Saturday, February 25, 2006

Spider-Man 3

Here's the teaser poster. According to most of the websites it's on, this is not a black and white poster. Apparently, Spidey is wearing the black costume. Whether it's the alien costume, no one knows. Whether this means Venom in the third movie, no one knows. Man, this is the best part of comic book movies: the anticipation. Long before the reality sets in, long before expectations are met or disappointed. Posted by Picasa

Friday, February 24, 2006

Rebel Heart: The Soundtrack

Bebe Buell and Liv Tyler Posted by Picasa

One of my favorite people in the world is Bebe Buell, rock muse. I've read her book Rebel Heart: An American Rock 'n' Roll Journey twice, and I think it would make one hell of a movie. Bebe's life has touched many of the greats of rock music, and hers is a gripping story. More than this, it's a great woman's story, which is something we still see only rarely in film. I think Asia Argento should direct Rebel Heart, and I think Bebe should be played by her own daughter, Liv Tyler. At any rate, you could blow millions getting music rights for the film, as evidenced by the soundtrack I put together three years ago just for the hell of it. For no good reason other than I'm in the mood, here's my own three-disc soundtrack for Rebel Heart.

1. Hayley Mills: "Let's Get Together"
In the book, Bebe recalls this song, a scene from the Disney movie The Parent Trap, as something like the first time she became aware that girls who could sing were something special, and that she wanted to be one.
2. The Rolling Stones: "Let's Spend the Night Together"
Early montage: Bebe recalls a girl from her Catholic school who wanted to be Mick Jagger, as well as a Stones concert she attended as a girl.
3. The Animals: "We Gotta Get Out of This Place"
Bebe calls this one of her theme songs as a teenager; this is for when she starts experimenting with drugs, turns down the advances of Jimi Hendrix, and runs away (briefly) to New York.
4. Roxy Music: "Virginia Plain"
Opening credits: Bebe goes to New York to be a model and enters a different world (and thus a different style of music).
5. New York Dolls: "Subway Train"
Bebe starts to hang out at Max's Kansas City, where she meets Andy Warhol, Lou Reed, and John Cale, among others.
6. Todd Rundgren: "I Saw the Light"
A perfect song for the introduction of Todd Rundgren, who was with Bebe for a few years after they met. If the soundtrack is a little Todd-heavy, it can't be helped. Besides, Todd Rundgren rocks.
7. Lou Reed: "Perfect Day"
I just think it's a beautiful song, and fits in perfectly.
8. Alice Cooper: "Teenage Lament '74"
Alice was a friend of Bebe and Todd's, and the song is about growing up in the early seventies, so it works nicely.
9. Todd Rundgren: "Black Maria"
Bebe tells a story about how the stereo blew up when Todd first played this for her. It's a good moment for a film like this, since it sort of symbolizes the party atmosphere of the time. Great song, too. Incidentally, Todd and Bebe were friends with Patti Smith. Wouldn't Gina Gershon be perfect? Or Asia Argento?
10. New York Dolls: "Looking for a Kiss"
More New York, including some scenes with David Johanssen and the late Cyrinda Foxe.
11. The Stooges: "1969"
Bebe's date with Iggy Pop; puking has never sounded so horrible (if you've read it, you can't forget it).
12. Todd Rundgren: "International Feel"
This song is supposed to sound like someone snorting coke and coming to a cosmic realization. It mimicks this pretty well, and marks the point when Todd begane experimenting with alternate consciousness.
13. Grand Funk Railroad: "The Loco-Motion"
Todd produced a comeback album for one of Bebe's childhood favorites; the money enabled them to buy a house in New York.
14. David Bowie: "Watch That Man"
An excellent song to introduce Bowie; in my demented imagination, I picture the androgynous Ziggy-era Bowie as being played by actress Gigi Edgley in wild makeup.
15. The Rolling Stones: "Tumbling Dice"
Is there a cooler intro for Mick Jagger?
16. Patti Smith: "Hey Joe"
An excellent performance piece that balances darkness with being completely uncomfortable.
17. Utopia: "Freedom Fighters"
Todd's band; had to get one in there, since this is the first tour. Bebe came with him, but was left behind in LA, where she was found by...
18. Led Zeppelin: "Immigrant Song"
...Jimmy Page, with whom she had a strange relationship.
19. Bryan Ferry: "Help Me Make It Through the Night"
Problems with Todd, with Jimmy, etc.
20. David Bowie: "Rebel Rebel"
Because it has to be on here somewhere.
21. Patti Smith: "Free Money"
Because you need more Patti.
22. Meat Loaf: "Whatever Happened to Saturday Night"
Bebe went to see Rocky Horror, and this song highlights perfectly the way some artists (like Todd), sought to bridge the gap between the pretentious art rock and the simpler riffs of the 1950s.

