Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Last Post of 2011

I must confess that I didn't watch too much drama this past year. "Mad Men" sat out the past year, episodes of "Breaking Bad" and "Boardwalk Empire" currently collect dust in my DVR, and I don't have Showtime, which ruled out critically praised fare like "Dexter" and "Homeland." By default, my viewing habits gravitated almost entirely towards comedy this year. With that said, here are my favorites from 2011, the year in TV:

1. Parks & Recreation, NBC. This ensemble comedy, part workplace comedy and part small-scale political satire, was as consistently funny as anything on TV in recent memory. Amy Poehler is still the star, but Nick Offerman was the unquestioned breakout as stoic libertarian and manly-man Ron Swanson. Memorable Episodes: "Ron & Tammy: Part Two," "Fancy Party," "Lil' Sebastian," "Ron and Tammys," "Smallest Park"
2. Community, NBC. Boy, am I glad I stuck with this show. The genre-jumping and inherent weirdness may turn off new and/or casual viewers --so much so that the Greendale gang are on hiatus-- but where P&R hits for average, "Community" hits for power. If only it could get some Emmy lovin'. Memorable Episodes: "Intermediate Documentary Film-making," "Paradigms of Human Memory," "Remedial Chaos Theory"
3. Bob's Burgers, Fox. Arguably the funniest new show to air on network television in 2011, "Bob's" blends its absurdity and protagonist's constant slow burn with a big heart. H. Jon Benjamin is delightfully understated as the voice of Bob, but Kristen Schaal is a force as his sociopathic youngest daughter Louise. With Fox's aging "Animation Domination" lineup growing more erratic by the week, this proved to be a welcome source of fresh meat. Memorable Episodes: "Sacred Cow," "Art Crawl," "Spaghetti Western & Meatballs"
4. Childrens Hospital, Adult Swim. No less peculiar than "Community" but far less attached to reality, "Hospital" has transcended its initial parodying of medical dramas into something more bizarre and gut-bustingly silly. On top of that, each episode is 12 minutes long so you can watch an entire season in just over two hours. Memorable Episodes: "Ward 8," "Stryker Bites the Dust," "The Chet Episode"
5. Modern Family, ABC. Yes, this show has been a tad uneven since that stellar first season, but when "Family" meets it target the results can be quite entertaining. Memorable Episodes: "Someone To Watch Over Lily," "See You Next Fall," "Treehouse"

30 Rock, "100." The fifth season of Tina Fey's sarcastic ode to all things NBC had a renaissance of sorts last year, but it peaked with an hour-long indicator of its syndication eligibility. The event was like a wedding: "100" had something old (Liz saving the show yet again), something new (Michael Keaton as a creepy janitor), something borrowed (Dean Winters from the Allstate commercials), and something blue (Rachel Dratch, no spoilers here).
Curb Your Enthusiasm, "Palestinian Chicken." The high point of CYE's New York season aired when the action was still in LA, with our anti-hero using ethnic cuisine as a bouncing ball for marital infidelity, Israel-Palestinian relations, and the loneliness of being a "social assassin."
Louie, "Duckling." I was torn between choosing this episode or the pitch-black suicide fable "Eddie," but I chose Louie's misadventures on a USO tour with a baby waterfowl as a stowaway. Delicately toeing the line between patriotism and discomfort humor, the ending of the episode is sweetly slapstick.
The Office, "Goodbye Michael." Considering how lazy and middling the Andy Bernard era of Dunder-Mufflin has been, I think most fans of the show will concur that this should've been the series finale. Instead, we'll have to settle for the series' last great episode. Why didn't Steve Carell win an Emmy for his troubles?
Onion News Network, "Real America." The fanboy in me had to give The Onion's basic cable offspring some TLC. Again, this was a tough pick but I went with the "episode" where the cable-news parody put a spotlight on a group of indigenous midwesterners hosting representatives of congress like they were foreign ambassadors. To host the summit in a bowling alley was just ingenious.


How can I sum up 2011 without being glib or vague? This was a year where we was said goodbye to heroes (Andy Whitfield, Cliff Robertson) and villains (Osama bin Laden, Moammar Gadhafi, Kim Jong Il). We bid adieu to well-endowed women (Jane Russell, Maria Schneider) and giant boobs (Silvio Berlusconi, Ozzie Guillen) alike. On a personal level, this was a year of triumph (improv) and struggle (financially justifying to Chicago), of success (losing 17 pounds) and failure (the never-ending job search). My resolution for 2012? To stop using parentheses for dramatic effect.

In Memoriam: Gerry Rafferty, Duke Snider, Dave Duerson, Suze Rotolo, Jack Lalanne, Len Lesser, Mike Starr, Joe Morello, Thomas Roeser, Warren Christopher, Geraldine Ferraro, Sidney Lumet, Michael Sarrazin, Elisabeth Sladen, Randy Savage, Elizabeth Taylor, Harmon Killebrew, Paul Splittorff, Jeff Conaway, Clarence Clemons, Seve Ballesteros, Dick Williams, Betty Ford, Sherwood Schwartz, Lee Roy Selmon, Bubba Smith, Amy Winehouse, Sen. Charles Percy, Al Davis, Steve Jobs, Norman Corwin, Heavy D, Dan Wheldon, Andy Rooney, Smokin' Joe Frazier, Bil Keane, Patrice O'Neal, Dobie Gray, Harry Morgan, Paul Motion, Christopher Hitchens, Vaclav Havel, Joe Bodolai, Leo Gardzielewski, and Jeanette Dickinson.

See you next year!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

That Wonderful Year in Music... 2011

One of my favorite years of music in recent memory was 2010, which obviously gave these past 12 months a tough act to follow. Indeed, the sounds of 2011 were especially kind to studio experimentation as well as musicians with more organic inclinations. "Good music" didn't come from a singular source or genre; the more eclectic your tastes were, the more you would probably enjoy. It also helped if you knew your history; some acts went retro and succeeded (Dawes, Fleet Foxes), others jumped back 25-odd years and bored me senseless (Destroyer, Bon Iver). In reality, there was no real motif or pattern to the sonic trends of the past year, unless that was the point all along.

For the first time I can think of, my top three albums were all recorded by women. These three highly disparate female artists --a British singer-songwriter, an art-rock hippie freak, and the Swedish heir apparent to Bjork-- made more compelling music than anyone with cajones could these past 12 months. Also, a disproportionate number of discs in my top five are second albums, so one can safely assume that the seeds of this list were first planted in 2008 or 2009, when most of these artists were still considered "promising" and "auspicious" but in reality were a short distance from fulfilling or exceeding anyone's expectations. Hindsight is also 20/20, so it's too soon to tell if any outright masterpieces dropped in '11; I'm merely ranking these selections by how I enjoyed them.

After some intense mental debating --which explains the two-day delay-- I have whittled down my list of best albums down to a "mere" twenty. Sorry, fans of Company of Thieves, Beirut, and The Strokes: maybe next year.


1. 21, Adele. The second full album I listened to this year --behind Cake's comeback disc Showroom of Compassion, which incidentally was merely okay-- ultimately proved to be the commercial and critical high-water point of the past 12 months. Don't get the idea that I'm just drinking the Kool-Aid; this is a collection of incredibly beautiful songs. The themes of heartbreak and yearning that dominated her 2008 debut 19 are extended here, but now the pain feels mature and fully formed. "Rolling in the Deep" was a monster hit in the US and her native Britain, and deservedly so; some of you are probably still annoyed from hearing it a thousand times, but the stark gospel blues of her first #1 smash will almost certainly hold up better than all the synth-heavy crap that populates CHR radio now.
2. Whokill, TuNe-YaRdS. Speaking of young artists coming into their own, anyone who openly challenges the wit and focus of experimental indie-rock needs to speak to Merrill Garbus immediately. Also known (or virtually unknown) for her work in Sister Suvi, Miss Garbus turned her second solo effort into a freaked-out, technicolor menagerie. Like a bull in a candy shop, Garbus is not only pushing the limits of her slapdash instrumentation --mostly a bass, a three-piece horn section, and her own vocal looping-- she's having a lot of fun and wants everybody to join in.
3. Wounded Rhymes, Lykke Li. Another sophomore effort that belies any youthful assumptions. Sounding less precocious and more confident, this promising young Swede may seem like a Scandinavian answer to Lady Gaga but she's far less inclined to write a hit single or mimic Madonna. Striking a rare balance between cathartic and atmospheric, Rhymes is carried by Burundi drums, creepy echos, and Li's forceful weapon of a voice.
4. Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes
5. James Blake, James Blake
6. El Camino, The Black Keys
7. Barton Hollow, The Civil Wars
8. Let England Shake, PJ Harvey
9. The King of Limbs, Radiohead
10. Nothing is Wrong, Dawes. Yes, another second album. Part of the same Laurel Canyon scene that begat Buffalo Springfield and Crazy Horse decades ago, Dawes is a rootsy, midtempo kind of band that emulates their forefathers so much that they could almost be mistaken for a forgotten '70s act. The emulation is not lost on their unwitting mentors, as Jackson Browne and Benmont Tench both lend a hand on the disc. Standout tracks like "If I Wanted Someone" and "A Little Bit of Everything" channel Browne, Joe Walsh, and Warren Zevon so effortlessly, to call this ersatz classic rock is to completely not understand what these kids are striving for.

