Monday, July 25, 2016

Your (My?) Latest Postmodern Jukebox Fix

"Poison," which I actually thought was a Bobby Brown song so I always kinda felt bad for liking it, but it turns out it's actually a Bell Biv DeVoe track!  Yayyyyy, clean conscience!

"I Believe In A Thing Called Love," which reminds me again that the Darkness missed being an incredibly big band by maybe...a year?  They missed the kitschy throwback era by a hair.

"Dancing In The Dark," and the video really missed a trick by not having a bobbysoxer version of Courteney Cox in there.

"Toxic," which I'd argue is already heralded a secretly great song hidden underneath Britney's original pop sheen, so it didn't necessarily need the upgraded new arrangement.  Oh well, still great!

"Sweet O'Child Of Mine," and does anyone else agree that this might've been the best song ever if GNR had actually, like, finished it?  The first half is unbelievable, but then it just kinds dribbles off into guitar theatrics and Axl yelping "where do we go?" over and over.  Here we get some creativity via the magic of dance, at least.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Rock Elegy

My recent ‘best of the White Stripes’ post got me thinking about the band’s breakout in the early 2000s and how it coincided with the end of rock music’s relevance.  Now, I’m not actually blaming the White Stripes for this…the writing was on the wall for rap, hip-hop and pop to make its massive resurgence that has continued to this very day.  That wave was coming no matter what, though if I could blame anyone (which is the point of this post!), I’ll point the finger at the Strokes and music critics.

It could also be argued that music criticism itself died in the early 2000s, since the Rolling Stones-style, Lester Bangs-ish ideal of the critic as tireless discoverer of new music peaked at the moment Lester Bangs himself was played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman in ‘Almost Famous.’  Up until that moment, the music world still revolved around the romantic idea that rock could double as a movement, sort of like how grunge, ahem, “saved” music* in the early 90’s.  A decade later, when disposable pop was again topping the charts, it seemed like every critic in the world decided en masse that music had to be “saved” again, this time in the form of garage rock.  The “the” bands (the Strokes, the Vines, the Hives, the White Stripes, etc.) would be the stars of the next golden age of rock.

* = since I’m on record as stating that Nirvana is the most overrated band of all time, let me pause a moment for a super-hard eyeroll

The problem was that basically aside from the White Stripes, none of these bands had the chops.  As much as I loathe Nirvana, I’ll at least admit that they brought something to the table that mainstream music hadn’t really seen before, plus grunge was then legitimized by the likes of Pearl Jam or Soundgarden.  The White Stripes were very much doing their own thing, equal parts old-school blues rock and the goofy modern gimmickry of the brother/sister schtick and the colour scheme, so they weren’t exactly the banner figures for a genre.   The Hives were similarly gimmicky, and I had literally forgot about the Vines before this very post.

As for the Strokes, they’re not really a bad band.  I’ve heard *maybe* four of their songs, and one of those songs (what else but ‘Last Night’) is actually really good.  I dislike the band themselves much less than I like the inexplicable cult of personality that rose up around them, fuelled seemingly entirely by music critics.  They tried so hard to make the Strokes happen and it just utterly and completely went nowhere.

I can’t blame the band for getting stuck in an ocean of hype, though in a way, I suppose I probably can since the Strokes seemed to design their entire persona as a pastiche of other acts.  Big chunk of the Ramones, healthy dose of the Velvet Underground, maybe a bit of New Wave style in there…it was a Frankenstein’s monster that resulted in the Strokes seeming instantly familiar the first time you ever saw or heard them.  Great for marketing purposes, since rock media fell all over itself for a band that looked and acted just like their favourites.  The Strokes seemed less like than a fresh entity than they seemed like Malibu Ramones with a new hat.  It would be one thing if their music was great enough to establish themselves, yet they’re the definition of a one-album wonder.

