December 28, 2009

This Was Not My Decade From Hell, Part 2

Just cleaning up some loose ends before the 2000s slip into the black hole of history. This is a sequel to my previous post about personal creative high points from a mad decade. Without further ado, then:

2005: I play two memorable gigs with Honey White: Ventura and Hollywood.

This was a banner year for HW: the album we recorded in San Francisco was finally released in April, accompanied by a Nicholby's show in Ventura that was memorable for me because of how easy it was. We played on bonus time, basically, and I was so into it that if it were not for the recording I made that night, I wouldn't remember anything about the show at all. The good ones are like that, you know? Anyway, we played a handful of other shows supporting the new CD, and of those, the most notable was when we invaded the old Derby Club in Hollywood (pictured above) to play a quick and deadly 8-song set. Lots of people showed up—we called in every favor and pulled in fans from, like, four SoCal counties—but I only had about 30 seconds each to speak with them since the show's logistics were so regimented. It was a definite zenith in my amateur rock posturings, but to date, it was Honey White's penultimate live gig.

2006: I help make certain domestic-stability arrangements official.

Since 1998, Emily has been helping me keep free of that contagious, spastic melodrama that I am so susceptible to. Getting married is obviously a personal high point, but it's also a creative one—when someone gives you the gift of relative emotional stability, it frees your mind and soul up to do all kinds of different thinking. All that stuff about creativity going slack when one is happy is total bullshit; the creative impulse just takes a different, alternately focused form. For me, well, I need a rock, a base of operations, a fortress of solitude—and other such anchors—and thankfully someone else needed that from me as well. As for scoring a mortgage on top of this (later in 2007) tethering us to Ventura for a while, it would become strikingly apparent that the old cliché of "settling down" was anything but, what with all the traveling we ended up doing to simply see each others' families. New places, new people, new inspiration—that was my '06.

2007: I step up my designer/wordsmith/rockstar cred. Sort of.

It only took me about two and a half years to figure out two things about the design biz: 1) how it works, print-wise, and 2) how out of my league I was, web-wise. Good news first: in 2007, I took on full production responsibility for one of the print projects in-house—the Gifted Education Communicator research journal. I got to build on the redesign my friend Mia began in late 2006, and by the end of the year I had some award-worthy material. It got even better in 2008 (the bottom row of that image above), but the grunt work happened in '07. Web development work was another story—I attended a conference in March '07 that showed me just how much I had to learn, and fast—and it would take me until summer of 2009 (and two more Web Design World conferences) to claw my way into something resembling professional credibility. Five years to achieve basic design biz competence? Guess I wasn't such a gifted child after all.

2008: I blog like crazy, begin writing a novel, and record & release its soundtrack.

Or as I described it at year's end, "the year of staring at screens and typing furiously." I'd screwed around with blogging since 2003, but being a late blooming web geek, I didn't get around to doing anything useful with the medium until late 2007, when a Honey White hiatus prompted me to reconfigure this blog to be an online compilation of all the written stuff I'd spewed out into the world (published or otherwise) from 1997-2007. The other big accomplishment was finally writing (and blogging) The Weapon of Young Gods, a novel I'd been developing since late 2006. In '08 I busted out about 2/3 of its first draft—but perhaps most importantly, I recorded a soundtrack album for it, which was released under the old Low Tide side project moniker.

2009: I blog some more, finish the novel, document some nostalgia, and write songs again.

2009 wasn't much different from '08, except that, sadly, my creativity began to taper off writing-wise. I still slothfully sat on my ass and blogged enough to compile plenty of stuff for 2008-2009, and even wrapped up the novel in June, but there was a palpable drop-off in quality stuff. I found other ways to be weird, though—making the Creeping Nostalgia photo project go mega in April for one—but ended up clinging to an old standby: song lyrics. Yep, I dashed off two of 'em in November and December—no tunes, just lyrics—but with only 3 songs written since Honey White's trip to the studio in 2004, that was kind of a big deal.

So that's that—my big creative blips from the 2000s. As for 2010 and beyond, well…I chose to make resolutions on my birthday instead of New Year's, whatever that's worth.

December 17, 2009

This Was Not My Decade From Hell, Part 1

In case you hadn't seen it yet, Time called the 2000s "the decade from hell." I guess the '30s and '40s don't count anymore, but whatever. Anyway, on a personal scale, that doesn't apply to me at all—between the ages of 23 and 33, I got married, bought a house, scored a nice creative career, wrote lots of crazy things, made plenty of loud rock noise, and generally amused myself while the rest of the world burned.

Yeah, well, you call me Nero now, because I've decided to throw another list of listyness on the decade-ending pile of crap that everyone's making. However, I'm making it personal. And creative. And in chronological order. Groovy, right? That's right, buddy. So, in the interests of rampant egomania and untrammeled personal growth, here are some of the past decade's bigger blips from my creative continuum, year by year.

2000: I shave my own head for the first time, all the way down to the skull.

Whappo! Bet you weren't expecting something that randomly dumb, were you? Well, as anyone who knew the hairier version of me would tell you, it counts on an almost uber-makeover scale. Why? Hell, I don't know the reason why—but I do know that it was a skin-shedding kind of thing, and not at all like the touristy buzzcut I got in 1997 or the half-assed #2 clips I tried in 1999. No, in July 2000 I went total bumfuzz on top, in the interests of entering the 8-5 workforce (I finished school in Dec. '99) as a "new" person. Not a kid, not an adult—just a chubby bald geek whose head reflected any light source. Plenty of figurative creativity in there if you think about it—do we not become different people when we age? Should we therefore look different? I think so.

2001: I play a wild Giovanni's gig with the Mojo Wire, briefly write for the Santa Barbara Independent, and write the best song lyric of my career.

After ditching my first full-time UCSB job, I was free to be an ignored, degenerate rock star with the other 3 bozos in the Mojo Wire. That band actually came to an end in 2001, but not before we played a fun show at an Isla Vista pizzeria on April 12. Naturally I recorded it, and now have to live with it. The other big creative thing I did that year was to write some Positively State St. columns for the Indy, which you can read more about here. Finally, in December I completed the four-year tooth-pull otherwise known as "The Lightning Rod." It's the pivot, the fulcrum, the turning point of all my song lyrics. Everything afterward was good, but not as good. I would later record it with Honey White in 2002.

2002: I help start another band, which ends up being even better than the first one.

March 8, 2002 was the first time Bryn, Brian, Billy and I got together at Earl's Table Salt studio to make music as Honey White. Everything clicked instantly, and we all jammed happily ever after. Or at least until Brian went to Washington DC for grad school in 2007. But still. Anyway, I'm trying to think of other big creative things that happened to me in '02, but nothing comes to mind. I was still living in Isla Vista and working at a second UCSB job (which I also quit that year), so making loud guitar noise two nights a week, plus a monthly gig somewhere in the greater S.B. area, was quite enough. It was, as the kids say, "good times."

2003: I get rejected from grad school, remain unemployed for 18 months, and go to night school.

My future creative class yuppiness starts here, gang. I needed an excuse to quit my UCSB HR job, so I invented "graduate school"—in this case, the creative writing MFA programs at UCI and SFSU—and broke free of the 40-hour zombie death march. However, my written fiction submissions were so poor that I was immediately rejected by both schools, as I kind of figured I would be. So, I had to lick my prose wounds and wait for king-hell fame and fortune, and by mid-year, with my girlfriend in grad school, my brother in Europe, and my band on hiatus, I had no choice but to submit to a night school graphic design program. It mostly sucked big donkey balls, but near the end would prove to be much better. Oh, the other thing I learned in 2003 was that making websites is fun, and authoring DVDs is an awful, wretched thing that I never want to do again. Ever.

2004: I get a real job as a graphic designer, and make a real album with Honey White in a real studio.

Like I said, night school eventually paid off, what with scoring an internship with a company in Ventura whose president was the teacher of the final course in that night school graphic design program. Within a week, Emily got her teaching gig in Fillmore, and we landed a lease on a Ventura apartment. The universe told us to live in the VC, so that's exactly what we did. Also during the summer, I joined the Honey White guys in a trip to San Francisco's Take Root studio, where we had a fantastic experience recording the album that would become "How Far is the Fall," with ace engineer Jonathan Mayer. We released the CD in 2005, but all the tracking happened between August and December '04, and I still consider it one of the best experiences of my life.

Okay, so since the title says "Part 1," I'll leave it at that and be back with more later. Maybe this weekend.

December 06, 2009

O.C. School District to Its Teachers: Go F**k Yourselves

Those damnable, pesky public employee unions! If it weren't for them and their cushy, decadent benefits packages, California's sterling government would surely be nowhere near the level of crushing idiocy that currently pervades the hallowed halls of Sacramento. And now, now those ungrateful teachers and their annoying elitist union have the temerity to continue to take no shit from a district beset by its own rampant corrupt stupidity, and have chosen to express their collective feelings via three hundred middle fingers:

Teachers angry at the Capistrano Unified School District's proposal to cut their pay by 10% held a rally Saturday to protest the move. The demonstration, which took place near the Mission Viejo Mall, drew more than 300 people, according to organizers of the event. It marked the latest in a series of actions highlighting teachers' dissatisfaction with contract negotiations and the school board.
Profaning the sanctity of a refurbished mall, fer crissakes! What in blazes is the world coming to? I mean, don't those whiny punks realize that the district needs to slash $25 million from its 2010/11 budget, to offset such essential expenses as palatial office complexes and ongoing legal fees from an Iran-Iraq war of a recall election?