11. Suck It and See, Arctic Monkeys
12. Hot Sauce Committee Part 2, Beastie Boys
13. Nine Types of Light, TV on the Radio
14. The Big Roar, The Joy Formidable
15. Mockingbird Time, The Jayhawks. Arguably the most pleasant surprise of 2011 was the reunion (and creative renaissance) of one of the great alt-country acts of the early '90s. Picking up where 1995's Tomorrow the Green Grass left off, the songwriting tandom of guitarists Gary Louris and Mark Olson sound and act as if they never broke up. It's circa-1992 Jayhawks all over again: evocative songs, striking vocals, and musicians playing with a big heart.
16. Yuck, Yuck
17. Goblin, Tyler, the Creator
18. Mirror Traffic, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
19. Circuitual, My Morning Jacket
20. Only in Dreams, Dum Dum Girls. This past year proved quite prolific for this all-female noise-pop quartet. First there was the He Gets Me High covers EP, which frontwoman Kirsten "Dee Dee" Gundred more or less recorded by herself, than their enchanting second full-length disc. It's not a perfect album by any means, but Dreams has a certain honesty and consistentcy that has me looking forward to the Girls' next project.

Worst Album: Lulu, Lou Reed & Metallica. Apologists will call this two-disc set brave and challenging. Everyone else will deem this 87-minute effort as artless, chaotic, bloated, repetitive, and above all a complete mismatch of two aging talents.


"Money Grabber," Fitz & The Tantrums
"Weekend," Smith Westerns
"Uberlin," R.E.M.
"Sydney (I'll Come Running)," Brett Dennen
"Pumped-Up Kicks," Foster The People
"Changing," The Airborne Toxic Event
"Second Chance," Peter, Bjorn & John
"Whirring," The Joy Formidable
"Down By The Water," The Decemberists
"Walk," Foo Fighters

Worst Single: "Miracle Worker," Superheavy. It's enough that Joss Stone is trying to sing reggae, but this slapdash super-group's leadoff song truly leaps from woebegone to outright godawful the moment Mick Jagger jumps in. What the heck?


Now that music videos as an art form have finally taken full advantage of YouTube et al. maybe it would be best to let all these wonderfully diverse clips speak for themselves.

1. "Crossed Wires," Superchunk. Bad kitty! Bad, bad kitty!
2. "Cruel," St. Vincent. It's a funny video in a sadistic, dry sort of way.
3. "Don't Play No Game That I Can't Win," Beastie Boys feat. Santigold. "Each sold separately."
4. "Romance," Wild Flag
5. "Bizness," TuNeYaRdS
6. "Lonely Boy," The Black Keys
7. "Born This Way," Lady Gaga
8. "Conversation 16," The National
10. "I Need a Doctor," Dr. Dre feat. Eminem

Worst Video: "Sexy and I Know It," LMFAO. Gaudy, insipid, and unintentionally homoerotic, this trust fund duo's follow-up to the annoying "Party Rock Anthem" doesn't quite know the difference between a Speedo and a Spee-don't.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

2011: The 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. I typically measure how a joke lands by how many people "like" or retweet my comment, than file it for my portfolio. If there's no "likes" I safely assume it bombed, one or two means it's tepid or merely okay, and anything above that in my eyes is a home run. For the first part of my 2011 in review I'm going to look back at the year in jokes, chosen indirectly by you: my friends, family, teammates, and co-workers.

+ A man in Omaha tried to rob a store armed only with a rock. Luckily for the store owner, he had some paper. (1/7/11)

+ Brandi Favre, the kid sister of Brett Favre, was arrested in a Mississippi crystal meth lab this afternoon. The charges were dropped, however when she agreed to text the cops a photo of her cooter. (1/12/11)

+ Yahoo has announced plans to release an app for iPad and Android. This app allows you to travel back in time to when people still used Yahoo. (2/11/11)

+ Today marks the end of the "Jeopardy!" IBM challenge, which pits the supercomputer Watson against two of the show's all-time champions. Unlike the contestants, Watson contains 200 million pages of structured and unstructured content consuming four terabytes of disk storage. Like the other contestants, it has never seen a vagina. (2/15/11)

+ A 9.0 earthquake has just struck the northern coast of Japan. CNN is blaming the quake on the faulting of a long-inactive tectonic plate. MSNBC is blaming the quake on an elastic rebound hundreds of miles below the earth's surface. Fox News is blaming the quake on socialized health care. (3/11/11)

+ Today marks the 30th anniversary of the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. This dubious milestone has posed a series of questions, like "what would life in the US be like had Reagan not survived?" and "should we worry about an attempt on President Obama's life?" and "would John Hinckley Jr. and Jodie Foster have made a cute couple?" (3/30/11)

+ An "American Idol" fan was left shocked and in tears when she was forced to give up her front row seat because she was too fat. The producers also ordered Steven Tyler to move from his seat because he looks likes an 80-year-old woman. (4/12/11)

+ A recent survey suggests that Arkansas and Mississippi have the highest proportion of people that rely upon cell phones. This is a signifigant leap for both states, considering ten years ago they were still using two cans on a string. (4/20/11)

+ The Chesapeake Bay Candle company is recalling seven million candles due to a fire risk. In other news, 10 million fireworks are being recalled because they might fly into the air and explode when ignited. (4/21/11)

+ Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Monday that any allegations that the country's leaders knew Osama bin Laden was hiding 2 1/2 hours away since 2005 are "disingenuous." While Gilani admits that bin Laden was close during that time, he mentioned that officials rarely drive out there, because gas prices are just plain ridiculous. (5/11/11)

+ A man in Willowbrook, IL returned from vacation to find $30,000 in movie memorabilia from "Lord of the Rings" and "Aliens" stolen from his home. In fact, the only thing the thief didn't take was the man's virginity. (5/17/11)

+ GOP presidential hopeful Ron Paul has announced that he would support the legalization of prostitution and heroin. As a result, he earned the endorsement of every jazz musician that ever lived. (5/19/11)

+ It was announced today that Anthony Weiner has signed a multi-year contract to play quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings... (6/7/11)

+ Nintendo announced that its new gaming system console, the Wii U, at the E3 conference earlier this week. The system's new controller has a variety of new features that will render you even more useless in social situations. (6/20/11)

+ Today is the 83rd anniversary of the invention of sliced bread, which makes one wonder what was the greatest invention up to that point. (7/8/11)

+ Good news: the NFL lockout could be over as soon as this Friday. Bad news: my CFL fantasy league has completely disappeared. (7/19/11)

+ A recent survey has ranked Casey Anthony the most-hated person in America. Better luck next year, Congress. (8/11/11)

+ Paul Meier, the inventor of the randomized clinical trial, died this week at age 87. There will be two funerals held, and neither family nor clergy will know which coffin contains his body. (8/18/11)

+ A white rat approximately three feet in length was speared to death with a pitchfork in Brooklyn's Marcy Houses this week, which poses a question: who in Brooklyn would own a pitchfork? (8/26/11)

+ Lauren Bush, the niece of former President George W. Bush, got married in Colorado last weekend. The bride wore white, the mother of the bride wore lilac, and the uncle of the bride wore Captain America jammies. (9/6/11)

+ Arch West, the man who created Doritos, died today at age 97. Per his request, his ashes will be rubbed all over a pair of old sweatpants. (9/27/11)

+ A recent survey has ranked Chad as the worst place in the world for a woman to live. Another survey has ranked Chad's apartment as the worst place for a woman to wake up. (10/14/11)

+ A group of British scientists have unveiled "super broccoli," a new breed of the vegetable that helps ward off heart disease. The super broccoli has been praised by supernutritionists but avoided at all costs by superchildren. (10/26/11)

+ It has been reported that Coldplay's new album Mylo Zyloto is their most expensive ever. Apparently, $2 million went towards production and $3 million was spent to keep Gwyneth Paltrow from appearing on the disc. (11/1/11)

+ A recent report suggests that the McRib sandwich contains a flour-bleaching agent commonly used in gym mats and the soles of shoes. I'm quite relieved; for a moment there, I thought the McRib contained meat. (11/15/11)

+ A recent survey suggests that people that regularly watch Fox News Channel are less informed than people who don't watch news at all. The survey also determined that people who regularly watch the Food Network are disportionately more informed about creme fraiche. (11/26/11)

+ Reuters is reporting that President Obama will visit our troops in Afghanistan on December 25th while his wife and daughters attend various DC-area events. Fox News is reporting that another black man is leaving his family on Christmas. (12/9/11)

Next Week: the year in music, 2011.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Cain Unable

With one fell swoop, the GOP presidential primary just got marginally less crazy. Self-made businessman Herman Cain dropped out of the race last weekend, mere weeks until the first primary. When allegations of sexual harassment and philandering snowballed and financial support plummeted, the ex-restauranteur painted himself into a corner. In a race where the status quo is still in comtempt and th unofficial title of frontrunner has been like musical chairs --Romney, Bachmann, Perry, now Gingrich-- the one true Washington outsider in the race was also its most meteoric fall.

