Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Brian's back: Smile to be released

Undoubtedly the most famous and critically acclaimed (by those who've heard what exists of it) "lost" album in music history is the Beach Boys' Smile. Last Friday, a miracle happened: Brian Wilson, after years of clawing his way back into functional human existence following the nervous breakdown that derailed the album in 1967 -- after years of refusing to even talk about the project that destroyed him -- debuted the finished work in concert in London.

I was able to download a bootleg mp3 of the concert over the weekend, and I can tell you that it more than justifies the existence of file-sharing networks. And in even better news, a finished studio version of the album is scheduled for release in the fall.

Make no mistake: Brian Wilson was as big a rock-and-roll casualty as one could be without actually being dead. A complete basket case for years, he pretty much was dead. It's strangely fitting that Brian's triumphant re-emergence should be simultaneous with the public murder-trial downfall of his idol/rival Phil Spector -- the man whom a paranoid Brian feared as a "mind gangster" out to psionically destroy him.

Whatever the reason, now the slogan "Brian's Back" -- a half-truth first used in the late seventies when the other Beach Boys dragged a fat, bearded, and terror-stricken Brian out of bed and propped him up behind a keyboard in order to sell concert tickets -- seems finally to be completely true. To me, at least, this is a more exciting resurrection than the one with the guy in that Mel Gibson snuff film.

Update: Salon has a nice article telling the story of the album here.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Horse Lovin' Ken

I was going to post a little something about how I'm sure the imminent rise of videophones is going to lead to a boom in dickey sales. Think about it: You're hanging around the house, maybe wearing a shabby old T-shirt or maybe no shirt at all, and the videophone rings. Thinking it may be a potential employer or romantic interest, you quickly clip one of those little fake shirt-and-tie bib-like things around your neck and answer the phone, looking sartorially splendid with no one the wiser. Mark my words: Invest in dickeys.

I was going to write about that, but in looking for a suitable picture of a dickey on the Internet, I ran across this vaguely disturbing picture of Horse Lovin' Ken.

I don't like the sound of this at all; it smacks of those dirty Danish pictures. It kind of sheds some light on that recent breakup with Barbie, though.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

And it burns, burns, burns, that ring of fire

The Telegraph reports that "the family of the late Johnny Cash is outraged at a plan to use his 1963 classic song, Ring of Fire, to promote a haemorrhoid ointment." (You can tell it's a London-based paper. Is there any more British phrase than "haemorrhoid ointment"?)

I've personally been speculating about the possibilities of this for years, but as it turns out, I'm not that original. In fact, Johnny Cash himself often joked about this, and in concert, would often dedicate the song to the makers of Preparation H.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

New Wilco album title, release date announced

If you're anything like me -- and you should be -- you'll want to mark down June 8, 2004 as the date that the new Wilco album, A Ghost Is Born, hits stores. The band has been road-testing new material for quite a while, and the tracklist, which is available at Pitchfork Media and Wilco's official site, includes most of the usual suspects. Two surprises, though:

1. "Handshake Drugs" is included, even though it was already included on the More Like The Moon EP, and
2. "Kicking Television" is nowhere to be found. That's a shame -- it's an appropriately kickin' little tune.

Monday, February 16, 2004

The Littlest Groom

A new reality show called The Littlest Groom is airing tonight; it's essentially The Bachelor for midgets and dwarves. Concerns have been raised that it exploits little people. I'll leave it to the little people in the audience to decide how they feel, but given the fact that a couple of the girls are actually quite cute, I'd be interested in whether or not the number of Google searches for "midget porn" goes up substantially after the show.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Game Update

2nd intermission:
Nashville 2 - Edmonton 1
Lots of fights
Very frustrating for an Oiler fan
The cat in the Nashville logo has really big teeth
Marlene's doing the dishes

Update: The game ended in a 2-2 tie. I helped Marlene finish the dishes.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

After 50 hours of frustration, it's an Etch-A-Kvetch

I'm always been artistically inclined, but I could never use an Etch-A-Sketch to draw anything more complicated than a flight of stairs in profile. But check out what this guy can do. Are his sketches worth the 50 to 70 hours of work that they take? Well, considering that they sell for $5000 to $8000 -- meaning that he's making at least a hundred bucks an hour -- I'm surprised to say that they are.

