Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Until Next Episode

In order to start this post, you have to picture me in a restaurant. I’ve just gotten off work early at 6:15 PM from a job that I don’t particularly enjoy very much, but which I happen to find myself good at. The mild air of the day has begun to turn and the frigid breeze of the night has left my face red as I step into the tight, gold warmth of the Little Italy restaurant. I unfurl the worn purple, grey and brown scarf that I wear, which was inherited from a grandfather I never met. As I look up, I see my mother and my sister sitting upstairs at a table with my aunt, my uncle, and their three children: boy, boy, girl – none older than eleven. Neil Young is ringing in my ears as I sit down and I feel especially strong, ragged and young, but also vulnerable, because I have to pretend that I’m not invincible to this people, because I’m actually not – I just feel that way when I’m hungry and remember that I’m young in a world full of strangers and tall buildings.

So, I sit down. Hugs and kisses are exchanged. The kids are cute, funny and well behaved as always. I eat bread with sundries tomatoes and oil. I ask my sister if she liked “500 Days of Summer.” I ask my one little cousin what book he’s reading. I ask my other little cousin why he doesn’t like samurai. Then, because the adults at the table have seen me grow from book to book and from not liking certain action figures, and because they love me, they ask me questions.

“When are you leaving the job, Matt?”

“At the end of the month.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m not really sure. I think it will work out.

“What do you like?”

“I like to write”

“But what do you like?”

“I like basketball and music.”

“Well there you go.”

“I like writing about my generation. What they are doing. The choices they make and don’t make.”

“That’s what’s interesting about your generation. There isn’t any kind of defining voice.”

That last line is what my uncle said to me. It wasn’t a revelation to me, but it articulated, very simply some of the ideas that have been swirling around in my head recently as I have begun to think of these end of the decade sentiments, columns and lists that are being distributed and waxed upon. Now it is very true that all generations don’t have a defining voice or a theme to bind them together. It is very true that the idea of a “generational voice” or a “united generation” is just an object that is produced and presented to us as a commodity to help understand time better. All of this may be true, but that doesn’t stop us from asking, “Yeah, but what about me? What about my generation?”

I am not going to try to sum up this generation, nor am I going to try to sum up this decade, I am simply going to write about what I have seen and how it appears to me. What I have seen of late, is the summation of this past decade as one of superficiality: the Paris Hilton decade, The American Idol decade, the Kardashian Decade. However, for as many people as I have seen welcome high-paying jobs, platinum jeans, revolving door cell phones, I have seen just as many people reject the same allures. And why is that superficiality wrong? What is wrong with accepting objects in order to make you happy? What is wrong with being able to buy things for people in your life to make them happy? This comment is not meant to be facetious. This life and this world are made up of objects. The image of an investment banker is the same object as the image of an artist – both can be crated and bartered like anything else.

To harp on a subject of great interest to me, Mad Men has certainly given us insight into this trait I am talking about. In the first season of Mad Men, Don Draper shacks up with his artsy mistress who is living in Greenwich Village. Draper smokes weed with his mistress and her bohemian friends who scoff at him because of his slick and polished appearance. At the end of the episode, when the bohemians are nervous about approaching cops outside of the apartment building, it is a stoned Don Draper who is able to walk out to continue on his life with a simple, “You can’t go out there.” What does this mean? This means identity. Both the artist identity and the ad man identity are one in the same – they are both goods, disguises we put on. Draper is constantly battling what disguise he is going to wear and which one works for him. His office identity is the one that fits him best, as he says to Peggy in season three:

“There are people out there who buy things. People like you and me. Then something happened. Something terrible. And the way that they saw themselves... is gone. And nobody understands that. But you do. And that's very valuable.”

Is this quote not essentially true for this generation, this decade? “Something terrible” always happens to us in varying degrees and we can’t see ourselves. That the something terrible can be as disparate as anything in this world, but it is usually tied to time. So we try disguises, we try objects to try to find that thing that is real to us, that thing that we can take with us.

The novel Netherlands by Joseph O’Neill covered the same issues. The narrator of the novel has a successful finance job and his wife is a high-powered attorney. His wife becomes extremely affected by the 9/11 attacks and can’t feel safe living in New York, while the narrator, always feeling distant from his actual life (much like a Nick Caraway), doesn’t completely understand her distress. It takes their separation and his subsequent friendship with a Trinidadian gambler to understand that he has always been looking for something real that is his. From his fragmented childhood on, he has only been left of vague images and memories of who he is and where he came from. The narrator begins to understand that this is something that is wife values and that it is actually something that he values as well. His wife is concerned with what is hers, which is their child and living in an “unsafe” city. Once the narrator begins to understand how to connect to his own life, he can begin to understand what belongs to him and what he can take with him.

Even little Wall-E, as he rolled along the brown debris on the earth and found the inherent joy in the smallest objects, couldn’t take it with him. Just like all the humans who left the garbage couldn’t take that with them. It is through objects that we may gain access to “the incorruptible eon of the gods,” but that isn’t where that realm lays - that soundless, floating, reach of space of the soul.

Perhaps this struggle has caused such great music to be created in this past decade. There have been phenomenal new albums that have come out in the last ten years; some of my all-time favorite artists have come of age since 2000 and some of my all-time favorite albums have been released in the same space. Maybe it is the inevitability and the immediacy of communication and information. Maybe it is the fact that we can Google the answer to any question, even the questions that the great art spent answering, like “what is love?” We can now Google, “clinically, when am I supposed to fall in love?” We can even Google ourselves and people we don’t even know.

Now, I know I’m supposed to be funny – and I AM. And believe me, I love every second of my computer and the abilities I have to Google “when do I fall in love?” “How fat should I be if I am 5’10?” or “Animal Collective new album leak MPP blog .rar.” However, we have been shown this new decade of “superficiality.” We have been shown jobs in finance, accounting, but have been left wanting more. The past ten years have offered a fluid glimpse into the lives of the privileged, of what money offers. However, in the end, with the economy already failed, we have been given an even greater look at the invincibility of the American Dream. Perhaps that term is even too narrow. What we are truly talking about is “promise.” This decade as it comes to its close, to a book-ended and encapsulated commodity to be sold like the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s or 90’s leaves us on the precipice looking at the promise of the next decade to come. It leaves us as someone who was once very dear to me said, “with infinite potential.” It leaves us with the ability to overtake the old institutions and I’d like to think that this has come and has been earned without the incessant marketing of our President as a good and the term change as a vegetable. I’d like to think the palpable opportunity of the next decade, and the indecision and searching of all the peers I look to, is because of the fact that institutions won’t satisfy us and will not dictate us. We will elect our presidents, we will respect and appreciate them, but they will not dictate our creativity or ambition – that is and should be left to us alone.

In the end, though, it’s back to the basketball, the music, and the beer. However, that doesn’t change the fact that I work hard at and am damn good at a job I don’t care about. That I love my family. That this world is strange and changeful and that I am going to have to fail in order to ever find something worth searching for, worth making real. That nothing feels like its mine and every evening I am left standing on the doorstep, hungry, invincible and with the wind whipping on my face. And maybe I’m not like a dog, maybe I’m just young and unappreciative, and maybe that’s all that it ever is. However, I’ve heard the chimes at midnight, just like the rest of you.

I’ll see you in 2010.

Editor's note: Ten Things I Hate About You really should have been number 9 on the Top 20 Movies to Watch on TV. It really is one of the top movies to watch on TV. The girl from Alex Mack plays the hot girl. A career defining performance by the late Heath Ledger. The only movie with both Ledger and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in it - arguably two of the best young actors of the past decade- plus the one friend looks like my buddy Jeff (except my man Jeff is skinnier). You would watch this on TV. Come on.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Too Bad I Like It...

These year-end lists can be intoxicating. I read them and I just want to argue the merits of the way a list plays out with each of my friends. In my mind, we sit over a freshly French pressed organic brew, gesticulating in a dimly lit cafe with half burnt cigarettes between our ring and middle fingers.

"Zis Springsteen alboom ise shite."

We speak in some sort of accent that is vaguely French, German and Irish.

But seriously, I have been seeing all of the usual year end lists carted out in attempt to sum up the year. This year has been even worse because it is the end of a decade so now writers attempt to sum up the cultural importance of this year of music, film, theatre, TV and current events as a microcosm for the entire decade. Now, don't get me wrong, if I had a weekly column to write and I needed to meet a quota, then I would list it up without a doubt. In fact, I don't have any deadlines to meet, any column quotas to make and I have given you (the GOOD reader) three straight list posts (oops! I just spoiled the ending for this week). However, after seeing these lists placed in each newspaper I read, each website I visit and each egg roll I eat for dinner, the summaries have become a bit repetitive. Because I am a constuctive and optimistic person, I am going to halt my naysaying here and bow to the year-end list, because they are entertaining to read. I will also bow to the decade summary column, because I will be putting my own spin on that very same column, this very same week (I'm actually going to work on this one, cogent ideas, worthwhile theories, etc.).