So one must wonder: what torpedoed Cain that couldn't sink Bill Clinton 20 years ago? For starters, the mass media is far more relentless than it was in the early '90s, let alone before the WTC attacks. Secondly, nobody could prove Clinton committed adultery until well into his second term. Sadly, for all intents and purposes it seems like Cain brought this upon himself; he seemed like the type that thought he could do a better job than the current guy, not realizing there are strings attached. All in all, Cain's carnival of a campaign just couldn't walk the tightrope.

Other notes:

+ So what's my take on Ron Santo's "long-awaited" Hall of Fame induction? I posted my thoughts shortly after his passing last year. Considering that Santo only garnered 21% of the vote in his first year of elegibility (1982) and the rise was very slow and steady, one must wonder how many BBWAA scribes simply read up on sabermetrics --6th best third baseman ever my foot-- drank the Cubbie Kool-Aid, or both.

+ My old TV.com friend and blog pseudo-correspondent Mark a/k/a mp34mp caught wind of the NHL division realignment before I did. He asked for my two cents on Twitter, and frankly I found some flaws right away. Personally, I think it's a little pointless to have four mini-conferences of seven to eight teams when bring back the four-division format would've sufficed. If it were up to me, however I would've scratched out the old/new divisional rivalries and gone completely regional: put the seven Canadian teams in one division, then split the 23 American squads into west, central, and eastern divisions. For example:
  • Canadian: Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg
  • Eastern: Boston, Buffalo, Carolina, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philly, Washington
  • Central/South: Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, Florida, Nashville, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Tampa Bay
  • Western: Anaheim, Colorado, Dallas, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Phoenix, San Jose
Again, I'm partially disregarding some long-standing rivalries, but it might work. Just saying.

+ Improv Update: one week from Friday, I will be auditioning for Level 3 of the Second City Conservatory program. Considering that it took me over a year just to get into Level 1, I'm hoping to buck some unfortunate trends. It's ten days away, but wish me luck!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1986

Some music critics argue that 1985 was the year new wave died. If that's the case, than 1986 was the funeral; synthesizers were so prominent in the mainstream that the old guard were clearly followers, left to their wits alone in a pool of inorganic sound. If the pop music of the time didn't whet your appetite, '86 was also the year college rock truly flowered; memorable albums by The Smiths, R.E.M. and Sonic Youth preceded and indirectly mentored the '90s alternative scene. This was also a strong year for metal, with several headbanging acts releasing their career- and genre-defining masterworks; it was also the advent of their goofy kid brother "hair metal," as hairspray-and-bourbon acts like Poison and Motley Crue first came to prominence. If that wasn't your jam, free jazz, rap, and roots country all had a strong year as well. In short 1986 was thoroughly eclectic, a bigger cornucopia of sound than most years in the "Greed is good" decade.

1. Graceland, Paul Simon. After the lackluster sales of 1983's underrated Hearts and Bones and a bitter divorce from Carrie Fisher, Rhymin' Simon yearned a fresh start. Finding inspiration in the little-heard mbaqanga music of South Africa, Simon not only got back on the saddle, he delivered an album that brought back old fans and introduced a new generation to his songcraft. Building upon a new lyrical approach first presaged on Bones, Simon's songs range from the satirical "I Know What I Know" to the highly poetic "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes." A well-deserved commercial success.
2. Master of Puppets, Metallica. The best, most influential heavy metal band of the '80s earned the accolades of critics and listeners far outside the metal spectrum with their third album. Everything about this disc comes from an epic mindset: longer songs, more thematic unity, and a greater sense of focus. The album is bookended by two of the finest thrash songs ever written ("Battery" and "Damage, Inc."), serving only to sandwich some beefy, juicy metal.
3. The Queen is Dead, The Smiths. Morrissey cemented his status as "the master of mope" on the British indie-rock stalwarts' third effort. If their previous album Meat is Murder was a holding pattern of sorts, than Queen is The Smiths' great leap forward; the backbeat is more pronounced, musical dimensions are explored, and of course the lyrics are just as morose yet introspective as ever. Narrowly avoiding his reputation as a big ol' sap, Morrissey sprinkles his words with wit and intelligence. And they say there is a light that never goes out...
4. Life's Rich Pageant, R.E.M.
5. Licensed to Ill, Beastie Boys

6. Raising Hell, Run-D.M.C.
7. Skylarking, XTC
8. King of America, Elvis Costello
9. EVOL, Sonic Youth
10. Guitar Town, Steve Earle. Arguably the most interesting debut of '86 was by a 31-year-old journeyman with a love of Waylon Jennings and Townes Van Zandt and a big chip on his shoulder. A veteran sideman, Earle's first album as a leader was a long time coming; when Town was finally released his Nashville-meets-Mellencamp sound was almost perfectly honed.

Honorable Mentions: Crowded House, Crowded House; Black Celebration, Depeche Mode; So, Peter Gabriel; Kool Moe Dee, Kool Moe Dee; Song X, Ornette Coleman and Pat Metheny; Brotherhood, New Order.

"Say You, Say Me," Lionel Richie
"Broken Wings," Mr. Mister
"Take My Breath Away," Berlin
"Rock Me Amadeus," Falco
"Papa Don't Preach," Madonna
"Desire (Come and Get It)," Gene Loves Jezebel
"Cattle Prod," Guadalcanal Diary
"The Future's So Bright (I Gotta Wear Shades)," Timbuk 3
"Keep Your Hands to Yourself," Georgia Satellites
"Eric B. is President" (original version), Eric B. & Rahim

1. "Sledgehammer," Peter Gabriel. If you hadn't figured it out in the first 30 seconds of the clip, the title of the song is a euphemism for the male appendage. Regardless, this all-time classic video fuses claymation, pixilation, and stop-motion photography in a non-stop barrage of sexual innuendos.
2. "Walk This Way," RUN-DMC feat. Aerosmith. The parallel lines of rock and rap finally met in '86 when the Hollis-based trio covered a '70s hard-rock treasure and invited Steven Tyler to sing the chorus. Rest assured, this video broke down walls in more ways than one.
3. "Addicted to Love," Robert Palmer. Palmer transformed himself from a middle-of-the-pack British soul singer to full-blown superstar with this sexy, hypnotic clip. I wonder if any of those girls played their own instruments... ;)
4. "Cry," Godley and Creme. Another innovation was begat in late '85/early '86 with the concept of analog cross-fading, which this forgotten '80s nugget demonstrates to the hilt.
5. "You Can Call Me Al" (version 2), Paul Simon. The better-known of the two "Al" videos finds Simon's longtime friend Chevy Chase mugging and goofing around while Paul just minds his business.

Honorable Mentions: "Something About You," Level 42; "Shake You Down," Gregory Abbott.

PS: there is some overlap between this and my 1987 list from last year, so if it's not here, it's probably there.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Poetry in Motian

Did anyone expect the bipartisan "supercommittee" to successfully lay out a budget plan? We already know DC is ridiculously polarized, but this was just the banana on the sundae, and it's clear that voters can't digest this for much longer. That is not to say, however that I personally wanted them to flounder; any sliver of progress would've been appreciated, and the supercommittee failed to accomplish even that. This is a crisis not only on the national level but globally; with Europe facing its own fiscal dilemma, our allies need the United States' investment more than ever. And yet, with the whole world watching no congressman or senator on either side of the fence could put aside their petty differences and compromise.

The problem with the federal budget crisis --and the toxic nature of Washington in general-- is that it cannot be pinpointed to one single person. The average conservative would blame President Obama or former Speaker Pelosi, but the seeds were planted long before either took their respective office. The common liberal would blame former President Bush if only because the economy tanked on his watch, but it's far more complicated than that. For drawing a divide between the left and right I would give a certain amount of credit to former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who infamously barred members of his party from associating with Democrats, even on a social level, with censure as punishment. Newt's successor Dennis Hastert didn't so much enforce the backdoor policy so much as let it pour over to both parties, and by the time Nancy Pelosi became speaker the damage was done.

For the economic stalemate, I have grown more exasperated with Grover Norquist with each passing day. If you'll excuse this HuffPo link, Andy Reinbach couldn't have said it better: Norquist has forced, bullied, and otherwise persuaded most of Republicans in Congress to swear they'll never raise taxes, hook, line or sinker. People tend to forget that the ongoing fiscal situation was brought upon by the defaults and bankruptcies of several major banks as well as irresponsible federal spending. Taxation was, if anything, a distant third in the blame game; lowering taxes is barely feasible at the moment, but eradicating them completely would only send us all further down the sinkhole. Norquist's theories on tax reform, while noble to a degree, are irrational and strident. If you want to cast stones, don't hurl them at the status quo so much as the people behind the status quo.