Not to mention the known costs associated with an irritating parent-teacher initiative that would clobber the budget to the tune of another $500K. The nerve! Where will it end? Isn't it enough to be mocked in both print and pixel, and slandered to disturbing degrees by long-disgruntled students brimming over with impotent revenge?
Oh yes, regime change had finally come back to Capistrano—just like those pestilential swallows—in the form of an overblown auto de fe by ex-Superintendent James Fleming and his faithful right hand, Associate Superintendent Susan McGill. Theirs was a sordid story of supposed sin that I'd managed to remain completely ignorant of, despite repeated hints dropped by various well-meaning friends and relatives who have worked or currently work for CUSD. It had everything, though—arrogance, intimidation, entitlement, corruption, decadence—including a certain secret ingredient that made it irresistible to me.
What the hell, indeed. Don't these fools know that you go to class with the pennies you have, and not the millions you wish you had? Tell 'em, Anna:
"These are difficult times for all institutions, not just school districts," said trustee Anna Bryson. "We have to work with the money that we have, and that keeps getting smaller."
Like, totally, baby. Don't take any guff from these overeducated babies. Stomp the buggers. Hire scabs if you have to—hell, you could rescind some of those 6-months-delayed rejection letters we sent out to all those qualified bright young people who grovel at our feet whenever UCI or whatever other school graduates a new class of fresh-faced, credentialed teachers. Yeah, hire those kids at a fraction of the contracted salary. They'll take it, won't they?

And for God's sake, show no mercy on those 300 uppities in Mission Viejo. This is the twenty-first century, hon—unions are dead, and no one gives a shit about their selfish, coddled members anyway. It's high time that they were cut down to size, just like back in the good old days. What are those Pinkerton gentlemen up to, anyway? Give them a call. We simply cannot have this level of disturbance in a district of this size.

It's not about us covering our own asses for decades of congenital stupidity. It's really all about the kids. The teachers have never ever considered their pupils in all this, have they? of course not. It's all about them:
Vicki Soderberg, president of the Capistrano Unified Education Assn., which represents some 2,200 teachers, said the proposed salary decrease would be dire. "Asking for a 10% pay cut would throw a lot of our teachers out of their homes and onto the streets," she said.
Vicki, you cold-hearted snake. Won't someone please think of the children?

Cross-posted: dkos, cal

November 27, 2009

Pompous Pontifications for Two Thousand Ten

It's that time again, folks: we're all about to be inundated with not only year-ending, but decade-ending "best-of" and "coming soon" lists, so I thought I'd do as the Romans do and pile on like gangbusters. Since I got the impetus from David Garland's marketing predictions on Rise Underground, I'll do the professional thing and pretend to be knowledgeable about these things too. See, unlike Garland, I have no resources to back myself up, but that's never really stopped me before, now has it? So this is more what I'd like to see happen, instead of what will happen. Let's get to it, then:

ONE: Blind, Dumb Panic Will Continue to Drive Sales
Because you can never go wrong betting on herd behavior when it comes to business, right? Depending on nebulous ideas and tenuous concepts has been the name of the game for years, but scratching and clawing for better deals will never go out of style. Hurry, or someone else will get the shit that is rightfully yours!

TWO: Keeping Up With Everything Will Be Passé
Appearing current and with it, and actually being that, are obviously two very different things. I predict people will have less and less patience for doing so—except when they're in the throes of blind, dumb panic.

THREE: Taking Everything Seriously Will Be Boring
Happily, the onslaught of earnest, do-goody impulses has not overwhelmed the national psyche since the inauguration of Barack Obama. I do like the guy, and he knows how to market himself, but humorless idealism makes me snore. Why? I am an unapologetic child of the ironic '90s, that's why, and I don't have any patience for other self-important "experts in their field." Even though I'm behaving like one right now.

FOUR: Positive Thinkers Will Be Harshly Discredited
Having self-confidence and setting goals is one thing, but clinging desperately to bogus what-if scenarios and other empty self-help denialist bullshit like that will fall out of favor in lieu of steely-eyed, ruthless pragmatism. Hey, a guy can dream, can't he?

FIVE: Professional Arrogance Will Be Rightly Crucified
This can't happen fast enough. I am so, so tired of the clubby, exclusionary snobbery of so-called professionals, in any field—and I am one. Look, it's one thing to be good at something and love doing it and getting paid for that—and it's quite another to sneak into the closing door and slam it shut behind you just to cover your own ass and keep the riffraff out. I saw enough of that crap when I was in struggling indie bands, and I see it all the time in marketing. It's wretched, fearful behavior—until I do it. Then it's just good business.

Okay, more on all this silly stuff later. I've got a dinner date, so toodles.

November 21, 2009

We're Not So Different, You and I

I am not a good person. I've known this for a long time now, but for some reason people insist on disbelieving me. It's true, though—I'm a bad man, and I work in an evil business, full of bitchy little plastic people with humorless agendas and fearful, envious hearts. It absolutely sucks, and yet conversely I feel right at home being a judgmental jerk among my peers and colleagues. Admitting that took a little while, but I've always felt inherently bad—or at least "not good"—and I think that is one of the reasons why I've lasted so long in this wretched industry. I've dispensed with the illusion that I'm a well-intentioned, vaguely friendly person full of good will toward all humanity.

All my best, most creative schemes are foiled by humanity, you see. My creative energy has always been negative, and for some reason this makes people uncomfortable. They keep insisting that I have patience for their wide variety of hang-ups, and they gripe bitterly when I don't—throwing around meaningless words like "empathy" and "trust" and "feelings" as if those concepts still carried currency with anyone over the age of five. I guess just don't really care what other people think, but I am in the hilarious position of working in a business where that is the central (perhaps even the only) commandment in this self-obsessed age: Thou Shalt Give A Shit About Everything.

Except I don't—the pathetic, insecure projections of positively-thinking people; the knee-jerk, reactionary humorlessness of self-gratifyingly serious people; the willful, fantasyland ignorance of delusional people; the smug sneering of hopelessly righteous people—I'm bored with it all. Humanity's emotional convulsions perennially fail to affect me. Or at least it all would affect me, if I bothered to take any of it personally, See, that's the key: I refuse to take any of it personally. Everyone always takes life, the universe, and everything too personally, and that's where the trouble starts. They are unnerved by the universe's inherent absurdity, and vehemently deny that any creation so awesome could be based on such a simple, contradictory concept. I mean, if God accidentally sneezes, are Her boogers not divine? Is Her snot-rag not a receptacle of genius? If I believed in God, that would be worth pursuing, but I don't really care either way, so fuck it.

Simple apathy isn't a viable engine of evil, though—no matter how many times people cite that "bad shit happens when good men do nothing" idea. That's flogging a wretched undead nag for sure. No, active badness is definitely where it's at. Nice guys not only finish last—they finish forgotten, if they even finish at all—and I do not intend to be forgotten, dude. Not for a few generations, at least. The best way to accomplish that, of course, is to selfishly inflict my DNA on the future via procreation, but the ensuing eighteen years of dedicated, loving parental care would be wholly unattractive to my egomaniacal sensibilities, even if beholding my new-born progeny would induce a flood of sympathetic brain chemistry. I am a creative thinker, though, and I do get that feeling from the things I create—be they for business or personal or mucus-expelling reasons—and since divinity complexes can be central traits of evil people, that's another check-swing, foul-tip strike against me.

A further failing is simple: I am a liar, and I've learned to accept that I will continue to lie, just like Henry Rollins. Indeed, I'm not really concerned with the morality of lying anymore—I don't mind lying to people, as long as the lie has a solid foundation beneath it and I won't be hurting anyone by doing so. So yes, I am a liar, but I am a very bad liar. Not a big liar—I've never brought down corporations or ruined marriages or cheated the IRS—but I couldn't be a successful big, sociopathic liar even if I wanted to, because I am lazy. Yes, I am a slave to sloth—as I've previously stated ad nauseam—and getting away with whopping lies is not a job for slackers. No, skillful prevarication is not the province of chronically tardy people with poor attitudes, and my attitude is very poor indeed—or rather it would be if it showed up on time. Now, that is not the way to claw your way up the ladder of service-oriented, self-affirming corporate culture, my friends, but it has long been my chosen path.

But that path is also no way to politely disengage oneself from political discourse at any level, and I have been hopelessly mired in American politics since the age of eleven. As one great contemporary philosopher describes it, "people who follow politics closely cannot comprehend people who aren't partially lying. They are intellectually paralyzed by literal messages." Yeah, as if "there's always got to be something else going on, man!" But there isn't. There's no light at the end of the tunnel and there's no secret cabal pulling the strings, let alone a capriciously benevolent divine being. Just the continual dull roar of humanity—boring, but to me, true. Whereas people who casually follow politics—or who are only beginning to follow politics—are singularly incapable of accepting figuratively-based thought. Face value is the only currency, and deliberative debate for its own sake is as suspicious and evil as black magic.

