Saturday, June 30, 2007

20-foot-tall Simpsons

The Simpsons Movie comes out July 27. The three teaser trailers were worthless, each containing one joke (one of the teasers even commented on the fact that 20th Century Fox didn't have anything to show us yet), but the full-length trailer is surprisingly good. I'm surprised because I didn't expect much from it, having been a loyal Simpsons fan for the past 16+ years but watching it die a slow death since 1996.

In hindsight, the Springfield Isotopes' "Free Torch Night" was a bad idea.

No, the last 11 years haven't been all bad; in fact, some of this season's episodes have been much better than I expected, including "Homerazzi," which aired back in March and was hilarious from start to finish. But part of me does wish the show had been canceled, or ended at the producers' request, back in '95 when every episode was still perfect. If that were the case, old fans would now talk about The Simpsons the way people talk about the Beatles. Instead The Simpsons is often talked about the way people talk about the Rolling Stones post-Exile on Main Street, i.e. "Oh, that show is still on? Huh." One exciting thing about the movie is that old Simpsons writers like Jon Vitti, John Swartzwelder, and David Mirkin have contributed to the screenplay, which bodes well for the final product.

But I look forward to seeing The Simpsons Movie in the theater with newer fans who aren't going to put up with my jaded, boring "things were better back in the '90s" talk. Good for you, newer fans! I hope we can all find something to love in the Simpsons' first big-screen outing.

Friday, June 29, 2007

hip-hop amnesia

Remember P.M. Dawn? The hip-hop duo of Prince Be and DJ Minutemix, otherwise known as brothers Attrell and Jarrett Cordes, respectively, were popular for a few years in the early '90s. And they're performing in Chicago tonight.

They haven't put out an album since 1998 (Minutemix left the group two years ago; Dr. Giggles, a cousin of the Cordes brothers, took his place), and they're not touring behind a new one. So are they touring the country just for the hell of it? Not as far as I can telltheir Web site says they're also playing in Lincolnshire, Illinois, tomorrow night, but that's it. They did two shows in Australia earlier this year, and PMDawnLovesYou.com, which uses a looser definition of "tour" than I do, posted this news back in February:

The tour continues! P.m. Dawn will be heading to Chi-town for a few days starting Friday, February 23rd. You can catch them on LIVE TV, on the WGN Morning News Show, local channel 9. Later that night you can catch P.m. Dawn Live at the Good Times Pub in Elmhurst, IL. And Saturday the 24th, they'll be live at Sharky's in Round Lake Beach, IL.

It sounds like P.M. Dawn has become a bar band. How did that happen? And how come they only book gigs Down Under and in the Land of Lincoln?

It struck me recently that P.M. Dawn was the first Mellow Gold hip-hop act. De La Soul didn't like being called hippies back in '89, but they had nothing on P.M. Dawn's flower power, and no other rappers I can think of were placing songs like "I'd Die Without You" and "Looking Through Patient Eyes" on adult-contemporary playlists. "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss," the hit single from their debut album, Of the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience (1991), floats along like a cloud, which isn't something you can say—or would even want to sayabout the hits of a rapper like DMX.

P.M. Dawn never got that much love from other rappers, and I'm not even talking about the time KRS-One and his posse shoved them offstage during one of their performances in 1992,
which inspired them to write "Plastic," an unexpectedly hard-charging track on their second LP, The Bliss Album...? (1993): "So now I'm accused of spiking the punch / And I'll be the scapegoat for faking the funk / But when they set up another prime-time beef / What's hard at first but melts in the heat / They call that plastic." KRS-One was mad that Prince Be had said, "KRS-One is a teacher, but a teacher of what?" in a magazine interview, so he decided to challenge P.M. Dawn during a show. Whether it was KRS-One or one of his friends who punched Prince Be and threw him into the crowd is unclear, but the resulting melee helped reaffirm Prince Be's original point: the rapper who preached nonviolence had chosen to debate P.M. Dawn by way of a physical confrontation.

P.M. Dawn's discography could easily be placed in the unofficial category of "rap music white people like." (Read Michaelangelo Matos's 2000 review of The Best of P.M. Dawn for his assertion that Prince Be is the Brian Wilson of hip-hop.) But somewhere around the middle of The Bliss Album...? Prince Be stopped rapping.

