I hate Walking Dead but I can’t not watch it

Sometimes I wonder what addicts feel like.  I realized the other day that it must be something like this.

It’s that time of year again.  Netflix has added last season’s Walking Dead.  I don’t have cable, so I have to wait a full year to watch the show, which is fine.  BECAUSE I HATE IT.

I shouldn’t say that.  Some parts of it I like.  I like Glenn and Maggie, and her sister and her dad are OK.  I like Darryl.  Bob and Michonne are pretty cool.  I liked Andrea but she’s dead.  Merle was also awesome, and sort of redeemed himself at the end, but he too, is dead.

I kind of like the suspense at times, even though I get all wound up and can’t sleep.  But that’s really about it.  The rest of the show I kind of hate.

So why keep watching?  Because the show is full of annoying people, and I’m waiting for them to get eaten.  The show’s actually been fairly good about obliging my desire to see annoying people become zombie food.  The most annoying people on the show in order of annoyingness and their current status:

Lori Grimes- Died in childbirth

The Governor- still alive

Shane Walsh- got bitten, became a zombie, shot by Carl Grimes

Dale Horvath- got bitten, shot by Darryl before he could turn

Carol Peletier- still alive

Rick Grimes- still alive

Randall- killed by Shane

Two random dummies that have, against all odds, survived to be found by Rick and Carol locked in the bathroom of a house- one gets eaten, the other disappears

I only just added Carol to the show this week after she did something really stupid and got banished from the group.  Before that I liked her- she had really grown a lot.  But that’s part of the problem with the show.  Anyone who ends up in a leadership role starts behaving like an ass.  The Governor is a bloodthirsty sociopath, but he keeps his zombiefied daughter chained up in a closet because he loves her?  Yeah, right.  Rick is a thinly veiled advertisement for autocracy, until those times when he inexplicably decides that he just can’t do it anymore.   Bullying everyone into following his bad advice is just too much of a burden.

So I’m watching just in the hopes that the three on the list come to a bad end.  Does that sound like a healthy reason to watch a TV show?  It’s not, I know.  But every night I put my son to bed and watch a few more.

Update- YAY The Governor is dead!  Boo, Herschel died too

Reevaluating Green Day

So I challenged myself to re-evaluate a band that I’ve on-again, off-again liked for two decades- Green Day.  They’ve never been close to my favorites, but I do have a history of liking them.  It goes something like this-

High School- Dookie comes out.   Dookie was their major label debut (a big deal, for better or worse, for a punk band).  I hadn’t heard of them before.  I liked it a lot and listened to it frequently.

6 months later- everyone is listening to it.  I stop listening to it.  Yes, I know.

Several years- I ignore most of what they do, or in the case of Good Riddance (Time of Your Life), I actively don’t like them.

Several more years- I’m in Japan and mostly ignoring American music

Return to USA- some of their new hits are on the radio- Boulevard of Broken Dreams, When September Ends, Jesus of Suburbia.  They’ve changed a lot- they’re not Rock Star Green Day, not Pop Punk Green Day, but I actually like these songs.

Today- after putting out a album trilogy that I can’t remember hearing a single from, and then Billie Joe throwing a fit at the I-Heart Radio music festival and heading to rehab and finally, worst of all- nomination to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame- it looks like Green Day is officially done as a relevant act.

They had a great run.  But I never really gave them a chance until really late in their career, after having dumped them unceremoniously way back in high school.  I’m trying to rectify that by listening to their albums, in chronological order, one per week until I’m done.  Regular readers of the blog know that I will occasionally set myself up with a task like this and then flake out.  So, fair warning, I might get tired of this and not complete it.  But I did listen to their first album 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours.

The CD actually included three of their first records, so I don’t know if it counts as an album, but I’d always heard it called one.

I don’t remember ever having listened to it and after listening to it for the first time, I didn’t like it.  Maybe it’s not fair to say I didn’t like it.  I just no longer have the tools to evaluate this kind of music, being that I’m old and songs about “why doesn’t this girl like me?” are not interesting to me.

That and the influence of Hüsker Dü is just way too strong on this album.  If Bob Mould had snuck into the studio and replaced Billie Joe’s vocals with his own, I wouldn’t have known the difference.  Sadly, I’m not really a fan of Hüsker Dü, so this just really doesn’t work for me on multiple levels.

