Thursday, March 29, 2007

What Do You Call A Female Donkey?

Indeed, what do you call a female donkey? This question is vexing me 3:30 on a Monday morning. Outside the last of the New Jersey turnpike speeds by as the Peter Pan bus I'm in accelerates out of a tollbooth. One of the tiny TV screens -- ridiculously upholstered, along with the ceiling of this bus -- is playing some video of asinine trivia. The ass inquiry is it's first offering. I'm not nearly as annoyed as the man seated beside me.

"Fucking thing...turn the fucking thing off...fucking...fuck...turn fucking thing off!"

He spits the words out as they bubble up through garbles of phlegm.

"Fuck...fuck fuckfuckfuckfucking TURN IT OFF!!"

I'm staring off to the right; at nothing; away from him. Is it over?

He barely whispers, "...cunt."

What, I think, our driver is a man. This early in the morning and this far from home, nitpicking the ramblings of a roaming, raving lunatic seems to be a reasonable thing to do. Is he still upset about Bewitched?

The Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell vehicle was the in-trip movie, and my coarse companion did not hesitate to share his hatred of it with anyone in earshot. I preferred the more civil method of trying to drown the movie out with my iPod, but for some reason the driver had the movie's volume at an ungodly high level.

So I was forced to watch most of it. From what I gathered, Kidman falls for Ferrell and they end up together. I thought Kidman was playing the witch? Ferrel's character would have to be a warlock of considerable powers -- of the mountains into oceans variety -- to achieve such a feat. I thought I saw Michael Caine collecting a paycheck, but that could have been fatigue. Or denial; I still refuse to recognize Bob Hoskins' role in Maid In Manhattan, unless it's to point out when the acting begins and ends in the movie. Is he in the room? Yes? Then actual acting is occurring. No? Then enjoy the view(Jennifer Lopez provides a great view).

Anyway, Bewitched mercifully ended around three thirty in the morning, fooling me -- and my cursing seatmate -- into thinking we would be treated to the pleasantness of a dark, silent bus.

Then the TV asked as about the bitch donkey, before going on to test our knowledge of the Jackson 5 and Jim Palmer. Considering the cheesy new wave music, the video must have been produced sometime in the mid eighties. It went from question to question using screen wipes straight out of a high school audio/visual club production(the circle! the star! the turning page!).

Still, cunt?

Thankfully, the driver kills the video. The crazy bastard beside me is still muttering though. I can't be sure, but I think he might be half asleep. His rantings start out as whispers before riding a parabola up to screeches. Wiggling in my seat, leg sticking out into the aisle, I lay my head on half the head rest, trying to give him as much space possible while retaining some small measure of comfort.

I can't risk listening to my iPod; I might miss an audible clue of his inevitable attempt to slash my throat. That rules out sleep as well. Looking up at the ceiling -- why is it upholstered? -- I realize I have to be at work in six hours. I won't have time for any snoozing after my arrival, it will pretty much be a stop at my apartment and maybe the gym before going to work. That leaves the remaining, reaming bus ride of roughly two hours as my only opportunity to sleep.

It's so dark out. People snore, my companion occasionally calls some phantom a motherfucking bitch, but otherwise the bus is silent. A big, empty, rumbling, silent chamber. Daring me to close my eyes.

Fuck it, I think, if he kills me in my sleep, at least there will be plenty of witnesses. Straight to judge, jury, and executioner. I put some classical music on my iPod, recline the seat, and close my eyes.

I wake up minutes before our arrival in DC, unharmed, to the sound of my companion's whistle-high snoring. It's 4:30 in the morning. This is the life.

And I'm doing it all again this weekend(though hopefully not coming home as late).

Oh, and a female donkey is called a Jenny.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Freedom Brings The Funny

Goddamn J. Freedom du Lac, tell us how you really feel. This is some cold shit about Amy Winehouse from today's 'Freedom Rock' chat on

Amy "Kottonmouth" Winehouse: Hi Freedom,

I checked out the new Amy Winehouse CD over the weekend and was very impressed. But as I listened to lyric after lyric about her over indulgence in alcohol, I couldn't help but recall the Kottonmouth Kings -- the rap/punk group who made more albums full of odes to pot use than even Cheech and Chong would have thought possible. Winehouse's stuff is definitely higher end. But it seems to me that there's a point where one's inspiration becomes one's crutch.

