Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Susan Boyle, social re-engineer

WB is shocked and stunned that after all of our hard work pointing out that women should be real and not "improved," Susan Boyle, the British YouTube "sensation" who several million people are already sick of, joined the legions of TV star wannabes and got herself made over. New hair, new eyebrows, new glasses, new wardrobe, same voice.

So let's look at this from a courtship and marriage perspective. (Really.) Early in most relationships, i.e. before a relationship has started, people tend to put on their best clothes, wash their hair, brush their teeth, and smile a lot. Humans are animals, after all; we set out the full array of colorful feathers, charming antics, mesmerizing skills, all as a way to say come closer; you want to know me better. (Note that we're talking about relationships here, not just primal hooking up. There, nothing much matters because it's all disposable.)

Later, when courtship has been successful and courting rituals have done their magic, some kind of long-term committed relationship begins. (We were going to say marriage, but since that's only an option for some of the WB staff, we're boycotting the term.) And then all of the makeup comes off, gradually or quickly, but definitely. Courtship is a lot of work, and once the fair prince or maiden is won, we're free to be "just us." Scroungy clothes, bedhead, the whole assortment — it works because we're now in a we can't get any closer, so why bother phase.

Susan Boyle skipped straight past the courtship and brought her frizzy-haired, frumpy-dressed self out on stage to meet the judges. Her whole point for being there was to impress them and the audience, but she was so genuine, so real, so authentic that she came out essentially saying you and I both know this isn't going anywhere, so what the hell. And they, in turn, were so genuinely smitten with her "angelic" voice that they fell in love with her anyway.

It's clear that Susan Boyle is a master of manipulation, protesting social conventions by inverting and perverting them. Only now, after audiences around the world have praised themselves for being able to love someone so homely, does she take the time to begin the courtship ritual, after the committed relationship's already begun. Now she ties our brains in knots, because the next round of viral vids of her singing will show a different her than the one we went gaga about the first time. Now she'll be judged by her vocal talent and not her looks, which we claimed she wasn't judged by before when we overlooked her appearance to hear the voice. But when we said "How refreshing it is not to look at someone, and to just listen to the song," of course, we were actually saying "Damn, someone who looks so ugly can sing so pretty?" The whole launch into the celebrity stratosphere was focused only and always on the physical appearance we said we weren't focused on. (See, your brain hurts now, doesn't it?)

Remade, she's just one more glam, if still pudgy, woman who can sing.

Okay, Susan Boyle, we get it; you dared us to listen without prejudice, and now you're still daring us not to look, even as you shove the new look in our faces. And we dig the leather, the scarf, the specs, the brow pluck, the straightened and shortened 'do. It all works. But girl, get someone else to choose your pants for you. These are a little tight, and your soprano doesn't need any more help.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Farewell, Bea Arthur

Litchick says goodbye to a childhood icon....

Growing up in the 1970s, I remember religiously watching anything and everything Norman Lear: All in the Family, Good Times, The Jeffersons. Sure, I didn't always quite get the jokes, but the people who populated his sitcoms always made me laugh anyway. They were people I knew, people who lived in my neighborhood, who owned the stores I went to, or even people I was related to. (For a long time, I was convinced that Archie Bunker was actually my grandfather and he just wouldn't tell me because it was supposed to be a secret.)

And then there was Maude.

Maude was one of the few television shows that I was not supposed to watch because "it's not for kids and you wouldn't get it anyway." Fortunately, my babysitters weren't aware of this rule, and I remember watching Maude for the first time when I was roughly 6. I can't remember the episode or who was in it, but I do remember a very tall woman who scared and delighted me at the same time: Bea Arthur.

Maude was unlike anyone I had ever met. At 5'9", she was certainly taller than most of the women I knew, but that wasn't important to me. What really captivated me was her voice, the kind of deep, raspy tone one would assume comes with a diet solely of bourbon and cigarettes. Coupled with a withering glare, Arthur perfected a comedic delivery of lines matched by no one: fierce, biting, and dripping with sarcasm. Maude was also an independent woman, the kind who took crap from no one, male or female. In the early 70s, this was also a relative rarity and I soaked up every second I could.

