Archive for July, 2006

I was reading some brief obits for some dear departed music industrians in Paste, and found it interesting to see the cause of death listed in each case. You may have pioneered the use of somethingernother and been the first suchandsuch of your generation, but you’d better keep your passing simple in order to have room for information about the things in your life you had some enjoyment in. A little luck, and your failed organs will get less print than your lived achievements, relationships, experiences. Anyway, it’s an interesting human quality (or maybe just Western/American quality?) that we want cause-of-death information, as if that has some relation to the meaning or contribution of a person’s life.

In a related story, Paul Simon’s promotional pics accompanying the release of Surprise are really creeping me out. Is the surprise that he’s joined the cast of Star Trek?


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Its 86 degrees.

And raining.

At 10:45pm.

In Malibu, CA.

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We saw The Lake House a few weeks ago (in a theater!), which is a movie about Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves and a deadly bus (I am not kidding). It also involves something that is not quite time travel, and is, at best, more romantic magic than sci-fi Delorean (kind of Frequency meets Sleepless in Seattle), but does have to do with being able to alter past events through information about the future. And future events through the influence of people in the past. But there is no traveling involved, really, even though, as I said, there is a bus.

The point here is that I was thinking about how time travel movies have to keep a pretty steady pace to prevent your mind from wandering off, in a dramatic pause, to ponder the implicit impossibilities time travel creates in a linear plot. Or, for that matter, in a linear life. The movie has to kind of throw in the possibility of time travel as a given and distract you with enough indestructible robots or kissing that you go with it. It’s just too hard to get one’s mind around how some past event, altered even simply in being observed from the future, can carry through a trajectory that would result in the same future from which your traveler arrives. It’s even worse than Doc Brown warned us in the 80s. Not only might world events be altered, but the very character and identity of every person involved is indelibly marked. If someone travels in time, they and everyone they encounter have a whole new reality to deal with, and, even if you relocate to one hundred years ago, you still have to keep moving forward in becoming the person you are who has had this experience. Plus maybe you end up at the spring formal with your mom.

So then, I start thinking, the same sort of suspension of disbelief inherent in this kind of movie is what we put up with in order to buy into regret. As much time and energy as I spend with my “what ifs” and “if onlys” I get stuck in from time to time, you would think I’d pause for a moment to discover the ridiculous impossiblilities of this kind of exploration. There is really no way I can engage those events, if they could be or should be changed, that gives meaning to my present experience. Energy spent on wondering how things might have been is as wasted as attempting to resolve the problem of why Terminators II & III would need to take place at all, much less after rather than before the first movie.

Sorry, Uncle Rico.

So, next time I’m drawn into wondering why I wasted my life on Rock Star: Supernova, I’ll just watch 12 Monkeys instead. Now, that’s good use of time.

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Rock Star: Supernova is almost an SCTV sketch, but with a more absurd premise. Rather than meet as juvenile delinquents and bleed, sweat, and rock drunkenly up Sunset Blvd to fame, these 15 individuals have been chosen as the most dramatically volatile pool Mark Burnett could create and Tommy Lee & Co. could put up with on the way to a win-win celebrity status boost. It might also result in some air time on MTV. At worst, more people will know the lead singer of Supernova than remember Gary Cherone’s 15 minutes on stage with Van Halen.

I can only make some guesses here, as our Tivo preempted Rock Star with “So, You Think You CAN Dance?” (I am immensely enjoying what shifting the emphasis in that sentence accomplishes), but the online performances and the crack reporting at Television Without Pity gives me all the information I need (great timekiller when you’re trying to get to sleep at 2am).

Given the Burnett Reality this well-wardrobed collection of celebrity-chum are living in, I love the comment by Stappian hopeful and second-to-go Chris that, despite his cold reception by the band and the crowd (and the United States of America), he wouldn’t be on the show to begin with if he weren’t one of the best singers “in the world.”

James Hetfield is not one of the best singers in the world. Vince Neil is, empirically, one of the worst singers in the world, and probably not a very pleasant person. At least Hetfield was open to therapy.