J. Freedom du Lac:
Hey, she sings what she knows. And to be fair, she has lyrics about other vices, as well. Ganja, for instance!

And those relationship sings are pretty great, in a scary, wouldn't-want-to-date-her kinda way. Not that I'd want to date her anyway. I mean, she sort of looks like a tranny Elvira impersonator or something. But I sure like her new album. Her earlier CD, which never came out stateside, isn't nearly as interesting.
Though I heartily disagree with him(I think Winehouse is quite fetching, and yes, my girlfriend does not read this blog), that was pretty funny. Freedom's chat usually has at least one laugh out loud moment. Here's one of my past favorites:

James Blunt in the Army?: Did he suck there too?

J. Freedom du Lac: No, he was a one-man force. He'd sing, and the enemy would drop by the hundreds.

Every Tuesday at two in the afternoon. Check it out.

It's Only Tuesday

The Getting Through The Work Day Hits of 3/27/07:

1. "King For A Day", Bobby Conn - King For A Day ("I'm back at my job/back at my job.../Every Monday Morning.../I was King For A Day")
2. "12:51", The Strokes - Room On Fire
3. "Satan Said Dance", Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Some Loud Thunder
4. "Out On The Weekend", Girls In Hawaii - Sounds Eclectic: The Covers Project
5. "On The Radio", Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope ("on the radio/you hear november rain/that solo's awful long/but it's a nice refrain")
6. "Call To Arms", The Black Angels - Passover
7. "Put Your Records On", Corinne Bailey Rae - Corinne Bailey Rae
8. "Mack The Knife", Bobby Darin
9. "Boyscout'n", Menomena - Friend And Foe
10. "You Know I'm No Good", Amy Winehouse - Back To Black
11. "Where Did My Baby Go", Howard Tate - Howard Tate
12. "Bang And Blame", R.EM. - Monster
13. "Dashboard", Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank
14. "Every Single Line Means Something", Marnie Stern - In Advance Of A Broken Arm
15. "Smells Like Teen Spirit", Tori Amos - Crucify EP
16. "Tony The Beat", The Sounds - Dying To Say This To You
17. "The Post", Dinosaur Jr. - Bug
18. "Formed A Band", Art Brut - Bang Bang Rock & Roll
19. "In The Mouth A Desert", Pavement - Slanted & Enchanted
20. "Track You Down", Sondre Lerche - Two Way Monologue ("I saw you, you saw me /And you were naked, which was weird")
21. "Tear Me Down", Gov't Mule - The Deep End Volume 2
22. "Zelda - Fortress", The Advantage - The Advantage
23. "Without Me", Eminem - Curtain Call
24. "Thunder ON The Mountain", Bob Dylan - Modern Times
25. "Help!", The Beatles - Help
26. "Can't Stand It", Wilco - Summerteeth ("No loves as random/As God's love/I can't stand it/I can't stand it")
27. "Go", The Replacements - Stink EP

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

After A Week, That's What My Resolve Is

I gave in; I succumbed; I wilted to impulse - but I don't feel guilty. Sounds Eclectic is mine.

Am I a soulless yuppie now? Does buying one CD from Starbucks tag me as such?

Sigh. Why worry about labels -- yuppie, hipster, blondie, neo-nazi looking motherfucker -- that follow you around. Some things you have to accept about yourself. I accept that I am willing to buy overpriced CDs at Starbucks, helping a faceless corporation keep the material exclusive while allowing myself to feel a little better because public radio benefits from my purchase. I know it does; a little yellow sticker on the cover brightly told me so.

I could use a drink; I can't remember the last time I had some alcohol. That's a good thing, really, in the same sense that going to church every Sunday -- even if you don't believe in God -- is a good thing. I'm not abstaining because of health, morals, or addiction. It's just habit now. I need some social spirits. Part of it is my girlfriend doesn't drink. Like Jules said, "My girlfriend's a vegetarian, which pretty much makes me a vegetarian." But I do enjoy a good drink.

