Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Wrens and Creed

Firstly, let's note that this is completely unverifiable. Frankly, I'm not even sure where I heard it. Probably Pitchfork. Back when I read about music, they were often the source. Yay pretension! Anyway, here we go.

So in 1996 a wonderful band named The Wrens had just released their second album, Secaucus, on Grass Records. As happens when money changes hands, they began to get a bit of airtime on the radio, with 'Surprise, Honeycomb' getting some push behind it. Things were looking fairly good. Then they were called into the office of the head of their record label. He told them that he wanted to sign them to a million-dollar contract. However, they had to make a few changes to their sound so that they would be more radio-friendly. As a good-faith negotiation tactic to help ease the shock of this demand, he ordered that they decide on the spot. Faced with this strong-arming the band chose integrity (Some people actually do! They are poor and get no airtime) and rejected the deal. Their label executive took it well, ordering them out of his office and pulling all publicity for the album. He announced that the next band through the door would be made famous at any cost. Grass Records was closed and rechristened Wind-Up, and the next band to walk in, much to the world's chagrin, was Creed. The Wrens went off to obscurity (They also wrote a great song about this, entitled 'Everyone Choose Sides'), and Creed became famous. As a sort of postscript, once the label had won, they decided that they best way to patch things up with the band would be to refuse to print anymore copies of either of the first two Wrens albums once the stock was sold, and to refuse to sell the copyrights to the albums The Wrens had written back to the band for 7 years, preventing them from making any money from, or even distributing their work. The music industry is a nice place. May it burn to the ground.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sad Days In Rock History

May 18, 1975 - Jack Johnson is born.

Most of you probably know Jack Johnson as "That guy who sang that song. You know. With the acoustic guitar." And that would be correct. You see, Jack Johnson was born without an angry bone in his body. He came out of the womb, not crying like a normal human baby, but blinking in wide-eyed wonder, his tiny infant face scrunched up as if to convey the sentiment 'Man. This place is, like, totally cool'. This trend continued throughout most of his formative years. When his friends tried to perform science experiments on small animals using sticks, young Jack would phone PETA. When they sat down to play Risk®, he would refuse to roll the dice, believing that "We should all just get along". And this worked fine, as Jack, son of a surfer, went into the ranks of professional surferdom or whatever. But then things took a tragic turn. Jack, believing professional surfing was "Too competitive (I did not make this one up)", decided he was going to devote his life to playing music. And his unfortunate run of unearned chart success seems likely to limit the chances of him retiring from his new profession anytime soon.

Here's the thing. I'm not trying to claim that all bands need to be the Sex Pistols or scream at the audience in Spanish or whatever. But when you're mellow to the point that it could easily be assumed you're on an IV of pure Zoloft™, there's an issue. You see, rock and roll was originally a sort of protest music. Not protesting like being angry that Abercrombie raised the price on their khakis, like Jack's music is made for.

Perhaps you think I'm being unfair here. Fine. Let's do a lyrical comparison. Here are the first two lines of a song by the Silver Jews, a band whose singer and songwriter (David Berman) publishes books of poetry in his spare time: 'Where's the paper bag that holds the liquor? Just in case I feel the need to puke.' Let's compare this to one of Jack's lyrics, this one from the song "Better Together," the first track off his album In Between Dreams (Keep in mind while reading this that in rock and roll, an album is traditionally sequenced to lead off with a fast track to grab the listener's attention): "Love is the answer, at least for most of the questions in my heart." Jack, the poet just destroyed you in a competition of manliness. So please, listen up. I'm only going to offer this advice once: GROW A PAIR. Look here fruitcake, if I wanted to hear music extolling the same virtues of peace and love that Jesus put forth, I'd hang out in West Side Market and listen to Creed and Jars of Clay on an eternal, unholy loop. I don't do that. So what I would like is for you to never be on any stereo in my vicinity from now until the end of time. If you cannot do this, please mail me your guitar so that I may smash it into a million little pieces (Because we all know you won't do this). Insurance on the package will not be necesary. The choice is yours.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Happy BP Day!

