Wednesday, October 31, 2007

True Proof of Youth

Sunday night was cold. Really cold. Defying the bitterness of the blustery wind, I met my friend Angie at Studio B in Greenpoint, hoping a good old-fashioned rock and roll dance party would warm my bones. Unlike some, I love The Go! Team's first album. It uses layers of cheerleader chants, triumphant horns, and early 80s hip-hop lyrics to make you feel like you're at a sunny urban park jumping rope and playing hopscotch. Their last album sounded much the same only not as consistent, but was undeniably catchy nonetheless. On this night, rugs were bound to be cut.

We made our way inside, grabbed a drink or two, and settled in to watch the openers. The first band was a couple of MCs who looked like American Apparel models and sounded just as indifferent. Second was a group of 60s-psychedelic-loving Grace Slick impersonators. Their sound was tight and dark, but not exactly what I was in the mood for. After their set the crowd started to get into it. People packed the tiny dance floor in front of the stage, waiting for sonic joy to pummel their ears.

The Go! Team came out rocking extremely loud and hard and it didn't take long for the crowd to start jumping around. Right from the opener, MC Ninja had the crowd on a string. She danced, we danced. She told us to yell out a lyric, we did. All the while emanating cuteness I can only describe as luscious. They tore through a set of all the favorites: “Bottle Rocket”, “We Just Won't Be Defeated”, “Grip Like A Vice”, and the highlight o' the night “Ladyflash.” Ninja dared the crowd to dance harder than we ever had before, and we shook it fast because that's what we were there to do.

I find it almost impossible to be unhappy while listening to their pop-rock's youthful exuberance. So many times an audience of kids at a rock show will lead to some head bobbing and toe-tapping, but they're still too self-conscious to let loose. A club full of uninhibited 20-somethings barely stopping between songs to rest their feet gave me images of a 1950s sock-hop, back when hearing live rock and roll truly breathed life into your soul. The audience moved as one joyous entity. After their encore we thanked them, but didn't cheer for more. We were all far too giddy and exhausted to be greedy.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Jens Lekman at the Music Hall of Williamsburg

Last night Megan and I bared the elements (what happened to autumn, by the way? how did we go right from summer to winter?) and went to go see Jens Lekman play a solo performance at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. At the risk of sounding a little too over-the-top, it was, without a doubt, one of the greatest show's I've been to. What made it great? Let us count the ways...

First and foremost, Lekman put on an amazing solo performance. His voice is even stronger and more assured than it appears on the record. That, combined with his excellent songwriting, made him a perfect candidate for a solo show. On a story-song like "A Postcard to Nina," he made you feel as though he were quietly and casually singing this song to you in the den of somebody's house. It's pretty hard to get across an "intimate" vibe when you have an audience of 600 people watching you, put he was in command of his songs and the audience for the entire show.

In addition, the crowd itself was incredible. Say what you will about Williamsburg, but it is without question a neighborhood filled with music lovers. It was heartening to see so many people more than willing to clap, to sing along, and to snap their fingers. For the song "A Sweet Summer's Night on Hammer Hill" (mp3) they even sang along with the difficult "bomp-a-bomp-a-bomp-a-bomp-a-bomp-a-bomp-a-bomp" chorus! Lekman wisely played off the crowd, giving them opportunities to sing along while effortlessly deflecting some annoying hipster requests along the way.

Finally, the set was perfectly constructed. Almost all of the songs he played were favorites from his three records, and the segues between them were perfect. On a personal note, if you had asked me what 10 songs I would have wanted to hear from him, practically every song I would have chosen found its way into his performance. He came out for two encores (possibly 3, if you include the psuedo-encore that Megan insists should count as well), with the second encore consisting of a cover of "You Can Call Me Al" and a half-English/half-Swedish version of "Maple Leaves," one of his best songs. The whole set was about 90 minutes, and didn't feel a minute too short or too long, which I can't remember ever feeling about a show. "Do you all have to work tomorrow?" he asked before the second encore, "because I could play all night."

It was a great time to see somebody that I think could really be on the cusp of, if not stardom, maybe semi-stardom? The New York Times, by the way, seems to agree, they have a great write-up of the other (full band) show he played on Saturday. While I don't know about that show, I can say pretty confidently that he made 600 fans for life last night.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Give it a Rest, Seinfeld!