Here's a decent rapper who happens to have a terrific singing voice, so by the time of 1995's Jesus Wept, Be was exclusively crooning on ultramellow tracks like "Sonchyenne" and a cover of Prince's "1999." (Whether or not he was better off rapping his philosophy, as Matos believes, or singing it is hard to say.) But by that point P.M. Dawn's commercial moment had passed, and 1998's Dearest Christian, I'm So Sorry for Bringing You Here. Love, Dad made it seem as if the group's spirituality had eclipsed their ability to make radio-friendly hits.

Although I sold my copy of Dearest Christian a year or so after I bought it, I don't remember P.M. Dawn's religious leanings getting in the way of the music; their songs just weren't as compelling on the fourth go-round. Due to problems they had clearing the rights to unlicensed samples, which also affected Dearest Christian, their fifth album, the Internet-only "Fucked Music," was pulled from the Web in 2000 before anyone except the group's most fervent fans had a chance to hear it.

In 2002 it looked like a new album was finally on its way when the single "Amnesia" was released. One review even said that it was "the lead-off single for P.M. Dawn's The Jim Sullivan Syndrome album," but that album still hasn't been released, possibly because P.M. Dawn was never able to land a deal with a label willing to pay for all the samples they wanted to use. Nevertheless, "Amnesia" is a stunning track all on its own; it's easily one of P.M. Dawn's best, and proof that they're still capable of making sonically rich hip-hop that incorporates elements of soul, pop, and soft rock in unexpected ways.


I hope P.M. Dawn has a good show tonight at the Heartland Cafe in Chicago and tomorrow at the Cubby Bear in Lincolnshire. (Rowdy Cubs fans apparently can't get enough of the blissed-out sounds of P.M. Dawn. Really takes the edge off after a hard day of pounding Old Styles.) But I'd much rather see them deliver on the promise of "Amnesia" by releasing a new album sometime soon.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Sylvester Stallone is #1 on cable!

In the past year I've been surprised by how many of Stallone's movies pop up on cable week in and week out. When I started this post two weekends ago, Rocky II (1979) was on Spike TV. Last weekend Rocky III (1982) was on Spike. When I originally thought about writing this post back in February, Rocky II and III were airing back-to-back on TNT on a Saturday morning, and Stallone's 2000 remake of Get Carter came on TNT that night. (By the way, if you're wondering whether or not Stallone had plastic surgery in the early '80s, watch the ending of Rocky II and the beginning of Rocky III in one sitting and you'll have your evidence.)

Then there was Cliffhanger (1993) on Bravo one Saturday, and Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) shows up on AMC now and again. TBS, would you please show Demolition Man (1993) and The Specialist (1994)? Gracias. Oh yeah, didn't I also see Rocky IV (1985) on Spike and TNT last fall and Rocky V (1990) on Spike in January? Indeed I did. Strangely enough, the original Rocky hasn't appeared yet, at least not when I'm flipping through channels. And where's Tango & Cash (1989) and Daylight (1996), cable programmers?

I saw
Daylight on opening weekend back in college (don't tell anyone), and I remember seeing a "For Your Consideration" ad for the film in Variety right before the Oscar nominations were announced in early '97. Yeah, I guess Daylight's visual effects were worth considering if you were a voter, but I laughed when I saw "Best Actor: Sylvester Stallone" in the ad. I later found out that some stars make it part of their contract that the studio will push their names for Oscar consideration, whether it's Nicolas Cage in Adaptation or Brendan Fraser in The Mummy.

Anyway, cable channels love re-running Stallone's action movies, and they wouldn't keep airing them if people weren't watching. However, if you want to see a Stallone comedy like Rhinestone (1984) or Oscar (1991) or Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992), or a Stallone drama like F.I.S.T. (1978) or Cop Land (1997), you're out of luck. But pray extra hard and you may be rewarded with a Stallone-directed movie like 1983's Saturday Night Fever sequel, Staying Alive. Stallone even has a writing credit on that one. I wonder how the pitch to Paramount CEO Barry Diller went in 1982 ...

STALLONE: Barry, I love sequels. Love 'em.

DILLER: Yeah, Rocky III looks like it's going to be the biggest one yet. And I heard this character you play in First Blood has the potential to be—

STALLONE: I love 'em so much that I wanna make a sequel to Saturday Night Fever (1977). That's one of your biggest hits, right?

