Sunday, November 30, 2008

Good "Friends" on a Saturday night

Jeff Daniels and Friends, Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor, November 29:

Thirty-three magnificent musicians and one baby sharing a stage — that was the final song after two and a half hours of uptempo, feel-good folk music intended to raise funds for one of the country's few remaining historic theaters and to help a sold-out audience forget that, as Jeff Daniels said, "There's a lot of bad crap going on in our world right now."

Yes, that Jeff Daniels — the actor who'll be forever immortalized for his unforgettable "OMG the laxatives have kicked in" scene in Dumb and Dumber, but who also has created and run the Purple Rose Theater in Chelsea, Michigan for the past eighteen years. And between the acting and the theater supervision, he writes songs and sings and plays guitar, too — not like other occasional novelty/vanity "musicians" e.g. Russell Crowe and Keanu Reeves, but often, and well. The historic theater in question being the Michigan, this show featured six home-grown acts (including Daniels):

• The Ben Daniels Band (yep, Ben is fils to Jeff's père), featuring intricate and artfully mumbled lyrics and a surprisingly prominent role for acoustic bass; reminiscent of Adam Duritz in early Counting Crows, but also eerily similar to Everlast's best work.

The violin-led Ragbirds, who acknowledged the holidays with a magnificent congo-and-mandolin rendition of "Little Drummer Boy" and a roof-raising "Tarantella" (aided by the extreme sure-footedness of violinist Erin Zindle dancing nimbly over several miles of instrument cables strewn all over the stage).

• Ann Arbor's own legendary boogie-woogie piano maestro Mark "Mr. B" Braun, showing how Jerry Lee Lewis can only dream of playing the ivories, while also managing to make rocking piano blues function as the "quiet" segment of the show.

• Bluegrass/Appalachian/folk masters Steppin' In It, doing what they do best — dazzling the audience with steel slide guitar artistry by Joe Wilson and the incredible versatility of Andy Wilson on harmonica, flute, and accordian.

• The Brothers and Sisters in Christ (B.A.S.I.C.) Gospel Choir, appearing toward the end of the evening to show how praise and celebration are handled by folks who bring joyful thanks, not somber guilt, to Sunday morning meetings — and how to do it with bass and drums instead of church organ.

Along the way, emcee Jeff Daniels tossed in a couple of solo tunes (including a hilarious "State Trooper," with red-and-blue house lights flashing during each chorus) and mixed things up with Mr. B on piano and Andy Wilson on harmonica behind his guitar. Daniels' final sentiment of the evening, to counter his opening note about negative world events, was that "It's a Good Life (and Somebody's Gotta Live It)," accompanied by every musician who'd performed that evening. (There's really nothing quite like a band with four bass players, four drummers, six guitarists, twenty-two vocalists... oh wait, yes there is: Slipknot. But the masked metalheads from Iowa don't have a gospel choir, a honky-tonk piano, or a baby cradled in a female vocalist's arms.)

A final note: WB has endured numerous half-hour, 45-minute, and even hour-long set changes at shows between opening acts and headliners. Every instrument, every cable, every guitar pick is folded up and taken off stage while a new set of replacements is wheeled on. The mics that worked perfectly for the first act are removed and replaced by new ones, which now need their own soundcheck rituals. But on Saturday night, Jeff Daniels and five other acts showed how to get off stage and enter it in one flawless movement — with no set changes. There was one drum kit, courtesy of the Ragbirds. One array of microphones (lots of them). One set of amps and monitors. Even the bulkiest components of the show — the upright bass lugged around by Steppin' In It's
bassist Dominic John Suchyta, and the fifteen members of B.A.S.I.C. — got themselves and their gear on and off stage quickly and cleanly.

With our next scheduled show being a January concert by Metallica, Lamb of God, Machine Head, and the Sword, we're hoping that just a little of this fast set change might happen between four big-league metal bands in Detroit as well. If not, we'll be posting a review of the January 13th concert sometime around January 17th....

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving safety tips for 2009


Having survived another Thanksgiving dinner hosting experience, WB has a couple of useful tips for anyone planning to do the same next year.

First, forget about the Detroit Lions. They suck, they reek, they lose, yet they keep everyone's eyes in the house riveted to the TV screen while a guest's two-year-old sneaks up, unseen, next to the cook who has the oven door opened to baste the nearly-done $40 turkey.

Second, do not give Koosh balls to two-year-olds. A Koosh ball is made of rubber, and it will ignite into toxic flames after a toddler silently and stealthily throws it into an open oven.

Avoid these.

Third, when someone notices that the two-year-old no longer has the Koosh ball and that acrid gray smoke is billowing from the oven, this is not the time for calm, polite speculation over whether the two events might be related.

Fourth, after extracting the flaming toxic Koosh from the oven with metal tongs, remember to always proceed calmly behind other people to deposit the fireball into the sink. It's generally considered bad form to fling molten burning plastic toward the sink in front of a spouse or relatives.