Of course, Arthur did much more than the show Maude in her long and interesting career, both on screen and on stage. But it is her incarnation of Maude, and later Dorothy Zbornak on Golden Girls (who was really just an older Maude), that really drew me to Arthur. In many ways, I carry a mini-Maude inside of me, ready to unleash in times where a strong offense and a good defense is needed. Sure, we can thank Gloria Steinem and other feminist leaders for fighting for the rights we as women have today. But for those of us who grew up in the 1970s, I suspect it was Maude who showed us how to be the women we were finally allowed to be.

Thank you, Bea Arthur, for being much more than a friend....

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Simulating reality and waistlines and teeth and hair and eyes and....

The first case of photo manipulation was in the 1860s. Early photo transformations were usually for propaganda purposes or "improved" storytelling, such as Joseph Stalin having an enemy removed from a photograph in 1930 and National Geographic squeezing the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt closer together to fit on the magazine cover in 1982. Erasing the enemy was Orwellian and evil, but the pyramid thing? No harm done. Photo manipulation was pretty useful in both cases.

Today, thanks to a culture obsessed with beauty, photos of celebrities are being manipulated so much that some are closer to total digitalizations (think Pixar) than they are to real people. Instead of pyramids being squeezed, it’s celebrity waistlines. And while people usually aren’t deleted, their imperfections are.

WB is disturbed by every celebrity picture that is altered to focus on fake beauty, because each new case makes us seriously consider changing all of our meals to just a glass of water (we'll add lemon once we when we reach size zero).

Jennifer Hudson turned out to not be what America wanted in an “idol,” but that didn’t stop her from winning a Grammy, Academy Award, and Golden Globe. However, it did stop her from being as gorgeous as she "should" be, at least according to whoever edited her album cover where she shed several pounds around the waist via computer, then refused to comment on the cover.

But American Idol Kelly Clarkson isn’t afraid to admit that her album cover was manipulated. “They have definitely photoshopped the crap out of me,” Clarkson said, elegantly, on her blog. “But I don’t care. Whoever she is, she looks great!”

Jenny McCarthy isn’t afraid of non-perfection haters either. She admitted her secret to looking gorgeous on the cover of Shape magazine: “It’s eating healthy and also a crapload of airbrushing. I have freckles and stretch marks that you do not see here, and they add a little shadowing to make these muscle things happen that don’t exist on my body.” And a few more things have been changed when comparing candid photographs in the same swimsuit she wore in the magazine. The bikini top managed to magically make her breasts perky and fit into the swimsuit better, though they needed a little help on the beach. Her face also appeared to get a Photoshop lift on the cover. But thanks for being at least kind of honest, Jen.

Jennifer Aniston also had a few touch-ups when she posed naked on the January 2009 cover of GQ. Aniston admitted to Barbara Walters that the photograph was manipulated when Walters asked, “What happened to the girl next door from Friends?” Aniston’s reply? “She’s there! Photoshopped!”

Kate Winslet went as far as to call the retouching of her photo on another GQ magazine cover “excessive.” “I can tell you that they've reduced the size of my legs by about a third,” she said.

Andy Roddick also weighed in about his photo on the cover of Men’s Fitness, saying, “Little did I know I have twenty-two-inch guns and a disappearing birthmark on my right arm."

Faith Hill’s body changed too, on the cover of Redbook. The original photo, to the left below, shows a small bulge of "back fat" under her arm, freckles on her arm, wrinkles under her eyes, and a wider arm than the re-touched photo that made the cover. Big differences in hair color, skin tone, eye shape, nose, lips, teeth, cheeks, shoulders, elbows, and even head tilt are all obvious as well — and somehow she's grown a right arm in the "improved" photo that isn't there in the original. But other than that, it's Faith Hill. Really.

Photoshop Perfection is not just an American phenomenon. China got into the "improvement" frenzy and removed all of Lindsey Lohan’s freckles in her appearance on the Chinese Harper’s Bazaar cover.

Beyonce Knowles wasn’t perfect enough for L’Oreal Paris, which ran an advertisement in two separate magazines, one predominately for White readers, the other for African Americans. In order for the ad to "blend in" with the others, Knowles had to appear lighter in Allure and darker in Essence. We understand marketing your product to the right consumer and all, but, c’mon L’Oreal, giving someone a case of the Michael Jacksons? That’s just plain freaky.

