Tuesday, May 31, 2005

In my world, Ludacris is a dazzling supernova of a star whose every public move demands intense scrutiny, whereas Matt Lauer is someone whose name I think I heard one time who is maybe on TV or something. Memorial Day is good for learning how out of step with the actual world I am. On yesterday's Ellen show (great for hangovers!), Matt Lauer got about 4 times the screen time that Luda did (and walked out to "Whatta Man" before Luda walked out to "Yeah!" - not even his part of it, WTF). Luda was very businesslike-charming, and Ellen got to uncomfortably gush about what a big fan she was. The whole thing reminded me of seeing circa-Anaconda Ice Cube on the David Letterman show in high school, when Cube said he liked South America but he'd rather be in South Central and Dave said: "Heh heh [long pause], yeah." I wonder about white people sometimes.

Shawn Marion is playing like someone payed him to not play. In an impossibly tough series against a team that plays like evil superintelligent basketball robots, every Phoenix Sun is stepping his game up except Marion. Even Jim Jackson is reliably hitting threes. But all Marion can manage to contribute is anguished facial expressions that ABC sports montage editors just love. Every time they passed the ball to Marion last night, I wanted to scream at my TV. Dear Shawn Marion: Please stop sucking. Love, Tom.

Yesterday, we locked the keys in the car on a particularly desolate block of Baltimore's downtown business district. Sometime during the second half of the two-hour wait for the lock guy, a visibly drunk homeless guy came up to us and told us that he used to steal cars all the time before he found Jesus and he could absolutely help us. He left and came back twenty minutes later with a coathanger, and three random strangers crowded around to offer him tips during his ultimately failed attempts at opening the door. They don't call it Charm City for no reason.

Friday, May 27, 2005

So we're doing it. We're moving up to New York City. Set an extra seat at the table, music writer dudes, because homey over here wants to set it off. Also, if you feel like giving me a job, please give me a job. Or, failing that, rent me an extremely cheap one-bedroom apartment.

I'm going to go ahead and assume that like 90% of the people reading this have already seen Star Wars 3, but if you haven't, don't go see Star Wars 3. Or do, I don't care. But Star Wars 3 is straight garbage. My friend Nat and I spent the entire drive back from the movie theater yesterday wondering how they could've taken an idea so cool and made it so fucking weak. Hayden Christensen's performance has got to be the worst lead performance in a big-budget movie I have ever seen in my life, which is really saying something, and nobody else was much better. Everyone looked like weird plastic mannequins caked with makeup, and not a single one of the events had any gravity to it at all. It's probably hard to convey desperate conviction when you're standing in front of a blue screen, but I honestly can't imagine everyone in the movie sucking worse than they did. And what's wrong with puppets and big plastic models? People like puppets and big plastic models! The final space battle in the first Star Wars looked cooler than anything in the three new movies. Also, it drives me crazy when they'll throw R2D2 or Chewbacca in the new movies for no reason. It makes sense for Yoda to be in the new movies because we already know he's always been a figure of some importance. But Chewbacca? How did Chewbacca go from being Wookee war leader to some dude on a sketchy-ass spaceship in one movie? And wouldn't C3PO or R2D2 be like "wait a minute, we've been here before" when they show up on Tattooine in the first movie? Stuff like that makes no sense at all, but I guess it absolves the writers from having to come up with any new characters that are remotely likeable or compelling. Whatever. The light-saber fights were fun, and I wasn't bored, so I guess it was better than The Interpreter. But wow, they really fucked up on these movies.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

American Idol's first cracker-cracker showdown is over, and the right cracker won. I'm curious to see how Carrie Underwood does in the outside world and how her success or failure will plug into what I was saying recently about the mainstream's persistent ignorance of country music. Carrie Underwood is pretty and likeable and marketable and, with the right song, there's no reason that she couldn't blow up monstrous - except that pop radio hasn't come anywhere near country since the last time Shania Twain commissioned a Europop remix. I find it kind of weird and embarrassing that everyone at my work assumed that I'd be rooting for Bo and that I needed to be consoled or whatever. Do they think I bump Creed on the low? It was fun for a little while hearing Bo bleat grungeisms, but it got old around the time he grew the creepy molester beard. With the flowing pirate shirt and tight leather pants he was rocking last night, it was not a good look. Last night's show managed to be fully engaging for two hours, which is sort of incredible. David Hasselhoff's entire career these days seems to consist of making self-deprecating cameo appearances. It's nice that he's a good sport, but he doesn't have to smash us over the head with it, you know?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

New York was a crazy whirlwind of a blast, and I am so tired that I can barely move my toes. I ate a ridiculously huge and opulent Italian dinner, ran through Prospect Park in the rain, dropped $17 on Get Ya Mind Correct at Kim's, left my Baltimore Dodgeball T-shirt on the train. Someone in Greenpoint asked me how tall I am in Polish. I bought the magazine with my first-ever cover story at Barnes & Noble (DIW, Sleater-Kinney, don't sleep). My brother graduated from college. Maybe we'll move up there this summer and maybe we won't, but thanks to my colleagues Sean and Ryan and Amy and Nick for making me feel at home. And thanks to Sean for hooking me up with Ecko discounts!

