Monday, July 23, 2007

Scandal Season -or- Another Barry-centric Theory

There's a guy who hangs out around the 5th Avenue and 53rd Street subway station who I presume to be homeless. He's one of those indigent seeming types that has a racket, but his racket isn't the lucrative type, and I've never seen him ask for or receive any money. He tells jokes. For a while I thought that maybe he was just brilliant and crazy, loudly announcing any thoughts that came to his head. From this perspective, his thoughts were almost uniformly funny, always irreverent, but sometimes just crazy. What I realized today was that this perceived craziness probably has more to do with a lack of context than a singular vision. Whereas, previously I would hear a remark like, "when China sneezes, the world gets sick," and infer a fuzzed out and slightly out of focus thought process, I've now heard him fuck up one of his jokes, and can no longer deny that his shtick is totally rehearsed, even if he sometimes runs his jokes out of their logical progression.

What he does is basically, I like to think, read the days headlines from one of the town's free rags and then spend the day building up a routine riffing on the hot topics of the day. This evening he was riffing on Monday's most ignoble celebrities, Michael Vick and Tim Donaghy.

Maybe you know Vick: the most successful of NFL quarterbacks unable to throw a football who now has been indicted on charges of animal cruely, running a dogfighting ring from his house, where he and his buddies also are accused of having killed and tortured some dogs that one way or another lived through the fights. Which is a little more sinister and weird than what his peers have been getting in trouble for recently (probation violations relating to gun possession, fighting with strippers and such), and, as such, is earning more attention from the mainstream press.

Unless you're really a loser, or, you know, grew up with him or something, you probably didn't know Donaghy
until this weekend, when his name was released as the NBA referee involved in a point shaving scandal.

Meanwhile, the current leader of the Tour de France, Michael Rasmussen is being denounced as a user of performance enhancing drugs after failing to appear for mandatory drug testing, and lastly, Barry Bonds has come within two home runs of breaking Hank Aaron's career record.

Is it possible that Barry isn't behind this in some way? Yes. But it's much more fun to think otherwise. The Vick investigation has been simmering for months before the recent indictment, and doping is always part of cycling, I think (that seems to be what the cycling establishment wants casual sports fans to believe, so that their golden boy, Lance, doesn't lose any more of his American Hero facade than he already has through his messy divorce and prompt shacking up with whatever vaguely Hollywood related tramp was near at hand). But Donaghy, you get the feeling that Bonds was just trying to cover his bases: letting Vick take the sensational route, Rasmussen the intellectual, bike person faction, and then Barry sets up Donaghy to fill the niche of the true and actually kind of appalling scandal. There's no way there's room for Barry's story with all of that juicy shit on the editor's table. Barry breaks the record, it's buried somewhere in the third leaf of the sports page.

And, of course! It works perfectly for Barry. At this point he just wants to break this record, bask in the warm glowy love of the San Francisco fans, and forget that he ever applied the "clear" and the "cream" to his subsequently enormous body (let's not forget that he never necessarily took steroids, cause everyone knows that steroids are something you shoot into your butt [Sheffield, 2007]). He pictures himself sitting back in a rocking chair sipping Long Island Iced Teas and staring off into the distance, unconcerned with his legacy, unconcerned with baseball, forgetting that any of this ever happened. He has tainted baseball, baseball has tainted him, and at the end of the season, when the kids go off to school, they'll do what they've been meaning to do for a while now and file for divorce.

Or that's what he should do: use Vick, Donaghy, and Rasmussen as cover to get out while he still can. Run for the hills, run for the easy life ahead of him as a quiet, reclusive and at times nearly forgotten champion. Strangely enough, it's still easy to lose yourself in anonymity in the baseball universe as long as you don't 1) try to coach or 2) try to broadcast, and I don't see Barry showing much interest in either of those enterprises.