Anyway, for no other reason than to rationalize the valuable time I spent investigating this, here are my first-impression picks for the final five. In parentheses I have indicated their carbon copy Rock Star: INXS counterparts, for anyone keeping track (it was great spectacle TV while we waited for a baby). I realize I am the only person reading this who will know what I am talking about:

Lukas (“J.D.” – total jerk but undeniably strong presence and drive – last year’s unfortunate winner)
Storm (“Ty” – theatrical and powerful, but ultimately is a mowkawked [Storm: tattooed] theater nerd – last years’ most tragic loser)
Ryan (“Marty” – talented and road-tested but too nice for the gig – last year’s shoulda-won)
Patrice (“Jordis” – fun to watch, too groovy to headbang)
Phil (“Brandon,” could be a Mig or Jordis [Burnett’s got me here] – fits the part on stage, but soft on personality)
Dilana (“Mig” – last shot, great voice, stage name, but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks)

Most likely to ridiculously beat out one of my top 5: Magni
Most likely to be prodded towards implosion and kept around to make things interesting: Zayra
Most likely to get booted from the top 6 but get Tommy Lee’s phone number on camera: Jill
Winner: I’ll hope for the surprise that it’s Ryan or Storm, but, unless this band is less tuned into the short-termness of this event than the last one was, I’ll bet Lukas is our Supernover. Ultimately, it’s a make-it-or-break-it gig for the singers, but for Tommy, James and Gilby, it’s just a boost back into the spotlight to keep the engine running. They can ditch Lukas with a babysitter when he gets annoying.

Watch next summer for my new smash: “So, You Think I Can Dance with the Stars: Wham!?” in which contestants spend three months in a mansion with me, trying not to be expelled at my arbitrary displeasure, hoping to survive and accurately predict whether, in the finale, I can successfully lambada with Andrew Ridgeley.

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I had an era-ending experience, stopping in CD City, used & new media, for their closing sale. I was in need of a glimpse at some particular album art. You know, bigger and more extensive than the 3/4″ square image iTunes or Amazon offers in the top left corner.

CD City used to be called something else, but it’s been so long since I’ve been there that I can’t remember. It’s in this wallflower of a strip mall across from TO High School, which was at one point, no doubt, prime real estate for a used music store. The only shop in the structure that hasn’t changed in the last eight years will deliver pizza while you sit at home looking at something prettier. And now it’s time for CD City to go, big metal racks ($60) and all.

In my Oxy years, I looked forward to family vactions in CA most of all because I might find someone to drive me out to Moby Disc in Woodland Hills. It was an alternative music paradise for a West Texas kid. I could spend days in there, scrutinizing the racks in search of “For Promotional Use Only” tags and anything that looked cool and unfamiliar – bands I’d never heard of and couldn’t wait to sample through those perpetually off-balance, who-knows-what infested headphones, as I held the wire just right for the least amount of crackling.

I learned a lot about pop culture browsing those bins, for as long as my ride could stand to wait. Like where high-hopes surplus goes when a label gives up on it. They needed a dumptruck for the load of Chagall Guevara leftovers. And it was amazing how the M’s expanded after Milli Vanilli’s curtain was pulled back.

This was where I found my music – I didn’t read about it, and rarely heard it on the radio; I deep-bin dove for it. Why buy new when you can adopt? I tried out untested genres and sampled the classics to expand my understanding: “Kind of Blue,” “Love Supreme,” an off-brand Otis Redding concert tape that opened my ears to soul – they all seeped in through those shiny, cracked foam headphones. It was a great place to discover the differences between Mussorgsky, Dvorjak, and Mahler, or the Meat Puppets, the Dead Kennedys, and Bad Brains. Fishbone, Squeeze, Peter Murphy, pre-releases of the Smithereens’ “11” and the first Innocence Mission album. The Smiths’ “Meat Is Murder,” The English Beat’s “I Just Can’t Stop It” and Elvis Costello’s “My Aim Is True.” I found a European print of the Cure’s “Three Imaginary Boys,” with the pictograph track listing, that felt like winning the lottery. I hardly owned a cassette that wasn’t either homemade or had a used price tag stuck to the worn case.

When I came to school out here, I was constantly talking my freshman roommate into driving out to the MD in Santa Monica. Those stores were pretty much the only two places I could navigate in the LA area once I got a car. I had three years worth of used CDs before I had a CD player.