Fast-forward to 2016 and here’s rock music, more or less stone dead as a mainstream musical entity.  No rock band founded in the last 15 years can sell out an arena tour, let alone stadiums.  The idea of a chart-topping rock single seems impossibly quaint.  This isn’t a comment on the quality of modern acts; there’s lots of great rock music out there, it’s just that it’s all stuck beneath the glass ceiling of popularity with no hope of escape.  Rock had a strong run of around 40 years as music’s dominant genre but that run is clearly over.  Moreover, music criticism is also essentially dead.  People are as eager as ever to be turned onto new music, though now they have the technology that can literally find new favourite for them based on listening patterns, so a breathless review from a new-age Lester Bangs doesn’t carry any weight.

Man, this went a long way from a fun little retrospective of the White Stripes, eh?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Frasier Crane, Deity Bemoaner

I'm on a real kick of Frasier reruns, so this was inevitable.  Kelsey Grammer doesn't seem like the kind of guy to record an XTC cover tune, but if he did....

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Dana Barrett, Renaissance Woman

I love that I can watch the Ghostbusters movies a hundred times and still pick up new things.  For instance, it only just occurred to me that Dana Barrett may be one of the most uber-talented people in cinematic history.

Imagine how much skill and training it takes to play cello in the New York Philharmonic.  Imagine how much skill and training it takes to be an art restorer talented enough to work on paintings at the Manhattan Museum Of Art (technically fictional, but basically MoMA).  And Dana was able to do BOTH, not to mention be a single mother by the second film.  And, after being hypnotized by Gozer and transformed into a demonic dog, she recovered pretty well, all things considered!

Watching the first movie, it seemed far-fetched that Dana could afford that apartment on Central Park West.  Unless you're Yo-Yo Ma, no cellist could manage to live in one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the world.  Once we got the full breadth of Dana's abilities in GB2, however, I can believe anything.  Maybe she composed music for film scores in her spare time and was living off song royalties.  Maybe she developed software for Apple on the side. 

At this rate, it seems like she could've solved her whole ghost problem herself, which is where Paul Feig and company probably got the idea for the all-woman Ghostbusters team.  Dana Barrett = trail-blazer. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Tim Duncan, Comedy Superstar

Longtime blog readers know of my great admiration for Tim Duncan, who's perhaps my favourite pro athlete of all time simply by dint of being such a thoroughly decent and normal guy (not to mention being, oh yeah, one of the best seven basketball players ever).  In honour of his retirement, here's a link to the Onion's archive of Tim Duncan stories, a hilarious living tribute to Duncan's normality.

If it wasn't for the whole basketball thing, I really feel that Duncan could've been the next Buster Keaton.  Sure, silent comedy would also need to be revived first, but if anyone could do it, it's the Spurs.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

The (New) "Game Of Thrones" Comeuppance List

Say what you will about Game Of Thrones, but it (eventually) pays off its audience.  Of the 18 entries on my last GoT Comeuppance list a year ago, eight of them shuffled off this mortal coil last season, including a whopping seven of the top ten.  It’s gotten to the point now where, with two seasons and roughly 15-16 episodes to go, we’re kind of running short on big villains.  It’s somewhat easy to predict the arc of the next two seasons, though obviously there will be a lot of twists along the way.  That said, I still have a pretty long list here, so…it’s killin’ time!

One notable omission from my list: Qyburn.  I can’t seem to hate this guy.  He’s just so competent and business-like!  It’s kind of silly that I’m giving him a totally free pass while Cersei and the Mountain are so high up on the list but nope, Qyburn is okay for now!

16. Ilyn Payne
Even though the show has, I haven’t forgotten about you, Payne!  Get well soon Wilko Johnson, so Arya can kill you! 

15. The entire Brotherhood Without Banners
I’ve softened on these guys since they’re not capital-E evil, as evidenced by the way they thoroughly punished those rogue members for killing Ian McShane.  As deluded as they may be about the fire god, these guys (unlike, say, Melisandre) seem like they would hesitate before, oh, burning a child at the stake while her parents watched.  I’m interested in this new partnership with the Hound, as…

14. The Hound
…oh yeah, the Hound!  A rare re-entry onto the list for a guy who isn’t actually dead!  The Hound seems remorseful of his past crimes and it looks like he’s about to make a total face turn by fighting the White Walker army.  The Hound turning into a total vigilante to right the wrongs of his past would be delightful but….you just know he and Arya (and probably he and Brienne) will meet again, and he’s still on her list.  AND he still has stuff to atone for. 

