Friday, August 31

The Sky is a Poisonous Garden Tonight

Here's hoping your weekend is as kick-ass as this:

[Listening to:    Kool and The Gang"Open Sesame" ]


Thursday, August 30

Oscar Goldman

Growing up in a world that's as inundated with media as ours is -- it's easy for kids to get caught up in the stories and mystiques surrounding iconic characters they see in movies and TV. For example, my son is totally hooked on Ben10, Spiderman, and Darth Vader right now -- to the point where when we go to the park, these are the characters he likes to play. But not so much in the sense that good guy Spiderman squares off against villain Darth Vader -- but more like him as Ben10, me as Darth Vader, and an imaginary version of Spiderman frequently "team up" to take on hordes of invisible bad guys who are crawling all over the monkey bars and going down the slides on the playground.
It's a shaky alliance, but rest assured when the swingset needs to be liberated -- we take no quarter.
Of course when I was growing up it was much the same, only the names were different. Cartoons were on TV, but they're certainly not as pervasive as they are now -- so the characters I was into growing up came from more varied sources. Like for a long time I was really into a book character named Johnny Swift, which was basically like Johnny Quest in space. But in the end, the holy trinity that ruled the playgrounds of my youth were Spiderman, Han Solo, and the Six Million Dollar Man.
Oh, how I loved that show.
For those of you who might not know, The Six Million Dollar Man was the story of Steve Austin, a former astronaut who is severely injured in a test airplane crash and is then "rebuilt" in an operation that costs six million dollars. His right arm, both legs and the left eye are replaced by bionic implants that enhance his strength, speed, and vision far above human norms -- giving him abilities that he uses to fight off a series of bad guys, robots, and of course ..Bigfoot (and yes the character was called Bigfoot -- so don’t any of you noobs come up here and tell me it was Sasquatch, because it frikkin' wasn't!).
Of course the real key to the show wasn't the plot, but the idea that if you could somehow dig up six million dollars (which for a 4 year old in 1976 seemed like an impossible amount) you could go somewhere to get a souped-up leg, arm, ear, and eye. And why would you need these things?
To crush tennis balls, of course.
Now here's where things get dicey, and it's probably gonna make me sound like a loser -- but the thing about this whole Bionic Man concept was that it was really easy sometimes (especially at that age) to confuse the abilities that the Six Million Dollar Man had with the abilities that the Bionic Woman possessed.

The Bionic Woman was Jamie Sommers, a tennis pro hurt in a skydiving accident and then rebuilt by the same people who fixed Steve Austin. While basically a mirror-image of the original show, the bionic woman's opening sequence featured her running fast, pushing her feathered hair behind her ear to use her super hearing, and crushing a tennis ball with her bare hand.

This was important because as a 4-year old, I didn't really have access to falling steel building girders to practice my pretend bionic strength on, but could easily get my hands on my parent's unused sporting equipment.

See, Steve Austin strapping on a red jumpsuit and running around 60 miles an hour was sort of an unrealistic concept. Sure I understood he was going fast, but when you're a little kid I don't think that means as much -- because you have no concept of what speed really is.
Hell, I could run really fast when I was 4 (especially if I
moved my arms back and forth when I ran -- look, dad, look!)
Things like that are only really impressive to me now. I'm 34 years old, I don't like to run for shit if I don’t have to. But if I knew a guy who sorta looked like Elvis who could keep up with most cars on the freeway, that would be pretty damn impressive.
Which is why crushing a tennis ball trick was such a big deal.
You saw her do it on TV, and like the first thing you did when the commercial came on was find that one ball you normally threw for the dog to fetch and tried to crush it. And then when you couldn't do it you'd look back at The Bionic Woman on the television screen and think, "Man, that's AMAZING!"

The other thing about it was that even though the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman were different shows, they were essentially the same thing with different theme music. It was never a big deal for Steve Austin to show up on the Bionic Woman, or for Jamie Sommers to show up on his show. They fought the same villains, they had essentially the same supporting cast, if I remember correctly they both came on about the same time in the afternoons.

But above all of this was the fact that back in the day the lines between children's shows and prime-time entertainment were a lot blurrier than they are now. Now kids shows are played on kid's networks. If a kid show is on a local station, it comes on during a specific time along with a block of other kid-oriented shows.

But growing up that wasn't always the case. I mean if you ask me, The Six Million Dollar Man was aimed at young audiences -- but I clearly remember watching it with my dad. And it wasn't like he was doing it to make sure he was available to discuss questionable topics if he saw them affecting my young unprepared mind -- he was into it. In fact, considering just how hot Lindsay Wagner was (and kinda still is), I'm pretty sure he was a bigger fan of the Bionic Woman than I ever could have been.

When you get right down to it, there were a lot of shows that danced that line between kid's show and grown-up entertainment back then. Shows like Knight Rider, Dukes of Hazzard, The A-Team.. It's really hard to think of those as anything other than kids shows. But they had enough mindless action and grown-up ideas in them to appeal to adults as well, so it became sort of an instant bonding opportunity -- because it wasn't like I was forcing my dad to watch my favorite shows, it was more like I felt like my dad was letting me watch his shows with him, which was like the ultimate privilege.
Hands down, there was nothing cooler than my mom coming into the living room and saying "Do you know what time it is -- Why isn't Dan in bed yet?" Only to have my Dad wave her off and say "Relax, as soon as we're done watching S.W.A.T. I'll tuck him in myself."
But the absolute BEST part of the whole thing was the day my mom came home and presented me with the coolest of the cool -- a white t-shirt with a big sign on the front that read:
DANGER:
The Person Wearing This
Shirt is a Bionic Man.
Approach at Your Own Risk.
Anyone who knows me (or was once married to me) knows about my embarrassing tendency towards having favorite shirts that I will wear until they die. From the hardly-breathing held together by a string of safety pins remnants of the Dead Milkmen tour shirt that the band gave me for working lights for them during three shows around Florida, to my absolute favorite black button-down shirt that's literally unraveling at the edges but still gets worn almost every week when I go to the clubs -- If I own a shirt I like, it's gonna get worn until it literally falls off of me. In fact, one of the original reasons my ex-wife dragged me on a nationally syndicated talk show for a makeover was to complain to Queen Latifah about the lack of variety in my wardrobe.

