NPF: MELODIC WANKING

Posted in No Politics Friday on September 5th, 2014 by Ed

Despite being a huge and nearly exclusive fan of guitar-based music, I've always hated guitar solos. They strike me as cliched theatricality at best and pointless filler at worst. There is nothing that interests me less than how many notes some Steve Vai worshiping d-bag can play in 30 seconds. A guitar solo is what you shoehorn into a song when you can't write a decent bridge.

When one of my friends challenged me recently to resist writing off all guitar soloing, I spent a long car ride with my mp3 player trying to find out if I like some without realizing it. Apparently I do. If a guitar part actually sounds like it's a part of the song rather than some noodling crap layered on top of it because the band couldn't think of anything else to do or because (as in a lot of kinds of metal) every goddamn song needs three solos in it just because, a guitar solo can be not-the-most irritating part of an otherwise good song. In no particular order (and obviously limited by my less than all-encompassing taste in music, tending toward the noisy and loud) here are four pretty excellent guitar performances. Feel free to add yours in the comments and let's just go ahead and not waste time trying to prove who has the better taste in music. OK? OK.

1. Bob Stinson, "Customer" (off The Replacements, Sorry Ma Forgot To Take Out the Trash). The magic happens from 0:45 to about 1:10. The liner notes say "Bob's lead is hotter than a urinary tract infection" and who are we to argue. He was the Drunken Master of the music world in the 80s. It's slop, but the best kind of slop.

Stinson drank himself to death, which is a pretty predictable ending when you get kicked out of The Replacements for drinking too much. Think about that for a second.

2. Tom Morello, "Know Your Enemy" (off RATM self-titled debut). Solo from 3:15 to about 3:45. This old RATM stuff sounds really dated and more than a little juvenile (although if teenagers are going to listen to juvenile music, they might as well get something other than right-wing talking points out of it). There are about 50 Tom Morello solos you could put in a pile and throw darts at. The guy just makes more sounds out of a guitar and cheap stompboxes than anyone, period. This was one of the first ones he got a lot of attention for, and it has all of the things we came to associate with his sound over the next 20 years.

3. Tim Sköld, "Putting Holes in Happiness" (off Marilyn Manson, Eat Me Drink Me). Solo from 2:30 to about 3:30. OK you're just going to have to trust me on this one. It's a really good solo. The off-key parts jump out of the speakers.

Not a great album, but I think a lot of "music people" would be shocked to give it a listen and hear how good of a guitarist Sköld is. I don't even play guitar and it was a real "Damn this guy can play" moment. Not a lot of people can be interesting soloing for a full minute in a musical environment as restrictive as this kind of sluggish blob of goth.

4. Kurt Cobain, "Sappy" (not "Verse Chorus Verse", which it's usually and inaccurately called – the "hidden track" on that 99 cent bin legend, the No Alternative compilation). Solo from 1:40 to 2:10. Here is a guy who had more technical skill than anyone gave him credit for, yet he rarely showed it off.

This is a perfect example of a solo that actually fits perfectly into the song. It makes the song better. Nobody cares that the average Guitar Center employee or bar band member could play this with ease. Side note: it's funny how a throwaway Nirvana song sounds about a thousand times better than the best the bands on the radio today can pull off. Turns out that it's more interesting to listen to people playing instruments than sounds manipulated to death by a producer armed with every post-effect known to man.

NPF: FAST FORWARD

Posted in No Politics Friday on August 28th, 2014 by Ed

Fun trivia: the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria were originally awarded to Denver. Colorado voters turned it down because they thought it would cost too much and the predictions of the revenue that would be generated were overly optimistic. It foreshadowed the modern issue of the inversion of the IOC selection process from cities fighting over the right to host in favor of the IOC struggling to find suitable candidates willing to take it in the financial neck to host games that routinely are monuments to cost overruns and optimism biases. Increasingly the only countries willing to host things like the Olympics and the World Cup are ones with quasi-autocratic national governments that can decide to do things that make no financial sense, or Brazil types that see the huge losses as a marketing fee to show the world that They are Way Cool.