But like I said, this isn’t an album directed at tired, old rockers with families and 40 hour a week jobs.  This album is for the kids.  If the kids liked it, then it must have been good.  But I probably won’t listen to it again.  Maybe next week’s Kerplunk will be better.

The weirdest trolls on the internet

are the scientific racists.  These people are fucking weird creepers.

I’m not going to link to anything they’ve written because frankly I’d rather not be on their radar.

My first encounter with one of them was on a random news site, on a subject that was only tangentially related to race.  I can’t remember what the comment was, but for whatever reason this guy responded to me with links to Nicholas Wade’s recent book.  Look Nicholas up if you want to, but it’s waste of time if you ask me.  This commenter linked to an article published by TIME magazine.  Yes, the TIME magazine you see in airport bookstores.  Mr Wade’s article was a lot of stuff about science that frankly I don’t understand.  But what stuck out to me was a passage about how English (i.e. from England) are smarter because during a time of peace between 1200 and 1800, noble people had lots of children.  Nobles had, according to Wade, better smarts and that’s how they held onto their money.

Again, I’m not a scientist, nor a trained historian (or am I?  I majored in Classical Studies… does that count?).  At any rate, I pointed out to scientific racist troll that err, I don’t think 1200 to 1800 was a very peaceful time in English history (if there was one, before, say, 1945) and that at any rate that’s a pretty arbitrary time period to choose from (why not 100 BC to 900 AD?  Why not 2003 to 2005? *snickers*) and finally that hereditary nobles tend to hold onto their wealth because they make the rules, not because they’re particularly bright.  This troll didn’t like this an accused me of ignoring all the emerging science and being like people who refused to believe the Earth revolved around the sun.  The conversation ended about there.

Being as I’m a naturally curious person and enjoy peeking into the minds of loony people I started reading up on Nicholas Wade and his book.  It’s a book you can find prominently sitting on the shelf at your local Barnes & Noble (I checked- there are multiple copies and it was cover forward on the shelf), there are reviews all over the place.  And the same loony commenters were commenting on the articles in droves.  So much that at least one reviewer commented on the recent surge in traffic and comments.  The same people were mobbing review pages to accuse the author of various mistakes, heresies, and basically to defend Mr Wade.

I bring this up because I ran into one today*.  I don’t know if I’ve run into this person before because they all seem to have the same hectoring style.  I was just making a point about how it’s not a bad thing for people who want to discuss hot-button issues related to race, in this case Affirmative Action to establish that they aren’t racist.  And in my opinion, all that entails is a willingness to listen to people with opposing views and to lay some groundwork on how they came to their opinion to establish that they’re not racist.  In practice it can be messy, but I don’t think there’s anything controversial about what I said.  Regardless, this guy kept steering me towards a discussion about Affirmative Action, which frankly I didn’t want to have.  For the record, I support Affirmative Action in the broad sense, but it’s not a program I’m totally wedded to either.

At any rate, I didn’t think I was saying anything controversial- if you want someone to listen to, you should assure them you’re not someone they would rather not listen to.  But this person kept trying to present “evidence” to me about how Affirmative Action was a waste of time because non-white people are naturally not that bright.  I cut him off at that point.

There’s no particular reason why I bring this up except that I’ve run into a few of these people and all of them have been really weird.  I grew up in a place where casual racism was just part of the landscape so I’m pretty much resigned myself to the fact that some people are just like that.  But it seems like some people maybe grew up in the city, and have to go to extraordinary lengths to justify their racism, maybe to distinguish themselves from rural people I don’t know.  Several of these people have written four and five paragraph comments on various points of how we can determine intelligence based on a variety of factors, usually something to do with the geographic area they came from.  Besides the obvious fact that racism is fucking dumb, I have a few questions that never seem to get answered:

  • Just for kicks, let’s accept that natural selection favors people with certain physical characteristics in certain geographical areas.  Say, hairy people in cold areas.  Where in the world would dumb people have an advantage?  Where would intelligent people be at a disadvantage?
  • I’ve heard the argument that “well, people evolve so far, but their natural surroundings make it so they don’t have to evolve any further”.  OK, let’s accept that too.  Humans are not natural.  Duh.  They don’t act on instinct, they think about stuff.  If tribe A is made of stupid people and the tribe B is made of really smart people, and those tribes go to war… which tribe would you put your money on?  If there is intra-tribal conflict, who do you put your money on?
  • “But, but, continent A has special challenges that others don’t have.”  Really?  Then the smartest people on earth should be from Australia, a continent that is famously hostile to human life.  I have yet to hear a scientific racist make this suggestion.