1. The Rolling Stones: "Hot Stuff"
Might as well be about a young, strutting Bebe; this is where you get a lot more of Mick, Keith Richards, and Ron Wood. Bebe lived with them for awhile in London after being abandoned again by Todd.
2. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: "American Girl"
More time in London with photographer Clive Arrowsmith.
3. Mott the Hoople: "I Wish I Was Your Mother"
Well, this section needed a slow song and I thought, what the hell? Plus, I think this is where Jimmy Page turned out to be kind of a prick. There's disappointment there.
4. Aerosmith: "Same Old Song and Dance"
Well, Steven Tyler was going to have to come into it some time, and this seemed like a cool intro.
5. Blondie: "X Offender"
I kinda see Charlize Theron as Debbie Harry.
6. The Damned: "Help!"
Starting to edge closer to punk music here.
7. Sex Pistols: "God Save the Queen"
In the book, Bebe talks about bringing a copy of this back from London before it was released, and playing it for Todd, who was openly derisive of it. Bebe new this was the future.
8. Utopia: "Love Is the Answer"
Bebe figures out that Steven Tyler is unreliable, and opts not to run away with him even though she's pregnant with his baby, Liv. After she has the baby, Todd dumps her in an apartment in New York with the baby and breaks off their relationship.
9. Kiss: "New York Groove"
After all that, we need to be cheered up, so it's time to rock again. Back in New York, starting over.
10. The Pretenders: "The Wait"
I can't think of anyone to play Chrissie Hynde...
11. The Heartbreakers: "Born to Lose"
It just seems like it should be in here.
12. Todd Rundgren: "Can We Still Be Friends"
Todd's plea looks at the past with regret.
13. Richard Hell & the Voidoids: "Blank Generation"
And punk has arrived!
14. Rod Stewart: "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?"
Perfectly fits for the total musical decline of Rod Stewart; he and Bebe had a brief relationship. Hey, she was on the rebound. Poor girl injured herself in a pool.
15. Elvis Costello: "Mystery Dance"
Great intro for Elvis Costello. I don't know why I see Heath Ledger there.
16. The Runaways: "Cherry Bomb"
Of course.
17. The Clash: "Death or Glory"
Bebe returns to London, but "London Calling" would be a tad obvious, don't you think?
18. Elvis Costello & the Attractions: "Accidents Will Happen"
Bebe begins her infamous (and dramatic) affair with Elvis.
19. Patti Smith: "Paths That Cross"
Nicely bittersweet.
20. Nick Lowe: "Cruel to Be Kind"
Hey, why not?
21. Buzzcocks: "What Do I Get?"
Bebe hanging out on the London club scene.
22. Elvis Costello & the Attractions: "New Amsterdam"
Elvis and Bebe together in New York over Christmas.
23. Johnny Thunders: "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory"
The shape of things to come; it doesn't ever get better with Elvis.

