RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: November 2013

My Dirty Sin

My Dirty Sin

Forgive me dog, for I have sinned.

I went Christmas shopping on Black Friday.

It was completely unintentional, I swear. All I needed was a haircut. I wouldn’t have minded putting it off, but my hair was already close to shoulder length, so my immediate need won out. My usual place, though, is sadly right inside McKinley Mall, at one of those giant department stores, no less. I got in, paid for my haircut, and got out with surprising ease.

After it was done, though, I needed something to do. The traffic coming in was denser than a pecan pie on Thanksgiving, so there was probably no way my ride in had gotten home before my haircut ended. There was also the little fact that I had not yet started my own Christmas shopping, which is unusual for me because I happen to adhere to a very strict policy of early bird Christmas shopping. It’s one of the infallible laws of my personal code to be absolutely finished with all necessary Christmas shopping by the beginning of November and completely avoid holiday season shopping like the plague that it is.

Unfortunately, this year, I had to wait until my student loan refund check was in my paws before starting, and that finally happened last week. Then there was the minor matter of, you know, school itself to deal with. Yeah, my Christmas shopping went through an endless series of delays, all culminating in that one single weekend when I finally had a few minutes to go out and do something to let my mind wander. A couple of hours of worthless mall wandering fit the description nicely.

I already had a few gift ideas in mind when I set out, but I was looking for that one “bingo!” idea that set off the light bulb floating atop my head. So being of open mind and little to no sanity, I set out, looking in places both usual and unusual for the people I buy gifts for. I checked out the Made in America store, which, by the way, I truly believe is nothing more than a brand name now that I’ve been there. It was populated with awful people; not just awful people of the usual stripe who shop on Black Friday, but people I wanted to fucking kill after hearing handfuls of their conversational snippets. I journeyed up, down, left, right, and every corresponding diagonal in between.

In one store, though, I saw it. That perfect gift that a certain person really wanted, ringing up at a very reasonable price. I didn’t know if there was a sale or not, but I’m very well-known for my ability to get the most out of a dollar, and so I decided there was no better time to make the purchase than right there.

I’ve rarely felt dirtier.

The Great Pizza War

The Great Pizza War

The relentless narcissism of New York City recently made it place a free-standing structure on top of its shiny new, skyline-defining skyscraper in order to win the country’s tallest building crown on a ridiculous technicality. After the announcement, some commentators said it didn’t matter, and that we all knew which city had the better pizza. Okay, buildings are one thing; pizza is the thing here that really matters. And indeed, we do know which city has the better pizza, but there are some folks who simply don’t want to accept it. Like, just to pick a random example, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show.

After the announcement and an offhand comment about Chicago-style pizza being better, Stewart went off on one of his most spectacular rants, decrying the famous deep dish. In response, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel was characteristically weak. In a move that wasn’t met with quite as much publicity, he sent a couple of deep dish pizzas to The Daily Show studios in New York City. There was a note too, something along the lines of “dead fish.” I guess that would indicate the pizzas were filled with anchovies. Whatever point Mayor Emmanuel was trying to prove is lost on me. What’s worse is that the interpretation of the gesture is so open to interpretation that some onlookers took it as Chicago’s concession. The Daily Show responded to that with some grainy footage of a dog taking a quick whiff of the deep dish and running off in horror. Rahm, uh, what the hell were you trying to do anyway? Yeah, you need to leave this to the pros. Like me.

There’s no doubt to me about which pizza is better, and there shouldn’t be to you, either. Given the option, what will you take – a pizza or a thin piece of paper that has to be crammed into your mouth whole in order for it to be bite-sized? Yeah, that’s what I thought. If you want to eat a thin crust pizza, make sure you don’t overdo the beer because when you get too drunk and pass out onto the pizza, that crust isn’t anywhere close to thick enough to cushion the blow. You’ll slam your head against the surface of the table too hard and kill yourself.

Let’s cut to the heart of what New York-style pizza is: It’s sopped paper with red paint and melted wax on top. What’s more, it’s limp. How does one eat a piece of pizza when it keeps literally falling flat when you’re trying to take a bit out of it? New York-style pizza is a kind of pizza that literally can’t stand on its own.

