolling Stones. Like so many of my past picks, this is not an album you'll "get" after one listen. Jumping between boogie, blues, soul, and country it doesn't seem like the Stones are doing anything new, but the substance of this double album is quite fresh. The slow but steady bleakness of their previous three albums hits pitch black; Mick Jagger howls with futility, crying in the night as Keith Richards and Mick Taylor exchange one incredible guitar riff after another.
3. #1 Record, Big Star. With the Box Tops, Alex Chilton was a teenager trying to sound like an adult. With Big Star, a twentysomething Chilton was allowed to regress. The result is akin to The Velvet Underground and Nico in craft and overall influence, ignored upon its initial release but deservedly celebrated in hindsight. If everything about the album seems familiar, it's only because Chilton and partner-in-crime Chris Bell set the power-pop blueprint.
4. Pink Moon, Nick Drake
5. Harvest, Neil Young
6. On The Corner, Miles Davis
7. Transformer, Lou Reed
8. Roxy Music, Roxy Music
9. Talking Book, Stevie Wonder
10. Can't Buy a Thrill, Steely Dan. The most unconventional debut of '72 reveals an iconoclast almost fully formed. The Becker/Fagen combo are already near the peak of the powers on tracks like "Do It Again" and "Midnight Cruiser"; the only stumbling blocks are the unnecessary second lead singer (sorry, David Palmer) and only the vaguest hints of their future innovation. Regardless, this is a fine ten-song set eclipsed somewhat by The Dan's later work.

11. The Harder They Come soundtrack, Jimmy Cliff/Various Artists
12. Machine Head, Deep Purple
13. Something/Anything?, Todd Rundgren
14. Eat a Peach, The Allman Brothers
15. Honky Château, Elton John. This is my second favorite Sir Elton album, but ranked kinda low due to stiff competition. If Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was Reggie Dwight's Sgt. Peppers, than this is his Rubber Soul. We begin to see hints of John's flamboyant side on "Susie (Dramas)" and "Hercules," but overall this is a fun, jaunty, almost bohemian effort that feels eclectic but never boring. Plus, who can resist "Rocket Man?"
16. The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, Spirit
17. Fresh, The Raspberries
18. Manassas, Stephen Stills et al.
19. Neu!, Neu
20. Return to Forever, Chick Corea. A Corea solo album in name only, this is the de facto debut of a '70s jazz fusion juggernaut. Corea's trippy mysticism is lathered on so much that it dates the album almost immediately, but the unit of Chick, Airto, Joe Farrell, Stanley Clarke, and guest vocalist Flora Purim click from the very get-go. Blending electric piano with Brazilian and Latin rhythms, Return to Forever is playful yet daring, somehow cosmic and grounded at the same time.

BEST SINGLES:

"Superfly," Curtis Mayfield
"If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don't Want To Be Right," Luther Ingram
"Thunder and Lightning," Chi Coltrane
"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," Roberta Flack
"Let's Stay Together," Al Green
"Back Stabbers," The O'Jays
"I'll Take You There," The Staple Singers
"Use Me," Bill Withers
"I Can See Clearly Now," Johnny Nash
"Last Night I Didn't Get to Sleep At All," The 5th Dimension

"Go All The Way," The Raspberries
"School's Out," Alice Cooper
"Telegram Sam," T.Rex
"Baby Blue," Badfinger
"Without You," Harry Nilsson
"Everything I Own," Bread
"Taxi," Harry Chapin
"The City of New Orleans," Arlo Guthrie
"Take It Easy," The Eagles
"Garden Party," Rick Nelson

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Akin to Idiocy


No pun intended, but Todd Akin is screwed. In an election where women's health rights has been running side-by-side with the economy as the topic of choice, Akin's "legitimate rape" remark was a staggering and potentially lethal blunder.  There is no exaggerated overaction here, what he said was beyond appalling. Worse yet, this proves the fallacy of male politicians determining what a woman should do with her body. Whether Akin stays in the race --he wants to, but the GOP is pressuring him to quit-- what should have been a fair victory over a weak incumbent is now looking like a clear Claire McCaskill victory. When noted pro-lifers like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are asking you to quit, you're done for.

Other notes:

+ So it turned out Jesse Jackson Jr. has bipolar disorder, a serious mental health condition. If my previous comments about the congressman seemed insensitive, it was only because of the suspicious manner in which Jackson disappeared from DC and public view. On the national scene, he's more famous for being the son of a garrelous far-left activist than anything else. Word in Chicago is, Triple J is still favored to keep his seat in November but not by a landslide.