Still, he's probably going to play next year. Hopefully for the Yankees. Cause man, wouldn't that just beat all. Winter 2007-2008 sees the NBA crumble under the weight of greed and dishonesty, despite the Sisyphusian efforts of LeBron to keep the boat from falling into the volcano, the NFL lose relevance as all of its decent players end up in jail or Canada, and Hockey remain culturally irrelevant. And what do we have to look forward to come Spring? Barry in Bronx Bomber Blue, sticking that padded elbow back into the line of fire for old man Cashman. Kill me now, kill me now.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Flipside -or- Steal My Sunshine

After the first, oh, five or six days of any Summer vacation I was the type of kid who would get bored and generally ornery. Of course, I always looked forward to Summer as much as anyone else, but then once it happened, I never had any plans, anything especially fun to do, and thus, I ended up playing a lot of video games, and watching a lot of TV - things I did when I wasn't on vacation, just more of them. Periodically something noteworthy would happen, but generally Summer was like Democratic Party since Oswald: the lesser of two evils. This feeling disippated a bit as the years went on and I accumulated interests and ways of indulging them, but Summer has, and probably always will be, a season of unbridled ambivalence (which, now that I think about it, makes it very little different from any other season. Fuck.)

Fine, anyway, read this as an off topic update on the ongoing saga of the Search for the Summer Jam of '07. Stylus recently ran an article which pitted Bob Seger's "Night Moves" against Bryan Adams's "Summer of '69". I can't speak for "Night Moves", unfortunately, but "Summer of '69" is really something worth talking about seriously and at length. As Stylus's Andrew Unterberger correctly points out, "Summer of '69" catches a wistfulness that borders on downright depressing that seems, to me, to be at the heart of the Summer experience.

This wistfulness, sense of regret or painful nostalgia is a phenomenon about which I personally had forgotten until I listened to "Summer of '69" a couple of weeks back and, consequently, felt fucking downright depressed, though only briefly. How can someone say, "those were the best days of my life" as many times as Mr. Adams does with a straight face and not simultaneously need to fight an urge to slam their face into the nearest stationary object? That is to say, I wasn't depressed for me, I was depressed for him, but still, depressed.

On the other hand though, "Summer of '69" is, without a doubt, a quintessential Summer Jam. How can these two truths be mutually valid? In other words, how can a Summer Jam be depressing?

There are a number of recent, and not so recent, examples of Summer Jams that at least hint at the same feeling that "Summer of '69" is a manifestation of. Ideally, Stylus would've compared it to Don Henley's "Boys of Summer", perhaps the most successfully nostalgic Summer song, and, I would argue, Summer Jam, of all time. Bob Seger may have come first, but Don Henley pretty much cristalizes the whole thing with that song, which is maybe why no one has been able to come close to recording what I'm calling the Summer Metajam since.

Bear with me now. What is it that Don and Bryan, and I guess Bob, are singing about in these songs? Ok, yes Summer. And sex, the past, sure. What it all boils down to, though, is that these are songs about the Summer Jam, in that the Summer Jam encapsulates the delirious, unconcious joy of heat, freedom and youth that all of these songs are nostaligically looking back at. In all cases, the Summer Jam is as vivid and meaningful in retrospect as it was at the time, but life has moved on - as Don said, "the boys of Summer have gone". These are Summer Jams about the Summer Jam.

And maybe I'm getting in over my head here. The only point I wanted to make is that, while the essence of the Summer Jam lies in its ability to express the one-sided, naive enjoyment of fun made possible by Summer, nothing is quite that simple. I'll leave you with two, I believe, poigniant examples:
"I'd call you up, but what's the use? I love Kevin Bacon, but I hate Footloose."
- Rich Cronin of LFO, in regards to a "Summer Girl" with whom he shared an intense but brief Summertime relationship that he now must regrettably put behind him, as he must all pleasant memories, as well as actor Kevin Bacon and his starring role in a future distopia film about a town in which dancing is outlawed.

