Saturday, December 19, 2009

How to whup flu in the ass...

So I try to keep any sort of health info away from this blog. I do work in the health field, so I write lots of stuff about health anyways. But y'all gotta listen.

Yesterday morning came WAY too early. Driving to work felt like the proverbial Mack truck had slammed me. Took some of the morning off to hit the gym's sauna and steam room. For nearly two hours, people! Came back to see a few patients and discover my temperature was a nice 102. Called the rest of the day off, natch. Drove home, and spent the rest of the day either melting in hot baths or buried beneath blankets.

Yep, probably is the flu. No, I did not get the flu shot. I'll let my body fight it off itself, thank you very much. Despite the fact that I don't have the strongest immune system in the world, I've got weapons in my arsenal to help stave illnesses off, and now I know I've got great weapons to powerfully mitigate them when they hit.

Last night, I was in AGONY, and was in no shape to drive. But I drove a good hour round-trip to a health food store to get an extract of the black elderberry called Sambucol. (Or at least, that's the most official version of it; I've also seen it simply called Sambucus; that's from the taxonomic name Sambucus nigra). People, this shit WORKS. I've never seen any medicine eliminate flu symptoms faster. And I'm thrilled that it happens to be basically natural. But here's the cherry on top of the natural/effective ice cream sundae: it actually tastes delicious! Seriously. I went to a convention years ago where I sampled Sambucol for the first time. They didn't serve it on spoons. They didn't serve it in little plastic measuring cups. They served it on pancakes. Tasted like some of the yummiest raspberry pancake syrup I'd ever had. Granted, it isn't the cheapest stuff on the market, but it's not exorbitant.

Now, here's something new I hadn't heard of until late last week. Joe Mercola, he of the ubiquitous and reliably annoying health website, wrote an interesting article about baking soda. It goes back to the 1920s, before health claims on anything were effectively muzzled unless you were a drug company in bed with the FDA and with billions in pocket change. Apparently, baking soda back then was being touted - not as a cure, but as a treatment for colds and flu. No claim to 100% eradicate it. Just a claim that it would decrease symptoms and duration. (The theory behind baking soda is that it tends to alkalize the body, and viral/bacterial infections have a hard time thriving in an alkaline environment.) Here's the simple protocol:

Day 1: 6 doses of 1/2 teaspoon baking soda in water, all 2 hours apart.
Day 2: 4 doses, all 2 hours apart.
Day 3: 2 doses, morning and night.
Day 4 until end of illness: 1 dose in the morning.

I'm a huge fan of the saying "it can't hurt, and it might help." Small doses of baking soda certainly qualify. I'm also a huge fan of giving legitimacy to effective natural remedies that will never have the so-called legitimacy of quack drugs like statins and acid blockers, thanks to the FDA. So I gave the baking soda a try.

It's been about 24 hours since I started the Sambucol, and I began the baking soda protocol this morning. I can say with no question that I still have the flu. I can also say with no question that I have never rebounded so quickly after getting the flu. Headache? Yes. Sore throat? Yes. Muscle aches? Yes. But I also have energy, am in great spirits, and was hungry enough this evening to make some soup for myself, after having no appetite and fasting rather effortlessly for about 30 hours. Even went to a party tonight and ate a fair bit there, too. I've heard horror stories of people who have been dealing with the flu this season for weeks, bedridden for most of the time. If last night's feverish tossing and turning ends up being the extent of my problems, then I'm a convert...and I'll let patients know too, from here on through.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?"

1) A Charlie Brown Christmas. As if I would EVER leave this one off. NO ONE should go through Christmas without seeing this. Every year, it seems the spirit of the season gets more and more lost in the shuffle, and this is always a wonderful reminder of why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. Linus's reading of the Nativity is simple, understated, poignant, and perfect. Originally, everyone working on this special back in 1965 was terribly pessimistic about it, thinking it was too depressing, poorly made, amateurish, and was doomed to failure. It gives me hope for the human race that this actually ended up succeeding far beyond anyone's expectations - and is still shown faithfully on prime time over 40 years later.

2) John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together. Best. Christmas. Album. EVER. Equal parts wackiness and sappiness - and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. John Denver singing "A Baby Just Like You" will bring you to tears, and his duet with Rowlf on "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" is gorge. Meanwhile, the Muppets definitively skewer "The Twelve Days of Christmas" and rock out to the Beach Boys' "Little St. Nick"...well, as much as the Electric Mayhem can. Animal helps.

2.1) The Carpenters: Christmas Portrait. This one is just a hairsbreadth beneath A Christmas Together. Karen's silky, effortless contralto is one of pop music's greatest treasures, and it was practically made to grace Christmas carols. "Merry Christmas Darling" is, of course, the classic, but the guilty pleasures abide throughout. It also includes some light renditions of dances from The Nutcracker. Combine these two albums, and you're set.

3) Chocolate mousse pie. Hands down, the BEST dessert I have ever eaten. I was lucky enough to get the recipe from my mom a few years ago, and my partner now demands I make it every year. Decadent, rich slices of heaven, served on a cinnamon graham cracker crust and topped with heaps of whipped cream.

4) Creme brulee. Learned how to make this hummer about six years ago. Actually quite simple. Mix four ingredients (egg yolks, cream, sugar, vanilla). Put in ramekins. Put ramekins in a water bath. Bake for x amount of time. Pull out. Let cool, then refrigerate. Top with sugar and torch it. Eat slowly and savor something damn near a mouthgasm.

5) St. Olaf Christmas Festival. I have to see this every year on PBS, having sung in the Christmas festival a total of 12 times myself (4 times for 3 years running). Choral nirvana. Absolutely REQUIRED watching if you are a good Lu-the-ran.

6) Handel's Messiah, the singalong version. Because I lo-ove to sing, and really, the story of the Messiah is fascinating. Extra points for the one I go to in Boulder, since the conductor ends the whole shebang with the Hallelujah chorus sung a second time.

7) Egg nog. Duh.

8) The tree. Yes, the decorations are beautiful, but what really gets me is the smell of a (freshly-cut) pine tree. I dunno. Fresh, cool, natural, and masculine somehow...a killer combination.

9) Mandarin oranges. Nana and Papa from Bakersfield used to send us a whole crate of these every December, and their mandarin oranges were so tangy and juicy, and the peels practically fell off the fruit, they were so easy to peel. The cuties you see in the stores nowadays are a pale, sad imitation of what we used to enjoy years ago.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Yeah. About those apostrophes...

If you have difficulty trying to figure out how not to use apostrophes, here's a crash course. Especially recommended for car salesmen or people in charge of marquees, or for douchenozzles who actually write like this:

Srsly people your terrible if you dont know how to use an apostrophe!!! you make me loose my mind!!! LOLZ


Monday, December 7, 2009

I extend my middle finger to the middle name...

An entreaty to expectant or new parents:

I am one of those hapless people who has gone by his middle name since my parents dictated it so, far before I was ever able to raise my tiny voice or fists in objection. You'd think this would be just an interesting quirk, something to raise the eyebrows slightly and provide about 6.6 seconds of idle conversation. But no. To wit:
  • Waiting in a doctor's or dentist's waiting room just sucks. When the clueless PA or nurse or DA or what-have-you calls your name, it's inevitably by your given first name, and not by the one you go by. (Not a rip on said PAs, nurses, or DAs...they're often just saying what's in front of them on the chart, and they don't know otherwise.) And if you don't expect it, you could end up sitting in the waiting room while the PA wonders why no one's responding.
  • Filling out official paperwork, you have to - HAVE TO - write your first name. People who simply go by their first names don't even have to worry about this. But it makes those like me pause and have to think for a second.
  • The above especially applies if you're trying to vote or sign a petition. Sign it with the name you go by and not by your first name, and your vote is as good as useless.

Minor issues, no? Perhaps for most people who go by their middle name. It's possible that most don't mind their first name. But I ABHOR mine. It's always sounded like a name given to a snooty British multimillionaire descended from royalty, esquire. So whenever I hear it, I cringe. Or if I'm forced to say it to some official person who can't find me in a database? Yecch.

So I say to you parents who are contemplating names for your children: Do NOT call your child using their middle name. If you like it so much, then switch it with what you originally planned as the first name. Oh yeah, the "but it doesn't sound good that way!" whining. Tough. If it really sounds that bad, then choose another name. Seriously.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Europe - The Final Countdown / Asia - Only Time Will Tell

Shut up. You love them too. I just have the balls to admit it openly.