DILLER: Yes. It is. But ... uh ... I'm sorry, but why did you just say "1977"?

STALLONE: I didn't.

DISEMBODIED VOICE FROM BEYOND: Sorry, that was me. I got a little date-happy.

DILLER: Who's "me"?

DISEMBODIED VOICE FROM BEYOND: The guy who's making up this conversation right now.

DILLER: I see.

STALLONE: You're saying I'm not in control of what I'm saying? That I got no free will?

DISEMBODIED VOICE FROM BEYOND: Forget I mentioned it. Please continue.

DILLER: Okay. Sly, let's back up and start with "That's one of your biggest hits," okay?

STALLONE: Got it.

(Stallone pauses, then continues.)

STALLONE: That's one of your biggest hits, right?

DILLER: Yes, it is. But that really won't be necessary. You know, with disco not being what it once—

STALLONE: Don't worry—I don't wanna star in it with Travolta. I'll stay behind the camera. Sound good?

(Diller stares blankly at Stallone.)

DILLER: You want to direct a sequel to Saturday Night Fever?

STALLONE: Sure! I'll write it for you too. Oh, and my brother Frank is gonna write most of the songs for the soundtrack. You said it yourself—disco's dead. But my brother's got a real gift for rock 'n' roll. You heard of Loverboy? They're terrific. Same deal with Frank. I'll make you a dub of his best stuff. Okay, see ya later!

(Stallone exits through Diller's office wall, Kool-Aid Man style.)

Here's something interesting I learned around the time of Rocky Balboa's release last December: aside from Cliffhanger, which made $84 million in the U.S. (you know I like talkin' box office!), Stallone hasn't had a substantial hit in this country outside of the Rocky and Rambo movies, but even Rocky V and Rambo III (1988) weren't hits. Films like Demolition Man, Tango & Cash, and Cobra (1986) weren't exactly flops, but they didn't draw people back to the theater after opening weekend either. Cable TV's another story, obviously.

I recently saw Stallone in Assassins (1995) for the first time. Here's a movie that had the right elements to be entertaining and successful, but it isn't. Sure, it's a pleasant waste of time on cable on a Saturday afternoon, but it could've been a lot better.

Assassins was produced by Joel Silver, who shepherded two Die Hards and four Lethal Weapons, and was directed by Richard Donner, who helmed all of those Lethal Weapons. Assassins' original script was written by Andy and Larry Wachowski four years before The Matrix made them a big deal, and the (credited) rewrite was done by Brian Helgeland, who won an Oscar in '97 for cowriting L.A. Confidential. Stallone's costars, Antonio Banderas and Julianne Moore, were up-and-coming actors in '95, but neither of them do good work in this movie. In fact, Stallone's probably the best thing about it.

Moore plays a computer genius with no common sense whatsoever; in one scene she wanders out of her hotel room in San Juan to join a Day of the Dead parade even though she knows Banderas's assassin is somewhere in the area, waiting to kill her. Now, the idea of a genius with no common sense isn't hard to buy, but here's where the movie started to get on my nerves, aside from Banderas's cartoonish performance (if he had literally chewed on the furniture, it wouldn't have seemed out of place): right before Moore spaces out and joins the parade, Stallone and she have been discussing how they're going to get his money out of a bank in San Juan without Banderas picking them off. So once Moore decides it's a lovely night to celebrate dead people and Stallone is forced to retrieve her, I started thinking, This scene only exists so that Banderas can kidnap Moore and force Stallone to alter his plan at the bank the next day ... right?

No, because Stallone catches Moore in time and they get back to the hotel before Banderas can spot them. They then carry out their plan the way they said they would the next day.

So why was that stupid scene in the movie in the first place?! Just to make Moore's character look like an idiot? Just so she could be the typical damsel in distress who has to be saved by the hero? Donner got paid $10 million to direct Assassins; I suppose he laughed all the way to the bank in San Juan that's holding his money. One other thing about Assassins—since it came out in the mid-'90s, it's a movie in which instant messaging on tiny laptop screens is used to create suspense. Remember when action movies relied heavily on MacGuffins like missing floppy disks? Assassins is that kind of movie.

