Tuesday, May 26, 2009

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1979

If it's the last Tuesday of the month, it must be time for another salute to a particular year in music. By all accounts, 1979 is a personal all-time favorite; the final year of the '70s was watershed in that while disco was still a behemoth, the punk movement began to die out and the baton was passed to new wave. '79 was a year of uncertainty, triggered mostly by inflation and high unemployment in the US and political unrest in Iran. When the President of the United States is being attacked by a swamp rabbits, you know things are going badly. Strangely, malaise and ennui has a tendency to inspire great art, a trend that bodes well for 2009; of course, we won't know that for sure until the year's over. Nonetheless, here's my picks from '79:


1. London Calling, The Clash. The third album from Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, et al. is arguably the most overrated punk album of all time. In spite of that, Calling is also one of the greatst rock albums ever made. Only five or six tracks on this double-LP could be labeled as punk in the broadest sense, but it's the seemless fusion of the band's influences (especially rockabilly and ska) that gives this album its heart and soul.
2. Unknown Pleasures, Joy Division. The album that ushered in punk's no-frills, all-chills offspring, the demi-genre simply referred to as post-punk. The epilepsy anthem "She's Lost Control" and the menacing "Shadowplay" are the go-to tracks.
3. Look Sharp!, Joe Jackson. Compared to my first two selections, this album is a palette-cleanser. Where London Calling is too busy challenging itself and Unknown Pleasures mired in its own cathartic despair, Jackson's debut album is a hook-heavy power-pop romp. "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" is the obvious hit, and yet the rest of the album plays out like a best-of compilation.
4. Armed Forces, Elvis Costello & The Attractions
5. Entertainment!, Gang of Four
6. The Wall, Pink Floyd
7. Rust Never Sleeps, Neil Young & Crazy Horse
8. Breakfast in America, Supertramp
9. Damn the Torpedos, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
10. Highway To Hell, AC/DC. The Australian hard rock quintet's last LP with Bon Scott on vocals is a real humdinger. It's hard not to get pumped up from any of the tracks on this disc- "Girls Got Rhythm," "Touch Too Much," "Walk All Over You," and the title track all pack a big whallop.

Honorable Mentions: Broken English, Marianne Faithfull; Get The Knack, The Knack; In Through The Out Door, Led Zeppelin; Squeezing Out Sparks, Graham Parker; Regatta De Blanc, The Police; The Roches, The Roches; Fear of Music, Talking Heads.

OKAY ALBUM, AWESOME ALBUM COVER: Cut, The Slits. Those are the actual band members. I shit you not.

I broke my usual "best singles" list into two this month, one to honor all the great songs on the radio that year, the other to acknowledge the really awesome new wave/underground sound of the time period:


"Rock With You," Michael Jackson
"Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?," Rod Stewart
"Ring My Bell," Anita Ward
"Dreaming," Blondie
"Take It On The Run," REO Speedwagon
"It's All I Can Do," The Cars
"Chuck E's In Love," Rickie Lee Jones
"Gotta Serve Somebody," Bob Dylan
"Rock Lobster," The B-52s
"Tusk," Fleetwood Mac


"I Don't Like Mondays," Boomtown Rats
"Get Over You," The Undertones
"Schooldays," Starjets
"10:15 Saturday Night," The Cure
"Cruel To Be Kind," Nick Lowe
"Life Begins at the Hop," XTC
"Starry Eyes," The Records
"Time Goes By So Slow," The Distractions
"Where's The Boy For Me?," The Revillos
"White Mice," Mo Dettes

BEST VIDEOS OF 1979: Yes Virginia, they had music videos two-plus years before MTV launched. It was still a rudimentary art form, yet these three clips exist today to show us how much videos have evolved in the past thirty years.
"Brass In Pocket," The Pretenders

To read my other "Wonderful Year in Music" blogs, feel free to rummage through my archives.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My Fourth Annual Fantasy Emmy Ballot

Listed below is my 4th Annual Fantasy Emmy Ballot. For the uninitiated, I write this ballot for two reasons- to acknowledge who I thought had the best performances of the year, but also to compare it to actual Emmy ballot, which is often completely out of touch with what the press has to say. I am retaining my unusual strategy from last year; of the five nominees in each category, I chose four people that I would like to see nominated and one that the Emmy committee will ostensively choose that isn't quite as deserving. Some of them will be easier to figure out than others. Here goes:

Outstanding Animated Program, Less Than One Hour: "American Dad," "King of the Hill," "The Simpsons," "South Park," and "Spongebob Squarepants."