With freckles erased, teeth straightened, fat removed, wrinkles smoothed, and breasts lifted, one would think there isn’t anything left to fix. But race car driver Danica Patrick has had tattoos removed from photos. The photo of Patrick to the left was taken in 2008 for Sports Illustrated magazine and shows an American flag tattoo on her back. One year later, the tattoo (which actually now has wings) was missing from the 2009 issue of the same magazine.

For a moment we thought that maybe Dove condemned this photo editing frenzy when the company started its “Campaign for Real Beauty.” The advertising strategy featured women in all shapes and sizes and was meant to tell women that they are beautiful just as they are. But, according to an article in The New Yorker, those photos were also edited. The photo retouching artist who worked on the campaign, Pascal Dangin, said the ads were "great to do, a challenge, to keep everyone's skin and faces showing the mileage but not looking unattractive." And if that's not ironic enough, Dove also created a video called "Evolution" that shows an ordinary woman being transformed into a supermodel via makeup, lightening – and of course, a computer. The video ends with the message, "No wonder our perception of beauty is distorted...every girl deserves to feel beautiful just the way she is."

Next time, Dove, you should probably at least try to follow your own advice.

WB is thrilled that Susan Boyle, the "dumpy" and "plain" British woman who sent British audiences — and then the world, via YouTube — reeling with her angelic singing voice, is... well, dumpy and plain. But we also know that the Photoshop maniacs are revving up their computers at this moment to do some major "fixing." (Surely Dr. 90210 has called by now, too.)

Photoshop in action:

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Indigo Girls: Zen, balance, energy — and no contract.

The Indigo Girls
Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor

April 23, 2009

Balance, turns out, is the key to not only a good life but also a great concert experience. Fortunately, The Indigo Girls — Amy Ray and Emily Saliers — understand and appreciate the concept.

Musicians, like anyone, need to grow, and in order for anyone to grow, we must change. Sadly, this often disappoints fans (remember: fan is short for fanatic) who sometimes view change as a form of "selling out." This can be quite the conundrum: do artists stick with what helped them grow a fan base, risking boredom, stagnation and the dreaded metaphoric death by redundancy and repetitiveness? Or do they they go out on a limb, mix it up a bit, and risk losing their core fan base? After Tuesday's concert, we suggest those bands caught in the dilemma follow the Indigo route: balance.

The show began with two new songs off the Girls' latest album, the independently produced Poseidon and the Bitter Bug. Clearly, this was what the Girls primarily came to do: give these new songs a whirl. And they totally rocked! Ray and Saliers, with the addition of Julie Wolf on keyboards and accordian (not a typo), harmonized perfectly and mesmerized the Michigan Theater crowd.

But then they did the smart thing, too; the Zen thing. They played some of their older songs, the songs that brought fans out, the songs that we wanted to hear. From "Power of Two" to "Closer to Fine," along with several other classics, the Girls served up a balanced playlist of old and new — at one point burying one of the new bluegrass-tinged songs right in the middle of a classic as a sort of extended jam. Brilliant. And the smartest move of the night: they actually thanked the crowd for listening, explained that they enjoyed sharing the new stuff but totally appreciated the crowd's eagerness to hear the older songs, and even identified themselves as fans when Saliers explained that she was getting ready to see Heart in concert, and the Ann Arbor crowd helped her to imagine all the songs she'd be yelling out for the band to play.

It's a shame that the music business has turned its back on these supremely talented artists and songwriters and cut them loose from a major-label contract, and the low-budget production was definitely noticeable in the lack of a drummer or bassist. (With the classic songs, especially, bass lines are as memorable as the vocal harmonies.) The show ran a bit short at 1:45 and provided only one encore ("Galileo") that had been mentioned in mid-concert, and as is customary now, the sound mix was turned up to the point of distorting the highs. Still, overall, the energy brought by both fans and performers stayed constant for the time they had together and left everyone feeling satisfied.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ourselves in the Zombie Wars

A certain subculture exists out there in the tangled knot of culture that is The Nerd — a culture of people who read of, write of, speak of, and prepare for the return of the dead. Not a religious reincarnation, not a Biblical resurrection, but the living dead, the waking corpse plague. Zombies.