We'll see what the future holds.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I'm Not Paranoid

The elevators in my building are planning murder. The bank of five that sits in the northwest lobby has two troublemakers: the first one on the right, and the second lift on the left. Daily these two conspire to kill innocent, hard working federal employees and contractors. Well, the federal employees are innocent, anyway.

Okay, they're just federal employees. And the elevators want to kill them, along with innocent hardworking contractors like myself.

They differ in style greatly; disparate as Hannibal Lecter and Jason Voorhees. The second, far right elevator welcomes you warmly with open doors, before emitting a shrill, piercing beep as it tries to crush you between it's doors before you've even taken half a step into it. They retract -- as you would expect when you try and hold an elevator door -- only to attack you again, refusing to stay open for even a nanosecond. Jason the elevator will give you a beating before you make it past his doors.

The Lecter elevator is more subtle, and is the most likely to actually succeed. Until you are inside for a ride, nothing seems amiss. Then the creaks start. The sound of scraping, twisting metal. The cuh-cuh-cunk between floors rattling beneath your feet, reminding you of the hollowness below. The bottom could fall out of this elevator, or the entire thing might just go down. It often gets stuck between floors, requiring a technician to pry the doors open to let potential victims out.

It will succeed one day, I know it. I thought it had me this morning, as the cacophony of breaking sheet metal was louder than usual, the stutter and stop more pronounced. When I safely arrived at my floor, a gentleman who I knew resided a couple floors up got off as well. The doors closed, and he pressed the up button. We shared a smile; we shared a thought: that bastard elevator isn't going to get me.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Mild Mannered

I'm having a Clark Kent day. Those are the days when I wake up too tired to put in my contact lenses(which is pretty tired), and opt for my glasses instead. I had a restless night; I'm not sure why. Maybe trepidation from a task at work I had to complete today that's full of aggravating, time-consuming glitches, spread throughout the source code like little landmines. A task that kept me from a co-worker's farewell lunch. A task that -- surprise five o'clock changes pending -- is finally, thankfully done.

Maybe. Who knows.

Starbucks is starting their own music label, Hear Music. And I for one, welcome our caffeine selling overlords. While I'm not a Starbucks fanatic -- it's hard to be when you don't drink coffee -- I do love their hot chocolate and the store's general atmosphere. I've been to many independent coffee shops, and I can never tell the difference between what they shill and the offerings at Starbucks. Then again, I am a complete, utter philistine: whenever I go to an upscale restaurant with my girlfriend, I'm secretly disappointed to discover buffalo wings aren't on the appetizer menu.

I can't really object to the company's taste in music. When I peruse the CD displays at Starbucks, there's usually at least on or two albums that catch my eye. This week, they have KCRW Sounds Eclectic: The Covers Project, with live covers from Damien Rice, Robert Plant, K.D. Lang, The Magic Numbers, and others. One or two of these I already have, but still, the album glowed with a neon "buy me NOW" halo. Flipping the CD over, the halo vanished in a poof of overpricing: $14.95. A Hear Music exclusive; nowhere to be found except hanging among the green aprons of your local Starbucks. Fifteen bucks for fifteen tracks, plus some pretty liner notes courtesy of the folks at KCRW. If I buy this, am I technically supporting public radio? Yes, I am - the proceeds will help KCRW digitize their music library. That makes me feel a little less guilty...ah, fuck it - I'll buy it, then magic marker "WHITE LIBERAL YUPPIE" on my forehead. Who cares, I'll be rocking out to Robert Plant covering "Black Dog"! Wait, what?

Maybe this isn't such a great idea, then again, as The Onion shows in it's American Voices feature, it can't make the record business any worse:

"It's a sad day when the music industry gets co-opted by giant, faceless corporations that are more interested in profits than music."

I have a weekend of gaming with friends ahead of me; I love getting my nerd on with some Magic: The Gathering. It keeps my brain strong and -- being in a long distance relationship, this part is crucial -- it defends me from pretty girls.

