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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

We Built this City on Bad Lists - Part I

Everyone likes to make lists of things they like or don't like. I occasionally dabble with a list of my favourite films (Top 3: Carl Theodore Dryer's Ordet, Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, and Werener Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God and not Police Academy I, II, and III as Stew claims out loud at dinner parties1). Popular music is an especially ripe vineyard for such lists, being that the average quality of any pop song falls in the range just below the Turducken2 on the class and sophistication scale, and just above steamed bile.

So, it comes as no great surprise that Generation-Y3, Rolling Stone wannabee periodical Blender has produced their own list. What is a surprise is both the number of fair to decent songs on it, and the large amount of musical offal missing... Also, that there were no receipes for orange smoothies anywhere in this month's edition.

Now, the first part of this criticism should be obvious enough. Magazine writers who literally ache for hipness and relevance, as the authors of Blender's list clearly do, are duty-bound to include a few popular favourites in amongst the skewering. Taking the mickey out of these beloved tunes is intended to demonstrate their cool, intellectual superiority to the average moron who subscribes to their magazine. As I've noted on occasion, such self-promulgated controversy also makes for ear-catching opening lines at cocktail parties. (As in, "Yeah baby, that was me who trashed the Beatles song in that 'Worst Songs' piece. Might I add that you look very foxy in that skirt."4)

Of course, this attempt never works, as ably demonstrated by Blender's over-ambitious, self-parodying choices in this vein. The average reader's retort is going to be along the lines of "'The Sounds of Silence' - one of the worst songs of all time? No, you're just an obnoxious, self-important jackass of a prat for thinking so." My own thoughts along these lines were that I could ask the writers in-person about the choices in a few years, just as soon as they shut up asking me whether I want to super-size my meal or not.

To back my argument, I could simply point to Blender's choice of "Billy Jean" as the "Greatest Song Since You Were Born."5 Sure, it's a decent tune with a nice beat from Michael Jackson's pre-Neverland, disturbing slumber-party days. It's still "Billy Jean" though - the song with enough verbal tics in it to give someone a non-dance related seizure.

However, for rock solid proof of the list's insipidness, here are just a few of the songs Blender felt compelled to name among the "50 Worst Ever:"

  • The Heart of Rock-n-Roll - Huey Lewis and the News - All right, it's not Beethoven, but it beats the socks off of the latest Justin Timberlake, over-sampled, "I'm too sexy for Janet Jackson's brasserie," funk-wannabe tripe.
  • Don't Worry, Be Happy - Bobby McFerrin - Yes, yes, it's completely annoying, but worse than Ricky Martin's She Bangs? Have some sense of proportion!
  • Ebony and Ivory - Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney - Some of the blokes at Blender must be skinheads to find offense with this charming, inoffensive, if musically average tune. They are right in that the Eddie Murphy/Joe Piscopo parody is marginally better, if by better they mean "funnier."
  • Kokomo - The Beach Boys - A classic example of the psuedo-hip airs put on by these types. Brian Wilson wouldn't have liked it, so nyaah. Wilson was busy recording "Baby, Let Your Hair Grow Long." Remember that classic? I don't, not even in Clairol adverts.
  • Superman - Five for Fighting - A song based on a comic book character? Obviously, this one hit too close to home for the writers (and their libraries). Nonetheless, this quietly ironic song will long be remembered after unpurchased issues of Blender are filling New Jersey landfills. Oh, hang on a tic, that would be today.
  • Shiny, Happy People - REM - Clearly, the boys at Blender don't get irony or satire at all. Also, anyone who trashes Kate Pierson's vocals needs to have their hearing checked. Sure, she can't grunt like Ashley Simpson or affect a cyborg with teen angst like Morrisette, but she does that whole singing gig extremely well.

This is exactly the kind of psuedo-bohemian, snobbish, claptrap one would expect from these uptight, Robert Christgau-wannabes. You simply can't get a truly coherent "worst songs" list from a bunch that's obviously busy taking hits of vodka and Mountain Dew, in-between turns at Halo3, and prank calling the International Celine Dion Fan Club (as entertaining as that last bit can be6).

At one point, not satisfied with brow-beating the musical establishment, they even describe evangelical Christians as "weirder" than kids with white hair. As if anyone is going to accept the social criticism of Maxim knock-offs whose idea of humor and taste seems to be centered around feigning disgust at the clumsy sexual references in the songs on the list whilst making up wanking euphemisms.

Part II of this little rant will focus on what they missed in the process of poseuring, if indeed that is the word I mean.7

1. Persons having seen Mr. Miller, please write us at earlfando@yahoo.com, as he's not turned up in awhile.
2. Note to future receipe writers: Any dish with the letters "t-u-r-d" in the name is automatically suspect.
3. As in, "Y are we doing all this stupid crap?"
4. As an aside, it almost goes without saying that the worst possible follow-up line to that one is, "Oh, that's a kilt, you say? That does explain the hairy legs." This is usually followed by a quick trip to the cash bar for some variety of whisky that is anything but Scotch.
5. That would be "yesterday morning" from what I can gather of the article.
6. F. Johnny Lee has asked me to assure Ms. Dion's fans that it was not I who repeatedly called them between 4:00 and 4:30 a.m. last Tuesday asking where one might purchase the treacle used in most of her songs, given its exceptional sweetness.
7. With apologies to Wodehouse, of course.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Dumbledore Outed?