Fifth, after noting that the oven is still on fire even after the burning Koosh has been removed, be sure to always use a kitchen fire extinguisher, preferably filled with sodium bicarbonate, otherwise known as good old edible baking soda. It's not a good idea to use an extinguisher containing mono-ammonium phosphate, because this will cover everything — starting with the $40 turkey — with a coating of pungent yellow powder. And although the flames will be extinguished, the entire house will now be filled with a potpourri of burning rubber and ammonia, making it essentially impossible to breathe. Except for the oblivious people in the other room inflicting the Lions' national humiliation upon themselves.

When the house is finally safe for re-entry, vacuum the oven, wash the turkey, remove the burnt Koosh from the garbage disposal before forgetting it's in there, and do not expect guests to leave the pathetic football game to offer any assistance with the cleanup.

But do keep a very close eye on the two-year-old.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Slice the turkey and pass the ideology.

Once again, topics meet, and we borrow from our sister blog to reproduce a Thanksgiving message and lesson in ideology....

WB got an email from Adbusters last week promoting the 2008 edition of Buy Nothing Day — the culture jammers' response to Black Friday, November 28, the day after Thanksgiving — the day of retail madness and HUGE SALES hell across the United States.

Buy Nothing Day Confronts the Economic Meltdown, the caption read in this part of the email. Was it possible that Adbusters, defender of everything contracapitalist, would ease up this year, knowing that every large retailer in the nation "needs" a successful Black Friday in order to stay... well, in the black and out of the red?

Luckily, no. The message continued: "As we run out of money, resources and wilderness, and the planet keeps heating up, maybe it’s time to confront the root cause of our global crisis: overconsumption by the most affluent one billion people of the world."

If ever there was an example of ideology pulling out every available device to "correct" "obviously" "wrong" thinking, it's going to show in the response to those few words in italics. Don't be foolish! Consumption is the engine of economic growth! Economic growth is the key to prosperity! Prosperity is the backbone of power! Those are the normalizing narratives that the concept of Buy Nothing Day has to bash its head against.

Want to test it out? Announce to the family, around the Thanksgiving feast table, that you're not going shopping the next day because consumption is out of control. Say that you don't care if half a dozen retail giants announce bankruptcy on Saturday; they should have prepared for a horrid economy when everyone saw the crash coming, roughly two years ago. Share with the group that being a good consumer is not your patriotic duty, and that shifting a huge debt load onto your credit card is not a logical or reasonable way to remedy a problem created by herds of swine in thousand-dollar suits making money from other people's losses.

Go ahead, you marxist, you. You socialist. Turn your back on your country, you loser, and put in with the godless commies from Canada (the home of Adbusters) who would like nothing better than for the American economy to totally tank so that they can take over.

Or maybe you're lucky enough to have a group over to dinner that agrees with your basic position — but damn, have you seen those sale papers? There's just no way to pass up that 70% reduction on [fill in product here]. After all, times are really hard, and people are eating SPAM and macaroni and cheese in record numbers, so it'd be plain stupid to pay top dollar for a Christmas gift on Saturday that can be got for 30% on Friday. It's just basic logic, you know?

Except it isn't. It's ideology.

An idea.

Just a thought, but one made of concrete and crushing down on your skull like a mountain. Resistance is possible, but feels futile. Feels logically flawed. Feels morally wrong. That is the power of ideology.

Adbusters concludes: On November 28, why not confront your own consumption by going on a consumer fast for 24 hours? Like the millions of people who have done this fast before you, you may be rewarded with a life-changing epiphany.
More information and ideological challenge is available at the BND web site.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, will feel nearly impossible.*

Good luck.

*(Insert lame Limp Bizkit rendition of theme song here.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sinking their teeth into a conception of an idea

Editor's note: Pinkmingo's professors gave her a one-hour break this weekend to write something that wasn't a term paper. We're looking forward to semester break when all of her pent-up ideas come flooding out of her computer and we can queue posts for the next three months. :)

Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire; The Vampire Lestat; Queen of the Damned; Ellen Schreiber's Vampire Kisses series; HBO's True Blood; and South Park's commentary on the vampire phenomenon (Tre and Matt blame Hot Topic for the whole thing). Now, Twilight.

Twilight, released this month, is based on one of four novels written by Stephanie Meyer about a vampire, Edward Mullen, and a teenage girl, Isabella Swan, who live out a breathtaking—or in this case, bloodsucking— romance. Their love only blossoms after she finds out that although he ignored her when they first met, it was only because her blood smelled exceptionally delicious. So, to save her, he drinks animal blood instead. (Ah, romance.) Another vampire tries to kill her, Mullen saves the day, Swan almost turns into a vampire after being bitten by another one, Mullen sucks the vampire venom out of her so she remains human, and they go to prom as if nothing happened. Just another day for these average American teenagers.