+ To reiterate: reports of nationwide voter fraud have been greatly exaggerated.

+ Remember my mindest list for the high school class of 2012 (college class of 2016)? Here's the real deal, as depressing as ever.

Next week: the year in music... you know what? I'll let you guess. At this point, I've covered every year between 1964 and 2011 except one. Whoever guesses right wins a cookie.

(374)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Days of Ryan and Roses


After months of speculation, Governor Romney chose his running mate last weekend. Despite rumors of picking a campaign rival/ideological opposite, a fan favorite like Chris Christie, or a "safe" pick like Rob Portman, Romney chose Paul Ryan. This was good news for the GOP, who have perceived the notoriously austere congressman from south central Wisconsin as a rising star in the party, and equally delightful news for the Democrats, who have plenty of ammunition with his name on it. Anyone expecting another Sarah Palin was either relieved or disappointed, depending upon who you ask.

I may not agree with Rep. Ryan politically, he seems like an intelligent, sincere, and thoughful guy. This pick was everything in Palin in '08 wasn't: Ryan is not looking for celebrity, and his bark has bite. Ryan's not fishing around for buzzwords like "grizzly mama," he's a straight talker. I'm almost certain he can hold his own in an extensive interview with Katie Couric. He's a fiscal conservative but a social moderate, as evidenced by his somewhat torpid support for gay rights. As far as everything else is concerned, the congressman tips imperceptibly more to the right than the ex-governor.

With that said, Rep. Ryan does face one major issue: marketing himself to the mainstream. He's an economic wonk, more comfortable laying out an agenda than stumping on the campaign trail. For better or worse, he's the nerd candidate. He's the chess club captain, not the all-conference running back. His connections to the Tea Party movement are prevalent but loose; most criticisms of Ryan being a champion of "top down" economic policies are accurate, and he wholeheartedly supported TARP. In short, he's a DC insider representing a party where outsiders have the loudest voices. His charisma could be the X-factor.

So what does this mean for the election? The first post-Ryan poll suggests a minimal impact, with Romney and Obama still running in dead heat. From a financial perspective, the GOP war chest and SuperPACs keep on chuggin' along, raising record amounts of money. Also, the Ryan pick gives Romney a slight advantage in Wisconsin, which post-recall has become an apparent swing state. At the moment, the bluster is rising but the stances are unwavering; the Obama/Biden ticket was expected to reinforce their core, but like Romney/Ryan they're gained little new ground. Independents and undecideds remain a tough crowd, fighting to decide between two candidates with equally uninspiring economic platforms, more innately drawn to attacking each other than expounding ideas.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Random Notes, August 2012


With all the TV.com drama past us, maybe it's time to catch up on current events big and small:

+ Even though Chick-Fil-A has been promoting family values for years --which is perfectly fine in the right context-- I think Mr. Cathy's comments were a humongous mistake. It's one thing to be a social conservative, it's another to let your beliefs stand in the way of business. This is why Chick-Fil-A will never run with the big dogs (McDonald's, Burger King, etc.). If anyone from those companies are against gay marriage, and I'm sure there are, they would do better than make a formal statement that A) has nothing to do with the company and its wares and B) alienates a substantial percentage of their potential customers. This is not a question of first amendment rights, but a lesser case of foot-in-mouth disease.

+ On one hand, I'm curious to know why Mitt Romney hasn't released any of his pre-2009 tax returns. On the other hand, speculation is building into a witch hunt, a marginally more substantial conspiracy than the Obama/birther absurdity of yore. On one hand, this demonstrates the lack of transparency that hinders the people's faith in government. On the other hand, we already know Romney is filthy rich, and he likely has nothing to hide.