J.K. Rowling let drop a surprising bit of news during one of the stops on her international "Save Face" tour: Dumbledore was gay1. (Spoiler warning below for anyone who happens to care.)

Perhaps this explains all those intense, private conversations with Harry at the end of each book. I suppose that's also why Dumbledore had a Phoenix as a pet. Authors never can get in enough "flaming" jokes, you know. At least she didn't make his favourite food mince pie.

Now, let's get one thing straight, if you'll pardon the expression. Obviously an author can have a gay character(s) in a book series if they so choose. Regardless of the divergent feelings and beliefs many people have about homosexuality, and how in-depth one might plumb the subject (FYI - that was not a direct reference to Headmaster Dumbledore), if J.K. Rowling decided that Albus Dumbledore was gay, that's up to her and her underused editors.

However, it's a pity she declined to mention that little detail in the bloody books. There were so many myraid others, why leave this eyebrow-raising factoid out? Why violate that little age-old writing rule about putting important facts about your characters in the actual work of literature in question? What's one more page out of the several thousand written?

She said that Dumbledore "fell in love" with the evil wizard Grindelwald. This must have been during the friendship described very generally in 'Deathly Hallows. That's also odd, because I thought mates could only be mates (in the strictly British sense, of course) in Rowling's books... you know, like Harry and Hermione... sibling love and all that, no matter how obviously committed and emotionally intimate they appear to anyone over the age of 13. Maybe there's something to those Harry/Ron fan fictions I keep hearing about after all?

Really though, the sense one gathers from these kinds of post-novelisation announcements is that of an author desperately pandering to a general audience too smitten with the author to realise that not only did Rowling not have a single openly gay character in her series2, but that the fate of the only one she's identified was to fall off a tall building after being horribly poisoned. I'm sure many intelligent members of the gay community are thinking to themselves, "Charming, that."

This is what happens when you leave several thousand plot holes in your writing. You spend the rest of your days trying to patch them up with unrelated details and appeals to members of your reading public that you may have overlooked. It's like trying to patch up the Titanic from the sea floor. It only calls attention to itself by its futility.3

What's next? Was Hagrid was a Rastafarian? Madam Hooch a secret naturist? Lupin an avid philatelist?

Well, she's very rich now, so I suppose she has the leisure time.

1. I say was because, well... by now you've all read the sixth book or the latter part of this post.
2. All right, there was Gilderoy Lockhart too, I'll give you that.
3. To ironically cement this critical view, Stephen King actually compares Rowling to Martin Amis (among others! He also quotes Shakespeare in his review of the series). That's rather like Lou Costello comparing the Ritz Brothers to Harold Lloyd. One can almost hear Rowling pleading "Just shut your gob and say you liked the book, Stephen!"

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Round Men and Beverages - A Contemporary Vision

So, after over a week off, during which I was only able to consume one adult beverage and was not "lying face down in a drainage ditch, smashed with Irish whiskey," as our legal rep F. Johnny Lee cheerfully suggested over a recent repast of sushi, hot wings and burritos, I return to find Jorge waxing sentimental1 about Orson Welles' Paul Masson television adverts.

As much as Jorge writes like someone who has had more than a few sips at the Paul Masson troth himself, he is onto something. There was a time in American television history when the sight of a sodden, yet breezily elegant Orson Welles, hawking cheap California wines, rose to the airy heights of dry, advertisement-less BBC programming in terms of civilised mass communications. (I'm thinking of Panorama, World Business Report and Tomorrow's World of course.) That this occurred in an age when the earthy, obvious charms of programmes like All in the Family and Happy Days were all the rage is even more astounding.

So, why aren't there U. S. adverts of such quiet, cultivated appeal in this day and age? There should be, and so I've made a few suggestions below regarding who could be the "huge round man behind the table... to sell the delicious beverage" as Jorge so eloquently put it. This could take U.S. television advertising back to its salad days2, in my humble opinion. Of course Welles wasn't exactly in, pardon the expression, huge demand at the time, so it could bankrupt American advertising as well. It's a no-win situation, as far as I'm concerned.

  • James Gandolfini selling Bartles and James from an aeroport diner
  • George Wendt hawking O'Douls from behind a card table
  • John Goodman selling HiC from a truck stop booth
  • Wayne Knight hyping Snapple from a picnic table in Times Square
  • Jack Black trumpeting soy milk from the skids of a helicopter at 1000 feet
  • Ernest Borgnine soliciting for Mountain Dew Game Fuel from behind the wheel of a funny car
  • Chef Paul Prudhomme pitching Clam Juice from inside a Tilt-a-Whirl

Ahhh, I can just feel the class oozing across my computer screen.

1. Well, "sentimental" is the closest word I could think of.
2. No, not to sell salad. Listen, you're missing the whole point.

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