It's been postulated that bands with place names make really crappy music, and the larger the place referenced, the worse. Boston. Kansas. America. Europe. Asia. (Hedwig said exhausts her.) For the most part, I agree, although most of these bands have come up with at least one ace up their sleeve. Most Boston fans adore "More Than A Feeling," but "Amanda" is much more my speed. Kansas...meh. America can turn over it its grave for all I care. But these last two? Yowzah.

Back in 1986, yours truly was just officially leaving childhood behind, finishing off 5th grade and becoming an official member of the Boy Scouts, Troop 457. And HO boy...impressionable? Just for starters. At that time, I just craved some sort of Meaningful Anthem to rock out to, and with which I could bond with my new comrades in khaki and olive drab. Enter Europe. And damn, did they deliver. "The Final Countdown" just hit me in the heart and the gut.

The opening synthesizer riff - all 20 notes of it - really could have been all of the song, and I would have loved it forevermore. The minor chords just screamed out valor, bravery, bonding, striving, strength, power. In a rather high and mighty Viking sort of manner. (Makes sense, since these guys hailed from Sweden, right?) And without saying a word.

But then the singer had to open his trap and begin yowling some of the most laughable lyrics imaginable - about leaving an apocalyptic, dying Earth behind and looking for a new planet to live on. In other words, absolutely perfect sci-fi source material for such a ponderous tune. "We're headed for Venus/And still we stand tall..." Let me stop right there. That striving? That bonding? That bravery? Right there, in full effect. "Cause maybe they've seen us/And welcome us all." Oh geez. Botched grammar, even. But you know? The song would be wrong without it, almost as if Elvis back in the day had sung "You aren't anything but a hound dog." It's the absurdity and pompousness that elevates this song to utter classic status.

"The Final Countdown" is among the guiltiest of pleasures ever created, but it owes quite the debt to Asia's "Only Time Will Tell," an insanely addictive slice of prog pop heaven. I mean, that song. That anthemic synth riff. The slamming cowbell. Those soaring, pealing guitars. Those powerful harmonies. And those overly serious lyrics about infidelity that verge on parody. As a kid, I had absolutely no idea what they meant. I just knew that the song resonated in me and turned me to mush - but not before I demanded that the radio be turned up louder. The video wasn't half-bad, either...for pre-Thriller 1982, at least.

Some consider Asia, the album that birthed "Only Time Will Tell," alongside "Heat of the Moment" and "Sole Survivor," the last dying gasp of the AOR movement. Not even close. Europe grabbed the torch from Asia's hands and carried it, if only for one more album. Whitesnake held down the trashy, slutty, but defiantly adult corner of the market; "Is This Love" and "Here I Go Again" were the two must-hears. Queensryche also soldiered on beyond that; Empire and Operation: Mindcrime were damned good albums, and if nothing else, the epic "Silent Lucidity" deserves to be heard by a new generation. I'd argue that any semblance of AOR was killed off - along with the rest of '80s hair metal and happy peppy pop - singlehandedly by Nirvana in late 1991. (Well, maybe not entirely - Rush is still kickin' around somewhere, right?) But man, it'd be great to hear a resurgence of AOR, hair metal, prog rock...whatever you want to call it. Guilty pleasures, all.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Muppets - Bohemian Rhapsody

OMFUG. You, my audience of three, HAVE to see this one. Yeah, you'll have to slog past Gonzo and his chickens for the first minute. But. Any video where Gonzo's part is the most boring is brilliant. And Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem can rock my world any ol' time they want. (Killer band name, by the way.)

Like to died laughin'...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Duck Amuck

The funniest cartoon I've ever seen, this one was included in the original, brilliant Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie. Here it is in all its Merrie Melodies glory.

If you haven't seen this: You know how short a temper Daffy Duck has. Well, just imagine how nettled he gets when the cartoonist himself starts to play games with him. Damn near busts a spleen.

With no further ado...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Misplaced apostrophes or a misplaced blog title?

A little history about the name of this blog: I was never a fan of bad grammar, syntax, and punctuation. Call me a language snob. I own it proudly. Yet I also love turning language gaffes on their sides and using 'em subversively to mock those who can't master the English language. Granted, English is a very difficult language to master. Here's just one example, explained brilliantly by my former Russian professor:

"I have..." You have what?
"I have got..." You have got what?
"I have got to get..." You have got to get what?
(Selfish, grabby people, we Anglophones, right?)
"I have got to get going..." Ah.
"...if I am going to get..." Get WHAT?
"I have got to get going if I am going to get there." Yeesh! Well, go, then! And don't forget to it is you were going to get.

You can understand why English is so tough for foreign speakers. But for those who grow up with English as their primary language, I have much less sympathy and much more mockery. Hence the title of this blog.

But skewering English maligners was never the main intent of this blog...or any intent of this blog in the first place. I just thought the title looked, even. Joe Cool would appreciate it. I even wanted to form a college rock band called the Misplaced Apostrophe's. Most people would get the joke, some would scratch their heads, and some would be completely oblivious. But it would raise a lighthearted conversation, perhaps.

So get this. Click on the "Next Blog >>" link at the top of this page, and you will quite possibly be taken to some literary-based blog. Could be some excellent poetry, could be some boring ramblings about - yup - grammar. Whatever. Guess it comes with the blog title. (You should have seen the REALLY random results back in the day when I originally titled this screed "Po Diddikai.")

Anyhoo. Now that you've read through all this, I'm sure you'd like to know exactly how not to misplace an apostrophe, right? Here ya go. Don't say I didn't do nothin' for ya.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The best years of your life (or something...) (part 1)

For the fun of it, a few things I'd tell myself through 9th grade:

-- Seriously, I know it's so fresh in your mind and you're still soaring on endorphins, but move on to life after the bee, okay? The sooner, the better. And for GOD'S sake, do not write that letter to you-know-who!

-- So, um, if you're so against popularity contests, then why the hell are you running for freshman class president? Let stuco go.

-- I know you'd like to think you're all badass, but a single shot of Bailey's every afternoon does not a rebel make. Especially if you're concerned that your parents will find out once the bottle's empty.

-- You want that cashier job at Alfalfa's? Get it. Damn your parents. They just want you to get a job that's socially acceptable. Catering is sooo high society snooty Muffy Piddlewaters and Skippy McGillycuddy, Esq. Not your scene, right? And by the by: the whole Alfalfa's gig will be very influential in the future, in a tangential but awesome way.

-- Dunno what to say about that 2.9, ol' buddy. Let's head out to Perkins for some coffee and shoot the shit. Get away from the parents and let their heads stop spinning. I'll buy.

-- Don't do speech and debate. You’re destroying yourself for no reason and learning absolutely nothing in the process. Honestly. Find something else to do that won’t require you to wake up at oh-fuck-early on Saturday mornings and subject you to long, boring, useless days that aren’t doing jackshit for your speaking skills. Not doing speech and debate doesn’t mean you’re weak. It means you’re respecting your health. And fuck how it looks on your transcript.

-- Speaking of respecting your you hate these colds that last forever, right? Jeebus, where to start? You love sleep, right? Do it. REST. (See above about quitting speech and debate already.) Have lots of the herbal tea that you're gonna get at Alfalfa's with your employee discount (hint, hint). And, uh, notice how you feel after you eat those pork chops with tons of gravy and a full glass of milk for dinner, ok?

-- Get into the Who over the summer. As much as you are into Led Zeppelin, the Who may possibly rock your world even more. I haven't heard much, even at my age, and I think I'm too old now to totally appreciate 'em. Still, "Behind Blue Eyes" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" are pretty awesome, no? Oh, you haven't heard them. Hmm.

-- I know and you know the real reason you're staring at your girlfriend's big burly linebacker brother as you pass in the hall. (By the someone simply because she looks like Julia Roberts? Seriously?) And yes, you can tell yourself it's because you're afraid he'll squash you into a grease spot on the sidewalk. Which is a remote possibility. But that's all I'll say and your secret's safe with me. Until college. Then it's open season. (Just kidding.)

-- And for God’s sake, print out your journal! You know, the one that starts “Do you suppose anyone out there can hear me?” Save it. Put it in a safe deposit box if need be. You’ll want it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Don't I wish...

funny pictures of cats with captions

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I love this church...