For anyone guessing this movie is just another cheesy flick based on some books no one has heard of, that’d be a serious mistake. Twilight is a pop culture phenomenon, the book having sold millions of copies, and the film being one of the most anticipated of the year. So what makes a movie that people can relate to because they might have gone to prom (and hopefully didn’t bring a vampire) so popular? Is it just a worldwide depression that’s making consumers look for extraordinary circumstances to see the good in people and the world? Or do we just have such high expectations for our romantic partners now that they now have to be “magical” to be good enough?

We’re guessing a little of both. According to developmental psychologist Jean Piaget, this fascination with the unreal can be explained by what he calls Naïve Idealism. Naïve Idealism happens when people, whatever their age and sex, construct an ideal world (romantic vampires) and compare it to the real world (actual people). Not surprisingly, the real world usually falls short of these expectations and the people who create them become depressed or unhappy with their own lives. The reticular formation, or decision-making part of the brain, also isn’t fully developed until the early 20s, so to some, getting their blood sucked by a “not as handsome as the screaming fans make him seem” vampire seems more glamorous than it actually is.

In other words, the realization and separation of fantasy and reality, which should happen during adolescence, combined with the development of the brain, is supposed to override the desire for an alternate universe, but apparently some peoples’ brains haven’t gotten that memo. The Naïve Idealism approach is logical enough, but it doesn't explain the behavior of women who just pretend to be in their early 20s, but are actually much older and still holding on to fantasies of men in shining armor (or capes, or fangs).

All of this idealism may have begun when these same women who are “in love” with Mullen were five-year-olds watching Disney movies while truly believing all men were princes. It is right around the time when Disney has the biggest impact on children’s lives that they also cannot determine reality from fantasy. That giant purple octopus is real to a five-year-old, as are pumpkins turning into carriages, and, of course, so is Prince Charming. Once they get too old or embarrassed to still lust after a cartoon character, they switch to a real person with a touch of fantasy.

As a result, many women may carry these visions of ideal mates into their real lives and become disappointed when their significant other doesn’t live up to the expectations constucted for a prince. This in turns offers the final explanation for why they desire these made-up men (creatures) in the first place.

WB finds the most interesting part of all this to be that the women don’t want the actor who plays Cullen, Robert Pattinson, they want Cullen (fangs and all). Meredith Viera from the Today show delved into this topic the day the Twilight cast visited her set. One audience member didn’t hesitate to answer her question and said, “Because it’s Edward Cullen, come on!” When asked “But why?” by Pattinson, the same woman laughed and said, “I don’t know.” A younger fan at a mall previous to the Today appearance answered the question by saying, “Because he’s the love of my life, the reason for my existence, and I love him.”

The actress who portrays Isabella Swan, Kirsten Stewart, thinks people “get off” on the fact that “under the surface [of the movie] is a strained, impossible, difficult love,” although on the surface “it sounds really shallow and ideological.”

Something tells us that real marriage proposals to a fake vampire played by a person they’ve never met speaks the opposite of the fans understanding either of those levels.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

You can't have it both ways...

Once in a while, subject areas meet and we get a chance to borrow from one of our other blogs, as we're doing here.

In Season Two of NBC's hit show 30 Rock, when the real-life NBC kicked off its real-life "Green Is Universal" theme week of programming, the fictional NBC staff at 30 Rock(efeller Center) hired a cheesy actor to put on a green suit and play a character named Greenzo, who would spread the gospel of environmentalism and enlighten the masses about how badly the system's been screwed up. As played by David Schwimmer, and according to that whole episode, environmentalists, personified by Greenzo, are overbearing, egomaniacal, lecturing wackos gone out of control.

And environmentalism is "a fad" to be cashed in on.

And NBC's "green" week is a total joke.

The convoluted message got even more confusing when real-life Al Gore made a guest appearance on the show, as himself, playing it straight for a minute of e-themed conversation with Tina Fey's character, Liz Lemon, before cupping a hand to his ear, frowning, and saying, "A whale is in trouble. I have to go!"

From the 17th through 21st it was "Green Is Universal" week at real-life NBC again. The Today Show staff was once again sent to "the ends of the earth," with Meredith in Australia to experience drought, Matt in Belize to witness eco-tourism's destructiveness, Al in Iceland to see melting glaciers, and Ann in Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro while it still has Hemingway's legendary snows. In the evenings, Brian Williams included e-themed stories in the newscast. And online, NBC's "green" web site was chock full of helpful "save the planet" tips from the stable of network celebs.

But was it serious, or was it a joke? Last year, NBC apparently wanted to play both sides. But now that it's clearly making "green" week an annual event, the network will have to choose. And the choice should've started with Ann Curry in Africa, who had the opportunity to tell the Associated Press all about the compelling and alarming climate changes that brought her to climb a mountain in an attempt to get millions of viewers to wake up and act. But when asked, did Ann say any of this?