As a huge, huge fan of Jerry Seinfeld, a big enough fan to have spent hundreds of dollars on Seinfeld DVDs, it pains me to say that I am getting really, really sick of his ubiquitous presence in the media. Good lord, how much can he plug "Bee Movie?" Shouldn't there be some sort of limit to how much he can shamelessly self-promote this (ok looking) animated movie?

One of the great things about Jerry Seinfeld has always been the way he projects a certain air of effortless cool. He's obviously an extremely funny guy, but part of his likeability seems to come from the fact that he just seems like a winning person, the kind of guy for whom things work out without him ever having to sweat. It's a facade, of course, and by all accounts Seinfeld is a pretty insanely hard worker, especially when it came to his show. Still, part of his appeal was the way he made it look easy, and his shameless promotion of "Bee Movie" is so desperately over the top that it reeks of an intense desire to be liked and embraced. Not appealing, and definitely not cool.

Perhaps some of this is NBC's fault. I personally have a bone to pick with that network anyway, particularly due to their unwillingness to license itunes/ipod-friendly shows any longer. Last year I probably spent 50 bucks buying shows that I missed and catching up with them on my own time. It was money well spent, especially when friends came over and I played them, say, my favorite 30 Rock episodes. Apparently, this method stood in the way of NBC/Universal's corporate synergy, so you can now watch commercial-packed versions of the show only on their internet website.

Regardless, there's no way Seinfeld didn't have his hands all over this supreme promotion. He even plugs the movie, along with his wife's book, in a computer commercial that came out this week. Yeesh. Additionally, I thought it was a major coup for "30 Rock" to have him on the show, until his performance turned out to be a.) not funny and b.) nothing more than a plug for his movie.

Enough already, Seinfeld! You're great, and it's great to have you back, but couldn't you blanket the airwaves in a way that isn't so grating to your fans?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sound Off

Most police sirens have a very distinct wail that frightens criminals, stresses speeders, and annoys the hell out of anyone who lives near a precinct. Yet every cop car in New York sounds like a different IDM DJ trying to mess with your ears. Despite this being arguably the most in-your-face city in the world, its sirens usually aren't intrusive enough to get people out of the way. I propose they be changed to something more alarming.

Some options:

The sound of someone vomiting
-Loud, guttural heaves should certainly get people uncomfortable and quickly onto the sidewalk. Hearing this as I cross the street would stop me in my tracks and check my clothes for stomach matter.

The whistle of a bomb dropping
-You know the classic sound. It might have been more effective to use this directly following 9/11, but it should still get people moving. I think it would be more menacing to hear the constant whistle without ever hearing the explosion, but I might be wrong.

Police officers calling people out
-Hearing actual officers getting personal with those in their way would strike fear in those not wanting to be ridiculed. Just imagine a cop yelling, "Hey tall guy with steel wool for hair, people are gonna die 'cause you won't get your hipster ass out of our way!" I certainly wouldn't want to hear it.

A baby crying
-Having been on many flights, the one thing that still irritates me is the incessant cry of a hungry, gassy baby. The shrill siren screams would have pedestrians covering their ears and running for silence and drivers pulling off the road and turning up their stereos.

Audio from an episode of Mind of Mencia
-You know he's annoying when even Maxim rates him as the 12th worst comedian of all time. Hearing one or two “DEE-Dee-dee's” would drive me insane. Throw in completely offensive jokes about midgets, the handicapped, and homosexuals and I would never want to see a cop car again. Maybe they'll even toss in one of his ridiculously self-righteous quotes:

"Somewhere right now, there is a soldier dying to protect our rights. One of these rights is free speech. And I will never let a soldier die in vain."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Jens Lekman

Well, while I was going to write about Jens Lekman eventually and perhaps still will, you should definitely check out this article on Slate when you get a chance. Lekman is such a charming musician that he really defies you to like him, it would be like disliking Jonathan Richman (am I correct, Megan?). Plus, there just aren't a ton of indie artists that do the kind of pop music that everyone likes, so the few that do really need to be celebrated.

Anyway, his new record, Night Falls Over Kortadala, is unquestionably a top 5 record for me this year. This album boasts his typically excellent lyrics and singing, while having a great Motown-y vibe to it as well. In particular, keep an eye out for "The Opposite of Hallelujah," one of my favorite tracks of the year and one of those deliciously sad songs that for some reason you just have to keep playing again and again and again...