My copy of Baseball Prospectus 2009 is here! I'll resume normal posting in eight months or 624 (Really large) pages, whichever comes first.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Don't take this the wrong way, as this Steve Martin project was a very good movie, and well worth seeing. But man, was this a disappointing movie. It featured generally likable characters brought to life by solid acting performances, a deliberate directing touch, and a winning script. Yet in spite of this, the movie shot itself in the foot in three key places, turning what should have been an excellent film into merely a good one. And considering the paucity of top-notch movies out there, this near-miss hurts a bit more than it should, especially considering the absolutely brilliant performance Jason Schwartzman puts in. Brushing it off as a near-miss (which it is) does him especially an injustice.

The movie is based on a novel by Steve Martin, adapted into a screenplay by Steve Martin, and starring Steve Martin. And yet, it is not a vanity project. It is a serious comedy, featuring Martin slipping into what at his point could very well be dubbed 'The Bill Murray role' much more easily than those Pink Panther remakes would have you think. Claire Danes plays the lead character well. But stealing the show is Schwartzman, playing a character who can only be described as quirky, whether he's bringing amps onstage unasked at rock shows or flexing his hands while listening to yoga tapes. He more than delivers in the second major role I've seen him play (The first being Rushmore). And the movie itself should add up to even more than the sum of these considerable parts, if not for three fatal flaws.

The first is a minor one. Movies in this style are prone to featuring lengthy shots of still images, and often use music to fill the void. Shopgirl is no exception, putting the original score in places where there is no dialogue. And the score is melodic, but by the end of the movie it feels like you have heard the same 15 seconds of a symphony repeated 45 kajillion times. It gets a bit repetitive. Secondly, Schwartzman's character undergoes a major personality overhaul, but it does not come close to being explained. This is a rather large problem. Part of telling a story is explaining or showing what happens to the characters. Quite often, this is the enitirety of telling a story. And when not a cursory attempt at it is made, it is missed. And most importantly, the movie features narration. Not a constant narrator. Four different short bits of it. And these sound like they are being read directly from Martin's novel. This is a complete failure. With moving pictures, we can see what the characters feel by watching their actions. Having a scene go with no sound while a narrator announces "X felt this way about Y" is both jarring and awful simultaneously.

Anyway, dissuading you from watching the movie is not my intent, regardless of how that last paragraph reads. Shopgirl is a good movie, and well worth watching. But while you see what it is, try also to think of what it was so close to being.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I: Beast Has Risen

Note: In the section of text following the colononical (Or whatever), I will be putting important words in all caps. This will help save time if you cannot spare the full 90 seconds it will take to read the whole thing, but still would like a sort of Clif's Notes. It will work much in the same way that the summary found at the end of each chapter in a science text is all you need to read to understand all the important points from that chapter, which enables you to complete your studying in a borderline-record minimum of time, and also to get a D. Additionally, abbreviations that are normally capitalized (i.e. - TV, DVD) will continue to be so. This may be confusing, but I don't really care.