"To be honest with you, I'm not sure I'm going to make it to the top," she said. "But all the pain and suffering is worth it because of the incredible vistas all around me."

Um, okay, but what about the melting snowcap, Ann? What about the quickly-declining water supply for nearby villagers?

"I miss my family," said Curry, whose clothes were clammy and wet from a rainstorm Saturday. "And also warm showers. And I could really use a stiff drink."

If this is a celebrity's idea of helping to create environmental awareness, NBC would be better off hiring Greenzo.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Yes We Can (unless you're gay... but soon We Will, Too)

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. - Ghandi

Litchik was seriously set to write a scathing diatribe last week, lamenting the contradiction of November 4th: Obama won, the LGBT community lost — and lost, and lost, and lost.... Plenty of examples would have followed, illustrating just how important this right is to LGBT couples, including a personal example of a recent trip to the hospital emergency room where a self-important Nazi posing as a med tech allowed Litchik the privilege of accompanying Funderwoman into the triage room , a right that married couples take for granted and are thus never questioned about. (Oops, looks like some of the venom is still there.)

However, some time has passed and there's been a change of... perspective (not heart, because obviously that has not happened). The recent onslaught of anti-gay ballot initiatives has sparked an entire national community into action. Join The Impact provides an example of what grassroots organizing and real change looks like in the 21st century. In a matter of mere days, this group was able to pull together a national day of protest in response to the passing of California's Prop 8 (as well as similar initiatives in Arizona and Florida). Cities across the nation held rallies to let friends and foes alike know that this issue is not going away — and neither is the gay community.

In fact, Litchik is actually hopeful: this collective cry of outrage is reminiscent of the Stonewall Riots, only this time more peaceful. Many see Stonewall as the start of the gay rights movement, the equivalent of Rosa Parks sitting down in the front of the bus. Today, in the 21st century, we write a new chapter in the history of our fight to be recognized as full citizens. The recent votes have done more to galvanize the LGBT community than any action since Stonewall. This moment in history can serve as a real step toward change. While Ellen Degeneris, Melissa Etheridge, and Will & Grace helped to push the fight forward, the LGBT community will no longer settle for simulated change that affects the simulated world of entertainment.

Today, the personal becomes the political.

And let's be clear: this is a civil rights issue as well as a moral issue, but not the way opponents have cast it. Perhaps Keith Olbermann states it best:

This issue affects all of us, and it did not end on November 4th. Instead, as Litchik slowly began to realize just recently, it is a new beginning.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Use AT&T — or the reporter gets it.

We've all seen the AT&T "I'm so-and-so's phone" commercials where the person talking is a clone of the person being described as a dumbass for not having AT&T cell phone service, thus having "zero bars out here." The moral of each commercial's story has been that if you don't have AT&T, you'll miss important calls that will create inconveniences ranging from slightly embarrassing to hugely damaging (e.g. a possible prison sentence for breaking and entering, a lost international business deal).

But WB just caught a new entry in this saga, and the message has changed to something more sinister:  Use AT&T Cellular Service, Or You Will Die.

There's great analysis of many of the AT&T ads over at The Reaction blog, but it stops short of covering this one. So we'll just add that, while the commercials so far have helped to reinforce racial, cultural, and gender stereotypes, as The Reaction points out, this one reworks the pre-Obama-era truism of action and horror films: The Black Guy Dies First. Now, that rule needs reworking because the Black guy is the boss.

So let's see... who can we kill off for humorous effect instead?

The Latino!

Yep, "Slate Sanchez" is disposable because he's brown. And brown people, as movies and TV continue to tell us, are a dime a dozen, and usually troublesome. And this brown person's disposal will get laughs, not outrage, because not only is he brown, but he's a brown news reporter — a profession that, after decades of profession stereotyping, we all know is inhabited by preening egomaniacs as shallow as a kid's wading pool. All that matters is their hair. One less of 'em? Good riddance.

How easily the cultural semiotics work as shorthand.

So long, Mr. Sanchez; we hardly knew ye.

Not that it matters.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Just in time for the holidays...

Let's face it: nobody really cares how many home runs little Jimmy hit in Little League or the fact that Tasha won the school spelling bee for the third year in a row. But for some reason, this is the time of year when many families feel compelled to tell all of the people on their holiday card list all of the boring details of their lives. Here are a few tips to make a holiday letter your friends might actually appreciate.

Be honest. For many, 2008 was a crappy year, especially financially. Don't try to put a happy spin on the fact that Fred was laid off in March and still can't find work: be angry about it! Most of America got screwed on the bailout deal, so shout it from the snowy rooftops. If you really want to reach out, commiserating comes off a lot better than keeping a stiff upper lip or being an insufferable braggart.