The 2012 election is less than a year away, and it's already sizing up to be the most important vote of our lifetimes. I would expect a greater purging of incumbents than in 2010; what is up for grabs is which party will suffer more casualties in Congress, and whether that will trickle up to the Oval Office. The Republican takeover last year was intended to clean up the Democrats; however, the GOP's chances in '12 have been hurt by their constant gridlock approach. At the moment I see no heroes, no knights in shining armor; just fools and puppets.

Other notes:

+ With minimal context, here is my seventh annual list of things I am thankful (and not quite as graceous) for:

Thanks: Groupon deals, Sudoku, my sudden turnaround in fantasy football (4-2 after an 0-5 start), the Chicago improv community, my patient roommate, and most importantly my friends and family.

No Thanks: Orly Taitz, "9-9-9," truly experiencing Chicago's infamous "lakefront effect" 2 1/2 miles west of Lake Michigan, the dearth of entry-level job postings online, corrupt college football programs, and forcing to budget myself to absurd extremes.

+ Finally, the jazz nerd in me has to acknowledge this. Earlier today the world lost drummer Paul Motian, the last surviving member of the "classic" Bill Evans Trio lineup of the late '50s/early '60s. Though he was a prolific leader and sideman for over half a century, he is best remembered for his percussion panache alongside Evans and bassist Scott LaFaro. Even more tragic is that he survived those bandmates by a solid three decades; LaFaro was killed in a car accident in 1961, Evans died of natural causes in 1980. Known for his work ethic, he was playing gigs at New York's Village Vanguard up to four weeks before his death. Motian painted colors on the drumset, and today the world feels a little more black and white without his presence.

Next week: the year in music, 1986. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Real Big Fish

Ten things that the new Miami Marlins logo reminds me of:

  • the opening credits to a forgotten "Saved by the Bell" spinoff.
  • a generic postcard that you send to a relative you can barely tolerate.
  • the design on a nightshirt that your grandma would wear... if she wears a nightie.
  • Gloria Estefan's tour bus, circa 1992.
  • the poor man's Red Lobster.
  • Prozac.
  • a new exhibit at Seaworld, just before PETA catches wind and protests outside the park.
  • a suburban white guy trying in vain to impress a Latino co-worker.
  • Jeffrey Loria's hubris (natch).
  • a misguided attempt at filling a void in Miami's heart since the Dolphins and Panthers suck and the Heat won't play again until 2012 at the earliest.
Other notes:

+ My roommate is from outside Pittsburgh --Latrobe, PA to be exact-- and he has three true loves in his life: the Steelers, Penguins, and Penn State football. As you might imagine the ol' roomie had a pretty rough go at it last week, and near as I can tell ESPN and ESPNews are still still banned in our household. All I can say on the matter is hate the school establishment, not the school itself; Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno, and the school board of trustees all have blood on their hands, but don't blame the players or the students. The riots were an act of denial, not stupidity; those PSU underclassmen were defending a man that betrayed them, and the chaos in State College was purely impulsive. Still, it'll take years for the school and the Nittany Lions football program to recover.

+ Was I the only person that thought Rick Perry would somehow survive his much-YouTubed blunder last week? T-Paw notwithstanding, these candidates are so fueled by their desire to topple President Obama that they can't read any indicator that their campaign is practically over. That now-infamous debate flub, paired with Herman Cain's harassment allegations inadvertantly gave Newt Gingrich a slice of the spotlight, though I still find the ex-Speaker difficult to take seriously. Also, Mitt Romney's growing lead in the polls doesn't surprise me in the faintest, though this could indicate a moderate-right resurgence in the coming months.

+ My link of the week is courtesy of Christine "Electra" Pawlak, former midday DJ at the late, lamented Q101 in Chicago. This wonderful essay provides insight on the death of rock radio from an insider perspective that I can't even touch, and her "no regrets" attitude is both jarring and refreshing.

Next week: my 7th annual "thanks/no thanks" list.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Girl, You'll Be a Woman... Eventually

A few days ago, I read a funny and very thought-provoking article by Mindy Kaling, the actress that plays Kelly on "The Office." It was an excerpt from her new book, and in this particular passage she disperses relationship advice in her familiar sing-song cadence. (Click here for the article.) The intent is satiricial, demonstrating the disparity between what constitutes a man as opposed to a overgrown child, but something about the article left me with a strange taste in my mouth.

Granted, I'm no relationship expert and I'm sorry if this sounds misogynist, but it really comes down to one thing: Girls date boys. Women date men. Kaling writes about the opposite sex as if dating "upward" of your maturity will bring you to their level via some type of osmosis. Regardless of looks, women don't date guys that can't hold down a job or live in their parents' basement, and in turn men seldom seek relationships with trixies that have made the pilgrimage to Bonnaroo six years running. Ultimately, the people you connect with best are usually on the same level of maturity as you are. I'm 27 and often find myself straddling that line, and I suppose I'm looking for a woman who seeks the same thing.

I've been taking improv classes for nearly 2 1/2 years now, and the female performers I have encountered and performed with have run the gamut between "girl" and "woman," and the disparity is not limited to age. The characters they play and the decisions they make onstage are greatly affected --almost to the point of transparency-- by their own personal goals and responsibilities. The 31-year-old married professional works well with the drifting 22-year-old college student, though they don't have much in common off-stage. The kids play kids, the grown-ups play grown-ups. Sometimes being the man or woman means being a complete ass, but it can also symbolize assertion and conduct. My advice relates to life and romance in unison: sometimes maturity is thrown upon but most often you grow into it, and that's nothing to freak out about.

Other TV-related notes:

+ Outside of SNL, I've barely had a chance to watch any new shows so far this season. Heck, I'm still catching up on episodes from last season, which is pathetic. Luckily, my roomie and I have similar tastes in TV shows, and he's been gracefully letting me borrow some of his DVDs. On a side note, I caught about five minutes of "Last Man Standing" last night and I wasn't that impressed.

+ As much as I like "Conan," for some odd reason Big Red and his cohorts have been missing something since they moved from New York to LA. Luckily, they spent a week of shows (that's all?) back in the Big Apple, and this nine-minute clip encompassed what somebody might call "classic Conan," right down to its usage of a beloved recurring character we once thought was lost to the ages.

+ Finally, belated congratulations to my former improv classmate Jason Andre Smith on his walk-on role as "the stupid new guy" in an episode of "Whitney" last month. Smitty moved to LA halfway through the iO program late last year, but I tip my hat for finding a TV gig so quickly.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Random Notes, November 2011

This week seems like a better time than ever to catch up on various stories and tie up some loose ends:

+ Back in July I commented on the slow, painful death of Chicago radio as exemplified by the demise of the market's last modern-rock station. Since then, things have grown worse; as Chicago media gadfly Robert Feder blogged last week, a recent rash of layoffs marked the bloodiest week in local radio history. The mass media behemoth known as ClearChannel was the most egregious executioner, wiping out 11% of the entire company's payroll; nothing was safe from the big purge, from station managers all the way down to production assistants. This past Sunday marked 18 months since the unceremonious end of my last radio gig, and my heart goes out my brothers in the radio industry; it's beyond frustrating to watch a dream die like that, and in some ways I'm still recovering from the rejection.

+ Then in August, I blogged about the woebegone Lake County Fielders, an independent baseball team left for dead by its management and community. Two months after the fact, their painful story finally hit the mainstream media. When the Fielders' management couldn't financially justify air fare anymore, the Northern League was forced to rearrange the remaining schedule of the 2011 season, essentially excluding the boys in Zion. In turn, the Fielders spent a whole month playing home-and-home with a semi-pro club from central Wisconsin. No official word yet on whether the Fielders will live to see a third year, though it's looking quite doubtful.

+ With that said, how was my first week living in Chicago? Well, I arrived at the apartment that I'm subletting around 2:30 last Monday; I was able to carry all my belongings up two flights of stairs by myself in about two hours. (Moving into an apartment that was pre-furnished was very helpful, to say the least.) My roomie works odd hours and travels a lot, so at times it was kinda lonely around the place; however, I had a checklist of friends' shows that I wanted to see but wasn't able to until now.

The personal highlight of my first week was weirdly serendipitous. One of the most popular improv shows in Chicago is TJ & Dave, a two-man, one-hour spectacle of sorts that iO hosts every Wednesday night. (To those of you who might be visiting Chicago anytime soon, this is an excellent way to dip your toe into improv. Plus, tickets are only $5!) The bad news was that TJ wasn't there that night, supposedly because he was shooting a movie in LA. The good news is that he was filled in by Tracy Letts. It's one thing if it were another star of the Chicago comedy scene, but another to see Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tracy Letts do improv, and quite well might I add. Suffice to say, I was blown away; I shook Letts' hand after the show, but he rushed out of the theater before I could ask for a photo or autograph.

