Thursday, March 27, 2003

WHAT I'VE BEEN DOING ON THE SIDE (a partial list):

  • Writing hard-hitting political material for radical rodeo clowns.
  • Agitating for a faster gin fizz.
  • Getting the term "glutton for punishment" changed to "abuse gourmand."
  • Seeking a publisher for my series of holiday-themed mystery novels starring Donnie Claus, Santa's younger, smarter, trimmer brother - For Whom the Jingle Bells Toll, A One-Horse Open Slaying, and Mistletoetags.
  • Looking into the qualification process for the title of Death Threat Laureate.
  • Trying to remember whether I heard the sentence "Approval rating for Bush steadily dropping" on MSNBC or The Hot Network. Same with "radical Islamic sects."

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Bad taste moment of the moment: Three copies of Great White's Greatest Hits arrived at Boundaries the other day. Really, what's the rationale behind this? Is there anybody out there thinking, "God, what a horrid, uncalled-for tragedy - and suddenly I've got the urge to hear 'Once Bitten, Twice Shy'!" Well, we can only be thankful that it wasn't altered to include their version of X's "Burning House of Love"...

Monday, March 24, 2003

Easier to transcribe than to think today, therefore...


SPY COMMANDER: All right, men, this is a very crucial covert operation so it's important that you're prepared. Your watches have all been pre-synchronized to ensure that every one of you carries out his part of the mission to the split second and they also contain a tiny radio transmitter that will broadcast your location to our secret satellite, Space Object One, which we launched this morning in a highly top-secret ceremony from an undisclosed location which may or may not be 278 Birch Street, Bayonne, NJ. For security reasons, you are hereby ordered to forget I just told you that. Each of your packs contain a cylindrical tartan-plaid liquid receptacle - you turn the dial concealed at the bottom of the receptacle to the east, it activates a miniature water purification system which will enable you to drink your own sweat, tears or urine without any ill effects and with a pleasant hint of lime; turn it to the west, it becomes a fragmentation grenade capable of killing all life within a fifty foot radius. It also keeps hot things hot and cold things cold for reasons that are classified. Your jackets are lined with a material that is highly impervious to adverse climatic conditions and temperatures as low as -700 degrees and as high as 5000 degrees Fahrenheit. Your gloves are on back order; keep your hands in your pockets just to be on the safe side. Now, you have all been supplied with a pill which you should keep under your tongue at all times. In the event of capture, bite down immediately. It's a mild mood stabilizer that should subvert any depression or feelings of self-loathing connected with your capture. Are any of you pregnant or nursing?

The spies, all men, shake their heads.

Okay, good. Very critically important - take these no more than four times a day and at least half an hour after mealtime. Failure to do so will put you in violation of the Geneva Convention and subject you to court-martial, possible prison time, dry mouth, dizziness, or nausea. Any questions?

SPY raises hand.

SPY: Excuse me, commander, but, ummm, what exactly is the purpose of this mission?

SPY COMMANDER: According to our directives from the Pentagon and the State Department, we've been spending far too much time indoors watching TV and eating junk food and we need to get out and get some fresh air in our lungs and stop moping around the house so much - approximately $7.6 billion has been set aside for this purpose. Okay, we will reconvene at 0500 hours tomorrow - cookout and talent show on the beachhead tonight at 0830 following the Arts & Crafts demonstration and the optional pony rides. Dismissed.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

I don't want to use this forum to spout off about The War too much, but I do want to give CNN thanks for not showing the footage of the captured and/or dead soldiers that al-Jazeera has evidently been showing about as often as Comedy Central airs Caddyshack II (and no doubt the former would make me turn my head away from the screen and weep with sadness and disgust for the depths to which humanity can fall almost as often as the latter). Now if I can only shake this fear that Fox News has re-edited it, set it to music and will soon begin running it under the title "The Iraqi Horror Picture Show."

* * * *

(Don't mind the following - it just seems that it took me so long to write that friggin' Grammy piece that the weekly archives only show about the first third of it. So here's the whole thing again, for whatever passes for posterity:)




Ehh, it wasn't excruciating. Your typical industry backpat with the predictable victors (it looked like Norah Jones was the only person who didn't think Norah Jones would sweep - not a slur on her, really: she seems like a lovely girl, and Come Away With Me is an unfailingly pleasant CD, though it says something that I hear it at least twice a day [it's piped through the overhead play system at work] and I can't tell you what a single song on it sounds like apart from "Don't Know Why." I'm a little disappointed to discover that she didn't write the Song of the Year, too, if only because now, whenever I hear it, I'm going to have the image of the songwriter - a guy who looks like the product of a Wes Anderson/Todd Solondz genetic splice - in my head instead of the modest comeliness of Ravi's kid), and a bit too slickly run if you ask me: don't they realize, now that two-thirds of the commercial television programming schedule is made up of car crashes both symbolic and literal, that the main reason a lot of us check out any live TV event is the secret hope that something horrible, obscene or simply bizarre (Soy Bomb, come home, all is forgiven) will accidentally happen?