Beefcake's double-dumb

If he'd ever had any talent at all, it'd be a sadder story.

The Pro Wrestling Torch and Boston Herald report that former WWF superstar Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake ( Edward Leslie) caused an anthrax scare last Sunday by leaving his cocaine on the counter of the booth where he now earns $25,000 a year as a subway toll collector. The mysterious white powder provoked an emergency hazmat response and the evacuation of the MBTA's Downtown Crossing subway station. Beefcake, who limited the damage by immediately fessing up to owning the coke, doesn't face any criminal charges, but has entered drug rehab.

Poor guy. It's probably not even his fault he's hooked on the stuff. That evil Mr. Fuji was constantly throwing white powder in the good guys' faces. We thought he was just trying to blind them. Who knew he was deliberately subjecting them to dangerous drug addiction?

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Die, Rock Star, Die!

I've liked Blender ever since it started (and I've got every copy), but I'm particularly looking forward to the next issue of the music magazine. According to an Associated Press story, the next issue includes an article that enlists gerontologist Dr. David Demko to predict the death dates of musicians, based on their lifestyles. (Courtney Love, unfortunately, will be with us until 2026.)

You hear a lot of jokes about how Keith Richards is undead, but according to Dr. Demko, good ol' Keef really is living on borrowed time; medical science says that he should have died in 1995.

What surprises me is that Mick Jagger is still alive. Oh, he's clean-living, but if Mick can provoke gentleman drummer Charlie Watts into punching him out, then Keith ought to have smashed his famous skull-faced ring right through Sir Mick's cranium by now.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Citizen Arcane now Citizen Cohn

Slate and Salon have both had recent articles detailing how Dennis Miller's new eponymous talk show has been affected by the political conversion experienced in the wake of September 11th. To bring you up to speed, he's now a political conservative. We saw the roots of this way back when he supported Ross Perot in his presidental bid, but now he goes out of his way to mention that he plans to vote for George W. Bush, a man (Miller doesn't add) that he would have absolutely excoriated in his younger, more amusing days.

Moreover, he's apparently not just a conservative now, but a mindless right-wing automaton. Says Dennis Cass at Slate, "... it's as if in the process of switching sides, Miller has taken 20 years of conservative ideology and swallowed it rote and whole." Heather Havrilesky at Salon adds, "According to Miller's logic, we may have been open-minded, even-handed folks on the 10th of September, but on the morning of the 11th, we all earned the right to surrender to our least enlightened selves, to fall prey to our worst impulses, to vent enough spleen with such righteous outrage that it almost matches the fury of our fundamentalist oppressors."

What makes Miller's new ideology a real shame though, is that there haven't been any funny conservatives to date (sit back down, P.J. O'Rourke -- I know who you are, and I don't care), and Miller apparently isn't going to be the first one. The new show has reportedly been weak so far, with Miller relying more on the novelty of having a chimpanzee on his desk and on schoolyard namecalling rather than his trademark barrage of arcane pop-culture references. The result is barely more than the odd awkward chuckle trickling back from the audience.

It's a shame. Dennis, if you're not going to be thoughtful, at least be funny. And if you just don't have what it takes anymore, I'm here to help you. Here's a guide I wrote years ago on how to write a Dennis Miller comedy routine without even trying. And it's becoming obvious that you're not trying anymore. Don't worry. By just following the guidelines, anyone ought to be able to cobble together a pastiche of your old funny style -- even the chimp on your desk. Surely you can still do it.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

At least they played the keyboards and styled hair better than the "Flock of Seagulls" guy.

The barbershop around the corner from my house has an all-black staff and clientelle; it's a little like the one in the Ice Cube movie, except it's a little more Caribbean, they play cricket outside in the summertime, and Cedric the Entertainer doesn't work there. Ever since I realized that the jars of Barbicide in the other nearby barbershop are less for disinfecting and more for decoration, however, I've become the token white customer at the Caribbean barbershop.

Usually, someone there will be playing a guitar, but when I popped by yesterday for a trim, somebody actually had an electric keyboard set up and was noodling around, playing "Moonlight Sonata". After a while, though, he slipped into a different piece of music. I sat there, the only white face in the entire place, trying to figure it out.

And then I suddenly realized it was "A Whiter Shade of Pale" by Procol Harum.