+ Finally, the 7 billionth person in the world was born on Monday, and believe it or not, it wasn't a Duggar...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1978

Defining the music scene of the late 1970s as merely punk and disco does a great disservice to the bountiful variety and eclecticism of the era, and 1978 proves how narrowminded that opinion can be. Even though vapid American boogie and raw British nihilism captured most people's imaginations --and couldn't be more disparate in sound and philosophy-- the seeds of new wave and post-punk were being planted, while power pop hit a creative zenith. That is not to say, however that the punk movement was a tired novelty and disco flat-out sucked; there was just a lot more going on in '78 that most people recall. If there was a running pattern that year, 1978 was the year of the debut; five first albums and one sophomore effort cracked my top ten. If a notable act from the early '80s didn't bow in 1977, they rolled it out a year later.

I try to keep my lists as concise as possible, but yet again I was forced to expand my top album and song lists to an even twenty. 1978 was a bigger treasure trove of music than I initially assumed, so whittling down from twenty-five albums and ranking them took awhile. For anyone griping about why Pere Ubu's The Modern Dance, Brian Eno's Music for Airports or even a more populist pick like Bob Seger's Stranger in Town didn't make the cut, I just wanted to be as straight to the point as possible. I will attest that I left out a big chunk of disco and top-notch funk from '78 as well. The longer the list, the more out of control it feels.

1. Darkness on the Edge of Town, Bruce Springsteen. Highly anticipated and exceeding even the highest expectations, The Boss' fourth album completes his transition from restless teen to defeated adult. The colorful cast of losers and misfits that Springsteen paints are unabashedly working class, more cowardly than heroic. It makes more than one listen to "get" Darkness, but you have to admire an artist that puts his principles ahead of his popularity.
2. This Year's Model, Elvis Costello. The spectacled Liverpudlian's most "punk" album marks the first appearance of his longtime backing band, The Attractions. Compared to his debut a year earlier, Model is tough and wild in both brain and heart, and every song careens along both sides of the street. Organist Steve Nieve almost steals the show, supplying reckless riffs on a variety of tracks including the hit "Pump It Up."
3. Parallel Lines, Blondie. Setting the template for every '80s tough gal from Pat Benetar to Madonna, Debbie Harry and the boys hit their creative zenith and cracked the mainstream on album #3. Everybody knows "Heart of Glass" and "One Way or Another," but what keeps the album so fresh 33 years later is its depth and consistency.
4. Van Halen, Van Halen
5. The Cars, The Cars

6. Dire Straits, Dire Straits
7. Outlandos D'Amour, The Police
8. The Kick Inside, Kate Bush
9. Some Girls, The Rolling Stones
10. Third/Sister Lovers, Big Star. Recorded in late 1975 and shelved almost three years --than repackaged in the early '90s-- the songs that comprise Big Star's unofficial third album depicts a band (and a songwriter) falling apart at the seams. Alex Chilton sabotages nearly every song on the disc, a tortured artist putting his depression and desperation to the forefront of every word he sings. Side A is mostly rockers, Side B is all ballads, but both sides are inherently beautiful in their shambling nature.

11. Easter, Patti Smith Group
12. More Songs About Buildings and Food, Talking Heads
13. Excitable Boy, Warren Zevon
14. Give 'Em Enough Rope, The Clash
15. Heaven Tonight, Cheap Trick. Balancing the arena-ready punch of their debut album and the shiny belligerence of In Color, Cheap Trick was another workhorse act that broke through in '78. "Surrender" is the no-brainer hit single and their defining song, while "On The Radio" and "Stiff Competition" are wonderful, albeit buried gems.

16. The Last Waltz soundtrack, The Band/Various Artists
17. Germ Free Adolescents, X-Ray Spex
18. Jesus of Cool (aka Pure Pop for Now People), Nick Lowe
19. Powerage, AC/DC
20. One Nation Under a Groove, Funkadelic. As danceable as it is political, George Clinton et al. hit a creative peak and found unexpected commercial success via Groove. Largely dismissed as merely funk (probably because of the name), Funkadelic was inherently about "black rock," fat beats under Hendrix-style guitars. The title track was a left-field #1 R&B hit, but tracks like the seven-minute "Groovealligence" give the album its soul and intellect.

"Thunder Island," Jay Ferguson
"Driver's Seat," Sniff n' The Tears
"I Need a Lover," Johnny Cougar
"Spirit in the Night," Manfred Mann's Earth Band
"Crazy Love," Poco
"Don't Look Back," Boston
"Don't Stop Me Now," Queen
"Baker Street," Gerry Rafferty
"I Feel Love," Donna Summer
"If I Can't Have You," Yvonne Elliman

"Ca Plane Pour Moi," Plastic Bertrand
"Brickfield Nights," The Boys
"Top of the Pops," The Rezillos
"Teenage Kicks," The Undertones
"Into The Valley," The Skids
"Yachting Types," The Yachts
"Down on the Boulevard," The Pop
"Pretty Please," The Quick
"Better Off Dead," La Peste
"Changing of the Guards," Bob Dylan

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Uncage the Rage

When I was down at ISU last weekend, I noticed that an "Occupy Normal" protest had been staged on the bridge connecting the quad and north campus. Compared to the "Occupy Wall Street" demonstration that clawed its way into the media spotlight in recent weeks, it was very modest; a dozen or so students sitting on the walkway, chilling on their sleeping bags and eating cold cereal. They were clearly visible during the homecoming parade but not distracting by any means. In a section of the state of Illinois where Republicans outnumber Democrats 3:2 most of the locals couldn't have cared less, but I'll give points to the protesters for their resilience and gumption. This year's ISU homecoming theme was "Uncage the Rage," a sentiment that not only applies to our avian school spirit but also the growing frustration at the state of our nation, and those proud underclassmen struck the parallel quite accurately.

So where do I stand on the "Occupy" movement? The fact that the richest 1% of the population controls 40% of the nation's money is certainly wrong, even though I'm not sure if copying the Tea Party's grass-roots rancor was the right way to go. Regardless, you don't have to tell me the system is broken. Capitalism has a right to exist but the chasm between the rich and poor grows by the day, and addressing the situation head-on is not (as some suggest) misguided "socialist" rhetoric. The so-called lazy hippies that are setting up pup tents nationwide are not unlike me, underemployed college graduates with nowhere to go and nothing to lose. The little guy is taking it in the gut these days, and both sides of our government are as polarized as they are incompetent in handling the situation. I may not join in on the protest, but I respect their right to assemble and have their voice heard.

Other notes:

+ And how was the reunion, you ask? I was everything I expected it to be. In the course of two days I spoke with my professor/mentor for all of twenty seconds as she made the rounds with fellow alums, never getting around to asking about my current job status. On the other hand, I ran into an ex-co-worker with connections, so I may have my foot in the door for a possible job. As you might expect the overall homecoming atmosphere was highly cordial and throughly communal; I was in town for four meals and technically only had to pay for two. I drank more Bud Light last weekend than I have in the last six months (not in excess, mind you). By and large, I'm glad I made the long drive down.

+ Fantasy Update: After a prolonged schneid, I finally won my first pigskin matchup of the year. I'm 1-5 for 2011 so far; there's still time for a turnaround, as insurmountable as my situation my seem. In a league where ten teams each have at least two quarterbacks, two kickers, and two team defenses --and the free agent pool is slim pickins'-- I'll have to rely on dark horse receivers and halfbacks to gain momentum.

Next week: the year in music, 1978.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Radio Dazed: Central Illinois Edition

This coming weekend I'm driving down to Normal, IL for Illinois State University's homecoming festivites. Even though I booked my motel room months ago, I'm having mixed feelings about my annual trip. This is a special homecoming of sorts because not only is my old student radio station is celebrating its 30th anniversary (six months late, not that it matters) but earlier this month they marked a long-awaited transition from being online-only to having a full broadcast signal. Goodbye Windows Media Player, hello FM preset.

Of course, that's not why I'm feeling hestitent; it's not so much the station as it is my former co-workers and my standing amongst them. In the 18 months since my unceremonious dismissal from my reception/traffic job, I have yet to find my next radio gig and I'm nearly ready to give up and focus on something else. The student-run station I used to work for is an unofficial farm system for talent --both on-air and behind the scenes-- not only in the Bloomington-Normal market but Chicago, Rockford, Peoria, and St. Louis as well. If you listen to any radio station in those markets, you've probably heard the DNA of my old station and didn't even know it. In spite of my pursuits in other fields, I have reason to believe that my name has become shorthand for underachievement.

Worse yet, the big reunion Friday night will mean having to confront the station's faculty advisor, a woman whom I consider as a mentor and someone that I have more or less failed. Chances are she'll be swamped by all other former student employees of the station, the hundreds of other students she touched, so I'll probably just smile and nod politely when I get my five seconds of face time. Of course, there's also the glass-half-full aspect; I could run into an alum who's now a bigwig in the Chicago market, hobnob a little and potentially get a foot in the door. It's not like I have anything to lose.