But no matter. There were some redeeming features, although with several days between me and the event, most of them are growing fuzzier and more indistinct - did Sheryl Crow really scream "Fuck the Army!" before taking off her top and leaping into an acoustic version of "Kick Out the Jams" Sunday night? Did Kid Rock catch a glimpse of Celia Cruz and turn to stone? Did Dylan convert to Druidism and renounce going electric? Ah, my mind is playing tricks on me, as the philosopher said...

Of course, the most important stuff about the event has more to do with what didn't happen than what did. By now, you've surely heard the rumor that the august body that controls the Grammys stated in no uncertain terms that anything having to do with the impending unfriendliness in Iraq was verboten. (That means the bravest moment of the night was Fred Durst's halting, mealy-mouthed pro-peace adlib. Not quite the act of blows-against-the-empire sedition that rock 'n roll is supposed to pull off as easily as an underage groupie's leopard-skin underclothes, but good for him anyway - better an earnest buffoon than a thuggish one. I guess.) But how about the fact that not a word was mentioned on behalf of the dead and injured fans of Great White, a band with an actual Grammy nomination to its name? (One more, I'm pretty sure, than the subject of the night's big tribute - but I'll come to that in a minute.) Oh, you say that doesn't bother you, that an aging and fattening hairband and what remains (quite literally) of their fanbase don't really amount to the flatulence brought on by devouring a hill of beans in this crazy world? That, tragic as the incident was, it bears no relevance to what goes on in the platter-spinning world of 2003 and would only harsh whatever mellow the rest of the show established? Okay, fine. What about how, in the memorial montage that immediately preceded the big musical climax of the evening, they inadvertently spelled John Entwistle's name with a superflous 'h'? Now you're offended, right?

Okay, whatever. It's taken me almost a week to finish this damned post - time constraints and unbearable fits of anxiety have conspired to make it so - and in that time, the only thing that really stands out in the memory was the rousing, moving moment when a small group of gentlemen, each one legendary in his own right, stood in a line on stage and paid impassioned homage to a fallen fellow traveller. I mean, Timberlake just nailed the rhythmic complexity of "Stayin' Alive" with his human beatbox routine, didn't he?

I'm kidding, yes, but only just - to be brutally and wimpily honest, 'N Sync's tribute to the Bee Gees' Maurice Gibb was probably the second-best musical moment of the evening for me. Most of the rest of the acts seemed to suffer from bad-monitor syndrome or sheer nerves or unnecessary appendages (like saddling Coldplay with a full orchestra). This, however, was just right - froth meeting froth on its own terms and rising to the same level together. Maybe not a great rock 'n' roll moment but surely a great rock 'n' roll awards show moment.

So, does that make the highlight of the evening, the guitar-slinging quartet of (from right) Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl and some schmatte-wearin' Silvio Dante lookalike trading lines and licks on the Clash's "London Calling" in honor of the recently-deceased (at least now his bones will have a chance to catch up with his teeth) Joe Strummer, a great rock 'n' roll moment? Yeah, I think so, though maybe not quite for the intended reasons. I haven't heard or seen the performance outside of the context of the show, where, frankly, the rousingly familiar strains of those stomping opening chords and the frisson of seeing some familiar faces belting out those exciting, if slightly confusing (if the sun's moving in, then why would the ice age be coming?), apocalyrics would have been tonic to this showbiz-sated soul at the end of three hours' manicured energy and Teleprompted excitement even if, in reality, this was just a slightly noisier version of the same, a sop to the aging punks and self-satisfied hipsters who spend the whole evening bitching about what a sad, industry-sponsored joke this all is, even though they tune in every single year without fail instead of heading out to a club or somewhere else where, even on a Sunday night, the action really is. Strummer's dead now; he's safe to lionize in the usual manner (one more dead punk and we'll be able to do a decent-sized series of postage stamps - Gob On These!), and the axe-carrying pallbearers on stage moved onto Respectable Street ages ago. (Never woulda thunk it five years ago, but Miami Steve was the coolest guy up there - the Sopranos connection helped, natch, but also his commandeering a weekly hunk of syndicated radio time to play his favorite garage rock records - the Ramones finally get the regular-rotation play they've always deserved! - and, not least, the actual performance he gave that night; he alone decided to affect a sneering Brit-punk voice [more Rotten than Strummer, but no matter] and he cut loose near the end with a rubbery, feral solo that moved right up to second place on my list of all-time great Grammy moments.)