Like I said, Stallone's the best thing in it, and when Rocky Balboa came out last December, there was a surge of good will behind him once the buzz got out that Rocky #6 was actually a good movie. (I still haven't seen it.) The people behind the Razzies, the awards given to the year's worst movies, even said that once they heard about Rocky Balboa going into production they fully expected they'd be giving it multiple "worst" awards come February '07. But Stallone, who wrote and directed the sixth installment (he wrote all six
Rockys and directed four of them), apparently came up with a good epilogue to the series, or at least an epilogue that was good enough.

However, once Rocky Balboa came out, Stallone started talking about his plans for John Rambo, another number-free "I have a full name, dammit!" sequel title; Stallone cowrote and directed this fourth Rambo film, which is set for release next summer along with fellow sexagenarian action hero Harrison Ford's fourth Indiana Jones movie.

Stallone may have already extinguished that surge of good will from last year: we can all accept him going back to the well once, but who's demanding another Rambo so soon after another Rocky? At least the character of Rocky Balboa was (initially) a sentimental lug with a dream who was easy to root for; Rambo was a Vietnam vet who went nuts and killed a bunch of cops, which was ... you know ... a little harder to root for. Maybe John Rambo will be a thrilling movie, but that good-will lightning bolt ain't gonna strike twice.

I admire Stallone for continuing to write and direct; aside from Clint Eastwood, there aren't any other stars who direct their own action films, and Eastwood doesn't write the scripts he directs, nor is he taking on action-hero parts anymore. I'm not saying Stallone's writing great works of art (see: the arm-wrestling extravaganza Over the Top), but have fellow Best Screenplay winners Matt Damon and Ben Affleck written much since Good Will Hunting a decade ago? Not really. (Damon got a writing credit on Gus Van Sant's Gerry, but I heard the script is bare-bones, and Affleck cowrote the screenplay for his upcoming directorial debut, Gone, Baby, Gone.) Stallone stayed just as busy as them as an actor in the decade following 1976's Rocky, for which he won his Best Screenplay Oscar.

When I caught part of Rocky III on TNT back in February, I realized there was something unique about Stallone writing, directing, and starring in a big summer movie like that. I can't think of any other examples (no, Woody Allen movies don't count). For that alone, the Italian Stallion commands respect. (Warning: do not watch Rocky IV again, or your respect may immediately fly out the window.)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

teamwork, chemistry, selflessness, etc.

"Whatever a group is, it was the chemical mixture of those four people that makes a group work. That's a lesson everyone should learn. 'Don't mess with it!' If it works just let it ... do whatever you have to do to bring it forward, but don't mess with it. And like, we learned that ... bitterly. "
—Joe Strummer of the Clash

"I want our band to be an ensemble where the sum of the parts is more than the whole, like the Beatles or the cast of SCTV."
—Chris Murphy of Sloan

swanky poetry

The other day at work I found a reader submission that was never published back in April. But although my employer didn't take the bait, apparently another alternative weekly newspaper did.

The author's submission included a Web address for ladylibertyshirts.com, a site that doesn't mince words about its stock: "We offer an inventory of two, and only two, styles of high-quality T-shirts."

And now, in its entirety ...

HILARY SWANK

Hilary Swank. This is a Japanese haiku poem. Entitled "Hilary Swank." 'Cept I ain't got no words for no pomes'n'shit.

That's cuz jist yisterday I robbed a bank.

Hilary Swank to me is just one beautiful trailer-trash bitch.

Most likely tomorrow the law will catch me.

Maybe not.

In the meantime I got her right where I want her to be, and where she wants to be. Hilary Swank is lying back with her legs spread apart. I'm kissing Hilary Swank's neck and I've got my hand in between her legs and I am gently, gently, gently feeling with my thumb her woman's bagina, bagina.

I'm kissing her neck.

That's a bit before she and I somehow create tomorrow's bank robber or Academy Award winner.

You get the idea.

the end

Saturday, June 9, 2007

belated snickering

Last summer I took major umbrage, dude, with Snickers' latest ad campaign. But so did others. And I'm not sure when I scribbled the note "hungerectomy" to myself, but since I'm trying to catch up on things and do some overdue spring cleaning, here's a mouthwatering picture for you:

I think the only other Snickers-created word I failed to be obnoxious about in the past year was "substantialiscious," which is the easiest of the buzzwords to read and comprehend at first glance, but Snickers spelled this made-up word wrong! I know, I know—how could they possibly spell a made-up word incorrectly? Well, here's my reasoning—the "-iscious" at the end should just be "-icious," as in "delicious." Where'd that pesky S come from?

