Monday, December 5, 2011
First of all, giving 6 years to a shortstop is sort of ridiculous - especially one who defensively has been trending downward over the past few years. In addition, Reyes has had a fair share of leg problems - not as bad as many would lead you to believe - but still more than i would feel comfortable with, when signing to that length of a contract.
And contracts like that are precisely why the Mets are in the position that they are in this morning. David Wright signed a very fair extension a few years ago, and has been worth the money spent on him. But, let's focus on the other big free agent contracts the Mets have given out lately:
4 years to Jason Bay
7 years to Johan Santana
4 years to Oliver Perez
4 years to Luis Castillo
3 years with a vesting option to K-Rod
Each one of those deals has come back to bite the Mets in the ass for one reason or another. And, invariably, each one is too long. That was the general plan for the Omar Minaya-led Mets - guarantee more years that the competition. And for Minaya, that sort of worked - especially since now it is his predecessor, Sandy Alderson, who has to deal with those problems.
So, i get why the Mets wanted to limit their years on Reyes. However, it is Jose Fucking Reyes - maybe the most exciting player i've ever had the privilege to watch play baseball. Reyes hitting a triple is one of the most beautiful sights in the world. If i live to one hundred, i may never see another player have as much fun on the field as Reyes does. He was not only one of my favorite Mets of all time, but one of my favorite players of all time (along with Ken Griffey Jr in his original Mariners years and Keith Hernandez pre-Indians).
If there was one player that i would be fine with eating 2 years or shit for, it is Reyes. And i think that is exactly what his six years are going to look like for Reyes - two years of dominance, two years of above-average production, and two years of a sad shell of his former self. 2014 is the year that a lot of Mets fans throw out as when the tide will turn in our favor, so when the Mets are hitting their stride, Reyes will be starting his decline. But instead of being able to pull for him in his declining years, i will now have to either root against him or, as the brilliant Patrick Flood put it, "wish Reyes well 144 times a season and nothing but bad hops the other 18." It used to be every day during the baseball season, i knew i'd be able to watch Reyes and, even when Mike Pelfrey was starting, that made the game worth watching.
And now, he will be wearing this every game:
Both the thought and the image make me want to puke.
Monday, November 28, 2011
The host of the show is Eddie Trunk; as a fellow denizen of the Garden State, i have been familiar with Eddie via his radio show for 15+ years. One of Eddie's soapboxes is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - he feels that the Hall discriminates against heavy music and is run by (my words not his) snobs. He also makes a claim that selling a ton of records should factor in there somewhere.
Now, while i am sympathetic to Trunk's argument, i think we need to pull back a little and discuss what the Hall is, what it is supposed to be, and what can be done to improve it. Let me also say off the bat that i am not trying to bag on Eddie Trunk; he and i simply disagree on some of this stuff (we agree on a lot of it, too), and hearing him recently talk about this got me thinking about this issue.
From the official website, here is what appears to be their mission statement: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum exists to collect, preserve and interpret the impact rock has made on our world.
First of all, let's call bullshit on this statement. If that was truly the purpose of the institution, then it would be displays on the supposed connection between heavy metal and suicide, or the West Memphis Three, or other academic ideas. This is there to celebrate the landmark people in rock and roll.
Well, sort of.
My first change i would make to the RNRHOF is the name: it isn't just about rock and roll. It is also about funk, doo wop, heavy metal, bubblegum pop, disco, rap, and every other form of popular music invented since 1955. Let's face facts, the name is a misnomer. So, i suggest a new handle for the place:
The Museum of Popular Music, 1955-Present
Sure, it doesn't have the same ring as "The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," but the only way to make people stop saying things like "Grandmaster Flash, yeah, HE'S really rock and roll!" is to change the name. The toothpaste is out of the tube, and we're not going to suddenly un-invite all the artists that don't meet the strict guidelines of what "rock and roll" should mean. Plus, those guidelines change on a whim to support arguments, so who gives a shit. Change the name.
Secondly, there needs to be something more concrete in terms of what it means to be inducted. Let's call this the Buffalo Springfield corollary:
Buffalo Springfield released two albums during its active lifespan, and a third shortly thereafter that was made up of mostly outtakes and doesn't feature the full band on any one song. They had one bona fide hit, "For What It's Worth," and their members went on to form other, more successful bands, as well as influence the growing movement of folk, country and rock music blending together. This whole process, from forming to break up, took less than 3 full years.
And yet, this band is in the RNRHOF, and went in in 1997.
Why are they there? It isn't because they were an unquestionably influential band. They had influential members, but the band itself isn't exactly the Beatles or the Stones. It isn't because they were so popular that they dominated the charts for years - they barely made a blip on the sales radar during their years active. It isn't because the band contained the best work of its members - many members went on to do better stuff afterwards.
No, they are in because they are an answer to a fun trivia question, and because some people are insufferable nostalgists who think they were so important because they exist in the cultural sweet spot of 1967.
But why should any band be in the RNRHOF? I can think of six good criteria, and any inductee needs to meet at least four of these. I present to you, the Salvatore Scale:
1) Their influence can be felt today in more than just a niche sector of the music world
2) They signaled, or were part of, a sea change in the music industry
3) Featured superb musicianship or songwriting ability
4) Well respected by a significant percentage of the critical intelligentsia
5) They were popular to the point of ubiquity
6) They had a career exceeding 5 albums/10 years
No matter what the criteria was, the Beatles and Chuck Berry were getting in (and, actually Buffalo Springfield would be a close call on my new criteria). But let's look at a band that isn't in, and pisses a lot of people off, including the aforementioned Eddie Trunk, and see if they'd get in based on my criteria; let's take a look at Deep Purple.
Now, let's look at 2008 inductee John Melloncamp:
Melloncamp is out.