The other major issue with hosting is what to do with the copious (expensive) infrastructure after the games are over. The internet is littered with photo galleries of dilapidated Olympic sites – the ruins of the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics are particularly poignant in light of what happened to that city in the following decade. What is amazing is how rapidly these flashy, expensive, modern sites turn into decrepit ruins. China's $40 billion investment in the Beijing games yielded a number of architecturally significant stadiums that are now white elephants; the only revenue generated by the "Bird's Nest" today comes from itinerant tourists who pay $20 to ride Segways around the Olympic track.

Even though the sad sight of abandoned Olympic infrastructure is by now a familiar one, it is stunning to see the speed with which the Potemkin village build by Putin's Russia in Sochi has fallen into disrepair. Sochi was a disaster from the get-go – like the 1976 Montreal debacle, very little of the construction was actually finished when the games began. What was finished was held up to worldwide ridicule for the shoddy construction and downright bizarre design. And now, even though the Games seem like they just ended a few weeks ago the "city" already looks like Pripyat minus the background radiation count.

With most industrialized nations starting to see hosting the Games for what it is – a classic boondoggle – it's going to be interesting to see where the IOC and similar organizations like FIFA go in the future. My guess is that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is the beginning of a trend of events being hosted in Flashy Oil Money countries run by gaudy sheikhs. When they get tired of competing to see who can own the most Rolls Royces, they'll turn to building stadiums that will someday be about as useful as an asshole on their collective elbow.

Here's a gallery of former Olympic sites if you feel like your Friday needs to be a little bleaker.

NPF: SLAPSTICK

Posted in No Politics Friday on August 22nd, 2014 by Ed

While I'm not a big fan of "classic TV" in general – anachronistic shows like Leave it to Beaver are a genuine chore to watch in my opinion – I do have a pretty serious Twilight Zone obsession. In the "suspense" genre there aren't many shows or movies made since 1960 that don't owe it some kind of debt (or, in some cases, ripped off TZ plotlines lock, stock, and barrel). It would be possible and probably enjoyable for a small number of us to spend a year on nothing but daily posts about different TZ episodes and we'd cover just about everything Hollywood knows or ever has known about writing plots that twists and making things that are scary-unsettling rather than scary-"loud noises and fake blood." One thing that it isn't known for, with good cause, is comedy. Ask people to name funny or even pleasant TV shows and Twilight Zone is not going to top anyone's list.

While it is hard to disagree with that characterization, I submit for your consideration Season 3 Episode 13, "Once Upon a Time." Starring Buster Keaton. Not a lot of people would be able to pick Buster Keaton out of a lineup today but prior to World War II he was one of the most famous and popular celebrities on the planet (the end of the silent film era combined with his descent into twenty years of raging alcoholism did him in). In his later life – circa 1950-1960 – he overcame his addiction and the creative world started to recognize his greatness, giving him a lifetime achievement Oscar and a too-brief second act for his career. He would die in 1966 at the age of 70, five years after filming the Twilight Zone episode you see here.

As TZ episodes go the plot here is pretty dull – man travels through time, finds that he is out of place, and gains a new appreciation for the life he lives – but I defy anyone to watch this and not be happy at the end. There are certainly no other TZ episodes, and perhaps no episodes period, that please me as much as this one. The production team absolutely nails the silent film feel, from the jerky film speed to the dialogue cards to the ragtime-y piano. And holy crap, this might be Keaton's masterpiece. He is absolutely flawless here; 65 year old post-alcoholism Keaton somehow gave us one last look at his complete mastery of silent film acting. The physical comedy is impeccable, his deadpan rubbery face conveys more than most actors can in speaking roles, and he is endearing in every possible way.

You may not think much of silent films (although you should give Keaton's The General a shot regardless) but this is the undisputed master of the medium in all his glory, showing everyone that even in his dotage he could be totally dominant. If you watch a bunch of TZ episodes in a row on Netflix or on DVD, this one always comes as a surprise. It's just so different than everything before or after it in the series. While there are some episodes with comedic elements (the clown in "Five Characters in Search of an Exit" comes to mind) there are no other straight-up comedy efforts like this. I've often wondered if perhaps Rod Serling was a huge Keaton fan and simply decided that he was going to give the Old Man one last chance to remind everyone of his greatness even if it made zero sense in the context of Twilight Zone as a series.

I'm glad he did. 24 minutes. Do yourself a favor and watch it.