1. Elvis Costello & the Attractions: "Riot Act"
A brief interlude; the first separation between Bebe and Elvis.
2. Dead Boys: "Sonic Reducer"
Bebe meets her next guy, Stiv Bators of the Dead Boys.
3. Dead Kennedys: "California Uber Alles"
Bebe returns to LA to party with Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty.
4. Blondie: "The Tide Is High"
It just fits.
5. Bebe Buell: "Jacuzzi Jungle"
Bebe's song about the weirdness of LA.
6. Prince & the Revolution: "Little Red Corvette"
A song that may or may not be about Bebe and her reputation; tell me Prince isn't saying "Bebe, you're much too fast."
7. Elvis Costello: "Almost Blue"
"Almost Buell," more like; reunion of Bebe and Elvis.
8. Psychedelic Furs: "Love My Way"
Bebe's tempestuous love affair with Richard Butler.
9. Elvis Costello: "I Want You"
One of the cruellest kiss-offs in the history of music; it addresses Bebe's sexual relationship with Prince (which only existed in Elvis's mind) and the fact that she had a traumatic abortion after she got pregnant with Elvis's child.
10. Roxy Music: "More Than This"
Sad times; the love affair with Elvis is over.
11. John Lennon: "Nobody Told Me"
Bebe struggles with her music career and tries to raise Liv more or less alone.
12. Utopia: "Crybaby"
Takes us through the eighties; Todd produces some of Bebe's music.
13. Aerosmith: "Dream On"
Bebe says that Liv first realized Steven was her father while Aerosmith was performing "Dream On" at a concert.
14. Echo & the Bunnymen: "The Killing Moon"
Liv becomes a model, then an actress, and there are some fights between mother and daughter.
15. Coyote Shivers: "Sugarhigh"
Bebe and Coyote were together when he got this song onto the Empire Records soundtrack.
16. Bebe Buell: "Bored Baby"
Liv and Bebe part ways professionally, and the distance breaks Bebe's heart, sending her into a depressive funk that she doesn't recover from quickly.
17. Blondie: "Maria"
Bebe pulls out of it and finds inner peace (and her current husband, Jim Wallerstein).
18. Bebe Buell: "A Little Bit O' Whore"
Ideally, it should end with Bebe performing onstage at Don Hill's. "Cosmic Kiss" is a good song too (she calls it the song she wrote about Jim long before she met him), but I wanted to go with something a little more rocking. Plus, Johnny Thunders wrote the song.
19. Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros: "Redemption Song"
The end credits; peace at last.

Anyway, that's just me fucking around; it could have been more (my original version was six discs instead of three), but I like the flow. I love rock, and I love Bebe.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Does this mean it's finally coming out?

I really wish this HBO Films production had just premiered on HBO. I've been waiting to see this for around a year now, and I know it's going to barely get a theatrical release before heading to DVD and HBO. I really want to see it; I hope it doesn't suck, but more than anything, I hope I finally get a look at it. Posted by Picasa

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

If you had told me ten years ago that Kirsten Dunst, the preternaturally talented young girl who was so good in Interview with the Vampire and Little Women, was going to grow up to be this dull, smug, and talentless, I’d have disagreed with you. Shows what I know. But who could have predicted she'd waste her former talent on teen movies? Pointless, dull movie tries to convince us that Paul Bettany is a romantic lead, but fails utterly. It also misuses good actors, giving Sam Neill nothing to do and wasting Eleanor Bron and Bernard Hill as typically "eccentric" parents. Another one of those British romantic comedies Working Title likes to make, where every single character is quirky in some distracting way and an ordinary English twit falls for a captivating, vivacious American girl, always played by someone as personality-free as Kirsten Dunst or Julia Roberts. The film is directed by Richard Loncraine, a good director who compromises his talent here. The tennis scenes are inventively filmed and carry a lot of momentum, and just for those, I’ll give the film *1/2 stars. But it’s pretty much a waste of time.

Another Lifetime rape special. I’ve often wondered what happened to Ariana Richards, who played the little girl in Jurassic Park. Turns out she can’t act. * star.

This is the first of a series of films produced by Faith & Values Media, based on novels by Janette Oke, and directed by Michael Landon Jr. The point is to weave Christian values into entertaining stories, and for the most part, this first one succeeds. This is partially due to the fact that the Christian aspects aren’t overbearing and preachy, and largely due to its being an entertaining story. Lovely Katherine Heigl plays a woman on the frontier whose husband suddenly dies; she’s pregnant, and has no way to get home. Dale Midkiff comes to her and makes her a proposal: they marry, she has a place to live for the winter, he has someone to help look after his daughter Missie, and then he pays for her to hop a wagon train back east when the spring comes. She takes the deal, and after surviving numerous hardships, learning to take care of a family on a farm, and winning over the tough little Missie...well, if you can’t see where this is going, enjoy the movie; you’ve obviously never seen one before. But even knowing how this story will end, I enjoyed it as a frontier romance, and I found myself alarmingly wrapped up in the story. It was nice, and I liked it very much. *** stars.

The sequel to the above is a little more preachy. It’s ten years later, and Missie has grown into pretty January Jones. In this installment, she’s torn between two men, even as she must take on the duties of the farm after her father is nearly maimed in an accident. It’s good, and it’s nice to see how tough Katherine Heigl has become and how happy the family is, but it’s a little less quality than the first one. As the world continues to expand beyond just three main characters, it begins to feel less realistic and more contrived. **1/2 stars.