See, what this does is it neutralizes the two polar ends of the spectrum: the critic and the fan. If only critics picked who went in, the average person would be flummoxed at the prospect of visiting the John Fahey exhibit. If only fans picked, Bon Jovi would be in, and that may be worse. In fact, let's take those two artists and put them on the Salvatore Scale:
1) Arguable, leaning towards no
2) Yes (albeit a terrible one, hair metal)
3) Arguable, leaning towards no
That's a no on both. And while i think John Fahey is an amazing, singular talent, he shouldn't be in the HOF. And neither should a band that had a few huge hits with zero substance and who critics loathe.
Now, where Trunk loses me is advocating for people like Bon Jovi or Journey - if these bands have influenced any real segment of the music making population, i don't hear it. They are both known by the general public for less than 5 songs. They are not my cup of meat, but they are fine bands if that's your thing (and Bon Jovi is my wife's thing, much to my chagrin). But i guarantee you, if i read the tracklist to Journey's Greatest Hits to a man on the street, he'd recognize just as many songs from Manfred Mann's Greatest Hits, and no one in their right mind is advocating for Manfred Mann to go in.
As for longevity, i put it last because it is probably tied with the ubiquitous popularity in terms of least important criterion. The Clash weren't a band for ten years, but they are supremely important (and have 5 truly great records). Guns N' Roses, eligible this year, have four full length original albums to their credit, an EP and a covers album. One of the four records came out 15 years after their peak, and only one of those albums is considered a "classic." They don't make the cut for me; if there was a category to induct albums, you'd be insane not to induct Appetite for Destruction. But i think you'd be more insane to put GNR up there as one of the most important bands of all time.
Just because someone sells a ton of records or records for 30 years doesn't mean they are great. To put this in baseball terms, this would be like Roger Marris being in the HOF - everyone knows him because of one stat, but he isn't a HOF caliber player, and it makes the Hall stronger to have him not in there. I would much rather have a Hall of Fame that is harder to get in to (but is fair) than to have Nickelback one day grace the Hall.
I also want to point out that i put songwriting and technical proficiency on the same bullet point, but that i weigh songwriting higher, and anyone who doesn't is a fool. This is why the Ramones are in the HOF and Steve Vai isn't, sans rubric or by the Salvatore scale.
The final point i want to make is that people who don't want to see pop or rap (or funk or whatever) groups go in need to think more broadly about this. I am 29 years old; i don't remember a time before rap music. Even if i wanted to not be influenced by hip hop culture, that would be impossible, it is part of the world in which i live. Run DMC changed music forever with both its original songs and its "Walk This Way" duet with Aerosmith. Madonna is a hugely important cultural figure. Their influence is felt in the "rock" world, like it or not.
And, much like interracial marriages, broad musical tastes produce the most beautiful children. There wouldn't be metal if Bill Ward didn't dig jazz, and Ozzy didn't idolize the Beatles, the Tony Iommi didn't play the blues. This is all part of the cultural soup we're floating in, and should be recognized as such. Sure, it is weird to see Madonna inducted alongside the Ventures, but tell me - who is more important to the music of the 20th century? If you say the Ventures, i'm going to kick you in the face, because you're a no good liar.
Most importantly, the Salvatore Scale gives a way to actually measure what a band has done, and judge it against a rubric. It protects against the snobs that Trunk has a problem with and the slobs that buy Miller Lite. It finds middle ground, and promotes the bands that really do matter. Next year, my favorite non-Beatles band of all time, the Pixies, are up for nomination. I doubt the Hall will recognize them, but let's see if the Salvatore scale vindicates them:
6) If you count Come on Pilgrim as an album (their debut EP), then they have five albums or if you include their reunion tour, they have more than ten years.
Regardless, they are in.
And so, yes, the RNRHOF needs a serious re-evaluation. But to do it based simply on record sales and/or longevity is a slippery slope to having Creed in there one day. And, to quote one of the original members of the Hall, that'll be the day that i die.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
"Good for Verlander, but I still feel Bautista was more valuable to his team."
The Verlander in question is Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers starting pitcher and both the 2011 American League Cy Young Award winner and the 2011 American League Most Valuable Player. The Bautista in question is Jose Bautista, a formerly meh player who has found his inner Reggie Jackson over the past two years since joining the Toronto Blue Jays.
A lot of people are feeling the way that Jay feels, although some are replacing Bautista with Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox*. Their argument seems to be (and i haven't discussed this with Jay) that Bautista plays every day in right field (or third base), whereas Verlander starts games once every 5 days. His 250 innings don't contribute nearly as much as Bautista's 513 at-bats, according to these folks.
However, i think Verlander is the deserving MVP of the American League, and i will hopefully convince you all that Justin is worthy.
The best way, in my opinion, to judge a position player against a pitcher is my personal favorite statistic, WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. What this means is that, let's say that Albert Pujols blows out his knee on Day 1 of the season, and is replaced by the Cardinals AAA first baseman - how many wins will the Cardinals miss out on because of Pujols's absence? This is done by aggregating all their individual stats and comparing them to the stats of an "average" player out of AAA. It is not a perfect stat, but is a good cross-position tool.
Verlander and Bautista were tied for the AL lead in WAR this year, with 8.5. So, if either were not playing this year, their teams would have lost 8 or 9 additional games (let's round up for this argument). Let's use that to determine the value to both teams:
The Blue Jays finished 81-81, for fourth place in the AL East. Without Bautista, they would have finished 72-90, still good for fourth place. Although Bautista made the team interesting to watch, even during a mediocre season, without him, the Jays would have had almost exactly the same season overall.
The Tigers finished 95-67, first place in the AL Central. If you subtract the 9 wins that Verlander would have brought, Detroit would have finished 84-76, still finishing first in their division.
So, neither player pushed their team into the playoffs. However, the Tigers did make it, and in Verlander's 4 post season starts, his team went 2-2, so he was a wash in the post season.