Anyway, I'm going to get back to praying for no five o'clock changes.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Rap Brings Brothers Together

Ghostface Killah thunders from the blue car's speakers. My two younger brothers sit up front; Scott(four years younger) driving and Mike(eight years younger) beside him going through CDs. The blue car is a Saturn Ion. My entire family owns Saturns, so we differentiate them by color. Mike's car is the blue car, my mother's is the black, and Scott's is the white.

Normally we would be in the white car, but someone stole Scott's massive speakers out of the back while he was at work.

"Did you hear? Someone stole my fucking speakers, right out of the back of my car!" he says.

"How much was all that shit worth?" I ask.

"...a couple grand," he answers.


He asks Mike to skip to the last track, "Three Bricks.", featuring the from the grave flow of the Notorious BIG. I ask Mike to instead to play the badmouthed kid skit. He chooses the latter and we all laugh at the child spewing profanities at Ghostface while he laments the perceived lack of discipline in today's children:

"That's the problem, ya'll kids don't get beat no more..."

I get Mike to play "The Champ" next, my favorite track. The fusion of lines from Rocky III and the boasts of Muhammad Ali delivered in guttural rage along side Killah's rapid-fire delivery is sick.

Mike moved into rap from metal during his last couple years of high school, though he still wears a Tool hoodie. The fact that we both own Fishscale -- though I bought it from Best Buy like a sucker -- is comforting. To say nothing of the nearly decade age gap it bridges, to me it shows that I haven't completely shed my connections with them and the old neighborhood. Or at least I hope it does. I've always had the sneaking feeling my brothers suspect that since I left PG County to live in relatively quiet Towson, then Foggy Bottom and now Columbia Heights, that I became somewhat...too highbrow for Laurel. Or that living in walking distance to Georgetown, having a real job and briefly being a married man, that I had grown up and looked back at them the way an adult might marvel at his baby pictures.

Ghostface brings me back to them, albeit with tons of obscenity.

We arrive at their gym in Bowie. Years ago when I still lived close by in Laurel, I worked out here. There was a Laurel location, but the basketball courts here are 94 feet long, like God intended.

The place hasn't changed much. The walk through the gravel parking lot; the climb up the stairs; the glass double doors; the familiarity is thick and I have to remind myself I wasn't just here yesterday. They even have my old information in their computer, and I spend a few minutes explaining to the front desk man that I don't live around here anymore, I'm just want to workout with my brothers today. Somehow, giving a former member a guest pass -- even at the absurd price of twenty dollars -- feels dirty to this man.

Catching up to Scott and Mike, I get berated for asking how much the guest pass was.

"You never ask how much," Scott says. "They might say 'fuck it' and just let you in, they don't care."

"I know, I just froze up. Technically I think I still owe them for four months back in 2002."

I have my own routine to do, so Scott and Mike go off to do their regular workout. I walk to the mat area, still in the same place. The machines are set up identically, though some are new. The walls are still lined with before and after pictures of the more persevering and disciplined members, portraits of the personal trainers, and basketball and racquet ball sign-ups.

Has nothing changed in Bowie?

It's painfully obvious one thing has when I rejoin Scott and Mike. I haven't worked out with Scott since before his stint as a Marine, and even then I considered it an accomplishment to lift the same weight, do the same amount of reps, or just to plain keep up with him since he was the athlete of the family. That was about four years ago.

Today, I find the Marines combined with his own discipline turned him into a machine. After watching him tear through an exercise, I don't even consider trying to keep up -- lightening the weight each time it's my turn. Mike does the same, though it doesn't seem to bother him at all.

"I don't think the kool-aid worked," he says.

The kool-aid is some kind of energy drink mix they took(and made me drink) before we left. It tastes like a sour version of it's namesake.

"This will get you jacked, son," Scott had said. "And this time, you won't puke."

Brothers never forget. Before a workout -- five fucking years ago -- Scott and his best friend(and current Marine) Greg coerced me into drinking a protein shake concoction of theirs. I downed the entire thing quickly, held it with a smile for a split second, promptly walked to the kitchen sink and heaved it all back up. Somehow, I still worked out that day.