Later, at Famous in Denver, the cd bins surrendered Ani Difranco, Jeff Buckley, Chris Whitley, Sam Phillips, Sean Colvin, the Samples, Phish. Things slowed down a bit in Abilene, although Nil Lara and Iris Dement found me a few doors down from Texadelphia at UT. Last December I noticed that the place I used to browse on Buffalo Gap is already gone.

When I moved back here, I savored a soak at Second Spin (bourgeoise used), but primarily hit this little store in TO. Somehow I had an unlabeled copy of Guster’s “Lost and Gone Forever” (from the $1 bin) months before its release.

Slowly, though, from grad school to marriage, I started to cut those visits shorter and shorter. I think I was starting to narrow down what I liked and didn’t care about. And then came Napster, and Audiogalaxy. Oooh, Audiogalaxy, let me count the ways. No, not love; it was lust. Lars Ulrich and the US government (there’s a comic I’d like to see) probably saved me from drowning in the dionysian flow of kbps that rose in my hard drive like Noah’s flood.


Downloading depends not on a discovery process, but a search criteria. I tell the site what I want to see, and it brings me just that. Even what “other users who bought this title” like doesn’t expand the range much. I don’t have to wade through potential diamonds on the way to what I already like – I can keep the borders tight. Now I read music mags and websites, dependent on somebody else’s filters to at least expand my playlist beyond what I know is out there. Or I can ask my brother and a small circle of aural accountability partners I see now and then.

I scanned the front discs, but I kinda know what’s behind those – the latter days of going-out-of-business dregs – and I’m not looking for that. Against hope, for the sake of tactile nostalgia, I did a two-fingered double-row flip through the S’s checking for what I came to get. Click, click, click, katick. I gave a long eye to the t-shirts, posters, and stickers (for sale and stuck to everything) that they don’t put up anywhere else. I listened as some of the last customers, two men in their 50s wearing buttoned down shirts and ties, were led around by the 30something, black concert t & shorts, scruffy-bearded, tattooed, metal-head employee, in search of Billy Joel and Paul Simon. “At the moment,” he said, “all I have is Simon and Garfunkel.” But the end-times poster board on the door said, “No Buying, No Trading, No Returns.”

A copy of Spin Doctors’ “Homebelly Groove” caught my attention. I can’t find it online. 20% off $5.99 seems like the least I can do.

“Is that gonna do it for you?”

“Yeah. How much longer will you be open?”

“Just till we clear all this stuff out. Five eighteen’s your total. Thanks.”

I felt like I should say something. I paused undecidedly, and we shared a shrugging grin.

“Thank you.”

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I read Lincoln at Gettysburg, which traces how Lincoln’s speech, which reframes the role and meaning of the Declaration of Independence and purposes of the forefathers, won the civil war and changed American identity (taa daa!). So, you know, it’s a pretty good speech. Wills’ background on the political and cultural influences on this moment were very a-ha enjoyable.

With no other motive than getting to the next book on my list, I dove into Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation, which, as it turns out, is a record of her pilgrimages to sites related to the Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley assassinations. Also a good read, and, as far as I know, some good historical work couched in rock-critic essay style (the as-I-see-it big picture + juicy bits of trivia). Not as acutely hilarious as all the raves she gets from Conan O’Brian and John Stewart caused me to expect, but insightful and witty in a likable, self-referential Let’s Go: History kind of way. O’Brian and Stewart, by the way, voice Robert Todd Lincoln and James A. Garfield, respectively, in the audio book version. This is only distracting if you’re not already put off having the entire book narrated by Violet Incredible.

One of Vowell’s closing observations (um, Spoiler Alert?) is also about the importance of rhetoric. While heroic, Lincoln’s actual political agenda, in speech and action (as Wills also reflects), was not as forwardly all-persons-are-created-equal as he might now be credited (granted, it’s hard to be that socially progressive when you’re trying to preserve the Union). This mythic role was, in part, secured by Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. After taking in Wills’ assertions that Lincoln’s Gettysburg address reframed our national identity, I’m quite intrigued by the idea that King ends up reframing Lincoln’s identity as the egalitarian liberator.

(Although Vowell doesn’t provide any footnotes. Or, perhaps more accurately, they are invisible. Taa daa!)

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