Well guess what -- this is where it started.
Because I. Wore. That. Shirt. Everywhere.
Apparently my mother had to steal the thing from me to wash it. Apparently I wore it everywhere we went. Not only that, but whenever I wore the shirt I wouldn't answer to any other name than Steve Austin, the Bionic Man.
You want more proof?
..I still have it.
Of course an obsession like that can't come without consequences. And the classic story of the bionic man shirt comes back in day, when my mother took me, my brother, and one of her best friends on a road trip from Longmont Colorado where we lived all the way to Englewood so we could do some Christmas shopping at Cinderella City, which at the time was the super-duper shopping mall in the area.

Cinderella City was like five or six stories high, crammed with stores, and during the late 70's was apparently the Mecca of suburban shopping experiences for Colorado's working middle class. This trip was a very big deal, so naturally I dressed for the event -- donning my Bionic Man t-shirt and whatever mixture of Osh-Kosh/Toughskin pants and Keds shoes that we wore at the time.

The way my mother used to tell the story, the place was totally packed. It was the height of Christmas season and it was a big place, so she kept a close watch on me and my brother -- but somewhere along the line we got separated, and either a security guard found me unattended or I made my way to the security desk to get help.

But when they asked me my name so that they could page my mother to come get me, there was only one answer I would give them:
Steve Austin, the Bionic Man.
Apparently after a while of unsuccessfully trying to get my real name out of me, they gave up on that and started to ask me what my mother's name was so they could page her. This of course was an answer that I was more than happy to provide, because when you're a Six Million Dollar Man, who else could your mother be but Wonder Woman.

I have no way to know if this is actually true or not, but the story goes that after apparently hours of trying to shake me from these answers the security crew gave up, and actually got on the Cinderella City Mall loudspeaker and said:
"Can Wonder Woman please report to the security
to pick up her son Steve Austin ..The Bionic Man."
At which point my mother instantly realized the situation and came running to get me.

The older I get the more holes I find in the details of this story, but I swear it's one my mother would tell more than any other tale of what I was like as a kid. At this point it doesn't even really matter whether it's true or not -- it's become the stuff of legend among the people who know about it.

It's been a long time since I believed I was a bionic kid -- and some days when I wake up after having driven all night to get to and from a mosh pit in Tallahassee in time to go back to work at 8 am the next day, I find myself cursing the fact that I'm not -- but it's really cool the way all those memories come flooding back whenever I think of that stuff.
Which is exactly what happened when I came across this little doo-dad.

[Listening to:    DevilDriver"Digging Up the Corpses" ]


Wednesday, August 29

Sapientia

By now you've probably seen or heard about the trainwreck that was the Miss Teen USA Pageant.
There's really no way to try and defend Lauren Upton here -- because once you go to the "Most people out there in our nation don't have maps" card you're pretty much on your own. At the same time, I think everyone needs to step back just a little bit and take a look at the question itself:
Recent polls have shown 1/5 of Americans can't locate America on a world map. Why do you think this is?
Wait a second -- What kind of question is that?
I mean think about it -- what's the correct response to something like that actually supposed to be? Because I gotta tell you, if I'm standing there on stage in my sparkly blue dress with my hair (if I had any) all coiffed up like that and Aimee Teegarden comes at me with this quirky little inquiry, my first thought would be to smile, look into the camera, and say,
"The reason many Americans can't find the United States on a world
map is because most people in this country are fucking stupid!"
Which in my mind would be a completely accurate response, unless of course I was trying to win the frikkin' Miss Teen USA Pageant!

What kind of miss USA hopeful stands there and calls Americans stupid? But more than that, what kind of pageant organizer hangs that carrot out there to see who takes a swipe at it?
I mean seriously, what should she have said?
  • Which America are you referring to? North America, Latin America, South America, or ..US America?
  • Well Aimee -- with it's big butt and love-handle shape, most Americans are actually choosing to mis-identify the country on purpose to help the country avoid any embarrassment and ostracizing it would face in our image-obsessed society.
  • I think most Americans fear that identifying the United States on a world map will make it an much easier target for all the terrorists living in "The Iraq."
I know that beauty pageant organizers think it's a good idea to try to tout their contestants as the intelligent future of womanhood in this country, but does anyone else actually buy that? Aren't we all more or less convinced at this point that each of these contestants are hoping to get a pass on the real world by banking on their looks? And isn't that why people tune in anyways?

Take a look at Miss South Carolina's response again -- Nevermind the brainpower it took to blame the general malaise most Americans feel for geography knowledge on South Africa (!?), just listen to the way she's desperately tossing verbal transitions around in every direction like she knows what they mean or should at least get some credit for knowing how to pronounce them correctly.
It's like someone gave an Uzi to a toddler. Sure it's kinda cute to look at
-- but let's take the Thesaurus away from her before someone gets hurt, ok?
See, this is why I prefer Flavor of Love. Sure the women on that show probably aren't any smarter than Miss South Carolina here, but at least they're willing to mud wrestle for their prize instead of muddling around the vocabulary mines hoping to somehow impress Mario Lopez.

In fact, if Miss South Carolina is looking for a way to get out of this public image mess, I seriously suggest she sign up for the latest go 'round to win Flava Flav's affection -- because no matter how bad she might have looked on TV during the pageant, in Flav's house --
She's already a step up on most of the competition.

[Listening to:    Coal Chamber"Fiend" ]


Tuesday, August 28

Arewhana

There's a point somewhere between being busy and pre-occupied where the workday passes by without you really realizing it. Where you're tied up just enough between doing the things you're supposed to be doing and spending time with the distractions you use to look busy when you actually aren't -- that the clock on the wall seems more like a formality than anything else.