NPF: WHITE HOUSE DIARIES

Posted in No Politics Friday on August 7th, 2014 by Ed

So this meme is going around:

hrc

Let's just say that is exactly what Millard Fillmore and Franklin Pierce want us to think.

NPF: MEMORY LANE

Posted in No Politics Friday on July 31st, 2014 by Ed

Last weekend I journeyed to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY to see the induction ceremony for three first ballot players including my favorite player as a kid, Frank "Big Hurt" Thomas. Though Cooperstown is convenient to nothing – the trip involved phrases like "only 80 minutes from Binghamton" – this really is a baseball fan's version of the Hajj. Cooperstown is a surprisingly tiny town, though, and when jammed with 50,000+ visitors it can be quite chaotic. So the practical part of my brain recommends visiting sometime other than induction weekend if you dislike huge crowds.

The best part of the museum is listening to random strangers sharing their memories with anyone in earshot, since I think that is one of the primary reasons that people develop an attachment to the sport: "I was at that game with my dad in '72" or "My mom listened to Jack Buck on KMOX every game for thirty years" or "Our first date was at a Braves game and Eddie Mathews hit a home run in the 10th inning" or even more general comments like (actual quote) "Man, Willie McCovey hit the ball like it owed him money." You would not be too far off base (SWIDT?) to conclude that the experience isn't entirely about baseball for most of the visitors. Ask an American male to talk about his father and there's a good chance that stories about going to ballgames will be involved.

The worst part of the visit had nothing to do with the museum, but to our new obsession as a society with taking pictures of absolutely everything without pausing to ask why. The main attraction at the museum is the hall of plaques for each member of the Hall, which on the Saturday of induction weekend was mobbed with 1000+ people at any given moment. And almost all of them were crowded inches away from the plaques taking pictures with smartphones. This both puzzled and irritated me, since it made actually seeing anything (You know, having the experience of actually being there as opposed to taking pictures to put on Facebook) nearly impossible. Sure, everyone wants to take some pictures on vacation. But cameraphone close-ups of the plaques? Really? Two hundred of them? I don't get that at all. There are pictures of every single one on the Hall of Fame website. Or rather than crowding around Hank Aaron's plaque, for example, and making it impossible for anyone to see it or get near it, you could google image search "Hank Aaron plaque" and find dozens of pictures, some in high resolution, that are better than the crappy picture you take with your phone. I understand why people like taking pictures of themselves in famous places, but taking pictures of inanimate objects doesn't make a lot of sense. I see this constantly now at art museums too – do you think your phone is going to take a better picture of The Death of Marat than the hundreds available in books and online? Can't we just put the goddamn phones down and enjoy the experience of being there? Of actually seeing something rather than seeing a reproduction of it?

All that said, I did take this picture featuring my left hand:

phil

When your plaque includes phrases like "excellent bunter" and "enthusiastic baserunner" you probably don't belong in the Hall of Fame. Being like the fifth-best player on your own team doesn't help either. Another one of the Veterans Committee's greatest hits.

NPF: CAN'T LOSE 'EM ALL

Posted in No Politics Friday on July 24th, 2014 by Ed

I wouldn't describe myself as a lucky person. Don't misunderstand, I am extremely fortunate in the opportunities I have been given in life and things of that nature. But luck? Nope. I'm terrible at the random-events type of luck. Never win anything in games of chance. Never have random encounters that lead to wacky adventures. Never shop on the day where everything happens to be 50% off. Never find $20 lying on the ground. So be it.

For more than a decade I have been trying to concoct a reason to travel to Cloquet, Minnesota. It's a town of 12,000 people halfway between Minneapolis and Duluth, not one of the more trafficked areas in this great land. Only a few of you will recognize the name for any reason other than living in the immediate area. Cloquet is the location of the R.W. Lindholm gas station, the only extant part of Frank Lloyd Wright's Broadacre City utopia (and, it goes almost without saying, his only gas station). I've driven unreasonable distances to see FLW structures in the past, but ten to twelve hours one-way to see a gas station seems a little excessive even for me.

