Tuesday, July 28, 2009

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1994

I promised a different decade, and I give you another decade...

I wonder what can be said about 1994 that hasn't already been recycled, rehashed and stewed into cliche. That it was the year Kurt Cobain --and to some degree, the grunge movement-- entered eternal life? That gangsta rap went mainstream? That emo broke out? When punk made its big comeback after lying low for nearly a decade? That a certain legendary music festival was revisited upon its 25th anniversary, only to be morphed into a highly commercial, money-making opportunity? Whether you look back at 15 years ago with glee or mild misgivings, you can't doubt the quality of music that came out that year.

1. Grace, Jeff Buckley. In a year that was top-heavy on strong debut efforts and breakthrough CDs, Buckley's first (and sadly, his only proper) disc takes the cake. His cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is the track everybody remembers, but his textured dabbles in jazz, folk, and alt-rock make Grace a ponderance at what could've been a long and healthy career as the Gen-X Van Morrison.
2. Ill Communication, Beastie Boys. Muscular, vigorous, and perhaps their most introspective piece of work, the Boys' follow-up to Check Your Head follows the same blueprint as its predecessor yet soars a tad higher. Singles like "Sure Shot" and "Root Down" hold their own against funky experimental pieces such as "Flute Loop" and "Bodhisattva Vow."
3. The Holy Bible, Manic Street Preachers. Incidiary for the sake of being incidiary, MSP's third album is their most political, visceral, and focused. Nothing is spared of guitarist Richey James' vitriol, from abortion to anorexia to the perception to the shallowness of American pop culture. Unfortunately, James' rants might've worked too well; shortly after the album's release he suddenly disappeared, either a victim of those he railed against or his myriad personal problems. (The remaining trio soldiers on to this day.)
4. Weezer (aka The Blue Album), Weezer
5. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Pavement
6. Dookie, Green Day
7. Vitalogy, Pearl Jam
8. The Downward Spiral, Nine Inch Nails
9. Superunknown, Soundgarden
10. MTV Unplugged In New York, Nirvana. CD releases of the popular MTV concert series were a dime a dozen in the mid-90s, yet the Seattle trio's 1993 performance is on a completely different wavelength. Emotionally naked and seering, the whole show plays out like Kurt Cobain's farewell message from beyond the grave. It's impossible to listen to the closing cover of Leadbelly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" and not feel haunted.

Honorable Mentions: Bee Thousand, Guided By Voices; Illmatic, Nas; Definitely Maybe, Oasis; Smash, The Offspring.

"You Wreck Me," Tom Petty
"Cornflake Girl," Tori Amos
"What's The Frequency, Kenneth?" R.E.M.
"She Don't Use Jelly," The Flaming Lips
"Seether," Veruca Salt
"I Alone," Live
"Bull in the Heather," Sonic Youth
"Fade Into You," Mazzy Star
"Whatta Man," Salt-N-Pepa
"Nuttin' But Love," Heavy D & The Boyz

1. "Sabotage," Beastie Boys. Maybe the best music video ever?
2. "Closer," Nine Inch Nails. Very creepy, somewhat disturbing... and kinda hypnotic.
3. "Buddy Holly," Weezer. Innovative usage of digital green-screen technology transplants Rivers Cuomo and company in a typical episode of "Happy Days." Did Spike Jonze have a banner year or what?
4. "Gin n' Juice," Snoop Doggy Dogg. Home Boy Alone!
5. "Basket Case," Green Day. A surreal, color-saturated trip through a mental institution. No need for critical thought here; it's just a fun clip.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bummer in the Summer

As I write this, I'm still reeling from maybe the worst weekend I've ever had. It all started on Saturday morning; at the current radio station that I work it, I handle phones for a call-in nutritional/dietary advice talk show. It has nothing to do with traffic/billing or reception, it's just a little side money. There was an on-air contest for tickets to an air show in Wisconsin, with the 5th, 10th, and 12th callers each receiving prizes. Somewhere in receiving my instructions for the show, I forgot that the host wanted to speak with the winners live on-air. When the winners called in, I jotted down their contact info but I forgot to put them back on hold. The producer called the main studio to inform me of my mistake (the show is produced outside of the station), I had to backpedal and call back the three winners, but at that point there wasn't enough time left in the show to get them on-air. Two days later I was relieved of my duties as phone operator, partially because of my flub, but also because the producer wanted to experiment with an in-house phone guy, thus preventing any future miscommunication.