I'll get back to talking about Cowboy Troy and American Idol and how much I hate Manu Ginobli as soon as I can get my head back together.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

I was driving Bridget's car around Hampden last night trying to figure out how to get to the G-Spot gallery for like half an hour last night. The edge of the neighborhood has all these twisty confusing woodsy roads, and it's hard to remember where you are at any given time. The building is an old logging mill or something, no longer in use, right in the middle of these woods. When I found it and parked, Ian MacKaye was the first person I saw walking up. I'd been meaning to introduce myself; I interviewed him over the phone a couple of years ago, and I'm supposed to be interviewing him for Pitchfork whenever he feels like it. But I totally froze. This guy has been making music that's meant the world to me for as long as I've been alive. This wasn't my first Evens show, but it wasn't any less jarring seeing him sitting onstage in front of 100 people in an art gallery the second time after I've seen him like five times in front of thousands of people with Fugazi. After that initial shock, though, an Evens show isn't really all that different from a Fugazi show. There's still that feeling of communal warmth and friendliness and mutual goodwill hanging in the air, and there's still Ian, who gives off this enormous generosity of spirit no matter where they're playing. And then there's the music. It's really, really easy to hear most Evens songs as Fugazi songs, to mentally fill in the bass parts and beef up the guitars and hear them as huge, monumental things. One thing that makes Evens shows different from Fugazi shows: Amy Farina has this amazing, gorgeous voice that just cuts through the air and makes the walls shiver. When she was singing harmonies with Ian, it was almost impossible to hear Ian even through he was singing louder. She's a great, inventive drummer, but I kind of wish she was just a singer. I'd like to see Fugazi reform and include her as a full-time member. She is just so fucking good.

Al Shipley was at the show too. He's graduating next week. Happy graduation, Al!

I'm going up to New York tomorrow for my brother's graduation, and I'll be sticking around for a few days. My girl just got into NYU's social work masters program, and we need to figure out if we can picture ourselves living there. New York dudes, tell me about neighborhoods where broke-ass people can afford dog-friendly apartments. Make noise at me. I'm friendly.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

I watched part of the Country Music Awards (or whatever) last night, and something struck me. How many country records were sold last year? A kajillion? And the biggest non-country-music celebrities they could get to show up (that I saw) were Ricky Schroeder and the fucking Blue Man Group? So what's the problem? Is country music a cultural juggernaut or a weird backwater subculture or both or neither? And if it's as relevant as I think it probably is, why doesn't the rest of the world notice?

Monday, May 16, 2005

There's no way to put a happy face on getting swept, losing game four to a Shaq-less Heat at home, dying without making a sound. It's a terrible ending to a great season. But for once it doesn't feel embarrassing to be a Wizards fan, and there's hope for the future. Here's hoping that someone watches the last few games and realizes that they need to keep Juan Dixon around. And we need us a center; there's got to be some tall-ass Lithuanian we can get for cheap.

I didn't go to the HFStival, the annual concert that the dying alt-rock station WHFS threw at Ravens Stadium on Saturday. It's kind of shocking how lame the lineup was; it seems like they could've fostered more goodwill and gotten more people to show up if they went for a mini-Coachella thing with like Nine Inch Nails and Bright Eyes and the Roots instead of Good Charlotte and Garbage and the Foo Fighters. But I ran into Jackson from Grand Buffet at the farmers' market the next morning; he'd driven down from Pittsburgh and spent forty bucks just to see Billy Idol. Apparently Billy Idol played a 20-minute version of "Mony Mony", and lightning struck behind the stage just as he finished the last note. Awesome.

Did everyone on Saturday Night Live just give Will Ferrell a whole bunch of weed and let him do whatever he wanted? What a bizarre show. (Example: instead of saying, "ladies and gentlemen, once again, Queens of the Stone Age", he just stared at the camera all maniacally while stroking the back of some guy's head as the camera cut quickly to the band.) I wish stuff like that happened more often. Related: the guy who directed Kicking & Screaming (the Ferrell kid-soccer movie, not the Eric Stoltz/Parker Posey coming-of-age thing that needs to come out on DVD yesterday) also directed How High, and he's Bob Dylan's son. This blows my mind.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

My brother Jim has a blog. He's a smart kid, so let's hope he doesn't fuck this thing up.