I think the real judgment here has to come from which player would be harder to replace if he went down. Right field, Bautista's primary position, is a relatively easy position to fill defensively. His offensive prowess would be much harder, but if a few other parts were swapped out, finding 9 wins via offense over the course of a season wouldn't be impossible (although would probably hurt the team defensively).
As for Verlander, premier starting pitcher is maybe the hardest thing to come by in all of baseball. Verlander is durable, strikes out a ton of batters, and doesn't walk very many. To make up 9 wins from the rotation, that is significantly tougher. Plus, if you lose Verlander, there is no guarantee that whoever replaces him will go as deep into games as he does, therefore taxing the bullpen more, which might lead to less wins from the bullpen.
When a starting pitcher gets the ball, he has more control over the game than anyone else on the team. When a starting pitcher is as dominant as Verlander, it is hard to argue that he isn't the most valuable player in the league this year. One way to help this situation is to establish a Willie Mays award - it can be for hitting what the Cy Young award is for pitching, and the MVP can be what it is supposed to be - the award for the player who helped their team the most this year. If that is the case, Bautista is the Willie Mays winner for 2011.
But Verlander is still the MVP.
*Ellsbury may be more valuable to his team than Bautista because he plays a more premium position and adds the component of speed to his game. Although he lacks some of the plate discipline of Bautista. I'd take either on my team.
Friday, November 18, 2011
Expectations (Erin and I are podcasting about our upcoming baby!): Expectations
The Bureau Presents: A new podcast for the Bureau Records that i'm hosting/producing. Episode #1
Completely Conspicuous - Episodes 161, 162, 201
Multiversity Comics: Interviewing Scott Snyder, Interviewing Joshua Hale Fialkov
The Waster - Talking Shop With an Improv Troubadour (Bruce Hornsby Interview), Paley & Francis: Ragged is Part of the Charm
Pop Matters - Drifting Together, Drifting Apart: Sibling Relationships on Six Feet Under
Multiversity Comics - Friday Recommendation: New Teen Titans - Games, Friday Recommendations: Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil, The Walking Dead - Cherokee Rose (TV Review), This Month In Comics: September 2011
The Waster: Mister Heavenly - Out of Love, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Mirror Traffic, St. Vincent - Strange Mercy, Wild Flag - Wild Flag, Mekons - Ancient and Modern: 1911-2011, Ryan Adams - Ashes and Fire
Comic Book Reviews:
Multiversity Comics: Green Lantern - New Guardians #1, Swamp Thing #3, Animal Man #3, Green Lantern Corps #1, The Red Wing #4 (with Joshua Mocle), Batman #2, Legion: Secret Origin #1, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #3, Spaceman #1, Hellboy: House of the Living Dead (with David Harper), The Huntress #2, The Rinse #1, Batwing #1, Men of War #1, Mudman #1, Justice League #3, Wonder Woman #3, Action Comics #2, Resurrection Man #1, Mister Terrific #1, DC Universe Presents #1, Detective Comics #1, Stormwatch #2, The Shade #1, Justice League International #1, Nightwing #2/Red Hood and the Outlaws #2, Teen Titans #1
Holy cow, i've been doing a lot of stuff.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Last week, I wrote a piece for The Waster about Ashes and Fire, the new Ryan Adams record. If you read the article, you'll see that i am a bit hung up on Heartbreaker, the first Adams solo record*. As i briefly mention in the article, i was a Freshmen in college when i first heard it, and it was one of the first pieces of "country" music that ever spoke to me. I had no room in my piece to go back and be reminiscent about my first encounters with it, so i decided to blog about it#.
So, let's travel to the future, all the way...to the Year 2000.
Heartbreaker was released approximately three weeks into my stay as a Freshmen at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA, on September 5, 2000. However, i don't think i had heard anything about the album until at least a few weeks after its release. I remember walking downtown to a now forgotten shitty record store (this is before i found Dave's Music Mine or the Record Exchange on the South Side) to buy Hearbreaker. ^
That first semester was a tough one, initially, for me. My two best friends were my roommate Matt and his girlfriend, Lisa. They broke up approximately 5 minutes after i developed friendships with both of them, and therefore, ruined my friendship circle almost as quickly as they formed it. There were other, deeper issues too, but this a blog where i talk about nerdy shit, and no one needs to read about fragile, emo Brian. Let's sum it up as such: I spent a lot of time crying, listening to sad music. Hence, i loved Heartbreaker to death.%
The 2000/2001 school year opened the doors musically for me more so than any other year in my life. I first heard Bitches Brew by Miles Davis; i bought my first Pixies record; Napster was still around and my school had insanely fast internet. But one of the biggest steps i took musically was beginning to appreciate, in some capacity, country music. In fact, if you had asked me in 1999 what kind of music i like, i would have said "Everything but country."$
Now, let's get something straight: when i say country, i don't mean Garth Brooks or Travis Tritt. That is bad 70s pop with exaggerated accents. When i say country music, i mean Hank Williams; i mean Merle Haggard; i mean Patsy Cline; i mean Johnny Cash. But you see, growing up in the 90s in New Jersey, that kind of country music was rarely, if ever, heard. So to me, country meant color blocked shirts, CMT, and hillbillies.
Ryan Adams was the gateway drug to digging into an entire genre of music that i had previously alienated myself from. I heard an honesty in Adams's songs that reminded me of punk rock - they were simply adorned, well written and nothing fancy. I could dig this. Now, granted, this music was just as influenced by rock and roll and folk music as it was country; however the twang, the harmonies, the tempo, it all bleeds country music. Even if this didn't exactly sound like Nashville of 1962, it felt like it. And, at that time, that was close enough.
