Rekkids: David Bowie, “Heroes”

I currently have 1,884 albums on my 160GB iPod. I will listen to them all, in a random order, and write about them.

This seems as good a place as any to admit that there are scores of albums in my music collection that I have never listened to, not even once.

There was a period of time several years ago when one of my favorite pastimes was surfing usenet for random, obscure, and interesting music. I hope I’m not incriminating myself by admitting that. It was the closest my internet content stealing experience has ever come to the joy of browsing a well-stocked indie record store, except I was broke so I couldn’t afford that, and anyway, would I really have taken a chance on half the stuff I swiped for free? Or would I have even found most of it at all? I’ve got 200MB or so of 1930’s era singles sold at newsstands as Hits of the Week; are those on iTunes yet?

Anyway, now I spend far less time exploring for music and engage in strategic acquisitions. A favorite artist has a new record, I hit Amazon for the download; nine bucks and five minutes later, it’s on my computer.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that Bowie is a pretty massive blind spot in my musical appreciation, including “Heroes,” which I realize I have owned for a few years now and have NEVER EVEN LISTENED TO IT. In general, I like what I know, but I don’t know enough. Man, that should be on my tombstone.

I am doubly ashamed to admit that my first exposure to “Heroes” was as part of a medley in the Baz Luhrmann musical vehicle Moulin Rouge, which is the kind of film you really love minutes after seeing it, but a few years later feel kinda embarassed about. I once owned it on DVD, so it was like embarassment I could carry around with me in a clamshell case.

Being a Bowie ignoramus, it’s hard for me to jump in here and get anything together on his second collaboration with Eno. Especially because of the Eno part. He’s…well, he’s ENO, you know? It’s a bit difficult to stumble along and pretend I can speak to his work cause I don’t know squat about it yet.

I will say that the long “instrumental” sequence on “side two” of “Heroes” was one of those listening experiences that seems to require packing a doob on the album sleeve to really appreciate. It’s a soundtrack for being stoned, or for some kind of werid tantric sex, and a bit of a hard listen. I did like the skronking saxophone near the end, devoid of any warmth whatsoever.

What’s always surprising to me about Bowie’s songs is his bittersweet chord changess. The chorus of “Sons of the Silent Age” is full of relative minor changes that just typify regret and wistfulness for me. It’s all over the place in pop music but Bowie seems especially fond of them. I think Paul McCartney was too.

When Bowie’s bittersweet chords are lathered in Eno’s clinical, dark production, you have a recipie for ambivalence, and I mean that in a good way. You don’t know whether to approach the songs or keep them at arm’s length; you’re not sure whether you’ll understand them or not, and even if you do, they may try to hurt you in the end. Or have some weird tantric sex. Either way.

Rekkids is posted alternately at Pop Geek and Alert Nerd. Catch up with the Alert Nerd entries here.

May 20, 2010 at 4:09 pm Leave a comment

Lent 2010

I’m not a great Catholic. I try, but it’s hard.

Especially all this no-meat, fasting business. I have a hard time personally drawing that line between what Christ preached in the gospels about sacrifice and service, and having clam chowder every Friday for six weeks. (I’m being glib, I know.)

This year, though, I’m giving something up. Dessert and sweets.

(Note to self: Do NOT look up “chocolate” in Google Images again until Lent is OVER.)

Because it’s my road to travel, I’m defining it pretty tightly as anything that would commonly be considered a “dessert” or a “sweet.” So no more chocolate pudding with my lunch, or vending machine candy bars in the late afternoon when I get a craving, or evening runs to Baskin Robbins for a two-scoop dish of Rocky Road and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.

(Man, that’s a pretty decadent life I lead, isn’t it?)

I will however still have sugar in my coffee, and a little sugar on my cereal in the mornings. I’m not crazy. The jury is out on donuts for breakfast; deep down I know they probably count as “sweets” but every Friday morning we have a freaking BUFFET of donuts, bagels, pastries, and fruit. I don’t know if I can be that strong in the face of such temptation.

We’ll see how this goes. Chocolate especially is a big release for me, in terms of personal tension and anxiety. If I go without too long, I seriously get irritable. Sad but true. This means I’m going to be hell to live with for the next six weeks. But hopefully, I’ll lose a few pounds, and get a bit more prayerful, and be able to continue the streak after Lent so I can live a bit more healthy.

That, or the avalanche of chocolate bunnies on Easter will push me back into my ugly old lifestyle.

February 17, 2010 at 11:57 am 1 comment

The Fall of the Roman Grant

I miss Roman Grant already.

We just caught up on season three of HBO’s Big Love and are already diving into season four, which is about five episodes in. I seemed to recall having some negative thoughts about season two, and sure enough, there they were. (I had totally forgotten an actual producer on the show popped by to discuss my points with me, and I kinda was slightly snarky in response to his snark, but it ended in a cool way.)

I’ll admit–I look back on that post and wonder what I was thinking, but at the same time, I think I approached season three with a slightly freshened take. I took the show more on its own terms; I acknowledge now I probably have an issue with where my expectations for a series and my own hopes for it collide with the reality created on the teevee screen.