As you can tell, I'm experiencing a whirlwind of emotions about the reunion and I'm essentially thinking as I'm writing. Wish me luck this weekend; I could sure use it.

Other notes:

+ Having watched part of the GOP debate the other night, it seemed like the discussion and endless reemphasis of bullet points mirrored the race itself: Herman Cain rose to the occasion, Rick Perry faded, Mitt Romney just chilled, and everybody else was simply happy to be there. As much as I love an underdog story, Cain's "9-9-9" tax overhaul plan worries me. It sounds simple enough, but most lower-class Americans pay less than 9% of their income in federal taxes; ditto for the minimum-wagers and the elderly. Even with a national sales tax and a supposedly leveled playing field, the rich come out with a narrow edge. How would that satisfy anyone on the left or right?

+ Has the death of Steve Jobs been overhyped by the media? Perhaps, but not by much. There's little denying that Jobs was a man of substance, a leader of industry first and a celebrity second. I don't own an iPod or an iPad, but I do have an iTunes account and an unused gift card from last Christmas, so even I was indirectly affected by his passing. I've never seen anybody shape or forecast the market for modern technology quite the way Jobs did, and I doubt we'll see anyone with his foresight and prowess again, at least in our lifetime. With all due respect to his widow and children, this might be a greater tragedy for good ol' American ingenuity than anything else.

+ Speaking of Normal, check out this two-minute thirty-second ad from Mitsubishi, who operate a factory on the west side of town. The editing on this mini-doc whitewashes the area a little bit, as it conviniently ignores not only ISU and its status as a party school but also the decrepit mess that the adjoining city of Bloomington has become. What suckered me into sharing this was that I used to buy CDs from North Street Records, which makes a cameo near the halfway point.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Random Notes, October 2011

Last week's 1966 blog kinda beat the wind out of me, so enjoy these random notes:

+ 20 days until the move. I kinda lucked out in subletting a place that's pre-furnished, which really shaves a lot of time off the moving and packing process. Working 40 hours a week doesn't give me much time to gather my belongings, and since I'm also subletting the process has been very similar to moving into a dorm room. I fully acknowledge that what I'm doing is a risk of sorts, but I take solace in knowing that this has been almost four years in the making. Since mid-July I've been temping out in Aurora, IL; they expected me to stay until New Year's Eve, so obviously they were disappointed when they heard the word from my agency. The managers there are supportive of my decision, albeit with some reluctance. Nevertheless, I'm glad to see the wheels are turning.

+ Fitness Update: I've lost 15 pounds since May 1st, and I've been holding steady at my current weight since August 15th or so. It's amazing what happens when you overload on protein, replace skim with 1%, and avoid white bread. Money will be tight until I find a full-time job (temp or otherwise) in the city, so I hope I don't get flabby or relapse into old habits. Luckily, there's a gym right next to Second City, so the drive to exercise is right there.

+ Fantasy Update: another year, another title. This time around, I finally vanquished my TV.com peers in roto baseball. (My "other" team, champions two years running, finished 7th out of 10.) Like I normally do, I took advantage of under-the-radar guys piecing together productive seasons on mediocre teams; to unsung heroes like Michael Pineda, Edwin Encarnacion and Eric Hosmer I tip my hat.

+ Speaking of baseball... even though I'm an out and proud Kansas City Royals fan, if I had to choose a second favorite team, I'd go with the Milwaukee Brewers. The glass half-empty side of me would say I have a terrible in baseball teams; the glass half-full would brag that combined these two teams have made two playoff appearances since 1985. In all fairness I've always had a weak spot for the Brew Crew, but I've never truly committed to them. Plus, a fair percentage of my favorite non-Royals ballplayers have been Brewers: Robin Yount, Jim Gantner, Ryan Braun, the list goes on. When Zack Greinke was traded from KC to Milwaukee last winter, it was like a blessing in disguise; I can't blame him for getting fed up with David Class et al. but landing with a small-market quasi-contender was just icing on the cake. With that said, I raise my glass of Miller Lite to a long playoff run for my mistress behind the Cheddar Curtain.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1966

After nearly 36 months, I have finally reached my favorite year of the '60s. Where '67, '68, and '69 were all top-heavy in great albums, 1966 balanced the long player's arrival as an art form with a cornucopia of all-time great singles. Without belaboring their impact 45 years on, any of the top three albums of my list could've been #1 in any other year, or any other decade for that matter. On the 45 RPM front, everything seemed to be firing on all cylinders: R&B, folk-pop, Motown, bubblegum, British Invasion, primative garage rock and early psychedelic. It was also a curious yet fascinating year in jazz, as the Blue Note post-bop stalwarts of the past decade or so finally conceided to liberal improvisation and the "free" movement. In all, there was a general sense of liberation and daring-do in the sounds of '66 that just couldn't be tamped down.

(Like past lists, my albums are ranked but my favorite songs are not.)

1. Revolver, The Beatles. If Rubber Soul was the appetizer and Sgt. Pepper's the dessert, than the Fab Four's seventh album was the main course. A crucial turning point in the band's philosophy, aesthetic, and sound, Revolver is the wedge between the band's straight-ahead earlier work and the sonic exploration and restless experimenting of their late '60s output. Even though Abbey Road was his true breakout, George Harrison nearly steals the show with his three writing contributions: the cynical "Taxman," the sitar durge "Love You To," and the dissonant "I Want To Tell You." With all the risks taken on this disc, it's almost a miracle that everything holds together, which makes Revolver an absolute must-own album.
2. Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys. Very few people understand the complexities of the human mind. Even fewer understand Brian Wilson's. When it comes to melodic melancholy, nothing compares nor ever will match the lush orchestration, inherent sense of loneliness, and yearning upper-register harmonizing of Pet Sounds. As the troubled songwriter aspired to be the next Phil Spector, Wilson not only cashed in all his chips, he rendered the "Wall of Sound" guru irrelevant overnight.
3. Blonde on Blonde, Bob Dylan. Its a testament to how deep the genius pool was in '66 that a genre-defining album would finish third on an annual list. The final act of Zimmerman's mid-decade triptych of masterpieces (see my '65 list for more details) draws the line in the sand between rock and pop; the sound is freewheeling and ramshackle, and the lyrics are so dense that you'll find a new meaning or subtext with every listen. The witty wordplay flows like water, whether it's on rockers such as "Stuck Inside of Memphis" or ballads like "Visions of Johanna." Dylan would continue to record great albums well after Blonde, but nothing has rocked as hard since.
4. Unit Structures, Cecil Taylor
5. Aftermath, The Rolling Stones

6. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme, Simon & Garfunkel
7. Freak Out!, The Mothers of Invention
8. Adam's Apple, Wayne Shorter
9. Buffalo Springfield, Buffalo Springfield
10. Black Monk Time, The Monks. One of the most bizarre backstories in rock history also begat the album that inadvertantly invented punk. (Click here for the whole skinny.) Slashing two chords a good decade before The Ramones and voicing their radical beliefs when Dead Kennedys were still in grammar school, these American ex-pats started a revolution they had no idea was even brewing. Plus, Dave Day plays a blistering banjo.

Honorable Mentions: Got a Good Thing Goin', Big John Patton; 5th Dimension, The Byrds; Fresh Cream, Cream; If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, The Mamas and the Papas; The Monkees, The Monkees; Sounds of Silence, Simon & Garfunkel.

Best Album I Haven't Heard Yet: The Psychedelic Sounds of..., The 13th Floor Elevators. I've heard so much about this album, yet I can't find a hard copy for my dear life. Once I score this disc, I'll make the proper adjustment to the list above.

"What Becomes of the Brokenhearted," Jimmy Ruffin
"When a Man Loves a Woman," Percy Sledge
"Devil With a Blue Dress/Good Golly Miss Molly," Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels
"This Old Heart of Mine," The Isley Brothers
"Ain't Too Proud to Beg," The Temptations
"You Keep Me Hangin' On," The Supremes
"Reach Out (I'll Be There)," The Four Tops
"River Deep Mountain High," Ike & Tina Turner
"Sweet Talkin' Guy," The Chiffons
"Philly Dog," Herbie Mann

"Paperback Writer," The Beatles
"Five O'Clock World," The Vogues
"Psychotic Reaction," Count Five
"Wild Thing," The Troggs
"Good Lovin'," The Young Rascals
"Sunshine Superman," Donovan
"Black is Black," Los Bravos
"Red Rubber Ball," The Cyrkle
"Walk Away Renee," The Left Banke
"96 Tears," ? and the Mysterians

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Who's That Girl?

It's been a long week at the office, so I'll keep it short:

To anyone wondering if former Gov. Sarah Palin will enter the presidential race, I think you have your answer. The multitude of much-hyped "major speeches" that Palin has given have been little more than the same homespun anti-Obama rhetoric that she's been peddling since the '08 election. She gives her audience everything they want... except to announce her candidacy for president. The ultimate reason why Palin hasn't thrown her hat in the rang --and probably won't-- is because of Michele Bachmann. That's not to say two women can't vie for the same party's candidacy, it's just that their platforms are too similar. (The fact that Bachmann is starting to physically mimic Palin is purely coincidental.)