This one only moves us ahead several months, as Missie and her new husband head further west to start a cattle ranch. I enjoyed this one a little less, too; some of the touches are too contemporary, some are just there to create crises that feel too theatrical, some of it is just so obvious it feels labored. Interestingly, this movie has a similar plot to last year’s excellent Disney Little House on the Prairie remake; it even seems to take place on the same sets and in the same location (though this probably isn’t true). If that weren’t enough, Missie is now played by Erin Cottrell, who played the mother on that Little House! These were all made for the Hallmark Channel, and a fourth film, Love’s Abiding Joy, is airing this November. As for this one, ** stars.

Is this all that’s left for animation these days? Badly rendered characters doing contemporary gags and lifting scenes from movies like American Beauty? For the most part, it’s very dull. The characters have neat designs, but they aren’t animated well. A lot of the CGI seems barely finished. The chimpanzees are funny (one has the single funniest line in the movie), and the penguins are cute and hilarious. Typical of current animation, the characters are dull and have dull existential problems, and the actors chosen are uniformly horrible because they’re only playing "themselves," and the selves chosen here are the most boring possible: Chris Rock, Ben Stiller, Jada Pinkett Smith, and why-god-is-he-still-allowed-in-movies David Schwimmer. Of those, at least Rock tries to act instead of just being Chris Rock. Sacha Baron Cohen, as the king of the lemurs, is also funny, because he’s performing and not just coasting. Or Stillering, whatever we want to call it these days. They put the short The Madagascar Penguins in A Christmas Caper on the disc, too, and I could see about a hundred more shorts featuring just those penguins. But please, no sequel to this * lameness.

I read this Madeline L’Engle book about a girl who can communicate with dolphins when I was in grade school. I don’t remember it very well, but I’m sure I enjoyed it a lot more than this literal, mediocre Disney version. Boring Mischa Barton stars with boring Dean from Gilmore Girls. The intuition versus science debate manages to be very shallow. About the only thing that isn’t boring is the live dolphin footage, including a breach birth. * star.

ZATHURA (2005)
Jumanji, only better, because it feeds off of my boyhood fantasies of rocket ships, robots, lizard aliens, and astronauts. If you’ve ever liked Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers, this is a fun, fun time. The special effects are employed with a lot of wit, and even if some of the story is obvious and even melodramatic, the movie is still hella enjoyable. It also has the best robot I’ve seen in a live action movie since the Lost in Space movie. ***1/2 stars.

Jim Jarmusch wrote and directed this film about an aging Don Juan (Don Johnston, played effortlessly by Bill Murray) who discovers he may have a nineteen year-old son out there. He embarks on a road trip to four of his old girlfriends for an answer that is much more complex than you see in films today. The ending is particularly courageous. The movie isn’t warm, it doesn’t provide pat conclusions; but the observations it makes in quiet are much more profound than they would have been if the characters had talked them out. The dialogue is almost totally superfluous, in a way, to what the movie is really about. This is rare, great filmmaking. **** stars.

CRASH (2005)
Overrated, overlong film with no second act is a lot less than people are making it out to be. Ostensibly, it’s about racism. In practice, it’s about seeing how much you can bore an audience and still make them believe they’ve seen something important. This is a smug movie with nothing more complex to say than "Racism is omnipresent and more difficult than we think." Okay, and? The cast seem particularly smug, especially co-producer Don Cheadle, who has been steadily annoying me more and more since his stint on ER. The movie’s not really shocking, not really about anything, and almost offensive in the way it’s so certain it’s opening your eyes about something, like, Important. The actors are almost all terrible, intoning their dialogue rather than making it sound natural; they’re like the over-the-top movie versions of racist (and racial) caricatures; no one could ever see this film and be convinced that they have wrong attitudes that need to change. The only actors who come off well are Ludacris, Terence Howard, and, to my surprise, Ryan Philippe. Matt Dillon is mannered and obvious (and, as always since 1999, Bruce Campbell-like), and Sandra Bullock is somehow worse than she always is. Just a total waste of time, ineptly made, pretentiously done. No stars. Like American Beauty, this needed to be made twenty or thirty years ago to really be shocking or have any impact or surprise. Also like American Beauty, it’s aimed at middle class suburbanites who are really amazed by this crap.