Not so much that nothing matters, but that having to go to work and be there all day is such a foregone conclusion that the only details that really register is that you show up close to eight and leave close to six.
In other words -- I have lots of things to do, but
none of them are really due first thing tomorrow.
It was brought to my attention recently that I've been at this job for almost a year. It sounds strange, but I completely hadn't realized it. Whenever anyone asked me about my job, I'd always tell them I'd been there like "seven months or so" -- because honestly that's how it feels sometimes. I know my job, people appreciate what I do, but not everyone knows my name and I don't get invited to be on a lot of committees or whatever.

As such I'm the true definition of a contractor, because despite the time that I've spent here I'm still not that much a part of the company family the way so many of the people I work with are. Of course since I'm still a contractor that lack of gung ho-ism isn't held against me as much as it might be if I were a fully vested employee. I'm a hired gun, here to do a job.
But what I don't tell a lot of people is that I actually prefer it that way.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the people I work with. This company has been nothing but good to me. But in general I'm not the one people call on when they need someone extra to be in the Heartwalk, or sell raffle tickets for the United Way banquet. I'll put a dollar in the bucket when I have one to spare, but it's generally not my thing.

In the past this lack of "the company is better than sex" attitude has gotten me in trouble. I've had annual reviews before where bosses have said to me,
"How about the next time we have a potluck you
bring something a little better than just napkins."
That's a big part about what I like about this gig. They let me fly under the radar. They don't really care how I dress. And it's always been cool. Of course I don't get sick days, I don't get holiday pay, any time I miss is money out of my pocket, and I have to pay full price for any doctors or prescriptions I might need, but it's part of the trade off I bought into when I decided to take this gig. In most respects it seems to have worked pretty well. I do my job, and I do it well -- and I'm appreciated for it.
But there are things I miss out on.
For example, every year this company makes a profit versus projections, they hand out bonus checks to their employees. From what I hear, they're pretty healthy little payments too. There's a full-service gym here on campus that employees get to use for free (because of insurance concerns non-employees are not allowed access to it) and we just had a little assembly the other day where the entire staff got together to congratulate a host of people who have worked in this location for more than 30 years.

Some of these things are more important to me than others, but the simple fact remains that I still could be getting a lot more out of this gig than I currently am. And that's not even counting the fact that in my current situation I'm not really sure even how to start negotiating for a salary bump -- which despite the amount of money they're paying me here I could really use. Of course there's an obvious path I could take to try and remedy this -- but my main objective up until recently with this gig has been not to fuck up and have it all slip away from me like the last few jobs I've had before this did.
The odd thing is that it's taken until this morning for me to figure this out.
Maybe you've noticed that I've not been blogging lately. Or I've seemed a little listless on the phone, or just in general. I've noticed it too -- but couldn't put my finger on what it was that was causing it all. Like everyone else I have my little dramas swirling around, but usually writing is one of the ways I use to step out of all that. I enjoy the process. I put a lot of time into crafting what I want to say, and how I want to present it. Which is why this recent drop off was as bothersome and curious to me as it was to many of you (thanks for the emails, btw). And it's not like I didn't have things to write about, or ideas that I'd already started working on.
It's just that there's an elephant in the room, and it's been hard to concentrate on a lot outside of it.
My hope has always been that at some point I'd be called into a meeting where there'd be a few of the bosses in there, a round of handshakes, and a new sense of direction (along with a healthy increase in my overall monthly income). And who knows -- maybe somewhere down the line something like that could happen. But the clock is ticking, and I haven't heard anything about getting hired since the first time my contract expired and they extended it. They're still giving me work, they're still counting on me for things, so it seems like they still need me -- but I really haven't heard anything one way or the other, and suddenly it's getting under my skin.

Not only because there's a very concrete possibility that somewhere in the next few months when my contract expires I go to their office, shake a few hands, and then find myself mission accomplished and out on the street -- but also because I recently got a very interesting job offer somewhere else that I might want to look into if I can. The upsides to that offer are serious -- but it would require some pretty big changes in my world. Of course that's what you're supposed to do when you're in your mid 30's and you've been slogging it out in the trenches for a few years.

At the same time, there's a possibility the home team could come to the table with an even better deal than the new player could provide, including the stability of building on the equity of a position that I've already put a year's work into.
What I really need to do is kick down my bosses door and say
"I just got a call from a Fortune 500 offering everything you don't plus a raise -- what've you got?"
But as much as it seems like the right idea it's not always the easiest road to walk down.

For whatever reason it's always been hard for me to sit in a pretty good place and look at what might be a better place and wonder which one is the better call, especially when I know it's just as likely that you wait just a little too long to go either way and find yourself with nothing.

I think honestly I'd much rather just have them come to me with something so that I could weigh both offers and then choose the best one for my situation. And it's not that I don't like selling myself (even though it's not my favorite thing in the world) it's just that in the end it's still a job,
And given the choice, I'd rather not have one of those at all.

[Listening to:    S.O.D."Skool Bus" ]


Wednesday, August 22

Quick Quiz

The subject of this photo is:
1. Waiting for his date to arrive
2. In the process of realizing that his date has stood him up.
3. Exhausted, yet still considering the ordering of another Chik-fil-a
4. Probably on my friends list from MySpace
5. Telling Westley how the besting of his Spaniard helps him know that he clearly cannot choose the wine in front of him.
6. Really, really, early for the band meeting.
7. The only one at your company who can clear the paper jam in the copier.
8. Bringing sexy back.
9. Unbeknownst to Speed, actually his older brother Rex Racer, who ran away from home years ago..
10. Quietly singing along with the Muzak.

[Listening to:    David Bowie"Im Deranged" ]


Tuesday, August 21

Allegro Con Brio

Bo-Bo-Bo-Borrrred
Bo-Bo-Bo-Borrrred

Bo-Bo-Bo-Bored-Bo-Bo-Bo-Bored-Bo-Bo-Bo-Bored
Bo-Bo-Bo-Bored-Bo-Bo-Bo-Bored-Bo-Bo-Bo-Bored
Bored Bored Bored Bored
Bored Bored Bored Bored
Bored Bored Bored
Bored!
Bored!
Borrrrrred!!!!
[Listening to:    Nonpoint"Impossible Needs" ]


Sunday, August 19

Question

Who the hell are you, and how did you get into this party?
I've always kinda been intrigued by liquor advertising, because in a lot of ways it's one of those things that doesn't really need publicity -- so whenever you do see an ad for something like this a lot of times what you're really getting is a glimpse into what the company who makes the stuff thinks their target audience actually is.