Add some funny to that dose of reality. Nothing goes better with a dollop of commiseration than a big ol' hunk of sarcasm, preferably the kind that bites. Nothing says "Happy Holidays" like self-deprecating humor aimed at you and your loved ones. The holidays can be stressful, and hearty laughter goes a lot farther than a laundry list of family achievements.

Brevity is the soul of the holiday letter. Keep it short and quippy. You can keep the long, maudlin details for a post-holiday get together. A long-winded tome does not make for a festive memory. (This rule applies to the TMI — too much information — problem, especially. WB is still recovering from a holiday letter it received in 2002 providing all of the details about Frank and Janice's attempts to start a family. We did not need to know Frank's precise sperm count!)

Pass it off on Hallmark. Of course, a card with a simple signature always works in a pinch.

Check back soon for a holiday gift guide for the pop cult enthusiast on your list...!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

SPAM: not just for breakfast anymore.

A couple of days ago, the New York Times ran a little article with big news: the economy is booming again! That is, if you happen to live in Austin, Minnesota and work for Hormel Foods, maker of the world's most mysterious, scorned, and yet oddly endearing and even beloved canned meat, SPAM. For Hormel workers, happy days are most definitely here again.

"Through war and recession," the Times reports, "Americans have turned to the glistening canned product from Hormel as a way to save money while still putting something that resembles meat on the table." And now, with millions of family budgets shrinking to crisis proportions as the economic depression recession disaster clusterfuck continues, SPAM is back, and in a big way: the Times reports that Hormel workers are cranking the cans out on a 24/7 basis and working all the overtime they want.

Now, lest we feel badly for all of the people ingesting this "glistening canned product," a trip to Hormel's online SPAM Museum will show that it's not just food, it's fun! (And it comes in lots of different delicious flavors, as the photo left attests.) If you linger on the main page long enough, you'll see various people in the photo do happy things like wiggle, dance, wave, and move their hands. With that warm happiness, you can move on to tour the SPAMMOBILE, where... oh, we wouldn't want to wreck the neat surprises there. Check it out yourself.

But wait — the SPAM Museum isn't just online! Since the price of oil has plummeted along with the rest of the market, families might be able to afford a couple of tanks of gasoline and head up to Minnesota, where the city of Austin welcomes visitors with signs pointing to the physical SPAM Museum, a renovated former K-mart store (sometimes, pop culture just writes itself) across the street from Johnny's SPAMarama Diner.

Now, it should be noted that, at about two-fifty a can, SPAM can still be a little on the pricey side for those needing to stretch the last remaining paycheck really far. If that's the case, then Potted Meat Food Product, a dollar cheaper, comes to the rescue. This is different from SPAM, which is made primarily from pork shoulder, a tasty and desirable part of the pig, and ham. That's it: pork and pork. Potted Meat Food Product, on the other hand, is made of mechanically separated chicken, beef tripe, partially defatted cooked beef fatty tissue, beef hearts, and partially defatted cooked pork fatty tissue. (Yes, think about that last one.)

Because this stuff is just so fascinating at all levels, WB bought a can of it in 1989 and put it on the office bookshelf. The can traveled to three more jobs and three more offices, and was last seen sometime around 2001... with nary a spot of rust or leaking seam. After 12 years, it was as pristine as the day it came home from the store. But notice that it sat unopened for that decade-plus, so we have no idea how it tastes. For that, we turn to a review in California's The Wave magazine:

Featuring the texture of a soggy lump of chopped bologna and the distinct aroma of fresh kitty vomit, we found that potted meat clung to the palette like salty napalm, leaving a stubborn trail of aftertaste on our esophagus.

With that, we need to turn serious for a moment and say that if, in their unforgivable greed, leaders of world governments and finance systems have created a meltdown so bad that families have to eat this kind of vile crap, then they have a special place reserved for them in hell. On the other hand, Potted Meat Food Product would be a luxury for many people in hurricane-devastated Haiti, where children are being fed "mud pies"dirt mixed with salt and vegetable shortening.

Yes: dirt.

Realities like these make 78rpm rethink his childhood memories of having a father who not only genuinely liked SPAM but also enjoyed cooking for his kids when his wife had to work second shift. You know where that combination's going: SPAM and eggs, SPAM and spinach, SPAM and macaroni and cheese (which is also making a big comeback in the depressed economy right now), SPAM and toast, SPAM and potatoes.... This seemed, at the time, and for decades afterward, like child abuse. But clearly it was not.

Ah, what to do when harsh realities set in, other than to ask pop culture to work the magic that it works best and distract us? Back to the SPAM Museums! Back to the SPAM bus! Back to... Monty Python, with the best tribute ever created for that wonderful, gooey, scary, delicious pig-in-a-can:


Friday, November 14, 2008

What's really killing Heroes?