Not that the other three were slouches, mind you. (And if they were, there's no way they could slouch as well as Little Steven - all those years of sidling up to el Jefe's microphone to contort and emote have given him the roundest shoulders in the biz.) Grohl was mostly just there, like he was the 104th caller in some radio station promotion, awed to be in the presence of the big boys even after this many years in the bidness - the goofy everyrocker schtick may get old soon, but it still plays well. Elvis Costello seemed in better and more robust voice than I expected, given his penchant for overemoting like a brute when the tempo gets into the red, so maybe new gal-pal Diana Krall taught him something about breath control and projection to go along with whatever it is she did that led him to make that mildly (if inscrutably) lecherous comment while co-presenting the Album of the Year award a few minutes later. And then there was Bruce. His performance here was of particular interest because he volunteered - indeed, leapt at the chance and probably nearly tore his designer working-man's dungarees in the process - to take Strummer's place when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame indicts - er, inducts the Clash next month, so this could be considered a public rehearsal. And the funny thing? I had never really noticed before, but despite the predictable initial scoffing that greeted the selection from certain corners (my own included), the guy from Asbury Park and the yob from - ehh - Yobland (trying to get this damn thing done at last - no time for geographical-origin research) wind up having more in common than we thought. Similar passions? A matching set of public ideals? The same U.S. label? Well, yeah, all that, but look at the important stuff - the way each man stands at the microphone, the way that guitar slung around each man's neck is there as a percussive prop as much as anything, the way every vocal utterance seems to be pulled up from their feet and yanked out with a fair amount of pain. Give Bruce some anti-vitamins, damage his dental work, shave the sides of his head and throw him in some second-hand combat gear and he'd almost be a dead ringer (sorry) for Joe. Is that not enough for you? Okay, um, Bruce's early stuff was Dylan-influenced, and Dylan was influenced by Woody Guthrie, and, ah, Strummer's real first name was Woody... Springsteen co-wrote a hit record with/for the NYC punk chick who once banged Joe's bass player... one was born in the USA while the other was bored with the USA... okay, you got me. This all seemed much more airtight when I thought of it two goddamned weeks ago.

But, all that aside, you couldn't miss the eerie significance of the chosen song. It may only have been chosen because it's such a simple stomping rouser (or was it a rousing stomper? Where am I?), but, in an evening where precious little of consequence to the outside world was even alluded to outside of guitar straps and singers with the intelligence quotient of same, "London Calling" actually registered as a protest song, a howl against the seemingly inevitable cataclysms that await us over the next few months... or it did, at least, until I thought about the words a little more and recognized them as almost resigned ("London is drowning and I live by the river"), a short hop, skip and a jump away from apathetic if one even bothered to move. Which made it even more apropos. Can't escape the feeling that every gesture right now is a hollow one and that attempting to accomplish anything amounts to nothing more than sand castles at the foot of the tsunami. That goes for awards shows, but then, it always did - when this total negation winds up sucking up songs you loved performed by singers who once spoke to you, well, that's when you start gearing up for the End Times and accepting the cessation of all things good and bad with an all-encompassing indifference.

That's probably why my favorite Grammy moment of all time was the one two years ago when Steely Dan won Album of the Year for Two Against Nature. The camera dutifully panned to Walter Becker and Donald Fagen when their names were announced, and as they got up from their seats, they sighed.

Monday, March 17, 2003

I'll keep you posted on the progress of the Finkleman piece below - it's sure to grow slowly out of control, as such things tend to do in my hands. I'll take care of other business while it simmers:

There's nothing like the feeling of a nice, healthy creative spasm, is there? This past Saturday, I went into a recording studio for the first time in several years (or ever, depending on whether or not you define an acidhead with a TEAC four-track that's missing a track a "recording studio"), nothing on hand or in mind, and came out several hours later with, if not a masterpiece, a fine-sounding piece of self-indulgence and a sore throat from shouting. Not to mention a slightly dazed adrenal buzz, the kind that comes after you've pushed your inspirational envelope hard enough to sustain paper cuts. And when you have a couple of sympatico compadres, both fizzing with inspiration (the piece was built from nothing into an impressive sonic edifice comprising live and sampled percussion, mutilated fragments from an avant-garde classical piece, and the producer overdubbing his voice a dozen times into a Beach Boys-worthy harmonic weave [we're talking Pet Sounds Beach Boys here, not "Kokomo" Beach Boys]), it's all the sweeter. Anyway, for your perusal and heartless dissection, here's my hastily-scrawled lyric to the inaugural recording by No, "Pop Culture Death Camp":

The liberation forces finally broke through with their tanks
Confirming the rumors that had fluttered through the ranks
Weapons of mass distraction held in underground culture bunkers
Disco death squads, fashion fascists, hardened corps of punkers
Escapist artistes wielding promotional tie-in sabers
Protecting the bitter fruit concentrates of their labors
Wilted couch potatoes forced to maintain the stasis quo
All messed up and only one place left to go...