"Of course you can't become if you only say what you would've done, so I missed a million miles of fun. I know it's up for me if you steal my sunshine."
- Len's Marc Constanzo on the pitfalls of losing Summer's innocence, or failing to realize its immediate importance.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

The Slow Slide to the Middle -or- Return of the Compressed Guitar

One thing I learned last week, sitting at home, as in old home with a color TV hooked up to cable, is that modern rock, as in Modern Rock, the Format, the life blood and daily bread of such note worthy musicians as Chad Kroeger and Chester Bennington, may not be quite so put out to pasture engulfed in flames as I had thought. I did, of course, secretly, or not so secretly, think that Sam's Town was one of the best rock records I heard last year, Modern Rock or no, but I got the sense it didn't get much play from much of anyone. Seemed like most people didn't really care for it and would rather have been listening to, oh I don't even know what else would have been out at the time - the Red Hot Chili Peppers? As much as the Killers are Modern Rock at it's most crassly irrelevant, they aren't quite up there with Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance when it comes to being the sort of icons you put on your barn so it won't catch on fire when there's lightning nearby.

So color me confused when actually sat through the whole video for My Chemical Romance's "Teenagers" and then, later in the day, through Fall Out Boy's "Thks Fr Th Mmrs".

Fall Out Boy is, was, and always will be a band capable of synthesizing a bunch of almost interesting aspects of whiny emotional pop-rock into vaguely and often persisently catchy songs, and I've never liked them. Mainly for extra musical reasons - though I don't particularly like the way their records are produced - a slickness par for the course for a group of their ilk, to be sure, either. The first time I saw their antler head video, I laughed at their overly aggressive and inane stage moves with which I'm sure everyone who's ever seen them since is now painfully familiar, the roundhouse kick leap things, the guitar around the torso spins, the faux-hardcore stomp headbutt things, because I thought that they were just psyched to be doing a video and thus to not have to actually play their instruments. Something along the lines of karaoke: being released from the shackles of genuine performance, one is able to act out, emote, faceplant into decadent absurdity to one's heart's content. But no, they have wireless guitar setups, so that's actually what they look like when they play. Bummer.

The remarkable thing about "Thks Fr Th Mmrs" was not that I enjoyed it, which I'm not sure I did, but that I didn't hate it, and, more importantly, that I didn't feel an urge, at any point, to turn it off. Say what you will about the encroaching Adult Contemporary tendancies and a creeping laissez faire that eats slowly away at opinions, aesthetic conceptions and morals. I'd rather read my reaction as a sign that it's becoming ok to like rock and roll again. This is something that, in the context of urban America, needs a lot more discussion, which I plan to give you at a later date, but for now I'm talking about: It's Ok for a priveleged listener to whom access to no musical genre, style or vintage is denied, to want to listen to recent, commercially produced rock and roll music. The next few months will either deny or confirm this, but my guess is that by August, respectable human beings might start admitting that they still listen to Pearl Jam some times, or worse.

Which brings me to "Teenagers". I'll admit that I felt a bit vindicated and much relieved when I checked on Critical Metrics to find that it had received positive marks from people at Stylus. Sometimes it's easy to make me feel crazy, and a lack of critical attention to this song would have probably done it.

Watch the video! It's great! Fucking catchiest ditty to come out of anyone recently, as far as I'm concerned - at least when it comes to classical catchiness. "Umbrella" may have been and may be catchier in its own way, but it's too staunchly of a period to really get that classic tag, which isn't what we're even talking about. The point is, Thin Lizzy could have done this song, or Cheap Trick. It's just fucking catchy, and performed like a real god damned rock song. Do you hear that assholes at Guitar Center?

The lyrics might turn you off, and they kind of turn me off too, but man, somehow he manages to sing those lyrics as forcefully as he does, and still act like he's trying to sing through them - as if someone is making him address issues and sing to the kids when all he really wants to do is make noise: get back at the establishment in an elemental way that lyrics about teenage desparation or, on the other hand, teenage desparation itself, is usually incapable of equaling. In the end, it may sound like a message song, but where's the message? Teenagers are fucked up and it's fucked up to be a teenager? That's rock and roll, that's not a message. Just cause someone mentions guns in a song about teenagers it shouldn't necessarily be read as an attempt to "address an issue", though the postscript on the video will make sure that this one will be.

The sad truth of the matter is that when Gerard Way says, "teenagers scare the living shit out of me" I was all, "me too!" Ok, ok. Maybe you have a point with that slide towards the MOR position.

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