So, without further ado, I submit to you my "Top Ten Albums of 2009." Now keep in mind that the criteria for this list was not that an album had to necessarily be made or released in 2009, but rather that I listened to it 2009 and thought it made my top ten. The criteria for that top ten being its relevance to me and also how good the music actually is. You may call this subjective (and oh it is) but if we are going to tango, we might as well go all the way and not regret the damn thing in the morning when we are wearing each other's clothes.

As I was saying:

10. Little Feat - "Little Feat"

When I wanted a "go-t0" album for party music this year, I picked up Little Feat's self-titled first album. This sounds like Exile on Main Street-era Stones before the Stones even hit that stride. However close Lowell George and the boys come to sounding like Mick and the Stones, they don't have the same experience and cunning to make it as iconic as the Stones did, yet, there is a looseness here that can't be denied. On "Strawberry Flats" when the band hits those high notes with all of the backing vocals added in, you can see the bar laid out in front of you. The piano is especially terrific on the whole album and you can also hear the a little bit of the roots of Jay Farrar's delivery on some of the vocal tracks. The whole album is a must listen of course, but you can't skip "Druck Store Girl," "Snakes on Everything," "Strawberry Flats" and "Crazy Captain Gunboat Willie."

9. Julian Casablancas - "Phrazes for the Young"

This album was not widely regarded as a success and again Julian picks an odd title for an album (First Impressions of Earth?) that tries to hard to make a generational statement, however, I thought it was one of the best albums to come out this year. Julian overreaches in some parts, but you can't deny that overall, he is very much in control of his sound. The first song "Out of the Blue" is all driving guitars like a brand new Strokes song until we reach the chorus and the synthesizers come in and the song reaches a hook that rivals and perhaps betters any Strokes song and a lot of the top singles of the 80's as well. "Ludlow Street" has gotten the most press because of its wide mixture of genres (country shuffle, rock, electronica) but for me it isn't one of the must listens. "11th Dimension" is obviously the pop hit, but it is the lyrics of "Left and Right in the Dark" and the album closer "Tourist" that really show where Julian has reached a new level of maturity. "Tourist" especially leaves you feeling impressed at where he is standing at his career.

8. Fleetwood Mac - "Rumors"

Obviously a lot has been written about this album. Admittedly, I have been a late arrival to its praise. This year I did give myself the chance to listen to it, not out of any sort of heartbreak, but merely because the time had come. The familiarity of the songs can be jarring at first, however, as you follow the course of the entire album, each song feels right at home and you suddenly lose your identification of songs like "Go Your Own Way" as songs that were overplayed by your classic rock radio station and remember them as "yeah I love that song that comes after 'Don't Stop'. Oh yeah, I love 'Don't Stop'" The album never lets up from the first song "Secondhand News" (my favorite) on. And there aren't many songs that are more fun than "I Don't Want to Know."

7. Paul Simon - "Paul Simon"

At about this time last year, I began looking deeper into Paul Simon's solo catalogue. I had grown up, like most people, listening to Graceland on vinyl at my friend Erik's house when his mom was out and smoking pot on the roof while we tilted the speakers out the window outside towards his lawn. I knew some of the other singles like "Kodachrome" because it was used in every "looking back on growing up montage" in movies. As I was looking into Simon's catalogue, I realized that I had gotten his first solo album a few years ago, but had never really delved into it. Last winter, I took my time in knowing defining songs like "Mother and Child Reunion," which is one of the most lyrically true and moving songs written on Planet Earth, "Peace like a River" and "Run That Body Down." There are also the slighter songs like my favorite "Papa Hobo" (ok it has the line "its a natural reaction I learned in this basketball town" of course I love it) and the album ender "Congratulations," which could be one of Paul Simon's most underrated songs. It is Paul, acoustic guitar and organ, but manages to sound so big when he repeats "love is not a game". If there were an actual church, temple, or mosque that mattered, this would be the music that they played. Holy and simple.

6. Bon Iver - "For Emma, Forever Ago"

This was one of the darling albums of 2008 and I know that. But you saw how it snowed last week, right? This album is the sound of fresh snow. I listened to this extensively last winter (a lot when I was writing) and the breeze of songs like "Flume" were truly inspiring in their simplicity and in how natural they came off without any contrivance of being natural. This may have something to do with Bon Iver's insane voice, which actually sounds like wind. Balance this appeal with the anthemic sound of songs like "For Emma" with its mournful yet celebratory horns (see I like paradox) and the explosive rises in "Creature Fear" and you have an album that will truly hold up years from now. This album blows in, rises, passes and is over before you know it. And once its gone, its like the end of that first snowy night - you just want it back again.

5. Grizzly Bear - "Veckatimest"

I jumped on the Grizzly Bear bandwagon right after Yellow House with everyone else. While I enjoyed that album's ability to explode and change dynamics at a turn, I did feel that the songs went on too long and could be too languid. I hoped that they would reign in that explosiveness into finely crafted songs that didn't exceed the three to four minute mark. When "Two Weeks" first popped upin the summer of 2008 on the Letterman Show, I thought that Grizzly Bear had realized this potential. It turns out they hadn't, but they still made one hell of an album in Veckatimest. It is a much more psychedellic album than Yellow House and features more hooks and songs that stand alone than that album as well. "Southern Point" is one of their finest and most manic songs; we know about "Two Weeks" and the incessant stomp of "While You Wait for the Others"; "Ready, Able" was one of the pleasant surprises, but there are songs on this album that are real "glue songs," and it is obvious what their job is. A song like "About Face" is unremarkable, but in the realm of this album it becomes a welcome respite after "Ready Able" and after the album's pinnacle "While You Wait for the Others", "I Live With You" and "Foreground" help end the album on two very different provocative notes. Had those two songs closed out another album, I don't know that they work as well or are rendered as memorable as they do in their placement here. That is the great merit of this album: it worked much better as an album than Yellow House, which felt at times like "oh, look, there's 'Knife'."

4. Fleetwood Mac - "Tusk"

The discussion of this album deserves its own post entirely and I will get to that someday, but for now I need to keep it concise. The follow-up to Rumors, this album is as schizophrenic as them come. It feels like Buckingham and Everyone Else, which is what makes it work so well. Buckingham's songs come on like distorted Buddy Holly stomps and Brian Wilson Jr. compositions, while Stevie Nick's wicked witchery is kicked up in places ("Sisters of the Moon") and refined in others ("Sara"), and all the while Christine McVie is singing some of the sweetest and melodic songs put to music (besides McCartney). The range of emotions that the album covers from "Ledge" to "That's All For Everone" to "Honey Hi" to "Tusk" to "Never Forget" is almost unparalleled. There is a reason why this is the ultimate Sunday afternoon/evening album.

3. Neil Young - "After the Goldrush"

I have always been a great Neil Young fan. The Ditch Trilogy touches a part of me that not a lot of other music has been able to. When I was in bad places, I held my copy of Zuma over my chest and recited the lyrics to "My Country Tis of Thee." However, I never gave this album enough attention as I did to his other work. This album kicked around my car when I was a little kid and when I first heard the song "After the Goldrush" when I was seven years old, it was the first time I have a memory of a palpable feeling of melancholy - what that melancholy was, I don't know and still don't, which is probably why Neil Young can sing in the voice he sings on in that song: it's just a mystery. You can't escape the walls on this album "Oh, Lonesome Me," "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," "I Believe in You" and the title track. Nor can you escape Neil's taste for levity and groove on "Until the Morning Comes" and "Cripple Creek Ferry". And there is the inevitable ragged glory of "Southern Man" and "When You Dance You Can Really Love." You want one song to steal the show, because it seems like that's the way it should play out, but it never does - they're all phenomenal.

2. Wilco - "Wilco(The Album)

I've already written a full post about this album this year. You all know how I feel about the self-referential aspects of the album title and the opening song. This band is perhaps my favorite band of all time so I am biased and openly biased. Their latest album hit me in just the right way. As I see people assessing the past decade - the ups and downs, the illusions and the promise that the next ten years will hope to build on until it too becomes a commodity - this album showing a working band assessing its career and its ability to always come back with a new approach on each successive album seemed to make sense and seemed timely in a strange way. The album is filled with excercises and poses from Wilco's entire career, but they never feel posed or contrived - Wilco are just telling you that this is what they do and what they can do and we should all appreciate it, because with each chance they have taken on each successive album they have become this band. So let's have them continue on and let's allow our young bands to do the same. I hope they don't become Springsteen.

1. Animal Collective "Merriweather Post Pavilion"

Oh, come on! This one was going to be obvious. The album of the year, the album of the moment, of the movement. You can't deny it. Its all been said: endlessly experimental, accessible, a communal album. However, my friend recently brought up a good point when thinking back on Merriweather Post Pavilion. He said to me, "I hope that Animal Collective don't start making world music." And its true, what is experimental and accessible about this album about "Brothersport" and about "Taste" can on a turn become some sort of bland ambient world music that all races can listen to, which is a strange thing to say about rock music. However, the great thing about Animal Collective is that we never have to worry about that actually happening, because they write lyrics like "I want to walk around with you," and "I want four walls with adobe slabs for my girls." They say these things and actually mean them - which is what is important, because phrases like those and the sentiments behind them, are what the greatest art is made of. Now, if only they can reincorporate some of that alienation and regret from "Cuckoo Cuckoo". Maybe next year...

