Wednesday, April 23, 2008

10 Awesome Songs for TV Ads for Birth Control Pills

  1. The Avalanches - Since I Left You

  2. Salt N' Pepa - Push It

  3. The Band - The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

  4. 2 Live Crew - Me So Horny

  5. NIN - Closer

  6. Peaches - F**k the Pain Away

  7. Beck - Nobody's Fault But My Own

  8. Tool - Prison Sex

  9. Rick James - Give it to Me Baby

  10. Ben Folds Five - Brick

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Deadliest Catch - Season 4 (All New)

The fourth season of the Deadliest Catch premiered on the Discovery Channel tonight. Along with Ax Men on the History Channel, this is the closest thing to 'reality TV' that I'll watch.

Brilliant premise, real personalities. If you haven't seen it, give it a try.

Collective Soul (4/11 - At the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom)

Do you remember Collective Soul? Me too.

I found out just two weeks ago that Collective Soul -- most-known for their 1994 album "Hints, Allegations, and Things Left Unsaid" and their self-titled album in 1995 -- released an album called "Afterwords" last summer. I haven't listened to the album yet, but I've spent some time over the past week re-listening to their other albums. I am amazed by how many hits they have.

I recently saw them play at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom for a mere 25 bucks. The two opening bands, Josh Kelley and The Whitest Light, were pretty forgettable, though not terrible.

I really wasn't expecting a great performance from the band; I was expecting to see an aging band to play a handful of their hits, surrounded by a crowd attempting to relive their not so distant youth.

But man -- they were awesome! Ed Rolland really brought the energy and worked the crowd. There was a little something for everybody. Great guitar solos, good vocals, some semi-acoustic songs, some interactive songs, and a general feeling that this band not only enjoys touring together, but also likes playing for the crowd. The best way to describe the show is "balanced."

Collective Soul has largely been successful because of their straightforward, consistent, mainstream brand of rock and roll. At the same time, their lack of a niche musical style or a mystique has held them back. I'm not sure if it is by choice, but Collective Soul seems to have avoided the edgy, counter-culture brand of rock and, instead, embraced the world of adult-contemporary. It isn't a bad thing, but it has affected the band's perceived pedigree and snob-appeal.

At the same time, Collective Soul manages to never sound generic. The albums aren't empty, slavish attempts to emulate the least common denominator of the genre. Although slightly anachronistic, examples of bands like that seem to just mirror whatever the hell everyone else is doing would be Creed, Nickelback, or basically any band caught between post-grunge and pre-"Indie" revolution. And you know what, we've already got a whole boat load of so-called indie-pop bands who are beginning to flood that genre as well, making it even more difficult to figure out what is authentic and what is junk.

Although not unique, Collective Soul is authentic.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Black Keys (4/2 - At The Warfield, SF)

Last night I went to see The Black Keys play at The Warfield in San Francisco. I haven't been to a concert in awhile, so it was nice to get out. I had very high hopes for this concert because the band released its new album -- Attack and Release -- on April 1.

Apart from some technical difficulties, the show was kind of a letdown. It wasn't bad, just pretty average. And when you have high expectations, it feels even worse. I think my main gripe was that they played for just about an hour, which is kind of stingy, especially if you've just released a new album! More importantly, their timing in general was off. Or, something was off and it didn't quite sound right. This was especially true when Pat Carney's uncle, who is featured on the album, came on stage to play.

The one caveat here is that the new album is actually very good.

This brings me to a broader topic, one that began nagging at me mid-way through the show. Does it seem odd that compared to live music I prefer listening to music that is engineered and packaged in some studio and then reproduced on a lifeless machine for my personal enjoyment? Is that sacrilege? Am I a terrible person for preferring the lifeless reproduction to the real deal?

Whenever I go to a show, I look out at the crowd rocking out. And I have a very good hunch that they would rock out to just about anything just as long as it was loud. Frankly, it doesn't even have to resemble a song. And this seems so odd to me because I'm sure most of these people would be quite discerning if they were listening to the song in the car or at home. They would be candid whether a song sucked or not. But for some reason, the collective music IQ takes a sharp nosedive when you are at a live show.

It's not about the music. It has more to do with being there, at a show -- it feels, collectively, more alive to know you are at a place, a gathering, where it is. And you know what, I'm done with that. It is fool's gold and I'm not interested.

I think this observation of the crowd, and its collective dumbness, poisons my experience of live music in general. I have been to only a handful of shows where the performer's musical skill and talent were on display and transformed an otherwise great recorded track into a completely new emotional experience. But that is more the exception than the rule.