+ Finally this week, I have a "mom update" of sorts. For the last few weeks, her hands had been trembling and we weren't sure why. She already has osteoporosis, but that's really a symptom. After going to a specialist late last week, my mom learned that she has early-onset Parkinson's Disease. The disease is very much treatable, and she's not treating it like a big deal, but regardless please keep  my mom in your thoughts.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1997



Two types of music dominated the critics' lists (and Billboard charts) in 1997: hip-hop and British alternative. The American hip-hop scene was a watershed, teaming with new voices (Timbaland, Wyclef Jean, Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, Erykah Badu) even though the death of Notorious B.I.G. nearly overshadowed these developments. The bigger story, however was the latest and adamantly Gen-X British invasion: cult UK acts like Blur and The Verve were suddenly burdened with a left-field hit in the states, then quickly written off by myopic trendmakers as one-hit wonders. Two years after The Bends, Radiohead released one of the most important rock albums of the '90s, if not all time. Pre-21st century dance-rock was defined by the likes of Daft Punk, Prodigy, and The Chemical Brothers.

And where was I in 1997? Transitioning from grade school to junior high, I was still mostly oblivious to popular music. I remember we had a new gym teacher that was hip enough to play "MTV Buzz Bin" and the Lost Highway soundtrack during class. If I had a personal highlight, I joined my middle school AV Club and fiddled around with camera equipment, a gateway of sorts to my career in radio. The long-awaited arrival of the first CD player in the Allard household that Christmas, however was the likely impetus of my musical obsessions. (Alas, at the time my sister dominated the boombox with her Spice Girls CDs.)


BEST ALBUMS
1. OK Computer, Radiohead. Can a guitar-rock album feel accomplished and bewildering when it doesn't feel like a guitar-rock album? If that album is as subtle and textured as OK Computer, than the answer is yes. Building upon The Bends but refusing to augment old ideas, the innovation and surprise of Radiohead's third album makes this an essential, albeit demanding, listening experience for a whole generation.  There's little else I can say that any other music critic hasn't praised or construed.
2. Dig Your Own Hole, The Chemical Brothers. Raising their game from promising, above-average post-techno act to innovators, Hole carries many of the same challenging yet rewarding qualities that OK Computer does, if not at the same echelon. This feast of sound begins with the cacophonous "Block Rockin' Beats," with the Beatles-baiting hit single "Setting Sun" serving as the main course. This is a mercilessly propulsive album, an exhilarating experience these brothers-in-spirit have yet to match.
3. The Colour and The Shape, Foo Fighters. The best straight-up rock album of '97 was a proving point for Dave Grohl. In his desire to prove he wasn't just "the drummer from Nirvana" and an artist of his own merit, Grohl turned his side project Foo Fighters into a full-fledged band and entity. The end result is The Colour, the last (?) great "arena rock" album and Grohl's most tenacious effort as a drummer, frontman, and songwriter. As the band thrashes for 47 minutes, Grohl and producer Gil Norton maintain a semblance of focus and control.
4. Either/Or, Elliott Smith
5. Homework, Daft Punk
6. Urban Hymns, The Verve
7. Homogenic, Bjork
8. Blur, Blur
9. The Lonesome Crowded West, Modest Mouse
10. Time Out of Mind, Bob Dylan. The unlikeliest great album of the late '90s started a new chapter in an American icon's sprawling career. After releasing two decades' worth of albums that ranged in quality from adequate to disposable, not to mention spending most of the decade touring without writing or recording, there was a certain suspension of disbelief when Dylan finally returned to the studio in late '96. Like most of his post Desire efforts, this is album that blends blues and folk, but its essence lies in Dylan's songcraft and Daniel Lanois' ominous production.

Honorable Mentions: Whatever and Ever, Amen, Ben Folds Five; Brighten the Corners, Pavement; Fat of the Land, Prodigy; Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating in Space, Spiritualized; Third Eye Blind, Third Eye Blind; Presents the Carnival, Featuring Refugee All-Stars, Wyclef Jean; I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, Yo La Tengo.

BEST SINGLES
"The Perfect Drug," Nine Inch Nails
"Miss Misery," Elliott Smith
"Sonny Came Home," Shawn Colvin
"Legend of a Cowgirl," Imani Coppola
"The Freshmen," The Verve Pipe
"One Headlight," The Wallflowers
"Angel," Sarah McLachlan
"The Impression That I Get," Mighty Mighty Bosstones
"Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)," Deftones
"I'm Afraid of Americans," David Bowie feat. Trent Reznor