Scott was right this time; I kept the entire thing down. Unlike his previous drink, this one doesn't taste like liquid feet.

Anyway, it doesn't seem to be working for Mike.

"Maybe it's because your working on four hours sleep dude," Scott says. "You stayed up all night again."

"That...could be it."

Good, two things haven't changed.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Which Neon Bible Do I Choose?

From The Onion: "Unreleased Jimmy Page Guitar Riff To Be Retrieved From Secret Vault To Save Rock And Roll"

"We who believe in the immortality of rock took a vow 30 years ago that we would never release this incredibly powerful force unless we faced a Day of Reckoning—and that day has come," said Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi, one of the chosen few who helped forge the Secret Vault to Save Rock and Roll, at a press conference in the Welsh highlands. "Just look at the pop charts, and you shall know I speak the truth."

"Let's give rock and roll its fucking balls back," he added.

Hilarious(Who knew Jack Black was an Onion ghost-writer...I still have to see The Pick Of Destiny), though in the real world we have Earl Greyhound instead of a mythic Page riff.

Arcade Fire's new album, Neon Bible, was released yesterday. As DCeiver noted, rock critics all over the Internet are going to have tough time out doing each other in lavishing cleverly worded praise on the new saviors of indie music. I enjoyed Funeral, so buying the follow-up is a no-brainer. The question vexing me is whether to buy the CD from Amazon, or to download the album from eMusic.

Yes, I still buy CDs. The collector in me loves having something physical attached to the music I love. Hundreds upon hundreds of five inch pieces of plastic sorted out in stacks, announcing their variety with artist and album names lettered in infinite styles. A satisfying site.

Next to my carefully organized(by artist name, last name if necessary) CD collection starts, there is an ever-growing shelf of vacant discs. Stored in identical thin STAPLES jewel or trigger cases, the CDs are either anonymously silver or the slightly more fulfilling vinyl-imitating design. My downloaded albums; at least the ones I've had time to burn. Between eMusic, free albums, music from friends, and the occasional iTunes purchase my digital music intake dwarfs my traditional appetite of CDs. eMusic alone gives me almost seven albums worth of music a month for twenty dollars.

And eMusic has Neon Bible. It can be mine instantly(depending on how well my WIFI is working). The rave reviews are in...I need to hear this for myself! Yet, if I find it moving, if it takes it place among my favorites, it's physical presence will be just another faceless disc distinguished only by it's title sloppily written and sprawled in magic-marker across the front. Am I too romantic to think that's a detestable fate for a great piece of music? iTunes 7.1 has full screen CoverFlow; shouldn't that be enough?

For $13 and a two day wait, I could have the CD, double 180-gram audiophile quality discs with three sides of music and an etching on the fourth side. Artwork, two 32-page flip books designed by the band, and the thank-yous that no one ever reads.

Or, I could download it tonight.

Can I do both; will downloading the album trump buying the CD? Does that make it empty? Stupid?

What to do, what to do.

Monday, March 05, 2007

You Forgot It In People (The Meadowlands)

Ian Mathers, an excellent writer and podcaster for Stylus, pondered how he had never seen the video for Broken Social Scene's "Anthem For A Seventeen-Year-Old Girl". And I thank him for pondering, because I don't know how I hadn't seen it before either:

I bought You Forgot It In People during the death throes of bad relationship(though it would recover, only to die again...but that's a story for another time). Up late one night, eyes red from tears and the piercing glow of my computer monitor, I searched Amazon for something that would sound different, profound, and beautiful. This obscure band from Canada was in everyones "must have indie rock" list, so I read a little about BSS and ...In People. It seemed a likely pot of musical gold, so a click and UPS trip later, I had the CD in my hands.

Others have celebrated the album far better than I could, so instead of telling you how great the music is, I'll just give it a more personal praise: it got me through tough times. I listened to it constantly, in the morning, at work, but most importantly, at night. I can't sleep when my relationship has gone to shit. I tossed and turned, I took deep breaths, and I counted backwards from a hundred. Nothing worked, until I popped in the beautiful, soothing sounds of ...In People.