I caught some wreck from some smart people a little while ago when I gave Edan's "Fumbling Over Words That Rhyme" a one-star review in Pitchfork. These same smart people recommended the album, so I bought it, and it's pretty good. Edan has a strong and nimble if generally unoriginal flow, and his production has a nice fuzzy cluttery Madvillainy shuffle to it. I never had a problem with him before he went into teacher mode, and I mostly don't have a problem with him now. But I still hate "Fumbling Over Words That Rhyme", mostly because I hate it when musicians talk to me like I'm a goddam child; it's what I never liked about Dead Prez. Nick Sylvester has told me that the track is some sort of alternate rap history that only tracks the people who advanced rap as an artform, but I have no idea what he's talking about; it just sounds like a laundry list of New York rappers with some "class is in session / master this lesson" bullshit attached. I'm all done with school. Thanks. (Also, the Village Voice review of the album says Edan is from Baltimore? I don't know no Edan.)

Here's something that confuses me: every Blade movie gets progressively shittier while its cast gets progressively more famous? I'm not saying that Jessica Biel and Van Wilder guy and Natasha Lyonne and Parker Posey and Triple H are front-row-at-the-Oscars material or anything, but that's enough cameos for three or four episodes of Entourage right there. This group of people couldn't collectively do as well as Stephen Dorff? Blade: Trinity is a total mess of chopped-up incoherent fight scenes and Van Wilder guy snarkily yelling cusswords in a weird Jason Lee impersonation. I love me some Blade movies, but it's time to put that shit to bed.

And speaking of Triple H, why hasn't Game sampled his entrance music yet? Isn't that a no-brainer?

Monday, May 09, 2005

I feel like Al could probably write a Lifter Puller song about Saturday night. I've seen Al (from Government Names/Narrowcast) at a bunch of shows in the area, but I'd never convinced him to go to a show or anything. But so at my urging, he ended up at the Hold Steady show at this art gallery in Hampden that was opening this exhibit of old pictures of punks from LA and that had free beer as soon as you paid to get in, which meant that I got bombed. The Hold Steady played the same songs they played at the Ottobar last month, except it didn't sound as good because their keyboard player wasn't there, and I spent a good part of the set waiting in line for the bathroom anyway. (Hey cokeheads! Do coke in your car or some shit! Some of us have to piss!) Bridget wanted to go home after the show, but Craig Finn invited me to the after-party at this guy Dave's apartment, so Al and I went. I talked to Craig for like an hour at the after-party, and I don't remember any of the conversation at all except that both he and I consider Sasha Frere-Jones and Jessica Hopper to be the two best music writers in the universe. Other than that, the whole party is a blur. I was absolutely blasted out of my head at that point, as were most of the people there. Al wasn't, so I feel kind of bad. I hope I didn't act like an ass. Sorry, homes.

I saw Dig! this weekend, and a couple of questions arose. Like: why did they get the dude from the Dandy Warhols to narrate the thing? He is the single worst narrator I have ever heard in my life. He talks in the voice I use when I'm making fun of cokeheads. Also: what was the deal with the dude from the Brian Jonestown Massacre who wore giant sunglasses all the time and only played maracas? If I ever met this man, I would have to slap him, hard.

The Wizards made it to the semis, but I didn't have much time to revel in victory because the Heat absolutely tore them apart yesterday. I just hope they don't get swept.

Friday, May 06, 2005

T.I. was on The OC last night. Stuff like this needs to happen more often. I want to see Chamillionaire on Gilmore Girls, Three 6 Mafia in the next Wes Anderson movie, the Hold Steady and the Mountain Goats on 106 & Park, Ian MacKaye playing a crooked cop on the next season of The Wire. Worlds need to collide. Let's make this happen. (Too bad T.I. was just lip-sincing "Bring Em Out" while standing on a diving board; it would've been a lot better if they'd gotten him to make out with Summer or something. And too bad The OC is sucking now, running through plotlines like a seven-year-old with ADD. The mom is drinking too much? Seth has a comic book? Another car accident? Settle down, kids!)

Thursday, May 05, 2005

I haven't talked about the new Mountain Goats album yet because I don't want to get too personal or emo here. But it's an amazing album and it kills me. The Sunset Tree doesn't have many of the driving tooth-gnashing bangers that We Shall All Be Healed had, but the lyrics (about John Darnielle's past with his abusive stepfather) are endlessly sad and powerful and just fucking miles deep. They hit me right where I live. In the liner notes, Darnielle writes: "Dedicated to any young men and women who live with people who abuse them, with the following good news: You are going to make it out of there alive. You will live to tell your story. Never lose hope." Bridget is a domestic violence crisis counselor, and I'm afraid I have to say that Darnielle isn't always right; plenty of people never make it out alive. She could tell you some stories that would break your heart.