BEST VIDEOS
1. "Smack My Bitch Up," Prodigy. As epic was it was controversial, this seemingly mundane POV clip takes one dark turn after another, which crescendos into a brilliant twist ending. Banished to the wee hours of the night by MTV (where it aired exactly once) it remains a NSFW roller coaster 15 years later.
2. "Everlong," Foo Fighters. 1997 was a breakout year of sorts for director Michel Gondry; he directed seven short-form videos that year, three of which are on this list. "Everlong" takes the cake, at least stylistically; the overlapping dreams of Dave Grohl and "wife" Taylor Hawkins are a creepy world onto itself.
3. "Virtual Insanity," Jamiroquai. A quick hint about the video's production: the walls move, not the floor. I hope that doesn't ruin the magic of this trippy clip.
4. "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)," Missy Elliott. A hard video to forget, even if it carries many of the usual late '90s hip-hop video clichés (the Hummer, the booty walk, the Puff Daddy cameo). The essence lies in the fish-eye lens, which make the diminutive, lusciously lipped Missy look like a colossus.
5. "Criminal," Fiona Apple. In two words: heroin chic. Not nearly a controversial as "Smack," but almost as pornographic. Modern-day hipsters will think this video is nothing more than a moving Hipstamatic print. They don't know this broke the mold.
6. "Bachlorette," Bjork.
7. "Around The World," Daft Punk.
8. "Karma Police," Radiohead.
9. "Not If You Were The Last Junkie on Earth," The Dandy Warhols.
10. "Sky's The Limit," Notorious B.I.G. featuring 112.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Weekly Update #370


Congratulations, James Holmes. You just threw America into another endless debate on gun control. Well fucking done. I'm almost afraid to turn on one of the cable news networks to see some partisan talking head spouting off about the ambiguity of the second amendment. All it does is trivialize and distract from the weight of this tragedy.

There is so much about last week's shooting that makes absolutely no sense. First of all, how in the world did Holmes acquire so much weaponry without anyone noticing?  It's one thing to defend yourself, it's another to have more artillery than the army of Monaco.  You own a .45 Magnum? Fine. A hunting rifle? Whatever. An AR-15 assault rifle, two glocks, and 6,000 rounds of ammunition? Come on.

Secondly, who brings a four-month-old baby to a midnight screening? There is no reason why that child should've been shot, let alone inside the cineplex. If you're a responsible parent, you should've either done everyone you can to find a babysitter, or just say home. In a situation like that, an infant takes top priority over anything else.

Adding extra weight to this tragedy is that something like this will happen again. It's a horrible thought, but it's inevitable. You could push the gun control debate in either direction and it wouldn't change a thing. Somewhere, somebody is plotting another massacre, another tragedy that can only be justified in the shooter's distorted mind.  And what can we do about it? Just go about our daily lives and assume nothing will happen. Live with passion, live like everything matters. Count your blessings and savor your time on earth.

Next week: the year in music, 1997. I promise I won't be as nettled.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Weekly Update #369

Congratulations, you've been redirected!


"Where's Jesse?" That's the refrain that Chicago has been singing in recent weeks. Jesse Jackson Jr, son of the activist and a strange bedfellow of Rod Blagojevich, completely fell off the grid earlier this summer.  After seemingly playing hooky from his office in DC, it was revealed that Jackson was at an unknown rehab facility in Arizona. Little is known about his condition other than what his close friends are calling a "mood disorder." Even his notoriously garralous father has been keeping mum. The Chicago media, famed for their persistence and glad-handing, is being shut out in every direction. It's not a major surprise, given his confusing track record of late.

A promising political figure when first elected 17 years ago, "Triple J" has ultimately proven to be more noteworthy at home than in DC, where is a very average, albeit quixotic presence in the House of Representatives. Rather than set his eye on higher office (Mayor of Chicago? The U.S. Senate?) Jackson seems more content to serve his constituents and nothing more. Jackson's connections to Blagojevich have done him zero favors. His star was on a slow simmer prior to 2008, now it's barely lit.  Triple J has carried his district in a landslide for nine straight elections, but Jackson's next run at the vote will be his most daunting.  Is Jackson really in a "bad mood," or does he know his mostly undistinguished run is near an end?

Other notes:

+ Speaking of Chicago, one of the greatest risks in local radio history has ended in abject failure. FM News, Merlin Media's attempt to bring talk radio to the other side of the dial, was an unlistenable mess for much of its one year run. The new ownership, led by the infamous Randy Michaels, took a perfectly fine (though middling ratings-wise) station like alt-rock stalwart Q101, canned and gutted the format, than replaced it with news/talk without a focus or purpose.  In a city where talk and music formats are virtually segregated between AM and FM, the idea of FM News was noble but woefully ill-conceived. My sympathies to those that have lost their jobs this week, but the chip on Michaels' shoulder only keeps growing.