Max Brooks, son of Mel Brooks, wrote a book in 2006 called World War Z, an “Oral History of the Zombie War.” Released to fairly decent critical praise, the book is a series of small interconnected short stories that take the form of interviews with characters who, in one way or another, have survived the Zombie Apocalypse.

In the beginning, the book follows all the trends of zombies. The plague begins, somewhere in the depths of Africa. The plague spreads, and governments begin to fight, ineffectively, against the living dead. People rush to wherever they feel safe, only to encounter zombies there, or other hazards of terrain, overcrowding, weather, violence, disease, or any number of threats.

This is where the typical zombie story branches off. The usual focus is on a single person or small group as they fight to survive the hopeless flood. World War Z goes an entirely different route. It begins where most others end. Max Brooks has written a masterful image of the world as it would be if the dead begin to rise. The zombies themselves are almost incidental. World War Z is not a novel about zombies and a few people who fight them; it’s a novel about a world dealing with a problem unlike any every seen.

(Think really hard here — any allegories come to mind for a real-life biological threat that the world has never grappled with before, and is just beginning to face now? Keep thinking… you’re getting warmer and warmer….)

We find out from the introduction that this oral history is being compiled twelve years after the war has ended. Zombies came; humanity fought. Millions upon millions of lives are lost, but humanity pulls through. Our narrator travels the world, interviewing people who survived about how and what they did, what they think of it all, and how they’re living in the new world that’s forming around them. We find interviews with Russian soldiers, a Chinese doctor, an Indian smuggler, a Mercenary hired as a bodyguard, and even a soccer mom from Montana. Each has a unique story to tell.

World War Z takes great pains to be realistic. There’s no super-cure for the zombie disease. The military isn’t an all-powerful entity with unlimited weaponry and unflinching soldiers. They’re a woefully unprepared group of men and women just as afraid as everyone else. Conventional weapons of war don’t work; a disaster at Yonkers shows how weapons are designed to injure rather than kill. Against an enemy that isn’t slowed by disembowelment, the weapons are all but useless.

Brooks’ novel is a delightfully horrifying commentary on society. The inept and unprepared bureaucratic governments of the world crumble, unprepared for the threat. An opportunist, in the first days of the plague, markets and sells a vaccine and uses the money to lease a safe house in the Arctic for himself. Soldiers face a choice; to kill one of their own, bitten in the line of duty, or leave him to suffer. The novel even pokes fun at the subculture from which it was spawned, with a scene of a barricaded college where students held out and survived with makeshift weaponry and cultivated gardens on campus grounds, waiting for the rest of the world to come save them. What other community but a campus full of Nerds is best suited to survive?

We also get iconic American bravado; just when the world is beginning to settle into a few isolated islands, the U.S. President delivers a rousing speech and persuades the nations to fight back, to retake the land that was once theirs. Faced with insurmountable odds, they still wish to fight. This is a nice little bit of 2006 optimism for a 2008 national election when someone whose speeches could inspire, rather than confuse or misrepresent, would come along. It also shows the novelist’s own sense of hope for a changed future, and for a reclaimed country able to lead again.

In the Reagan “greed is good” era, Bret Easton Ellis gave us American Psycho as an allegory for a time when everything — including fellow humans — was a commodity to be used up and destroyed for personal amusement. In the Bush “corruption is rampant” era, Max Brooks gave us an even more powerful allegory for a planet’s ability to persevere against deadly odds, once it finds its resolve to win.

Monday, April 20, 2009

To ingrates who should show gratitude...

Way back in the day when iTunes hadn't yet occurred to Steve Jobs and Amazon was a silly little online retailer that thought it could make a living selling books, WB had a choice of independent music shops to browse in Michigan.

In Battle Creek, the tattooed owners knew encyclopedias worth of information about the most obscure bands with the most awesome CD covers, and their enthusiasm for undiscovered music showed as they'd happily crack open a sealed disc and toss it into the house CD player so we, and they, could hear it together — loud. (Nope, those individual listening station things at corporate chain stores didn't exist yet, either.)