Next, the decade summary as seen from 2009.

Now, the next installment of "From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt"


They put the drape over her body. I could see the last glimpse of the red along her ribcage. Then it was all blue.

“We’ll take it from here, Dr. O’Donnell.”

I nodded and watched as they wheeled her corpse down the hall. I looked over at the nurse’s desk. They looked down at their paperwork.

My shoes clacked against the floor. It was freshly waxed. I was wearing dress shoes. I got to my office and realized I still had my gloves on. The blood was turning dark and dry on them. It already looked old.

I opened the door peeling my left glove off. Connor was sitting in one of the chairs that faced my desk. He was still wearing his scrubs too. He didn’t turn around.

I pulled off my left glove and the band smacked rubber.

“What is it, Connor?”


“What the fuck do you want to say to me?”

He turned around. That one strand stretching across his forehead.

“It’s over, Ben.”

I take another drink of the Cutty and place the bottle down next to my record player. I kneel down and open up the cabinet below. I run my hand along the musty smelling carboard of the vinyl covers. I know just where I want to go. Let it Bleed. I slide it out and pull the sleeve off, holding the record gently on the edges. I place it on the turntable. I pick up the needle and line it up on the track line. The black wax is spinning and now the old crackles come from the speakers – strumming guitars.

Well we all need someone we can lean on
And if you want it, you can lean on me.
Well we all need somone we can lean on
And if you want it, you can lean on me.

Jagger is singing like he always wanted to be a cowboy. When I hear a Stones song like this I remember all of the smokey bars and clubs I’ve been in. The times when people crowded around and the talk itself was pure energy and no matter how bad I felt the next day if I could get some of that feeling in me again I knew I would be alright – the invisible vision of a good time and of tinkling glasses. How much of that is just the elusiveness of youth? Because I can remember how important everything felt just because I was young and could talk to people and people knew me and knew about my legendary nights and bouts with the bottle. Now who knows me? I’m sitting alone in a study that is made up of years, pictures, books and dust like anything else. What is that thing that is always on the tip of your tongue when you’re young? Is it a word? The answer would mean a whole lot.

Yeah, we all need someone we can dream on
And if you want it, well you can dream on me.
Yeah, we all need someone we can cream on
And if you want to, well you can cream on me.

When you think about it, though, life can be very simple. Like our engagement party. Rose’s father – old Gerald with his stately moustache drinking Tokaj in a teacup – had it in the VFW Hall basement. He’d done well as a lawyer but he liked the basic things. He was just an average guy. All of our friends were behind the little concession counter they had giving out cups and cups of beer while above them the the menu was missing letters. Ham urger. F ench Fri. Pe s – Cola. My dad dancing with Rose and her mother. I watched them twisting their legs and feet when Gerald clasped his hand on my shoulder.

“You’re a smart kid, Ben.”

“You saw that article too?”

He had a hearty laugh that sounded as though everything funny surprised him, or as if it were the first joke that had ever been invented.

“No, but I mean it. I’ve never met a quicker young man than you.”

“Thanks, Gerald.”

“I’m very happy for the two of you.”

“That means a lot.”

“You’re going to do right by her? Aren’t you?”

“What do you mean?”

He pulled up the waist of his pants, they were already a little high.

“I mean a smart young man like you – things come easy. I know you’ve got a lot of ambition. I just hope it doesn’t tempt you too far. So far that my daughter might suffer because of it. You know I can always put in a word at the firm for you. I know you haven’t studied for that but you should consider…”

We all need someone we can feed on
And if you want it, well you can feed on me.
Take my arm, take my leg
Oh, baby, dont you take my head.

“No,” I said firmly. Maybe I was too firm. “You don’t need to help me out with your firm. We’re going to be alright. I love Rose. I know that.”

“That’s what I thought and I’m happy. That’s also what I’m afraid of.”

He turned, grabbing my shoulders, and hugged me.

“I have some Tokaj behind the counter.”

And I always hated him for that. I hated him for being afraid of how devoted I was to his daughter and always doubting my dreams and disguising it as some sort of respect or awe for my intelligence. Maybe even that night wasn’t as simple as I thought.

We all need someone we can bleed on
And if you want it, baby, well you can bleed on me
We all need someone we can bleed on
And if you want it, why dont you bleed on me

But as time passes with songs like this one and the other musics of life, I still see everyone linking arms over shoulders - Connor and I there with all of the neighborhood guys. It was simple because it was a night all about me and Rose. That’s all it was ever really about for me. Even when I slept past noon or woke up in the bathtub wet after one of those city nights.

I wasn’t close to being famous. I don’t think anyone knew me just like no one knows me now and I’m alone in my study.

“Come on, Benny, open your eyes.”

“I don’t want to.”

“You’ve finally made it and now you don’t want to look in the lights?”

“Maybe I don’t want to know.”

“Come on, open. You promised me in our vows.”

“Did I?”

“Yeah, in sickness and death.”

I open my eyes. It looks and smells like the VFW hall.

“What is this?”

“Something simple. Dad would’ve liked it.”


“I wish the kids could’ve seen it.”

“Yeah, me too.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Eve of the Eve of the Eve...

Like I said last week, I am going to keep in the spirit of the holidays by doing another post that is essentially a list. I've been pretty damn busy at work and my internet is slipping in and out and hard to get a handle of as I try to steal it from neighbors and other innocent bystanders (the real holiday spirit) so excuse me if I can't give you the usual inspiring and soul supporting prose that you all (all?) know by memory by now and love so much. Plus we had a big party at the apartment this past weekend that I am still throwing garbage out from (it was one of my favorites on record, though).

So, in the spirit of being tired, like the episode Eumaeus in Ulysses, and the After the Goldrush album I am listening to, I am giving to you - the viewer (right medium? no?) - my list of the "Top Twenty Movies To Watch on TV." This list is based on my theory that there are a certain canon (buzzword college readers) of movies that only get better with commercials. This list has also been culled from countless college weekends being hungover and needing a shitty TV movie to grip onto to bring me back from the brink of desolation. I have spouted these movies off ad nauseum to friends much to their disgust, however, now I am going to really document it so everyone can puke. Worthless? Sure. Serious? Maybe. Serious? Just like everything.

Now stay out of my way while I hope "Cripple Creek Ferry" on repeat buoys this writing. I might need a little Little Feat with "Crazy Captain Gunboat Willie" if things get real tough.

20. A Time to Kill - Melodramatic. Hot, sweaty Sandra Bullock. Matthew McConaughey when he had potential. "Yes, they deserved to die and I hope they burn in hell!" With soundbytes like that, you need commercial to give you a break while you contemplate what a stupid movie it is.

19. American Pie - Surprisingly classic even ten years later. After all the other crazy (but genius) latter die sequels you forget that the first movie had a good teen vibe, Stiffler was actually hilarious, and it wasn't that stupid. Although it sort of was. Better when you can zone out and have it broken up by commercials. Do you need to own it?

18. Wedding Crashers
- Has gotten TV overkill and has been overquoted and over Will Ferrelled, however, Owen Wilson translates to a shitty movie being on TV and making you feel comfortable. You'll see later on.

17. Mystic Pizza -
Now, you're going to say, "Domino, you've gone soft. Go watch some more basketball or drink some more of that booze you're always talking about." I say, "Just watch it."

16. Can't Hardly Wait
- The ultimate shitty high school movie that is widely regarded as being great. I feel like this movie was made with commercials inserted into it. Ah, 1997.

15. Mummy
- Some of the movies above this movie are far better than it. However, nothing sucks you in like this damn movie when its on USA or TNT or TBS or sometimes all three at the same time. You have terrible Brendan Fraser as the poor man's Indiana Jones, plenty of bit stereotype characters. A somewhat entertaining Egyptian legend and Rachel Weiss holding the whole thing afloat. Yet, I can't stay away. Gimme a beer.

14. Rocky V -
There is no other time you are going to watch this move except at the end of a Rocky marathon on AMC. However, you get one of the dumbest plots of all time and one of the best characters of all time "George Washington Duke." Next time a Rocky marathon is on, take a risk on V. I'm sure you will regret it.

13. Teen Wolf
- Not on cable as frequently as you'd expect so it loses points. I only catch it on HBO usually. However, I had to put it on here. It goes without saying that this is one of the best movies of all time. And if you read Bill Simmons' Book of Basketball when he compares Kobe to the Teen Wolf and compares the Teen Wolf/Scott Howard transformation to the "Secret" of basketball, you will understand everything. Plus, as Simmons points out, it has the worst sports editing of any movie, fascinating stats in the final game, and one of the weirdest high school dynamics in any teen movie, let alone an 80's teen movie. What an enigma! It should be number 1!