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (1961)

As I continue my two-decade quest to complete the Modern Library's 100 greatest English-language novels of the 20th century, I'm already trying to keep track of the wildly different characters I have come across, and can only imagine those who I will meet in the years to come. Captain John Yossarian is one of those characters that will endure in my memory. He's not particularly heroic. What draws me to him his sanity of weakness and fear.

I finished Heller's scathing, ironic, humorous attack on bureaucracy a few weeks back. In fact, in the interim period between finishing Catch 22 and writing this short review, I have completed The Moviegoer by Walker Percy and begun Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth. The reason I've been waiting to write about Catch 22 is because I hadn't made up my mind about it -- well, I don't think I've really ever made my mind "up" about any book. I just needed time to digest the material and work through how I felt about the book. I find the act of reading less satisfactory than the two-week period after finishing a novel where I can try to understand it in its entirety.

Yossarian is a WW2 bombardier stationed in Pianosa, Italy. He not particularly interested in fighting in the War. We are told that his job, as a soldier, is not to win the war, but to survive. And more importantly, anybody who stands in the way of his mission to stay alive -- is his enemy: "The enemy is anybody who's going to get you killed, no matter which side he's on, . . . And don't you forget that, because the longer you remember it, the longer you might live." He's not ashamed of this statement either. In fact, he's afraid to die.

At first, this might seem cowardly, unpatriotic, or self-interested -- especially in a novel set during WW2, where everyone, according to modern folklore, served in the company of heroes. But Yoassarian gave me a jolt of consciousness. Who wouldn't be afraid to die? And especially when surrounded by equally mad commanding officers hell bent on making a name for themselves by sacrificing their squadron?

I think the hallmark of Catch 22 is its mastery of the paradox. Yossarian won't have to fly more missions if he's declared insane; but not wanting to fly more missions is totally sane. And, well, off he has to go to fly some more missions. Catch 22 is full of these paradoxes and, although repetitive and a bit tired in some passages, the overall effect of this repetition pays off. After the first 1/3 of the book, the peculiar, hilariously unique logic starts to make sense. The bureaucracy itself is mad, and the only way to deal with it is with even more madness.

Curiously, I had difficulty picturing the characters in my head while reading the novel and after finishing it as well. For instance, if you were to ask me how I picture the story of Catch 22 being told in film, I can't really think of any I've seen that would be appropriate. I can see WW2 in color, but not in the grainy, muted colors of Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers. Nor would the faded, 70's-greenish color palette of M*A*S*H really work for me. The world of Catch 22 only exists between the covers.

And now comes my dilemma. By virtue of picking a "Top 100" list as my syllabus, at times I wonder whether I should feel compelled to prove why each book belongs on the list -- which would be my way of justifying canon I've chosen. But where's would be the fun in that? What good is experiencing something if you can't even trust your own instincts?

Even a cursory review of the criticism of Catch 22 reveals that it wasn't universally well-received when published. In fact, the New York Times panned it while others foreshadowed its complete irrelevance.

But here's an opportunity for a knee-jerk reaction that I hate. Usually when someone finds out that a critic disliked a book that eventually becomes a "classic," you'll get the standard line about how dumb these critics must have been at the time not to appreciate the book as a masterpiece. I really can't stand that hindsight bias because the later-acquired fame seems to blind people into justifying why something is great as opposed to just giving their honest opinion about the book and letting the chips fall where they may.

In fact, I have no real qualms about saying that the first 1/3 of the book doesn't appear to be cohesively written and offers little by way of character development; the chapters are so episodic that the book loses whatever momentum it gains the previous chapter, which is pretty frustrating and makes the book hard to get into. The middle 1/3 of the book does a lot of that legwork and begins to build a framework in terms of a plot line, but for the reader, the array of characters and different story lines still don't quite gel together in any meaningful way.

But the last 1/3 of the book makes up for all of this -- and then some. It is stunningly good literature. While reading those last set of chapters, I kept wishing that the earlier portions of the book were as gripping. The sentences tighten up, the paradoxes deepen in meaning by leaps and bounds, and the book gains traction as it embraces a more linear timeline. But the real key for me was that, towards the end of the book, I could actually identify some motivating forces behind Yossarian's attempted rebellion.

With that said, I think over the last two weeks I have been able to think more about the earlier chapters and their extensive use of flashbacks to disrupt time. I'm starting to appreciate that aspect of Heller's writing, especially when he doubles back to describe certain aspects of the same event, which ends up giving the reader an explanation as to why a joke, partially explained earlier in the book, was funny or not. It takes a lot of patience to create something like that. And more importantly, it shows that Heller trusted his readers to do the work to get to the humour.