It begins with a DVD case. This case typically sits on a shelf in my room (Note - Originally the first pronoun in this was 'you'. But then I remembered that I BLOODY HATE THE SECOND PERSON VOICE. I would like to take this opportunity to give it to horrible Jimmy Eat World songs. Though if we're (Collectively) lucky, they won't take me up on this), ignored most times when I have not been imbibing root BEERS. It is a case like any other, by which I mean made of plastic and full of a DVD. And that is all. You know how when you buy a DVD (Such as, say, Singing In The Rain) you open the case to find that the movie itself may actually be contained therein, but this is completely UNPROVABLE, as the case contains a chapter listing for the movie, a brief essay written about the movie, a 900-page booklet advertising similar movies you WILL ENJOY (Such as Saw IV), and coupons which will save you $5 if you buy said movie FOUR TIMES. Well, this movie is having none of that. The case itself is completely bare, excepting the disc itself, which may be easily removed due to the sage decision by Sony Entertainment to only ship it in BROKEN CASES that do not actually hold the disc in place. Fortunately, this is all made up for by the fact that the back of the disc is SHINY. This will turn out to be the high point of the film (Excepting, of course, the continual bits of special effects which can only be described as COMPLETE, CONCENTRATED AWESOMENESS). The disc is then inserted easily into an available DVD player, which in this case doubles as an XBOX, and it can be watched by turning on the television. Unfortunately, this is a major mistake. You see, I live in New York City. This puts numerous constraints upon my living space, especially considering that my room is a shared venture (Though not if my GRANDMOTHER asks me about it).Therefore, the bedroom TV is extremely small. It more than makes up for this, though, by alerting everyone who overlooks it due to its diminutive stature that it is, in fact, present and plugged in by emitting an 85-decibel HUM any time I am foolish enough to turn it on (This is in stark contrast to our living room TV, which has good sound quality, but a tragic inability to get brighter than, say, a typical hallway closet, sans open door or lightbulb). This requires me to turn the volume up much louder than I would like, which actually isn't that bad a thing, as it helps me to drown out the sound of whatever movie is playing in my roommate's (Also tastefully named Mike) room, which will invariably be at a volume audible from NEPAL or OUTER SPACE, whichever is farther away. And thus begins an epic adventure.

Well, not quite begins. You know how a Disney/Pixar production begins with that cute lamp that hops around for a while before the screen finally just says Pixar? Same thing here, except replace the lamp with a white version of the WALMART™ SMILY FACE with eyes like this: ^ ^. Eventually it TURNS INTO A BOX (Of course it does) and a disembodied voice announces 'Showbox.' Presumably this is the name of a company involved in the production. I don't
care enough to check. We then have the opening credits. They feature Asian-ish letters in front of a background that the artist named "INK BOTTLE SPILLED ON CANVAS. TIME TO GET NEW CANVAS." A woman's voice explains an ancient Korean legend, which is probably relevant but not overly interesting. It concerns a woman born every 500 years who can turn a SERPENT into a DRAGON. If the dragon is good, there is (Presumably) much rejoicing. If the dragon is bad, they make a CRAPPY MOVIE about it. Or something. I probably should have taken NOTES. Anyway, while telling the legend the voice repeatedly says "MIGHTY POWER". That's right, the movie is in English, yet still reads like a poorly dubbed KUNG FU film. Sweet. Special effects costing more than the entire script cause the screen to read D-WAR. And: Cut to helicopter in California.

Apparently, the director was hoping for some kind of crossover hit or something here, as the movie is in English and LA. Long story short, that effort FAILED. Also, this scene features an INDIAN yelling at POLICE OFFICERS that 'The beast has risen,' a grammatically correct sentence that they still managed to MISTRANSLATE when they named the chapters. There's been some kind of disaster, which is conveniently being covered by a newspaper reporter who doubles as our hero, a man who looks like KEANU REEVES but lacks the same RANGE OF EMOTION. He then does a voiceover about something important while staring at a JADE NECKLACE. Whatever. This necklace will probably be important later on, but I don't want to give the filmmakers that much credit. KEANU stares BLANKLY AHEAD, and the scene ends.

Next in Part Two: I struggle not to SWEAR.

Monday, February 9, 2009


Thus screams the headline of yesterday's New York Post, and for once I find myself wishing to love that eternal bastion of yellow journalism. For it is today that we come, not to exalt a player's name to the highest places able to hear us, but rather to bury his reputation. And I find myself in the slightly uncomfortable situation of having mixed feelings about throwing on my shovelful of earth. And before this begins to seem a morbid task, let me explain a bit. You see, the coffin in question contains, not an individual, but the reputation of one. That man is Alex Rodriguez, one of the best players in the history of the wonderfully unimportant and engrossing national pastime known as baseball. Alex Rodriguez, star player of the New York Yankees. Alex Rodriguez, steroid user.