Sadly, Adams as country door opener is about the only role he has played in my life (and, country music still is not my favorite genre - not even in my top 5). Much to my friend Jeff Meyer's chagrin, nothing else Adams has done has ever spoken to me in the same way. And yet, i own at least 6 Adams records and, as my article states, puts out 4-5 great songs per album. They just haven't hit me in the same way that Heartbreaker did, and so i find myself not thinking much about Adams, except when i'm thinking about how many of his songs sound the same.
*Oddly, i have never reached back to his work with Whiskeytown, although i can almost guarantee i would enjoy it. Maybe next year...
#I've been a really bad blogger. I've been a good contributor to Multiversity Comics and to The Water, but a really bad blogger.
^Only three records bought at that store (and, oddly, all at different times, even after i found good stores): Heartbreaker, Hell Below/Stars Above by the Toadies, and Just Push Play by Aerosmith. Guess which record isn't still in my regular rotation?
%Other songs that i either convinced myself were sad, or elicited a melancholy feeling and therefore were in regular rotation: "Stay Forever" by Ween, "Butterfly" by Weezer, "I Stay Away" by Alice in Chains and "Aurora" by the Foo Fighters. So, for me at 18, sad = acoustic guitars.
$A few years earlier, i would have said "Everything but rap and country." Now, i'd say "everything but polka." Still waiting for a polka artist (non-Weird Al category) to blow my mind.
For further great reading on Ryan Adams, check out this post by the AV Club.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Reality Television attempts to make money and attract viewers. Innovation is a tertiary, at best, motivation.
Pop Music - for all the praise that Lady Gaga gets, she is really making formulaic pop music. Her presentation might be edgy, but her music is boring as fuck.
Sequels are the most lucrative and most easily green-lit type of film. With the ultra-rare exception that pops up once a decade or so, sequels try and do the same thing as the originals.
I say all of this to say that It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (Mad from here on out) is a pretty bad movie, but a movie that tried something.
At the time of its invention, television was beating the cinema in the battle for people's time and attention. Veteran director Stanley Kramer attempted to buck this trend by making "the ultimate comedy film," one that's scope (literally and figuratively) could never be attempted on television. For that, he succeeded.
A huge amount of top comedy talent was assembled for the film, from contemporary stars to "classic" comedians, and a huge, sprawling story was constructed around finding $350,000 buried under a "giant W."
Now, maybe at the time the comedy was cutting edge or didn't seem cliched, but to my eyes, this movie was nearly 3 hours (yes, 3 hours) full of hackiest comedy ever assembled. I expected the film to be bloated, but it was morbidly obese - every scene was just a bit too long, a bit too on the nose, and a bit too predictable.
Half of the fun for viewers during its initial run was missing for me, and that is the endless cameo spotting. Sure, i recognized Jimmy Durante and Andy Devine (and who could miss the Three Stooges?), but most of the other cast members were either totally lost on me or a case of "who is that guy?" syndrome that left me wondering what was so important about a guy driving a car that the camera wouldn't pan away for a second?
But watching the movie mad me realize that it has been a long time since a movie that was even this successful was made at such a large scale. In 2001, Rat Race was supposed to be the next Mad, but much of the talent was not A-list, and the film wasn't eagerly anticipated by fans of, well, anything. It was pitched as a family friendly film, and therefore couldn't go too blue, too weird, or, ultimately, too funny. That being said, there is a scene involving Jon Lovitz inadvertently channeling Hitler that is very, very funny.
But then i got to thinking: what would a grand-scale comedy made up of the Sid Ceasars, Milton Berles and Buddy Hacketts of today look like?
Would it be a Judd Apatow production? (Yay) Or would Happy Madison tackle it? (Boo) Who would star? Could it be anything less than a hard-R? Would you want to see it?
Let me know in the comments.
Monday, August 15, 2011
1) I watched 1/2 of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World and was shocked to find out that it is two hours and forty five minutes long - that is longer than the theatrical release of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which had an intermission during its run in theaters. Look for a post about this movie later in the week.
2) Minnie Driver, then 27, played both a 28 year old and a 21 year old in 1997 (in Grosse Point Blank and Good Will Hunting, respectively). Obviously, 7 years isn't that big of a stretch, but it got me thinking: i wonder what the longest gap between two ages an actor/actress has played in the same year without the aid of makeup/wigs/prosthetics to seriously alter their appearance. I don't have an answer to this, but thought it was an interesting question.
Monday, August 1, 2011
Earlier this summer, DC Comics announced that come September, they would be canceling all current series and re-launching 52 series from #1, including Detective Comics (where the DC in DC comes from) and Action Comics, both of which have been running since the 1930s uninterrupted (and both closing in on 1000 issues). Speculation was rampant as to whether or not all current versions of the characters would no longer be in continuity (more on that "c" word in a minute), or whether or not this was simply a marketing tool to get people buying comics again.
Well, it's sort of both.
But first, let's look at that "c" word again, continuity. What makes comic books different from almost all other media is continuity. In theory, from Action Comics #1 all the way through to the last issue of the original volume, a story has been told that continues to grow, adapt and shape the lives of the characters, month in and month out. I say "in theory," because on numerous occasions, the Superman story has been re-shaped, edited, changed, and generally made to suit whatever goal the writer of that particular issue has in mind.
Unlike, say, James Bond films, which people don't expect to tell a linear, point A (Dr. No) to point Z (Quantum of Solace), story. The James Bond played currently by Daniel Craig is NOT supposed to be an older Sean Connery. There is no consistent continuity between these films (at least not in the macro sense. Sure, all the Connery movies are supposed to lead into one another, but once Bonds kept getting younger and younger, the idea that the same dude battled Goldfinger and Goldeneye became ridiculous).
But in comics, there is. Sure, time is slowed down (or else Superman would be pushing 100 and Dick Grayson, the original Robin, would be nearly 70 [as opposed to the mid-30s he is in comics]), but generally the story began with the character's creation and has continued on until present day.