"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
- Mahatma Gandhi

"For all of those who don't fit in; who follow their instincts and are told they sin...this is a prayer for a different way."
- Neil Tennant


Last night, I found myself down at the Wrangler, perhaps my favorite bar in Denver, where the types of guys I like (big beefy bears) tend to congregate. One of my friends, a fellow choir queer and director of Mosaic, the only queer youth chorus in Denver, happened to mention that a very, ah, shall we say interesting service was gonna go down at First Plymouth Congregational Church the very next morning. I knew the director of music down there, so I put it in my mind to perhaps go.

As it turned out, I was singing at another church down around the area, so once we sang our (maybe 90 second-long) spiritual, I meandered on down to this church to see exactly what was going on.

The last thing I expected to see was this music director clad entirely in his übermasculine tight-fitting black leather Tom of Finland regalia. (That link is rated R, by the way.) But there he was, looking...good god-DAMN, hot as hell! And what a mindfuck it was to see him behind the organ, playing the doxology and hymns with all the flourishes you'd expect from a serious church organist. A really cool mindfuck.

It's one thing to have a church claim that it's open and affirming, which is your standard basic code for "welcoming all sexual orientations." And most churches that claim this really do follow through on it. But the service today totally blew away any other service I've been in.

First off, the pastor was wearing a rainbow-colored stole. Second, his sermon could not have been any more affirming and accepting of us queer folk...not to mention his continual linking said sentiment to what Jesus taught and how he acted. And third, he invited a woman to come up front and tell her difficult story of her struggles with being a lesbian, growing up in pre-Stonewall America, trying to exorcise her demons with alcohol, and finally accepting herself for who she is, and kicking alcohol to the curb once and for all. (She is now getting married to her partner in Iowa next weekend. What a beautiful thing that is.)

But it was the music that really brought the house down. After the sermon, the choir did an awesome version of Toby Keith's "I Love This Bar," reworded as "I Love This Church," echoing all the inclusive language that the original song has. So fun. But seriously, how can you top an affirming service like this that uses a wicked version of "It's Raining Men" as the postlude? With choir members dancing in the aisles and handing out rainbow-colored scarves for everyone to wave around? Damn. You'll never see this in a good Lu-the-ran church, like I'm so used to.

Afterward, I talked with a few women, none of whom could have been any less than 70. They all talked about how they couldn't wait to start on their "bar ministry," going to gay hangouts and...well, not proselytizing per se, but just establishing their presence as a church that is on our side and welcoming. First stop: Hamburger Mary's.



Now. I've been to other affirming churches all through my life. Lutherans are genuine and willing to debate the question of how sexual orientation fits into the Christian tradition, and I give them major props for that. The Religious Society of Friends (aka Quakers) have a long-standing tradition of radical social activism. They may have been the first Christian-based church to consider unions between two men or two women as equal to a union between a man and a woman, if I correctly remember what I read years ago. (Alas, Quakers as a whole are deeply divided on this issue.) And the United Church of Christ (jokingly sometimes referred to as "Unitarians Considering Christ") also is quite welcoming, including openly gay men and lesbians as pastors and other clergy. Indeed, one of my favorite churches up to this point (a UCC church) has been Spirit of the Lakes in Minneapolis, with Rev. Rebecca Voelkel as perhaps the most excellent and passionate pastor I have ever had the great fortune to worship with, regardless of sexual orientation. I've been blessed.

Incidentally, the Metropolitan Community Church is also a fully affirming church, though I've not been to their services as much. I've also been blessed to worship as part of the community at a "More Light" Presbyterian church in Portland called St. Mark Presbyterian - small, tight-knit, and wonderfully welcoming and compassionate.

I have never experienced first-hand any Southern Baptist, pentecostal, or charismatic bigotry or homophobia in my life. Maybe I've been sheltered, but at some point, I just wanted to see for myself if there were churches that really were welcome and affirming of who I was - a gay man who had recently come out. The good news is that there were, and still are, all over the place.

The evil view that gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered folk are hated by God and condemned to hell after their sinful life on this plane is deeply wrong, but unfortunately still alive and well. It's seriously damaging Christianity as a whole, and is being used as the basis for breaking apart families. It's permanently and needlessly wounding individuals who otherwise could be whole. It's causing untold amounts of fear, anger, and anguish. And in some cases, it's contributing to murders and suicides of our queer brothers and sisters. It needs to stop.

Churches like the ones I've described above are wonderful, and so highly recommended to anyone who, because of their sexual orientation, have been cast out of their church and feel like their God has condemned them. Not all Christians are homophobic. Some do take Jesus' teachings to heart and openly show love and compassion for everyone, regardless. And this, really, is what Christianity is, and should be, about.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

OK Go - Here It Goes Again

In which our heroes create one of the most perfect videos ever. Who knew that treadmills and bright pink clothes could prove so central to choreography?

(Damn the powers that be for prohibiting embedding this video.)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"I thought Europe was a country."

Stupid is as stupid does, and here, stupid don't do much but just look stupid (and a bit purty) and provide unintentional humor for everyone around her. Frightening, this video. Makes me laugh a bit, but mostly cringe.

Paging all unemployed geography and social studies teachers have just been rehired effective immediately. (If only.) At least if I were benevolent dictator of this here land, this would be the clarion call.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Lime Starbursts (and Conejos Cabins)

It pains me that 1) I can't find a single picture of the glorious candy that was once lime Starbursts, and 2) that so many people nowadays have no inkling that there was such a creation. But yes, way back during the disco era, when Starbursts first happened on the scene, they included lime, and cherry was nowhere to be found. I was sore, SORE disappointed one day in the early '80s to find that lime had disappeared forever. Have to admit that cherry was a pretty grand substitute...for about six months. Then the suckitude took over the novelty, and cherry has sat at the bottom of the pile for me ever since. Strawberry has always reigned supreme, with orange, lemon, and lime (back in the day) jockeying for second. Really, they all were good.

Just like food can transport you if you let it, I can imagine the taste, smell, and texture of lime Starbursts, and immediately I'm taken back to summer trips down to southern Colorado, in the middle of nowhere a stone's throw from New Mexico. Conejos Cabins was the place to be, and you got there via a LOOONG drive south from Denver through South Park (yes, there really is such a place, and it's truly gorgeous) and along the Arkansas river, past the Great Sand Dunes, and even still a few hours further south. (Obligatory soundtrack: The Carpenters' Horizon. Oh, and probably some John Denver and Mac Davis thrown in there, too.) Then you took a dirt road for 20 miles(!) or so until you hit the Conejos River, in the middle of a beautiful valley. Heaven. The rustic cabins all smelled a bit like natural gas, and Mom always served slightly crunchy and perfect Krusteaz pancakes with bacon for breakfast, alongside Tang (and coffee for the grown-ups). The skies were seldom flawed with clouds, and if rain fell, it was usually a quiet, comforting rain. Board games like Sorry! and Parcheesi came along for the ride, as did my Speak & Spell. (Fast forward 10 years or so to see the end result of my obsession with said gadget.) Dad went fishing virtually every day with our golden retriever Duchess, and our sandy Jeep Wagoneer perpetually smelled like wet dog and freshly-caught trout. My brother and I, the best of friends at this point, would wander the side of the frigid Conejos and throw seaweed-covered rocks into the river, scaring away fish and inevitably angering our dad, trying to catch dinner for us all. And the air was as clean as you could ever hope for, aside from the road dust which coated your mouth as you drove off with the windows open. But those luscious lime Starbursts took care of that.

I will admit that the lime Tootsie Rolls do offer a very good approximation of what I've missed for years and years, both in flavor and texture. But I just plain miss opening up the square candies with the wax paper folded just so, seeing the light green jewel in my hands and biting it in two to see how white the center got. (I was always convinced that Starbursts were white in the center. Such a silly kid.) Until Mars/Starburst decides to bring back lime (and not in a limited-time, retro sort of way, but for good), I'll always feel like my life is somehow incomplete.

Thus ends the solipsistic trip down memory lane. I now return you to your regularly scheduled life.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Pet Shop Boys - Love Etc.

Simply because I'm a Pet Shop Boys queen. They really do provide the soundtrack for guppies. My full verdict for Yes is still out, but so far, it seems quite good. I think PSB is pretty much stuck in a holding pattern of producing better-than-average pop music, but it seems they've been getting steadily better with each album since Nightlife, which, I guess, would make this the best since Bilingual. Which is no mean feat.