After work, I had to run some errands. I was driving home, going about 27 in a 25 MPH zone, when all of a sudden a little boy bolted across the street. A family had parked their van across the street from what appeared to be a relative's house. The parents were still standing beside the van with their daughter, and their eldest son was standing on the opposite side of the street. The younger son was running from the van towards his big brother. The little kid didn't look both ways and tried to gun it. Luckily for both of us, I hit the brakes just in time, the boy took two steps back, than waited to cross after I drove past the van. If I hit the brakes two seconds later, I likely would've committed vehicular manslaughter.

Of course, those two missteps don't compare to the bombshell I received Sunday afternoon. I was at Chicago Union Station after class at SC, and I had some time to kill, so decided to check my Facebook news feed with my cell phone. As I scanned down the status updates, I saw that my girlfriend from three years ago posted "I'm engaged to the most amazing man in the world!!!!!!!" Apparently, her current boyfriend popped the question on a cruise ship on Saturday night. Suffice to say, I was speechless. First off, she's only been with her new fiancee for about four months; we dated for seven. Secondly, who goes online on a cruise ship? Thirdly, why did I have to find out about this on fucking Facebook? Couldn't she have waited to break the news once she was back on American soil? (Don't worry folks, I'm about 95% sure she never reads this blog.) For the last two days, I've been venting to anyone that will listen. Without getting too personal, I really don't know how to react or what to say about the whole situation, and I'm having a hard time not thinking about it.

Other notes:

+ Looking at my Emmy predictions from three months ago, I'm surprised that the powers that be made more daring selections than I did. Of course, I also stuck with the old five-nominees per category rule (the maximum is now six, unless there's a tie for the final spot). For every force-of-habit, questionably deserving nomination like Tony Shalhoub, there's a pleasant surprise like "Flight of the Conchords" (who were on my 2008 ballot). My biggest gripe, obviously would be the selection of "Family Guy" for best comedy series. As I explained in the FG forum at TV.com, I find it mystifying that the committee chose an animated series that has broken little new ground and might very well be past its prime, yet "The Simpsons," the show that paved the way for TV-14 toons like FG, has never been nominated in this category.

+ For what seems like the sixth time in the past year, the title of World's Oldest Man has been passed to the next-oldest person. Boy, it must be jinxed or something. But seriously, this time around it's a 112-year-old resident of Montana, and according to an AP article he was born in 1896 and cast his first presidential ballot for Woodrow Wilson. (The legal voting age was 21 in 1916, so that's a nitpick.)

+ Finally- if anybody's looking for all my old blogs, they're archived at most of the other CNet sites (Gamespot, MovieTome, and the soon-to-be-vanquished mp3.com). Just so you know.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Prince Albert in a Can: My Midseason Baseball Breakdown

It's been almost a week since the TV.com blog bug started, and since I don't know if and when I can post new blogs on the site, this week's missive will be posted exclusively on this site. If anything has come from the inexplicible disappearance of 175-plus blogs, I've noticed that my stance on the political spectrum has inched a lot closer to the center, at least compared to my rant in WU #38. Was "Quailgate" really that big a deal? That rant is so underinformed it's almost embarassing, though my heart was certainly in the right place.

Today's the All-Star Game, so clearly I have baseball on the mind. Here's some stray observations on the season so far and what's coming ahead:

+ Looking at my preseason predictions, I was either right on the money on some team's forecasts or dead, dead wrong on others. My thoughts on the AL West are eerily accurate, though my AL Central picks are a mess. When I said Washington would win 65 games, I didn't think I was being generous; right now they're easily the worst team in baseball and to avoid 110 losses would be an uphill battle. I took a risk picking San Francisco to win the NL West, and now they're my undisputed choice for the NL Wild Card. Bruce Bochy is a far greater manager than he's credited for. The so-called experts goofed us into thinking there would be a Rays-Cubs World Series, but I was only half-fooled.