Alex Rodriguez is a rarity as a baseball player in many different ways. He is a freak of nature, possessing the quickness, eyesight and muscles to routinely pulverize pitching at the highest possible level. But while his physical talents have put him on the fast track to superstardom, Rodriguez has never seemed entirely comfortable with what that entails. The media attention and the constant spotlight seem off-putting to him, attention he wished was lavished on someone with lesser physical skills. And he has been one of the game's brightest stars for over a decade now, yet remains unloved by those who root for the team he plays for, the team whose record he improves merely by pulling on the pinstripes. Try for a second to think of another baseball superstar often booed by fans of his own team. Barry Bonds is probably the most hated player in recent memory, yet even when he was walking to the plate with used syringes still protruding from his body, San Francisco fans cheered him on. The only comparison here is Albert Belle, the man who once tried to run over Halloween tricksters with his car. This man is A-Rod's only contemporary? What happened?

In this case, the court of public opinion may have been unnecessarily harsh towards someone who does not deserve it. Alex Rodriguez has been made into the symbol of all that is wrong off the field of play, while for those glorious three and a half hours daily he would remain a beacon of all that was right with the game. The superstar with a completely bipolar public persona. Well, now those days are finished. Rodriguez has dominated from a young age, with baseball still reeling from the Andro years, among other scandals. Rodriguez was the one who was going to write the steroid users out of the record books, the agile shortstop who was the game's Great Clean Hope. And he became a victim of his success in this role that was set forth for him, even though all he did was step in the direction he was being pushed. When he hit free agency, he rode this wave of acclaim for his talents and a cresting market for free agent salaries to the richest deal ever given to a baseball player, a mammoth $252 million dollars. Which might have been fine, if he had signed with the Seattle Mariners, the team he came up with through the minor leagues. But instead, he left his former franchise to sign with the Texas Rangers. How many people would have refused the largest contract in history to stay with a single team, one offering less money in a sport where money is what you are rewarded with for your services? Especially since A-Rod had no deep roots in the Seattle area, growing up a Mets fan in New Jersey. And yet, this branded Rodriguez as a mercenary, a symbol of decadence, spending and outright greed that would not be matched, as the market for baseball players quickly dove down to slightly less obscene stratospheric levels, Rodriguez's contract casting a shadow over all signed before or after it*.

*Disclosure time: A richer deal has been signed since, for $275 Alex Rodriguez. No other player has a contract that comes close.

And then the Rangers promptly went in the tank. It quickly became clear to management that A-Rod's salary consumed such a large portion of the team's payroll that it would be next-to impossible to build a winning team around the albatross in the infield. After three consecutive last-place finishes, Rodriguez became the symbol of a larger pattern of organizational incompetence by the Rangers. It is always the star who bears responsibility for the team, so A-Rod became the man who was paid more money than anyone else, but still couldn't manage to win. Through it all, he persevered, routinely putting up seasons worthy of MVP awards, and for some reason no one seemed to stop and think that maybe the guy who hits better than anyone else in baseball wasn't really the problem here. After a third straight last-place finish, the Rangers traded Rodriguez twice. The first time was to the Red Sox, with A-Rod volunteering to reduce his salary to help make the trade work. When this was shot down by the Player's Union, the Rangers traded him to the New York Yankees.

Unfortunately, the Yankees already had a shortstop of their own. He was about the same age as Rodriguez, team captain, and a worse player in every regard. Rodriguez agreed to change positions to accommodate him. Since then, he has won two MVP awards, and been roundly criticized by the New York media and booed by fans for the crime of not being Scott Brosius, who was not, technically, very good at baseball. But what has he ever done to deserve all this? Nothing. Through sheer virtue of his skill, he became the great hope of baseball during an era that will remain tainted until the end of time. And we as a people discovered that we did not actually want a person to take that place. Nobody could walk the path we laid out for A-Rod, and yet he has been savaged for any mis-steps he makes along the way, real or imagined. And now that he has tested positive for steroids, that title has been stripped from him. He has had the title we never gave him a chance to earn taken away, and his reputation is ruined. And I should be giddy about this, but somehow I can't quite summon that emotion. Amazingly enough, it turns out it's always sad to see innocence lost.