As good and over-the-top as this song is, I'm waiting for a video for "All Over The World" or "Pandemonium." Or especially "Beautiful People," which starts vaguely like a menacing rockabilly tune, then morphs effortlessly into the lushest mod fashionista Statement Of Purpose ever.

And seriously? Super Mario Bros. meets Soviet propaganda-style art fabulous ornate art movement I'm not privy to? Whoever thought this one up is beyond creative. Droll, wry, brilliant. Perfect PSB, in other words.

But enough commentary. Here ya go. (With apologies for the video running off the side.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Freedom fries

Exhibit A in mockery of stupid, ugly, mindlessly patriotic Americans, or what Kathy Griffin calls people who are "proud of their aggressive ignorance": Freedom fries. The Francophobia in this country seemed to hit historic highs in 2003, when France stridently opposed the invasion of Iraq. And this was our childish way of protesting their opposition?

First off, French fries didn't originate in France. Belgians seem to take pride in being the originators. So there's that. But also? French fries get that name from the way they are cut: they are "frenched." In other words, they are sliced into long, thin strips. (But not that thin, lest they be julienned.)

So the whole "freedom fries" thang began as a result of a few Republican senators from Ohio and North Carolina who just had their panties in a snit over these damned French who opposed a multinational invasion of Iraq. (Um, if memory serves, so did that sniveling wimpy country full of quislings, Germany. Or something. Just sayin', if a country with a war-strewn past like Germany says ixnay on the arway, I'm listening. Anyhow...) The use of the word "French" in one of our country's most cherished foods was so offensive that they mandated that henceforth, the House of Representatives' cafeteria would only serve "freedom fries." Oh yeah, and "freedom toast." Heh.

Can't you just picture it? Nathalie Loisau, who spoke on behalf of the French embassy, was probably trying her best not to laugh her sweet little freedom heinie off as she made an official statement. "We are at a very serious moment dealing with very serious issues and we are not focusing on the name you give to potatoes." You know the whole embassy was collapsing in laughter. Probably all of France was, too. Or at least the part of France that focused on the name we give to potatoes.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

They Might Be Giants - Flood

Okay. Let's see if I can get through this one trying to use the word "wacky" as seldom as possible. Thesaurus, be my guide.

For sheer zaniness, They Might Be Giants reigns supreme among music groups. And to this minor fan, probably nothing in their catalog beats Flood. I mean, for starters, this is the album that produced the immortal, wacky "Particle Man," whose Tiny Toons video would be absolutely required viewing, were it not so inaccessible. (All the YouTube "Particle Man" videos have had the song amputated from the audio. Damn pesky copyright laws.) The single, "Birdhouse In Your Soul," is also insanely catchy and makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Yep. Anyone looking for deep meaning in their music - or any meaning at all - should steer clear of this one. Rolling Stone got their panties in a bunch back in 1990 upon Flood's release. For example, they kvetched that although "Your Racist Friend" had a great message, it was ruined by a bouncing tympani and brassy horn bridge. Meh. So the message is good. Who cares? You don't go to McDonald's for health food, and for sure you don't listen to TMBG for resounding polemic.

TMBG - or to be accurate, the Johns Linnell and Flansburgh - exist in a world that is unendingly, deeply wacky. Their sense of reality is bounded by the likes of polka accordions and brass sections gone haywire, with lyrics that stretch puns to their absolute limit and turn everyday situations inside-out. But they have one serious command of pop music. Lincoln, the predecessor, proved all this admirably, but Flood took it to a new, more accessible, and ultimately more outrageously fun level.

It's hard to know where to start - there are just so many high points to this album. So how about "Letterbox," with the lyrics squished together almost unintelligibly: "Illneverknowwhatyoufindwhenyou openupyourletterboxtomorroooooooooow," for starters. The song practically dares you to keep up, much in a similar vein of "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)." Just as weird, but much shorter. Then there's the hilarious "Minimum Wage," wherein...well, that's the lyrics, screamed out at the very beginning, followed by a "Hyaah!" and a whip crack. Oh yeah, and the 1950s kitschy background music for the next 45 seconds. Even one of the album's weaker moments, the relatively dirgelike "Hearing Aid," contains the immortal couplet "More coffee for me, boss/'Cause I'm not as messed up as I'd like to be." (Relatively. For these two guys, dirgelike means "midtempo and lasting longer than three minutes.")

Oh yeah...there's actual tunes, too. (And careful, now...they may not have full-out messages, but some do have plots and stories!) But even they verge on the realm of the commercial jingle, so snappy are they. The computerized handclaps and buzzing organ of "Twisting" belie a jilted girlfriend's desire to see her ex hanged, and screw those tapes and records she loaned him. "Dead" is a mock-ballad, with the two Johns accompanied only by a saloon piano, singing about God knows what. It sounds serious, but what do you make of lyrics like "I came back as a bag of groceries accidentally taken off the shelf before the date stamped on myself"? So it could be about mortality, or it could be about groceries. Either way is just fine, and there's no use trying to analyze it.

Just like "Particle Man" will always be tied with that hilarious Tiny Toons video, Flood is unalterably a product of its time - heck, the opening fanfare announces "It's a brand new record for 1990!" It was a record the cool kids listened to and enjoyed as their little in-joke - at least, the ones who had at least one gear running off keester. You know...the kids into drama or art or choir or the yearbook or the school newspaper. But I digress. Flood is and will always be dated, but it will also always be one of the most excellent albums of the 1990s. At least to this grown-up kid.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Poor, poor Rachael Ray

I feel for Rachael Ray. Yeah, you heard me right. The bubbliest, perkiest, most annoying domestic cocktease since Denise Austin (who's so happy I'm convinced there's pathology there) gets my sympathy. Now, I know that the woman is set for life...if she never set food on another Food Network soundstage or wrote another cookbook, she'd be just fine.

It's that damned letter "a." Her parents, like so many nowadays, couldn't leave well enough alone and name her simply Rachel. Nope. Let's throw in a rogue letter that makes no sense to ensure the misery of our dear daughter, and to ensure that, despite her best attempts, people will forevermore be misspelling her name (to the tune of 1.3 million "Rachel Ray" misspellings listed on Google, people).

Probably anyone outside of "John Smith" can relate. I certainly can. I got so sick of people misspelling my name that when I got to college, I finally created a smartass retort to those sorry twerps. "Just like the Biblical character, only with an 's' at the end." Especially at a religious school, I figured that'd work. Except for one thing...these stupes misspelled the Biblical character, too. Cue wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Okay. Gotta back up here. Back in my spelling heyday, if anyone tried to foist someone's random name on me and dare me to spell it correctly, I'd claim immunity. (Still do, in fact, except that hardly anyone asks me, 20 championship spellers down the road.) There are so many variations to so many names that any attempt is doomed to failure. Words that have been in the dictionary for years and years, that's one thing. Names that end up having variations dreamed up by sadistic parents, that's another.

Hollywood parents lately have jumped on the "let's give our kids the dorkiest names we can so we can prove how Very Creative we are" bandwagon, and I pray, PRAAY that the rest of America doesn't follow suit. I really don't feel the need to go out of my way and find a link to emphasize this for ya, so Google yerselves silly, kids. But just one name: Shiloh Pitt. For all the piles o' shit that poor girl is gonna have to slog through for the rest of her life (and if she lives through middle school and high school, I'm buying her tell-all), her dumbfuck mom and dad deserve to do years of hard labor. (And Brad? A double sentence for abandoning Jennifer Aniston for that condescending celebutante who makes Greta Garbo seem approachable. And hey, Jen? You can pose nude for GQ again any ol' time you want. Yes, this is a gay man saying this. My straight brothers will totally back me on this, though.)

So my heart goes out to Rachael, but just for that one thing. And I wish a balsam-wood door slamming on her parents' heads for giving her a craptacular name. Oh yeah, and the same for her thousands, maybe millions of fans who adore her, know her, and can't get her damned name right, even though it's visible everywhere.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pump Up the Volume

"Do you ever get the feeling that everything in America is completely fucked up?"