+ Improv Update: I made a house team! As of two weeks ago, I'm now a regular at the Gorilla Tango Improv Zoo in Wicker Park. We have weekly shows Tuesdays nights at 9 o'clock.

+ Finally, I'm going to look backward, rather than straight ahead. When I wrote my first blog entry in June 2005, I hardly had an idea of what I was doing. The prospect of writing about my life, whether intermittently on a weekly basis, seemed daunting and a little scary. On the other hand, I've always been stronger at writing than in any other means of communication. What started out as a weekly series of trite dispatches became my soapbox, my confessional, and my means of talking about matters unrelated to TV on a web site about all things television. Most importantly, it allowed me to connect to my fellow users and contributors. I'll still be around the forums, but golly whiz if TV.com won't be the same.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Camera Obscura


Does anyone know what the numero uno topic will be for November's election? I've completely lost track. Two months ago it was women's health, than it was gay marriage, two weeks ago it was a moratorium on health care reform, now it's shifted (rightfully) back to the economy. The drive of both presidential campaigns has been just as unfocused as the media's attention to the issues. CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC are embarassing themselves more so than ever.

A few days ago, my Facebook friend Ben Douwsma (click here for his blog) pointed out something that I'd been wondering for a few weeks now: this election is 2004 in reverse. Think about it: an weak incumbent against a weak challenger. Said incumbent is beloved by his party and detested by his critics. Said challenger is the former governor of Massachuetts, born into a political family. The challenger also has a history of flip-flopping and pandering, and there's little to fuel his campaign other than "get the other guy out of here." Weirder yet, the challenger was considered the "safe" choice for the party's nomination after a rival imploded during the primaries. The only parallel I can draw is the hot-button issue: in 2004, the incumbent had a strong economic outline and a questionable take on defense; in 2012 it's the opposite. The question now is, can Mitt Romney obviate from the same issues that crushed John Kerry?

Finally, I was somewhat upset to hear that after seven-plus years, TV.com might be pulling the plug on user blogs. Worse yet, commenting will be disabled by the end of this week. Even though I "similcast" my musings on Blogspot, to me it seems like CNet is moving forward in their mission to deemphasize the contributors that built this site and turn our little sanctuary into a weird cross between Hulu and Futon Critic. I'm upset, especially because I'm powerless about this profile overhaul. The excuse is that nobody blogs anymore, but in reality CNet scared off half the users on this site and banned the others. Forum traffic is at a fraction of what it was five years ago, and chances are discussion boards will be the next to go. Regardless, I've been contributing and posting on TV Tome/TV.com for nearly a decade now, and if the ship sinks I'm going down with it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

2012: The Half-Year in Jokes


For those of you who are Facebook friends or follow me on Twitter (@heystu818), I've been  known to write late night monologue-style jokes as status updates and/or tweets.  Late last year, I collected my strongest jokes of the previous year into one blog entry.  It proved somewhat tricky to edit down, and given the fickle nature of topical humor, several of my stronger gags didn't hold up to the end of the year. Instead of saving the whole list for year's end, I opted to break it in half.

With that said, this is my "monologue" for the first half of 2012:

+ Paula Deen announced yesterday that she's a Type 2 diabetic. You can find out more in the next issue of "I Already Kind of Assumed That" magazine. (1/18)

+ Jay Cutler and his on/off fiancee  Kristen Cavallari are reportedly expecting their first child. Apparently, the Bears' offensive line is also terrible at contraception. (1/23)

+ Presidential hopeful Ron Paul says he has a big youth following. I assume that's because most people under age 25 think he's the guy who played Gandalf. (1/26)

+ Following his performance at the Grammy Awards, the question "Who is Paul McCartney?" trended on Twitter. Luckily, one teenager had the levity to say, "Duh! That's Jesse's grandma!" (2/13)

+ Ralph Nader announced that he has not ruled out running for president in 2012. Upon hearing this, the cashier at Arby's nodded and asked if he wanted curly fries. (2/16)

+ A new study found that 15 percent of Americans under the age of 30 don’t have a job. They even have a name for that group: mass comm majors. (2/23)

+ Rush Limbaugh is under fire for calling a college student a slut. As a result, Limbaugh has been invited to join Kappa Kappa Gamma. (3/2)