Maybe it's because I don't run in high society circles (go figure) but I'm finding myself kinda at a loss for just who this Tony Sinclair character is supposed to appeal to? I mean, on the surface he's kinda like every comedy-relief liaison character that James Bond would contact in whatever city his current case was in -- who would give him information on how to find the evil mastermind, but then be killed somewhere along the way to illustrate just how heartless the bad guy was?

Then there's always that scene where Bond gets a package in the mail, and it's always some disembodied limb or whatever to prove that he's dead, along with a handwritten note that reads:
"Guess he wasn't ready to Tanqueray"
But then you see these commercials where he's kinda hanging around some hoidy toidy party (or riding on a cruise ship to get ice cubes from the Antarctic or whatever) and the only association I ever get is the guy that no one seems to remember inviting, who eats all the food and insists on talking to everybody about how unimpressive this party is when compared to other events he's been at around the world.

And I'm sure someones gonna tell me that I'm not really the target audience for any of this, and I should just ignore it -- but the simple fact is that they play these ads during preseason football games and stuff like that, which I'm definitely the intended audience for.

Clearly whoever is pushing Tanqueray's marketing strategy wants their product to be more visible to potential customers -- but I guess what I'm having trouble with is the way that I'm supposed to connect to that message. Because it's not like the guy is telling slapstick jokes (like the Red Stripe Hooray Beer guy) or claiming that drinking gin will immediately make you irresistible to the opposite sex, he's just leaning over to you like you've known him all his life (or always wanted to get in his better graces) and explaining why they're using a jeweler to cut the ice cubes for each cocktail.

I guess the big thing they're selling here is the association between Tanqueray Gin and high-class parties. The kind of social mixers where connections are made, deals are sealed with handshakes, and everyone wears a suit. You see these kinds of soiree's in the movies all the time used as backdrops for the hero to meet the love interest -- but the parties themselves are always painted as some sort of business thing, something connected to work.

I don't know where you guys are at, but it's not like people come up to my desk and say
"Are you coming to Lawson's party this weekend? I heard all the major players in the new product release are gonna be there -- so unless you want someone else to get stuck with all the paperwork once R/D finishes their work, you'd better make sure to show up early and mingle."
But seriously, even if you do go to big Hollywood parties or rub elbows with the power players in some Manhattan high-rise -- where exactly does this guy fit in? The foppish attitude, the cloying accent, the hotties hanging on his shoulders.. The fact that even though he continually babbles on about some brand of gin you still really seem to want to hear what he says?
Oh wait, I get it.
He's the coke dealer.
Well, that's different -- isn't it? Now it all makes sense. Now I know what was happening during the conversation that happens right before the scene we see in the commercial. Some Gordon Gecko sleazeball in a Brooks Brothers suit leaning over saying things like "So, do I uh.. Pay you here, or is there somewhere we go, or what..?" and then Tanquerary guy is all like "Just a tic, mate. Did you see the way that Tanuqueray slides into the glass? I'm telling you, it's just like poetry."
"Yeah yeah, poetry, beauty, whatever -- c'mon man, I'm hurtin' bad"
It all kinda goes back into this thought I continually have where I really wish I had a lot of money, but at the same time I'm really glad I'm not in a place in my life where I have to hang out with really, really rich people. Because if this is the normal makeup of the people that you need to be seen schmoozing with, I'm gonna be in trouble.

Of course that could be the whole angle behind the advertisements too. A bunch of executives sitting around some conference table at the Tanqeray home office, saying things like, "It's possible that poor people like Dan are starting to consider buying our product" -- which results in a visible wave of panic and worry among the board members, until after a swell of dramatic music the camera shifts quickly over to Tony Sinclair, who takes off his designer sunglasses and says,
"Don't worry -- I'll handle that situation."
[Listening to:    Prime STH"In My Head" ]


Friday, August 17

Auslander

So last night I trekked out to Jackrabbits to catch The Birthday Massacre in concert. I've been a fan of theirs for a long time, even if it's not the kind of music that I might listen to on a regular basis.

Don't get me wrong, I like their songs -- but I think one of the things I really enjoy is the sound of their albums. Between their songwriting style and some deft Pro Tools work, The Birthday Massacre do a really great job of walking the line between straight ahead guitar rock and gothy synth-pop, blending the two into something that has a definite edge, yet still comes off feeling really smooth -- like a perfectly blended caramel macchiato that tastes so good when it first hits your tongue that you immediately have to go back to the barista and ask,
You know that fake Italian/Spanglish you people use
to describe your portions? -- What's the word for keg?
Maybe this is gonna come off sounding a little negative, but TBM fit into a personal category of mine that I like to call soundtrack music. That is -- their lyrics are predominately narrative, so between the words they sing and the moods the music creates it's easy to visualize stories in your mind -- almost like a personal music video theater.

Or to put it another way, a lot of their tunes would fit perfect at the end of a movie where the heroes (fresh from a hard-fought victory over the villain) come together to look out over the horizon, make a joke like "You just had to blow up that last jetcycle didn't you? Now we're all gonna have to walk home!" before the camera pans back and the credits start to roll.

Of course the risk with those kinds of songs are that they're sometimes so easy to link with a specific set of visuals that they almost can't exist without them. Think about "Dont You Forget About Me" by Simple Minds, which is a great song and goes almost perfectly with the ideas and mood of the movie The Breakfast Club -- but at the same time became the only song anyone ever wanted to hear when that band played a concert.

Fortunately, every time I listened to the Birthday Massacre I found myself interested in more than just the visions it inspired in my mind. I love their sound and always caught myself thinking, "How cool would it be to see this band live?"

Just imagine the energy they could punch out if they weren't being confined by producers and recording engineers piling on layer after layer of compression and filtering to help create the overall feel of the album they're recording? What if they added a few guitar solos, or played a cover song in their own style?