And like that, I was hooked. In the very first line, a movie had caught my attention and would not let go for the next 100 minutes. All the angst of a teenager who somehow felt that life in this blessed country of ours was severely off track began here and rampaged all through Pump Up the Volume. It was like Paul Simon's "American Tune," only more graphic, more punk, and updated for the life of the alienated 1990s teenager, rather than the merely discontented 1970s young adult. Oh yeah, and it was a full film instead of a pretty four minute-long folk song. Never mind that it was a suburbanite's view of alienation, rebellion, and just generally acting out. I was a suburbanite. And a fairly alienated, rebellious, and disturbed one, as they come. So it hit me like a sucker punch to the gut, as if someone had read my mind and transferred its contents, goo and all, to celluloid.

It's hard to say exactly where my adoration should start. Mark Hunter/Hard Harry (a very cute Christian Slater) was my alter ego, a high school kid hiding his literary talents by day behind painful shyness and by night behind voice distortion over his freeform makeshift radio station. He'd utter random, meaningless thoughts on the air like "Eat your cereal with a fork, and do your homework in the dark," but I lapped it up like honey because it sounded so gleefully subversive, and man, what if you did exactly those things? What would people think? How fun would it be to screw with their minds? It wasn't a stretch for me to go from there to considering super-gluing all the pots and pans to the kitchen ceiling, just to see how the parental units would respond. (For the record: I never did, but man, some days I wish I had. Would have explained a lot more of my impulses nowadays.)

But then Hard Harry would swing from the gleeful to the deathly serious (at least for young kids like me): "Sometimes being young is less fun than being dead." Yeah. Tell that to the kid who's dealing with potential rejection far beyond what his 15 years on this planet has prepared him for. Say that to a kid who often becomes morbidly depressed for reasons he really can't fathom. He'll be listening. And he'll still be listening when Hard Harry says, "We're all worried, we're all in pain...Being a teenager sucks, but surviving it is the whole point. Quitting is not going to make you stronger, living will. So just hang on and hang in there." It was lines like these that kept me going when really, nothing else would.

But it was the realm between the absurd and the serious where Pump Up the Volume really came together. Hard Harry was able to take the deepest depths of teenage angst and give it meaning, give it momentum, and give it a target. Soon after Hard Harry began his radio show, a fan of his wrote in threatening suicide, and after a disturbingly blunt phone conversation, he tragically followed up on his threat. Hard Harry showed appropriate remorse afterward, but then began to rally himself – and purely by proxy, his other fans – against the forces that brought one of them down. He rightly took aim at his suburban chockablock surroundings - physical and otherwise - that created artificial walls and separated people from the compassion that everyone needs. "We're all disturbed. And if we're not, why not? Doesn't this blend of blindness and blandness want to make you do something crazy? Then why not do something crazy?" After hearing this call to arms, I wanted to yell out, "Hallelujah!" Except he had already beaten me to it, about 30 minutes before that. That's how onto my game Hard Harry was.

Oh, and since we’re talking about teenage drama, we can’t ignore hormones. How uncomfortable did Hard Harry make moviegoers when he faked a sexual act – jacking off – on the air that billions of men engage in every day? It was that unabashedness – again, behind a smokescreen of voice distortion – that was so compelling to all teenagers. To the guys? Wow…that guy has balls to be able to just admit to doing something like that…but actually jack off? And on the air? Damn. I can only imagine what women thought. Honestly, I had (and still have) no idea. But perhaps more compelling was Hard Harry’s insecurity about opening himself up to sexual attraction with someone else, expressed so dramatically during his scenes with an utterly compelling Samantha Mathis. (I had a bit of a girlcrush on her for a bit, quite similar to the one I had on Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice.) Gay, straight, at that point, it didn’t matter…being supremely awkward and uncomfortable, yet aching to connect with someone on a profoundly profound level was universal.

Pump Up the Volume, to be honest, doesn’t have much of a plot, much like its brilliant kindred spirit Dazed and Confused. Okay, so Hard Harry starts his own renegade radio show, eventually gets in trouble with the feds, and is arrested. Saw that one coming from miles away. But just like good Greek drama (my God, am I actually comparing this to Greek drama?), the story is not in what happens, but how it happens. Everyone knew Oedipus was going to kill his father and marry his mother and gouge his eyes out; how would it transpire on stage, though? Similarly, we all know Hard Harry’s going to jail for his (supposed) crimes, but how much can he get away with before the plug is pulled? Obviously, if he’s raising the hackles of the FCC, he goes much further than giving a (very powerful) voice to teen disillusionment. Heck, even what he accomplishes (bringing the corrupt administration of his high school down) pales in comparison to the voice he gives to his alienated peers.

Incidentally, I never did get this soundtrack, which is a bummer. But I’ve heard the original versions of at least half the songs, including Sonic Youth’s searing “Titanium Exposé” and a supremely awesome surf guitar version the Pixies did of their own “Wave of Mutilation.” Definitely worth a listen. And even though Concrete Blonde will never cease being cool in this guy’s eyes, Leonard Cohen’s original version of “Everybody Knows” is simply unbeatable. Download it posthaste.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Daria on YouTube...and DVD?

Two things Daria-related have recently made my universe much brighter. First off, there is a YouTube channel that has recently been updated (actually, inundated) with many episodes of Daria, after a few-month hiatus. Including my personal fave episode. Enjoy, kiddos. (If you're wondering what the big deal is about Daria, check this out.)

But perhaps the bigger news (and hopefully this isn't just another rumor), is that Daria may well be officially released on DVD next year!

No snarky, witty, or otherwise Daria-worthy comments right now...our hero is too involved with the physical labors of moving to a new home to engage his brain in a coherent manner. But I will keep you, my one or two regular readers, updated.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Frank's Wild Years - Tom Waits

Tom Waits is a genius sui generis. (Go look that one up, kids.) He spent the first phase of his career (in the 1970s) doing the semi-sensitive songwriter gig, with some twists that made you realize he had maybe a few screws loose. But his heart was always in the right place. And for the most part, he held onto his sanity fairly well.

Until Swordfishtrombones. I mean, the title alone should tell you something. Tom suddenly begins grunting, slithering, squawking, and belching out his songs, exorcising some mighty hepcat demons and channeling his Beat Generation forebears. Not that he was all crazy...he still painted some gorgeous, almost impressionistic ballads, like the sentimental "Johnsburg, Illinois." But some of those songs were juxtaposed with music so nearly hallucinatory and random that the serious, unironic stuff was like hitting a brick wall after careening down an alley in a car without brakes. Swordfishtrombones is brilliant in large part for its fearless leap into primitive, absurd territory, the likes of which had probably not been imagined for at least 10 years. It's doubly triumphant for having been released in 1983, a year rife with synthesizers and hair mousse. Saying that this album ignored the trends of its time implies far too much of a relationship. Swordfishtrombones simply existed in its own universe.

"Frank's Wild Years," a hilarious short monologue performed like a poetry reading complete with groovy organ in the background, just has to be heard. I mean, any piece that starts this way is an instant classic, no matter what follows: "Frank settled down out in the Valley, and he hung his wild years on a nail that he drove through his wife's forehead." And the humor continues. Frank lives a suburban life with a wife who's derided as a "spent piece of used jet-trash." (Thankfully, she "kept her mouth shut most of the time.") Their little chihuahua Carlos "had some kind of skin disease and was totally blind" - an automatic shoo-in for the World's Ugliest Dog Championships. Tom Waits deadpans his way through the monologue as deftly as Steven Wright, with an abrupt ending it would be unfair to reveal. (Apparently, "Frank's Wild Years" struck Waits so much, he decided to expand on the song, creating an album by the same name four years later.)

Can't say much else except to repeat: Tom Waits is hidden treasure, a quixotic angelheaded hipster that deserves a wide audience. Swordfishtrombones may be a bit too eccentric an album to start out with for most people, but if you wanna dive in, "Frank's Wild Years" is among the best and most accessible of the songs here.

(Also recommended: "Johnsburg, Illinois," "16 Shells From a Thirty-Ought Six," "Down, Down, Down," "Soldier's Things")

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Jucy Lucy

First off: No, that is not misspelled. Well, yes it is, but it's intentional. Sic. To spell it correctly is to get the Jucy Lucy all wrong.

Second, the picture just doesn't do this hummer justice. People, listen up. There's cheeseburgers. And then there's cheeseburgers. But this? Hot DAMN, the Jucy Lucy reigns supreme o'er all. A cheeseburger with the cheese (American or Velveeta, of course!) placed in the center of the burger. Then cooked until the cheese is liquefied and the temperature of the earth's core.