Yeah, deep dish pizza is thick enough to crawl into and sleep inside to keep warm. Somehow, this is treated like some kind of big problem. I tried to crawl under a New York-style pizza to keep warm once and I ended up getting hypothermia.

Sauce on top, toppings and cheese cooked into the bottom crust. You know what this is? This is the perfect redefinition of a pizza. Any idiot can put the ingredients on the top of the pizza in a flash, ramp up the oven, and burn the thing, but it takes a real master to place everything in a position where it’s poised to fall out of the pizza upon slicing it open and it doesn’t. The thickness is beautiful in the incredible explosion of taste you get when you stuff a piece into your mouth and bite down and realize deep dish pizza isn’t exactly hurting for toppings.

At some point, someone will try to make the portability argument, but since when the hell is pizza supposed to be a portable food? Am I planning on gorging myself on the L? What’s disgusting is trying to imagine a proponent of New York-style pizza on the subway, standing with his hand raised a foot over his mouth because New York-style pizza is lim as hell, gently trying to lower the tip to get a bite which will probably taste like the surrounding air because New York-style pizza is so thin that all the surrounding smells and tastes can be absorbed into it in rapid order, like with baking soda, and it will quickly overcome the actual (nonexistent) taste of the pizza itself. This is something New Yorkers conveniently forget: Their pizza quickly absorbs every smell from the wood grain to the stale metals, but they taste it and call it pizza. There’s no talking them out of it, since they believe America west of the Hudson River is a myth, and have therefore never left New York City to try eating a real pizza in their lives.

Yeah, there’s no doubt that one of those cities’ pizza is better than the other. Chicago is the clear choice. You try going with New York City “pizza,” just save yourself a lot of trouble, pick up the entire pizza tray, and start licking it, because that’s the only way you’ll ever be able to taste it.

Recapping the Regier Era

Recapping the Regier Era

It’s says a lot of bad things about how far the Buffalo Sabres have fallen that the firing of Darcy Regier, the (now-former) general manager of the last 16 years, came as a surprise. It’s true no one expected the Sabres to do well this year, but they’ve been playing at a level that is historically bad by any and all NHL standards. Management finally found its brain and let him go after a 16-year tenure. He was so ingrained in Sabre lore in a bad way that yesterday, when the team said it would be making a big announcement at 10:30 AM, speculation flew about what it might be: Was the team raising ticket prices? Announcing vegetarian concession options? Adding a back escalator to the Effin’ Center? No, wait, I know: They just saved a bunch of money on car insurance by switching to Geico!

No, no, and no. The Sabres, mired in a mess that saw them play their first 20 games to a 4-15-1 record, 30th place in the NHL, display a league-worst offense, hire a head coach who won all of nine game in regulation out of over 50, field a team of badly underdeveloped kids and goons, and get their asses handed to them by some of the worst teams in the league, finally fired the mercy bullet. Regier is out. Coach Ron Rolston went with him. Ted Black is still hanging around, but seeing as how he’s the guy who talked Terry into keeping Darcy and and Rollie long after they should have been canned, one senses he received a quick demotion to the smile/nod token. The team has yet to hire a new GM, but they created a new position – Head of Hockey Operations – which went to Pat LaFontaine. Ted Nolan returned to finish the job he began back in the 90’s, when Regier unceremoniously dumped him. The Buffalo Sabres, once admired across the league for being a prime example of a team that beat the NHL economic structure to be a competitive small market year after year, finally decided to reintroduce competitiveness and class to the organization.

I can’t help but reflect a little. If Regier was fired a few years ago like he should have been, he would have been given a better-wished sendoff. The Presidents’ Trophy and 1999 Prince of Wales Trophy both happened on his watch, after all, and he did manage to nab Ryan Miller, Brian Campbell, and Daniel Briere, the most electrifying Sabres of the past decade for my money. Yet, there’s no accounting for all his mistakes: How the hell did Maxim Afinogenov get to stay with the team for so long? Why was Regier’s only big pickup in the aftermath of the 2005 lockout Teppo Numinnen in a newly-capped NHL with Peter Forsberg available? How the hell do you just let both Chris Drury and Daniel Briere walk out the door like that? There was his ill-thought attempt to toughen up the team after Milan Lucic snowplowed Ryan Miller…. The refusal to make a trade during the 2006 run because of chemistry concerns….