And that's absurd—a universal virtue if ever there was one—but since the most interesting place to be is always right in the middle of a contradiction, I'm okay with that, too. I am not a Christian, and hopefully I never will be, but I recognize a central fallacy of their belief system: "we are all sinners." Indeed we are, but only because the idea of "sin" and "evil" is a reality of our existence. Whether or not that even matters is another question entirely, but I refuse to get bummed out by that. Life in general is much better than the alternative, especially if it's spiced with the occasional spasms of self-indulgent behavior. And I am almost totally fueled by that, dude. After all, I currently enjoy a comfortable happy existence, in a pretty place, full of nice people—and I am supposed to feel guilty about this? I'm gonna be judged because of that? Really? Really? Now that, that is absurd. That's skipping the decline and going straight to the fall, man.

Since I want to accept chaotic absurdity, however, I'll deal. I'm not so anxious to push the reset button yet. I'm not so preoccupied with wasting my time and love and energy on the accomplishments of people I'll never meet, or with martyring myself for their immutable, pristine, and lifeless principles. I'll let that which does not matter truly slide, because the posturing bores are not worth engaging. Someone else can grapple with illogical contradictions and try to curve the sharp corners of the surrounding, resolutely square reality.

Cross-posted: dkos, dd

November 08, 2009

How Can You Have Any Pudding if You Don't Eat Your Meat?

Ye gods, the damn ungrateful brats just never stop screaming, do they? You work all day to bring home the bacon and they just turn up their noses at it. The very idea of it all, indeed! Why can't they just eat their sausages like good little children, huh? Why won't they just swallow, grin and bear it, and beg for more? Don't they understand how hard Dad busted his own ass all day to pay for this? Don't they appreciate how Mom slaved over a hot stove all night to put it on the table? I mean, really—who in their right mind would have the sheer nerve to push it away and demand their pudding? What the hell, son?

Listen you whiny little shits, I don't care how much pudding Bobby and Suzy's parents give them; hell, they could eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for all we know—they're hideously obese enough, aren't they? Do you want to turn out like that? Huh? Do you? No, listen to me when I'm talking to you! I will not have you insult my hard work and your mother's righteous skills with your selfish, puritanical pouting, young man. I will not allow you to treat us that way, young lady. You're going to eat that fucking sausage on your plate, and you're going to like it, or so help me I'll take off my belt right now.

I don't care what you've read in school—what the hell do your teachers know, after all? They're probably all pinko commie vegans anyway. Who does that Mr. Sinclair think he is? Who died and made him Secretary of Agriculture? Jesus, it's not like any of them have had to slog through the killing floor day after day after day, is it? No, their lives aren't awash in polluted effluvia, and they never will be, up in those shiny ivory towers. They have no idea what it takes to work for a living, raise a family, endure an office full of morons and a planet full of fools. Look at all those idiots! Look at all those boobs! Why, I'd wager they wouldn't even know ham form haggis, the smug, sneering elitists!

Dennis? Hey, are you listening to me, son? Look what you did! Look what you did! You've made your mother cry, goddamnit! You've ruined dinner all because you can't take a single solitary bite of sausage! Don't you realize that there are starving people in Africa? Hell, there are even starving people in West Virginia! People who would walk on their lips through busted glass to even get next to that sausage. People who would never in their wildest dreams believe they could sit at a table like this; live in a house on a cul-de-sac like this; leach a cushy existence in an exurb like this!

I mean, go ask any of your snotty little friends in Cub Scouts, son. I'm sure all of them eat their meat with gusto; they're all nice plump little boys, aren't they? Hell yes, just like Marcy's catty cheer camp sisterhood. They don't tolerate any of that binge and purge behavior, no sir! Come to think of it, Marcy, you look like you've lost weight, baby. How 'bout you put away some of that sausage? Put some motion in those moves, girl. Jesus, you wouldn't want those skinny chicken legs showing at halftime tomorrow night, would you? Your mother and I will be at the game, just like we promised, and if you know what's good for you you'll swallow that entire sausage whole, honey.

Look here, I'll show you—it's simple. See, you take the relish and mustard and ketchup and all those other condiments that God has seen fit to provide us, and slather them all over that big ol' kielbasa. Damn right, just like that. See, that's not so bad, is it? Is it? Good, now all you have to do is take that first bite…Go ahead, honey, we'll wait, and…and—hey, Dennis, where the hell do you think you're going? What? What's on TV? Oh Jesus, that's right! Quick, quick everyone—inhale that sausage and get your asses into the den—Top Chef is on!

Ah…now that's better, isn't it? No no, you're not green at all, darling—what, do you think we'd poison you? Never in hell—where do you think we'd be without that tax write-off? Ha! How we get our meat doesn't matter as much as us getting it in the end, does it? This is still America, kids—the Law of the Jungle is still the Law of the Land, after all. Kill or be killed. Is this a great country, or what?

Cross-posted: dkos

November 02, 2009

Birthday Cake is the Breakfast of Kings

AKA "It's That Glorious Time of Year Again, Part III." Getting up at 6 a.m. to eat birthday cake is the only reason to get up this early, but since I have now entered my Jesus Year (for the Christians out there) or my Alexander Year (for the rest of you), I've decided that the coming 12 months between #33 and #34 shall be Momentous Indeed.

Let's just say that since I don't really do New Year's Resolutions, today will have to do: by this time next year I hope to have finished my first novel in some form, complete enough to self-publish and then ignore in favor of new work with the band, which we will be knee-deep in. If that time period also includes travel to someplace I've never been before, I'll also be happy.

So if you feel the earth shake at all between now and 11/2/2010, it'll just be me walking tall and kicking ass. You're welcome.

October 31, 2009

Obligatory Thoughts on Monsters and Wild Things

Nothing complicated for this one; since it's Halloween, I thought I'd cough up one of my reheated metaphorical theories about monsters and horror and stuff. I actually hate horror movies and monster stories, but I appreciate the symbolism that many of them have. Since I've studied too much Dante and Milton, my own tendency is to attach all kinds of western Judeo-Christian stuff to monster narratives, and so I glommed on to the idea that each type of monster is a metaphor for one of the seven deadly sins. It's not a very original idea, but none of them ever really are, so I'll just list 'em:

Vampires = Lust, Zombies = Sloth, Werewolves = Wrath, Ghosts = Envy, Skeletons = Gluttony, and...and that's about as far as I get. I can't think of any undead-ish monsters that apply to Pride or Greed. Devils work well for Pride—that was Satan's original problem, after all—but they're not human/corporeal like the others are. Witches aren't really monsters either, and there are plenty of Wiccans who'd be offended by that idea anyway, so I don't include them.

That's that, except to note that these things have popped up everywhere in western literature (and every other culture, too) for thousands of years. Some interesting twists have always been involved—Victorian classics like Frankenstein's monster alluded to the hubris of science creating life (hey, there's a good one for Pride: a golem), and Dracula and vampires have always symbolized uncontrollable carnal desire—but the most interesting ones for me have been modern-ish takes: the bored, diva-tastic bloodsuckers of Anne Rice; the zombified shoppers of 1950's horror films, etc.

One problem is by creating these outsized metaphors for the most disturbing human behavior, we sort of gloss over the fact that mere humans tend to do more monstrous things than any fictional nightmare. In spite of that, I do have a few favorite monster metaphors. One of them is the werewolf character Lupin from the Harry Potter books, who has always struck me as a stand-in for an HIV-positive person. Not full-blown AIDS, but something with enough of a stigma and sting to make the simple allusion to lycanthropy work for a kids' book.

My other favorite is the Bret Easton Ellis short story collection "The Informers." Ellis, of course, famously gave us "American Psycho," but I went back to re-read "Informers" after it came out on film earlier this year to a chorus of pans. The movie had no vampires—and for a collection that was, literally, sold in Japan under the translation "Vampires and Zombies" (as an allusion to the hyperbolically active and passive freaks of 1980s Los Angeles), that was supposedly a major fatal flaw. Since I haven't actually seen the film yet, I'll refrain from judgment.

Speaking of movies, though, Em and I did belatedly catch "Where the Wild Things Are" today and, well… I don't really have anything meaningful to say about it, because I didn't really feel anything about the film one way or another. I don't know how else to describe it except by quoting the baseball writer Roger Angell, who once said something like "Whenever I went to a Yankees game, I felt like [megalomaniacal team owner] George Steinbrenner was in the way. I wanted to see Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson, but all I saw was Steinbrenner."

That's sort of how I feel about this movie: I wanted to see Wild Things, but all I saw was (director) Spike Jonze and (writer) Dave Eggers and their achingly hip neuroses. Now, maybe I'm too used to being manipulated and told how to feel by movies (I did just cite Harry Potter, didn't I?), but to me this "Wild Things" seemed emotionally cold and almost dead (with the exception of actress Catherine Keener). That self-consciously arch, Wes Anderson-type ennui that pollutes so many movies of the past decade had its tendrils in this one too—and it made the thing so desperate to be Meaningful and Important that it kinda turned me off. But who knows—maybe I'm not getting something, which is very likely.

Anyway, on that ugly note, happy Halloween, kiddies. Eat lots of candy and don't worry about us grumpy old people and our silly griping—it's only a metaphor for the bitter ravages of age, after all. Did I mention it's my birthday in two days?