This is a roll of the dice for your favorite characters, because over the course of time various writers will take your favorites down different paths. One of the beauties of comic fandom is that your favorite character might die (mine did), get resurrected (mine did), have multiple versions of different characters with the same name (mine did) and still not be even close to the most confusing character in comics.
I have been, since i was probably 5 years old, a Green Lantern fan. When i say that, i mean a fan of Hal Jordan, the 2nd character to be known as Green Lantern, introducing during the "Silver Age" of Comics (approximately 1955-1970). There was a Green Lantern before him, Alan Scott, who really has no reason to be associated with Hal Jordan other than a name (although some creative writing or, as its detractors call it, retroactive continuity [retconning] has connected them in a relatively pleasing way). With Hal Jordan came the Green Lantern Corps, an intergalactic organization of crime fighters who, like Jordan and Scott, wielded power rings that could create any image the wearer imagined.
Eventually, Hal Jordan became Parallax, an evil villain who wiped out the Green Lantern Corps, and was eventually defeated by his successor, Kyle Rayner. Who, when absorbing the avatar of willpower, Ion, became so powerful that he resurrected the Green Lantern Corps (including certain popular Lanterns). Eventually, Hal Jordan was resurrected and now there are 4 Green Lanterns that all are from Earth. This doesn't even begin to take into account the other Lantern Corps, the Guardians of the Universe, the Oath, the impurity, or various other things that only me and my nerd brethren care about.
Which is why this relaunch sort of makes sense.
The idea, according to DC Comics, is to simply tell stories again, not stories with so much baggage attached. As i said before, Green Lantern is a relatively simple tale compared to some (you could write a thesis and develop an ulcer trying to trace Hawkman's legacy), and yet to tell you even the simplest version of the story from point A to point B is so mired in muck that i'm surprised you're still reading this. So, if we start Green Lantern over at #1, and just tell stories about the future, theoretically people who don't read comics could have a convenient jumping on point to get into the discussion.
But where does that leave my nearly 25 years of reading comics? Are all the stories i loved gone? Did they never happen? Are they non-canonical, like the Gnostic Gospels ? Have i wasted all of my time reading stories that don't matter?
When i say that the stories may not matter, this leads to two responses in the comics world. Some will say "Of course they matter - they matter to you. No one is going to come in and steal your old comics - you read them, they matter, even if they don't affect what is happening today." Others will say "I've invested x number of years into reading the history of a certain character, only to have it all washed away because sales were down. What gives?"
Personally, part of what i love about comics is that this train started a long time ago, and i'm just along for a part of the ride. There will, most likely, be Superman stories long after i die, and there were Superman stories long before i was born. This is great - if i wanted to, i could go back and read the entirety of a character's creative lifetime, enjoying them through every major event, every crappy arc, every lazy bit of retconning and STILL only be as far in the story as future creators want to take it.
Have you ever read a book you wish wouldn't end? Then read comics, friend.
Or, read Marvel comics now. Because DC is changing. Big time.
The full details are still not out yet, but basically DC felt that a good chunk (all non-Batman/Green Lantern books) of their titles were limping along, either due to poor creative decisions, bad marketing, or just featuring non-worthy characters. So, a big shake up is taking place. All new #1s, lots of canceled books, lots of new books, new characters, old characters returning, and day-and-date digital comics, which means you can buy a comic for your iPad at the same time you could buy it in a store. This doesn't sound like a huge deal, but again, we'll come back to this in a minute.
You may have heard via the main stream media certain changes: Superman and Lois Lane are no longer married and, actually, have never been married. Many of the characters have been de-aged, so instead of someone looking 35, they now look 25. Superheroes have only existed for 5 years* in the new DC universe (henceforth, the DCnU). More ethnic, sexual and gender diversity in the heroes. Yadda yadda.
So what does your resident nerd, and comic book reader since 1987, think about this?
I don't know.
Reason i do like it: More people reading comics is good for everyone. Day-and-date digital sales means that people will be downloading comics on the way to work and won't have to track down their increasingly hard to find/far away "local" comic book store. Certain characters (again, Hawkman) will benefit from a more streamlined approach.
What i don't like: Even if the general public hates a certain story, it is someone's favorite story. Even though certain events still "happened," many won't have happened. I don't like the idea that new fans are always more important than old fans. I don't like a lot of the art i've been seeing, which is very '90s looking (big muscles, big guns, stupid collars). I wish that digital comics were priced according to the digital music model (99 cents instead of the same as the print version $2.99, which is DC's current price).
Ultimately, the question has to be asked, why do you read comics? If the answer is for good stories and art, then hopefully this will be a good thing. If you read comics for nostalgia, then you're shit out of luck. If you're like me and read comics for both reasons, you're very confused.
I could write 40,000 words on this, but i'll end it here (for now). What do you think?
Note: I purposely didn't cover prior reboots or go too deep into retconning because it would bore you to tears. Crisis on Infinite Earths alone could give you an aneurysm.
*Even if they fudge the facts on Batman and say he had even ten years extra hiding in the shadows of Gotham City, there have been 4 Robins with extended careers are Robin, plus time in between each, and years before the first - how can you do that in 15 years?
Friday, July 29, 2011
AVC: We had a brief email exchange yesterday about the hugely positive reaction to your A.V. Undercover performance. You said, “It seems like a little bit of joy directly expressed can be quite resonant in this grey world.” In spite of all the songs you do about death and disaster and misery, that sounds like a TMBG mission statement.
JF: Yeah, that’s what art is, right? If you think about it, life is a one-way ticket. [Laughs.] But while we’re here, you got to make the most of it. Now I sound like the guy at the end of the bar. The “Tubthumping” thing is especially weird, because it’s a song you almost can’t like with your conscious mind. It’s all those things about a popular song that are kind of manipulative—or, not manipulative, they overwhelm you. It’s such a hooky song, it goes from hook to hook to hook. It’s such an earworm kind of a song. It’s like the Steven Spielberg of songs. You just feel like you’ve been lassoed and dragged into its presence. It’s overwhelming.