Also, everyone should go out and buy Oh You're So Silent, Jens today if you don't already own it. If nothing else, do it for the song "Black Cab," one of those songs I can't avoid being hyperbolic about, so I'll just go ahead and call it one of the greatest songs ever written. One of my favorite verses is in this song, too:

I killed a party again
I ruined it for my friends
well you're so silent, Jens
well maybe I am, maybe I am

Monday, October 22, 2007

Evolution of an Ipod User

The story of my evolution as an ipod user:

Phase One: Unevolved. A.k.a. still using the discman/cd wallet method. This was actually where I was until about a year ago. While in Michigan, I never really thought much about getting an ipod; most of the walking I did was from my car to work/class/the coffee shop. I didn't prowl the streets the way that I do today (yeah, that's right, I prowl.) So, even though the discman/cd wallet method was a mild space-occupying nuisance, I didn't really see any impetuous to spend a few hundred bucks on a piece of electronics I would probably just break. Which, make no mistake, I would have done. Or I would have lost it. Or I would have spilled coffee on it. Or I would have drunkenly loaned it to someone and never got it back.

Phase Two: New York, Year One. When I moved to New York two years ago, I didn't realize that everyone was somehow already in possession of an mp3 player. 45 year old Wall Street types sat on the subway next to 18 year old Williamsburg hipsters and they could both be found using the same ipod and headphones. It was actually kind of cool and appealingly capitalist, in a "the ipod is so clearly the best mp3 player that we all can agree to use it" sort of way. Of course, thus began the phase where it became vaguely shameful to have the cd/wallet combo. Unlike me, they could put their music in their pockets! They didn't have to buy new batteries every week! (New York batteries, by the way, are the absolute worst batteries in the world. A fresh pair will last no longer than two subway rides. It was/is infuriating). It was really only a matter of time (and money) before I got an ipod, too, once I got here.

Phase Three: The Ipod Purchase: Last fall, after a little prodding, I finally went and bought a 30 gig, video ipod. It immediate became, to an almost embarrassing degree, the greatest thing I owned. After the initial thrill of getting all my cds onto my ipod and realizing just how great it was to have all of my music available at once ( a truly thrilling experience, as all ipod users can attest), I began to wonder what I could get, for free, from the Internet. As I was working at the time at a job that afforded me serious downtime, this proved to be the perfect diversionary activity. And man oh man, is there a lot of stuff out there...

Phase Four: Taking It Up a Notch. After a couple months scouring the Internet, acquiring some favorite music blogs (Gorilla Vs. Bear, Moistworks, and Said the Gramophone in particular), and using the itunes store, I couldn't leave well enough alone. I had to find the holy grail. Maybe I found it, maybe I didn't (for legal reasons, let's keep the answer open-ended), but even if I did, the quest never really ends anyway. There's always more music, more bands, more bootlegs, more unreleased tracks, more out of print albums, more...

Phase Five: Cooling the Fire. Because finding new music is a quest that has no end, I finally got tired of the whole process and took myself out of the race. I stopped going to about 90% of the music sites I went to, I stopped trolling the mp3 blogs, and I cut back on the number of elaborate "theme" playlists that I like to make (somewhat). This had multiple advantages: It freed me up to actually listen to all the music I'd acquired while also giving me more time to spend on these objects I used to love called "books." In addition, I've fallen in love with podcasts, and they provide a daily dose of enjoyment while letting me pretend that I'm getting smarter. I still listen to a crazy amount of music, but it has settled back into a more normal, less manic place in my life.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Radiohead and the National Conversation

Regardless of whether you feel positively or negatively about "In Rainbows," the new Radiohead album, one of the cool things that their unique distribution policy has done is create an album that basically all of my friends own. When was the last time that happened? I was really racking my brain to come up with the last time everyone was talking about the same record. It would have to be a hip-hop record, though, possibly something by Kanye West, Outkast, or Eminem?

Plus, the fact that everyone can get the album for free has created enormous goodwill around the record and the band itself. Assuming that most of you that read this have heard the record, what do you think about it?

Personally, I already like it more than "Hail to the Thief" and there is no doubt that there is something warmer about this record than the Kid A/Amnesiac duo (though I wouldn't say it's better, at least not yet?). Obviously, it can't touch OK Computer, but I find it sort of tiresome to bring this up every time a new record of theirs comes out. In re the songs themselves: "15 Step" and "Bodysnatchers" are an excellent, upbeat 1-2 punch to start off the record, while "Nude" and "Videotape" remind me of some of the best slow moments from "Ok Computer."