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: "Jimmy Kimmel Live," "Late Show with David Letterman," "The Colbert Report," "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," and "Tracey Ullman's State of the Union."

Best Supporting Actress, Drama: Candice Bergen, Boston Legal; Rachel Griffiths, Brothers & Sisters; Katherine Heigl, Grey's Anatomy; January Jones, Mad Men; and Dianne Weist, In Treatment.

Best Supporting Actress, Comedy: Jenna Fischer, The Office; Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock; Jaime Pressly, My Name Is Earl; Holland Taylor, Two and a Half Men; and Vanessa Williams, Ugly Betty.

Best Supporting Actor, Drama: Ted Danson, Damages; Michael Emerson, Lost; William Hurt, Damages; T.R. Knight, Grey's Anatomy; and John Slattery, Mad Men.

Best Supporting Actor, Comedy: Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men; Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother; Jack McBrayer, 30 Rock; Jeremy Piven, Entourage; 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; and Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer.

Best Actress in a Comedy Series: Christina Applegate, Samantha Who?; America Ferrera, Ugly Betty; Tina Fey, 30 Rock; Julia Louis-Dreyfus, The New Adventures of Old Christine; and Mary Louise Parker, Weeds.

Best Actor in a Drama Series: Gabriel Byrne, In Treatment; Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad; Jon Hamm, Mad Men; Denis Leary, Rescue Me; and Kiefer Sutherland, 24.

Best Actor in a Comedy Series: Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock; Steve Carell, The Office; Jason Lee, My Name Is Earl; Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory; and Charlie Sheen, Two and a Half Men.

Best Drama Series: "24," "Damages," "In Treatment," "Lost," "Mad Men."

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

Make sure to print out this ballot, than give me the nth degree when they announce the nominations in July and I will likely get half of these wrong. Enjoy!

Other Notes:

+ Sunday was student orientation at Second City, but my journey to the theater was a bit of a challenge. I woke up at quarter to 6 because trains to the city only run every other hour on Sundays. I arrived at Chicago Union Station at 7:40AM, walked to a nearby 7/11 to grab some coffee, than hiked five blocks east on West Lake St. to get onto the "El" line that took me to the Old Town neighborhood. After getting off at Sedgwick Ave. I walked another four blocks to arrive at the front entrance of Second City... and somehow I was still 45 minutes early. I can't believe this will be my commute for eight of the next nine weeks.

+ As for orientation itself- for about forty minutes, I listened to a middle-aged lady (and a 20-year veteran of SC) explain class guidelines and what to expect in the improv, acting, and writing courses. Apparently, there's no actual performing until you're a Level C; I'm only at Level A, but I'm deliberately taking the easiest course to ease myself in. The lady also mentioned how cool it was to have Stephen Colbert as a classmate in the early '90s and briefly alluded to having Tina Fey as a past student... you know, for the sake of bragging.

+ Last week, I was playing the uncensored version of the SNL Digital Short "Mother Lovers" on my laptop sans headphones. My mother walked into the room just as Andy and Justin said "we should fuck each other's mothers," she gave me a weird look, said "okay..." than walked towards the living room.

+ Paris Hilton stated in a recent interview that she's not as sexually experienced as the media perceives her, stating that she's only been with "a couple of guys." Of course, she didn't specify if she was with these men over the course of the last couple of years, weeks, or hours.

+ It's mid-May and Kansas City is only one game out of first place? This must be the year...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Don't Be a Menace to Chávez Ravine While Injecting Your Juice in the Hood

Manny Ramirez's 50-game suspension for taking a fertility drug is just another nail in the coffin. I neither loved nor hated Man-Ram, yet I'm still disappointed that another baseball superstar resorted to these desperate measures. Sadly, it's gotten to the point that I would not oppose issuing lifetime bans to anyone that tests positive. I'm just tossing that idea into the air; a one-and-done rule would have a more profound effect than missing two months' worth of games, especially from a financial and reputational standpoint.