Right now I'm in Erie, PA – Not because I lost a bet, which I assume is the most common reason someone goes to Erie, PA – on my way to Cooperstown to see White Sox legend Frank Thomas inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend. On Friday I will drive right past Buffalo, NY. And by random luck, the Pierce-Arrow Museum (a defunct manufacturer of early 20th Century luxury cars) in Buffalo has opened a licensed (those of you who are fans know the Gestapo-like zeal of the FLW Foundation for preventing unauthorized adaptations of The Great Man's work) full-sized construction of Wright's service station design. It hasn't been on display for very long, and I found out about it last week completely by chance. While the score remains lopsided, tally one for Ed in the battle against bad fortune.

Remember that post from a few months ago about how I don't know how to have fun? Well relax, everyone. I think you can see that I've got it all figured out.

NPF: FREE AT LAST

Posted in No Politics Friday on July 18th, 2014 by Ed

Are you sick of going into restaurants and seeing "No Praying!" signs everywhere? Do you feel unsafe at the local Olive Garden because your waitress is unarmed? Have you ever looked at a Hooters and thought, "That's just not tacky enough"? If so, your prayers have been answered. Grab all of your firearms and take a trip to Rifle, Colorado to enjoy a meal at Shooters Grill, where brandishing firearms and praying in public (which I think Jesus was against, but what did he know) are both encouraged.

This Hooters/James Dobson Fever Dream hybrid reflects its owner's love of the Bible and Constitution, so unlike other restaurants all over the United States you won't be stopped from praying before you eat by Union Thugs or Liberal Academics or Activist Judges or whatever. The Yelp reviews are a hoot, too. Apparently the salt & pepper shakers are shotgun shells (photo evidence helpfully provided), the whole restaurant grinds to a record-scratch halt if a non-white person enters the premises, and the food looks and sounds about as appetizing as a redneck middle school cafeteria.

A priority stop on any gastro-tour of America, to be sure.

NPF: MESMERIZING

Posted in No Politics Friday on July 11th, 2014 by Ed

This isn't strictly "No Politics," but in a moment you will forgive me for mentioning Congress on a Friday.

In 1835 a Pennsylvania Congressman of no particular renown, Joel Sutherland, attempted to get his colleagues to pony up funding for the research and development of a rather far-fetched idea. A young tinkerer, Samuel Morse, made the outlandish proposal that information could be sent via electricity over a metal wire. Though this would eventually lead, obviously, to the invention of the telegraph, revolutionizing every conceivable aspect of society in the process, the scientific establishment of the day declared that this was pure fantasy.

Tangentially, while Mr. Morse indisputably invented the simple but effective dot-and-dash alphabet that bears his name, most sources put his contributions to the actual development and invention of the telegraph ranged from negligible to nonexistent.

As is still the case, Congress was not able to identify a good idea on the one occasion per session when one is encountered. Rep. Sutherland and Morse's other supporters in Congress could only get the chamber to appropriate $30,000 (about $750,000 in today's dollars) to Morse by promising to support funding for another congressional faction's pet project. And that is how the hallowed institution came in 1835 to appropriate not only $30,000 for Mr. Samuel Morse but also an additional $30,000 for one "Mr. Fish" to further his research on "mesmerism." This Mr. Fish, it was reassuringly noted, was "an expert mesmerist" in need of funding to support his "experiments in the mesmeric arts." Mesmerism was a pseudoscience that claimed to give an individual control over other beings (practitioners were divided on whether the arts could be applied to humans, animals, or both) using various hypnotic techniques and extrasensory perception.

It says a lot about how far-fetched ideas like the telegraph, telephone, and radio seemed to people during that era if it was roughly on par with mind control. It says even more about how little Congress has changed.

NPF: AMATEUR DIAGNOSIS

Posted in No Politics Friday on June 27th, 2014 by Ed

As I get older I go on fewer rants in interactions with other humans. I figure "That's what the blog is for, Ed" and don't expose often well-meaning strangers, acquaintances, and friends to my extended ramblings on every conceivable topic of interest. One thing that still gets the full treatment, though, is when people say they have "food poisoning" and then identify the meal that caused it.

It's not an angry rant. I simply point out that A) actual Food Poisoning is a condition that puts people in the hospital where they must be pumped full of IV antibiotics and B) to the extent that food may have caused you gastric distress, you have no idea which food item or meal was responsible. People assume that whatever they ate most recently (or, failing that, whatever the last "ethnic"/foreign food they ate) was the cause. There is zero medical evidence to support that assumption.