They’ve come very close now to perfecting the chick flick so that both women and men will see it. Lace it with dirty jokes and guys in arrested development acting like they’re still 20 when they’re nearing 40, and men will go. Now the women just need a little more character development, and we’ll have the new formula down. This is an incredibly funny movie, if a little on the long side, and even though I hate, hate, hate Owen Wilson, I enjoyed the hell out of it. Great cameo from Will Ferrell, and Isla Fisher is delightful. I don’t care much for Rachel McAdams, either; I find her acting kind of stiff. But hell, it’s fucking funny and, like the best of the new breed of guy chick flicks, sweet. ***1/2 stars.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Again, Co-Workers

Some more of the people I worked at Barnes & Noble with.

MARK was the recieving manager, so he was my direct superior. He was a cool guy, though, and he was very cool about playing music in the recieving room. His favorite singer was Lou Reed, but we both shared a love for David Bowie's music, and this is the time when I bought all of Bowie's albums (when the Ryko remasters were out; sadly, they're out of print now). Mark was a good guy, but he was an extreme doormat. His girlfriend was a total bitch, one of those controlling types who wants a husband just so she can get married. Her parents never liked Mark, but Mark was willing to give up his apartment (to me, actually) so that he could move in with her--he lived in the basement at her parents' house. Can you guess what's coming? Yeah, they broke up. They were supposed to take a trip to Jamaica or something, and she ended up going with some Latin dude. Mark, ever the nice doormat, took care of her cat while she was away. That was too much for me and Carl to withstand; we gave him lots of suggestions about what he should do with that cat. I can't remember which one of us said it, but the favorite was writing the word bitch on the cat with Nair.

When Mark was given a lateral promotion and became a floor supervisor, I became receiving manager for a couple of months. Then I was demoted because they felt I wasn't working fast enough (wrong) and that I didn't respect authority (correctamundo). So, they took a part-time worker from the floor and promoted him. And that was...

ARLO, the Great White Hope. The management loved Arlo, and even though he couldn't actually, you know, work five eight-hour days in a row, he was promoted to recieving manager. Arlo was a pretty cool guy, up until he was promoted. Then he became a hardass, a real prick. I still hate myself for not quitting when I was demoted, but I had an apartment and didn't think I could find another job. Arlo was alright; he liked eighties music, he took me and Carl to Boston Market occasionally, and he kept us happy for awhile. What we didn't realize at first is that he was doing it to show the management that he could inspire our loyalty and keep us in line. Ray, another recieving worker, and I were written up for something completely arbitrary, and because of Arlo's schedule, he had to have other supervisors do it for him. Then, when we finally did get a chance to talk to him, he did it with two of the managers present. Showboating prick. After he moved, the managers kept talking about him as if he were the Best Manager Ever. Here's where it gets totally unfair to me: I was receiving manager from January to May. This is the heavy post-Christmas return season, and the returns take up almost complete attention. Since we had a heavy influx, things tended to pile up, and they would keep taking Carl and putting him on magazines, so I was shorthanded there. And I was also manager during a major inventory. Then Arlo comes in and, during the summer (when stores have their lowest point of stock influx), looks like a champion by cleaning up the mess. Fuck you, Arlo.

RANDY made my life a living hell in a completely arbitrary way. He was an alright guy, but he could be a real high-handed prick sometimes. However, as a manager, he was completely lazy. He liked to sit in the office and reorder books. Which meant that everything still sitting in a box in the recieving room waiting to be checked in was reordered! Kafka, Orwell, and Terry Gilliam working together around the clock couldn't make up a beauracracy more infuriating than the one I had to deal with... At least Randy cut off that embarrassingly eighties gray-haired ponytail.

DAN was the worst manager or person I have ever worked with. Michael Scott on the American version of The Office could be considered a more efficient and better-liked version of Dan. He wanted to be everyone's friend and pal around, but then still be taken seriously when he needed to bark orders. Somehow, this masterful plan never worked. He was in charge of making the schedule, but he would never have it finished until the Friday before the next week, leading to a lot of confusion. In America, you're required to have a schedule posted two weeks in advance. One time, one of the other managers made a schedule and put it up; Dan petulantly took it down and put up his own; lots of missed shifts that weekend, I'll tell you that. I used to infuriate him, because I didn't take him seriously and didn't do what he said. Here's a couple of favorites.

After the district manager had told Dan she would write him up if he didn't start doing schedules on time.

DAN: When do you want to work on the 23rd?

ME: I have no idea, Dan; my schedule is open.

DAN: Well, I have to put you on my schedule.