+  Tonight is daylight savings, so I'd like to remind everyone that you'll be losing one hour of your life tonight. If you watch "Whitney" and "Are You There Chelsea," you know exactly what I'm talking about. (3/10)

+ Chaleo Yoovidhya, the developer of Red Bull, died last week at age 89. Per his request, his ashes were mixed with vodka and sold for $12 in a douchey nightclub. (3/24)

+ A British historical society declared that Britain’s greatest foe of all time was George Washington. Better luck next year, dentists. (4/17)

+ The oldest man in the United States turned 111 in March. For his birthday, he got a steak dinner, a phone call from the Vice President, and a rotation spot with the Colorado Rockies. (4/22)

+ Rick Perry has officially endorsed Mitt Romney, citing his rival's love of country, his economic policy, and... uh... there was a third one... (4/29)

+ Levi Johnston and his girlfriend revealed that they will name their child Breeze Beretta. No word yet on whether the baby will be a boy, a girl, or a scented candle. (5/6)

+ A new study shows that a high-frustose diet can cause ADD and memory loss. I have two puppies. What time is lunch? (5/15)

+ Eugene Polley, co-inventor of the TV remote control, died today at age 96. Per his request, he will be buried between two giant sofa cushions. (5/22)

+ Taco Bell says it has sold 100 million Doritos Locos Tacos in the past 10 weeks. Also selling briskly since late March? Imodium. (6/6)

+ The Electronic Entertainment Expo is currently going on in LA. On display this year are new mobile games, 3D innovations, and a real-life woman. (6/9)

+ CBS has taken ABC to court for launching a reality show deemed too similar to "Big Brother." However, the judge approved ABC's other new show, "Braindead Italians of the Mid-Atlantic Coast." (6/15)

+ Teen prodigy Shouryya Ray, the boy that solved a math problem posed by Isaac Newton 350 years ago, may not have actually solved the equation. Worse yet, his classmates have grown suspicious about his girlfriend in Canada. (6/24)

Enjoy your 4th of July!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

That Wonderful Year in Music... 2007



I look back at 2007 as a year of questions. It was a year where people asked queries like, "is 'John from Cincinnati' supposed to make any sense?" "who will be our next president, Rudy Giuliani or Hillary Clinton?" and "hissing fauna, are you the destroyer?"

In all seriousness, however my '07 was defined by hanging out in the basement of Fell Hall at Illinois State University.  It was my senior year, an as a member of the Z106 rock music staff I listened to and rated new releases for air.  I was also a DJ for three semesters, so I enjoyed this task both ways.  I did an internship in the station that summer, so during my down time I had unprecedented access to free CDs, resulting in an equally unparalled time of new musical knowledge. I graduated that December thinking, "damn, these last 12 months were a lot of fun." Suffice to say, listening to the following albums and songs made for a great trip down Memory Lane.

I wrote out a year-end list in 2007, and even though I still agree with most of my picks I did overlook a few albums that I hadn't heard in full at that point (*cough* In Rainbows *cough* Sound of Silver) and nearly overrated others (in hindsight, Mark Ronson's covers disc Version seems more "fun" than bold or substantial).  It was only my second stab at blogging about music, and these types of things do benefit from hindsight. I will concur with myself insofar that '07 was a bountiful year for indie-rock and electronica.  Five years is my self-imposed minimum of determining whether a particular song or album holds up, so what remains essential a half-decade on?

(parentheses note previous ranking)