12. Look Who's Talking
- Again you are going to say, "Domino, what happened to the ball? The masculinity? This movie is stupid." Yeah, but its about a talking baby who tries to communicate with his thoughts and he sounds like Bruce Willis. Rock this baby (no pun intended) on mute with your friends and you are in stupid heaven.

11. Breakfast Club
- The ultimate 80's movie. It just misses out on the top ten. Its a staple on TV. Like I said about Can't Hardly Wait, it feels like the commercials are in the movie at this point.

10. 3: The Dale Earnhardt Story
- The top ten starts off with a movie that was actually a made for TV movie. ESPN Films brings it home with the story of Dale Earnhardt. Barry Pepper delivers a tour de force performance as the Intimidator. Spouting off lines like "Nobody beats me ever!" to Dale Jr. when they are carrying bags of lawnseed. Gets better every time you catch it on at 2:00 AM on ESPN 2. Goes great with a Dr. Pepper Bomb (half cup of Miller Light with a shot of amaretto dropped in).

9. Jaws - Three hours flat. The shark. The music. Brody. Quint. Quint getting eaten. But you forget about the commercial break they squeeze in right before Brody and Hooper swim into shore once Jaws has blown up. Plus you have to love when long, classic (in this case, classic scary) movies get further drawn out by commercials. This works well in the afternoons on Saturday when you feel like you are accomplishing something by not watching college sports or in the evenings on Saturday when a classic movie makes sipping those first two beers seem that much classier. Ah, hell its probably not.

8. Aliens
/Alien(tie) - Its hard to choose between these two. Again, they are both relatively long movies, which translate (in my ranking system) to great TV movies. Do you go for the action and "Game over man!" soundbytes of Aliens? Or do you go for the drawn out outer-space haunted house feel of Alien? Either way, with the commercial when you go to take a piss you get to freak yourself out before you grab the next beer. Even though its a tie, I think the edge goes to Alien. Watch that movie on mute with some music on (Grateful Dead) let the observations and the jokes fly.

6. Ghostbusters
- Are you turning this off when it comes on TV? How often do you reach for it on your DVD shelf even though it makes sense as an addition and most people have it? I don't and you should just throw it out and let Comedy Central sweep you away with promos for their next shitty show.

5. You, Me and Dupree
- A recent addition that keeps gaining steam. A cozy performance by Owen Wilson, a rock solid Dillon performance, a decent friend premise, nice Hudson underwear shots. Would you own this on DVD? No. Would you watch it exhausted on a Sunday night before Mad Men? Absolutely.

. Major League 2 - By all means a much better movie than Major League, it goes through such dry patches being on TV that it loses points. However it is sustained by the classic "this is only one year later how did everying get so crazy?" questions you ask yourself and your friends when you watch it. You can see Charlie Sheen mailing in his performance. And it has the immortal, "Fly ball. Caught." You are not changing the channel. Oh, wait. You are. That's the whole point of this list.

3. Godfather
- Strangely more episodic than the extremely episodic Godfather Part II. Fits perfectly on TV. Classic commercial break after the hospital scene with Michael, Enzo the baker, and the cop.

2. Major League - When I first moved into my apartment in Brooklyn, there was a night when some acquaintances from college came over to drink. This was before I had started my job and I wasn't necessarily close with some of these people, but we were having a good time. I had Major League on mute while we listened to music. The movie ended at 10:00 PM on AMC. Followed by an encore. I left the encore on and laughed my ass off knowing all the lines. Mute or no mute this is one of the best sports movies of all time and one of the most "Yes! I can't believe its on! Its a miracle movies" you'll ever find - even if TV does take away from the fact that it is the best cursing movie of all time. Plus it spurred my "Reverse Major League" movie idea. Where an old kind man owns a baseball team in a terrible town like Bismarck and all the players want to move to Miami. So the old man hires Steve Urkel to give him a potion to make himself young so he joins the team and starts trying, foiling the tanking plans of his teammates and becoming a legend of the state of North Dakota. Genius? Sure.

1. The Godfather Part II - Over three hours long without commercials, this legendary film becomes over four hours when it is put on AMC. There is something strangely assuring about a movie being on for almost five hours in the middle of the day on one channel when you are feeling desolate, drunk and depraved on late Sunday afternoon in November. And this is made all the better as you watch Michael Corleone swirl himself into isolation and power in the best impersonation of Shakespeare (i.e. Henry IV) of all time. Thank god there was never a mobster Henry V. ST. CRISPIN'S DAY!

Welp, that's that. I'll be back after the Christmas weekend no doubt with plenty of new ideas and meditations for you after getting drunk in my hometown and not being able to accept gifts from my family. Plus the new year will be coming up, the end of a decade, tons of lists, people feeling terrible and trying to foist plans on us both - there will be endless things to ramble about. Look forward to it.

Now, the next installment of "From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt":


Its hot in this god forsaken hole in the wall and my cramps are bad. This is all fun, though. Tom outside having a chat with that girl. I can’t see him from here. It’s all fun for us depressives to come out and get a drink. Poor dad sitting alone up at the house. We shouldn’t have left him like that. Is he crying about her? About tomorrow? Has he cried yet? Ever? All men have to come to tears sometime don’t they? That guide in Siberia. He cried when one of his dogs died on the trip with us. His knee bent in snow pants quietly scruffing and scraping the snow the breath rising and his staccato sobs. I never saw Jake. Not even…

I throw the dart.

It lands in the first level of nineteen. That closes that one out. The others did nothing for me. I walk up to the board to circle my X.

“Now all I need are the bullseyes,” I say to Liza.

“Let’s hope you can get those quick.”

“That’s the competitive spirit I like to see.”

We’re both bored but what else are we going to do in this shitty place? I have been in worse - bars with dirt floors in Central and South America. Its only that this place is in our backyard and I get to be reminded of watching old friends puke in the back when I’d come home from college. Guys a year older than trying to make out with me because I’d “gotten hotter and really become a women since you went away to college.”

Liza steps up and throws her first dart. It hits the outside section of ten. I don’t know why I agreed with Tom’s idea to come down here, but then again I do know why because it is better to get out of the house and it even looks like James is loosening up over there in the corner. I remember hearing about him being involved with beating up Danny Christian. His friend Paul and the other James almost got sued for it. They were good friends in the end because they admitted that James never through a punch – never touched the kid.

And look at Eve just watching him. Shame on him. Shame on her too for not going over there and just listening to him about saying a quick hello. She should’ve known he was drunk. I could tell. Ah it’s uncomfortable in here.

“Eve you should go over and drag him back.”

She puts on a smile and pretends like its not bothering her. But it would bother me. I wouldn’t let him talk to a slut like Arielle Gregors.

“Oh, no,” she says. “I’ll let him catch up. He needs to lighten up a little. He’s taken this all so hard.”

We’ve all taken it hard. Maybe we should be taking it harder. Maybe I should get out of here before I see someone I know and go sit with dad.

“Yeah, he has a way of doing that.”

“That’s what attracted me to him.”

I take a drink of my pint and set it down. “What that he was so serious?”

“No that he welcomed responsibility. That he was willing to. You know it feels different when you date a guy who you could recognize as a husband or a good father. I don’t know maybe I’m crazy.”

She’s not crazy. She’s right.

“Jake, I’m home.”

I walked down the hall, the lights were dim and there he was to take my coat. His tie was draped around his neck. I looked down at the coffee table. Two glasses of wine. One red and one white.
His hands on my waist.

“I’m not sure I know,” I say.

Eve looks down at her drink. Liza taps me on the shoulder and hands me the darts. I touch one sharp tip and feel it try to pierce my skin. Over Liza’s shoulder I see a girl with blonde hair sneaking up on her. I raise my eyebrows and motion with my head for her to turn around. She does.

“Liza! What are you doing home?”

“Oh, hey Lindsey,” she says. She’s tentative. She doesn’t want to be there or be seen just as much as me. My baby sister. The other girl hugs her. I’m sure she’s a bitch.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

All I Want for the NBA

I'm going to spend most of this space talking about my "Christmas" wishes for the NBA and for basketball in general. I don't know as much about the NBA as I'd like to think, but I certainly love it enough, so maybe that will be conveyed in some manner.

First, however, I'd like to post a little follow up to my Self Portrait review from last week. This comes from the Wikipedia entry on Self Portrait, it is a comment that Bob Dylan made about the lead up to his making of the album and to the actual theory behind the album itself:

"At the time, I was in Woodstock, and I was getting a great degree of
notoriety for doing nothing. Then I had that motorcycle accident [in
1966], which put me out of commission. Then, when I woke up and caught my senses, I realized that I was workin' for all these leeches. And I didn't wanna do that. Plus, I had a family, and I just wanted to see my kids.