Great Moments In Spam

I did not receive this myself. It was sent to the official girlfriend, who graciously allowed me to use it here, which probably violates the terms of her winning entry or something. The formatting has not been tampered with. My favorite part is the completely random use of spaces after a comma. Without further ado:

Dear Lucky winner of $1000,000.00, contact our Director of Finance immediately Attn: Winner, We wish to congratulate you over your email success in our computer balloting held 8th Feb 2009.This is a Millennium Scientific Computer Game in which email addresseswere used. All participants were selected through a computer balloting system drawn from Nine hundred thousand E-mail addresses from Canada,Australia,United States,Asia,Europe, Middle East,Africa and Oceania as part of our international promotion program which is conducted annually. Your details e-mail address fall within our European representative office in Amsterdam, Holland as indicated in your play coupon and your prize will be released to you via our regional office in Nigeria West Africa. This is a promotional program aimed at encouraging internet users;therefore you do not need to buy ticket to enter for it. You have been approved for the star prize of US$1,000.000.00 (One Million United State Dollars Only). To file for your claim, please contact our Director of Financein below. Name: Mrs Rosemary KingEmail:agenrosemaryking@
gmail.comTel:Just dial:+234-8035572319Just dial:+2348039272673 Ref: 435062725Batch: 7050470902/189Winning no: GB8101/LPRC Please quote your reference, batch and winning number which can be found above.
The Validity period of the winnings is for 25 working days hence you are expected to make your claims immediately;Once again congratulations!!! Best Regards,Mr Martins Peters.Coordinator,Australian Lottery Inc

Thursday, February 5, 2009

NYC And The Coolness Quotient

Growing up in Vermont, I never thought of New York City as a real place. Sure, I believed it existed. I never thought it was faked, like the moon landings or the JFK assassination or whatever (Conspiracy theorists: Welcome to the comments! Drive up my blog traffic!). But it was no more real to me than the land of Mordor (I have a blog. You knew I was a dork already). I viewed it as this enormous, foreign entity: A strange world filled with tall buildings and throngs of people, the financial capital of the world, and presumably the place where all things Cool originated. What's that? You think my haircut is silly? Well, this is how they wear their hair in New York. And we would all ooh and ah. This band? They're all the rage in New York. It was applicable in any circumstance, because the metropolis in question was a million miles away to us.

I now live in New York, and so far it is not living up to these pie-eyed childhood projections. At first I thought it must be some sort of problem with me. Perhaps I was not going to the right clubs* (Because I go clubbing so much). Or maybe I was witnessing cool things and failing to recognize them, like that homeless man urinating on a stockbroker's leg on the street corner (Actually, even I would recognize this as cool). By and large, the city seemed dirty and dingy to me, smelling faintly of urine and vomit. Why had all my childhood fantasies been so wrong? And that is when I found the answer: West Side Market.

*They have a saying down here: If you want to know which place used to be cool, follow the people from Jersey. And these people (General Jerseyites) are far more clued in than I am.

What West Side Market is is a grocery store. They specialize in high-end items, meaning you pay a bit more to buy your groceries from them, money which helps to fund their presumably-astronomical rent costs. When you enter this upper-class haven for the palate, you are instantly struck by the aroma of a cheese counter specializing in far more than the basic cheddar cheese most American are accustomed to (I walk directly past this counter until I reach the dairy section, where I can buy some actual cheddar. Don't get me wrong. I love a good sheep's-milk gruyere curdled with clam juice (Or whatever). But it's not quite the same). After the initial olfactory buffeting, one gradually grows accustomed to the surroundings. And that is when you realize you are listening to a veritable radio station that time forgot, playing that song you believed everyone else had forgotten from 1996 (This song is typically 'Ooh, Ah... Just a Little Bit' by Gina G). Now, I know that there is a certain sort of retro-cool that can be applied to many things out there. That is definitely not the case here. Within the last month of only occasional shopping at this store, I have heard My Own Worst Enemy, Flood (By Jars of Clay), The Freshmen, I Love You Always Forever, Finally (By Paula Abdul), Getting Jiggy With It, 6th Avenue Heartache (Twice!) and, of course, Tubthumping. And that is not the only thing. Beyond assaulting my personal eardrums, West Side Market is also blatantly flaunting one of the primary tenets all of humanity bases itself on.