I arrived to at Jackrabbits just as the opening act was starting up, a very cool group called theSTART. I grabbed a beer and hung out, taking in the crowd. For my part, I had first checked out The Birthday Massare after a series of rave reviews from Satorical -- but it was clear they had a pretty big following around town. If the lack of room to stand was any indication, we were all in for something good.

Then the room went dark, colored accent lighting from fixtures on the stage cut through the clouds left by the fog machine, and in the shadows you could see the drummer, bassist, guitarists and keyboard players make their way across the stage towards their instruments. Then the intro music coming though the speakers rose to a crescendo, the houselights came up..
And the members of The Birthday Massacre proceeded to play each
one of their songs
exactly the same way they sounded on the album.
I don't just mean note for note (because there are times when that can be exciting) -- I mean it sounded exactly like the disc. The same peaks and valleys, the same tones, inflections, and accents to each song. It's hard to explain, because it's not like they weren't playing the right notes. It's just that all they were doing was playing the right notes. There was no urgency. No presence. They didn't so much attack the performance as much as they came out on stage and pressed the play button.

Chibi, the singer was adorable to look at -- but she didn't really talk a lot between songs other than thanking us all for coming out and telling us what album the tunes were coming from. Her voice was great, but she didn't step out of the songs to show us just how versatile she could be with her instrument.

It was frustrating because the songs sounded good, but to be honest they were actually louder when I was listening to them on my car stereo while I drove to the show. But it wasn't just about the lack of volume or energy -- the players didn't take any opportunities to embellish their parts. There weren't any flourishes or signs that the music had evolved or grown over the the course of the tour.
Hell, I would have been happy to feel like they were sick of playing them
While I was listening to the show it occurred to me that if there were any people in the crowd who had never heard this band before it would be the perfect opportunity for them to be taken in, but many of the tunes were in the same musical key, with similar tempos and constructions. They might not have intended it, but after a while the show started to sound like one really long song.

The singer would motion for the crowd to clap along with the beat, and people would join in -- but once she stopped clapping we did too (which is never a good sign). There was lots of dancing going on, but it wasn’t crowd dancing. It was closed-eye personal dancing, enjoying the lyrics and the beat all within your own little space on the floor.
It was club dancing.
..Like the band wasn’t even there.
There would be an initial point of excitement when I realized I recognized the song they were starting to play, but as soon as they got into the tune that mood sorta deflated as I realized that I already knew exactly how it was going to sound for the next 3-4 minutes. By the end of the night I found myself mixed between the excitement of finally having the chance to see this band live, and the disappointment that came from realizing I hadn’t really gotten to see anything I didn't already know about them at all.

I don't know -- maybe the problem is me. I like to think that I’m open-minded to all sorts of different things, but the simple truth is that once I decide something I’m listening to isn’t all that great, I’m usually all too eager to point out all of the reasons I have for why it isn't -- which sometimes can be endearing, but normally ends up with me bagging on someone's favorite band without realizing it until it's too late.

Live performances are an odd thing though, because there are so many different aspects that can affect the experience. The band can be great, but the crowd could suck. The crowd and the band could be fully into it, but the mix coming out of the speakers could be faulty, too loud, or too quiet. If it’s a band I don’t know who has a singer who’s hamming it up too much, or a guitarist or drummer who overplay their parts so much that it takes away from the songs themselves it's gonna sour the quality of the whole show.

Worst of all an entire band can be too subdued, standing still like rocks and holding their instruments as if they're afraid to touch them, making me wonder if they enjoy making music at all, or they just do it because it's the only job their High School guidance counselor could find.
"Miss Spears, your grades are atrocious and you have the typing skills of a drunken mule. Life after
graduation may prove difficult. Have you ever considered a career as a drug-snorting pop singer?
"
But then you flip the whole thing over and start thinking about what turned certain shows into great concerts – and the list is almost exactly the same. A crowd that’s really into the performance can make a bad show fun, hearing a singer whose talent shines in a way that makes them worth paying attention to almost at the expense of the rest of the group can easily raise a performance to an above average place. Guitar players who impressed me with their skill, a great sound mix -– all sorts of things that make a group or it’s individual members stand out.
In the end what I look for the most in a live music performance is a sense of intensity.
That feeling you get that tells you this performance is unique. Not so much in the material played, but in the amount of energy given, taken, and exchanged with this particular audience. That this show you’re at right now is your show, and that the next one will be nothing like it, because it will be a completely different audience and mood.

The best concerts are the ones where the performers show you how much they honestly love playing the music they are performing. In a way they have to give part of themselves to the music, which in turn gives part of themselves to the crowd as well. And it’s not like these performances have to be perfect. It’s not always about accuracy or professionalism (even though a lack of either can easily ruin a show). Led Zepplin were notoriously sloppy live, and a huge part of Nirvana's appeal came from the fact that despite the fact that they rehearsed 4 to 5 days a week they approached their shows like a jam sessions in their Mom's garage.

In other words, no matter how many times they played a given song they they always managed to maintain a sense of the energy and excitement that went into writing and playing that song the first time around. But more than that -- the best live bands always feed off the energy of the crowd and let it seep into their performances -- which creates not only a sense of intimacy between the artist and the listener, but enables the audience to share in the emotional intensity each performer puts into a show.

After all, I have the album. I know what the songs sound like. I came to your show so I could see how much it means to you, to feel the energy you put into creating and performing it (without the hinderances of producers, time-limits, or whatever), and to enjoy the emotions that it creates inside of me while I'm hearing it performed in front of me on the stage.

If it’s aggressive music I want to feel the aggression. If it’s dance music I certainly don’t want to end up standing still with my arms crossed, wondering if I might have been better off saving my money and listening to the CD at home. And if it’s sexy music I want feel at least part of the heat and desire that went into writing it. Or to put it another way, should Sade ever do another small club tour, I think I'd pretty much feel cheated if by the end of the night I didn't end up wanting to get naked with another person in the room.
OK, to be honest that particular fantasy always
involved Sade herself, but that's another story.