I'd also seen that I was representing all these things that I didn't know anything about. Like I was supposed to be on acid. It was all storm-the-embassy kind of stuff — Abbie Hoffman in the streets — and they sorta figured me as the kingpin of all that. I said, 'Wait a minute, I'm just a musician. So my songs are about this and that. So what?' But people need a leader. People need a leader more than a leader needs people, really. I mean, anybody can step up and be a
leader, if he's got the people there that want one. I didn't want that, though.

But then came the big news about Woodstock, about musicians goin' up there, and it was like a wave of insanity breakin' loose around the house day and night. You'd come in the house and find people there, people comin' through the woods, at all hours of the day and night, knockin' on your door. It was really dark and depressing. And there was no way to respond to all this, you know? It was as if they were suckin' your very blood out. I said, 'Now wait, these people can't be my fans. They just can't be.' And they kept comin'. We had to get out of there.

This was just about the time of that Woodstock festival, which was the sum total of all this bullshit. And it seemed to have something to do with me, this Woodstock Nation, and everything it represented. So we couldn't breathe. I couldn't get any space for myself and my family, and there was no help, nowhere. I got very resentful about the whole thing, and we got outta there.

We moved to New York. Lookin' back, it really was a stupid thing to do. But there was a house available on MacDougal Street, and I always remembered that as a nice place. So I just bought this house, sight unseen. But it wasn't the same when we got back. The Woodstock Nation
had overtaken MacDougal Street also. There'd be crowds outside my house. And I said, 'Well, fuck it. I wish these people would just forget about me. I wanna do something they can't possibly like, they can't relate to. They'll see it, and they'll listen, and they'll say,
'Well, let's get on to the next person. He ain't sayin' it no more. He ain't given' us what we want,' you know? They'll go on to somebody else. But the whole idea backfired. Because the album went out there, and the people said, 'This ain't what we want,' and they got more resentful. And then I did this portrait for the cover. I mean, there was no title for that album. I knew somebody who had some paints and a square canvas, and I did the cover up in about five minutes. And I said, 'Well, I'm gonna call this album Self Portrait.'"

Hmmm. He reminds me of a young me. In any event, I thought that would be interesting to put up here in light of my sermonizing and postulating at the possible meaning that could be gained from the album. I had actually read this some time ago, before I rambled that post out last week - maybe I should have consulted my own memory a little better.

Now, I will use the rest of this week's allotted time (unlimited) to post some wishes I have for the NBA. These are things that I would like to see happen in the league this year, things regarding the NBA I would like to have in my possession and things that I wish to happen for the league in general. I have to say that these items haven't been thought out at all and they may not make much sense. However, I have written a good deal about music in the past few weeks so I figured I should shower my praise and lovelight back onto the NBA, before I get into another list for next post, which will be my "Top 20 Movies to Watch on TV." See, sounds like I put more thought into that one, right? I even have a limit on the list. Salivating for that one, right? Sounds stupid, right? Oh, wait, I've got a list to do now.

Without further ado, my "Christmas Wishes" for the NBA:

1. Bill Simmons' Book of Basketball to replace the Gideon's Bible in hotels across the country until Game 7 of June's NBA finals when a scrappy Celtics team derails a potentially legendary Lakers team and Ron Artest shows up to the game in his underwear, scoring the first basket before being prompted to put on a shirt.

2. After scorching first quarters of the season, Carmelo, Durant and Nowitzki cool off scoring, the greatness of the Lakers overshadows Kobe's all around game, and Dwyane Wade galvanizes the Heat in an amazing second half stretch of the season, submits a better season than last year and wins your 2009-2010 NBA MVP award.

3. Tracy McGrady retires so we can forget about him and never speak of him again.

4. Chris Paul is traded to the Heat midseason for half of their roster, while in the off season, the Heat sign Chris Bosh and spend the remainingg $500,000.00 paying undrafted college players to be unselfish and not mess up. 2010-2011 NBA Champions, anyone?

5. Greg Oden is actually the inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and is really 120 years old. And once again we find out that Hollywood is racist.

6. The two movies I get for Christmas are the 1993 Finals and "All I Want for Christmas" starring a young Ethan Embry and Thora Birch and the "Mysterious Girl of 1991." If you've seen this movie, you know what I'm talking about.

7. TNT, ESPN and ABC get wise and put the best young NBA on TV as frequently as possible - The Oklahoma City Thunder - so that American can get a good look at Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook and the immortal Nick Collison (ah, Kansas 2003!).

8. Basketball loving president, Barack Obama, recruits NBA commissioner David Stern as part of his cabinet and in a precident setting move on Christmas Day of 2010, makes Stern VP midterm. Leading to Stern turning on Obama, hitting him in the head with a chair at Game 6 of the OKC v. Miami (what?!) Finals in 2011 and then running against Obama in the most thrilling and wrestling themed election of all time in 2012.

9. Shaq and Lebron's chemistry fades or never takes off, leading the 2009-2010 Cavaliers to tumble, while Mo Williams becomes fascinated with moustaches and running floaters. In the offseason, Shaq declares his own retirement to take away from the excitement of Lebron's free agency decision. Only, no one cares, and Lebron decides to play on Mars where the market never takes off, however, causing the ire of U.S. VP David Stern he is banished from the league until 2012, when the world may very well end!

10. Lakers v. Celtics in the Finals. It's just good basketball.

11. Kevin Garnett's return to glory and a second title.

12. Rajon Rondo is finally in people's everyday catalogue as one of the premier players in the game and not an appetizer at an Indian restaurant.

13. Tyler Hansborough becoming a better pro than people thought.

14. People remembering Allen Iverson for who he was when he revolutionized the league in 1996 like no one else had except maybe Michael Jordan and not for the overly proud, sentimental aging Allen Iverson he is now. (But God do I still love him and God does he have one of the most riveting and compelling personalities and professional storylines of any athlete. Just YouTube young Iverson. Please!)

15. I travel back in time and shadow Michael Jordan on all of the teams he played on. From UNC to the first-run Bulls to the Dream Team and then to the second-run Bulls. Much like the dreams I have every night when I get layups off of feeds from Jordan and then play "commendable and inspiring defense," as M.J. tells me.

16. MTV becomes NBA and completely non-related to music or the Jersey Shore.

Welp, that's about all I have for now. Christmas is upon us and so are these very possible NBA fantasies. I'll be back next week for my "Top 20 Movies To Watch on TV."

Now, the next installment of "From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt":


“Tom! Hey look its my little brother. Where’ve you been? And who is this?”

James is talking and he’s excited. He must be drunk. It’s good for him take his sober serious sombre leadership edge off. I guess I’m more of the sombre one. Well we all are now.

“This is Natalie. We went to school together.”

“Hi,” Natalie says. She holds out one of her lean athletic arms. They were always like that. Even in English class back in tenth grade I’d look at her exposed shoulder and notice the gentle tone of the muscle. That was something extremely feminine.

“I don’t remember you coming over to the house at all,” James says.

“I was at one of your parties.”

Is this song Bruce Springsteen? The pretty girl next to James is talking.

“Hey you knew my sister didn’t you?”

“I don’t know,” I say.

“Anne Gregors.”

“Oh, you’re Arielle.” I pause. I pretend to reflect. “I see the resemblance.”

“Yeah,” she says. “Where did you go to school?”

“I didn’t.” I can see her eyes sort of glaze. “I was a year behind Anne anyway. She and I just had a few classes together.”


Thankfully, Natalie is touching my elbow. “Let’s go get a table in front or outside.”


We start to move past them. James grabs my shoulder.

“What is this?”

I shrug and keep following Natalie. We get through the crowd who are hovering around the bar with shots and necks tilted up at the games on TV. Natalie leads along the main passage past the old Pac-Man machine and the hunting game. She walks balancing her drink up high in her left hand. She carries it like it were a grail. Maybe not that holy but something delicate and precious. Does she treat all meaningless things that way? Maggie and Liza are still playing darts with Eve standing there looking a bit forlorn. Why has James left her standing there?

“Tom. What have you got there?” Maggie says. Everyone is in pretty good spirits. I’m surprised they all wanted to come down too. Our mother is dead and we are all out drinking together. Is dad secretly mad at us? No, he wouldn’t hold this against us. He understands our grief – we all feel it. This is a release.

“Just an old friend.”

Natalie waves like a passing sports icon through the stadium’s tunnel. I see Liza and she smiles at me.

“Let’s just go out front,” I say to Natalie.

She continues to the door.

“Are you leaving, Tom?” Liza asks me.

“No. Going out front?”

“Oh. Weren’t you just outside?”



Liza sips her beer and turns back to Maggie and the darts. I pass by a big guy in a black sweater that is too tight for him standing by the door and move back outside into the night. There are torches burning along the porch. Across the way is one of the historic colonial homes with its wood fence. It has a nice open field or lawn that I used to go and lay in some nights when I’d take walks. There’s an empty table in the front corner of the deck by the bushes. Natalie keeps going and we sit down.

“Perfect spot,” she says upbeat.