I don't know when Snickers finally introduced their buzzwords online, but now we can all see the official definitions for ourselves. I'm a little disappointed in the violent imagery conveyed by "hungerectomy": "a highly precise procedure involving your hunger getting punched in the face, dragged into an alley, and robbed." I was hoping for something more hospital-based, I guess. In that setting you'd still get robbed, but an HMO would be the most likely culprit.

While I was away ...

... Jason Hare was nice enough to let me contribute to a collaborative Chart Attack!, and now I'm part of Jefitoblog's Chartburn discussions. I also continue to write way too much in the comments sections of their blogs.

Before I became busy I failed to mention this bit of old news reported by the Associated Press (although it's not as old as that Stephin Merritt flap):

The owner of an upscale steakhouse in Louisville said he asked O.J. Simpson to leave his restaurant the night before the Kentucky Derby because he is sickened by the attention Simpson still attracts.

Good for you, sir! But guess what? By calling attention to Simpson being in your restaurant, you gave him more attention. It's a vicious cycle.

[Jeff] Ruby—who owns restaurants in Cincinnati, Louisville and Belterra, Ind.—said Simpson, who was in town for the Derby on Saturday, came in with a group of about 12 Friday night and was seated at a table in the back. A customer came up to Ruby and was "giddy" about seeing Simpson, Ruby said.

Famous, infamous—what's the difference these days? An autograph's an autograph. Look at Paris Hilton—she's famous for nothing in particular. We all want our 15 minutes. That white-haired guy who painted all those soup cans promised them to us.
"I didn't want that experience in my restaurant," Ruby said, later adding that seeing Simpson get so much attention "makes me sick to my stomach."

I hope this AP story was the ipecac Ruby was looking for.

He said he went to Simpson's table and said, "I'm not serving you." Ruby said when Simpson didn't respond, he repeated himself and left the room.

Ruby said Simpson soon came up to him and said he understood and would gather the rest of his party to leave.


So Simpson and his party willingly sat at the back of the restaurant, and when asked to leave he explained to Ruby that he understood why, then did as requested. The nerve of some people!

Simpson's attorney, Yale Galanter, said the incident was about race, and he intended to pursue the matter and possibly go after the restaurant's liquor license
.

Nah, it wasn't about race (it'd make my day if Yale Galanter graduated from Harvard Law School), just as Simpson's acquittal in '95 wasn't about race. As Chris Rock said the year after the verdict, it was about fame, "because if O.J. wasn't famous, he'd be in jail right now. If O.J. drove a bus he wouldn't even be 'O.J.'—he'd be Orenthal the bus-driving murderer." But O.J.'s attorneys in '94 and '95 pulled that race card out quite a bit during the trial.
"It was the first time since 1994 he has ever shown any class," Ruby said. "He showed it that night in the restaurant" by leaving quietly.

And you could've shown class by not talking to the AP about it, Ruby, but it's too late now. I'm curious about who leaked this story to the AP in the first place—possibly Simpson's attorney, but who knows.

Ruby said after Simpson left, people in the restaurant started applauding him. He said he has received about 100 positive e-mails since the incident.

Ruby failed to mention the dozen or so e-mails that followed this template: "Hi. First-time writer, longtime diner. Just thought I'd let you know that the music's a little loud over by the bar. Could you turn it down a smidge? Thanks. Also, my pommes frites were a little on the limp side. And would it kill your waitstaff to serve the beer a little colder?"

The end of the story saves the best for last:
The walls of Ruby's restaurants are decorated with celebrity photos. A photo of Simpson and Ruby used to be on display, but Ruby said he took it down after the killings.

Breaking up is hard to do.

Friday, June 8, 2007

My iPod told me I'm racist.

It didn't tell me that in so many wordsor even in words, periodbut I know. I can feel it.