In East Lansing, aka Spartanville, the indie shop didn't just peddle new discs, it also bought, sold, and traded old ones. And once again, the staff weren't just cash register jockies; they were music historians and archivists — just like the crew in Ann Arbor, aka Wolverineville, where just walking through the entire mazelike store could take half an hour, but always took longer because a new band or forgotten album showed up at every turn.

The store in Battle Creek is long gone now and won't even come up in a Google search. The one in East Lansing still lingers but has shifted to comic books, posters, and tees for life support. The one in Ann Arbor downsized to one-twentieth its original size, moved to sub-street level, and sells only classical music.

But every one of those cities has an FYE store at the mall, along with multiple Borders and Barnes and Noble outposts.

Of course, the same thing has happened nationwide and worldwide, and this is why Record Store Day came along in 2007, as an official day to officially remember that several hundred completely independent record stores are still out there, fighting the good fight against the online Amazon MP3 Store and iTunes Music Store giants, and the brick and mortar megapowers that, like Virgin and Borders, aren't doing so well right now, either.

WB supports the "buy local" philosophy and always has, even when it means a couple of extra bucks spent for the experience. So when Record Store Day 2009 rolled around on Saturday, April 18, we happily headed over to Jazz Record Mart in downtown Chicago to prowl the Blues aisles and remember indie-store joys like handwritten 3x5 inventory cards taped to rare CDs and "cash registers" in the form of two ancient (c. 1999) and original-design iMac computers.

And the store was buzzing with customers. This made us happy as we happily scooped up a Chicago Blues disc and a JRM t-shirt and happily approached the twin iMacs — where the clerk disinterestedly muttered something beneath his breath, never looked up, muttered a couple of other things, still didn't look up, stuffed our purchases — our acknowledgements and celebrations of Record Store Day! — into a bag, held the bag out wordlessly, and then muttered to the customer behind us.

Dude, WTF, you know? You couldn't have sucked the joy out of the experience more effectively if you'd pulled out a gun and shot us. Instead of leaving with a resolution to come back often, not just on RSD but any time we're in the big city and in the neighborhood (i.e. many times a year), we resolved to "never again" you instead.

But listen: we've changed the tune slightly since then. Now, you get another chance, because you might have been overwhelmed by the steady stream of buying customers, and you might have been stood up by the other clerk who promised to be right back from lunch, and you might have missed your last three smoke breaks, and your boss might have stuck you with restroom detail, and ... well, as you can see, we're trying.

But really, you need to try a lot harder too. Next time — and that won't be a year from now. Deal?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Tweeting ourselves to death

It's official: more people follow Ashton Kutcher's random celebrity tweets than follow CNN's news headlines on Twitter. CNN itself brought Kutcher in to talk with resident mortician Larry King about the huge accomplishment on Friday, and then Puff Doo-Wah-Diddy Sean Combs joined Demi's boy toy to talk about the importance of giving shout-outs to followers, and somewhere in there the three managed to talk about malaria and how following Kutcher's tweets would apparently save millions of people from getting the disease. Maybe because birds that tweet eat mosquitos that infect?

Thing is, we're back to Neil Postman's thesis in Amusing Ourselves to Death: distracted by and drowning in pop culture, we can't see our own gradual doom taking place all around us. With web-enabled cellphones in hand, we will happily follow celebritweeters like utterly disposable Ashton Kutcher over the cliff to our own destruction.

Tragically, CNN will broadcast Twitter updates and warnings about the cliff's location the whole time, as it did on Friday when it announced that the Environmental Protection Agency, after eight years of inaction, is back in the business of protecting the environment and has listed basically everything that comes from a car's tailpipe as a threat to public health. This is huge — already, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has launched a major protest (as with the Heritage Foundation's scare campaign, left) knowing that business as they want us to know it will change radically. The protest is Postman's theory in action, too: if we get caught up in the USCC's hype that CO2 regulation will "drive up gas prices, food prices, transportation costs, and the price of manufactured goods, [and] regular Americans will even have to carefully monitor their own greenhouse gas emissions," we will never realize that these are exactly the steps necessary to prevent the climate-toasted doom we're marching toward while blithely dancing and singing to the iPod speakers jammed into our brains.