AVC: Is anything wrong with that?
JF: Well, if you like being lassoed. No, I don’t know. Did you walk out of E.T. feeling like, “That was normal”? Or did you feel like you were kind of… I feel like I have a love-hate relationship with the hooky, the impossible catchy song. I feel like the world has a love-hate relationship with that kind of thing. Because it’s relentless. I’ve been singing the song “The Longest Time” by Billy Joel for 20 years. And I don’t even particularly care for Billy Joel’s music. A good friend of mine is a huge Billy Joel fan. I love Elton John, but as far as those classic popmeisters go, I find Billy Joel very hard. I want my mind back from that. [Starts singing melody to “The Longest Time.”] I cannot tell you. Three times a day, I think about that song. It drives me crazy.- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Beyond excited to see They Might Be Giants tonight.
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Volume 1: "Make Your Own Kind of Music" by Mama Cass Elliot
Like everyone, there are gaping holes in my musical knowledge. When i first heard Ornette Coleman, for instance, playing free jazz without a chordal instrument, i felt like i was hearing something entirely new and couldn't believe i've never heard it before. Other times, it is hearing a side-project or a one-off single by a band you thought you knew everything about. Or, like in the case of this song, you just flat out don't know a song that was a minor hit 15 or so years before you were born.
Sure, i know the Mamas and the Papas - "California Dreamin'," "Monday Monday," whatever the name of that "and everyone's getting fat 'cept Mama Cass" song is called, but i knew very little of the solo careers (if there were any) by any of the M&Ps. The most i knew was that lead Papa John Phillips had a weird and, supposedly, great solo album called John, The Wolf King of L.A. which i still want to hear for the name alone.
Then, I started to watch LOST.
And, for those of you who still haven't watched LOST, don't watch this scene. Really. It is one of the greatest scenes of the whole show, and if you haven't seen the series from the beginning, you don't want to see this scene. That being said, what the fuck is wrong with you for not watching LOST? Let the haters hate - the show is top notch (not perfect, but top notch).
This scene introduced me to this song:
Now, even without the song, that is an amazing scene. However, there is something so heartbreaking and sad about Desmond listening to a song about individuality when you learn that he has been doing the same task for YEARS, unable to live his own life at all, but just PUSH. THE. DAMN. BUTTON.
Now, Elliot didn't write the song (husband and wife songwriting team Mann/Weil did), but her strong, powerful voice really sells the words, as does the understated-as-much-as-a-pop-single-in-1969-could be. The Mamas and the Papas were still recording and playing live at this point, and the record wasn't a huge hit, peaking at only #36 on the Billboard Singles Chart.
For reasons altogether unknown to me, this song fuckin' moves me. The other day i was created a chord chart for it (i'm playing in a band for a party in September, and this is one of the songs our female vocalist chose), and i had to stop charting because of the tears falling down my face. Why? I have no idea. It just moves me.
Much like "Human," this song just shakes me to my core and makes me feel vulnerable, inspired and joyous all at once. It can't be the lyrics which, although are a great message, are a little hokey. It can't be the instrumentation, which is a little too Lawrence Welk for my taste. It is good despite itself.
And if it moves me, why do i have to investigate exactly why? Why can't i just let it be something i love and move on?
Because i'm stupid.
Which must also be the case for most musicians, as this song has no great cover versions. Get on it, Neko Case!
'Til next time,
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Strokes' debut album, Is This It. Stereogum has marked this by putting together a tribute record, which you can hear here. Reading some of the quotes by the artists in the liner notes got me thinking about my relationship to the album which was, at the time, vitriolic and is now much, much more pleasant.
Why did i initially hate the Strokes?
When the album was released, i was 19 years old and entering my sophomore year of college. This was the apex of me thinking that i knew better than anyone else what made good music, and felt it was my duty to be the local bullshit detector for any record released. I hated the fact that many of my friends listened to, heavens forbid, pop music, and let them know how much i disapproved at every possible moment. I equally hated the rap/rock hybrids that seemed to be absolutely everywhere. As my good friend Matt Popovich said about some long-forgotten shitty aggro-band, "This music is only good for pro-wrestling montages."
And so when i started reading all the pre-release hype for Is This It, i was very excited for the album. "The most exciting album in 20 years" is a quote that particularly stands out for me. People i trusted, like David Fricke and Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone, or the pre-total-influence-on-the-entirety-of-the-internet Pitchfork staff, were on board with the record, and so i was eagerly anticipating its release.
In fact, i convinced a friend with only a passing interest in decent music (sorry, Ryan Schwoeble) to come with me to pick up the album the day it was released, and i remember very excitedly peeling off the shrink wrap and obnoxious sticker holding back the most exciting record i'd ever hear from my grasp and shoving it into Ryan's car's CD player and waiting to be blown away.
And what i got sounded, to me, like the worst Velvet Underground impression i had ever heard.
This was exciting? A record with zero dynamics was exciting?
To me, exciting was "Tame" by the Pixies, a song that fluctuated from whispers to blood-curling-shit-your-pants-scary screams in a matter of seconds. Exciting was an epic like Weezer's "Only in Dreams" that ran the gamut from solo bass to dueling guitar solo devastation. Exciting was an album where every song had a distinct sound that built something new together.
This is exciting music.
This was not that - this was like the Ramones if you took everything great about the Ramones and tossed it out the window. This sucked.
As the only sane person in a world of insanity, i tried to tell everyone i could about how lame the Strokes were. "The vocals are buried in the mix and distorted!" "The drums are too precise and rarely swing!" "The basslines are the only good part!" (Plus, their drummer was dating Drew Barrymore, so fuck that guy, right?)