At least one of you out there is a baseball fan. I know you will remember what I am talking about. You see, back in the mid- to late-1990s, there was a band named Creed. They were very popular, even though their primary means of artistic expression was to add Jesus and bombasticness to riffs and melodies Pearl Jam determined were not good enough for b-side material. Through some flaw in the system (Technically the whole thing is the fault of a band called The Wrens, but that's a story I can get into another time), they became enormously popular, even though the whole time it was suspected that all ten million of their records in print were sold at rural truck stops in Arkansas (How all ten million of these people came to be in Arkansas is only one of the troubling parts of this story). Then, in 2004 the Boston Red Sox made it to the World Series of baseball against the Saint Louis Cardinals. And, for some reason unbeknownst to anyone capable of rational thought (It's probably Joe Buck's fault), the Cardinals elected to have the singer of Creed perform 'God Bless America' during the seventh-inning stretch. This particular rendition of the song was the most horrific display of singing prowess (This word is a lie) since the wonderful day that 80,000+ people in the Orange Bowl simultaneously booed Ashlee Simpson (Probably for spelling her first name wrong). And the next day, in a display of unity rarely seen under the Bush administration, all the leaders of the world banded together and made a solemn pledge that from that day forward, everyone would pretend Creed had never happened.

Well, the deal is off. Risking international condemnation from a world which still views America with a wary eye as a new President takes office, West Side Market has gone ahead and played 'Higher' through the speakers of THEIR ENTIRE STORE. I know! I heard it! It was terrible! This is why the terrorists hate us. The next time someone looks you in the eye and says 'Death to America!' (Presumably this happens to you at regular intervals), you just look right back at them and say 'No. Just West Side Market. I'm just like you. I hate Creed.' And that's when they'll know that you're okay, and will let you live; allowing you to continue stumbling your way through this strange thing called life. And if you happen to stumble into any of the cool nightclubs on your journey, let me know where they are. Because it's not much fun being surrounded by residents of New Jersey.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


For those of you who don't follow or care about sports, Matt Millen is the former president of the Detroit Lions football team. He was fired this year after holding the position for the past eight, during which time he took a team that missed the playoffs by a game the year before his hiring and shepherded them to a 31-97 record. For obvious reasons, people in Detroit are still not overly happy with Millen. After his firing this past season (During which the Lions became the first team ever to go 0-16), NBC, showing the type of foresight typically associated with intoxicated teenagers in movies who stop the car to pick up someone holding a bloody knife, hired Millen to comment on football for them. This decision is even more mystifying than the Lions employing him for eight years. But that is not the point. During the Super Bowl, NBC featured Millen in its pregame show. Throughout most of the country, this was broadcast normally. However, in Detroit any appearance of Millen's head on-screen was accompanied by the following disclaimer:

Matt Millen was president of the Lions for the worst eight-year run in the history of the NFL. Knowing his history with the team, is there a credibility issue as he now serves as an analyst for NBC Sports?

As Detroit often finds itself the butt of national jokes, it seems fair to give them credit when it's deserved. So: Well played, Detroit. Well played.

(Quote from the Detroit Free Press)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Great Moments In Postgame Interview History

Dan Patrick: Santonio, how did it feel watching Larry Fitzgerald racing down the field to take the lead for the Cardinals?

Santonio Holmes: Well, you hate to see that, but I knew our defense would get the ball back for us.