In the interest of honest blogging, let it be known that WB really wants to see the NBC show Heroes survive. But a recent article in the New York Times as well as a few helpful pointers from Entertainment Weekly do not bode well for the series' future.

Our fear comes from the recent firing of Jeph Loeb, senior writer and absolute geek hero to anyone who follows Batman or X-Men. Loeb is arguably one of the best writers of comic hero fiction but apparently he was let go because the plot of Heroes was too complicated. Guess what? It should be!

Heroes is based on a familiar genre, but it's trying to take that genre in a new direction. It looks at the complexities of good and evil, a theme that lost its stark black-and-white moral absolutism several decades ago. These plays on classic themes take time, effort and experimenting. Sure, Heroes has lost its way a few times, but the potential is incredible. Firing Loeb seems akin to an effort to dumb the show down, a move that will simply alienate the remaining fans Heroes has left.

Please, NBC, don't take away one of the few remaining smart television shows. Give it a little more time, a little more marketing and a little more Loeb.

And if you need a sacrifice, go ahead and kill off Matt Parkman, who lost his whole purpose in the cast many episodes ago. Just have him walk off into the African desert with his turtle talisman (because there are lots of sea turtles in the African desert) and never come back. No one will notice.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Uncle Samiotics

WB is ecstatic at the news that poet, warrior, and friend of the blog Captain Adrian D. Massey, U.S. Army, has been returned safely to his wife and daughter after completing his second — and, we hope, final — deployment to Iraq. That's Adrian, below:

As first lieutenant

As captain, with General David Petraeus of CentCom

Enjoying a good cigar during some desert downtime

Thinking about the many aspects that Adrian signifies in these photos — war, weapons, military discipline, loyalty, sacrifice — led us down a mental road where we eventually bumped into Uncle Sam, the patriotic grandfather who first summoned new soldiers by calling from posters: I Want You! Report to the Nearest Recruiting Office. No toaster ovens, no tote bags, and definitely no "please" or "thank you." Uncle Sam was all business, as his stern countenance and firm finger-pointing showed:

But the old man didn't leave his soldiers behind once they'd joined and been trained. He stayed with them as a guiding spirit, showing the way to victory while simultaneously pointing his former recruiting finger at the enemy now, as a warning: My Boys Are Coming for You!

This Uncle Sam was the Ur-patriot, the one from whom all other patriots were born. He was the embodiment of Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Patrick Henry, and Paul Revere all rolled into one (even though Patrick Henry may never have said what we think he said, and Paul Revere was only one rider among many who did the same thing he did). Uncle Sam did not question the United States; he served it and saluted it, just as the U.S. Postal Service showed with a stamp commemorating his service:

But there's another Uncle Sam out there, too, one who isn't reverent or wise or supportive or any other weak, girly things like that. This is an Uncle Sam who rolls up his sleeves, curls up his fists, sets his feet apart in a fighting stance, and prepares to kick ass. Remarkably, although he's several hundred years old, the only sign of age is his white hair. His skin is taut, healthy, youthful, tanned, muscular, and lately, even tattooed:

Lately, though, the old boy has taken a turn toward something even darker and more lawless than a mere bare-knuckle barroom brawler. He's gone completely gangsta and simply pulled a gun on Middle East OPEC types to stage a rogue oiljacking:

He's joined Blackwater as an independent "military contractor," a.k.a. mercenary:

And he's gone completely batshit — probably because his ultra-tight pants are irritating the monstrously masculine package stuffed into them:

Surprisingly, when Ted Nugent dresses up as Uncle Sam for the cover of his new book Ted, White, and Blue, there's not a gun or smoking eagle in sight (maybe to distance himself from his "Obama can suck a machine gun" stage rant last year) — just a lot of happy flag waving and pin wearing :

Or maybe because Uncle Sam(uel L. Jackson) is watching Ted closely after that anti-Obama screed:

Unfortunately, with Wall Street veering and careening and lurching like a drunken dinosaur, U.S. automakers approaching bankruptcy more closely with each passing hour, and jobs disappearing as quickly as home values and retirement accounts, none of the Uncle Sams above can quite do justice to the reality of the day.

Once I built a railroad; I made it run
Made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad; now it's done
Brother, can you spare a dime?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Heads up their Ash

Wishbone Ash, 1970

One of the blogs to put some of the best live music on WB's iPods has been Soundaboard, a labor of love that hosts "only rare and non-official rock recordings" for download. We're talking live shows from the 1970s through this year, a few of them audience recordings but many of them top-quality professional soundboard mixes that were broadcast live to FM radio audiences.

In some cases, the only live performances from certain bands exist at Soundaboard and nowhere else — the groups' labels never released a live disc while the musicians were together. That's the case with one of WB's favorite "barroom stomp" bands from the 80s, the Georgia Satellites (you know 'em: she said don't hand me no lines, and keep your hands to yourself).