13. Theon Greyjoy
Except for Payne, this section of the list really is just “former villains who are trying to redeem themselves.”  Theon seems to be almost all the way back now, if perhaps not quite the sprightly, seemingly noble lad he was at the beginning of the series.  My pal Dave is waiting on Theon’s fate with bated breath, as he is (perhaps literally) the only person in the world who cites Theon as his favourite character.  I don’t understand it either.

12. Jaqen H’ghar
This guy’s Mr. Miyagi routine got pretty old.  Worst of all, since Arya now actually seems to be a well-trained killing machine, he can retroactively take credit for all of his nonsense as “all part of the preparation” when he really just let things get out of hand.  I’ve always considered old Johnny Pronoun to be one of the more overrated badasses on GoT — remember that when we first met him, he was in a cage on his way to the Wall.  What kind of a master assassin gets caught?  It’s quite possible we’ll never see the Faceless Man again, but really, maybe one final showdown with Arya is in the cards.

11. Euron Greyjoy
I should probably hate this guy more since it’s pretty clear he’s lined up as one of the last remaining Big Bads for the final two seasons.  (For book readers, Euron is *very* clearly a force to be reckoned with.)  Still, Euron was only in two episodes, and in one of them, he killed the hated Balon Greyjoy.  In the second, he used a bunch of crazy promises to win the Iron Islands sanitation commissioner job away from Yara “Ray Patterson” Greyjoy, which isn’t the worst thing in the world.  Methinks I’ll hate this guy a lot more come Season Seven.

10. The Night’s King
Speaking of “major villains who I should hate more,” here’s the final boss of the entire series.  Here’s the thing about the White Walkers — while they’re conscious beings, I see their invasion more as a force of nature.  The Night’s King only ends up here because he finally did something unlikable by leading his forces to kill Hodor.  Not Hodor! 

9. Lord Randyll Tarly
Westeros is pretty short on respectable fathers, and Sam’s dad is no exception.  The whole thing about him being ashamed that his firstborn son is a brainiac rather than a fighter is pretty dumb unto itself, but it gets even dumber since now we’ve met the whole Tarly family…and there’s another Tarly son!  The hilariously named Dickon Tarly seems to be a cut off the old block, huntin’ and sword-swingin’ and being just like his dad except minus the seething resentment towards Sam.  Hey Randyll, would it have killed you to adjust the local traditions *just* a little bit so Dickon could’ve been the new lord of House Tarly and Sam could’ve (as he openly desired) just gone off to study and become a maester?  How sick must Dickon be of hearing his father complain about Sam, when it’s like “uh, hey Dad, I’m RIGHT HERE.”  Lady Tarly seems way, way, way too good for this clown. 

8. Ser Robert Strong/Ser Gregor Clegane/Zombie Mountain
By this point you can slot Zombie Mountain into the ‘force of nature’ bin along with the ice zombies since it’s pretty clear there’s nothing mentally left of Gregor Clegane.  So, with that horrific personality out of the way….Zombie Mountain is actually kind of fun as a pure failsafe.  It didn’t hurt that he directed all of his ire this season towards other unlikable characters, as I’d probably feel differently if he was brutalizing someone I cared about.

7. Ellaria & The Sand Snakes
Let’s pause for a big LOL at how much Game of Thrones regretted the half-assed Dorne storyline in the fifth season.  Ellaria and her gang of poor actresses appeared in the S6 premiere and then vanished until a brief cameo in the finale, when they existed only to be mocked by the Queen of Thorns.  It’s probably a sign of how poorly-cast and written these characters are when they clearly have the moral high ground on the Mountain, and yet I actually dislike them more than what’s left of the old Ser Gregor.  If that insult scene leads to the Sand Snakes turning on Lady Tyrell, that will NOT go over well.