At any rate, season three of Big Love was really good stuff. This may come off as insulting, but I absolutely don’t mean it that way–I view Big Love as HBO’s response to Desperate Housewives. I don’t view it as a show that is trying to depict a reality of life as a way of illuminating humanity and the culture in which we live. That’s Sopranos territory; that’s Wire territory. I would say the consensus view is that such art is somehow “superior” to escapism, even if that escapism illuminates the human condition at times in its own way.

Big Love is a series that has its own version of a heightened, altered, soapy TV reality. Though there is certainly polygamy in the world and they may have taken their version of a fundamentalist polygamist sect from real-life reports, any reality in the show’s foundation has been spun into manic flights of emotional and character-based insanity. Attempted murders, secrets kept, teenage boys falling for their dad’s third wife, middle schoolers getting busted for selling nudie mags…to me, it’s a tumultuous, riveting, heightened world they’ve created.

There’s a moment near the end of season three when Sarah Henrickson announces to her parents, Bill and Barb, that she has decided to marry the man who impregnated her outside of wedlock, a child she later miscarried. Barb, Sarah and the fiance confront Bill with the news. Before any real conversation can take place, another of Bill’s wives, Nikki Grant, calls from the polygamist compound where her father is considered a “prophet” and where she has been exiled after admitting a dalliance with the district attorney assigned to prosecute her father’s child molestation case.

(Insane, right? Soapy as hell? Delicious.)

So the call comes in, and suddenly a relatively normal scene of familial tension becomes an elaborate drama conducted via phone, with Bill and all of his wives jumping in to either defend or condemn Nikki in her actions. You see, briefly, Sarah’s crushed expression as she realizes how unreal her life and family have become, and that despite her attempts to alternately accept and dismiss it, she will always be shackled to this circus.

I tend to read the audience’s role into Sarah’s reaction, as if the writers were implicitly admitting that yes, they’ve concocted a melodrama beyond real life and we’re just supposed to strap in and enjoy the ride, something I’m happy to do. The characters are incredible, the situations are outlandish and fun, and the acting is across the board fantastic.

Which brings me to Roman Grant, the now-deceased patriarch of the Juniper Creek polygamist compound, portrayed for three seasons by Harry Dean Stanton. I worship the ground Mr. Stanton walks on, so I would wish him no ill will. But if he were to now retire and never again perform before a camera, his work as Roman Grant would stand as the most remarkable legacy I can imagine to an amazing career and talent.

It’s that good–so sly, nuanced and manic within the span of a second, seductive and scary. You fear the man, you find him pathetic and even laughable, yet you understand above all how the weak-willed could absolutely accept his authority as the voice of God on earth.

Another season three scene burned into my brain–Roman’s final encounter with Bill Henrickson, who is building his own version of “the Principle” with his three wives and eight children. He delivers an intense monologue to Bill about “seizing the Keys” and having the will to claim power from God. It’s chilling…doubly so when a few scenes later, Bill essentially quotes Roman in establishing his own church with his family in his backyard. It underlines the fine line Bill dances between living in a modern world with a modern family and honoring the alternative lifestyle and religion he’s chosen to follow.

More often than not, Bill stumbles onto the wrong side of that line, and never more so than in his many encounters over the years with Roman Grant. At times allies, they’ve more often than not been adversaries. Even as Bill has attempted to distance himself from the compound, he can’t seem to resist this urge to exert his own force of control over it, and doing so has put him on the wrong side of Roman on plenty of occasions. At the same time, the guy’s his father-in-law, and the daughter he married, Nikki, is her father’s child in every respect–manipulative, manic, yet at the same time seductive. You can see why Bill might fall in love with her, even if you can’t imagine why he stays with her.

I don’t know if Roman Grant was my favorite thing about Big Love; Chloe Sevigny’s Nikki is another tour-de-force performance and an amazingly written character, and in his father’s stead, Roman’s son Alby has inherited much of the prophet’s squirm-worthy mannerisms and behavior. But I will miss Roman Grant, and Harry Dean Stanton’s presence on the show. It’s a bold statement, but I’ll make it–he’s one of the best TV villains of all time.

February 10, 2010 at 2:17 pm Leave a comment

Why I Hate Bon Jovi

My youngest sister is 25 years old and she loves Bon Jovi. I am guessing it has something to do with Jon Bon Jovi, who I think she thinks is “hot,” even though his face betrays clear evidence of various injections and surgeries.

I’ve always thought of Bon Jovi as “Springsteen for dummies,” with all due respect to my sister, who’s not dumb. We all have our weak spots. She likes Bon Jovi; I watch Jersey Shore. It happens.

As I watched their performance on the Grammys last night, the real reason I dislike them came to the fore: They’re absolutely uninspiring performers. Granted, they’re older guys now, so maybe back in the day they set the stage aflame with the heat of their music. But last night, on an internationally televised program and whilst accompanied by an awkwardly-strutting blonde woman in too-tight pants, their performance felt thick, bloated, OLD. It felt nothing like a dynamic live event and more like a Performance Of A Hit Song By A Band. No nuance or texture to the music; no frills or riffs or standout moments that indicated that anyone involved on stage was doing anything other than going through the motions.