Every few months, i would pull the record out and listen to it again, to make sure that i didn't miss something important that i had missed. If i could only find the decoder ring in my Ovaltine, i could crack the case of the overhyped buzz band...
Eventually, i forgot that the Strokes ever mattered (as did the rest of the world), and i moved on with my vitriol to more apparent topics (Creed, blink-182, boy bands). Occasionally, i'd hear "Last Night" or "Someday" on the radio and i wouldn't hate it as much as i remembered, eventually reasoning that the Strokes were a singles band that should never make an album. It was easy to love the songs one at a time, but a record was a mistake, like eating too many Twizzlers in a row.
And, as i got older, my tastes expanded. I heard things like Neu!, and their classic "Hallogallo," which features drums so sturdy and non-swingy that they appear to be played by a robot. I began to listen to more classical music, where melodies weren't as overtly out-front as i was used to. I also calmed down a lot, and saved my anger at things like Omar Minaya and Willie Randolph's mismanagement of the Mets or people who didn't recycle (which, i think we can all agree, are a little more important than whether you prefer the Olivia Tremor Control to Neutral Milk Hotel*).
Now, when my iTunes plucks out "Hard to Explain," i enjoy it and smile. I rarely, if ever, put Is This It on for a complete listen, but i respect and enjoy it much more than i did a decade ago. What is funny is that i'm pretty sure that most people have a converse relationship with this album - it was their jam for 4 months, and then they put it away and never really thought about it again and when they hear it now, they forget what all the fuss was about. Everyone, that is, except for Rolling Stone, which recently listed this as the second best album of the decade, which is the fucking craziest thing i've heard in a long time. Is This It is a good record with a couple of great songs (the title track, "Last Night"), but it was hardly the starting gun for the rock and roll revolution it was supposed to be.
*Everyone picks NMH, but i'm an OTC man.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
I suggested botox.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
My iTunes library, as of July 13,2011 , has 25, 540 songs in it. Some are novelty downloads, some i have because i'm a completionist, some i rarely (if have ever) listened to. So, in this new blog segment, i will let shuffle pick out random songs (without personal editing to hide embarrasing and/or lame songs), and i will write about what i think of them, plus any details i an give about how it was procured. At current rate (and if my iTunes never repeats a song...) this will be the seventeenth in at least a 4,000 part series.
Song #1 - "Dog Eat Dog" - Bill Frisell
I first encountered Bill Frisell's music after hearing a piece of it used interstitially on This American Life. I have since become a pretty big fan. What i especially love is that he is the rare guitar player who uses and arranges horns cleverly and who treats his guitar simply as another piece in the band - so many guitarists think of themselves as the meat and the band as the dressing. Bill doesn't do that. This is from This Land, which i had never heard until i read about it in a book of "100 Essential Jazz Albums" that is in my dad's bathroom. This piece is moody and languid and builds to a bit of a purposefully fumbling conclusion.
Song #2 - "China Pig" - Captain Beefheart
Perhaps the most straightforward and simple blues song on Trout Mask Replica, this shows what Beefheart might have sounded like in 1940. The simplicity of the song speaks for itself - i have very little to add - except for the fact that every person alive should seek out some Beefheart music and expand your ears a little. It may not go down easy at first, but medicine doesn't always taste good.
Song #3 - "Celebrity Death Match" - Peeping Tom (featuring Kid Koala)
A perfect example of a lazy Brian acquisition - this album was purchased from eMusic in 2006 because i dig Mike Patton, and i have never listened to it. I'm embarrassed by that, but i'm also rarely sitting around thinking, "What can i listen to that will be batshit insane, incorporate electronic elements, hip hop, Norah Jones and the daughter of a bossa nova legend under the direction of the lead singer of Mr. Bungle?" This is about what i would expect from this record (goofy, creepy, immaculately performed), and i hope to give it a proper listen soon.
Song #4 - "By the People" - Van Dyke Parks
Most famous for being a SMiLE-era Brian Wilson collaborator, this album (Song Cycle) is regarded as a really brilliant/odd collection of songs about a road trip. It is a fascinating listen, full of great arrangements (what VDP is most known for nowadays, most famously arranging Ys for Joanna Newsom [another album i own that i've never heard]) and oddball lyrics (his contribution to Beach Boys records) and the songs all go places you could never expect. That being said, it is a record you can't really put on at work, or exercising, or doing anything other than just listening to it, so it doesn't get a ton of listens in my life. But i can imagine few records better suited to a nap in a hammock*.
Song #5 - "Now That I Tell People I'm in College, My Social Status Has Nearly Tripled" - Kept Blue
My friend Steve Miller (aka Unsung, see my last post) gave me this record by a touring mate of his. I haven't listened to it in a long time, but i really enjoyed it when i last did. It is called Confessions of a Sexual Masterpiece, and this particular track is a short little glue-piece connecting two songs. It starts out orchestral in nature, and then morphs into a bouncing little pop piece with backwards vocals and then ends.
Boy, are you guys unlucky - the next song that shuffled is "Believe" by Cher - that would've made for an interesting pick, for sure.
'Til next time,
Volumes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17
*This weekend i proclaimed that when i have a fire pit and a hammock i will be set. I stand by that statement.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Thursday, June 30, 2011
10. Disaster Records
Albums that flopped, were created in periods of tragedy, with different line-ups, side projects, solo records - things that don't work (or work in a way that shouldn't). Put differently, usually my favorite records by bands.
11. Mr. Met of NJ Local 07442
My Mets-based ramblings.
1000 words on an item that i feel i can't live without.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
7. "Brian Makes a Record"
I'm going to commit to putting some of my long festering songs down on tape, and i will discuss what i'm doing that week and show and tell some of it. This part will be a video blog.