October 26, 2009

It's That Glorious Time of Year Again, Part II

The Dubious birthday week continues, today with a nod to my sister Lis. As you can see from the photo, Lis has clearly always enjoyed spending time with her big brothers, which is surely why she now lives 500 miles away from both of us. ;-) Happy birthday Lil!

October 25, 2009

It's That Glorious Time of Year Again

Yup, it's yet another Birthday Week for the DuBois kids, and we are kicking it off in style. Today it's Bryn's turn. Everyone wish him the best, because for eight high and mighty days, his age is only one number below mine. Happy birthday bro.

October 21, 2009

Be Careful Not to Touch the Wall

Yeah Bobby, cause there's a brand-new coat of paint going on over at ye olde My Band Rocks Dot Com. Mira:

The Honey White version of the site has actually looked like this for most of 2009, but I figured it was high time to re-vamp the rest of the bands' pages over there and effectively bring them into the year 2001 with some basic, gimpy CSS. Right now they look a little bare-bones, for sure—but the plan is to (relatively soon) integrate them with a relatively agile content management system like MODx.

Also, they're pretty dependent on social media tools for content right now. Those ugly little ShareThis! buttons are on every page, the HW news is piped in via FeedBurner's RSS thingy, all photos are in Flickr slideshows, HW and Low Tide have small YouTube pages, and as always every album is streaming in the XSPF Flash players from But it's a start.

It's also the reason I haven't been blogging about stuff for a little while, for those impatient few who've been bugging me to post something. Like Bryn. More as it develops...

September 25, 2009

Keir's Summer Yuppie Concert Series 2009

Nothing special for this one; just felt like posting other people's photos from the shows I saw this summer—Neko Case (Greek L.A., 6/12), Wilco (Greek Berkeley, 6/27), Jenny Lewis (Hollywood Bowl, 7/12), Elbow (Wiltern L.A., 7/22), and Built to Spill (Velvet Jones S.B., 8/22). Em went to the first four with me, Mom and Bill came to Wilco with us, and Bryn and I endured sloppy drunks for Built to Spill. Photos are in that order:

Being the good creative-class NPR yuppie that I am, naturally I dug every show. We were due to see Placebo rock out last weekend too, in L.A., but their singer decided he was too exhausted to tour the U.S. Maybe they'll be back. I hope so, for Emily's sake (she was not amused).

Photo credits: Neko Case by Andrew Youssef for Stereogum. Wilco's Jeff Tweedy by Hippies Are Dead. Jenny Lewis by Irfan Khan for the L.A. Times. Guy Garvey of Elbow by Youssef again, for Stereogum. Built to Spill by Paul Wellman (who actually photographed me once, too) for the S.B. Independent.

September 13, 2009

The Horrible Burden of Being Right All the Time

Some people have no idea how goddamn fragile the universe is, you know? How temporary and tenuous and genuinely frightening it is. How all things are supposed to have a purpose and a reason and a proper place and time to exist. It's an awful shame, and apparently a staggeringly difficult concept to understand in crunch time, but it's true. No, seriously—anything worth doing is worth doing right. Life requires meticulous planning, and I'm sick and tired of being mocked for my steadfast adherence to things done by the book and inside the box and according to the forever-changing rules that I myself made up.

Honest, I swear. I mean, I've thought about this stuff a lot, okay? I fucking hate it when people up and decide to be the change they wish to see, because that wasn't part of The Plan. My plan—because I'm a Serious Person, and I believe in inartful, easily-malleable shit like Facts and Reason and Logic and other soulless, sexless, reality-based stuff. Except when it it's not convenient—but hey, we can't have all that messy passion coloring everything we do, can we? We're dealing with a delicate operation here, and no one's allowed to touch the sides. That buzzer's just so fucking loud. But yeah, the quest sits perpetually upon the edge of a knife, and no one will believe how serious it is if silly damn fools keep running around shoving petitions in peoples' faces. Everything simply must be in its right place, or else we'll all be sorry.

And, really—the last thing I want to do is drive a wedge between people I like and people I don't, but man, these overzealous activists and hotshot circular firing squads are totally harshing my buzz. Seriously, you guys, let's not bicker and argue about who killed who. The President spoke! He rocked! This is supposed to be a happy occasion! I wanted to Rah Rah and Fuck Yeah and kick the party of Dumb Brutes and Rich People while they're down, and now...well, now these fucking petitions are everywhere, and I can't do that! So totally not fair, man. Not cool at all. We can't possible impose upon our erstwhile allies. That would be ever so rude. It would ruin everything.

And their insecurities are contagious, after all. Overzealous enthusiasm would frighten anyone, though, right? If we're not careful, it'll topple our little jenga-pile of painstakingly-crafted talking points and frames and alliances and deft, subtle maneuvers. So, sadly, some people need to be put in their place. Forcefully. It brings us no joy, but it must, yes must be done. Why? Because foisting our horrible burdens of rightness upon those dumb, melodramatic philistines is what we do best. They have no idea how we feel. Mocked and teased and snickered at and ignored for having the temerity to be unremittingly professional. Jesus! What's the world coming to?

So yeah, this is how it's gonna have to be, because we said so, and lots of important people agree with us. That's right, son—don't you forget it. Don't you realize we've already considered and dismissed your childish concerns? Can't you see us tearing our hair? Can't you feel us wring our own necks in righteous rage? Can't you sense the humor and absurdity being sucked right out of our normal little souls by those clumsy, grasping amateurs? Cause if you can't, well…then you deserve every sociopathic sneer that will hit you. It'll be withering. You'll feel so dumb and worthless that you won't want to do anything at all! Eat that bowl of condescension, dude. Eat it raw, or no pudding for you. How can you have any ponies if you don't eat your shit?

Because your parents slaved over this shit, son. We're so totally more the legit activists than those other posturing wankers. Oh sure, yesterday it was activism, but then it became embarrassingly popular, and so today we've decided that they're doing it all wrong and deemed them a circular firing squad. We know what's best for you, and you better appreciate it. Hell, we're gonna MAKE you appreciate it, because no one's appreciated us. No one's even acknowledged the days and weeks and months and years we've spent mucking around the unknowing, unfeeling void. Other people gave up and fucked off, but did we ever falter? NO. We FOLLOWED THE RULES, and continued to, long long long after the Great Eye had looked beyond to focus on other, worthier things. It was our perogative, baby. Our right.

So don't give me that bong-shattering bollocks about "nuh-uh" and "whatevs" and "nyah nyah WE TOLD YOU SO" and "everything sucks worse than it's ever sucked before." We are HIGH on GLORY and TRANSCENDENCE right now, and shiny objects are for losers. Losers, I say. Now pass me that mojo and let's go bitch-slap some Naderites. Hell yes! Go! Fight! Stomp the buggers! Twist some progressive titties! Kick Sirota in the balls! The White House Chief of Staff didn't order it, but we know he totally would have, and you know what that means.

And another thing—for the love of Humphrey, please don't get paid to blog. That's making us look bad. That will just curdle our envious little souls, and we'll have to stomp your reputation into the slimy gutter. Hell hath no fucking fury like a scorned, under-appreciated Earnest Liberal with the temerity to work for free. Anyone who doesn't is just a paid shill or "failed movie producer" trying to build their fake reputation. Oh sure, they say they care about the issue, but their methods are, like, absolutely uncool, and all the suckers who are falling for their act are just the dumb unwashed ignorant masses anyway. I mean, was Nirvana cool when they single-handedly killed hair metal?

No. Hell no. We own every county fair stage and Sunset dive bar, so fuck them. We're taking them out. Yeah, time to give 'em a bath. Wash behind the ears. Git 'em soap flakes in the cracks. Lather-rinse-repeat. Humiliate the uppity little punks. Don't make me come down there. I'm going to scrub my snide sense of professional arrogance into you until your skin runs red with the rashes of the cynical, until it wrinkles raw with the ruthless scabs of compromise. And you'll learn to like it. Trust me, I speak from eminent experience. Hold still, little shill. This won't hurt a bit, but you will learn to live with it.

Cross-posted: dkos

September 07, 2009

Requiem for a Music Geek: All of This Has Happened Before

The ongoing cycle of death and rebirth may be one of life's only truths, but that doesn't make it any more fun to write about. See, usually Truth can be a shockingly powerful weapon—even a deadly one, in the hands of the righteous and insane—albeit one so final that it obliterates all the pissy little details that writers love to obsess over, and sucking the truth out of anything usually demands huge swaths of time, with often little reward for such massive emotional-temporal investment. That's a massively pompous thing to barf up on this Labor Day weekend, but remember that we're now looking down the barrel of Fall, the season when things begin to die, and contemplative rumination becomes all the rage as we each hoard our little harvests of sanity.

Good things take time, after all, so maybe it's understandable that it took me this long—six months or so—to squeeze out any semi-coherent thoughts about droll things like rock & roll albums by bands I used to really, really like. Specifically, U2's twelfth platter No Line on the Horizon, belatedly released this past March amid a carpet-bombing of promotional appearances by the Rich Irish Dorks in question. Obviously, U2's pretty popular on our little planet, so everyone and their dog felt compelled to weigh in on the merits—or lack thereof—attached to this thing, deluging us all in the depressing idiocy of both good and bad reviews.