[Listening to:    theSTART"Wartime (It's Time 2 Go Now)" ]


Thursday, August 16

Grease Is the Word

While I was creeping along through some unusually crappy traffic on my way to work this morning I heard a radio spot that happily reminded me that all Sonic locations serve their entire menu all day long.
Which means if I want a breakfast burrito at midnight, I can have one.
If I want a banana split
(with booze?) for breakfast, all I have to do is ask.
And I'm not complaining -- Sonic makes a decent chili dog and they will pour just about anything into a cup, but there was just something about the way the guy read that line. Something in the "hey hey you you I don't like your girlfriend" tone to his voice that made it all too clear who he was talking to:
Anyone who's ever showed up to a McDonalds at 10:31 a.m.
Now first off, let’s get something straight. Just because Mickey D's advertises something called a "breakfast menu" does not actually mean that anything they serve should actually be considered breakfast worthy.

The items McDonalds sells in the mornings are more like fuel. And not so much in a nutritional sense -- but more that when you crawl out of bed in a half-dead state but still need to provide a semblance of wakefulness and clarity to coworkers, clients, and superiors; the kinds of things McDonalds offers on their menu have a secret way of jump-starting your system so that it looks like you're awake.
It's called intense, flesh-burning heat.
Ray Kroc and his team of mad scientists took a meal that was originally intended as carbo-loading and turned it into temperature-based shock therapy. Think about the way you felt this morning. Right after the alarm went off and you stunned it back into silence for five extra minutes. That wasn't alertness. That wasn't the first step towards waking up.

It's just a lower level of sleep, similar to the
delta state that most brain-eating zombies live in.
And while everyone knows that the only way to kill a zombie is to shoot them in the head, what fast-food executives figured out a long ago is that they can can actually reverse this state in humans by feeding them liquids and sausage-based food forms that have been heated to temperatures well over 102°.

Of course I'm not bashing it -- I've eaten the stuff for years. From Sausage McMuffins with Egg to the pure evil that is The McGriddle, I've injected enough of these drugs into my veins to easily qualify for Ozzy Osborne/Keith Richards levels of idolatry. And it's not because I love the food -- it's because after a hard night of drinking and hitting the clubs it's still the best way I've found so far to help cheat at-work hangover death.
In fact, when I pull up to the drive-thru my
usual order is a McNot Vodka Breath value meal.
It's probably not the best possible thing for me, but when I need to look alive for the camera, it helps get me there faster than anything else I've tried thus far.

At the same time, McDonalds has always been the purveyor of the dreaded Breakfast Curfew, wherein late-comers are denied Judge Judy style from having access of any kind to the magic molten elixirs of life -- Leaving you standing there amongst all the other post 10:30-ians -- rendered elderly from their years of McEating, shrouded in their Members Only jackets and local newspapers opened and folded just so, with no hope of escape.

Unless of course you go to Sonic -- where a trained team of state alchemists and nuclear technicians have discovered the virtual philosophers stone of fast food, which is that the exact same grease that's used to fry the chicken fingers can easily be used to bring hash browns and bacon to their optimal face-melting temperature.

But more than that -- someone's finally divined the fact that most of the people who pull their cars into a Sonic hoping for breakfast food in the middle of the night are usually so stoned out of their minds that it's really not a problem if their breakfast burrito tastes sorta like a fish sandwich.

Think about it. Most Sonic restaurants you see are lit up like Hunter S. Thompson's visions of the Las Vegas strip. Flashing lights, primary colors -- it's a magnet designed specifically to attract potheads with the munchies like moths to a porchlight. Once hypnotized by the lights, they speed into gthe mini drive-thrus that are placed close enough to the kitchen windows so that the process of ordering food has been reduced to simply pointing at the right pictures on the menu. At which point winged fairies glide out towards your car on roller-skates to deliver your bitchin' grindage with a wink of an eye.
And yes, my children -- the schnozberries really do taste like schnozberries.
All leading to the ultimate truth of modern low cost dining, which is: If sign tells you the restaurant cooks one thing but the menu actually offers something different – DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES STRAY FROM THAT PATH.

In other words, if you’re in the International House of Pancakes -- don’t order a turkey sandwich. If you’ve wandered into a Kentucky Fried Chicken, your only safe bet is to order item made from chicken, or things that a chicken might actually eat (such as corn).

And if you value your life at all, never order Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes from Taco Bell.
Quick math lesson:
Tacos = Mexican Food
Mexican Food = Mexico
Potatoes = X
Solve for X, show your work, and graph your results.
If you’re at the point where you’re willing to eat potatoes from a Mexican Restaurant, then you might as well eat from a garbage can.

Which reminds me, did any of you hear what NFL badboy Adam "Pacman" Jones said when they asked him why he went to a strip club the night before he was supposed to meet with League Commissioner Roger Goddell to discuss his pending suspension for a repeated series of arrests stemming from visits to strip clubs?
"If I could do anything different, I wouldn't have went and
gotten nothing to eat then. There wasn't even no girls in there."
I’m probably gonna regret this, but I have to admit that I’m starting to kinda crush on Pacman. Not in that creepy McConaughey/Gyllenhaal type of way -- more like how you can't help but feel sorry for all those animals at the pound and want to go adopt them all at once.

I mean -- all along I was thinking Pacman Jones was just like all the other pro sports malcontents out there -- abusing the privilege of his position, betraying the trust his teammates placed in him, and thumbing his nose at society and the law.
I always thought he was evil, like Michael Vick.
But it turns out that he’s actually just stupid.
Stupid in a cute way, like monkeys who drink their own pee, or cats who fall off tabletops. Remember that pro wrestler from the 80’s, George "The Animal" Steele, who walked around the ring in an infantile daze and tried to tear open the turnbuckles on the ring so he could eat the nougaty goodness of the foam rubber inside?