Does anyone have a problem with the sound quality? As much as I love music, I'm no audiophile, and the 160 bit rate sounds just fine to my ears (Check out this Slate article argues that most of the time, you really can't notice anyway). Still, I know that there are some people for whom this kind of thing drives them crazy, is this the case for any of you?

Regardless of what you think about the record, the conversation about this record reminds me of a time when everyone got a big new record on the same day (as opposed to now, when everyone seems to get leaked records 6 months or more in advance), and there was no avalanche of hype (or disappointment, for that matter) to make up your mind for you before you even heard the record. That alone has me more excited than I've been about an album in quite a while.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Talkin' Music With Billy Bragg

At a wedding I was at this summer, I made the unfortunate mistake of bringing up Billy Bragg to my friend Tanya. Although I love talking about Bragg's music any opportunity I get, I have a tendency to get a little carried away (a tendency that increases exponentially depending on how much I've been drinking). Pretty soon I was singing lines from his songs and demanding (literally, I think) that she acknowledge the genius in his lyrics. It was all pretty embarrassing.

Regardless, the point I am always very insistent in trying to get across is that regardless of whether you can really get into his singing voice or the music, it's just impossible not to fall in love with his lyrics. His lines are heartfelt, immediate, and way less oblique than other great songwriters like Elvis Costello or Bob Dylan. So, in the interest of advancing this theory, here are some of my favorite Billy Bragg lyrics (with commentary). Most of these songs can be found on the "Back to Basics," but, as that record is out of print, you couldn't go wrong with "
Life's a Riot With Spy vs. Spy" or "Talking With the Taxman about Poetry."

Billy Bragg's songs can be put into a number of categories, here are a few:

Unrequited Love: This is a category in which Billy Bragg especially excels. Not only are his songs sharp and honest, his voice (for which the word "doleful" may have been invented) work brilliantly with the lyrics. Consider "The Saturday Boy: (

We dreamed of her and compared our dreams

But that was all that I ever tasted

She lied to me with her body you see

I lied to myself 'bout the chances I'd wasted

Is there a sentiment that better expresses unrequited love than lying to yourself about the chances you've wasted? Can an unrequited love even exist if you honestly think the boy or girl would never love you in a million years? I'm amazed now how often I thought when I was younger than I "blew my one chance" with a girl when, really, I was probably kidding myself to begin with.

Social Status: Another great gift of Bragg's is his ability to see the world through the eyes of the middle class, in particular those of us that are working hard but still struggling to get by. He's not alone in this regard (apparently some "Springsteen" fellow does this too), but he has a great gift for getting the universal idea in his song across. From "To Have and Have Not:"

Just because you're better than me
Doesn't mean I'm lazy
Just because you're going forwards
Doesn't mean I'm going backwards

In New York in particular, that last line is something that a lot of us have to repeat to ourselves again and again in order to keep our sanity. That verse is also one that I'd think about in college sometimes when confronted with older friends/ex-girlfriends that were already doing a lot more with their life than I was.

The Single Life: Yeesh, does he deal with any happy subject matter? Still, despite some lonely, depressing topics, there's nothing especially melancholy about Billy Bragg and his lyrics. Take this one from "
From a Vauxhall Velox (mp3):"

Some people say love is blind
But I think that's just a bit short-sighted

Some people just want it now
It doesn't matter where or how

Satisfaction takes a second place

So long as they can get excited

If he's single then, by god, it's because he's tough enough to wait for something better to come along. Uh, yeah, that's why I'm single, too.

Love Songs: I guess I should pick some more political lyrics, considering that's what he's especially known for, but it seems like whenever I play him I always come back to the love songs. One of the absolute best is "Greetings to the New Brunette," a song that traces the beginning, middle, and end of a long, complicated relationship. Much of the pull of this song lies in the way that Bragg gets progressively sadder and the lyrics get a little more depressing the further the song goes on:

Early on:

it's quite exciting to be sleeping here in this new room
you're my reason to get out of bed before noon

Some trouble:

your sexual politics have left me all of a muddle
we are joined in the ideological cuddle

More trouble:

you really know how to make a young man angry
can we get through the night without mentioning family


give my greetings to the new brunette.