“Better out here. More space.” I feel shy.

“You know,” she smiles. “It makes sense that I’d catch you peeing out back.”

I bow down into my beer a little bit.

“It’s a good thing.” She says.

“Thanks.” I pause look down look up at Natalie. “You know. You’re one person I didn’t think I’d ever see again.”

“What? Me?”

I laugh. “Who else.”

“C’mon, Tom,” she says. “We were buds.”

“Were we?”

“I thought we were. Maybe not.”

We both take a drink. I think we’re respecting the awkwardness or maybe the tension. Is this sexual tension? It must be close to it.

“I’m going to be bold,” I say.

“I’ll be myself.”

“Your choice.”

“Well, then, bold.”

“I still think you are absolutely beautiful. You have a terrific nose. I’ve always thought so.”

She rubs both of her hands along the sides of her glass. The ice makes a perfect tinkling sound as it sloshes and becomes water with her alcohol.

“Quite a compliment.”

And I mean it more than I’ve meant something in awhile.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Arts and Farts and Crafts

Alright, I know I said I was going to write about Jerry Seinfeld's MVP performance on Curb Your Enthusiasm from this past season. It was a worthy subject, but it seems to me that I had to hit it at the exact moment the season ended. The way things work now (especially funny things) you either jump on it or its over.

So, I'm going for something a little more timeless (well, timeless for me because I talk about it all the time - and let's not mention thinking), which is my "review" of the classic Bob Dylan album "Self Portrait."

My friends all know how much I love this album. It is considered one of the worst albums of all time by many and rightfully so. And I do have a reputation for loving albums that are considered "one of the worst albums of all time" or "shitty" or "I can't believe you like this shit, Domino. Put the sound on the basketball game on." I don't like these terrible albums in a means of connecting with the rock n' roll spirit of Lester Bangs and his appreciation of the underdog(god, a shout in the street!) or his preaching of the raw power (read: Iggy Pop) of simple rock and roll like the Count Five (their merits including wearing vampire capes on the back cover of their album and standing over a grave). I don't even like these terrible albums like one enjoys a bad movie because of its unintentional humor and because "it just can't be this bad, this is AMAZING (sound of shoving popcorn in the mouth)!" I like these albums and I like this album, because I think it can teach us something - there is something going on in "Self Portrait" underneath the mix of phoned in vocal performances, the baffling song choices, and the downright gems. As the narrator in the Bible said, "Let us begin with the beginning, and the beginning began with a bang. And there was light!"

A good friend of mine, we'll call him my freshman year college roommate, once said about the first song of Self Portrait, "All The Wild Horses," that if you heard this song start off an album today, you would think it was the beginning of the best album of all time. Freshman year roommate was right and he hates this album. Dylan doesn't sing a word on the song, it is slow western strumming with woman's choir voices building and mixing with a cinematic string arrangement. It feels like the beginning of the best western or best legend or tall tale of all time, which it is a sense is. This album is the Bob Dylan legend summed up in one sprawling statement. The songs are there, but they don't sound like the versions you know, like the live version of "Like A Rolling Stone, " which features the Band as tight as ever but Bob singing in his Nashville Skyline croon as if he were trying to humiliate his own signature song. Levon Helm and Rick Danko belt out backing vocals to try to pull the song into sincerity, and Robbie Robertson burns his guitar "King Harvest" style, but there is no hope, this isn't the snare drum shot song that "opened the minds of a generation (read: Bruce Springsteen on every bad 60's documentary you've ever seen), this isn't one of the meanest, loosest and inspired songs ever recorded, this is a singer knowing his myth and not falling for it as his audience as. Sure, there is no direction home, but it doesn't have to take a song to go to number 5 on the Billboard charts to tell you that.

Bob is even poking holes in himself and his peers. His cover of "The Boxer" is a downright insult if you don't have a sense of humor. Now, I like Simon and Garfunkel. I even love a lot of their stuff, but if there is a point where Paul Simon veered to the too self-serious (god bless his solo work "Papa Hobo" especially") it was in the Bookends/Bridge Over Troubled Water era and "The Boxer" is one of the pinnacles - although it is a damn fine song. Now, think about "The Boxer" in the hands of Bob Dylan. A song written by one of the best songwriters in the 20th century in the hands of one of the top 5 songwriters in the 20th century. The possibilities seem endless. However, when you hear Dylans' hobo bluegrass cover of the song, you literally see the song in his hands. He is playing with it, "The Boxer" becomes a wounded animal of a song, a wet bug, with Dylan poking at the wings, morphing it into something strange and different from what it once was, something less important. It's as if he's saying, "I can do it to my own songs and I can do it to someone else's. Look at your beloved songs now." This seems cruel, and it is. He is essentially showing his own power to make or break the music the audience loves.

Even the standards aren't safe. "Blue Moon" and "Let It Be Me" are both given Nashville Skyline renditions. They are sloppy and compared to other versions they are far inferior. However, they are fun. The drums on "Blue Moon" are terribly sharp, the piano is playful and the background singers are inspired. The same can be said about "Let It Be Me," there are are different electric and guitar parts, as well as an impossible sounding piano.

This brings me to the most important part about the album: it just sounds damn good. All the backing tracks and musicians, whether they are The Band or not, just sound so tight. Even the really terrible songs like "Early Mornin' Rain" have a terrific rhythm section. The piano on the entire album is really the revelation. And there are certainly gems: "All The Tired Horses," "Alberta #1," "Days of 49," "In Search of Little Sadie," "Little Sadie," "Copper Kettle," "Quinn the Eskimo," "Wigwam," and "Alberta #2." The version of "Quinn the Eskimo" is perhaps one of the best and most FUN SOUNDING songs of all time with Dylan screaming in his Nashville Skyline croon and his voice full of fuzz and the rest of the band playing as rollicking a backing track that they ever played with an especially inspired Danko belting out vocals. This song is the sound of a good time - when you think of a good party, you just have to listen to this song, your friends are there, there's whiskey and plenty of room to move around and there is a singer onstage who is having fun with a backing band that just knows how to do it.

Counter this with "In Search of Little Sadie" and "Little Sadie." This is the same song separated by only one song, which is a cover of an old standard, while "Little Sadie" itself is an old standard. "In Search of Little Sadie" is a full band version of the classic murder ballad, while "Little Sadie" is a standard blue grass reading. Why put the same song twice in span of three songs? Boredom? Sure probably. Proving a point? Sure probably. He could do it. Because you see that name on the album, the face on the cover? That's Bob Dylan. Here's the next album from Bob Dylan!

This the essential mix of the album. There are blatantly uninspired moments mixed with some of the best pure rock and roll, bar and folk songs you have ever heard. And no matter what direction you swing in, it just sounds so good. The album ends with two of the best songs, "Wigwam" and "Alberta #2." The former was made famous by "Royal Tenenbaums" with its sexy brass and wordless Dylan singing/moaning, but seriously professional drumming. While "Alberta #2" is just smooth bass and backing vocals, which some terrific Dylan harmonica and lyrics that are just so catchy that you know the song is as old as America.

Was Dylan lazy? Sure. Is this album terrible? By all means. However, you just have to look at the cover and the title. Self Portrait. The cover is painted by the artist himself during a time when he was still as popular as he had ever been. However, he'd crashed his bike and had hid out in Saugerties and made a country album and the 60's were over and he was getting a little older just like everyone else. So what was next? What was Bob Dylan anyway? A collection of standards and folk songs? Songs of the collective conscious? Inspiring generational defining songs? A message bearer? All of these things could be true if looked at in a certain light - just like his own self portrait. A lot has been made of Dylan dissembling and reassembling his own image and myth like the best artists do, but this was the first evidence that he was capable. Once his portrait was split into as many pieces as it was on this album, only then could he build it back together and progress (family man, maturing star, divorcee, outlaw) into the 70's.

Maybe that movie I'm Not There said it better and surely Cate Blanchett is a better lay and a better actress and man than I am. And maybe I just like this album so much because I listened to it a lot driving around upstate New York during the winter and the spring of 2007 (somtimes in love, sometimes in hate) with the windows of my 1997 Pathfinder open and singing the songs at the top of my lungs and blasting "Quinn the Eskimo" as loud as I could because it might make everyone loosen up a little. Despite all of this, in the end, this album depicts an artist and a human being as he saw himself at a certain point in his life - perhaps even more than the rest of his work. Worts and all, I will always take that over anything. Because even two shitty versions of the same song in the span of three minutes is better than something false from 1966. Because I'd like to think we're all closer to a 24-song double album that baffles than any kind of generational masterpiece. Maybe we'll get there, but until then we just have a series of self portraits.

Next: Music or Sports?