Darcy Regier is widely considered one of the NHL’s true good guys, but being a good guy doesn’t make a team good. For much of his tenure, being a Sabres fan meant never getting too attached to any players you liked, and embracing the most useless guys on the team. Despite some incredible highs, Darcy’s techniques for improvement gradually backfired on the team, and over the last year, the fans began jumping ship. It looked like a 3-7 Bills team would be back in the playoffs before the Sabres. Through all these ridiculous fiascos, Regier still managed to charm his way into keeping the job like some kind of ultra-hypnotoad, asking for more time and patience. How he managed to stay employed after his now-famous “suffering” remark makes the head explode. If you’ve spent 16 years on duty and are asking for more time and patience to get it done right, you blew it.

Save for a handful of token glory years, the Sabres have spent most of the millennium playing the worst hockey of their existence. Regier’s GM record tends to be deceptively bloated, at least a little bit, because he flew in riding the coattails of Ted Nolan, first edition and General Manager John Muckler. In part, we can write off his early successes with the 1998 and 1999 teams as picking up the work those two started. And while he takes a lot of shit for the Pat LaFontaine trade – his first – selective memory kinda blocks out the fact that Patty Lala had taken shots to the head like a reliable prizefighter and was concussed enough to believe he needed to keep playing after the doctor said the next blast could kill him. The fallout after The Hardest Working Team in Hockey days was terrible, but post-lockout, Regier rebounded by assembling the 2006 and 2007 teams, probably the best two teams in Sabres history. After 2007 left team Captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere hanging out to dry, the Sabres were never a threatening team again. Yes, the original Winter Classic was a good game, and the 2010 division title was nice, but that thing just sort of happened. The division wasn’t wonderful and the Sabres were the kind of team that was very good at playing off mistakes, and teams like that don’t have long playoff lives, no matter how many division banners are in the rafters.

Early in the 2012 season, Milan Lucic took Ryan Miller’s head off, and that exposed the Sabres to the league as a bunch of pretenders. Regier spent the next offseason in tough guy mode, adding muscle to a talent-depleted roster. Nutshell story, the plan backfired, the Sabres became known as a classless and dirty unit, and Regier – not satisfied with letting just the actual hockey talent go – started letting go of the basic elements of talent scattered on the team, claiming it was all in the name of a grand design rebuilding project. In 2013, he made an enormous tactical error by suggesting he was starting a new rebuilding project which had begun, unbeknownst to fans, with the prior trade of Paul Gaustad and telling us that the wait for winning hockey was going to require some more suffering. That was no coy implicative remark either. That was the exact term he used. Unfortunately for Regier, he had already been on the job for 13 years by then and the fans were pretty much out of rope. When a team of underdeveloped kids and dirty-shooting goons hit the ice this season and played at historically bad levels, the pissed-off fanbase jumped ship and Terry Pegula was finally forced to make a business decision: Keep trusting Darcy and let the fans keep jettisoning themselves to the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Toronto Maple Leafs, or whoever else would have them, or rid himself of the man who had taken the Sabres down about 43 notches in class and respect. Pegula made his first truly smart decision of his ownership tenure and did the latter.

Darcy Regier the man is still one of the best-liked people in the NHL, and on that level, I sincerely hope he lands on his feet. I would prefer it, though, if he lands on his feet somewhere that doesn’t involve my team’s player management.

Freedom vs. Sears

Freedom vs. Sears

Well, don’t that just beat all. Freedom Tower is now finished and, depending on who you ask, it may or may not have supplanted the Sears Tower as the tallest building in the United States.

Architects are a finicky bunch, aren’t they? There are a million tiny little details which are there to decide where a building ends. To most onlookers, the answer is simple enough: The building’s end point is where solid matter doesn’t exist and the air begins. Architects, though, have a few interpretations which would probably be taught in common philosophy courses. Yes, the building ends there, but does it END there?