Somehow, during my six years of tenure in Minnesota from 1993-1999, I evaded the gravitational pull of the Jucy Lucy. Seems like hotdish, wild rice soup, and the belly-busting fare at the Minnesota State Fair (a demimonde all unto itself), may have kept me in check. My loss. Years later (like 2004, I think), I finally found my way to Matt's Bar at 3500 Cedar Ave S in south Minneapolis, home of the original Jucy Lucy. And began doing penance for my decade-long sin of omission.

When you go to Matt's, there will be a wait. At least 15 minutes, more like a half hour. The whole restaurant is the size of an old 1950s style icebox. Sardines is the word you're looking for. As for the decor, it's all vinyl seats, wood paneling, and laminate table tops. Lowbrow kitsch seldom gets better than this. Once you jimmy yourself into your seat, order a pop. Only don't expect a glass. If a can's good enough for Matt's, it's good enough for you.

Now, when I said I did penance, here's how it happened: I received my Jucy Lucy, grabbed it, and immediately took my first bite. And squirted molten lava all over my hands and into my mouth, cauterizing most of my taste buds in the process. Lesson learned: No matter how hungry you are, you do NOT eat a Jucy Lucy when it first arrives. You'll look like a rube. Stuff down the fries that arrived in the basket. (Oh yeah, no plates here, either...they don't need no stinkin' plates.) Look around and enjoy the people-watching. Take your time. The cooks sure did, didn't they? But it just takes that long to make the perfect Jucy Lucy. And if you can evade the tongue-searing effects of the liquid cheese, then you'll taste a Midwestern carnivore's idea of heaven.

Monday, June 29, 2009

P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) - Michael Jackson

So here's my token Michael Jackson smash note. Because if I didn't do one, I'd be un-American and stuff. Also, for me not to acknowledge the awesome forces that were "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin',"Beat It,"and especially, especially, my GOD especially "Billie Jean" would be treason.

Thriller, yes, did a huge ol' number on me. I remember spending one whole recess in 3rd grade practicing my moon walk. Never did perfect it, really. I wrote all my favorite Michael Jackson songs in calligraphy (yes, calligraphy - with a calligraphy pen with refillable ink cartridges, no less) on my Trapper Keeper. Did I mention I was a nerd? Oh, and then there was that whole Victory tour thing. Nosebleed seats be damned - the day after that concert, I was well-nigh OBSESSED with all things Jackson.

But I have to give my props to what I ultimately thought was the essential fourth wheel to accompany the aforementioned triune: "P.Y.T." The first verse alone killed me. Only Michael Jackson could serenade his "Tenderoni" and not make her sound like a pizza condiment - he made it just about the damned coolest name ever. And his pleas to her to "spark my nature, sugar fly with me" were totally irresistible. But to this landlocked kid with no exposure to anything remotely Valley Girl-ish (other than my sister's copy of Fer Shur! How to Be a Valley Girl-Totally! - now out of print, malheureusement), hearing him yell, "Let me take you to the max!" just sent me overboard. Some guys just had all the moves and said all the right things and were too cool for words. And Michael Jackson was WAAAY at the head of the pack in that regard. Incidentally, the rest of the song was great, with the call-and-response bridge (thanks to Janet and LaToya) and whatever that damned chipmunk was singing at the end of the song - we may never know.

So, yeah, there's my Michael Jackson tribute. Poor guy was America's answer to Icarus - flew so high, and plummeted to such depths. I hear someone recently say, "Too soon! Too soon!" Too soon? Really? Sorry...but to this cynic's eye, MJ ceased being relevant just about the time "The Way You Make Me Feel" hit the airwaves (with "Man in the Mirror" and "Black and White" being the few exceptions). Worst of all, though, he just plain turned too weird, too white, too oxygenated. Going into a store and purchasing Dangerous or even browsing around the Michael Jackson catalog was tantamount to announcing to everyone in your class that you were a gaywad. Regardless of how great the music may have been inside. But in 1982, not liking Michael Jackson was just plain not an option. You might as well say you didn't like breathing.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mai Tai

I've mentioned this one before. During my tiki summer of 2004, I discovered a recipe for a mai tai that I thought would fit the bill...something tropical, sweet, fruity, and strong. Yes, yes, yes, and HELL YEAH! Depth charge to the liver and the pancreas in one fell swoop. When I made one of these hummers, that did me just fine for the night. Once, I decided to have two. I think I lost my way to the bedroom that night and just passed out in the hall. (This is even less impressive knowing that at the time, the living room recliner and the bedroom were separated by, oh, maybe 20 feet. And the hall was straight.)

Anyhow, ever since that time, I have referred to this particular mai tai recipe as the drink of death. You don't drink this one lightly. You drink it to get wasted. For the uninitiated, it tastes like slightly flavored ethanol with red food coloring. (Incidentally, it looks MUCH redder than this picture portrays, thanks to grenadine.) The recipe comes from the New York Bartender's Guide. (So it ain't Trader Vic's. Whatever.)

So, the Mai Tai of 2004, the Drink of Death:
2 shots light rum
2 shots dark rum
1 shot orange curacao
1 shot lime juice
1 tbsp grenadine
1 tbsp orgeat (almond syrup)

Mix together in a shaker pre-filled with ice. Serve on the rocks in a big glass. With a serious drink like this, ya don't need no stinkin' paper umbrellas or cherries or pineapple garnishes. But they might help it go down smoother.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Cry Baby - Stray Cats

No, I'm not an expert on rockabilly. I just know that it's music that's just dripping with pomaded teenage rebellion, 1950s style, and was a great offshoot of more straight-ahead rock 'n' roll. I consider it the landlocked, scuffier, wilder, and slightly more countrified version of surf guitar music. Oh yeah, and there's singing, too...almost exclusively by guys, almost exclusively about girls, cars, backstreet brawls and beefs with The Man.

Don't know much about the Stray Cats, either. Of all their songs before 1990, I only know their three biggest ones: "Stray Cat Strut," "(She's) Sexy & 17," and "Rock This Town." Brian Setzer and Co. were born about 30 years too late, it seems. But they deserve mad props for bringing rockabilly back with a vengeance in the 1980s, even if it was an uphill struggle. They were about the only ones in the convertible cherry red Cadillac spearheading the effort. Worse, people were too infatuated with new wave synthesizers and short, sunny pop tunes to pay attention to much music before 1975.

By the early 1990s, the Stray Cats had long grown old. So it was no surprise that in 1992, Choo Choo Hot Fish dropped with the impact of a pebble into Niagara Falls. A shame, too, since the album wasn't half bad. But "Cry Baby" - the one song that my local "alternative" station played from it - was faster, more rambunctious, and more infectious than anything the Stray Cats had ever dropped before. Including "Rock This Town." If there were any justice, radio as a whole would have picked up on this hummer and brought these guys back to relevance. No such luck.

There's no real variation on any rockabilly themes here. Guys in these songs are always itchy and impatient and finding fault with the world around them. Here, the subject of discontent is a crybaby who always runs late for her dates. Lyrics like "The game you're playing is just not my bag/Why must you be such a drag?" certainly didn't win any awards for poetic excellence, but score major points for punk-like conciseness and attitude. Here, attitude is everything. Brian Setzer's sultry snarl is reverbed to the max, as is the stuttering guitar that zooms up and down like a rollercoaster flying out of control. And damn, these guys sound like they're having a blast. You'd think Setzer was thrilled to be kicking his girl to the curb, free to be on the prowl again.

Yeah, the Stray Cats are a footnote in music history, long gone (aside from the cliched reunion concerts and tours). And rockabilly remains the bastard cousin of rock 'n' roll, often easily overlooked in search of other genres with more variation. But who cares? Those facts are irrelevant when you discover songs as fun as "Cry Baby."

Friday, May 22, 2009

Coronary heart disease

Paging all health care professionals with half a brain. (And that should mean the vast, vast majority of you health care professionals.) Especially all cardiologists. Especially especially my cardiology instructor from back in the day, Dr. Milner.

If I read or hear another mention of "coronary heart disease," I'm goin' medieval on the fool. Look here:

coronary (adj) 1. of or pertaining to the heart.

"Coronary heart disease" is an obnoxious, stupid redundancy. It's like saying "heart heart disease." Some might argue this point:

coronary (adj) 2. pertaining to the arteries that supply the heart tissues and originate in the root of the aorta.