The pop culture death camp
Where the bodies are stacked like pogs
Gasoholics throw pet rocks
Through the Charlie-scented smog
Corpses wearing WIN buttons
Gold extracted from wind-up teeth
Wine coolers drench the surface
Faded plastic underneath

The tribunal was held at the food court just off Nuremburger Drive
Where paper-hatted prisoners - the only ones they found alive -
Testified of drive-through shootings, unhappy meals without a prize
And signs over the heat lamps reading ARBEIT MACHT CURLY FRIES
They caught the generalissimo manager of the local Walpurgismart
Confiscated his hate-filled tabloids and his warehouse of sofa-sized art
The lucky ones exiled themselves to Dollywood and Branson, MO
And San Franciscan enclaves where they covertly go with the flow

The pop culture death camp
Where old hairstyles go to hell
Riflemen with full Nehru jackets
The bellbottom of the well
The unfortunates became lava lamps
And emit a sickly pastel glow
This must never happen again
At least until it becomes retro

("I was only following trends!...")

Not high art, maybe, but it gives you a fair idea of where my head's at. Yeah, I know. Sorry.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Allow me now to return to an item I discarded over a month ago, dust it off, smooth it out, and knock a few new nails in it as I set the metaphor mixer to puree:

Lately, I've been fascinated (which is merely the kind code word for "obsessed" - judicious vocabulary choices tend to cut down on the restraining orders) by the work of a Canadian gentleman by the name of Ken Finkleman. If that's a name that means nothing to you, you're either not Canadian nor a PBS addict nor somebody who paid undue attention to the credit lists for the bad movies that played on cable incessantly during the 1980s (guess which one I am). Finkleman's an interesting case - a Canadian comedy writer who parlayed whatever success he attained north of the border into a lucrative gig writing (and sometimes directing) some of the most horrific pictures Hollywood churned out during the Max Headroom Decade. Don't believe me? Check out his CV. Airplane II: The Sequel, Grease 2, Who's That Girl? (I won't throw Head Office into the same hopper with those three, because, although it's still as messy and semi-incoherent as it played back in '85, it has a few crackerjack gags [as, to be fair, does Airplane II - remember Shatner's first scene in that one?] and a nice, meaty role for one of my personal heroes, Michael O'Donoghue)... less encouraging beginnings for a creative artist are hard to imagine.

He apparently recognized it too, seeing as he fled (or was chased out of) Tinseltown after Who's That Girl? , laid low for a spell, then quietly re-emerged as the conquering hero of Canadian television satire in the 1990s. In other words, the exact opposite of the usual Canadian success story, Lorne Michaels in reverse; from a profiteer without honor (add the 'u' at your discretion) in his adopted homeland to auteur of the small screen in the smallest big country on the planet from whence he came, and thence to cult figuredom when his works started trickling southward. Married Life (1995), his first series, which mockumented the intrusion of a film crew into the lives of a newlywed couple (admittedly heavily influenced, right down to the title, by Albert Brooks' brilliant debut feature, Real Life - as you will see, Finkleman steals and steals brazenly, but always from the best), made it into rotation at Comedy Central in mid-decade and caused as much of a stir as most of CC's imports tend to make, i.e., not a whole hell of a lot of one. But Finkleman was canny: he recognized that there was gold to be mined from the works of his fellow curly-haired, comic-neurotic Semites, he just chose the wrong one the first time. The Newsroom (1996-98) borrowed blatantly from Garry Shandling's celebrated backstage TV satire, The Larry Sanders Show, in its single-camera format, caustic showbiz-workplace comedy, and even its spare, white-on-black opening credits, but where it lifted the form more-or-less wholesale (albeit a form generic enough to avoid litigation), the twisting and darkening of the function was unique.

(more to come...)

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

I don't want to leave this sucker idle for too long and I'm still working up to adding a couple of things, so, until that time, endure this "classic" 'zine review from a few too many years ago that touches on a subject I'm going to write about here in a day or two. (Disclaimer: I claim absolutely no responsibility for the rest of the stuff on this site, other than the stuff I'm responsible for. I'll claim that.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

My Grammy piece below is finally finished - two whole weeks after I started writing it. I now say a quiet word of apology to every editor I ever wrote for and every teacher who ever assigned me a paper.