When you build a new building, there are a lot of things to be taken into account: You have the basement, which could potentially run down a dozen or so stories. There’s the point where the roof ends, the point where the antennae end, and the point where the roof turns into the ceiling, because of course there is.

So here’s Freedom Tower, ready to be crowned the brand new jewel of the New York City skyline. Admittedly, it’s a beautiful piece, but its roof technically ends a couple dozen feet short of the Sears Tower. Or does it? Well, the Freedom Tower architects decided to put a nice little point on the top of Freedom Tower which is accessible to regular people. It’s little more than a giant antennae, but that’s not enough to keep the high-end architects who run all the fancy architecture publications and award shows from giving it a nice, new reclassification based on a technicality: That big antennae is a spire. That spire adds to the height of Freedom Tower, and voila, New York City is now the new skyscraper capitol of America.

Chicago boosters are naturally crying fowl. And they have every right to cry fowl, too. Freedom Tower is 541 meters tall. There are masts in a lot of places in the country that are actually taller than Freedom Tower. Texas alone has a whopping seven masts that tower above the 600 meter mark, and that’s just Texas! The number of states with at least one structure taller than Freedom Tower is in double digits. Presumably, most of these things have ladders for the premium cable guys to get up and down, thus ensuring usability by humans. No, anyone trying to climb up the masts isn’t going to be able to visit the bathroom for a smoke break, but hey, the ladders count. So why are those suckers not being given the same consideration afforded to the spire on Freedom Tower? Is it some form of concrete-and-glass-ism that affects the architectural elite?

Maybe I shouldn’t make too big a deal out of it, though, because it’s not going to matter all that much in the end. I’m thinking the architecture boys must also be a bunch of Americans, because both Freedom Tower and the Sears Tower bow down before the real king of North American towers: The CN Tower, in Toronto. You know, in Canada. One wonders why Ontario’s 553-meter behemoth isn’t brought into the conversation.

An Objective Look at In Utero, by Nirvana

An Objective Look at In Utero, by Nirvana

“Teenage angst has paid off well; now I’m bored and old.”

We know, Kurt Cobain, believe you me, we KNOW. Over the years of Nirvana’s dominance, you’ve made that abundantly fucking clear.

That little snippet is the opening line of “Serve the Servants,” the first song from Nirvana’s final album, In Utero. It really sums up a lot of Cobain’s attitude. Nirvana’s success got him a lot of nice things, but he thought the band had reached its creative peak, and the adulation he got was coming from an enormous audience he didn’t particularly like. He made music all angsty on Nevermind, which sold a lot and made him a ton of money, but what next?

Well, if several songs on In Utero are any indication, apparently what came next was laying his anguished screaming in many layers of computer noise. Of course, it was the early 90’s, when we were all fascinated by these cool little magic boxes, so this shouldn’t be some kind of great shock. We used them a lot in movies, after all, and hell, every movie in the 90’s had a tech-savvy computer wizard – morals optional – who could solve every problem from war to hunger by hacking into the right computer. So why not engage in a little sonic experimentation with com-poo-tohrs? This electronic screaming flat out destroys “Scentless Apprentice,” which is a shame because the live version of “Scentless Apprentice” is so awesome. It can be heard on From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah.

Cobain doesn’t waste any time presenting us with the screaming broken guitar routine either. That sucker is dominant throughout In Utero, and it never has any twists or turns that are able to suddenly make it listenable. Well, In Utero was an album that Nirvana said was going to weed out the true fans from the posers or some such. In other words, it was made to alienate listeners. The Screaming Broken Guitar is definitely a step in the proper direction if that was the point. The first two songs ought to weed out plenty of listeners expecting a Nevermind rerun. “Serve the Servants” is a fairly decent song, but not what fans of Nevermind had come to expect from Nirvana. “Scentless Apprentice” is the perfect storm of awful, and includes all the hallmarks of the things that suck about Nirvana: High, screaming, broken guitars, electronically layered screaming, and many moments of quick off-noting. I think it’s meant to give In Utero a rough feel, but it doesn’t work, and it in fact feeds into my impression of Kurt Cobain being the world’s earliest hipster; he paid attention to whatever was mainstream for the sole purpose of doing the opposite. The random breaks in “Scentless Apprentice” come off as a little too convenient to not be strategically placed.