BEST ALBUMS
1. In Rainbows, Radiohead. By default, this is the band's most romantic album. That is not to say that Thom Yorke and the boys have cheered up; buzzwords like "comatose," "nightmare," and "trapped" are sprinkled all over the disc. On their first self-released effort after bolting Capitol/EMI, Radiohead is more focused upon their introversion than ever, but instead of fearing society and technology the angst aims eerily inward.  For all the electronic abstraction, they just want to be loved.
2. Neon Bible, Arcade Fire (1). Trading sepia tones and monochrome for brighter colors --hence the title-- we find the Montreal septet beyond mourning their youth and having a stiff drink after a long day's work. Immediately dismissed by some as Funeral Part 2, the Fire's sophomore effort holds up as a distinctively wrecked and defiant effort of its own valor.
3. Sky Blue Sky, Wilco (2). As much as I adored Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, it wasn't until Sky that I truly "got" Wilco. Returning to their alt-country roots while still keeping one foot in experimental pop, their sixth album evokes Neil Young circa Harvest, the end result sometimes sounding like '70s soft rock. Newcomers Pat Sansone and Nels Cline make the disc, their organ and guitar work respectively meshing well with Jeff Tweedy's yearning harmonies.
4. Sound of Silver, LCD Soundsystem
5. Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, Of Montreal
6. Wincing the Night Away, The Shins (3)
7. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon (5)
8. Icky Thump, The White Stripes
9. Boxer, The National (11)
10. Back to Black, Amy Winehouse (10). Yes, go ahead and judge. Winehouse spent the last four-plus years of her life in the tabloids, a shambolic train wreck of a woman doomed to an early grave by her impulses and narcissism. What she left behind, however was a very promising singing career, demonstrated to full effect on Black. It was her second full-length, her commercial breakthrough, and ultimately her last completed statement as an artist. "Rehab" and "You Know I'm No Good" are great songs, with or without the baggage of historical irony.

11. Because of the Night, Kings of Leon
12. Strawberry Jam, Animal Collective
13. The Reminder, Feist (4)
14. Graduation, Kanye West (8)
15. Favourite Worst Nightmare, Arctic Monkeys. What sophomore jinx? It's not my favorite Monkeys album --see my 2006 list-- but it contains two of their best songs ("Brianstorm" and "Fluorescent Adolescent"). If the big complaint about their debut was that they owed too much to the artists that influenced them, than Nightmare is the sound of a young band finding its voice.
16. Kala, M.I.A.
17. Challengers, The New Pornographers
18. The Cool, Lupe Fiasco
19. Attack Decay Sustain Release, Simian Mobile Disco
20. Widow City, The Fiery Furnaces (6). In some ways, the Friedberger siblings are like indie-rock's answer to Dim Sum: it's delicious if you love weird things, but only occasionally is it accessible to newbies. Their 2003 debut Gallowsbird's Bark is a decent starting point, but Widow City is an expert-level feast. The disc alternates from baroque pop to free jazz to proto-Metal, sometimes in the same song. If you get it, you'll love it.

BEST SINGLES
"Chelsea Dagger," The Fratellis
"Ruby," Kaiser Chiefs
"Silver Lining," Rilo Kiley
"Back to the 101," Albert Hammond Jr.
"Don't Make Me Wait," Locksley
"3's and 7's," Queens of the Stone Age
"Thrash Unreal," Against Me!
"Lake Michigan," Rogue Wave
"Hard Sun," Eddie Vedder
"Falling Slowly," Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová

BEST VIDEOS
When I said 4 1/2 years ago that mash-up were in vogue and YouTube hasn't caught on to music videos yet... I guess I wasn't looking hard enough. I missed out on some awesome clips. Once again, the benefit of hindsight.

1. "1234," Feist. This well-choreographed, multi-hued clip actually did air on TV... in a 30-second iPod commercial. That was enough to turn "1234" into a left-field hit.
2. "What's a Girl To Do," Bat For Lashes. If you don't mind the "Donnie Darko" allusions, this video is a perfect match-up of visual and audio atmosphere.
3. "Can't Tell Me Nothin'" (Version 2), Kanye West. A pre-"Hangover" Zach Galifianakis and troubadour Will Oldman chill out at Zach's North Carolina farm in this dance floor hit expressing Yeezy's ambivalance to the hip-hop lifestyle.
4. "Atlas," Battles. Their 2007 release was titled Mirrored. Therefore...
5. "The Underdog," Spoon. Inspired by "Russian Ark," this daring single-shot video depicts a typical, "humdrum" recording session with Britt Daniels and company.
6. "100 Days, 100 Nights," Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings.
7. "Conquest," The White Stripes.
8. "Young Folks," Peter, Bjorn, & John.
9. "Peacebone," Animal Collective.
10. "Electric Feel," MGMT.

Honorable Mentions "Smile," Lily Allen; "Long Road to Ruin," Foo Fighters; "Phantom Limb," The Shins.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Lesson for Today


Even though I seldom mention this --other than when I'm rambling on about retirement pensions-- I'm a substitute teacher.  I just finished my second year at the district one town over, where I "teach" English and history at the middle and high school level. I've had a sub license in DuPage County since 2008, after a brief dalliance I didn't really depend upon teaching until after losing my job at Salem two-plus years ago.