+ If Albert Pujols retired tomorrow he'd still be a hall of famer. An article in this week's Sports Illustrated suggests that Prince Albert might have the best first 8 1/2 seasons of any player in major league history, and I can't disagree with that statement. He hit the ground running when he made the bigs in 2001, and outside of one or two minor hiccups Pujols just hasn't relented. In his worst offensive season so far (2002), Pujols batted a pathetic .314 with a measly 34 home runs and a paltry 127 RBI. At his current pace, #5 will smack 57 homers and 154 ribbies to accompany his .330-plus average. Plus, if it's worth noting, he hasn't had a single steroid allegation. Albert Pujols is not only my NL MVP for 2009, but probably 2010 as well.

+ I was down in Bloomington-Normal last weekend, so I didn't hear about Jonathan Sanchez' no-hitter until the morning after, when I read it on the ESPNews scroll on the bottom of the screen. Worse yet, I didn't see the highlights until early Monday evening. I really get a kick out of a dominant pitching performance, especially since the MLB is still recovering from its post-steroid hangover, so it looks like I missed a really fun ballgame. Than again, Chicagoans couldn't care less about west coast night games unless one of the local teams are involved.

+ I predict Zach Greinke will win 22 games... and the Royals will lose 95. On that note, Zach Greinke will win the AL Cy Young Award and the Royals will have the fourth or fifth pick in the 2010 MLB Draft. If we gave the poor guy any defense in the infield, he'd still have an ERA below two.

+ Since Wieters and Andy Mac haven't made an immediate impact, I'm changing my Rookie of the Year picks to Gordon Beckham and Colby Rasmus. Both guys are playing like they were ready-made for the bigs, with plenty of upside to boot, and I'll let the stats speak for themselves.
+ As for my latest World Series prediction, I see the Dodgers cutting down the Red Sox in 6 games. If the National League could be summed up like outdated college student stereotypes, Los Angeles is the BMOC, the undisputed golden boy with his finger wrapped around the whole campus. (In turn, the Chicago Cubs are that solid-B student that spends all his free time playing World of Warcraft.) Boston probably has the more talented roster, but the Dodgers keep squeezing out wins in spite of injuries (Will Ohman), suspensions (Manny), and prolonged batting slumps (Russ Martin).

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Random Notes, July 2009

+ Regardless of whether or not she's running for president in three years, wouldn't it have made sense for Gov. Sarah Palin to finish out her term? Why did she choose the 3rd of July to declare her independence from Alaska? Though the media (mainstream and otherwise) has downplayed the numerous ethics complaints that she's received from her political opponents since last November, wouldn't it have made sense to address these charges and not spend 90% of her time touring the lower 48? Granted, a couple of the accusations do sound fishy, but that's beside the point; in the wake of becoming a national candidate last year, Palin simply hasn't been doing her job and the Alaska politicos turned their backs on her. Her resignation address, unfocused and hasty as it might have been, left more questions than answers; it felt like an overly subtle --and very premature-- announcement for her presidential candidacy. It's one thing to be a maverick, it's another to run away from your problems.

+ Meanwhile, this week I'm making my second serious foray into finding an apartment. I made my first attempt to break out on my own near the end of my stint at Illinois State; for all the amazing deals I found in Normal ($400/m including gas, water and electric!) I was low on money and I didn't have a job, so I had no choice but to move back home. Now that I have a part-time gig and a little bit of a nest egg, I'm making my second attempt to move out of my parents' house. Stay tuned...

+ While I'm happy (though far from surprised) that Zach Greinke was selected for the American League All-Star Team, I was somewhat disappointed that Alberto Callaspo (5/31/.301) and perennial bridesmaid David DeJesus (currently leading the AL with 6 triples) weren't considered for that "32nd man" ballot. Chone Figgins and his one home run gets a reprieve but not Big Al?

+ This TV.com/Facebook crossover might take some getting used to, especially now that my ugly mug is on display. I'm still deciding if I'll bring back my Royals avatar...

+ Last Saturday was the first broadcast of "Those Were The Days" with Steve Darnall as host (see WU #209), and to be honest with you, I thought the public's reaction was way, way over the top. I can understand if there were going to be fireworks, but shutting down the banks and all federal buildings? Parades in nearly every town in the country? You'd think it was a national holiday or something... ;)