Now: The next installment of "From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt"


The bartender knew I was underage but he gave me a beer anyway. “It’s for Ben,” he said. Dad’s legacy is all over this town. How many people has he healed? How many people know about his accident when I didn’t know until just before? I should just enjoy it all. Tomorrow we are going to bury mom and right now it looks like everyone is doing alright. Maggie is playful playing darts with me and talking to Eve, though Eve looks worried about what James is doing. He wouldn’t do anything. That girl Jane was such an old girlfriend. But that oldest Gregors sister is so pretty, they all were. Anne was the closest one to me. Tom knew her somewhat.

Where is he?

I always loved this Billy Joel song. He’s one of my favorites. “Still Rock N’ Roll To Me” and “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant.” They all sound like New York. Long Island. Home. I never could believe that dad was friends with him. He must’ve been close to getting famous. The accident stopped him. That would make sense. Then again what do I know about it all anyway?

I’m standing holding my bottle. The wrapper is damp and peeling off. I can see the Bud of the Budweiser logo. This place is how I pictured it – wooden, messy, a dive. I didn’t expect the sawdust on the floor. It must be for atmosphere. James said he’d been sneaking in here since he was sixteen. He did look older, started growing facial hair when he was pretty young, well I was really young. I slide my right hand into the snug right pocket of my jeans and look around. Kids from my grade said they’d snuck in here too. I don’t really want to be seen. That would be sort of embarassing being home this soon after I went away and down here drinking. It would seem a little strange of all of us coming down here together the day before our mother’s funeral. But I think we all need this. I’ve been depressed since I heard the news and this has seemed like the longest day of moping. I need a little positive energy to go into tomorrow. I don’t know if I’ll even stop crying. Just thinking about the look of the coffin and the whole ceremony is making me tear up a little bit. I wipe my eye with my sleeve and feel a little water in my nose. My mother is dead so its OK for me to be home. People will understand. But its so hard in this town because once word gets out it soon gets distorted and then you’re pregnant or depressed or an alcoholic and in shame when you’re seen or your name is mentioned between mothers in the Stop N’ Shop.

“Ok, sorry sorry, Liza. My turn right?” Maggie taps my arm.

“Yep, no problem.”

“This is a marathon, huh?”

“It’s kind of a boring game.”

Maggie laughs and her hair flies back. My sister is beautiful in her own way. “I don’t know why guys like it. Jake used to…”

She still has her smile but it fades and she starts to frown a little. She holds a grin that is barely above straightlip.

“Anyway, let’s just finish. You need to be exposed to this kind of boredom. It consumes your college years and your twenties.”

“She’s right,” Eve adds.

“See,” Maggie says. “We have the wisdom of a married woman too.”

She winks and Eve laughs. I feel like I should laugh too but I’m not sure if Maggie was being mean or nice. I just take a litle sip and my beer is getting warm. I’m not good at drinking.
I see Eve looking back at James and I look back too. But I see the back door open and Tom is walking in with some girl.

Where’d he get to?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Beach House (or the story of the end of a decade)

I've been wanting to write about Beach House for quite a long time now, and I've been thinking about what to write here for quite a few days. I mulled it over some turkey, gravy, ass, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, side of chinese food, chocolate chip pie, beer, sweet mead, mulled cider, a side of mulled beer, a smashed windshield, hungover, walking my dog, running with my dog, taking my dog to the woods and I still walked home earlier this evening from work looking at the full moon and I knew that when I got to this spot to try to write about this band that looking at the full moon was probably only the best way to refer to them - as trite, precious, and seriously important as that image is.

See, I knew I'd get here and want to write this post (that's what you call it right? that's what the button says RIGHT?) as fast as I could, with typos and etc. That is not out of some impersonation of Jack Kerouac bop prosody (O, lost! the boots and cigarettes of yesteryearyeasayer), but merely out of the desire to write it down, because that's what this space is for and that is what I feel inside of myself when the air is cold and the sides of buildings have grown dark with lights coming from the windows and you look up and there is the full moon and you don't really know what to do with yourself.

I talk about music with my friends quite a lot (who doesn't? Aliens? No, Close Encounters of the Third Kind showed us that aliens were very musical [Steven Shakespeare's/Spielberg's rising run of dominating the 80's like Bird and Magic]). Most of my friends are musicians. In fact, I am the odd one out who does not play music and I don't know much about the stuff really except for what I like, and what I do like, I like a lot (read: Bob Dylan's Self Portrait). Now, since we talk about music and since my friends are musicians, when we get drunk I like to talk about what it is that people want in music now? What are all of our musicians looking for? What are our audiences looking for? Sure there are plenty of bands coming out of Brooklyn and it is coalescing into a scene as many of our magazine features and newspaper subsections tell us every other week. But what is the resonance? Noise rock? Electronic pop? Regular pop? Alt-country? The offspring of the Talking Heads that was accidentally deleted and then someone clicked the undo button? No, today's music is about this picture below:

Nah, I'm just kidding, that's from Season 3 of Mad Men (which is really what music and the end of this decade are about). No, but what I mean is that when I think of Beach House, the only thing I think about is that Beach House is the sound of longing. Never have I heard a band that personifies an intagible verb better than Beach House. Now that may sound like a convoluted compliment, but really, longing is what is at the center of almost all of our emotions and what is intangible is usually what drives us to do what is great or to fall in love or to take a risk in the first place. Beach House is not the first band, obviously, to strike on this feeling of longing, however, they have personified it. The only way I can describe it is to compare it to listening to "Isis" by Bob Dylan. Admittedly, each sound is different. "Isis" is one of Bob Dylan's hardest hitting songs, with driving, hypnotic piano and ungoldy drums (production!) and Bob wailing on about an abstract tale of a man who isn't ready to love a woman (maybe the woman isn't ready to love him) who then goes on a vague journey to a tomb with a mysterious man only to realize that he has to go back to Isis, because he can "still remember the way she smiled on the fifth day of May in the drizzling rain." This is probably the epitome of the adventure or travel song, a relentless groove and rhythm, mysterious images and lyrics and overall a gripping story. If you don't feel like putting on a coat with a high dusty collar and smoking a million cigarettes while walking out into the distance, then you must seriously be crazy.

Now, how does this connect with Beach House and their "dreamy" sound. Because each song causes in us, the extreme longing for something. Now, you'd say that all music causes us longing. You'd say, the Abbey Road medley longs for something it doesn't even know. That would be true. However, there are two types of longing: the "Isis" longing, which is the longing for adventure and the longing for home ("I rode back to find Isis just to tell her I love her") which we all feel at all times. Then, there is the longing for what is not known to us, which we all feel at all times. Now, I love the Beatles (read: LOVE [no copyright infringement intended]) but as much as the Abbey Road medley makes me want to look out at the window at the hills passing by and think of my past, Beach House's cumulative work trumps it in terms of personifying longing. Beach House's first album was a tremendous excercise in the fringes of this sound, "Apple Orchard," "Master of None" being prime examples. On the second album, the slow ticking and mechanical tapping of, followed by the ghostly keyboard on "Gila" signal their arrival to mastery. This understanding peaks at the tracks "All the Years," and "Heart of Chambers" and then eases itself into an acceptance at "Darling" with sliding guitars like George Harrison (OK so kill me! Maybe not!).

We all liked that album. I got it early and I fell in love with it in the winter of '07 - '08. But this summer Beach House hinted at what was to come. They got a mesmerizing live show down pat, they added a live drummer to the line-up and now they have a third album, "Teen Dream," which has already been circulated. The first two tracks are better than anything they have done before. "Zebra" adds a bit of the echoey guitar work the Walkmen have made us love and then turns into an anthem on a greater scale than "Gila." The chorus is so catchy with its keyboard and then the second half of the song showcases the first taste of the live drums (this song would actually work as a Walkmen song). The second song "Silver Soul" is all sliding guitar and keyboard work, with "ahhing" vocals at first, but then the drums come in as well as some new fuzz guitar hooks. This song is five minutes, but you never want it to end. You are mesmerized by it and that feeling that it raises in your stomach. You think about people you love, ambitions you have, love that may be starting, love you are thankful for, love that may be illuding you, love that may be haunting you, the night outside and the promise of the holidays with heavy coats and people with presents in their bags and under their arms - you accept these images for their trappings and their virtues and accept them for what they are and you long for it to be as clear as it seems amid this washy, ghostly music.

The final song on the new album is called "Take Care." This song features a refrain of "I'll take care of you/If you ask me to," which fades out over the final minute. This is a song filled with snapping drums that no Beach House song has had yet. You listen to the refrain and of course it all makes sense: "I'll take care of you/If you ask me to." This is the best love lyric since Avey Tare's "I want to walk around with you," because it takes that sentiment even a step further in its nature of longing. We all do want you walk around with someone, but even further we want to take care of someone, but only if they ask us to. We're not allowed to do it on our own anymore. So maybe then, yes that mocking picture of Don Draper is a true statement for the end of this decade. And maybe then, yes, our music, our vision for our music is the longing that we feel inside, which it always was. However, our trends and magazine features have often distracted us from that, from what may be shiny or gimmicky, but if you make music that makes people long, and see the world around them, then you are onto the vision of your time.