But really, who wants to follow boring old life-altering news when Ashton is tweeting his wife's butt to the world?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Chris Cornell: Not so much with the new stuff.

Chris Cornell, The Scream Tour
Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor, April 14

Chris Cornell: co-founder of Soundgarden, vocalist for Audioslave with 3/4 of Rage Against the Machine, remixer of Michael Jackson's "Billy Jean" from crotch-grabbing dance pop lite to a haunting acoustic ballad. These are pretty formidable credentials.

So what the hell is this guy doing making a retro-80s synth-electropop funkmaster trip-hop CD with Timbaland?

That's the question burning up discussion boards on Cornell's own web site, where that CD, Scream, is being roundly thrashed as deplorable garbage — with, to be fair, a couple of defenders saying "give it a week or so; it gets better" in the hopes that music fans are somehow like wine collectors. Problem is, CDs are not bottles of Bordeaux, since there's not a lot of satisfaction in buying them and then putting them in the cellar for 30 years to mature.

Not surprisingly, there's also a lot of oh crap what now discussion as those who, like WB, excitedly purchased concert tickets with visions of a "best of" revue with this talented screamer — and then received free-download links to the new album they hadn't heard anything about — worry that instead, they'll be prisoners at a two-hour listening party for something unlistenable.

Thinking exactly that, we went to the show with escape plans firmly in place: as soon as the music started to suck, we'd be outta there.

Happily, those plans weren't needed. Unhappily for Chris Cornell, word of his new CD got out before ticket sales, and what should have been a sold-out house, wasn't.

An opening act, Outernational, got off to a rough start with a groundlessly overconfident unknown longhair chiding the sparse crowd for being "prim and proper" as his band ended only its second song (maybe he was trying to emulate Billy Bob Thornton). But eventually that gaff was forgotten as the self-described "ska/punk/metal" quintet broke out some very cool mariachi horns, antique accordians, and infectious riffs to bring the audience around. There's no iTunes catalog for them, but there is an impressive name behind the music: Tom Morello of RATM, who produced the band's best work, "The Fight Song." With Bonaroo and Van's Warped Tour appearances coming up, we predict more than just a MySpace site for this band soon, but they're gonna need to stop memorizing Blue Man Group's "Rock Concert Movements #1-9" in order to stop looking like enthusiastic posers.

Then came a waaaaay-too-long gap of more than an hour between opening act and the headliner, not a good move when much of your audience is already set to evacuate the building over fears of sucky music. Audible and annoyed "if this doesn't start soon, I'm leaving" complaints erupted all around, but finally, the lights went back down and from the PA came... pre-recorded sounds playing the opening technocrap of the new album.


But here's the thing: As many have posted on Cornell's site, some of the songs actually sound okay live, even though they reek as studio versions. That, luckily, was the case with the opening song, "Part Of Me," with an unfortunately catchy chorus that simply repeats "that bitch ain't a part of me" over and over and over and over and over....

And then the show really got started. Cornell, at 45, is skinnier than most teenage boys, and he strutted and skipped and shuffled around the stage in skintight black jeans and black T-shirt with ugly brown workboots pulled up over the jeans and half untied. (Maybe he's gotten lessons in stage prowling from Alannis Morissette?) The audience regained its "prim and proper" composure while the first song went on, but when it faded out and led into familiar, beloved chords that made people smile and mouth Soundgarden to each other, the energy level went up to eleven. Classics like "Rusty Cage" and "Spoonman," along with Audioslave hits like "I Am the Highway" and "Like a Stone," helped the crowd overlook the fact that every fifth or sixth tune started with that telltale pre-recorded sound announcing a Scream track.