So, that's a sampling of the kind of stuff I go on about at 2 A.M. My analysis, sadly, really doesn't work as well in print, but give me a few drinks and I'll be glad to give you the full, interactive 3-hour presentation.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Revolutionary Road

There's no getting around it anymore, in 2008 Revolutionary Road is coming to a theatre near you. It's going to star Leonardo Dicarpio, Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates, and will be directed by Sam Mendes. Good cast, good director. Why, then, does this development have me so distressed?I guess I should start by saying that Richard Yates' novel Revolutionary Road is not only one of my absolute favorite novels, but also an extremely important factor in giving me the push I needed to get myself to New York. I read this novel during a cold January in Michigan ( a bleak time indeed, for those unaware) while I was in the midst of ruining my first post-collegiate year with the distraction and anxiety produced by knowing that I needed to get out of my college town as soon as possible. I was still unsure about grad school and undecided about what I was going to do with myself if I didn't go down the path I always assumed I would. So, anyway, that's a long way of saying that I needed something to get me going (wherever that might be).

Without getting really getting into the plot (although please go here to get that kind of info), I'll just say that Revolutionary Road is about the danger of making too many compromises and falling into a pattern of conformity. I know that sounds like really basic stuff, but Yates really puts you inside these characters and makes you seen how bitter and scarred they've become after years spent forever taking the easier, less risky choice. This bitterness is compounded by the fact that they are dreamers, the kind of people that will spend an entire night talking about their great plans and then never follow through. Needless to say, it isn't a comic novel.

So, imagine reading this by yourself in a smoky (but not in a good way) cafe in East Lansing and realizing that you have some particularly strong similarities to Frank Wheeler: the same level of dreaminess, the same kind of snobbery, the same misplaced vanity, the same issues with being too self-aware. It was a terrifying experience! Reading Revolutionary Road was a wake-up call for me; it made me realize that I was at a true crossroads in my life and that if I was ever going to take a big risk, now was the time to do it. Six months later, enboldened by the fear of not taking the chance, I arrived in New York with practically no money, no place to live, and no job. I honestly don't know if I would have done it had I not read Yates' novel.

Back to the movie: I'm sure it will be good, in fact, there's a decent change it will be quite good. I worry, though, (cliche though it might be) that after I've see the movie, the reality I've created in my head surrounding the book will be forever replaced by the reality created by the actors and the set. Isn't this always a let down? In addition, will every copy of the book now be plastered with Dicaprio and Winslet and the "NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE" tag obscuring half of the image? Am I going to lose my special hold I feel on this classic (but not so famous) book? Oh well, I guess. In the end, if it gets more people to discover Richard Yates and his fantastic books, how can this movie possible be a negative?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Book, a CD, a TV Show, and a Movie

A book: Positively Fifth Street by James McManus

True, first-person account of the author flying to Vegas and covering both the rise of women poker players at the year’s biggest tournament and the obscene murder trial of those who killed the brother of that casino’s owner. And the author makes the final table of the big tournament as he befriends the casino’s owner as her brother’s cold-hearted murderers try to cheat justice. And he has insight into addiction, family, and criminal psychology. And it’s surprisingly touching. And it’s funny. And …

A CD: Liars by Liars

Liars fans are hard to find, but I am one of them. I was hypnotically drawn to their challenging krautrock concept album Drum’s Not Dead, finding it exceedingly rewarding with the help of a little patience. But this album is as straightforward as its title. Stomping rockers mingle with danceable drum beats that occasionally sound like Beck, and it all has plenty of distortion. It feels like the band finally stepped out of a German recording studio and rediscovered a raucous New York bar.

A TV Show: Life

It’s not the most amazing show, but I can’t stomach most of what’s on TV, especially the big networks. On the surface, it sounds like yet another investigative crime drama where the person you’d least expect ends up being the murderer. That part is fairly accurate, but the lead actor Damian Lewis brings wit and mystery to an LA cop who has returned to the force after being falsely imprisoned for 12 years. Unlike most crime dramas, it doesn’t take itself too seriously and still makes you feel for Lewis’ character.

A Movie: Eastern Promises

David Cronenberg is known for pushing limits, especially when it comes to violence. If you’re looking for blood, this film won’t disappoint. But the limits that make this the best movie I’ve seen all year are the ones its characters can’t pull themselves away from. The beautiful cinematography and magnificently realistic acting make every scene, whether it’s in a restaurant, hospital, or bathhouse (especially bathhouse), extremely tense. It’s effortlessly subtle and emotional while still being bloody as hell.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

And there’s music too?

Certainly most of you are well aware the new Radiohead album was released today as an almost free download. You can spend all you want for it, but all you need is 45 pence for the download fee and the album no one knew about two weeks ago will be yours.