ME: When I was hired, Dick told me that as long as I worked 40 hours a week, he didn't care when I worked. That was the understanding, and that's how I've been working. Now, because of that, I have a pretty open schedule that changes occasionally, but I've always made it clear when I was going to be here, and it's pretty predictable.

DAN: Well, Dick doesn't work here anymore.

ME: Look, Dan, it's cute how you wanna play manager, so here's what we'll do: you put me on to work 6 to 2 every day, and I'll continue to show up whenever.

And I walked off. Here's another from when Dan told me he wanted an exact count of how many boxes were waiting to be recieved. Now, the boxes were stacked in three long rows, making at least the middle row impossible to count. There were easily 1100 boxes, and I wasn't about to count them by hand.

DAN: We need a box count.

ME: What, now?

DAN: Yeah, right now.

ME: I have no way of knowing that, Dan. I can't count the middle row, and stopping to count now is just going to take time away from trying to check them in. It's impossible.

DAN: We need a count.

ME: I'm not going to do it.

DAN: I need a count.

ME: Then dive in and count them yourself.

Later, I counted one row and multiplied him by three. He told me that "dive in" was not an appropriate response. Naturally, I told him that insisting on a box count was an inappropriate request.

One last one: I didn't want to work with Ray one day, so I decided to help Carl with magazines, something I had been doing for a few days. Dan came up to us and tried to tell me what to do.

DAN: I think we're caught up pretty well on magazines, so... (makes head shaking motion)

ME: What the hell is that?

Dan does the head shake thing again.

ME: If you want me to do something, tell me what to do.

DAN: I want you to go help Ray recieve books.

ME: Good. See, it doesn't do anyone any good trying to make them guess what you want. You're a manager, try and act like one.

Rounding out the bad management, we come to LINDA K. She was ineffectual and a terrible person. As a manger, she was weak and incompetent. Well, that pretty much says all you need to know about her, actually. She was much more concerned with her inability to have children and the husband that everyone could tell was gay than she was with managing the store. As a result, she had weak assistant managers and a badly organized store.

More to come later...

Monday, February 20, 2006


When I was about 12, my dad used to listen to rap music. Oh, he won't admit it now, but in the late eighties, he found some fun in it. Now, when I mention that he should check out Snoop Dogg's "Signs" for its funk/soul additions, he "reminds" me that rap isn't music: "Rap is just people talking over a beat." But when it started hitting the American Top 40, he was into it. He particularly liked the stuff that sampled music he already liked: 2 Live Crew's "Banned in the USA," which sampled Springsteen; LL Cool J's "I'm That Type of Guy," which had music from The Wizard of Oz laced into the chorus; Run-DMC's version of "Walk This Way," which did give him some appreciation for songs like "Tricky"; even, God help me, the Fat Boys and their versions of "The Twist" and whatever the hell the other one was: "Wipeout"? Oh, and since he was just in his early thirties, he also liked the Beastie Boys; I think if white guys could rap, that somehow made him feel less over the hill.

Anyway, to a kid at 12, in the sixth grade, it was a little embarrassing. Here my friends and I were supposed to be offending our parents by liking the Beastie Boys, and he likes it. In point of fact, he liked rap right up until Vanilla Ice got involved and made it ridiculous to him; and groups like Public Enemy and NWA alienated him right out of it. But at the time, I had to endure my dad driving me around in his blue 1986 Ford Escort and listening to "Tricky" really loud. My gut would sink, and I'd just hope that no one would notice me, and that when we got home my dad would give up rap music and go back to his usual dorky father pursuits of watching pro wrestling or listening to his Black Sabbath 8-tracks.

This feeling of embarrassment comes right back to me when I see the way country music started adopting some of the aspects of rap and hip-hop. This has obviously been coming for some time; I mean, something was wrong with country music that needed to be fixed. It's no secret that Nashville's been ruining country music by making it an overproduced glitz parade since the mid-sixties. The Outlaw movement has, sadly, died off (although Willie Nelson can still sing any song and make it sound good--it must, however, be said that he's had his share of overproduced music, too). Something needed to change, and cynical crossover greed maniacs like Shania Twain weren't cutting it.