Flaccid yawns erupted from planet Pitchfork, and over-the-top fellatio dribbled in from Rolling Stone, Q, and other points mainstream. The haters took yet another opportunity to lob their pathetically harmless envy-bombs, and the insecure fanatics once again leapt to defend their heroes at the slightest criticism. The band themselves swaggered into places like the Ed Sullivan Theater and the BBC studios, calmly and professionally dispatching the new tunes with the skills of (nearly) fifty-year-old road warriors, and there was much to pontificate about.

So I figured it would be a far, far better thing to just sit on this thing until the craziness blew over and U2 were set to hit these American shores with their monstrous "360" tour before strapping on that rusty old rock-critic juvenilia yet again and blathering on about the creativity of people I'll never meet. Yeah, let the thing ferment a while and kill off my initial hateful impulses, or see if they would simply wither on their own. However, all the baggage that goes into a U2 album these days is damn near unavoidable—for them as well as the rest of us—so now's as good a time as any to tackle No Line with the requisite revisionistic re-appraisal I love to foist on other people's creations.

The quick verdict—for those of you already rolling your eyes and clicking away—is that I actually do like the thing, and much more so than its immediate predecessors (2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind and 2004's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb), two stumbling, neo-classical behemoths that rival the Ptolemies in backward-grasping bombast. Yes, I like No Line, but I've found that I like it but mostly because it reminds me of other—better—music they've already made. That's a wretched thing to say, but unfortunately it's the truth. How can it not be, with the Eno/Lanois/Lillywhite Axis of Pomp back on board? Does U2 genuinely not know how to work well with anyone else? Do they even need to know that?

Ah, who cares. The new album is in that regrettable decade-ending position of U2's other supposed gaffes, 1988's Rattle and Hum and 1997's Pop; like those, it's received a lazy, schizoid reception of ecstatic adulation, shrugging sneers, and slavering hatred. It deserves none of those things, but U2's post-1998 history of abject banality had already heavily weighted my own personal scales, so everything you read in this column is already hopelessly biased. I've had lots of time to listen to it, but other than the usual silly subjective bullshit, the most I can say is that this album merely confirms how much U2 borrows from themselves with every new recording. They do not, contrary to wisdom, "reinvent" themselves every time. They merely offer up a different spin on the same old things they've always been good at: huge, vaguely-meaningful anthems on love and faith.

Take the opening title track, for example: a song I immediately enjoyed precisely because it's the incestuous spawn of two older songs I already love ("The Fly" and "Ultraviolet," both from Achtung Baby). Does it matter that I was effortlessly manipulated by the song's flagrant inbreeding—which was so strong that "No Line" was left without a chorus? Not really—Bono's gloriously wordless hollering in the verse more than makes up for that. The similarities to previous works don't stop there, though—they only intensify. Adam Clayton saunters to the front on "Magnificent," a matronly and graceful update of "Mysterious Ways," as if the female belly-dancing deity in the lyric has aged 18 years, had three kids, and put on about 40 pounds, but can still shake it on the weekend.

And that, folks, is where the album peaks for me—those two songs. Well, there is one other high point, but we'll get to that later. After "Magnificent," No Line lurches between sluggish ballads (which nevertheless contain good Edge guitar work) and overcompensatory rockers for most of its remaining length. "Moment of Surrender" is ruined right away by Bono's singing—he crashes through the window at full volume, when he should have eased into, and built up to, the kind of climax this seven-minute monster demands. The colossal stupidity of everything about "Get On Your Boots" (the execrable first single) helps obscure the mere dumbness of "Stand Up Comedy" and "I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight," but this shit sandwich in the album's mushy middle very nearly croaks the whole thing. It's a terrible, terrible sequence—no matter how much your toes tap—and no amount of dissembling from Bono ("we were trying to do an Eagles of Death Metal song!" or "people bitched about 'The Fly' like this too!") can save it. But except for those tinkly bells in the weak chorus, "Boots" is irredeemably bad. I once called it "a monstrously half-assed jalopy of suck," and "worse than 'Beautiful Day' or even the depths of 'Vertigo'," and I stand by that insult. It absolutely deserves it—the music sucks and the lyric is stupid. I can't believe Larry Mullen let this one out of the barn.

Speaking of lyrics, well, that's another near-fatal flaw on this album. Much has been made of Bono's supposed writing in character for No Line. The problem is he never even got halfway there. These things aren't alternate points of view; they're clumsy, amateur stabs at skills he's never had. Bono is great at first-person narrative metaphors, but by explicitly claiming these are stories he injects an aura of craftsmanship into them that as a lyricist he frankly has not possessed for over a decade (and then only fleetingly so). The one glorious exception, full of (relatively) energetic wonder, is a stone cold killer line from Track 10, "Breathe" ("I'm running down the road like loose electricity/while the band in my head plays a strip-tease"), but that single blast of genius is quickly smothered by the weight of all the surrounding half-assed lyrical effort, and is a nasty reminder of how long it's been since Bono was writing from a genuine place of inspiration and the metaphors came with every Biblical turn of the page.

That's another thing: for all the vaunted out-front religiosity of this disc, its sentiments are much more plastic than the genuinely subversive faith U2 displayed on the supposedly piss-poor Pop album. God seems less real on some of these songs than on any other U2 disc (the watered-down matriarchal worship in "Magnificent," the sluggish, boring exorcism that is "Moment of Surrender," the flat-out failed sci-fi surrealism of "Unknown Caller"). There is indeed a palpable aura of holy-fool seeking in the music, which seems to be an equal-parts distillation of October-era sonic babbling and Unforgettable Fire-like ambient atmosphere topped off by some disjointed Pop-isms—but it's consistently sabotaged by the same laughably awkward mistakes we've come to expect from this band. Now, they obviously don't care, so why should I? It's pretty cool that the same four jokers are still together making music after all this time, even if it's a relatively transparent echo of past glory.

So yeah, I spun it a lot when it was released, and probably will continue to as the tour crosses the continent, but six months later, the only songs I still really want to play from this album are "No Line on the Horizon," "Magnificent," the amplified sketchbook of "Fez/Being Born," and "Breathe." Those are the four keepers for me—the same amount as that from both previous albums ("Walk On," "Kite," "City of Blinding Lights," and "Fast Cars"). For this bitchy little fanboy, U2 has finally arrived at its own Big Crunch. Their sonic universe has collapsed in upon itself in a frantic re-arranging of matter and energy not seen since the Rolling Stones dropped Steel Wheels twenty years ago. Sure, U2 has been doing this for their whole career, but in the last decade of neo-classical revisionism their volatile recycling act has seemed its most ham-fisted and blatant, and I'm sure other people will love it much more than I do. Which is perfectly fine, as long as they recognize—and remember—that all of this has happened before and, thanks to dumb, castrated plagiarists like Coldplay, all of it will surely happen again.

September 06, 2009

One of These Things is Not Like the Others

Okay, just some harmless, non-partisan stuff for the remainder of this gloriously socialistic holiday weekend. As a politics junkie with a particular interest in American presidential politics, these photos have always been interesting to me: the "Five Presidents" shots from (I think) 1991 and 2008. The first one I saw constantly, over the course of my professional career, and the second one was just fun in that post-election haze of December '08, before Obama became human again. Anyway, I've always had fun doing the whole Sesame Street "one of these things is not like the others" with the dubious members of that most exclusive club.

So, the first photo (Ford, Nixon, Bush, Reagan, Carter): each one of these men had a unique aspect of their presidency that none of the others shared. Only one resigned in a violent frenzy of shame (Nixon). Only one was never actually elected—appointed to the vice-presidency, assumed the presidency upon his predecessor's resignation, and defeated in a re-election bid (Ford). Only one was a Democrat (Carter). Only one was elected to, and served, two full terms in office (Reagan). Only one was an elected vice-president who succeeded his predecessor in his own right (Bush).

There are lots of things in common too, though—three of these men were vice-presidents (Nixon, Ford, and Bush). Four were Republicans (Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush). Two were governors (Carter and Reagan). Two are still living (Carter and Bush).

Okay, second photo (Bush I, Obama, Bush II, Clinton, Carter), from when Bush II was still in office, but after Obama was elected.

Only one is a father of the other (and conversely, only one is a son): the Bushes. Only one was impeached by the House of Representatives (Clinton, who was of course acquitted by the Senate and served two full terms). Only one had to fend off a primary challenge from his own party during a re-election bid (Carter, who had to beat Ted Kennedy in 1980 before losing to Reagan). Only one was a senator before becoming president (Obama). And sadly, only one is black (Obama).

These guys have things in common too: three were governors (Carter, Clinton, Bush II). Two were re-elected and served two full terms (Clinton and Bush II). Two were defeated in re-election bids (Carter and Bush I).

I'm sure there are other similarities and/or unique aspects of these eight jokers, but I can't remember them right now, so these little trivia tidbits will have to do. Happy Labor Day weekend, comrades.

September 05, 2009

It's Not a Blue World After All, Max

"No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree, please post this as your status for the rest of the day."
Well…shucks, that'll show 'em. Awesome viral activism, gang. Maybe somewhere, in another parallel Pepperland, Max Baucus and Kent Conrad immediately updated their Facebook status in sweet, serene solidarity. I can see it now, splattered in big, 16-point Verdana Bold atop the "MAX 2008" senatorial profile, right next to the photo of Baucus with azaleas sprouting from his nose and ears. In this universe, of course, our own Blue Meanies sold us all out long, long ago (if Matt Taibbi said so, then it must be true!), and have been stumbling their way to a new round of Snatching Fail From The Jaws Of Win.