Each time, the energy scale dipped noticeably, although it didn't bottom out because people knew something good would follow. And if the pre-loops weren't enough of a tipoff, the quality of lyrics took a radical nosedive as well. While Cornell has never been a master lyricist, the new stuff is just repetitious and dumb. A comparison:

Hey hey I said / Near as I can figure
You gave me life / Now show me how to live

- Main chorus of Audioslave's "Show Me How To Live"

Pick it up, pick it up, watch out, now pick it up (pick it up)
Pick it up, watch out, now pick it up (pick it up)

Pick it up, watch out, now pick it up (pick it up)

Pick it up, watch out, now pick it up

- Main chorus, "Watch Out" (from Scream)

It's this kind of drivel that got the attention of none other than NIN's Trent Reznor, who attacked Cornell's new album, via a Twitter update, this way: “You know that feeling you get when somebody embarrasses themselves so badly you feel uncomfortable? Heard Chris Cornell’s record? Jesus.” Tuesday night at the show, audience reactions weren't quite so harsh, but they might be visualized like this:

Great song!
Awesome song!
Favorite song!
(new song)
Great song!
Fantastic song!...

But enough about the strange new album. "Billy Jean" received an electric, not acoustic, blues treatment, and for most of "Be Yourself" Cornell left the stage and strolled the main floor while singing. His band rocked hard and nailed all of the great tunes, and although on some songs Cornell was clearly going through the motions, at times holding the mic so far from his mouth that lyrics vanished, in general the show went far beyond didn't suck territory into a genuine hella rocked zone that left everyone happy — and very relieved.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sling(blade)ing the arrows of outrageous misfortune

Billy Bob, Billy Bob... wherefore art thou Billy Bob? Whether 'tis nobler in your mind to suffer the cultural differences of Canadian audiences making less than a redneck hootenanny yell at your band's performances while you toured with Willie Nelson, or to take up arms against those good people — and your own bandmates — and insult all of Canada by calling it... mashed potatoes without gravy.

And all because a radio talk host referred to your acting career instead of lauding you as an accomplished musician equal to Tom Petty? Are you serious?

Geez, dude, you don't even like mashed potatoes; as we recall, you prefer you some of them french-fried taters.

Mm hmm.

Herewith, one of the most bizarre interviews ever granted by a pain in the ass celebrity whose ego is a hundred sizes bigger than his talent:


Saturday, April 11, 2009

I said to say this but not to say that he said it

Gail Zappa, widow of Frank, appears to be going a little crazy with a flurry of cease-and-desist orders to any cover band that dares to play a Frank Z tune without sending Gail Z a royalty check. This, from NPR:

"Many fans point to a message that was left on the hot line for Zappa's record label shortly after he died of prostate cancer in 1993. The message says, in part, 'Just play his music if you're a musician. And otherwise, play his music anyway. That will be enough for him.'

"The message was read by Zappa's daughter, Moon Unit. Gail Zappa insists that it's not what some fans and musicians have made it out to be. 'We wrote something for Moon to say on the hot line,' she says. 'But it was not a statement made by Frank. He never said that. He never told anyone that.'"

True — he never said that; his family said that. The family that is now matriarched by Gail Zappa. So, um, WTF?

Let the cover bands cover, Mrs. Z; who knows, some currently nameless guitar player in one of them might turn out to be the musical genius who can truly fill Frank's huge footsteps.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

How many people live in The Palace?

Sometime back in the teased-hair 80s, WB caught a concert at an outdoor "shed" venue called Pine Knob, north of Detroit. The headliners were Foreigner, or maybe Kansas, or any one of a dozen interchangeable and intolerable 80s acts. At the predictable moment in the show when the lead singer paused to have a chat with the audience, he began with this: "How many people live in Pine Knob?"

The answer he got was several thousand boooooooos to let him know the importance of getting place names right. (This was before Google Earth, so the guy can be forgiven in retrospect. But at the time, he was a dumbass.)

This week saw a magnificent act of magnanimity when Jay Leno played two free standup gigs for 40,000 of "Detroit's unemployed workers." Unfortunately, the show took place not at Cobo Hall or the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit — both venues within spitting distance of General Motors' headquarters hi-rise — but 35 miles north at The Palace of Auburn Hills, just across the road from Chrysler's HQ.

If Leno really wanted to do something nice that most unemployed autoworkers and steelworkers couldn't afford to drive to, he would've played just a few miles from The Palace at the Pontiac Silverdome, which holds 90,000 people and has been abandoned ever since the Losing Lions moved back into Detroit to share their pain with the city. Pontiac, the city that has announced it's laying off every employee of its school district when summer comes, thought it was on top of the world when the Lions (and the Pistons) abandoned downtown Detroit for the northern suburb; 27 years later it got exactly the same treatment in reverse.