That’s the kind of image that comes to mind when Pacman does interviews like the one he just did on HBO’s Real Sports, where Bryant Gumbel asked him if he actually once took $80,000 in cash into a strip club. Pacman quickly scoffed and told Gumbel that the amount was more like $15,000. Then when an incredulous Gumbel asked Jones why on Earth he would take so much money into a place like that, Pacman looked him dead in the eye and answered:
"Because I didn’t want to leave it in the car."
You gotta understand something here. Pacman didn’t lean over and check for the answer from a lawyer. He didn’t read that from a prepared statement on a piece of paper. He just said it. Like it was the only possible answer. Almost implying that Gumbel should have felt kinda dumb for having to ask the question at all.

Now for those of you who might not go to strip clubs that often, let me translate this for you. If you’ve reached the point where you’re eating strip club food (which most strippers won’t touch) and bringing ridiculous sums of loose cash in the door with you, it can only mean one thing:
He’s in love.
Come on Pacman -- What’s her name?
Cinnamon?
Midnight?
Peaches?
Oh you poor bastard. If that’s the case, I truly feel for you. Because believe me, once you're in the clutches of a really serious stripper crush it's like the rest of the world doesn't exist.

In fact, if NFL commissioner Roger Goddell cares anything about the game at all, he needs to find out what the dancer's name is so he can have her traded to another city, or at least call in professional help like David Lee Roth, Bill Maher, or Drew Carey to help him realize the mistake he’s making.

And don’t think it’s gonna stop, because dancers love that shit. I’m serious, as a former club DJ who heard more than my share of dancers telling me about the things their "regulars" would buy them; you need to know that strippers love when they get one of us wrapped around their finger. Especially when there’s so much money rains down from the ceiling.

I’ll bet she’s leaning over the corner of the DJ Booth right now, smiling over the rising smoke of her cigarette, telling an un-interested DJ everything Pacman has promised her. And the DJ will smile and laugh with her, and say
"Jeez, what are you gonna have him do next – become a pro wrestler?"

[Listening to:    Public Enemy"She Watch Channel Zero" ]


Tuesday, August 14

Everything That Goes Around Comes Around

It's been one of those days. Not a lot is happening at the office -- which is good because between an unexpectedly heavy IM conversation with j and too many hours in front of the PlayStation (guess which game I rented last night?) I hardly got any sleep at all.

Even worse -- instead of compensating for staying up so late by oversleeping and then having to drag through the day in a haze, my system actually kicked into some sort of cruel automatic pilot and woke up like a shot at the first sound of the alarm clock -- leaving me no choice but to try to pull through the day without an acceptable amount of sleep to build from.

As a result I've got that whole ultra-heavy eyelid/yawning for five minutes straight thing happening, and no amount of coffee I try to throw at the problem seems to be making any difference whatsoever.

Apparently I'm not the only one who's having a slow day either, because for whatever reason a lot of people have decided to congregate around the desks adjacent to mine and do their best to spark idle conversations by recounting the headlines they saw on TV earlier in the day.

My ever-present headphones have provided enough of a non-verbal message for the Chatty Cathys to keep away, but due to the worry that I might miss a phone call from the boss I can't turn them up loud enough to completely drown them out.
If that weren't bad enough -- they all seem to want to talk about
the same topic, to which I offer the following factual response:

[Listening to:    40 Below Summer"Better Life" ]


Monday, August 13

You Just Don't Get It, Keep it Copasetic

I got nothin', so you get this:
Revolutionary Concrete Art
Powdery Nuclear Event
Secret Levitating Decoration
Erotic Illuminating Garden
Artificial Collapsible House
Dramatic Chocolate Furniture
It's kinda fun -- Try it and see!

[Listening to:    the Bird and the Bee"Fucking Boyfriend" ]


Sunday, August 12

Tundra

What if someone invented a drug that you only had to take once to become addicted, could keep you high all year long, and then compelled you to go out and buy the exact same thing and start the whole process over again every 12 months? Something like that could easily become so pervasive, so dangerous that it could literally change the way people approach their daily lives.
Well guess what -- they've already done it.
It's called Madden Football.
I'm honestly a little disturbed at how vein-slappingly hungry I am for the latest version of this game to come out. Tomorrow's the official release, but as anyone who's ever obsessed over a Star Wars movie, a Harry Potter Book, or an iPhone knows -- what that really means is that the Kraken will actually be released at midnight tonight.

I'm sure the lines have already started forming around town, and I personally know a bunch of dudes who are planning on calling in sick tomorrow so they can play the game (Something I've not done since college when Satorical and I basically locked ourselves away from the world and played Herzog Zwei for like two days straight -- a marathon that was not so much planned as it was dictated by the fact that neither of us would accept the concept of losing to one another, so we just kept going).

Anyone who knows me can easily tell you that I'm a total Madden slut, and can easily play the game for hours on end without blinking an eye. The Madden world is where my Broncos actually play up to their potential. The Madden world is where draft picks are meaningless, and any free agent can be had via trade to maintain your virtual 15-season domination of the league not only in wins and championships, but in glaringly unrealistic stats as well.

But more than all of this -- the Madden world is where you can turn to when your actual team sucks on TV, because it only takes a few minutes to set up a "do over" of the game they just lost where you not only have the chance to win -- but fully gives you the chance to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of the women.
And there will be lamentation.
Because Madden football is important. Not more important than a woman by any means -- But for those first few days it takes until we figure out all the new features and perfect our passing game,
..It's pretty darn close.
Next to March Madness and the Fantasy Football Draft, Madden time is really danger time for husbands and boyfriends the world over. Trash doesn't get taken out. Dinners don't get fully eaten. Friends aren't asked to leave (regardless of how many cross-armed eyebrow-motioning-towards the door messages you try to send).