(It’s also helped me learn a good general barometer for these types of bands–if your drummer needs to wear special gloves, they’re probably not a great drummer. Max Fucking Weinberg doesn’t need special gloves. He just ROCKS OUT WITH HIS STICKS AND HANDS.)

There was even a very minor element of surprise to their performance; the final song in the band’s short set could be voted on via the internet. I held out small hope for some kind of random upset or vote-rigging that would force the boys to play an unrehearsed rare album cut or even better a weird cover. Instead, we got “Living On A Prayer,” or at least about a minute of it. It reminded me of the album version. It sounded exactly like it.

Because they’re a Jersey band and they themselves seem to consider Springsteen an inspiration, it’s hard not to compare them to the E Street crew, who play with finesse, creativity, nuance and unbelievable ENERGY pretty much every time out. Look at any of the other Asbury Park scene artists and you’ll find the same ethos.

I don’t think Jon and the boys from Bon Jovi realize they don’t give a shit, but they really don’t seem to give a shit, so neither do I.

February 1, 2010 at 1:49 pm 10 comments

No Hiding Place

More Elvis Costello, from his 2008 release Momofuku, a shockingly tight record considering I’m pretty sure it was thrown together in a week so he’d have new product on the shelves when he opened for the Police on their final tour.

To me, this is the ultimate “fuck you” song to the internet.

In the not very distant future
When everything will be free
There won’t be any cute secrets
Let alone any novelty

You can say anything you want to
In your fetching cloak of anonymity
Are you feeling out of breath now?
In your desperate pursuit of infamy

January 15, 2010 at 12:24 pm Leave a comment

Back to the Late Shift

Andy Ihnatko has a great post up that takes stock of the current kerfuffle in NBC’s late night and the historical background. Like him, I was a huge fan of The Late Shift, Bill Carter’s tell-all book about the last major battle back when Carson retired and it was Leno vs. Letterman for the Tonight Show crown.

Of course, Leno won that battle, and lost in ratings for a bit, only to come back and basically take the lead over Letterman for a good long time. Then Conan O’Brien got named the new Tonight Show host, Leno was given this disastrous 10 p.m. five-nights-a-week series, that series tanked hard, and NBC seems to think it can hit some big reset button and make everyone happy and get Leno back at 11:35 p.m. and then there will be dancing in the streets.

conan03

I’m highly skeptical, and I think that’s what’s going to be the ongoing disaster to watch here: Will this mythical Jay Leno fanbase who have had no interest in him at 10 p.m. suddenly return to the 11:35 p.m. timeslot to watch his show again? Why would they? Was it really that they just HAD to have Jay Leno at that specific time or they weren’t interested?

Just as a mess, I think it’s also done untold damage to Jay Leno’s “image,” such as it was. Sure, he was #1 in 2004 when the “Conan gets Tonight in 2009” scheme was hatched, but as Andy points out, he went along with it and seems to have done so happily. Now he’s stuck in a bad timeslot doing a bad show that no one is watching, and his response is to act like he’s being somehow wronged by a strategy he went happily along with until it turned against him? Meanwhile, Conan seems to have gained universal support as far as I’ve seen, approaching the situation with class and restraint and humor.

You also have to wonder, overall: Does The Tonight Show matter anymore, and if so, how? Ratings have gone down with Conan, but his audience may not be solely the eyeballs that Nielsen ticks off. All he needs is one good viral bit on Hulu to ignite his awareness beyond where it is now. Or are his viewers like me and not making it till 11:35, but happy to DVR the show to watch on the weekends or in the early evening?

And how does this address the true issue, which is that NBC’s 10 p.m. timeslot has become a desperate graveyard of abysmal ratings? Obviously canceling Leno at 10 is a good idea at this point, but how does fucking up late night at the same time help anybody but NBC, who I guess gets to avoid paying out any contract penalties, but would I think also lose a shitload of money by continuing their ratings tailspin, now not just in prime-time but in late night as well?

Anyway. I fucking hate Leno. He’s a sucking hole of comedy failure. He needs to get off the airwaves. Read Andy’s piece, it’s more articulate than I could ever be.

And GO TEAM COCO.

January 14, 2010 at 12:49 pm Leave a comment

Work Tales: In The Shitter

The mens’ rooms here in the building are pretty standard–two urinals, two stalls. One stall regular-style; the other is handicapped.

When you close the doors to the stalls, there’s an open space between the door itself and the slab of plywood that holds up the door. I guess you might characterize this space as unduly large.

Someone in this building is so disturbed by this open space, and the view it allows to the activities of shitting and pissing taking place inside the stall, that this person regularly hangs strands of toilet paper down from the top of the space to the floor as a homemade block to any unwanted eyes.

This person not only hangs these pieces of toilet paper, but each day, the cleaning crew comes in and removes the toilet paper, and he REHANGS THE PAPER.

This is a man so obsessed with leaving his genitals and ass unexposed in the mens’ room that he takes time every day to eliminate even the tiniest sliver of a view into his privates.

That’s insane. I’m not saying I want guys watching me shit, but this is ridiculous.

January 11, 2010 at 2:34 pm Leave a comment

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