Sadly, this is not where the parallels end. Both women are sound-byte magnets, have love-it-or-leave-it personas, and both are wilting (wilted?) under the scrutiny of the media. Without beating a dead horse, I have always believed that a leftist media conspiracy is pure hooey; while it is highly difficult for a reporter to demonstrate complete objectivity, the perlustration flies both ways. The only difference is, conservatives complain about being treated unfairly in a louder, more strident fashion than liberals. In the right's eyes, the slightest aside is lethal, as evidenced by this recent "misquote." The recent dustup involving a seemingly unflattering photo on the cover of Newsweek begat a partisan optical illusion: some see Bachmann as the latest scapegoat by a secretive yet opaque clique bent on undermining her every move; others see a woman that just doesn't photograph well.

In a race as contested as the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, every candidate's worst enemy is themselves. On one hand, any false move can be an opponent's goldmine. On the other hand, you have to find a way to stand out in a crowded race. Rep. Bachmann's recent appearance on Jay Leno straddled that line, though the actual impact won't be felt until Iowa and/or New Hampshire. The X-factor is perspective; her supporters and defenders will say Bachmann did fine; the rest of the population saw a presidential contender bomb on network television. Either way, nothing happened on "The Tonight Show" that will alter anyone's opinion of the petite Minnesotan. She's already "convicted" in the public's eyes.

Next Week: the year in music, 1966.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Man with a Plan

"Difficult things take a long time, impossible things a little longer." --André A. Jackson

I will attest that President Obama gave a stirring speech to Congress last Thursday night, but my confidence in his economic policies and aspirations for job growth were left largely unchanged. The jobs bill that he outlined is not without its flaws, as one blogger pointed out; it's not so much built on cooperation as it is slouching on faith. It shouldn't feel last-ditch but it does. Like so much in the economic debate, I am impartial yet exasperated at the same time, and the flawed jobs bill adds to my worries. I want to give the president the reason of a doubt, but defending him can be awfully tricky.

As for Obama himself-- for some odd reason I can't get myself to take a seat on the hater bandwagon. You take away President Obama's economic pussyfooting and overall he's been halfway decent as Commander in Chief; alas, the 2012 election will be a platform on the economy and little else. There is a fair percentage of the US population that never wanted anything to do with the guy and won't give him an inch on anything, and Obama keeps chugging along in spite of their nearsighted vitriol. On one hand, the left hates him for caving into the Tea Party GOP agenda last month; on the other hand, the right hates him because he didn't cave enough. Playing to the middle and emphasizing pragmatism is the only way Obama can gain traction in a hyper-partisan environment like Washington, because taking one side or the other would merely excaberate a bad situation. I don't envy the position President Obama is in right now, but it's hard to draw sympathy, either.

Other notes:

+ For those of you that missed my Facebook rant this morning, let me reiterate my outrage at the latest frivolous fast food lawsuit. (Click here for more info.) People are born with a certain color of skin, a specific gender, certain physical abilities. However, nobody on this planet is born weighing 300 pounds. I truly, sincerely wish we were a less self-involved society and took more accountability for our actions and our mistakes. Even then, if you can't fit in the booth, sit in a damn chair.

+ Fantasy Update: both of my roto baseball teams made the playoffs... kinda. My TV.com roster finished one game out of first, while my "other" team ended the regular season 8th out of 10. This is the polar opposite of how this usually works, as my TV.com team usually languishes in the second division. Hopefully I'll end the year on two high notes.

+ Finally, a major announcement: after spending two-plus years commuting from the suburbs to hone my love and passion for improv, I'm finally moving to the city of Chicago. A ex-classmate of mine will be out of the country for four months, and I'll be subletting his apartment starting in late October. I'm still temping out in the suburbs, but this is a sacrifice that I've been sitting on for too long and needed to make sooner than later. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

In Remembrance

This week, most (if not all) major American news outlets will be dedicating a generous amount of airtime to the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. Many will argue that this is my generation's Pearl Harbor or Kennedy assassination, that defining moment that tests --and forever changes-- the collective national psyche. It's that rare event where everybody remembers where they were when they first heard the news. I have my story and so do you. It didn't occur to me until recently that I was a junior in high school when the towers fell, my mom was a freshman in high school when JFK was slain, and my grandmother was a senior when the Japanese invaded Hawai'i. We all attended the same high school, so imagine what might happen if my children attend Downers Grove North.

A decade on, the greatest question of all is whether or not America is safer. A recent article in Slate suggests yes, our armed forces have adapted quite well to our new, terrorist-conscious mindset. Even though bin Laden is dead and al Qaida is becoming the Woolworth's of terrorist organizations, it would be highly arrogant to suggest that what happened ten years ago was an isolated incident. We have every right to stay on our toes. From a defense standpoint, Donald Rumsfeld's juggling act has become Robert Gates' semi-miraculous triumph. We may still be struggling in Afghanistan, but we're on better footing than five years ago. (That's not to say I'm not giving our troops a big chunk of the credit, though.)

Regardless, the face of extremism may be dead but the soul lives on. Whether the families and friends of the victims of the attacks have truly found closure, we'll never know. Conspiracy theories about the attacks still crawl around the internet, growing more tasteless and ridiculous with each passing day. No matter how you personally acknowledge this tragic milestone this coming Sunday will be a day of remembering, not forgetting. These horrible, selfish acts were perpetrated by a small cluster of people who vehemently hated anyone whose beliefs were not their own. Our best retaliation is to mourn together. We are more than our differences.

Meanwhile, on a far lighter note...

This year I was hoping write 32 haikus to match my baseball preview from five months ago, but my 40-hour-a-week temp job has whittled my free time down to a minimum. With that said, here are my 2011 NFL predictions in a nutshell:

NFC North: Green Bay (11-5)
NFC East: Philadelphia (12-4)
NFC South: New Orleans (11-5)
NFC West: St. Louis (9-7)

NFC Wild Cards: Atlanta (10-6), Detroit (9-7)

AFC North: Pittsburgh (12-4)
AFC East: New England (11-5)
AFC South: Indianapolis (10-6)
AFC West: San Diego (10-6)

AFC Wild Cards: NY Jets (11-5), Baltimore (10-6)

Most Improved Team: Detroit. A string of solid drafts has given the once-woeful Lions the stealthiest defense (at least, on paper) in the NFC. The ultimate X-factor is whether Matthew Stafford can stay healthy.
Most Likely to Freefall: Seattle. An otherwise solid O-line will come to realize that Tarvaris Jackson just isn't worth protecting. Plus, the pass defense can't cover on the blitz if they tried.
Owner of Next Year's First Overall Draft Pick: Cincinnati Bengals (2-14)

Super Bowl XLVI: Eagles 24, Steelers 17

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1991

Next month, a documentary called "1991: The Year Punk Broke" will open in limited release in theaters across the country. This is not a new documentary by any means; in fact, it was first released in 1992 and is just now arriving on DVD. The movie itself is a crucial time capsule that inadvertantly caught a watershed moment in pop culture. What was originally supposed to spotlight Sonic Youth --an already well-established indie rock group-- performing live on tour gave equal attention to their various opening acts, including a young, fledging Seattle trio named Nirvana. Neither of these two bands nor did the director and producers of this movie know what was about to hit them.

People best remember 1991 as the year grunge (really a descendent of punk) hit the mainstream, but in reality the tidal change didn't really occur until the tail end of the year. Whatever musical trends were raging in 1989 and 1990 were still in vogue; there was a sense of complacency and sameness to Top 40 radio, at least until October or November of that year. One could even argue that nearly every #1 hit from that year was basically a variation on the same cheesy power ballad, regardless of the gender, race, or creed of the artist. Grunge was a game-changer, the new direction mainstream music needed at that time. Even though it's connection to straight up rock n' roll is fairly loose, it made a whole genre relevant again. Nirvana was the primary agitator of this new movement, and though they were the most infamous act in the bunch, bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, and Alice in Chains owe their careers to Kurt Cobain's unlikely watershed moment. After this point, alternative rock was rock.