The fact that the world’s biggest band surprised fans ten days ago by announcing that they not only completed their seventh album, but for the time being have made it only available through download was already a shock to the music industry. But in a musical landscape where albums are leaked months in advance, rendering CDs as prevalent as vinyl, Radiohead had leaked their own album for free, giving them complete ownership. Whatever profit they make is theirs and theirs only. Not in the hands of Capitol or Parlophone or EMI or whoever else wants a piece of the pie. Unlike the record industry, Radiohead is aware of what its fans want, and none of that has to do with paying $17 for an album. And with each download, Radiohead gets to keep track of the number of people who are telling the industry to wise up. (If you’re going to get the album, I advise doing it through their site and contributing to the cause)

Yet, with all this to-do about modern technology and statement-making, it’s easy to forget that RADIOHEAD JUST RELEASED AN ALBUM. Of music. Probably good music. The band has shaped my musical tastes like few others have, so I welcome any new Jonny Greenwood guitar licks, underrated Ed O’Brien backing vocals, and ethereal Thom Yorke crooning despite the fact I haven’t listened to any of their albums in over a year.

So shill out your 45p, put those headphone buds in your ears, and let some good old alternative rock make you feel sixteen again. Few bands could pull off a move like this, but I’m assuming Radiohead has the goods to back it up. We shall see.

UPDATE: For those that don't feel like using google, here is the link to the Radiohead site.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Baseball Anyone? a.k.a. 3 Totally Randon Reasons to Hate the Yankees

I haven't talked about sports in a while (to everyone's disappointment, right? right? no?), but I was curious if anybody out there was following or interested in the baseball playoffs. Although my beloved Detroit Tigers collapsed in shocking, chair-throwing fashion in late summer, I had one pleasure reserved for these playoffs: rooting against the New York Yankees. Needless to say, their loss last night was perhaps the highlight of the baseball season for me.

I was actually in a bit of a quandary about the Yankees this weekend. If they beat Cleveland it would set up another series with the Red Sox which, as a sports fan, is about as good a series as you can get without your own teams involved. I would've been forced to watch every game simply out of my obligation as a sports fan to watch any sporting event of a certain order of magnitude. Plus, New York is a true baseball city (much more than any other sport), and it would have seeped into every conversation (and been on every TV in every bar) for weeks. Exciting, eh?

Still, after doing some cost-benefit analysis, I decided that (assuming I had the power to control these things) I would rather have a less interesting baseball series between the Red Sox and Indians than take the risk that the Yankees could beat the Red Sox and go on to win the world series. In other words, I'd rather sacrifice any pleasure I'd receive from a great, even classic, series than live in a potential world in which the Yankees are World Series champions. Yup, I hate them that much. Feel free to shake your head in wonderment and disgust, non-sports fans.

Why, you ask, do I hate the Yankees so much? Well, there really are about hundred things about them that drive me crazy, but I'll just list a couple and point you to things like this and this if you're actually interested in all the reasons. My biggest problems are these:
  • They have so much more money than everyone else that they outspend everyone (save the Red Sox) by 100-150 million dollars. Who cares about things like chemistry when you can just keep buying bigger and bigger collections of talent? The fact that this strategy has backfired the last seven years still doesn't make me feel any better about this. This strategy leads teams like the Royals and the Devil Rays to basically give up, unable to compete the with talent the Yankees can pay (and grossly overpay) for and thus content to sit back, collect their revenue sharing checks, and trade away they're best players once they're do for a raise and contract extension.
  • They dominate the television coverage so much that you could reasonably think that there were only about 5 teams in the league. Did anyone else out there know that there was a National League as well? It's true, apparently. I don't actually know the teams or who plays on them, but I can certainly tell you everything you want to know about Yankee coach Joe Torre's job statue.
  • When they lose, we all have to lose. Now that the Yankees out of the playoffs, we get to spend a week hearing about how bad this will be for ratings and how Madison Avenue is praying for anything but a Cleveland-Colorado World Series (because their television markets aren't big enough). Somehow, we hear about this every year when New York teams aren't involved, yet I don't know any sports fan that cares, in the slightest, about ratings. I'll admit, though, that when I was a kid I remember it seemed kind of shameful, like I should be embarrassed that the Detroit television market wasn't big enough. Honestly, it doesn't matter. I don't own stock in the Fox Network, what do I care if they get a good return on their investment? You never hear this kind of talk about the NFL, because there is enough financial parity that one or two teams can never dominate the sport (and thus the coverage) the way that the Yankees have done most of the past 12 years.
So, there's my little baseball rant. Sadly, it appears I'm in too deep to ever stop caring about all this stuff...