See, I've been going through old e-mails recently, and one e-mail I found in my work account's in-box contained the body of a New York Times article from May 18, 2006. The article mentioned one of my employer's freelance music critics, Jessica Hopper, who had accused musician Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields of being a racist based on his music preferences. Apparently a New Yorker music critic agreed with her:

In 2004 Mr. Merritt, writing in The New York Times, chose seven records for a feature called Playlist. None of the records he chose were by black artists, prompting Sasha Frere-Jones, a music critic at The New Yorker, to conclude at the time on his personal blog that Mr. Merritt had a bias against black music, calling him "'Southern Strategy' Merritt." A series of posts ensued from Mr. Frere-Jones suggesting that a list of the best songs of the past century that Mr. Merritt made while he was a critic at Time Out New York underrepresented black artists.

Accusations of racism based on musical taste are pretty ludicrous. We all like what we like. As a white male, I tend to identify strongly with other white males, and when it comes to music, I often identify strongly with white males who sing about girls and love and sunshine. That's not a hate crime. Besides, if a black artist were to list seven records for that Playlist feature and none of the records were by white artists, would anyone cry foul, particularly black music critics? I doubt it.

(Here's something I've always liked about the Isley Brothers: just as white musicians "stole" rock 'n' roll from black musicians and made it popular in the '50s, the Isleys, in the early to mid-'70s, covered plenty of songs by white musicians—
Seals & Crofts's "Summer Breeze," Todd Rundgren's "Hello It's Me," Carole King's "It's Too Late," James Taylor's "Fire and Rain," and Stephen Stills's "Love the One You're With," to name a few—effectively hijacking folk-pop and soft rock and adding some soul to it.)

But the article goes on to mention that in 1996 Merritt was interviewed for Mojo magazine and, when asked about his white musical influences, responded, "I think my records could be listened to by the Ku Klux Klan!" Fan those flames, Merritt! (Sarcasm doesn't always go over well in print.) The article also says:

Mr. Merritt, who would not agree to be interviewed, is certainly no fan of modern hip-hop. In an interview in the online magazine Salon in 2004 he said that much of contemporary rap engages in "more vicious caricatures of African-Americans than they had in the 19th century." He singled out OutKast, a critically adored African-American duo.

Of all the rap acts he could've named, Merritt picked OutKast? Maybe he was just sick of hearing about them by 2004, because after Speakerboxxx/The Love Below came out in the fall of '03, white people (including Hopper and Frere-Jones, perhaps) had their heads firmly planted up the collective ass of the Atlanta group. In fact, if we're going to draw racial lines here, OutKast does belong to a subcategory of rap that I've heard one white person refer to as "rap that white people like." Other artists in this category include De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Mos Def, Jurassic 5, Digable Planets, Public Enemy, Kanye West, and maybe Common at this point. Hey, guess what? I like all of those artists too! (Well, some of them anyway.)

The artists I mentioned generally talk less about their bank accounts than other rappers do, although they're not against bragging for bragging's sake, e.g. West and OutKast's Big Boi. You could infer that white people prefer rappers who don't focus on money because whites, on average, are better off financially than blacks in America, and therefore it's not a compelling subject, but that's a little too easy.

A year or so ago I passed by a black woman at Walgreens who was singing along softly to James Taylor's "Shower the People," which was playing over the PA. Did I yell "Race traitor!" in her face? Did I ask her if an old Isley Brothers album introduced her to Taylor? No. Once again, we like what we like, to each his own, etc.

But let's get to the main event (especially since all of this was debated over a year ago by far better writers than myself)—let's use the Onion AV Club's "Random Rules" guidelines to see just how supremely, but randomly, white I am as a music listener. I set my iPod to "shuffle," and here are the first five songs that came up:

1. "Open My Eyes" by Cory Sipper
2. "Superman [Prelude and Main Title March]" by John Williams
3. "Notice" by Gomez
4. "Just for Tonight" by Vanessa Williams
5. "Unguarded Minute" by Daryl Hall & John Oates

Hmm ... I'm very white, not Barry White, after all. Cory Sipper is a female artist, but she's also melanin deficient. And Nietzsche's philosophy of an ├╝bermensch, or "superman," was twisted around by Hitler and used as Nazi propaganda, so now I'm looking pretty Aryan all of a sudden. Despite their misleading name, Gomez is a British group full of white guys. Hall & Oates play "blue-eyed soul," but they once said they consider that term racist, because to them soul is color-blind. Take that, Mr. Frere-Jones and Ms. Hopper! Vanessa Williams, thank you for popping up. Williams, as you may know, is a black woman with blue eyes, which further shoots the theory of blue-eyed soul out of the water. (Speaking of water, "Just for Tonight" is a 1991 ballad that isn't much thicker than water, but I still like it.)