I'm not sure if there's anything else I can say about this, but my ISU buddy --and fellow radio industry gadfly-- Kyle Anderson has a far stronger opinion on the topic. This is from a rant that he posted on Facebook last week titled "My love of (pro) sports is over":

"Between Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Roger Clemens, and on and on, where do baseball fans finally draw a line? It's okay to love a game. I'll ALWAYS love the game of baseball. If you knew me when I was younger, you know it was one of the few things that made me happy. And I'll always love it on a little league and high school level...

But if you consider yourself a MLB fan, where does the line stop? How can you just keep watching episode after episode of SportsCenter without taking off your tinted glasses and realizing that we haven't even hit the tip of the iceberg to this? There are 103 other players who tested positive in 2003. And they can't all be Neifi Perez. If you're a Cubs fan and they win the World Series this year, but then 5 years down the road you find out that Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Zambrano, Rich Harden, and Alfonso Soriano were all juicing, would it be worth it? If you're a Cardinals fan my age and you realize that Albert Pujols led you to the only title of our lifetimes in 2006 while he was juicing, don't you at least get a sick feeling in your stomach?

So, to simplify it...fuck it. Fuck baseball, fuck the NFL, fuck the NBA, fuck 'em all. If they're not cheaters, they're money-hungry douchebags. Or, they're out cheating on their wives in every major league city (I had a friend tell me her sister slept with Greg Maddux when he was a Brave). Or they find another way to cheat the game by corking a bat or slapping a ball out of a player's hand sissy style."

Kyle might've given up, but I'm not there quite yet. There's still nothing quite like a day at the ballpark, and the cheaters will ultimately rot in hell. Plus, Zach Grienke has been a beast this year.

Other notes:

+ Speaking of steroids, what if you were ready to do another "I told you so" dance and virtually nobody showed up? Jose Canseco, you tell us.

+ This is the political cartoon of the year, hands down.

+ Congratulations to my old pal Joe Burry (aka Darth-Revan91) upon his graduation from high school on May 21st.

+ As a Chicagoan, I can't finish this blog without these two simple words:

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Breaking Up Is Surprisingly Easy To Do

Arlen Specter's decision to "divorce" the Republican Party last week was a long time coming. Simply put, the GOP has spent the last decade ostracizing moderates and blackballing anyone in their brethren that dared to deviate from the conservative arete, and that insular and rigid idealogy is coming back to bite them in the ass. Specter is far from being the first victim; Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) was the first member of his party to openly express doubts about the War in Iraq, and Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) bucked party lines in regard to abortion and gay rights, and both paid dearly for their efforts. Sen. John McCain won his party's nomination for president by promising to be more open-minded than most mainstream conservatives, but the rascally radical was ultimately done in by caving into party demands and choosing maverick poseur Sarah Palin as his running mate. The only difference is that Specter had reservations about the direction of the party for years, than jumped ship before the GOP could pull out the knives.

With Specter turning blue and Al Franken's presumptive election following a prolonged court battle, the Democrats pretty much have a filibuster-proof majority in place. Though an all-encompassing liberal majority may seem like a novelty, it isn't rock bottom for the GOP. Real Clear Politics is quick to point out that the Dems had a 69-27 advantage from 1935-37 and a 68-32 edge from 1965-67, and both majorities unraveled when the economic agendas of a Democratic president (the New Deal and Great Society, respectively) lost the public's patience and support. As for now, President Obama's policies have given the country a sense of cautious optimism, and we'll take stability over nothing. Tax Day rallies aside, the GOP has bungled their attempts to poke holes into Obamanomics and the party's focus is more scattered and too concerned with special interests than ever. They almost seem committed to marginalizing themselves.

Other notes:

+ One month into my second year in fantasy baseball, I don't really have a "good" or "bad" team but simply two middling squads treading water. As I write this, both of my teams are right smack at .500 and the trend doesn't seem to be changing anytime soon. Having a lot of Royals players helped early on in the year, though Gordon and Aviles had to be dumped for obvious reasons. If only I had Zach Greinke on both teams instead of just one...

+ I really hope they throw the book at this lady.

+ You might be worried about swine flu, but I'm still preparing for monkeypox...

+ Less than two weeks until student orientation at Second City!