Of course, lurking out there in the shadows for anyone running a music blog are a team of junkyard dogs named RIAA and DMCA — the Recording Industry Association of America and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The latter was drafted by Congress to protect ownership of digital media and allow enforcement of copyright infringement. The former is the thug that goes around town breaking bloggers' fingers to make them... "cooperate" with the protection and enforcement.

WB's position on this is simple. If the new disc by AC/DC — pledged to be sold only by Wal-Mart — or the new disc by Guns n' Roses, pledged exclusively to Best Buy — are leaked online for free, then this is a flagrant illegality that robs these poor, struggling retailers of a chance to make a few dollars and contribute to their communities through jobs and taxes.

Okay, that was sarcasm. But seriously, if an old and totally obscure live recording by a forgotten band like Wishbone Ash is uploaded for sharing, then, like, WTF should the RIAA care about? The process works like this: blog readers discover a site like Soundaboard, read about a live concert by an unfamiliar group, download the share, say "Wow, this band tears it up live," and immediately go to iTunes or Amazon to start checking out the act's deep catalog.

That would be good, right?

But the RIAA's preferred version is this: blog readers never discover a site like Soundaboard, read nothing about any bands, download no concert tapes from decades ago that were never released for sale to anyone, and go to no music retailer to discover or buy anything.

We're not economists, but that model seems profoundly stupid.

Read the "takedown notice" from Blogger to Soundaboard on behalf of the RIAA for yourself, right here. And check the right side of the page for links to some excellent live broadcasts — while they, and the blog itself, still exist. Finally, as an extra bonus, enjoy this rare, RIAA-sanctioned, DMCA-approved video of Wishbone Ash in concert:


Saturday, November 8, 2008

We now resume our regularly scheduled programming.

Yes, WB sort of turned into a political blog rather than a pop culture playground over the last few months weeks. In our own defense, we did try to connect the two dots whenever we could (e.g. Obama + iPod; Palin + action figures), but even we, who are admittedly political junkies, realized that the blog was slipping away from its original focus.

The 2012 presidential campaign should be starting sometime around February 2009, so that gives us at least three months to re-find the center and comment on issues like the termination of a Grey's Anatomy character after her late-life discovery of a previously-latent lesbianism made network execs find her "unlikable," and the Farrelly brothers (Dumb and Dumber) bringing an updated Three Stooges to the screen next year, and Kate Winslet protesting that her naked body on an upcoming Vanity Fair cover has not been airbrushed, and that former SNL writer and cast member Al Franken has asked for a recount of the results of the Nov. 4 Minnesota senatorial race, which he lost by only a few hundred votes.

Oops, that last one is political, isn't it? Sorry. We'll try; honest we will, but before we do, can we just say that when John McCain delivered his concession speech on Tuesday night, the hundreds of supporters present booed loudly whenever the name "Obama" was mentioned, even when their guy told them to stop and take the loss graciously. In Chicago, when the 44th President asked the 240,000 supporters in the park to acknowledge John McCain's service to the country and the hard campaign he'd waged, the crowd cheered and applauded warmly.

That's what change is about: restoring some dignity to American life after eight years of barbarism. And remember: the real villain is still at 1600 Pennsylvania, packin' up his cowboy boots and his spurs and his toy six-shooters and gettin' ready for a life of obscurity as a disgraced international pariah. All boos and catcalls should be directed there.

Oh, and Carrie Underwood has lashed out at musicians who endorse political candidates, saying: "I would never want anybody to vote for anything or anybody just because I told them to." Which assumes that people vote the way musicians encourage them to, which assumes a major assumption on the singer's part about her fans' intelligence and independence. Or her own.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Inside the "Youth Vote"

WB is happy to announce the return of 45rpm, last seen around here reviewing the Rothbury Music Festival back in the summer. We're also pleased to introduce new writer Ogg Vorbis, who shares her own perspective as a first-time voter... almost.

Ogg Vorbis:I sat in a cubicle and dialed endless homes asking Michigan voters to vote for the pro-choice candidate. I walked the streets of some of the state's most liberal and conservative towns petitioning for comprehensive sex education, the right to choose, affordable birth control and health care, and for earth-friendly energy sources. I stood outside the Capitol building in Lansing, holding signs and handing out voter information.

My name has made it onto government lists for being involved in these "radical" activities. And to top it all off, I'm still two months short of my eighteenth birthday. Two months short of being an eligible voter during the most historic election of all time. I couldn't have been more devastated.

I've worked harder in the last year to put Barack Obama in office than most people can say, and I can't even contribute my vote. At 11:00 on Tuesday night, November 4, 2008, I thought Jon Stewart was pulling a cruel joke. But MSNBC, CNN, and even Fox — which notoriously jumped the gun for George W. Bush in the 2000 election — all validated this historic moment: Barack Obama elected President.