And they say, "See? It's heart disease that's specific to the coronary arteries!" I guess that's to differentiate from conditions like cardiomegaly or endocarditis. So, okay. That makes sense. Kind of.


If it's disease that has struck the coronary arteries, then just say so. Coronary artery disease. Not so hard, is it? Saying "coronary heart disease" just makes you look dumb. At least to this health care professional.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Whole Lotta Love - Led Zeppelin

Hot DAMN, but this is one hot song. A half-stifled laugh leads into one of the most immortal riffs in all of rock and roll, buttressed by one of the thickest basses of all time. Then Robert Plant unleashes his incomparably lusty yowl, Bonzo slams into his drums, and thus begins a six-minute classic come-on that’s more of an ode to the sheer power of testosterone than to the woman Plant is itchin’ to score.

As the first single for Led Zeppelin II, this song was significantly shortened to make way for the AM radio waves, and as such, packed a punk-like punch. But seldom has the recording studio been so successfully used to make incidental sound effects absolutely essential to a song. I’m talking, of course, about the bridge. Put on headphones – preferably sound-reducing ones. This is the only way to listen to this part. Psychedelic bees swarm and thunder roars all around you. Jimmy Page swipes the theremin from its original home in space-themed lounge music and rips out some unholy sounds. Bonzo keeps a deceptively simple, metronome-like tempo in the background. And here, Plant screams at a hyperorgasmic level, as if his normal yowl was just a whisper.

You could argue that this was the best song Zep ever did. Whether you’d be successful is another story altogether, but only because there’s so much to choose from. Critics seem to praise the lumbering, bluesy “When the Levee Breaks” off of their fourth album. Many will always remain loyal to “Stairway to Heaven”; I’m not one of ‘em. But it says something that this fiery romp led off their original (and best) 4-CD box set released in the early ‘90s. Downloading this song ain’t a bad place to start, but seriously, if this song hits you, head out and immediately get any or all of their first five albums (personal faves: Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin IV, and Houses of the Holy).

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Peak vs. pique

Specifically, as verbs.

peak (vb): to project in a pointed top; to attain a high point of activity, development, popularity, etc.

pique (vb): to excite (interest, curiosity, etc.)

So, one can say "My interest in R.E.M. peaked in the early 1990s, before Bill Berry left the band." And one can also say, "It was around this time, when I was coming out, that the Pet Shop Boys began to pique my interest."

Get it. Got it? Good. Now don't ever, EVER confuse the two in writing again, or I'll come after ya. It's said with love, pure and unconditional.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Broccoli and rosemary

Whatever you do, never, NEVER combine these two ingredients in a dish. NEVER. Star players on their own that combine to produce an aroma and a flavor as appetizing as raw sewage. And yes, I speak from experience. It's good to get creative in the kitchen, but trust me on this one.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Oh, the summer of 2004 changed me. Of course, you, the reader, have been assiduously following my blog, and already know of my tiki fetish. But that same summer, I also regressed emotionally back to college. And one of my loves at the time was Daria.

I was lucky enough to find it on The N, basically to the Noggin what Nick at Nite was to Nickelodeon. The N was, uh, edgy enough to show teenage dramas like Radio Free Roscoe and Degrassi (which was a Canadian show apparently too extreme to make it onto syndicated American TV). But I didn't want messy reality drama. I wanted my sarcasm, plain and simple. I wanted humor just this side of Beavis and Butthead. I wanted a cartoon to pander to my basest brainwave frequencies. I wanted to hear Daria Morgendorffer and her indomitable sidekick Jane Lane wax sardonic about life, high school, boys, the popular people, name it, nothing was immune to their withering observations. They said all the things I never felt I could say as a high school or college kid for some reason.

Daria delivered the wicked goods. The show actually was an offshoot of Beavis and Butthead; one episode finds Daria correcting the two moronically chuckling in a museum: "He said master painters." But Daria was too much of a character to be denied a show of her own. Who couldn't relate to being a misfit prone to snarky comments in high school? Millions could. So one day in 1997, Daria and her family moved away from their former home in Texas, settled in Lawndale, and one of the best cartoons ever created began its five-year stint on MTV.

The unfortunate thing about Daria is that chances of it being officially released on DVD are slim to none. The background music was sampled from scads of alternative artists, all from different music labels. The possibility of securing the rights to each and every one of those songs is pretty slim...although in this day and age where Girl Talk can sample hundreds of artists in one single 53 minute-long song and probably not get prosecuted, hey...anything's possible, right? Just don't hold your breath is all I'm sayin'.

The other unfortunate thing about Daria is that it stopped being aired on MTV in 2002, and although picked up by The N sometime after that (albeit in edited form), it was dropped unceremoniously in 2005. It now lives an ignominious existence on YouTube. Still, check the ads on the side...maybe there is hope after all.

But in the meantime, we have websites like this to fulfill our Daria-philia. And my love for Daria knows few bounds. This shall not be the last you hear from me about Ms. Morgendorffer.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Somery - Descendents

God. I'm writing this review and I don't even know which Descendents song to place at the top of the heap.

So who are these Descendents? The original bratty snot-nosed California skater punk band from the 1980s. Green Day owes, like, their entire career to them. As do many so-called "punk" bands nowadays. (Irony: I love the Descendents but generally can't stand Green Day. Fact!) Milo Aukerman and Company provide the soundtrack to the teenage boy who wakes up one day to find that his body can barely contain the hormones that are suddenly gushing through his body. Any guy who lived through puberty can relate: a ravenous appetite, intense jizzlobbing dreams, and a cock that gets hard at any random provocation, especially the one that says " like girls."

About half of the songs on Somery (their best-of) last as long as it takes for said boy to go from zero to hard to ejaculation (i.e., less than two and a half minutes), and sound about as spurtastic, too. The longer ones are poppier, and actually owe a fair bit to the Beach Boys. (They even covered "Wendy" on Enjoy.) But the Descendents are primarily a punk band, with a classic, fairly clean L.A. sound somewhat akin to Black Flag.

Shit, man...I still can't decide. So here's a bunch of 'em (all from Somery).

1) "All/No, All!" - British punk band Wire (part of the class of '77) probably set the record for the shortest punk song with the 27-second "Field Day for the Sundays." Youth of Today took over in 1986 with "Standing Hard," with 28 words jammed into 16 seconds. One year later, the Descendents took the title and 2nd place with these volcanic soundbites, 3 and 4 seconds long, respectively. The perfect way to bookend Somery, and these have to be heard. Utterly hilarious.

2) "Suburban Home" - The poppier side of the Descendents' rebellious streak against, well, suburbia. "I want to be stereotyped. I want to be classified." Brilliant.

3) "Kids" - These three phrases are all you need to know: "Warningthebasemastergeneralhasdeterminedthatcoffeeisgoodforyourhealth," "Thankstomodernchemistrysleepisnowoptional," and the one that sums it up perfectly, "KIDS ON COFFEE! KIDS ON COFFEE! KIDS ON COFFEE!" Forty-six seconds of caffeine-fueled teenage insanity.

4) "Clean Sheets" - An excellent opening riff to a song about the angst of wet dreams and a girl who got away. It takes balls for a band to perform a song like this. No pun intended.

5) "Sour Grapes" - A fantastic (if somewhat mean-spirited) kiss-off to a pretty girl who snubs a poor, awkward and insanely shy boy who tries to ask her out on a date (and then some). Best line (misspellings intended): "I wanted her cherry, I got souw gwapes!"

6) "Weinerschnitzel" - Probably the one song I was going to praise originally. An eleven-second fast food order, including turning down a side order of "Bill sperm." The producers of Pump Up The Volume really nailed it when they put this song in there...and had Hard Harry play it twice in rapid succession, just because he could. Then they fucked up royally by not including it on the soundtrack.

7) "Enjoy" - You gotta love the Descendents for coming up with a paean to farting. In a van. With the windows rolled up. To see who can come up with the raunchiest smelling fart. (Comes complete with sound effects.)

8) "I Like Food" - And I like really, really short Descendents songs.

9) "I Don't Want To Grow Up" - The slightly harder-edged side of the Descendents' rebellious streak (see "Suburban Home"). Complete with "nyah-nyah-nyahs."