The intro was mysterious, the way it rose from a flat line to a split-second of cacophony before instantly melting into the second track, the rollicking "KC Accidental". "Almost Crimes", track four, was a shot of pure joy and optimistic energy(exactly what you need at four in the morning after spending the entire night dreading the rest of your life). "Anthem", at track seven, is the perfect song to fall asleep too. The video above is the perfect companion for it: ethereal, intangible, and beautiful.

After that, I bought The Wrens' The Meadowlands, and I had a soundtrack for the breakup. I sang along with "Happy", screaming "Are you happy?/You got what you want/I'm over it now". I nodded along to the opener, "The House That Guilt Built" : "and I’m nowhere near/what I dreamed I’d be/i can’t believe/what life has done to me". The album was therapy; the only closure I could get.

My nightly ritual for weeks was Meadowlands followed by ...In People; they became my tried and true "bad love" albums. One for cathartic mourning, the other for remembering there's still a big, beautiful world outside your door.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Helicopters Are To Blame

Surfing the internet, I came across this gem from Dave Barry:
The badness of a movie is directly proportional to the number of
helicopters in it.
Reflecting on movies I've seen recently, I think he is on to something:

  • Ghost Rider. Horrible movie, I'll admit(as much as I don't want to). At least five, maybe six, gigantic helicopters in one scene. Ghost Rider briefly battles a Police helicopter. Horrible.
  • Breach. Not one helicopter. Excellent flick.
  • Seraphim Falls. It's a western. Excellent flick.
  • Primeval. At least one helicopter in the beginning. Bad movie, though not as bad as Ghost Rider. I'd rather watch Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes in a horrible movie than Dominic "Prison Break" Purcell and Brooke Langton in anything. Orland Jones is a wild card.
  • Apocalypto. The setting is the ancient Mayan civilization. Good movie.
  • Rocky. No helicopters that I can recall. Great movie.
  • Blood Diamond. This movie had numerous rides in helicopters. The exception to the rule; a great movie.
  • Night At The Museum. No helicopters that I can remember. Bland, boring movie.
  • Casino Royale. This must have had at least one helicopter, right? It is a James Bond movie. Great movie.

So it's not a hard rule, but it sure is fun. Maybe the real rule should be Nicolas Cage + Helicopters = Horrible Movie. You know, like Firebirds. Top Gun With Helicopters also stars Tommy Lee Jones and the chick who played a dude posing as a chick in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.

Well, happy frivolous Friday everyone.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Dreams, Alkies, And Starbucks

My review of Marnie Stern's brilliant debut album In Advance Of A Broken Arm is up at BigYawn. I enjoy writing about music, and seeing my thoughts posted at BigYawn has been -- pause for a dork moment -- exciting. Still, I don't know if anything I've written is any good. Is it foolish to dream of writing for SPIN, Rolling Stone, or the Post? And not just about music, but I dream to write about life, the world, and to maybe someday interview the President years after he took the country on an eight-year bullet train ride and ask him, " were just fucking with us, right?"

Speaking of alcoholics, make sure to check out Back to Black, the new album from Amy Winehouse which will be released in the US on March 13th. "Rehab", the first single, has been getting all the attention -- and it is a great song, one of my favorites of the year so far -- but it's the second track, "You Know I'm No Good", that leaves you floored. A remixed version featuring Ghostface has been getting a lot of radio play in New York since it's release in January(I should note that I don't listen to radio in DC, so it may be getting airtime here too, but I'd be ignorant of it...I only listen to the radio in New York because it's what my girlfriend puts on when, when she brushes her teeth). The Post ran a great story about Winehouse, "100-Proof Voice", last month.

Starbucks added a new location near my office, one that is potentially on the way to work. Great news, even if the service isn't what you can call friendly yet(though -- as co-worker Brian noted -- karma can be a bitch). It's a little late for me, since I only drink hot chocolate at Starbucks and the season for that is quickly disappearing. I hope. I haven't had much need for my power trio recently, and I like it that way.