The sight of Democratic politicians tripping over their own staffers and frantically pissing themselves in fear of the hydra-headed health insurance lobby is, alas, depressingly familiar. I myself was due to get an ugly, up-close look at a local specimen, Congresswoman Lois Capps (D, CA-23), but in true Democratic spirit, I chickened out at the last minute in order to do something infinitely more fun: have a nice dinner with a beautiful brunette woman. However, the intrepid chair of our local Young Democrats did manage to shove his way into the Oxnard church where Capps was all set to face down the screamers, and thanks to the magic of Twitter I discovered that my initial instincts proved correct. Lois crumpled under the onslaught of neo-Bircher taxophobic insanity, and Dave tweeted the whole thing. It went a little like this:
"At Lois Capps' health care town hall. Banner above reads "pray until something happens." The ignorance is stunning. Lois began by swatting away myths (none for illegals/abortion/death panels, blah blah) but then said HCR would be "deficit neutral" and the cons laughed out loud. Lois flustered & nervous at slightest confrontation.

She then claimed constitution says "health liberty and pursuit of happiness." Horrible gaffe, crowd erupted. Weak sauce, congresswoman. Followed that with another facepalm answer to irrelevant question about tort reform. Followed that with cringeworthy assertion that "Medicare is not a socialized program." And she used to do this for a living! [Capps was a nurse…or something like that—Ed.]

Dems let themselves get shouted down by a raving minority—only questions were from wingnuts! Bullshit moderation. In a bad mood. I was the only unruly Dem shouting and clapping for public option. Not once was 77% support for it mentioned. A bunch of weak-kneed crap."
Sorry man, but I could have spared you the frustration. I was there, as a UCSB Young Dem, when Lois succeeded her late husband Walter in 1998, and had she not faced a succession of slobbering dolts from Paso Robles and other points Republican (and not to mention scored some major contributions from local corporate ghouls Baxter and WellPoint), Lois would have never made it this far. She's a liberal, you see, in the classic 20th-century mold—nice, polite, non-confrontational. No outward sense of humor, or of the absurd. Now, these are not sins—the overwhelming majority of liberal Democrats are just like this, including myself—but they are not the best things to carry into a mud-fight with drooling conservatives.

For some reason, the Democratic Party has never learned this. Well, the Democratic politicians have—but they're happy to be spineless eunuchs if the price is right. For the rest of us hopeless suckers, the symptoms run a little deeper than that, and they've turned us all into a party of insecure literalists and earnest bores. We freak out at the slightest provocation, like thirteen-year-old boys changing in public middle school locker rooms, terrified that someone will call us "faggots." Then the whole school will know—and dear me, we can't have that. Even when we win, we can't believe it; we're convinced that the slightest threat of conflict will topple our pathetic Jenga-pile of a platform and leave us back in the ditch with the Whigs. Those pesky Code Pink purists! Why can't they just disagree in a civilized way? All that blood! Jeepers!

I know, I know—I can't pin the insecurity thing on we Democrats alone; every American is susceptible to different virulent variations of it (even American Jews, stereotypically our best humorists, get jumpy if someone gives Israel dirty looks—hang on, did I say that right?). The ultimate contemporary example of this, though, is that frothing dingbat preacher from Arizona—the one so deep in the closet that the semen is pushing up against his lizard brain—and his gun-toting Uncle Tom of an acolyte who showed up with a shoulder-bazooka at the President's town hall in Phoenix. Those two jokers have so many compounded insecurities that they can't even see straight anymore—but they are not alone. There was that one guy who bit off a finger…

…and Jesus, let's get control of this awful tripe. That last graf had more ugly generalizations than a good liberal boy like myself ought to be spouting. But hey, at least I didn't mock the sun-eating Japanese first lady. Or the hagiographic memorials to Ted Kennedy (which definitely seemed the mirror image of 2004's mawkish Reagan elegies). Anyway, what I think I was getting at, before that useless digression into name-calling, was this: if the Democratic Party is going to make it out of the 2012 election intact—or even 2010, come to think of it—then we need some king-hell media surrealists in our camp to combat the jabbering dupes on the other side. Not to get too rah-rah here, but the current crop can't cut it. Maher's an asshole, Lewis Black is a walking bomb, Maddow's too intelligent to truly let loose, and Olbermann's become such a weird cartoon that I don't recognize him anymore. It's not a total loss—Ana Marie Cox is still flashing her chest on TV—but when you have to go that deep in the bench for talent, you're getting shaky.

Hell yes—let's get some true monsters out there, and ditch the costumed clowns. Some speakers with real fire in their belly who spew righteous napalm over the hyperventilating paranoid masses. And don't give me that silliness about the President's skillz. Mr. Obama has shown again and again that he lacks the Killer Instinct everybody needs to Truly Succeed in this country. Indeed, he will be viewed as a failure if he can't get his shit together and save this health care mess from the collective stupidity that envelops all who take it on. Yes, in spite of all his personal talent and genius, and all he's overcome, Number 44 seems to truly hate cynics and mistrusts all ironic impulses, which will send him into serious 39 territory before this year is over. Hell, he can't even speak to schoolchildren without pouring gasoline on the Station Fire of melodrama that passes for political dialogue these days.

So what the fuck have I been wasting my time with this crap for, over the past hour? Why not just enjoy this long weekend—the only U.S. holiday honoring the gloriously aberrant socialist impulse—and get ready for all the Beatles reissues next week? Righto, now that's change I can believe in. Maybe it's not a blue world after all, Max. Where can we go?

[Baucus, offstage]: "Argentina?"

Nah, Mark Sanford ruined that one for the rest of us, dude. It will be a very long time before Earnest and Good Men such as we can once again jump on a plane to Buenos Aires and, that very same day, suck champagne off the sensual spines of our Argentine escort-girls. Mother of gyrating Elvis, those were the days, eh? None of that sissy bowing down to the twin demons of Framing and Marketing for us. No sir, we would take the blue gloves off, swallow strong drink and stronger women, and barely live to tell the tale. We would swim naked in the Río de la Plata and support the entire economies of Peru and Bolivia with our ravenous narices.

Yes, yes—better keep that South American beef locked away in the memory banks for the present, Max. Conrad would only get jealous and Snowe would blush right down to her underwear. Just put that innocuous quote in your Facebook status, wait for Reconciliation, and Stand Behind the President when he tells the kids to stay in school. All together now…

Cross-posted: dkos, dd, fsz, mlw

August 20, 2009

Bottle Up and Explode, Over and Over

Because everyone is a fucking pro, and they all have answers for questions, you know?
—Elliott Smith
I used to hate the sound of screaming children. I mean really abhor it—the whining, the melodrama, the horrendous sense of entitled malediction—so much so that the slightest hint of temper bursting forth from an exploding id would make my soul pucker with vitriol. These days however, I'm finding more and more that I can tune it out—and let me tell you all, that's a glorious feeling. I can only assume that I've ascended to some wondrous alternate plane of nirvana, where nothing but the blissfully innocuous sounds of vapid contentment drift past at a pleasant volume. You know, kind of how VH-1 used to be when Sting was king. Yeah, some people get the big chills—but not me, dude. I bathe daily in a warm mist of numb muck so nutritious, so womb-like, that I've begun to hear everything as if it's pumped through a primo reverb tank.

Now, I don't have children—I don't intend to anytime in the near future either—and I've never really understood the psychology of temper tantrums anyway. I mean, I get the whole thing of releasing your anger so that it doesn't fester and eat you from the inside, but such a titanic waste of energy is anathema to me. My power animal is the sloth, you see, so this attitude has long been ingrained in my psyche. I never even learned how to throw a temper tantrum as a child. It's true—that was one of my mom's favorite stories to tell any girl I dated—apparently I'd get all pouty, flop down on the ground, and...nothing. It never occurred to me to even kick and scream. Too much effort, you know?

And yet I'm not envious at all of people who've mastered skills I've never known—be they tea-bagging right-wingers or Code-Pinky lefties. It's been both amusing and dismaying to watch the country continue to lurch from outrage to outrage in the last eight months, like Wimbledon on mescaline or something. Not to mention the condescending, Lakoffian tut-tuts from people who claim to know better. I absorbed more of that shit than I cared to remember after Bill Clinton wiped the floor with a Netroots Nation "Don't Ask Don't Tell" protester, telling him to join up with the town-hall brigades. Everyone piled on. Ho ho ho, the Big Dog sure showed that cheap punk, didn't he? Oh, the hilarity. My my.

Of course, I'm not afraid of such puritanical killjoy tribunals, but as to the Screamer Question, there really isn't much in the way of solutions either—especially not the same one that should have been applied to the Taliban: shock and awe of mass consumerism and casual immorality. We Americans are immune to that, though—hell, we perfected it, and woe fucking betide anyone who threatens to take that away from us. Oh sure, every once in a while some fringey extremists will make pathetic attempts at depriving us of our rightful porn films or fur coats or Cinnamon Toast Crunch, but their projectionary jihads always fail.