I'm sure there's others I forgot. But yeah, Somery's rad. Pick it up.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Charlene - I've Never Been To Me

Okay. Before y'all begin throwing your...whatever it is you throw, sit yerselves down. Yes, I'm quite aware that many websites list this song as among the worst pop songs ever. But these lists were probably made by people who take pop music way too seriously (and who, it seems, never heard anything recorded after 1985). That sin right there ensures that "I've Never Been To Me" belongs at the bottom of the dustbin. For those poor folks.

They also cry out that "I've Never Been To Me" is a manipulative attempt at advancing a conservative agenda and the sanctimony of the family. Well, okay. I'll grant that. The song is basically the parable of a woman who has lived a hedonistic lifestyle for years and wakes from her ecstatic dream to find that it was empty, and she regrets her life of debauchery. Then she spends the song talking to a "discontented mother," trying to convince her that her lifelong bacchanale may have been paradise, but. "You know what paradise is?" she whispers. "It's a lie. A fantasy we create about people and places as we'd like them to be."

A sermon against having too much fun in life. In a pop song. Seriously? Seriously. Like #3 on the pop charts in 1982 seriously.

You have to take "I've Never Been To Me" for what it is - a song that is so earnest, so desperate, it just cries out to be mocked. And if you can do that, you'll recognize the genius this song really is.

To wit: during the opening to The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, drag queens were performing it with such fake sincerity while dropping squeaking baby dolls on the ground. They got it. When you see it in this context, it's impossible NOT to recognize its awesomeness.

Seriously, you all know the song and could probably at least sing the chorus in your sleep. (If you were living under a rock during the early 1980s, or weren't born yet, then get educated post-haste below.) The things that elevate this song to genius (or drop it to hell, depending on your view):

1) The way those t's sound when Charlene harmonizes with herself on "won't you share the par...T...of a weary hear...T." Toe-curling. You don't hear such perfect enunciation even from Abba.

2) "I've been to Nice and the isle of Greece." Uh, quick geography lesson here? Greece is actually physically connected to Europe. Unless you're talking about, oh, the 1400 or so Greek islands floating in the Aegean. Such adorable ignorance. Charlene, you're just too pretty for words.

3) That hilarious spoken monologue. Because the rest of the song wasn't serious enough.

4) Charlene's voice throughout. Woman has got to have perfect pitch or something...she treats every note as if it were sacrosanct. She also scores major points for really digging into this song and Wringing. Out. Every. Last. Emotion. from the lyrics. (Listen to how her voice just cracks with sadness as she sings "I spent my life exploring the subtle whoring that COST too much to be free!")

Now, having said that, for all its excessive weepiness, "I've Never Been To Me" does have a side worth considering seriously for a bit. It really epitomizes the hangover the morning after the 1970s. "I've Never Been To Me" actually was first released in 1977 and only got to #97. Makes sense that such a thematically sober song would do so poorly in the midst of the disco era. But what a difference five years makes. This song rang bitterly true for more than a few veterans of Studio 54, or for gay men during the AIDS-filled nightmare that was Reagan's "Morning in America." And although Rolling Stone once dubbed Billy Joel's "My Life" (truly an excellent song, by the way) "a neat epitaph for the Me Decade," really, that honor belongs on this song's sequined and fake-feathered shoulders.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Music for TV Dinners / Music for TV Dinners: The Sixties

How can I begin to explain these wacky aberrations of nature? Let's start with the titles. Random, these. Why have music for TV dinners? Weren't TV dinners created so you could eat Salisbury hockey puck, potato buds, and cherry surprise (surprise! fake cherries!) while basking in the radiation emanating from your boob tube? Isn't music kinda irrelevant here? Well, they had to name this set something. Unendurably Perky Muzak: The Golden Years, Vols. 1 and 2 must not have been catchy enough.

But enough slamming. Both of these albums are honestly quite charming in their own way. Completely a product of each of their eras, they also perfectly encapsulate those eras. There is no question which decade each of these albums came from, nor in which context you would expect to hear them.

A disclaimer: I do not have either of these albums. Any commentary I have about this is based solely on listening to the quick 30-second snippets available by the good folks at But really, that's all you need to hear to judge 'em.

In a nutshell, the original Music for TV Dinners is the music that defined the simple chipmunk-like optimism of squeaky-clean urban and suburban 1950s America, filled with happy capitalist consumers radiating civic pride. And these songs are among the earwormiest of earworms, generic background music to those kitschy black and white films about modern living through technology. Songs like "Shopping Spree," "Happy Go Lively," and "Trafficscape" were probably manufactured by scientists who were recruited by corporate types or G-men to motivate the populace to spend, be happy, and revel in the comfortable and secure times, never mind the fact that we were in a Cold War with those evil Soviets. Or maybe not. Either way, Music for TV Dinners makes the opening credits to Leave It to Beaver sound like a dirge. Take that as you will. (Tragically, Music for TV Dinners appears to be out of print as of this posting. If you want it, you'll have to shell out a pretty penny for it.)

Music for TV Dinners: The Sixties shares the same optimism and catchy hooks that its predecessor boasts, but there's where the similarities end. Just like its title claims, none of this music could have been contemplated before 1960, let alone be performed or recorded then. Think Burt Bacharach. Think Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass. Add some go-go beats, some mod stylings, some evidence that Americans had entered the jet age and were loosening up considerably and becoming more cosmopolitan. Suave, breezy and ebullient, you could imagine this music being played on the radio while cruising down the Pacific Coastal Highway in your powder blue Jaguar convertible. Basically, Music for TV Dinners: The Sixties lies at the exact point where Las Vegas lounge, Muzak, and Brill Building greatness collide. Truly groovy and Austin Powers-worthy.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

When My Morning Comes Around - Iris DeMent

I recently boasted on one of those stupid Facebook lists that my musical loves ranged from Skinny Puppy's "Worlock" to this beauty here. Just to show how open-minded I was about music. And looking back, I hate that I did that. People who do that invariably have pretty narrow musical tastes.

Having said that, yes, Iris DeMent and Skinny Puppy are pretty far removed from one another. Skinny Puppy is among the best industrial acts out there, bearing witness to a dystopian postmodern world where life - particularly animal life - is devalued and exploited mercilessly, with lyrics and music that are disjointed, distorted, and ugly. Iris DeMent, on the other hand, is a humble old-time folk singer/songwriter whose songs often sound like they could come rolling out your grandpa's old Victrola, alongside Maybelle Carter and Jimmie Rodgers. Her voice is unfettered and untrained, her emotions pure and naive, and at least for one album, her soul seems utterly pristine, untouched by ugliness of any sort. But there is one similarity between "Worlock" and "When My Morning Comes Around"...both are the undeniable apices to their respective mediocre albums, both by artists who are otherwise excellent.

Now. When people talk about good old-fashioned redemption, or sing about it in hymns, THIS is how it's supposed to sound. Sturdy basic Southern gospel piano, slide guitars and fiddles buttress the swelling emotion, beginning a stately...well, hymn, really. It evokes a loving, forgiving God who knows just how badly you've sinned, who knows the anguish you're suffering as a result, and who will always grant a second chance to get your life right. This is the kind of affirming spiritual guidance that Iris DeMent lives her life by.

And then Iris opens her mouth. It's been a long time since she first sang naively about heaven being "a garden, bunch o' carrots and little sweet peas" on her impressive debut, Infamous Angel. After her wide-eyed optimism, she took a hard, uncomfortably dry-eyed look at the world around her on My Life, full of crumbling relationships, petrifying lives, and wistful remembrances of her past. Iris made an impressive leap in maturity between those two albums, but when she begins singing on this, the first song on The Way I Should, it's apparent her voice is also now more sure of itself, more expressive, and her nasal twang - a fair bit of an acquired taste, let's be honest - has been tempered to great effect. The result is gorgeous.

But this song would merely be a pretty little ditty if the lyrics weren't so damned profound. Iris is standing at a watershed here, looking back at a life lived so wrong, and ever so grateful for the chance to get it right again lying ahead. There's a tinge of wistfulness and regret as she sings about the place she lives now about to "burn to ash and cinder," but it's fleeting. Iris looks forward to the time when "for once, I won't be thinking there's something wrong with me." Raise your hand, people, if you've ever felt hamstrung by your shortcomings. Then give this song a listen. Let it permeate your soul. And if you don't feel a tear of recognition coming to your eye, you've a heart of cold black obsidian.