But let’s be real.  If, as scientific racists’ claim that Asian people, followed by white people are the smartest, really we should recognize that Mexicans are the smartest people on earth**.  WAIT!  HEAR ME OUT!  Mexicans are a mix of Native American (people originally from Asia) and Spanish (white people with funny mustaches).  Their combined intelligences make Mexicans the smartest!  So there!

 

*I actually started this post a few days ago.  So not actually today

**Full disclosure- I am half Mexican.  Ahem.

What’s on Pop Radio right now?

This song is kind of nuts.

I’m not sure I like it so much- the hook isn’t exactly a real good one to sing along, probably because it’s too hard.  But wow.  It’s amazing that it works, because these kind of group songs usually end up tragically unbalanced.

I heard about Bang Bang and when I heard who was singing the song, but before I heard the song itself, this song came to mind-

This Lady Marmalade remake doesn’t even approach balance, and it’s a shame because Lil Kim’s verse is solid, and Pink is pretty good as well.  But if I had to break down the impact each singer has by percentage I would say it’s something like:

Mya- 2%

Pink 10%

Lil Kim 20%

Christina Aguilera- 1000%

I get it that everyone’s supposed to get a part, but even before it’s Christina’s turn she’s in the video lurking there in the back, just waiting to jump out and stomp on the rest of the group.  And when it gets to her part it’s like the volume jumps up several notches.  It must have been in her contract that all the levels would be set before anyone recorded, and she just went in and sang like three times louder than everyone else.  I’m not mocking her performance on the song, but if I were any of the other three, I’d be considering requesting that my tracks be deleted before the song was released.

But anyway, Bang Bang actually works- maybe the producer told everyone to go into the recording studio and hold nothing back.  Because the producer doesn’t hold anything back either- the arrangement is over the top too.

I’ve been following Jessie J’s career since she came out with Price Tag.  I knew she could sing, but she takes it to another level on this song.  She’s got some crazy charisma too- B.o.B. called her “colorful”- she’s someone who’s not afraid to look a little bit silly.  I’m looking forward to see what she does next.  Maybe she’ll be my new Kesha (hehe remember what I said in my last post about entertainers not being able to relax, because someone else will come along and take their place?)

I admit it, this song is kind of cute

Boy are some people upset with this song

Probably the usual gang of internet dummies, but people are getting way too uptight about this one.  Yeah, it’s not a great work of art, but it’s funny and kind of catchy.  But I tend to like most things Nicki does- the way she jumps back and forth between a brainless pop voice and her rapid-fire rap delivery on this song is particularly awesome.    I thought Noah Berlatsky had a good take on it- maybe the video isn’t made for men, it’s directed at women who like big butts.  I don’t know if that’s true, but Nicki is definitely trolling men with this.  The kitchen scene with the banana that she tosses aside and then the lap dance with Drake being left bummed out both point to the idea that she’s toying with mens’ expectations.

It’s a grind

I may have talked about this before, but at one point San Diego had several prominent bands playing out that were from where I grew up.  Most of the people were either friends or friends of friends.  It was pretty cool and it makes me wonder about how being from out in the middle of nowhere (or even, really, from anywhere besides the big, big cities like LA or NY) means there’s no one around to discourage people from giving their creative side a try.

Growing up I didn’t know anyone who was employed in any sort of creative capacity.  This may have been a blessing and curse.  It was a blessing because I had no idea how hard it is.  It was a curse because I had no idea how hard it is.

Having moved to the city I’ve met the occasional person in the entertainment industry.  What I’ve learned is that it’s a grind.  You have to keep at it year after year, slowly working your way up, at any time juggling multiple projects, always trying to make sure you get paid.  If you do get a break, you have to keep working, because if you stop working, there’s always someone eager to step in and take your job.

One of my high school friends had an older sister who was, by our town’s standards, pretty.  She dreamed of becoming a movie star.  I haven’t seen her in years, but I am pretty sure she never made it.  From what I heard, she spent years in LA.  Was that a waste of her time?  I don’t know.  Maybe someone should have told her it was a ridiculous goal.  That she was, by her early 20s, probably too old to break into the business.  Did she get anything out of those years?  Would she have been better off starting out in a less glamorous career?  Don’t know.