And at that moment, I knew it wasn't my lack of a vote that mattered. Barack Obama is a figure synonymous with hope, progression, rebuilding, and a new beginning. What mattered is that I did my part to give that symbol of hope America's trust. And my work is far from done.

At 7 p.m. on November 4, 2008, my housemates and I were huddled around our TV, eating take-out Indian food, drinking beer, and watching CNN. Earlier that day I had volunteered with MoveOn to help people find and get to their polling places, then I’d gone to cast my vote and danced and sang about Obama all the way home. At seven, the projections on CNN seemed so vague and scary that we soon muted the TV and spent some time asking each other questions from a 1980-something edition of Trivial Pursuit.

Three hours later, Indecision 2008 aired on Comedy Central and we watched, still unable to face all of the guesswork on the news. But then, at 11, Jon Stewart turned to Stephen Colbert and said, “I would just like to say, if I may... at eleven o'clock at night, Eastern Standard time, the President of the United States is Barack Obama.”

Silence between Stewart and Colbert while they wiped their eyes.

Silence in my house.

Then, all at once: Wait, what?
Is he serious?
Where is the remote?
It's too early!
Where is the damned remote?
Turn on the news!

We finally switched to CNN, where the ticker read “Obama is President Elect.” My dad text-messaged me a second later: President Obama!

“How do they know?” we asked. “How can they know?” None of us dared believe it. We put on Fox News to be sure. Sure enough, there was Karl Rove, congratulating Barack Obama. Oh my God — it was real!

Then John McCain's concession speech came on. It was definitely real. We watched in stunned silence. When he finished, one of my housemates ran for the window chalk while another poured tequila shots. We wrote Obama 08 on our front window and raced outside to take pictures. But we all kept saying: It doesn’t feel real yet.

When Obama came onscreen to give his acceptance speech, it finally sank in. One of my housemates and I sent celebratory text messages to everyone in our phone books. We all cheered Obama on as his speech continued. When he walked off stage with his wife, one of us said, “They are going to have sooo much sex tonight.”

We poured more drinks. We hugged, we high-fived. We said Barack Obama is my President, over and over. We unearthed a firework left over from the Fourth of July and set it off in the driveway. Barack Obama. Barack Hot-Damn Obama. Barack Hell-Yes Obama! It was hard to think of anything else to say.

And suddenly I knew what it felt like to be patriotic. I knew what it felt like to love my country. In an act of modern-day young adult patriotism, I went online and changed my Myspace name to Patriotic for the United States of Amazing. I painted my nails red and blue. I put together a red, white and blue outfit to wear to school the next day (complete with my magic Amanda Palmer hat from Rothbury). I had to do something — Barack Obama had just become the President.

Barack Obama is the President.

Barack Obama is my President.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes, We Did.


At Grant Park in Chicago, one of the greatest cities on earth, Opera Winfrey, one of his earliest supporters, stood weeping. Not far away from the talk-show queen, Rev. Jesse Jackson, who lived through the Civil Rights struggle first-hand, had tears streaming down his cheeks as well. Director Spike Lee, also in the crowd, was likewise visibly moved. On Comedy Central, where WB first heard the momentous news as an official announcement just before 11 p.m., Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert tried, unsuccessfully, to hide the fact that they, too, were crying.

All of them, and all of us, knew that we weren't just witnessing history. We were living it.

After eight years of secrecy, lies, corruption, incompetence, and malevolence, our long national nightmare has ended. Ladies and gentlemen, three words:


(By the way: WB was the first to call the election. We awarded it to Obama on June 26.)


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Today is the first day of the rest of our lives.

For our readers outside the U.S., please bear with us as we take some time off to chew our fingernails to the quick while waiting for voting results to come in.

For American readers: it's showtime! And hey, Florida — no goofing on this one, okay? If you have questions about which checkboxes go with which candidates, just ask.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Make Alice Proud.

Alice Paul and the women's suffrage movement have a message for us all. And while you're at the ballot box, remember: the Equal Rights Amendment for women in the U.S. has never been ratified. Proposed three years after women earned the right to vote nearly a century ago, American women remain, legally and officially, second-class citizens.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

SNL recap - Tina/Sarah good, John/John stiff, Ben/Keith WTF?!

Okay, the McPalin "QVC" opener had its high points:

But the later "Weekend Update" thing was just pathetic — and we won't even get into the "our country and planet are fucked and this is what the next president-wannabe gives us?" rant that we'd really love to launch right now:

But then came Ben Affleck as Keith Olbermann. We'll say this briefly: We agree with Keith Olbermann; we watch Keith Olbermann; Keith Olbermann is a favorite of ours. Mr. Affleck, you are no Keith Olbermann. And a quick memo to Lorne Michaels: for the sake of all that's holy, when a skit relies on an impression this horrendously sucky, you do NOT let it go on for nearly nine minutes!