Lots of things you eat can inspire an upset stomach or a case of what medical professionals call Thunder Shits. Perhaps something you ate was a little too spicy, a little too oily, a little too teeming with the bacteria with which all food is teeming by the time it enters your mouth. I just returned from Mexico and I haven't taken a solid dump since the first day I arrived in the country. I proceeded to eat every appetizing looking offering from street vendors and outdoor food stalls where refrigeration and food safety procedures could be described as suspect at best. I ate a lot of food prepared in local water full of microscopic landmines waiting to waylay the unconditioned tourist. All of this was done willingly; the deal is, I eat something amazing and later I will defile a bathroom. It's a trade off and it's worth it. I don't have "food poisoning."

Eating all but the worst, blandest food involves some risk. Take that bucket of oysters or mussels, for example. The odds that at least one of those fuckers isn't "off" or "bad" are exceptionally small. You're going to eat it, it's going to be amazing, and maybe later on you will pay the price by shitting like a mink. So be it. If someone offers you seafood that was pulled from the ocean within the previous hour, you eat it and accept the risk. Or maybe you push the envelope at the local restaurant and ask for "Thai spicy" or "Indian hot" and your stomach and intestines end up somewhat irritated at your decision. Or maybe you try unpasteurized dairy products for the first time with predictable results. Oh well. It was worth it.

You may have a transient stomach virus. You may have eaten something too spicy or oily for your delicate constitution. You may have plain ol' overeaten. You may have eaten something that was a little bit beyond its "Best By" date. You may have eaten something at a big stupid chain restaurant wherein one of the stoned teen kitchen workers practiced unsafe food handling procedures. But you don't have Food Poisoning and your precise identification of the meal and item that caused it makes you sound only slightly less silly than someone declaring that they know when the cold viruses entered their body.

NPF: PAID IN FULL

Posted in No Politics Friday on June 12th, 2014 by Ed

Yesterday I went to an electronics store to purchase a big, shiny new TV.

The clerk dutifully informed me that it cost $1299.00 plus tax, to which I responded, "Actually, I'd like you to give it to me for free."

He seemed unpersuaded.

"I can't pay you for the TV right now," I explained, "but if you think about it, it's better for your business if you give it to me for free." Again, he failed to grasp my logic. Carefully but forcefully I pointed out that I like inviting people over to my house to watch movies and sports, so a lot of people – potential customers, one and all – would get to see the TV. "If the TVs you sell are any good, people will be really impressed and come here to buy one of their own!"

He regretted to inform me that I must pay for it.

"I am paying for it, just not in money. I'm paying you in exposure, which is worth more than money." To sweeten the pot, I offered to throw in a couple of beers for the store clerk and promised him that I would order pizza when the TV was delivered and if there was any left over, the delivery people could have it.

Still nothing. I grew frustrated.

"Don't you see???" He did not see. "$1300 right now is only worth $1300. If you give me the TV for free you won't make anything today, but you'll make $1300 many times over once everyone sees this TV." I admitted, in the interest of full disclosure, that I do charge people a $5 cover to watch sports and movies at my house. But that's beside the point, it's unfair to say I'm "profiting" off the TV just because it does all the work and I charge people money to see it, of which I pocket 100%.

He asked me if it wouldn't be fair, hypothetically, to share that cover money with the store. But don't I have a right to make a few bucks for the overhead costs – those lights aren't free! – while the TV is getting all that really valuable exposure? "I'm doing you a favor here, man!"

Suppose my logic was valid, he asked, making sense for the first time that day. Let's say ten of my friends come into the store to buy a TV of their own after seeing the magnificent beast in action at my house. What's stopping those ten friends from also expecting the store to give them the TV for "exposure"? When in this chain of Being Exposed does the store actually start to receive money for its products?

"If you're worried about making money, dude, you're in the wrong business. You should be doing this for the love of selling TVs."

As security escorted me off the premises, I could not help but wonder why a business model that is so successful at compensating the products of creative work – writing, comedy, music, art – could not also be applied to retail. I guess I just don't understand the Free Market.