“Heart-Shaped Box” is the first sign of competency and coherency on In Utero. If Nirvana were a hair band from the 80’s, “Heart-Shaped Box” would be the power ballad they would have released in the second act of their flashpan superstardom. It’s darker than the ballads of the 80’s and more stripped down to bare basics, of course, and I have trouble believing it’s even a love song. I can’t figure out what it’s about. What it is, though, is the first sign that there’s going to be some real audial highs to come off the album. “Rape Me” follows through on the promise of “Heart-Shaped Box” and also brings back the Nevermind sound buyers of In Utero were presumably hoping to hear more of.

For all the prettiness delivered by In Utero, however, consistency is something Nirvana can never seem to get a real grasp of. Take “Pennyroyal Tea” for example. This is one of the most underrated songs Nirvana ever recorded, and one which earned a slot in the band’s famous Unplugged in New York set. It’s a great song, but it seems almost at war with itself, giving us acoustic verses and electric hooks. The extremes don’t mesh well, and the band never really seems to settle on a direction it wants to take the song.

That describes the very contrasting experience of trying to listen to In Utero. There’s a lot of amazing music on the album, but also a lot of unlistenable shit. Cobain complained that Nirvana’s first album, Bleach, was choppy, but that album is at least streamlined in some odd way by its blandness. One minute you’re listening to “All Apologies,” arguably the very culmination of everything Nirvana was capable of doing. The next, you’re listening to “tourette’s,” the longest 95 seconds of rhythmic screaming and electronic noises you could ever be subjected to. In Utero doesn’t start trying to forge any real identity for itself until “Rape Me,” which is the fourth song on the album, and even when it does, it seems to periodically jump and hiccup. “Milk It” is aggressively bad, for example, and it highlights everything bad I think about the band – incoherent mumbles, rhythmic screaming, no real musical chord. “Francis Farmer Wll Have Her Revenge on Seattle,” in spite of the occasional high-sqealing guitar, has a hard hook, memorable vocals, and a great bassline.

I wouldn’t have a problem with inconsistency if In Utero had more songs worth listening to. But a large chunk of In Utero sounds a little like it’s trying to rip itself off to some point. “Scentless Apprentice,” and “tourette’s” seem to suffer from that weird AC/DC syndrome where they have a suspicious amount in common and you start to think the band got stuck for ideas. “Very Ape” sounds like one of Nirvana’s older songs, “Breed.” “Dumb” has the same problem; it comes off as more than a passing version of “Polly” from Nevermind. “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” is endless drowned vocals, broken guitars (if you’re sensing my theme of hating the broken guitar, you’ve got me pegged), and general nonsensical and meandering instrumentals. While it does feature one of Dave Grohl’s more emotive drum performances, it isn’t nearly enough to rescue the song.

Nirvana wanted to go back to roots. They wanted to drive fans away and experiment. Musical experiments, however, don’t necessarily mean forgetting how to play the damned instruments. It Utero has some powerful and poignant pieces, but it’s not as streamlined as Bleach, the band’s notoriously weird first album. It’s certainly nowhere near the atmosphere Nevermind is lounging in. It constantly amazes me how rock critics are still lined up in an eternal contest to fawn the most over Nirvana and come up with the most creative justification for lionizing a band that gets more credit than it really deserves. It Utero gets a very reluctant recommendation for the sake of completing a Nirvana collection for its good moments. You won’t miss much by passing on it, unless the electric version of “Pennyroyal Tea” is that important to you.

The New Classic Rock

The New Classic Rock

I’ve written a lot in this blog about classic rock music, but that very term classic rock has actually been causing me a little bit of confusion for some time now. There’s a very definite sense of what I think of whenever the topic pops up in conversation. Everyone knows rock music attained its full-on classic status after hitting its scientifically verified peak in the late 1970’s, right? Well, okay, perhaps that idea is only applicable to those who are a part of my generation. Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, The Allman Brothers Band, The Eagles…. No question! My peers and I grew up knowing those guys were decades in front of us, but they were the ones we spoke of in hushed tones when we stated our cases for the greatest classic rock band ever!