But that's not all, because during a Madden binge your favorite shows aren't going to be available unless there's a second TV in the house, and if you can't hear the dialogue on that show over me and my buddies shouting when something goes right (or extraordinarily wrong) during the game -- it's a fight that we're gonna have to have later, because we just started the 3rd quarter and this game decides who makes the wildcard, ok honey?
Oh man -- the fights that were had.
See, when a guy gets too deep into March Madness, a girlfriend of wife can pull the ultimate trump card of standing in front of the TV with a seductive look in her eye and say, "You can watch that, or you can have this." And most guys (smart guys) will snap back to reality, step away from the TV, and vow check on their brackets the next day while bragging to their trusted buddies about what an awesome a girl they have.
But if a woman wanted to pull that move during a full-on Madden binge, you know what most guys will do?
Push the pause button.
Worst of all -- it might take days, even weeks before we realize why that made you mad. And it's not that we don't love you, it's not that the game is more important. It's that for whatever reason, dudes get hopelessly stuck when it comes to new things we want to be good at. Videogames. Texas Hold'em Poker. Grilling. Cunnilingus.
Skills that take time to perfect, yet provide all sorts of surprises and rewards while you're learning them.
I know it may not always seem like it, but we do know what the best things we have in our lives -- it's just that we're suckers for newness (women are too, it's just that guys are a lot worse at managing it). And the people who make and market Madden know this, which is why they've perfected the timing of the new game's release to the point where it capitalizes on every football fans building anticipation for the off-season to end, and for their favorite sport to get back in action.

I live alone now (gee, wonder why) -- so the issues aren't quite the same, but I do have a dilemma. See, Denver plays their first preseason game tonight, which is going to be broadcast on national TV. It should end right around 11:30 -- so if I wanted to (despite the fact that money's still tight and I really shouldn't even be thinking about this at all) I could probably make it out to one of the stores that's gonna be open tonight to sell it (especially if my Broncos stink up the field and I need instant revenge complete with updated rosters and new highlight stick capabilities).

But I'll tell you right now, even if I get this game right at midnight -- I'm not gonna be anywhere near done with it by 1am.
And I really do need to go to work tomorrow.
..Of course, I could go in a little late, right?

[Listening to:    N*E*R*D"Brain" ]


Saturday, August 11

Chastity Belt

If you work for a company that manufactures and packages toys, I have a question for you:
What. The. Hell!?
There's seriously gotta be a line where you realize that the way you are packaging your products to keep them from being stolen is actually preventing the rest of us from being able to open them at all.

Between the invisible super-glue coated tape on the outside of the box, the 15 twist ties that basically weld the child's plaything to the shrink-wrap type plastic packaging and those unbelievably scissor-resistant plastic zip-line tie downs (you know, the same ones they use to restrain prisoners with) it's getting to the point where there's basically no way whatsoever to get into the thing without the advent of a chainsaw and a blowtorch.

All I want to do is open the toy. I swear. I'm not trying to steal it. I'm not trying to invalidate the proof of purchase. I'm not a member of fucking Al Queda. I just want to give my kid the Pokemon that's inside the box that I paid for.

Don't give me your crap excuses about trying to protect products so they aren't jostled inside the boxes during freight transport from the factory to the store. I don't want to hear about your need to make the products "pop" on the toy aisle. I just want to be able to open a box without my seven year-old shaking his head and saying,
"Forget it dad, just let me do it."
He can't do it either (which is the reason he gave it to me to open in the first place), but for crying out loud -- how much time do you waste in the factory each day making sure each product is locked with no hope of parole inside the package?
And don't even get me started on those sealed-on-all-edge packages
that print cartridges and batteries seem to be sold in these days.
Apparently I'm not the only one who has this problem -- Consumer Reports has been issuing what they call "The Oyster Awards" to products that have been tested and proven as difficult to open. Do you hear me -- there's an award for this.

And don't think for a second that the whole "reverse psychology" aspect of the thing is going to make any kind of dent in this trend -- because I'm willing to bet anything that packaging engineers at toy companies probably use things like that as a gauge to see how well they're meeting their corporate expectations.

I work for a manufacturing company. Difference is, most of the stuff we make is intended for use in hospitals -- which means it needs to be sterilized. The stuff we make is sealed up tight in plastic packages so that germs and contaminants can't get inside. But all that you have to do to open them is peel open the package (which can usually be accomplished in just one move). Thank god for it too -- I mean seriously, could you imagine if a doctor or a paramedic arrived on the scene of an accident to help you, opened up his medical kit and then immediately got on his walkie talkie and started saying something like:
"Hey Joe, do we have like a steak knife or something
in the ambulance? I can't get into this package at all."
But what drives me nuts the most about this is that when consumer reports or news agencies ask packaging executives about this, they all seem to say the same thing, "We package products this way to deter theft."

I know they're small items and all -- which I guess makes them easier to steal, but the cost per unit is what, a couple of bucks? Is this really that big a hit on your bottom line? Besides, once a would-be toy thief realizes that he can't steal the tiny toy out of the package, isn't his next logical step (if he really wants the toy that badly) to simply steal the entire package itself?

If anything, this technology is being wasted on small toys. There are so many other places where these implements would be so much better used. For example:
  • Cars. Every 30 seconds in this country one is stolen. And if there's anything in this world that everyone has learned to tune out completely -- it's the honking horns and flashing lights of a car alarm. How about next time you have to leave your vehicle in a parking lot you push a button on your key chain and a pit crew from Hasbro shows up to cover it up in a plastic bubble glued to a cardboard placard that they can hang from a hook. Sure you won't be able to get back into your vehicle later either -- but I guarantee it will still be there when you get back.
  • David Beckham. Sure he looks good and has a great reputation as a player. But he's getting kind of old, and his skills aren't what they used to be. How about instead of guessing whether or not he'll play 10 minutes at the end of a game his team is losing, you just cryogenically freeze him and then seal him and his wife up in a Barbie playset package. He'll never miss a match, and he might actually make a better goaltender than the one the Galaxy is fielding right now.
  • Jessica Alba. None of us are ever going to get into that box anyways, so what's the difference?
  • Bongs. I've long held the belief that nothing in this world is more of a sham than the war our government claims to be waging against people smoking pot. Sure it's illegal to use the drug -- but it's perfectly legal to buy the paraphernalia for it. If the goal is to actually stop people from using marijuana -- how about requiring all "water pipe" manufacturers to shrink seal, twist-tie, and invisible tape their products inside the package -- and then see how many stoners actually drop the habit once they can't figure out how to get it open.
  • Although to be honest, I'd probably pay good money to see them try.

    [Listening to:    (hed) Planet Earth"Walk On By" ]


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