On a (much) lighter note, what's up with all these writers making a big deal out of discontinuing their blogs? It's like, your blog isn't who you are, or it shouldn't be. It's something you do when you have a minute at work. Why make a big deal out of ending it? Why not just stop posting? God knows that's what I'll have to do when I finally get a job where I really have to work all the time. (Mostly I'm just annoyed because I like these unnamed blogs and don't want them to end, so grain of salt and everything.)

In other blog news, I'll be watching some TV and joining the Purpology crew. It occurs to me that everyone writing for this thing is, what, between like 19 and 23? Is that right? Am I going to feel like everyone's drunk uncle? (I'm 25.)

Also: Arenas at the buzzer! Wizards up 3-2! Jyeah!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

I probably shouldn't mention the Choices II soundtrack without saying a few words about the Choices II movie, but I've only managed to make it about halfway through that particular masterpiece so far, and even then I had to get up to get a beer or microwave a burritto every couple of minutes while the movie kept playing. I don't think this hurt my understanding of the movie; the plot would be pretty much incomprehensible no matter what. It goes like this: DJ Paul and Juicy J get arrested at the beginning of the movie; I can't tell if it's because of stuff they did in the first movie (which I've never seen) or if it's really the end of this movie and the whole story is a flashback. A couple of DEA agents then spring them from jail and hire them to rob these two warring drug kingpins, who then go looking for Paul and Juicy. Also, Bishop Don Magic Juan and some other pimps who are probably famous show up for one scene where they talk a lot while women in bikinis walk around. And Lil Wyte plays a snitch. And Tiny Lister, the big scary bad guy from Friday, shows up as a big scary guy. He's only in one scene so far, and he makes his voice all death-metal scary and calls a prison guard a bitch. DJ Paul is a bad actor and a really ugly dude, but for some reason he gets all the good lines. Juicy J is pretty normal-looking and seems to be a pretty good actor, but he totally has side-banana status. The whole thing was shot on a camcorder with truly awful sound recording, and almost every scene has some distracting camera trick like sped-up film or some elaborate dissolve into the next scene (like morphing or the image getting all blurry and then solidifying into something completely different). It reminds me of that Simpsons where Homer is making a dating-service video for Ned Flanders and he keeps telling Lisa to put a star-wipe at the end of every scene. Rappers watch The Wire, right? You'd think that maybe they'd see this and realize that they can't keep making horrible low-budget movies that make no sense. It can't be that hard to hire decent writers or directors, can it? Couldn't they just grab a couple of kids fresh out of film school? If I ever finish watching this movie, a more complete report will follow, unless I don't feel like writing about it anymore.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

I've spent the better part of the past week in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, a non-existant town called Stanley, VA, completely shut off from everything, watching basketball on satellite TV (Wizards tie the series! Juan Dixon reps B-More!), drinking Corona and reading the New Yorker on the rickety front porch, watching my dog chase cows away from the fence, getting unbelievably terrified going up Skyline Drive, picking a tick off Bridget's arm, not seeing any Confederate flags until I started looking for them (at which point they started popping up all over the place), sleeping until I don't feel like sleeping anymore, moving slow. It's been beautiful. Only moment of contact with outside culture and its ramifications: filling the tires at a gas station when a white kid rolls up in a Nissan with an enormous sound system in the trunk, blasting the Lil Jon album, leaving the engine and stereo on while he goes inside (presumably for my benefit, since no one else was there). OK, also I saw the video for "Wait (The Whisper Song)". It's a good video. One thing I've noticed in catching up on blog-reading since my miniscule break: Y'all are some good writers. I'm in good company.

I like the Perceptionists' Black Dialogue in most of the same ways as I like the Three 6 Mafia's Choices II soundtrack: both groups finding their aesthetics, figuring out what sounds best, staying there. I think I agree with everything the Perceptionists say, but I don't even really listen to the lyrics. It's more about the clipped cheap Casio drums snapping all over like fireworks, voices mixed low, Lif's virtuosic staccatto woodpecker righteous flow, Akrobatic's goofy fatguy swaggering interplay almost-hypeman stuff. It's like: this is how you do an indieground rap album. You get some tight rinky-dink synth beats and some OK hooks and you stay right in their pockets. You learn to rap. You have some fun and toss a few punchlines back and forth with your friends. If you have to talk shit about mainstream rappers, you don't say you're the keepers of the flame of true-to-bone hip-hop culture; you just get Humpty Hump to help you make fun of guys with guns who can't rap. It's that easy/not easy. The Choices II soundtrack is total water-treading after Da Unbreakables: punchy drums, evil piano, beat-you-up chants, bad lyrics delivered impeccably. It's as good as a soundtrack to an unwatchably bad straight-to-DVD rapper movie could possibly be. Only noteable development: Lil Wyte is on pretty much every song. I can get behind that.

Do you think Mike James gets people yelling "Miiiike Jaaames! Who? Miiiike Jaaames?" ever since he got trades to the Rockets? Does this annoy him? Confuse him? Does he like it? I think about this stuff.