6. Robin Arryn
In a way, I should feel sorry for this kid since his crazy mother never gave him a chance.  In another, more accurate, way….I will be happy when and if someone chucks Robin out the moondoor.  What a sorry little punk.

5. Edmure Tully
Speaking of Chief Punk, what is Edmure’s endgame here?  To get back with his wife and infant son?  Hey Edmure, THEY’RE FREYS.  It was all a trap.  Remember the Red Wedding that wiped out half your family?  Instead of standing his ground or using Jamie’s plan against him, Edmure then sells out the Blackfish and essentially completely caves in.  Ironically, this clown may have fallen upwards since Arya took care of old Walder Frey, since now the Riverlands will fall into disarray and what’s left of House Tully could pick up the pieces.  If Jon ends up being King In The North lording over Winterfell, could we get Sansa or Arya capitalizing on their Tully bloodline to step in and get House Tully back on track?  Anything to get Edmure dumped on again.

4. Jamie Lannister
There is a lot of mounting evidence that Jamie will make the ultimate face turn by being the one to take down Cersei, just as he stopped another crazy monarch to earn the Kingslayer nickname.  A final turn towards good in the end, however, shouldn’t erase all that Jamie has done in this series.  Remember…pushed Bran out a window in the very first episode!  That started this whole mess.  If Bran wants to warg into, say, an angry cat to scratch Jamie’s eyes out in the series finale, nobody would blame him.  All of the work the series has done to try and make Jamie more sympathetic has, ironically, just made me hate him more.

3. Melisandre
The ol’ Red Woman was basically a broken woman this season, realizing that her past belief in Stannis was completely false.  It took resurrecting Jon Snow to get her back on the messiah train, and her visions of Snow standing triumphant in Winterfell was indeed correct….until Davos called her out for murdering Shireen.  “Oh right, all that stuff I did,” in the words of Sideshow Bob.  Now Melisandre is just riding aimlessly south, where she could possibly interact with any number of characters.  Who will be the one to finally defeat her by…well, apparently all it’ll take is removing her necklace, as pretty much anyone in the series could beat up a 700-year-old woman.  Maybe even Sam.

2. Cersei Lannister
Or, should I say, Queen Cersei, first of her name, yadda yadda yadda.  It was a fascinating season for Cersei, as the show seemingly spent much of the year making you feel rather sorry for this mess she’d gotten herself, her royal son and by extension much of the kingdom into by empowering the Sparrows.  And then, by the finale, it’s whoops, nope, Cersei is still the big bad, and she not only killed the other King’s Landing villains, she also killed a bunch of those nice Tyrells we all liked.  (My pal Eric, a big Natalie Dormer supporter, was not pleased at this turn of events and now needs a new show crush.)  GoT clearly is heading in a direction of Daenerys and company facing Queen Cersei and probably Euron Greyjoy’s navy in S7, which leads to so many fascinating character interactions that the mind boggles at the possibilities.  Will Jamie side with his sister or his brother?  How many of Team Daenerys will the Zombie Mountain take out?  How does Jorah’s search for a cure play into all of this?  Will Cersei and Daenerys ever actually meet face to face?  Find out next time, on SOAP.

1. Littlefinger
It’s a shame that we never got any extended scenes between Baelish and the High Sparrow, since Aiden Gillen and Jonathan Pryce would’ve had quite a battle trying to out-smug each other.  The Sparrow had the edge in the smug rankings all season long, and yet the look on Littlefinger’s face when the Vale armies swooped in during the Battle of the Bastards almost vaulted him to the top in one fell swoop.  I’ve read a lot of interpretations of the glances between Sansa and Littlefinger during Jon Snow’s “King in the North” scene, and for the sake of my patience, I really hope Sansa’s expression read as “told you Jon would be accepted” rather than “hmm, I’m losing power here…”  If it’s the latter and Sansa is truly dumb enough to put faith in Littlefinger again, she’ll find herself on this list next year.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Game Of Chairs

This is a couple of years old, yet somehow I've missed seeing it until now.  Wow, if Muppet Cersei had ended up winning, Sesame Street would have some serious "I called it" bragging rights.  As it is, I'm guessing that Theon won't end the series as king of Westeros, barring some major plot overhauling.  (Such a result would actually please my friend Dave, who is the only person in the world whose favourite GoT character is Theon Greyjoy.  Even Alfie Allen is like, "meh, I prefer Tyrion.")   