8. "Classic Erin"
My wife has a way with words that is unusual at best. Some of the best Classic Erin lines will be posted here for your enjoyment.
9. "The Rant"
My original foray into internetting was a weekly email list called "The Rant." I would send this to 50+ friends and i would rail about this and that, plus give weekly song picks and have a feedback section where people could email me in response to what i wrote. I'm bring that back as a monthly feature. You're welcome, Erin and Eileen.
Look for the first of one of these (I have a few in the works) on Friday!
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
4. "Movies I Should Have Seen By Now"
I review movies that are classics that i've never seen. Pretty self explanatory.
5. "I Cook, Therefore I Eat"
Where i review a meal i've made that month.
6. "12 Year Old Brian"
Where i discuss comic books, video games, and various other interests i've had since grade school.
Stay tuned for the last 3 on Thursday, and the first "official" posting on Friday!
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
It's been awhile.
To make a long story short, i'm a really busy guy. That isn't a good excuse; it is simply true.
I've now been at my current job for 7 years, and i'm really starting to see the fruits of my labor. While that is great, it also means that i'm working more nights, thinking about work when i'm at home, and generally being under more (good) pressure to continue to deliver. Plus, i try to be a good husband/dog owner, and i've been catching up on Breaking Bad (2 seasons in 11 days). And, in that head space, podcasting has taken a backseat. I wish i had the stamina of my buddy Jay Kumar who manages to turn out an incredible podcast, a vital blog, hold down a day job, and be a husband and a father to boot.
Sadly, i don't have that stamina.
But i do have some ideas.
What i'm going to attempt starting in July is a more fully realized blog - 12-15 articles a month. Each month, i'm going to produce (hopefully) 9 articles that are part of various series (like the continuing "5 Song Shuffle" and [so far only once] "You'd Be Surprised" plus new series i've been thinking about for awhile now) and 3-5 random "what's Brian thinking?" articles, plus a few series may have more than one monthly entry.
In addition, i want to do 4 "micro-podcasts" a month. Basically, one segment of the old ERH a week. An interview here, a comedy bit there, some music now and then, and some new segments i'm still workshopping. Those will start in August.
I see this regimented style of activity to fit well into the way that i do things (i love to do lists), and the minimal time commitment to each small part should be easier to fit into my schedule.
So, thanks for listening/reading, and check back throughout the week for previews of the different blog series that'll be launching come July 1. The first 3 are described below.
With significantly longer hair,
1. "5 Song Shuffle"
I really enjoyed doing this series, and with the addition of more than 2000 pop hits into my iTunes*, this should get interesting quickly.
Volumes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17
2. "You'd Be Surprised"
Songs i love that you'd never think i would. Click here to read my first entry, on the Killers' "Human."
A haphazard look at the oeuvre of Paul McCartney outside the Beatles. George may be my favorite, and John written more classics in the '70s, but Paul McCartney has maybe the most fascinating discography of any artist ever. I'll be starting with 1980's McCartney II and jumping through decades to cover every studio album, live record, compilation, rarity and production job i can get my hands on. I'm actually going to do these twice a month - one for a full length album, and one for various bits of miscellany.
Saturday, April 2, 2011
Click here to download Unsung's I Looked Back At My House, White As A Washing Stone.
To download, right click here or subscribe in iTunes by searching "Enthusiasts' Radio Hour" or "Brian Salvatore.
Season 2 begins here! This episode we are joined by hip-hop musician Unsung, aka Steven Miller, to discuss his process of making music. We also get to hear a bunch of his songs, and as always, some comedy from Ken Beck.
Ken Beck is part of CSO Comedy: http://www.csocomedy.com/
Our Blog: enthuseyourself.blogspot.com
Our Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Our Hotline: 206-222-2033
Brian's Twitter: @BrianNeedsANap
Click here to download Unsung's I Looked Back At My House, White As A Washing Stone.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
My top ten records of the year are not ranked - these are just my favorites from the past year, ordered alphabetically by first letter of the artists’ name.
Dessa - A Badly Broken Code
2010 turned out to be a big hip hop year for me - i was not expecting this. Not that i like less rap music than i used to, or that i’ve been moving my tastes towards the esoteric. I think if anything, i am in a place where i more open to hip hop than i have been at any other point in my life, while also being more aware of my inherent biases towards so much of the lyrical content. But that being said, a lot of the hip hop i heard this year surprised me in how much it moved me. This record, in particular, really spoke to me.
Dessa is a female rapper from the Mid-West collective known as Doomtree - she is my first and, so far, only exposure to the collective. She, in addition to rapping, also sings quite a bit on the record, which gives her the ability to sing the hooks and rap the verses, which works really well for her. Sometimes, like on “Poor Atlas,” she lets her singing voice take the spotlight, but i prefer when she lets both exist on the same track. Her lyrics remind me of my friend Steve Miller, better known as Unsung, a Pittsburgh based rapper and visual artist. Saying she reminds me of Unsung is one of the highest complements i can pay her, because Steve’s lyrics are consistently brilliant while challenging the typical expectations of what hip hop can be. Dessa’s lyrics are just as impressive and varied - her lyrics talk about everything from being a female in a male dominated field (“The Bullpen”) to her little brother (“Children’s Work”), and her smooth delivery make lines that might seem too wordy flow easily.
I love this record because it overachieves in a genre that is all about overachieving, but it does it by being so personal and insular that it becomes easy to relate to, instead of shooting for the lowest common denomentor. There is still talk about relationships, but it isn’t framed by sex; there is still talk about herself as a rapper, but it isn’t in the context of bravado; there are still samples here to create the backbeats, but they don’t come from the same funk and soul sources that have been mined to death. This record is a breath of fresh air, and it will certainly lead to me checking out more of the Doomtree crew.
Tracks to seek out: "Dixon's Girl," "Children's Work"