But there’s a happy medium there, and it’s where myself and a lot of my friends ended up- making music, doing art, etc. for fun.  Because at a certain point, if you do something long enough it just becomes something you do.  I don’t have any goal for my music anymore.  I used to, but I quickly realized that was unrealistic.  Totally unrealistic.

Stop me if I’ve told this story before (according to my wife, I tell the same story often), but one time I went to LA to see a couple of glam rock bands.  This was at the height of my glam rock era.  I went with some bandmates and saw Prima Donna and another band called S’Cool Girls.  They had an opening band that was… terrible.

I won’t name names, since who knows if they’re even a band anymore- this was at least six years ago.  But they were bad.  The bar for being a good glam rock band is higher than you think, and they weren’t even close to reaching it.  It really made me think, damn I don’t want to be like that.  I had to really take a hard look at what skills I had and realized that while I was skinny as heck at the time, that was about the only box I had checked on the be a good glam rocker list.

That being said, I also wasn’t told from a young age that anything less than awesome was lame.  I had several years in the beginning where my band was terrible.  Especially me.  But I didn’t give up, I kept at it until I got to be a decent player and a decent performer.

This song is so good.  I listened to it like 10 times today:

Great Albums: Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed

So for my 250th post I am going to talk a little bit about one of my favorite albums ever.  The Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed.

LetitbleedRS

I have mentioned this before, but I grew up in a small town with limited radio, almost none of it rock and roll.  So my rock and roll education came almost entirely from my parents’ collection.  Let It Bleed was one of the five or six Stones albums my parents had, and was the most recent chronologically.

The other albums my parents had were their early blues records.  Those are fun records to listen to still, but there’s a huge divide between those and Let It Bleed.  In fact, it’s fashionable to divide the Stones’ career between Pre and Post Beggar’s Banquet, and I agree mostly that this is how they should be seen.  That was when they really matured as a band.  Or when they became irrevocably debauched.  In their case it might just be the same thing.

Anyway, also in fashion is to state that the four albums they put out in this era- Beggar’s Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main St.- are mostly the same level of quality and that picking the best of the four is mostly a matter of taste.  I agree with this in theory, but since my parents only owned one of these, Let It Bleed is the best, and it’s grown better as I get older.

When I was a kid it was a collection of crazy songs with a funny cover of a cake made out of junk that’s destroyed on the back cover.  I had to get older to know what some of the songs were about.  I had to get older than that to understand some of the feelings conveyed in the music.

Let’s review some songs-

I don’t know if there’s much to say about Gimme Shelter that hasn’t already been said.  It overplayed and used too often in movies.  It’s also one of the best songs of the 60s.

I wasn’t there so who knows, maybe I’m full of it, but I’ve always assumed that the great struggles of the 60s must have taken a toll on a lot of people, and this song captures that.  It’s a haunting song.  Keith Richards claimed to never like writing topical songs or songs about politics because one day they’d stop being relevant.  There is that risk.  But sometimes having a song that acts like a time capsule is a great thing too.

And purely in technical terms it’s masterful in how it keeps building in intensity.  The Rolling Stones were great at arranging songs to sound like they weren’t actually arranged.

Love in Vain is a nice choice for second- the first so is so intense it’s good to unwind a bit

By this time the Stones could actually do some decent blues.  The guitar is really pretty as well.

Country Honk was ruined for me by that scourge of record listeners everywhere- the record skipping.

That ever happen to you?  You have a song you like, but somewhere along the way the record gets scratched and that sound of a record skipping every single time at the same point in the song becomes etched into your mind, so that every time you hear the song you cringe, expecting the record to skip?  It happens to me, even when I hear it in a format that can’t possibly skip- like the internet

the sweetest ballroom queen I met in Memphis,

in Memphis,

in Memphis,

in Memphis,

in Memphis

Arrrrrrrgh!

Live with Me is the funkiest song on the album

I loved this song and its wild, anarchic sound.  I had no idea what it was about.  This was my favorite song on the album when I was a kid.  So nasty, and such an epic ending when the piano players starts going for it.

Just after that Let It Bleed takes nasty to another level.