Friday, July 01, 2016

Canada's Band

More fitting than ever on this particular Canada Day, here are some Tragically Hip classics...





Thursday, June 30, 2016

Pro Tip For Prince William

Just shave your head, man.  Throw caution to the wind.  I realize that shaving one's head is a major step, even for those of us who aren't destined for the British throne.  I started losing my hair when I was 17 (!) yet didn't fully shave it until I was 22, and that was less due to common sense than trying to erase a poorly-thought out experiment with blonde hair dye.  Had I just sucked it up at age 17, I would've been rocking the chrome dome during my entire university career, a.k.a. when I was around more attractive women than at any other point in my life then or since.  Instead, I wasted years on campus with the old man "cul de sac of hair" that made me look a good two or three decades older.  Ed Harris, it was not.

Now, scoring with the ladies probably isn't a priority for William now that he has a wife and kids, though still, going with the wispy thinning look when you're still in your early 30's is a tough road to hoe.  We all know he'll be 50-to-75% bald at some point over the next decade, so my argument is, embrace it and go all the way bald right now. 

Sure, it'll cause a media sensation.  Sure, there will be a few hundred Yul Brenner references.  Sure, it's quite possible Kate hates the bald look and she should probably be consulted about this (rather than, say, listening to some guy writing a blog post).  But William needs to look at the big picture.  The British public need decisive leadership now more than ever, it's time for their future king to visit the royal barber and Brexit the last remaining hairs from his head.  Do it for the United Kingdom, William, and even moreso, do it for us bald people.  We need a new signature baldie to look up to.    

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Mr. Spectacular

We had a pool table back at my parents' house and we played a lot in my younger days.  My brother and I have a long-standing rivalry in, well, everything, but billiards was of particular interest to us.  I'll admit (VERY hesitantly) that my brother may have been a slightly better player than I (VERY slightly) but I hold the single most impressive victory ever achieved in one of our games.  It was a victory that should've, by rights, earned me a lifelong nickname.

The situation: in a standard game of stripes-and-solids, he had just the eightball left, while I still had four balls out on the table.  As they might say in O Brother, I was in a tight spot.  Naturally, I responded to my brother's trash-talk not by quietly accepting my fate, but rather by making a boast of my own --- I would sink the next four balls, and then the eightball if I did this, he would have to refer to me as "Mr. Spectacular" for the rest of our lives.  Chuckling, he accepted the bet.

And then I PROCEEDED TO DO IT.

Now, folks, your old pal Mark is not a top-class pool player.  The only thing that Minnesota Fats and I have in common is our shared morbid obesity.  Still, on this day, I was a veritable Fast Eddie Felson, draining five balls in succession from all over the table.  My brother could just stand there like a slack-jawed yokel in amazement that I somehow went from 0 to 100 in the span of a minute.

The downside?  Not once has my brother ever, EVER referred to me as Mr. Spectacular.  Not a single damn time, even as a joke.  He didn't even use the name directly in the wake of our game, as I believe his response to my five-ball streak was just to swear and demand another game.

This welching dog owes me over 20 years of nicknames.  And really, had me used the nickname all these years, naturally someone would've asked about it, and then it might've caught on.  My life would've clearly been at least 7.5% better if I'd been colloquially known as "Mr. Spectacular."  That's a brand name unto itself.  I could've even gotten it tattooed across my shoulderblades, since I presume in this new reality I would've had the confidence to get over my fear of needles.

To make a long story short, if anyone wants to start calling me Mr. Spectacular, I'm just saying I'd be open to it.  If you also have a goofy nickname you're trying to give yourself a la George "T-Bone" Costanza, I'm willing to play ball.  A billiard ball, if you will.