And why? America's right to exercise gratuitous hubris is non-negotiable, that's why—especially when we've finally succeeded in liberating this country from its wretched and humorless beginnings. I mean come on, Jamestown and Plymouth were boring. No wonder people got out of there as soon as they could and began owning slaves and murdering natives—if they'd simply been allowed to frolic and romp like rutting hogs we would be living in a different nation entirely. Something like Brazil crossed with Australia, maybe. Instead, we became us—and unless I missed something, this is still America, right? The shining city on a hill? The land of milk and honey populated by naked virgins dancing a thousand Icky Shuffles? The ravenous egomaniacal monster that must keep moving to stay alive, like some oversized cartilagenous predator?

Verily I say unto thee that it is. Indeed, in dark end-times like these, the small victories are worth shouting to the fucking heavens, dude. I mean, really—have the last twenty years taught us nothing? As I'm sure everyone knows, this November will be the two-decade anniversary of George Herbert Herbert Bush's accidental victory over the decrepit and impotent forces of Soviet communism. Don't we remember how Poppy just sort of backed into that hilarious outcome? Well, we do, of course, but the Stage Of History and the Universe At Large remembers something quite different, because of the goofy chicken dance that pencil-necked geek performed in the Rose Garden. Not to mention the follow-up Panamanian Shuffle and the deft maneuver of fellating Kuwait while stabbing Kurdistan in the back with Saddam's butcher knife. Those were some fucking skills, people—and how were they rewarded? Eight years of Clintonism. Karma sure is funny.

And yet Bush #1 is not forgotten. Oh sure, he jumps out of a plane every year, but you don't have to look far to see his cubicle-savant school of thought still honored in the highest places: stadiums, churches, academia, and yes—even the White House, where President Obama and his confederation of Goldmanites are apparently fucking up their administration's supposed legacy cornerstone. Hey, sixty votes are hard to swindle, okay? Thinking eleven-dimensionally simply won't do these days. You have to be serious about this—or at least make it look that way. Set up a dunk tank on Capitol Hill or something, fill it with urine, and stick some malleable shyster like Baucus or Nelson or Conrad in it. Let Rahm chew on the guy's ear for a while. Learn to love your work—or else you'll never get that uniquely American sense of fulfillment from it, Mr. President. Trust me on this. No campaign contribution is ever worth relinquishing your right to celebrate.

Because declaring victory and going home is the goddamn American Way, okay? No amount of hope and change will ever take that away from us. It's been a long, long time since God's Children had to slink around in Tehranian back alleys to topple insufficiently capitalism-friendly leftists—and even then, did Kermit Roosevelt celebrate his victory over the sneaky socialists? Did he recline with his fellows in the American embassy, and bask in Providence's reflected glory? "Pass the hookah and bring me another comfort girl, Farshid. America! Yes indeed!" Because he fucking should have (and no, I can't picture the '50s CIA saying "fuck yeah" or even "hell yes"). The reason the spooks aren't trusted by even their own countrymen is their utter lack of egomania. I mean, are they Americans or aren't they? What the fuck?

And when the hell did this stop being about red-faced, gun-toting Obamacare protesters? This whole thing was supposed to be better and more coherent, but I guess they're not as much fun to write about as I'd thought—I am a squishy liberal, after all, and kicking someone when they're down is against my programming. Well, unless it's Gingrich or Delay—I would haul off and field-goal those assholes at the first opportunity. That never gets old, does it? No, because it's punishing the only thing that's a true, bona-fide sin in these United States: the sin of losing. Don't ever get caught losing anything in America. Nobody here likes a loser, least of all themselves.

July 27, 2009

The Greatest Trick the Old Man Ever Pulled

I know you like your pop stars to be exciting, but I'm afraid I simply can't be bothered right now. I've been on sabbatical, you see—I'm not doing anything remotely interesting at the moment, so I don't want anyone getting the wrong ideas—but it seemed as if everyone was getting on well enough without me. False prophets choked the life from already-poisonous atmospheres, vile succubi debased humanity's collective sanity, mendacious tyrants clashed over dust-strewn deserts, and the New York Yankees have been restored to their proper royal status. Ah me, what's a happy cad to do under such joyous circumstances?

Take a holiday, of course—and that's precisely what I did, old chums. I felt a great need for some intense ultraviolet radiation, and that was that—hence my journey to the balmy climes of Gomorrah-By-The-Sea to let it all hang out below the gaudy parapets of the Laguna Ritz-Carlton. So refreshing, so luxurious—and such a change from what I was used to. Indeed—it's so very cold where I come from, ladies and gentlemen. Not many people knew that until a vulgar Italian blew the lid off, and the place I hang my hat has been a proverbial punch line ever since. Disgraceful, really—and not exactly a prime venue for my usual workshop.

So imagine my utter and complete contentment when, one scorching afternoon there at the shore, my calm repose was pleasantly broken by the musical titterings of two ever so lovely young ladies. 'What ho,' I thought, 'that magical number has blessed me again, just like young Brian always promised!' And blessed I was, my children—not to mention tanned, rested and ready for just about anything.

"Hey there, mister!" crowed the first charming young thing. "What's with all the gold sequins? Don'cha know it's about 99 degrees out here? You don't even have an um-brella!"

"Ho ho," I chortled, "but young miss, I thrive on the heat. A healthy pink glow nicely augments my naturally devilish demeanor, and I always enjoy the feeling of Vitamin D on my red-horned head."

She cocked her head stupidly at that last remark, and I feared I'd overstepped the bounds of appropriate discourse. "Please don't take that the wrong way," I said. "All I seek is perfectly innocent conversation."

They both laughed. "I'm not afraid of you," she giggled. "Real devils don't wear horns."

"Quite right, my dear," I nodded. "Astute observation, that. Keep your head about you and you'll go far."

"Oh, you betcha, mister!" she said, glowing. The other one could barely contain herself—a dazzling smile appeared perpetually ready to explode at any minute off her luscious, tarty little face—and I hastened to remind myself that I was, in fact, a disproportionately old man. Nevertheless, my fabulous Persian rug stretched wide across the sand, with plenty of room for both to take a minute to repose—and so they did. Their names, it transpired, were Sarah (the loud one) and Shelley (the smiley one), but I must confess I nearly forgot both over the course of the next half-hour.

We ordered mai tais from the brown servants and spoke of the day's events—or rather, I did, for they were both teetotal—and their periodic explosions of incredulous, ignorant innocence were ever so quaint. I sought to impress them with my considerable knowledge of everyone and everything in Creation, expounding upon all things war and peace, salvation and sin, and other such frivolous concerns—eventually meandering around to discussing, of all things, the President of the United States and his many manifold challenges. To my surprise, they both wrinkled their noses, as if some unpleasant animal had slithered across the beach.

"Oh, he's just icky," said Shelley, making a vulgar gagging motion. "My daddy says he's not even really the President—that he's just a dictator, like Hitler, or Castro, or...or Steinbrenner."

'What envious innocence,' I thought, but concluded that it would be best to remove a few illusions from her pretty head. "Oh, I don't think so. Young Barry is too tall to be a despot," I said, "but by all means, watch him closely."

Shelley's face fell; she was clearly shaken by my rebuttal. Sarah, however, was quite undaunted. "No no, mister—it's true! He's not just any old face-ist dictator, he's the Anti-christ! Honest to goodness!"

"I say!" Such enthusiasm made me nearly spit out my drink. "My dear lady," I sputtered with not inconsiderable surprise, "if he were indeed such a creature, I would be well aware of it, and on that you can trust me implicitly."

Sarah appeared confused, as if her beautiful mind were unable to reconcile two monumentally disparate problems. "But, but..." she stuttered, "he is the Anti-christ, mister. I just know it—I mean, I'd know it even if my boyfriend hadn't told me just a year ago!"

Now, I neither knew nor cared which hideous ape had said what to this lovely girl, but clearly her daft little soul was protected from On High. However, I could not let a fabrication of this magnitude stand. "See here, Miss Sarah," I said, briskly jabbing her perfect breast with my gnarled, sun-reddened finger, "that Goldman-crippled stick of a man is nothing more than the President! Isn't that bad in itself? Won't he be punished enough for his past sins?"

She shrieked with surprise. "Ow! Jimminy Christmas, mister, that hurt!" A tiny drop of gloriously red blood appeared exactly between her bikini line and Adam's apple, itself a far, far more beautiful vision than the shocked disappointment pouring out of those doe-like orbs she called eyes. "And how can you say something like that? Everyone but everyone knows there's only three more years 'til none of it matters anyway."

"Like, totally!" squawked Shelly, apropros of nothing. "Mr. Lahaye wasn't kidding, Gramps. Anti-christ or not, we'll be long gone by the time the dictator does his worst damage. I'm soooo looking forward to it—it'll be like, the ultimate awesome sleepover, you know? I mean wow, man—the Rapture!"

"What?" I gasped, incredulous. "My dear, unless your Mr. Lahaye is a terribly ancient Mayan savage, I'm afraid he has no idea whatsoever about when the End Times will occur. "I must insist that—"

"Must nothin'," interrupted Sarah, the little beast. "Shelley, I don't think this guy knows what he's talkin' about at all." She rubbed her punctured chest tenderly. "We better go. I promised Todd I'd meet him at the five-and-dime soda fountain before supper, and look—it's almost three!"