Even though I turned seven years old in '91, one might wonder what I would have put on a mixtape that year. This should give you a hint:

1. Nevermind, Nirvana. Some artists capture the zeitgeist; others are ensnared against their will. Nirvana straddled that line, jumping to a major label for their second album while also honing and mastering the fuzzbox fire of their 1989 debut Bleach. Where their metal contemporaries howled with the depth of a birdbath --especially in an era where cheesy, halfhearted ballads guaranteed record sales-- Kurt Cobain's music and lyrics are raw, evocative, and above all honest. Twenty years ago Nevermind was life-changing, but now its life-affirming, and perhaps for the better.
2. Ten, Pearl Jam. Rising from the ashes of Mother Love Bone (see my 1990 list for more details) and almost named for a basketball player (see my Mookie blog from four months ago), Ten plays second fiddle to Kurt & Co. in many critics' minds but deserves acclaim as a masterpiece in its own right. If Nirvana cracked the windshield, than Eddie Vedder and the boys smashed the whole damn window. Where Nirvana looked inward, PJ saw the world as their oyster, fusing social commentary into Vedder's raspy growl and Mike McCready's Hendrix-style guitar riffs. Conceived in tragedy, Ten rises above and never looks back.
3. The Low End Theory, A Tribe Called Quest. Grunge gets all the press, but 1991 was also a watershed year for hip-hop. Taking a cue from De La Soul's jazzy beats and literate lyrics, ATCQ shies away from hardcore rap and the growing gangsta movement for something more cerebral and philosophical. Put together, Q-Tip and Phife Dawg are absolutely sublime; they don't battle each other with rhymes so much as they debate. The heart is in the groove, and on The Low End Theory, the heart could fill up a whole room.
4. Loveless, My Bloody Valentine
5. Badmotorfinger, Soundgarden

6. Blue Lines, Massive Attack
7. Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Red Hot Chili Peppers
8. Bandwagonesque, Teenage Fanclub
9. Achtung Baby, U2
10. Metallica (a/k/a The Black Album), Metallica. Leaping into the mainstream for their fifth album, The Black Album has a divisive place in the band's oeurve; either this is where you discovered Metallica or gave up on them. Following the production issues of ...And Justice For All, you can't blame the boys for trying a simpler approach, while at the same time giving death metal some mainstream credibility. It's hard to deny that this is a great disc, even if left turns like "The Unforgiven" and "Nothing Else Matters" foreshadow later indulgences.

Honorable Mentions: Use Your Illusion I, Guns n' Roses; My Brain Hurts, Screeching Weasel; Temple of the Dog, Temple of the Dog.

"Siva," Smashing Pumpkins
"Shiny Happy People," R.E.M.
"Unbelievable," E.M.F.
"Right Here Right Now," Jesus Jones
"I Touch Myself," Divinyls
"Tom's Diner," DMA feat. Suzanne Vega
"Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)," C+C Music Factory
"Summertime," The Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff
"Bring The Noise," Anthrax feat. Chuck D
"Civil War," Guns n' Roses

1. "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nirvana. The best song from the best album of the '90s also begat arguably the most compelling video of the grunge era. It's more than an anthem, "Teen Spirit" is a call to arms. Get lost, popular kids; the freaks have taken over.
2. "Losing My Religion," R.E.M. With a premise based on Gabriel Garcia Marquez' short story "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" and a hook built upon a mandolin riff, this beautiful clip is another pleasant surprise in a year chock-full of unexpected delights. Somehow, this never screams "pretentious."
3. "Justify My Love," Madonna. Madge channels Fellini in this erotic, banned-from-MTV video. I think Wayne Campbell and Garth Alger put it best: "man, check out the package on THAT guy."
4. "Enter Sandman," Metallica. Finding that rare balance between critical acclaim and commercial success, this dreamlike escape perfectly matches Lars and James' nightmarish vision.
5. "Into The Great Wide Open," Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. One of first "all-star" videos with any semblance of plot, Johnny Depp, Faye Dunaway, and a pre-"Friends" Matt LeBlanc overshadow a chameleon-like Petty in a story about the pitfalls of instant fame.

Honorable Mention: "Black or White," Michael Jackson; "Been Caught Stealing," Jane's Addiction.

Finally, this week I received a new laptop (a Toshiba Intel, to be exact) and to mark the occasion I finally made a great leap forward in the social networking world. You can now find me on Twitter at #heystu818 and on Skype at heystu17. (I assume most of you have already added me on Facebook or found this blog via Zuckerman's website, so that goes without saying.)

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Right Hook, Everyone's Cross

It’s hard to tell if the GOP presidential race has improved or worsened. On one hand, Tim Pawlenty’s campaign never gained momentum and his quitting the race only shifts more moderate conservatives towards Mitt Romney. On the other hand, the entry of Texas Governor Rick Perry gives the GOP another wacky wild card, another devisive, over the top personality for the media to leech on. I still have confidence that the United States is first and foremost a centrist nation, and that the median of the political spectrum is still right smack in the middle. If that’s the case, than whoever caters most to the moderates will win in 2012. In the unlikely event that Bachmann or Perry nab the GOP nomination, President Obama would win a second term in a landslide. Even if the president's approval rating is still hovering around 45% next November, low voter turnout could work in his favor. The candidate that does the best job of playing to the center usually succeeds, and it's hard to imagine the governor or the congresswoman toning down their message to impact moderates.

My previous statement may seem biased, but I have a hard time taking candidates seriously when they use their religious beliefs for political gain. I have just as much skepticism towards Perry's bible-toting and Bachmann's denial of gay rights as I do Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. The authors of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights sought to create a country where no faith trumped any other, and while it is noble to hold strong Christian values, their strictness applies only to a strident minority of Americans. This is not how the phrase "God above nation" is supposed to work. As it stands, I predict the GOP nomination will be a three-way race; Romney's mainstream conservatism will be pitted against Ron Paul's en vogue libertarianism and Bachmann's Tea Party traditionalism. For all his fervor, Perry entered the race too late to make a true difference; he's just shaking up the pot, telling angry conservatives what they want to hear, and feeding off the frontrunners. There's nothing to worry about... for now.

Other notes:

+ At long last, the 2011 Beloit College mindset list --which I blogged about two months ago-- has been released. When I wrote "my" list, I had totally forgotten that this year's incoming college freshmen have never ordered from the Sears catalog, and that Kim Jong Il has always been taunting the United States. Here's the link: http://www.beloit.edu/mindset/2015/

+ Being an Illinoisan, I did not feel nor was I affected by the 5.8 earthquake in northeast Virginia, though I know a few people out here that did feel a faint tremor. Were any of you shaken by the quake?

+ Fielders Update: after a temporary panic, the troubled Lake County ballclub shut down for a week or so, than began a new, revised schedule that gives them more home games (thus, less money spent on airfare). Considering that the Fielders are the only team in the NABL that plays in this region of the continent --three teams play in Canada, one in Honolulu-- and their obvious money woes, the future of the organization beyond 2011 is still in doubt. More details as they arise.

Next week: the year in music, 1991.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Blowing the Candles, Passing the Torch

This coming Thursday, I turn 27 years old. It’s not really an official milestone by any means, unless you consider that to be one’s unendorsed entry into your late 20s. (Longtime readers may have noticed that my attempts to be introspective can be quite stilted, so bear with me.)

As a classic rock nerd in high school, turning 27 means outliving a fair percentage of the artists I grew up listening to. In a weird sort of way, I looked up to Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, and Jimi Hendrix; in the next few months, I will surpass them one by one. Even artists I discovered in early adulthood have been affected by “The 27 Club”: blues legend Robert Johnson, Chris Bell of Big Star, Pigpen McKernen of The Grateful Dead, Mia Zapata of The Gits. The fact that Amy Winehouse died last month at the same age of the aforementioned rock legends temporarily put me on edge, if only because the troubled “Rehab” singer graduated from high school one year before I did. Until her sad yet foreseeable demise, my reference point was Kurt Cobain, 17 years my senior but a tormented guiding spirit to an entire generation.

If I sound ghoulish, it’s only because the 27 Club marks the last vestiges of pure, unbridled youth and our surrender to adulthood… or so it seems. We’re now four or five years removed from college; nobody is holding our hand anymore. We never got see Janis Joplin with cellulite or Kurt Cobain with male pattern baldness, and for karmic reasons maybe we should happy that we didn’t. They lived their short lives in excess and paid dearly for it. Of the names I mentioned above, only Pigpen died of natural causes. The responsibilities of adulthood are not pretty, but they’re inevitable.

With my 27th birthday this week, I am marking a second moment of transition. On Sunday night I had my last class performance at iO Chicago, the climax of a 16-month journey into the basic concepts and assumed structures of long-form improv. My seven-week run with Ladies & Lumberjacks (our chosen team name, long story) is something that I am immensely proud of, and I will miss working with my friends and peers very dearly. We worked exclusively together for four months —the duration of the last level is twice as long as the others— and we formed a very tight bond, not unlike brothers and sisters. Between losing my job and dealing with a terminally ill parent last summer, improv became my reason to wake up in the morning. To say the experience was fun is an understatement; iO was a liberating thrill ride and the most consistent morale booster I’ve ever had.

With that said, I am segueing myself into the next chapter of my improv career at the Second City Conservatory. As I mentioned last week, I have orientation on the 28th and my first class is Labor Day weekend. Like iO and the Second City basic improv program before that, I will share a class with 15-odd complete strangers with similar interests and we will grow to become a cohesive unit, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to take the ride. Fittingly enough the conservatory program runs for exactly one year, and if all goes right my graduation will coincide with my 28th birthday next August. My job situation is still in limbo, but my confidence overall is in resurgence. This will be my year, and for the first time in a long while I’ll be pulling the reins.