Like Love in Vain, this is the song that tones it down a bit after a fast rocker.  As a child I knew what breasts were, so I had an inkling of what was going on in the song, even if I couldn’t have said exactly what.  I had no idea why Mick was singing so slow.  I have a better idea of what he was trying to convey by doing that now.

Midnight Rambler is a song I liked better when I was a kid.  It’s just a little too long.  I’ve never really cared for You Got the Silver.  Oh well, every album has a dud or two.

Monkey Man strikes me as sort of a throwback to when the Rolling Stones were trying to write pop songs, but with an edge to it.

The piano is really pretty.  Wikipedia tells me that the other instrument in the beginning of the song is vibraphone.  Didn’t know that.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want always struck me as an attempt to provide something uplifting at the end of an album full of danger, fear, cooks who are whores, visiting parking lots for “coke and sympathy” and sticking knives down people’s throats.  Like the Stones are trying to make listeners feel better about themselves after their journey to the depths of depravity and I’ve always been grateful for them doing that.

One of the great things about the Rolling Stones is how they can work in so many different genres but always sound exactly like themselves.  Like the Stones don’t bend their music to play in other genres, genres bend to make room for the Stones.

Anyway, 250 posts feels like a real milestone.  I honestly can’t believe I’ve kept at it for as long as I have.  It’s been very interesting though, and thanks to everyone who reads this.  I’ll try to keep ‘em coming!

Damn it feels good to be a gangster

Just a warning- this is a post about some questions I have.  I don’t think there will be any answers, mostly just thinking aloud.

I was thinking about this scene from Office Space today

Because I was listing to Waka Flocka Flame at my desk.  With my headphones on.

I like this song.  It’s got a palpable sense of anger and dread hanging over it.  It’s not something I listen to every day, but for whatever reason I was in the mood for it.

But I was listening to it with headphones on.  Frankly, I might feel a bit like Michael Bolton from Office Space if someone heard me listening to it.  Why though?  I mean, it’s just music, right?

I think there are two jokes in that scene- one is the ridiculousness of a nerdy white dude rapping and the other is when he sees a black man selling flowers he not only rolls up his windows, but he locks his door.  The implication is obvious – if he had just rolled up his window we could assume he just didn’t want to be hassled.  But locking the door means he’s actually afraid of that man.  He’s rapping to scary black music, but he’s afraid of black people!

I found this scene funny when I saw it, but there’s something deeper to it that I’m trying to pick apart.  I mean, why can’t this dude sing along to some rap music?  I have a cousin who refers to herself as a “country chick” but she’s spent her whole life in Orange County, living within a five minute drive of the Pacific Ocean.  It wasn’t until about a minute ago when I was trying to think of an example of someone I know whose musical taste is way outside of their life that it even occurred to me that there’s anything unusual about that.  Actually, I don’t think it’s that weird.  Country music is as much suburban people music as it is music for rural people.  If she were claiming she could drive a tractor that would be weird.

The other thing is that the guy who made the movie is a white man- Mike Judge in a movie directed at a white audience.  We’re all supposed to look at this and laugh.  Because we’d all know that a white man listening to rap is weird.

I’m going to skip discussion of whether singing along to rap music by white people is OK, if a certain word is used.  My opinion on that subject isn’t really all that interesting.

I was young in the 90s so I was around for the big freakout about “gangster rap”.  But in the end, part of the appeal of gangster rap for white people is that they’re living vicariously by listening to it.  It’s exciting to identify, if only in the most abstract sense, with someone bravely looking at a world of constant danger and fighting against it.  Even conquering it.  I’m not saying there’s nothing ethically questionable there- for some of these rappers this is their real life, and sometimes that music has real life consequences for people.

But I always thought it was odd that right around the time people were freaking out about gangster rap, one of the most critically acclaimed and popular movies was this:

Goodfellas

Gangster MOVIES!  FREAK OUT EVERYONE!

But seriously, what’s the difference?  I’m no more Italian than I am black.  Just like I’d probably have no luck moving to the ghetto and joining a gang, I’d never make it as a mobster.  But for some reason, listening to music is taken as an endorsement of something, but watching a movie is not.  If someone walked into the room and I was rocking out to Waka Flocka Flame, I might turn it down and be a little bit embarrassed.  But I wouldn’t hastily try to change the channel if I were watching The Godfather.