I'm not sure if it was specifically directed at me, but if so, it was a pretty subtle and witty jab and the first time I can recall ever being made fun of in song.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Tecmo Bo

Who's the greatest athlete of all time? It's a hotly debated question, yielding candidates from Babe Ruth to Babe Didrickson, from Milo of Croton to Muhammad Ali.

A less hotly debated question is the one of who the greatest video game athlete of all time is. For ESPN columnist Bill Simmons and countless fans of video football, there is no question: Bo Jackson bestrides the pixelated playing field like a colossus. For fans of the SNES game Tecmo Bowl, Bo was such a dominant force that you could run his onscreen avatar back to his own one-yard line, then sprint the length of the field for a 99-yard touchdown, unfazed by the entire opposing defensive line clutching onto his back and legs. Ranking his top five video football players, Simmons says:

Anyone who played video games in the late-'80s discusses Bo Jackson reverentially, in hushed tones ... you can't even understand unless you were there. If ESPN ever decided to run a "SportsCentury and Beyond: Video Bo Jackson" episode, they could easily fill the hour just with people telling Tecmo Bowl stories about Bo. Nobody else was even close.

Ironically, the real Bo Jackson's legacy can't begin to compare. We remember him as the first two-sport All-Star and a Nike pitchman, but he never played for a world champion. In fact, he only played 38 games before his football career was ended by injury. But to this day, he's still revered by videogame fans who pester him to sign their videogame boxes and regale him with tales of the amazing football wizardry "Tecmo Bo" pulled off in their homes and rumpus rooms. As Salon reports, the videogame versions of athletes are more real than the real athletes themselves to many gamers, and marginal players are often remembered as superstars to those who used a digital milieu devoid of drug problems, injuries, and contractual holdouts to explore the fullest potential of what these athletes might have achieved.

Hockey fans may argue for Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Gordie Howe, or Bobby Orr, but for the cast of the movie Swingers, and other hockey videogame fans, Jeremy Roenick was the ultimate hockey player. While Roenick's a great player, his digital avatar was an unstoppable force who'd score goal after goal and lay Gretzky up in the hospital with bonecrushing bodychecks.

For me, it's Vincent Lecavalier. The former number one pick was once projected to be a superstar, but got off to a disappointingly slow start in the NHL. It's only now that he's starting to fulfill his potential. But when I played NHL 2002, he was nothing less than the greatest hockey player the world had ever seen. Why? Let's go back to that word I just used a minute ago: "potential." While EA had him ranked at an overall rating of 87, making him an easy straight-up trade for Mats Sundin on my Maple Leafs team, his potential rating was 99. This meant that after a single season's play, his overall rating would often rocket up to 99. If he didn't have 100 in every single category after three seasons, your game was broken.

You might think that the smart move would be to trade away all your veterans for high-potential rookies. You'd be absolutely right -- locker room leadership and playoff experience only really count in real life. However, some of the veterans were worth keeping around for reasons that might be debatable in the real world, but didn't even make sense in the alternate reality of the game.

Take the Leafs' Robert Reichel and Mikael Renberg, for example. The game had both of them rated at about 75 overall with middling potential. Yet, for no discernable reason whatsoever, they'd both consistently shoot up to an overall score of around 89 or 90 after only a single season. I learned this to my chagrin after having traded Reichel in the usual (for a Leafs fan) feelings of disgust in the first season of my first campaign; in subsequent campaigns, Reichel would actually displace Sundin as my starting centre. That's just bizarre. And yet, I've actually started to like Reichel a little more as a result.

So when Salon says

... in many cases, the fond memories that a particular fan may have for a sports star owes more to the performance of his pixelated version than his actual on-court heroics.

I can tell you they're absolutely right. After his having won pretty much every individual award except the Vezina for several years running, Vinny Lecavalier is my Tecmo Bo.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Bad dog

Salon reports that a Pennsylvania police dog has been suspended amid allegations of racism. Dolpho, a German shepherd, bit a 14-year-old black girl during a crime-prevention demonstration at a local school on Jan. 28. Two years ago, he was investigated after escaping from a police vehicle and biting a 9-year-old black boy playing nearby.

On the one hand, Dolpho is a German shepherd, and we've come to expect a little racial discrimination from those parts over the years. Hitler's favorite dog Blondi was a German shepherd, too. On the other hand, German shepherds are black themselves, so Dolpho should really know better. Bad dog, Dolpho!

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