But here's the thing: if you're going to say you're playing Detroit, play Detroit. Playing Denver? Play there, not Red Rocks. Promoting these euphymisms for cities proper by attaching the cities' names to the outposts — some up to an hour away from city centers — just covers up the problem brought on by sports teams having hoodwinked and blackmailed their franchise hosts ever since the Dodgers went to L.A. in search of more parking space... because simply having the most ideally located stadium for an ideal mass transit system in Brooklyn wasn't enough.

Jay's heart was in the right place. But his body, and his standup routine, landed far too far north. Making that a micro example of a macro problem might be a good way to start re-filling the downtown areas of the country's major cities.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"Are you following me, camera guy?"

Hooker? $1000.

One package (eight) ShamWows? $19.95.

One night with said hooker that ended in an arrest and sore tongue? Priceless (and 401 ShamWows.)

Just two short weeks before Chris Brown pleaded not guilty to felony charges of assaulting and threatening to kill Rihanna, Vince Shlomi, better known as “that ShamWow Guy” was arrested on a felony battery charge involving a confrontation with a prostitute in Miami, Florida.

The prostitute, Sasha Harris, met Shlomi at a nightclub and apparently accepted $1000 for “straight sex.” Sadly, straight turned to jagged rather quickly when, according to Shlomi, he tried to kiss Harris and she “bit his tongue and would not let go.” Sholmi punched Harris several times, causing her to release the grasp she had on his tongue, in turn leaving her with “facial fractures and lacerations all over her face.” According to the police report, and mug shot, Shlomi also received facial injuries.

We know that any blood spilled at the scene will be easily picked up by the ShamWow, but WB would still like to offer its deepest condolences for your predicament, Shlomi. We know it’s hard being known as the “ShamWow Guy,” and we know if we didn’t say “ShamWow Guy,” no one would know who we were talking about — or care.

But C’mon, ShamWow Guy, picking up a prostitute is not the best way to get your real name to the masses. And really, dude, paying for sex when you're a millionaire and a celebrity? That's sort of pathetic. Aren’t you asham(wow)ed of yourself?

You’re on our wall of sham(wow)e, Shlomi.

Monday, April 6, 2009

If they meditate, it will come

2/4 of the Beatles (100% of the surviving ones) reunited over the weekend as part of an all-star volunteer jam supporting the David Lynch Foundation, which wants to teach meditation techniques to a million troubled children around the world.

Yes, that David Lynch. The guy who has mondo bizarro dreams, writes them down, and then turns them into film scripts — which is why we get Robert Blake as a nameless evil guy stalking two other guys who've inexplicably changed places in Lost Highway, log ladies and homicidal fathers and an alter-ego named Bob in Twin Peaks, and Naomi Watts describing working with Lynch as making her feel "full of self-loathing when [my character] couldn't get out of a horrible, deep, dark psychosis.... I kept on weeping and falling to pieces, because I just felt so embarrassed and humiliated."

Sounds like just the ticket for helping those troubled kids get untroubled, and who knows, maybe even turning them into surrealistic film directors whose own dreams will become indecipherable scripts to make audience brains explode.

Here's David, "explaining" his meditation benefits in front of — surprise — a red curtain that symbolizes death, the afterlife, limbo, or just a strange personal symbol fetish:

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Well, hell.

So, we go to all this trouble of setting up a Twitter account, and what happens right off? A server error!

"Reports have been filed of new users not showing up in search results" -- which is exactly the case for some of you here as you've searched for us there. (And thanks for letting us know.)

Luckily, there is a fix, at least until things get straightened out in the bird code, from the Twit-tech people themselves:

First, go to , and from there, enter from:wildeboomerz09 just as you see it there in red, with the word "from" and a colon and no space before our username. After that you can click through normal steps to add us to your follow list.

Our resident web wizard, Nighthand, provides a shorter alternative — just click here:

(Oh, and now that we've tossed a dozen or so topics up there, we'll be back here ASAP with more than 140 characters about at least one of them.)