"Oh, okay," nodded her bubbly friend. "Well mister, it's been fun, but we gotta skedaddle, mmkay?" The false confidence in her voice broke only once, and I smelled a luscious hint of Fear. It was like a quick nip of cognac, or the salty tears of Judas—and I admit, it was difficult to restrain myself. Discipline is hard-forgotten, though—and I held firm, watching in silence as both lithe, supple young bodies got up and backed away slowly toward the stinking asphalt behind us. I refrained from watching them go, and it wasn't long before the distinctive rattling of a Cabriolet betrayed their hasty retreat, back to some stucco-padded, red-tile-roofed palace in a securely gated Niguel neighborhood.

I resolved to return to peaceful repose, but it didn't take long for the wind to pick up and bite my exposed heels with its foul sting. Idyllic nonexistence was turning out to be a frightfully difficult endeavor indeed—let alone the greatest trick I never pulled. So much for a sabbatical, what? I wandered back toward the lifeguard tower, but the shade was even worse there, and the attractive idiot in red trunks was little help as he stared down from his perch.

"Hey dude, are you all right? You look a little baked, man."

"Thank you, my boy," I called back, capable of only a half-hearted leer instead of a smile. "I'm quite all right."

"Okay," he replied, "you just seemed kinda tired, that's all. Can I, like, help you out or anything?"

"No no. Don't go to any trouble." I shuffled over to the pay phone, out of earshot. "I'm just going to call a taxi to take me home." And so I did, meditating on the eternal verities all the way. Off with the horns, on with the show.

Cross-posted: dkos, dd, mlw

July 24, 2009

Web Industry Prattle, Direct From Seattle (Part II)

Day 3: It was only eight in the morning, but the unnaturally stifling heat was beginning to ratchet up again as I walked through the Emerald City to the second day of Web Design World. Emily had stayed behind, dozing comfortably in our air-conditioned hotel room while I prepared for another helping of snarky lectures and greasy sales pitches. The catered breakfast was functional—bagels and coffee—and I was stuck at a table with two shy, taciturn IT guys from Texas and Alabama who didn't seem too excited to be attending the conference for the first time.

I couldn't blame them, because I knew that bailing on our crude attempts at networking would only hasten the Boston flashbacks for me—at least two of the day's sessions would be repeats from last time. I was still unprepared for the oncoming déja vu, though, because it hit faster and stronger than I'd expected. At showtime, the CSS guru from yesterday swaggered into the packed main room to deliver his spiel on interface design, coming out swinging in favor of something like design eugenics.

"My mission in life is to make the world better via good design," he thundered, "and if that involves treacherous things like teaching your managers how to be competent, tasteful designers, then so be it! Muahahahaa!!"

Hoary laugh lines got courtesy chuckles, especially when ye olde CNN-versus-Fox website compare-contrast was deployed to predictable effect, and every tired swipe at the dead horse of Web 2.0 earned a few more conspiratorial cackles from the faux-jaded crowd. Everyone only truly perked up when the speaker reached his thesis, which was delivered with the force of all ten commandments combined.

"I call it an 'aesthetic usability principle,'" he crowed, relishing the vice-like rhetorical grip upon our delicate designerly sensibilities, "and it boils down to a simple truth: prettier things are easier to use. Your mileage may vary, of course, but..."

He trailed off, lost in contemplation, but there was nevertheless much ooooh-ing and aaah-ing among the peanut gallery, who didn't seem to realize the evil buried in that bald assertion. I shuddered to think how my ex-girlfriends would have contrasted that principle with my younger, user-unfriendly psyche. I mean, prettier things may indeed be easier to use, but would they truly be equal to the dirty work of uglier things? Or would uglier things be useful for only for a short period of time? It didn't make much sense, and I had to find out why, so I raised my hand to question the wisdom of industry expertise.

"So...isn't that just another way to say 'don't hate me because I'm beautiful and therefore more useful?'" I asked. "Am I missing something here?" The presenter dismissed my query with a smirk and a shrug. "Don't hate me because I'm right, man." Several other geeks in the audience nodded and made other affirming grunts, which only encouraged his escalating hubris, and my lone desperate whining was soon washed away by the flood of euphoria coursing through the room.

"Make contact with your viewers! Cater to their every visual need!" he cried, and echoes of "Yes!" and "Hallelujah!!" erupted from the suddenly boisterous nerds around me. Sparks crackled through the crowd, and the speaker grew wild-eyed and manic. "Hell yes! Invite people to touch your interface! Put your hand against the screen!!"

It was all too much for me, that early in the morning, but the energy level didn't drop at all when the next presenter bounded onstage, and I knew instantly that I would be failing today's endurance test, because this new guy was the same fiery New Yorker who busted our collective balls in Boston during back-to-back lectures on platform compatibility and effective Javascript methods. A quick glance at the day's agenda confirmed that he'd be repeating the same grueling double-header, and my worst fears were confirmed when the compatibility session took off like a shot.

"Okay you punks," he barked, "I don't have any cool visuals like the last guy, so that means you'll all have to keep up with my Microsoft-funded brilliance purely on bullet points. Check it out—I've been doing this shit since 1982, back when we were all bashing out COBOL on our Commodore 64's, and there was no compatibility at all until IBM and MS-DOS. Everything was simple, which of course led to a lot of problems because oncedivergent featuresweredeveloped foreachplatformthat yieldedcompleteinsanity fromacompatibilitystandpoint! You move one thing wrong and then suddenly it'slikeJengaandyoursiteisdowninSingaporeand15minutesbehindeverythingelse—"

And then his voice swerved into the sun at speeds faster than light as my comprehension skills were demolished against the chair in front of me. I tried to clamber back into understanding, but all I heard was "Come on, debate me, you bitches! I'm a New Yorker, I can take it! You can't stop New York City, motherfuckers!!"

"Jesus God," gasped a middle-aged nerd to my right. "I didn't spend 1400 dollars to get a face full of F.U.D. from Microsoft."

The acronym brought me back to myself. "F.U.D.? I don't get it," I said. My neighbor rolled his eyes in a 'you-mortals-will-never-understand' way. "'Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt,' dude. Like, duh."

"Oh, I'm sorry," I sneered back. "I guess that really was the pitter-patter of passive-aggressive melodrama I heard earlier. Are you gonna take your Linux-shaped ball and go home now, you elitist prick?"

The presenter continued shrieking in the background, switching gears to his Javascript presentation, but my neighbor merely smirked at my rudeness. "You humorless, hypersensitive Mac users are all the same," he shot back. "Can I help it if you're too stupid to realize that this conference totally blows? The rooms are frozen solid and the food is terrible. In fact, I think I'll get up and leave right now. Have fun at the kid's table, dumbass."

The vibrations were becoming pure evil, and contagious to boot. Half the audience had left in the break between compatibility and Javascript lectures, and before I knew it I was stuck in a lunchtime session where a totally different Microsoft hack tried to convince us all that Internet Explorer 8 wasn't a worthless pile of rat droppings. His efforts were so pathetic that they're not even worth repeating, and my black mood continued through the next lecture on gallery pages.

Somehow I'd drifted into the adjacent, smaller conference room, and found myself wedged in the back corner of a lecture by yesterday's chubby elf-man. His ebullient expositions on "the hunting practices of informavores" and "credit cards for people who are silly" built up the presentation's energy to the point where endorsements of podcast interviews with "Battlestar Galactica" babes Katie Sackhoff and Tricia Helfer raised no eyebrows at all.

"That's how people think about content anyway," jabbered the fat man. "When cosmetology and cosmology are no different, then sweet Jesus, can Olympic amateur nail technology be far behind?"

'Wait, what the fuck?' I thought. How had I ended up here? I'd barely got my bearings when the presenter ended with his usual exuberant "Thank you for encouraging my behavior!!"

I can't remember much after that; I bounced between a glacially-paced forum on "Informing Design" and a blatant sales pitch masquerading as a Flash tutorial from an oily Adobe rep who told anyone not working with CS4 to "eat your heart out, losers!" I couldn't take it anymore, and was beginning to feel overwhelmed by complete mental failure, but Emily rescued me with a sudden barrage of text messages. My wife had been over at the Space Needle and its environs all morning, so her enthusiasm was infectious.

"You're gonna love the Science Fiction Museum and Experience Music Project," she wrote. "Come meet me at 4th and Pine after your final session and I'll even take you to see the Jim Henson Legacy exhibit!" And you know what? She was exactly fucking right—I loved it. I loved the robots and aliens and muppets all so much that my nostalgic glee lasted throughout the muggy monorail ride to and from the museum and the brutal walk back up the hill to our hotel room.

It even lasted through Day 4, the next morning of packing up, checking out, and fleeing Seattle for the airport and our flight back to L.A. It even lasted through the plane buzzing a mountain, and the vapid stewardess bubbling about "You guys shoulda taken a picture of that one!" and the shitty landing in Burbank—because Em and I had one last ace to play: a concert by Elbow at the Wiltern—one of our favorite bands playing one of our favorite venues.

Hell, the comfort of knowing we'd be seeing a great show even lasted through the worst ever opening band Em and I had ever seen, because once Guy Garvey and his crew strode onstage at the last outpost of art deco in Los Angeles, everything was at last all right with the universe, and we gratefully gloried in it.

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