Monday, October 8, 2007

More From The New Yorker Festival

Spending eighteen hours catering to people who are much more talented than myself and answering questions from people who are much wealthier than myself could have been a draining experience. It was. But being part of the behind-the-scenes crew let me experience the festival from every angle. After a day of reflection, here are a few memories that stand out.

Cracking jokes with Josh.
  • For each event, Josh and I were assigned to ticket selling and will-call duties respectably. Facing the same questions over and over allowed us to get creative with our answers. And the unique names on the will-call lists lent themselves to an endless variety of labored jokes.
Eccentric Comedian=Eccentric Grayish Hair.
  • Both satirist Andy Borowitz and New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff had long, untamable, grayish hair. It wasn’t Christopher-Lloyd-in-Back-to-the-Future crazy, but they both had long locks that went past their shoulders. Once I get funny and hit fifty, it’ll be time to let my hair down too. Though mine likely will resemble that classic Doc Brown hairdo.

  • Writing is tough.
    • As a copywriter, I write a lot every day. But listening to Jonathan Safran Foer and George Saunders talk about their work made me feel like reaching their level of literary intellect was unattainable. As hard as I think and as much as I write, they think harder and write more. Perhaps I will become the greatest copywriter to ever have walked the earth, but this will not make me a respected novelist. And I’m insanely jealous because of it.
  • The New Yorker Festival

    After spending the last few days participating in a number of events at the New Yorker Festival, I have emerged with a few stray thoughts:
    • George Saunders is as funny and interesting in person as he is in print. Friday night he repeatedly brought the house down at the Angel Orensanz theatre in his conversation with Jonathan Safran Foer on "The Incredible." I was delighted to hear him talk about Donald Barthelme's "The School," particularly after having dedicated a post to Bartheleme just days before. Saunders had some very interesting things to say about writing fiction as a line-by-line, nuts and blots process that I found extremely illuminating. Plus, I met him and he's an incredibly nice guy!
    • Andy Borowitz is a truly gifted wit. After giving a comedic presentation on Saturday morning, he asked the audience if they had any questions, about literally anything at all. As people asked him questions about Hillary Clinton, the new Radiohead album ("I think that this might not be the best question for this crowd. Let's talk about it on Facebook later, I'll 'poke' you"), and the Cleveland Indians, he was killing with everything he said. He seemed like the absolutely perfect bar companion. I'm still reeling, though, from the fact that he created the "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." I wonder if he also wrote the iconic opening theme song?
    • People really, really want to win the weekly New Yorker caption contest. The place was sold-out for NY'er cartoon editor Robert Mankoff's event. Did you know that they get 15,000 submissions for it every week? I could never take the contest that seriously after the skewering they got by these two different McSweeney's articles. That said, I'm always interested in finding out how any style of humor works from an expert and it was definitely nice as well to hear a little bit about the drawing style of my favorite author/illustrator, James Thurber.
    • Although I know that umbrage has been taken with the festival's self-congratulatory nature, that was just not the case at any of the events I was at. The audience seemed geniunely excited to be there and the hosts and speakers (especially Henry Alford at the Parlor Games event on Saturday), really seemed to make a concerted effort to engage and entertain their audience.
    It really made me happy to see so many people show up for such a wide variety of events. Although I've never been a fatalist about literature and think people overestimate its decline within our culture, it was really fantastic to see such a wide mix of people show up regardless of the type of event. Who knew that about 15 German college students would flock to a 10 AM Andy Borowitz event? Or that a similar mix of people will spend $25 to play New Yorker-related Parlor Games on a Saturday night? (well, actually, I would totally do that one). Overall, it was a great reminder of exactly why you put up with all the annoyances that living in New York brings.

    Friday, October 5, 2007

    The Lucksmiths at the Knitting Factory

    For those out there clamoring to know how the The Lucksmiths show went last week at the Knitting Factory, head on over to The Black T-Shirt to read up on it (with pictures! ok, well, a picture).

    I also have to give a quick shout out to The Knitting Factory, which has definitely become one of my favorite venues in New York: Small but not cramped, reasonable drink prices, and a balcony near the stage that is open to all but that no one ever seems to use. Brandon and I were ten feet from the stage last week and we were practically by ourselves up there. I saw Jonathan Richman there about 6 months ago and my feelings about the venue were extremely positive then as well.