We’re still in that mindset; or I am, at least. Buffalo’s popular music station 97 Rock was where all the dinosaurs thunderously trudged in order to show us young whippersnappers how it was done. Every band they played on that station had already been around for decades, and so us young people were lulled into a false sense of security about just how much the popular culture landscape could change. To us, once a classic rock band, always a classic rock band. The 60’s and 70’s monsters stayed in the 60’s and 70’s and didn’t violate our young, cool turf in the 90’s. Until a couple of years ago, that is, when I casually flipped on 97 Rock to hear some of my favorite hard rock staples and was immediately immersed in “Enter Sandman” by Metallica.

97 Rock had expanded their playlist. No biggie – all the stations had to do that in order to survive, and I think the last time 97 Rock did something with theirs, it was still in the 60’s and 70’s. Besides, Metallica had been around a long time itself, so hearing them on 97 Rock shouldn’t have been the strangest feeling in the world. I let it go, but a few weeks later, I flipped on 97 Rock again and heard the distinctive chorus of Nirvana playing “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Every year, 97 Rock does some kind of charity event where it plays any song requested by anyone over a 24-hour period, and for a minute, I wrote off this freakish new Nirvana spotting as a song in that marathon. Then it ended, and the deejay gave us his usual rundown of the tunes he had just spun, naming the classic Nirvana song as if it were just another regular old song on their playlist. Of course, that was only because “Smells Like Teen Spirit” really was now a song in their playlist canon.

Just like that, my nice, safe way of defining what’s classic rock was destroyed like one of The Who’s stage sets. Life’s good misunderstood friend Time was now here chonking on the rock music of my own generation, and now there’s no way for me to define classic rock by using its passage anymore. Pearl Jam is now being lumped into the same (very broad) pile of bands as The Beatles, AC/DC, and Van Halen. Even though Pearl Jam is the 90’s band whose music most closely resembles that of the classic rockers I fell in love with, my head is still having trouble ringing it up. I grew up listening to bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, The Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and other grunge and post-grunge bands. Technically, they all got thrown under the rock section at the local CD store so…. Wait, you don’t know what a CD is? Er…. Go ask your parents. Okay, now that you’ve satisfied your curiosity, even though every band I’ve mentioned so far is a rock band, I’ve gotten used to placing them into two different mental compartments: The “Back Then” compartment and the “Here and Now” compartment, and now it seems like “Here and Now” evicted all its tenants and so they’re subletting in “Back Then.”

See, hearing grunge on 97 Rock was important. I’m not at the age where I can still be called a young man anymore, but hearing grunge on the local classic rock station was my first experience with the generational gap. People who were kids when I was in high school had now grown up, and the musical torch was passed down to newer bands like The Black Keys and Arcade Fire while the groups of my youth gracefully moved aside and accepted their new designations as elder statesmen. Therefore, grunge’s new home was a final signal that I wouldn’t be keeping up with what was new and hip anymore.

There’s no doubt in my mind that all those bands I loved in the 90’s will still go on to create millions of new fans. I did spend most of my childhood listening to 97 Rock, after all, and became a diehard fan of many of the bands who get played on the station. But it’s odd to think that if I get involved in an argument at school over who the best classic rock band is, I’ll have firsthand experience as I tell them about the glory days of REM and Weezer, the year when Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was the greatest rock album ever produced and how Billy Corgan’s behavior in the ensuing aftermath pretty much fucked up The Smashing Pumpkins for good, more era-specific bands like Goo Goo Dolls and Oasis, and of course the real giants of classic rock – guys like Black Sabbath and Bruce Springsteen, who were the classic rock staples of my own childhood. Telling them about that last one will inevitably be their cue to give me quizzical looks and ask “Who?” And then refer to those guys as the moldy oldies when I tell them.

That will, in turn, be my own cue to mention that this is going to happen to the rock bands of their generation one day.