Well, let's hope that made sense (UNC was holding of MSU on ESPN after all. NCAA Finals rematch anyone?).

Next, Jerry Seinfeld's MVP award from Season 7 of Curb Your Enthusiasm

Now, "From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt."


I’m kissing Eve and everything smells like stale beer but tastes like wintergreen gum. It’s her lip balm. I open my eyes and see hers. We’re up against the little banister and counter by the door. Her small eyes. Chinese eyes I called them when we first met. If the thing in her stomach is a girl will she…

This place is cramped – the people by the door moving in and out with smoke and the smell of moist night – and I can hear the sounds of the hunting game behind me: the virtual deer and antelope noises. One of the new digital online jukeboxes is playing “Don’t Stop Believing” in the corner – an old terrible fan favorite. The overproduced piano, the high vocals, but I don’t really know anything about music. All I know is that this Brooklyn beer is heavy in my stomach and would leave my mouth tasting completely hoppy if it weren’t for the wintergreen residue on my lips.

“I still love this place,” Eve says. “I loved it when I first came home with you.”

“A town cornerstone.”

“Was this Ben’s favorite?”

“I’m not so sure. He and Uncle Connor did come here a lot.”

I see Liza and Maggie playing darts in front of us. They are both really bad. Maggie lines up on the one floorboard that moves perpendicular to the rest in order to mark the dart line. She aims and her right leg lifts up as she tosses. The dart hits the wall beneath the board and falls to the floor. She throws again. This dart sticks in the cork behind the boards. Third time is a charm and she hits the outer level of eighteen. She strides up to the dry erase board and makes a slash next to her side of the number. On top of her column her name has a frowny face above it while Liza’s has a smiley face.

“Nice shooting,” I say.

She grins back.

“Are you drunk?”

“It would take a few more than that.” She pulls the darts out of the board and hands them to Liza. Liza puts down her Budweiser on the ledge next to Eve. Maggie walks past her and as they pass each other something about the flash of the two different hues of their hair makes my stomach turn. I don’t know what the feeling is: nervousness, earnestness, what? I can only think of dad and Uncle Connor and how they must’ve looked years ago with their long wavy hair sitting at one of those window tables drunk. Now will Uncle Connor even show up tomorrow? What about dad? I can see him stumbling over the casket in the church and spilling whiskey on mom’s body. This is no folktale – she’s not coming back. Will Uncle Connor, though? Brothers. I see auburn and blonde. Sisters.

Maggie elbows my side. The way I used to sneak up on her and prod her sides with my hands, the younger brother picking on the older sister – she hated that.

“You see Jane over there?”

“No, I didn’t. She’s here?” I saw her on the way in. I can see her now. She has the same sort of round face that she always did. Still has the same curves too, bigger breasts than Eve. Eve doesn’t know.

“Who’s Jane?”

“Ah, just this girl we used to go to school with.”

“I think I saw Dan Christian over there too. Those Christian Brothers. You and Danny were always so close.”

It was behind the junior high where Gertz and Cicero beat him up. Tom was riding on his bike. I chased him away, pushed him onto the cement. It must’ve been hot because that day was scorching and I could feel it in the old white Chucks I was wearing then. Dan had fucked Gertz’s girl. I didn’t want to push Tom, but he was there at the wrong time. I take a long drink of my Brooklyn. Thick, heavy and cold. Does the dirt feel that way?

“Didn’t see him either.”

“Well he’s over by the bar too.”

“I should go over and say hello. I actually just saw Arielle Gregors slip in the back door. I’ll be right back, Eve.”

“Shouldn’t I come?”

“Nah, you’ll be bored,” I say. “I need to do it to be polite.” I pause. The timing feels awkward to me. There’s an Elton John song on the jukebox - he’s wailing about something. “My mom knows their moms, you know?”

“Get me another drink?” She rubs my elbow. Gin and tonic with lime.

“You got it.”

I start walking and can hear Maggie behind me.

“Our James was the popular sibling in high school. You knew that right Eve?”

“Well, I think so,” I hear Eve. And she says it in that sweet way she has of honestly trying to answer a stupid or sarcastic question like Maggie’s. She just wants to defend me.

I walk over to the bar. There’s a Mets game on one TV and a Yankees game on the other. The Mets are losing 2-1 to the Marlins in the sixth, while the Yanks are tied at two with the Twins in the third. There are Christmas lights up, draped in and around the liquor bottles on the shelf and the behind bar mirror. I can see myself, my face looks thin, my cheek bones sticking out. I fix my hair and hold up my bottle. Mike knows us. He gets me a beer.

“Buy back,” he mouths. The buy is a little elongated and the back is short. The way any good Long Islander would say it. I grab the beer by the neck and lean into the bar. He’s a nice guy – he’s been working behind the counter for awhile; he and his brother Tony. Their dad owned the bar. Mike’s got a stubbly beard - wearing a grey sweatshirt - and he’s slightly heavy. I lean and expect to be seen and before I know it, I feel a light hand on my shoulder. I turn my head back and it’s Arielle.

She’s still pretty as hell with shiny black hair and those eyes that are big and brownish – hazel. Her eyes are big but not too big.

“Well, its one of the famous Gregors girls.”

She laughs. “You sound like an ass.”

“You know I was always good at that.”

She gives me a hug and all of a sudden I feel the warmth of a good drunk. The kind I used to get in college when I knew a good night was coming. When the feeling hits and the voices around you swell and seem important maybe more important than they really are and the lighting seems like it is already part of your halycon memories yet still painfully alive and present. That’s dangerous the way I can recognize it. It’s probably the way dad…

“So, did you see Jane and Danny over there?”

“No, I hadn’t seen them.”

“You should come over and say hi.” Her voice lowers. “Jane told me about your mom. James, I’m really really sorry. She was the sweetest woman. You know how we all liked coming over to your house.”

She’s touching my shoulder and her finger grazes my neck. I felt a quick small rush of goosebumps. It has to be hormone impulse.

“Yeah,” I sigh. “Its tough. I’m going to miss her.”

“It was sudden, huh?”

“Well my dad saw it coming. He tried to diagnose it. He thought it was a form of cancer and that she’d have longer. But I don’t know.”

Dad did see it coming. He tried to heal her. I don’t know the depths of the work he did, what they went through in the house during the past four months. I didn’t know it would happen like this. Liza must have some kind of idea. Dad on the phone in the summer. He knew that Uncle Connor could help him if he could only bother to call him up. They were brothers and it was a shame that that one disagreement could break them apart. But disagreeing over a death, especially in their profession will lead to life long silences and feuds – drinking problems. Lucky for dad he had his already in young age.

“That’s rough.” She hugs me again.


“She always did make the best brownies. It seemed like she’d always happen to be baking when we’d be over.”

“She liked to make it seem that way. That’s something she was good at.”



“Oh.” She’s quiet. I know she’s uneasy at the situation. Does she have any delicacy or tact or is she just simply beautiful? Do I have tact?

Mom is in the kitchen except that the kitchen is separated from the rest of the house. It’s all black beyond the borders. There is no den and there is no side hallway to the garage. It seems like we are on a TV set somewhere in space. The kitchen smells sweet and like chocolate. I don’t smell any of the savory roasting meats that make my stomach growl. She’s in front of the oven wearing a long yellow dress. She turns around and the oven is open and red. She’s holding a metal cooking sheet.

“James,” she says. “I wasn’t expecting you.”

“It’s OK, mom. I didn’t know I would be late.”

“I made brownies.”

I laugh. “Mom you didn’t have to.”

She bows her head and I notice that she’s wearing the apron with the food groups on it. The one I used to wear when she helped me make those Chinese dinners I tried to make for everyone or on Christmas when I’d try to make the pork loin.

“Yes, I did.”

“What do you mean?”

“Did your wife like my apron.”

“I think so, mom.”

She pulls out a cake knife and cuts into the pan. Steam rises up from the cuts she makes in the hot brownies. It smells like I’m ten.

“Everything goes on, James.”

“What do you mean?”

“Light, colors, sound. It comes from all different places.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Have a brownie”

And I take a bite. The kitchen fills with yellows and whites. The taste in my mouth is rich and it is hard work chewing through the brownies and their entire flavor. Now there are thick whisps of steam and swirling around my mother the kitchen is filling and moving away from me.

“Only The Good Die Young” is on the jukebox now. Who would’ve thought? I take a drink and look over at Eve talking to Maggie. She’s looking at me, she must’ve been for a little bit. I hold my finger up and roll my eyes to pretend like I’m bored. But I’m not bored, it feels good to be recognized and remembered. I can remember my old excitements. Now I’m looking at Dan Christian. I never hit him, but I never really apologized anyway.

“I’m sorry about what happened between you and Gertz, Dan,” I say to him.

He frowns and takes a drink of his pint. “I never held it against you, O’Donnell. Just that dumb polock.”

I take a drink too. It’ll be like a silent agreement, even though I don’t agree. But everything else seems about right – the voices, the accents, the music, and the taste.