One of the most challenging aspects of being a sub is the lack of training. Unless you have a full teaching degree, you're not necessarily prepared for dealing with a classroom of disaffected teenagers.  I went into teaching fully knowing I was going to be challenged, so in a lot of ways I'm learning on the job. Unfortunately, I had an experience several weeks ago that exposed my lack of attestation, and potentially hurt my credibility.

It was the last Friday of the 2011-12 school year.  In this district the seniors neither take finals nor prep for them, so they get to sit out the last week before graduation.  Even though the high school was only three-quarters full, the staff and faculty still ran on all cylinders. At 6:05 that morning the district dispatcher called, asked me if I could fill in for a social studies teacher, and I accepted.  I arrived right at 8 o'clock, only to discover that for the first two periods I was an aide and my presence wasn't needed. Third period was Mr. F's planning hour, so my first part of the day was suprisingly easy. Little did I know what 4th period would deliver.

My first real class of the day was civics, and Mr. F assigned his remaining students a video with an accompanying worksheet, worth 40 points and due at the end of the period.  Of the 13 students that showed up, a group of five or six (mixed gender) sat in a cluster on the front right side of the room. Judging from their build, I could tell at least one of them played football.  They were chatting away loudly as I handed them the worksheets and gave instructions.  One of the athletic extroverts even helped me with the overheaded projector.

From that point, things soured.  As I dimmed the lights, I heard a crash; I turn around to see a desk on the front left side had been knocked over. I asked who did that, no one answered, and I nonchalantly turned the desk right side up.  Upon playing the DVD, I noticed that the cluster was still talking amongst themselves.  I raised the volume to drown them out, but it didn't work.  From about twelve feet away, I could tell that the one helpful student had music blasting from the buds of his iPod.

As the other half of the class worked away, I walked over to the group and asked to be quiet and work on their assignment. Than, I asked the boy to put away his iPod. After refusing, I asked him again. Still declining my orders, I looked him straight in the eye and said "are you deaf?" The boy scowled, his friends fell silent.  Feeling like I had toed a line somehow, I gave up and walked back to my chair. The clique resumed their conversation.

Shortly after sitting down, I heard another crash. Just beyond my peripheral, I saw another desk toppled over, this time on top of another desk.  One leg left a dent the size of a quarter in the wall.  The girls in the group giggled.  It was pretty evident that the largest member of the group tried to throw the chair at me, but missed me by about four feet. At my wit's end and in no position to retaliate, I called the front office, explained what had happened and requested the dean (I didn't know his extension).

A minute or so later a tall, muscular gentleman tapped on the door.  He was the dean, and upon walking in he correctly assumed who hucked the desk at me.  At his orders, two of the boys were sent to his office; the rest of the group was broken up and sent to opposite ends of the classroom.  Before the end of the period, they regrouped and resumed their conversation; however, I was too fed up to just keep calling them out.  Finally the bell rang, and the rest of the day went by without incident.

Over that weekend, the incident kept circing around in my head.  I learned later in the day that the two students had a history of being problematic; I can only assume they were suspended through finals, or at the very least sent to their umpteenth detention.  I chronically wondered if I properly handled the situation; I had dealt with unruly students before, but I usually kept my cool.  Attacked or not, I felt like I failed myself somehow.

I had all but forgotten about the incident until last weekend.  I was volunteering for the WDCB table at the Naperville Jazz Festival when I struck a conversation with a lady visiting from San Jose.  She was a 6th grade teacher in her early 50s, and we were comparing slashed retirement benefits in her school district to budget cuts in mine.  As she shared, she mentioned how there were fewer distractions and gadgets 10-15 years ago. As I nodded, she offered a tip of sorts: if a student is playing music in class, ask politely to put away the device, or confiscate it. Don't order, just do. On one hand, the lady was merely giving fortuitous advice. On the other hand, she all but confirmed my anxiety. My instinct might've been wrong after all.

As I look back on my moment of weakness, I brace myself for the coming school year. What happens if that student has a long memory, and exacts some type of revenge? Can I keep my professionalism in check? I would ponder cutting bait and looking for work elsewhere, but I can't take the risk.  All actions have consequences, and now I must spend the summer  worrying about an unwanted cliffhanger, a lapse in judgment that I can't erase.

Next Week: the year in music, 2007.