Alright, let's try this one more time so I can prove to music critics everywhere that I do indeed have hip-hop and '70s soul on my iPod next to all those white-male-sung love songs:

1. "For Lovers Only" by Maxwell
2. "Monster Hospital" by Metric
3. "Oh Delilah" by the Rudds
4. "I Was Wrong" by Danny Wilson
5. "Blue Moon" by the Marcels

Dammit! We started off all high and mighty with Maxwell, whose new album has been rumored to be "in the final stages" for almost two years now, but then Metric showed up (female and Canadian), followed by the Rudds (a pop-rock group from Boston that includes ex-Papas Fritas frontman Tony Goddess ... who's white) and Danny Wilson (Scottish and therefore white). But the Marcels were black, weren't they? Actually, according to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame Foundation, three members were black and two were white, at least for the recording of "Blue Moon."

One of my favorite groups of all time is Sly and the Family Stone, which contained blacks and whites, males and females, all working together to make incredible music that blended elements of pop, rock, and soul. Mr. Merritt, why don't you just tell people you like the Family Stone? That'll get people off your back. But don't make any cracks about Charlize Theron being the hottest African-American you've ever seen—although that's technically accurate, it won't win you any points.

Let's try this one more time, just to see what comes up:

1. "Doctor My Eyes" by Jackson Browne
2. "Skyway [Live]" by Paul Westerberg
3. "Airbag" by Radiohead
4. "Don't Let It Get You Down" by Spoon
5. "Lady Face [Live]" by Todd Rundgren

Ouch. White white white. But Westerberg and Rundgren are two of my favorite white males who've sung about girls and love and sometimes sunshine, and as I get older I look to music for comfort more often than not. I'm still thrilled to stumble across music that has the power to move or thrill me in ways I didn't expect (like Wheat or Murs and 9th Wonder), but high school ended a long time ago, so I no longer feel the need to impress anyone with my taste in music. And neither should Stephin Merritt, nor should he have to defend his taste. (Might wanna lay off the KKK references from now on, though.) For that matter, neither should the black lady singing along to a James Taylor ballad in Walgreens. Shower the people you love with love, and shower them with girls and sunshine and a few hey yas as well while you're at it. Dance to the music, because in the end it only wants to take you higher.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Three out of five cowboy scientists agree ...

I received a free Schick Quattro Titanium razor in the mail last week. According to the packaging, this razor offers:

• 4 titanium-coated blades
• Less irritation than the leading brand
• More strut in your giddy-up

The packaging also had this label on the side: "Contents: 1 scientifically advanced and crazy fresh razor."

Like I've said before, I'm no marketing expert, but when you use the phrases "more strut in your giddy-up" and "crazy fresh" on the same package, you run the risk of sounding a bit desperate.

Say, I haven't written much lately, have I? I had some momentum for a few weeks there, and then it was all shot to hell when I went out of town for roughly two weeks last month. I'm hoping I can get back up to speed soon and regain the trust of 6.2 of my 7.9 readers.

I did start working on a Complete Idiot's Guide to a certain band for Jefitoblog yesterday. I'm collaborating on it with another Chicagoan. 'Bout time I stopped procrastinating (I originally proposed it to Jefito last July, I think), and collaboration always helps since you're competing, in a friendly way, to keep up with your partner. It turns out I was overthinking the best way to begin writing the guide and how to write about this band's music. I'm very good at dancing about architecture, so to speak. But yeah, I'll admit I was lazy too. I feel like I mentally hibernated for much of 2006. It's good to be awake again.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

voices that care and emote and sing and stuff



I'd forgotten about this one, but thank goodness Jefito dug it up. Do you think soldiers returning from the latest Iraq war are bitter that no group of celebrities made a song for them? "I was not given a parade. R. Kelly did not write a special chorus for Carrie Underwood to sing about my courage. I am the forgotten soldier."

No offense to our military, by the way, but one of the soldiers' comments tacked onto the end of this video contains priceless machismo: "It was really uplifting. Gave me a little sentimental action in the heart here ... a little choking action."

Dude, you are
so gay.