So now we have to endure the infusion of the rap attitude to country music. I guess it makes sense; the two genres have quite a bit in common. Both types of artists like to wear costumes that often border on the homoerotic. They sing about themselves and their own self-perceived greatness. They like spectacle and assume they should be the center of attention. And they pretend to genuine authenticity (or "realness" to put it in MTV terms) more so than, say, your average rock band. Look at Big & Rich and look at Flavor Flav and tell me there's that much of a difference. Seriously. It's been coming for a while now. We have the brashness of Gretchen Wilson, who is playing this "little girl from the trailer park who grew up tough but always dreamed of being a country singer" bit to the hilt. (And let me just add: yeah, she loves to sing about how tough and hard she is, but before long she'll only be singing soft songs about dreams and heartache.) Although Kenny Chesney likes to think he's Jimmy Buffett, he's still a show-off. And Tubby Keith has always been a glamour-puss who, even if he's singing yet more Amurrican anti-furner rhetoric (championing the free speech he denies Natalie Mains), lopes about his videos like a big dumb ape weighed down by 30 tons of gold jewelry. I assume he thinks it makes him look cool, but it actually makes him look like Margaret Dumont at a society party in an old Marx Brothers movie.

And now we have Trace Adkins, singing about "Honkytonk Gadonka-Donk." Oh, man, the second I saw that, with his big gold rings and his hand jive, I just knew we were going to be in this thing for the long haul. It's just like watching your dad driving down the road trying to sing along with Run-DMC. It's embarrassing watching these white dudes try to act like black dudes. I mean, we ripped off rock from the brothers, do we have to rip off rap, too? When I saw Trace Adkins doing what, basically, he seems to hope is a country anthem version of "Baby Got Back," I cringed and felt very apologetic. God, we're lame. No matter what, white people are still the lamest people on this planet.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Could You Rephrase That As a Moral Question?

In the city of DeKalb, where I live, there has been one hell of a push to ban public smoking. This is a college town, so you can imagine that we have a high number of smokers (and drinkers, and criminals, but that's a whole different post). The city council has been meeting incessantly to ban smoking in DeKalb in public places, with the compromise exception of bars, including the bar in the local bowling alley, Mardi Gras Lanes. The ban is expected to take place on 1 September.

I guess there are two things that bother me about this. First, that the opposition to the ban has been dwindling and dwindling over the last six weeks or so. Which means that a lot of idiots are going to whine about it on campus, even though they've never availed themselves of the opportunity to go to these city council meetings and protest. Matt DeLance, the president of Colleges Against Cancer, claims that 80% of Northern Illinois University students don't smoke, but I think that number is pretty obviously inflated. I think it's probably more like 45%, being generous. He also produced a petition to support that smoking ban that was signed by 100 students, but that's not impressive when there are over 18,000 students enrolled. And those are just the undergrads.

The second things that sticks in my craw is the way some members of the city have tried to make this some kind of moral issue. I don't understand how this applies, frankly. Is it wrong to smoke? Well, in a moral sense, it's insignifcant. Unless, of course, you're purposely blowing smoke in a baby's face, or something. I don't smoke, and I'm not one of those holier-than-thou losers who fake coughs and waves their hand around when someone lights up. I don't have friends who smoke, and when I'm in a restaurant, I take it for granted that someone is going to be smoking, which is why I sit in non-smoking.

Apparently, not everyone is willing to think for themselves on this one. With each successive generation, people get weaker and more afraid of inconvenience, so they try to legislate more and more and make more things criminal. But smoking? It just seems like some kind of lite fascism to tell people that they can't smoke in public anymore. Jim Grosklags, the head of the DeKalb Smoke-Free Coalition, reasons in the Northern Star that the lives saved in the long term are more important than immediate economic concerns. Mayor Frank Van Buer claims that the "overwhelming majority" of DeKalb citizens don't smoke. These are the comments of people who have taken it into their own hands to decide what's right and wrong for an entire city of people. And that's what really makes me sick. When people decide for me whether or not I can do something. When they decide that I, and you, and everyone else are not mature enough to make the "right" decisions, so they make them for us.

And what about local businesses, such as restaurants, who are now being told that they can't decide for themselves whether or not to allow smoking? DeKalb claims to be concerned about their local businesses, but high-handedly decides to interfere in how they're allowed to run things?

There is a decidedly neo-fascist streak running through America these days, especially with the conservatives in power. We want to dumb down the nation, make negativity illegal, and shield people from ever having to walk outside into the world of their own free will and ever, ever experiencing any unpleasantness. Well, I think today I'm going to light up. And if your kid comes near me, I'm blowing the smoke right up its nose.