    Thursday, October 4, 2007

    A Book, a Cd, a TV Show, and a Movie

    Everyone hates to waste time and money on new, unfamiliar products, right? Well, I'm here to help. Although I know nothing about technology, cars, boats, or basically anything that costs over twenty dollars, I do know something about the arts. Frankly, I know more than any healthy person should.

    Thus, let me introduce a new (and possibly recurring) segment here at Better Chatter where I recommended a book, a cd, a tv show, and a movie. These recommendations all get my patented seal of approval and I will, of course, give my customary one dollar refund to anyone that can honestly say they are disappointed in a particular selection and can make a compelling argument for why I am a fool/idiot to recommend it.

    So, without further ado, here we go:

    A book: Cross-X by Joe Miller. Along with having one of the greatest book jackets I've ever seen, Cross-X tells the incredible story of a poor, predominantly black high school in Kansas City that develops a nationally competitive debate team. The book brings up some pretty damning sociological issues (in particular the imbalanced nature of the American high school system, especially in regard to race) while at the same time sucking you in to the lives of these super-smart kids tucked away within one of the worst school districts in the country.

    A cd: Strawberry Jam by Animal Collective.

    Animal Collective is, with a doubt, an extremely polarizing band. Although some of their music in the past hasn't been especially palatable for a lot of people, I think this album is finally accessible enough to finally win a lot of people over. The songs For Reverend Green and Fireworks constitute the best 1-2 punch on any album I've heard this year. This is still just pop music, even if it doesn't quite sound like anything you've heard before.

    A TV show:
    Pushing Daisies. Man, this show is sounds weird and clever and has such uniquely attractive lead characters that it's almost guaranteed to last about three weeks. It is a comedy about dead people and unattainable romance that really doesn't feel like anything else on tv, not usually a good sign, ratings-wise. Still, rather than adopt this defeatist attitude, I'll just tell you to either catch it on TV Wednesdays at 8 while it still lasts or follow the link above and watch it on the website.

    A Movie:
    The Darjeeling Limited. While I don't think that it was especially great, no movie is a disappointment when it has all the Wes Anderson hallmarks: great music, vibrant colors, quirky dialogue, and excellent actors. Plus, considering that I don't really go in for things that might be considered "twee" that much anymore, a Wes Anderson film can be a refreshing change of pace.

    Tuesday, October 2, 2007

    Donald Barthelme

    If you're the kind of person that always wants to get McSweeney's Quarterly but can't quite stomach the price, this is the month to take the plunge. Why now? Because this issue has an excellent section devoted to none other than Donald Barthelme!

    Donald Barthelme, for those that aren't aware, was considered one of the greatest writers of the second half of the 20th century. He's primarily known for the anthologies 60 Stories and 40 Stories, both of which have some of the funniest and most bizarre stories I've ever read. Reading Barthelme, who before his death was frequently found in the New Yorker and other major magazines, is a reminder of a time when the word "experimental literature" didn't make every non-graduate student want to flee the room. With a casual style that belied the weightiness of his subject matter and themes, Barthelme was able to draw in the sort of readers that would be just fine avoiding for the rest of their lives any fiction that could be referred to as "challenging."

    Additionally, there's a great page dedicated to him, complete with stories and essays that is well worth checking out. In order to get you started, here are a few of the best stories from the site that you should print out and read tonight on the subway home (or, sans subway, perhaps by a roaring fire in your den?):

    Rebecca: Possibly my favorite Barthelme story. I find it hard to describe appropriately, other than to say that (a) it is about a slightly green woman with the last name "Lizard" and (b) that the story has one of the most hilarious and unusual narrators you'll ever find. Also, it has one of my all time favorite closing lines:

    The story ends. It was written for several reasons. Nine of them are secrets. The tenth is that one should never cease considering human love, which remains as grisly and golden as ever, no matter what it tattooed upon the warm tympanic page.

    The School
    : A perennial Barthelme favorite. Very funny, then horrifying, then sort of funny again, then decidedly horrifying.

    Me and Miss Mandible: A 35 year-old man find himself enrolled in an elementary school. Needless to say, office politics and sex ensue.

    Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby: After a friend "goes to far," what do you do? What any sane group of friends would: hang him.

    So, there's a start. Although I've found Donald Barthelme to be an incredibly polarizing author, I hope that you find something to enjoy in these funny, strange, and (in their way) "experimental" stories.