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Author Archives: Nicholas Croston

The Real Ones: An Anthem for Buffalo

The Real Ones: An Anthem for Buffalo

You may have noticed that a lot of cities get contemporary songs written about them. Buffalo, sadly, has been lacking, which is funny for a city which spent the first half of the 20th Century being so prominent. So I decided to write the lyrics for a song about Buffalo’s old guard. This is my first attempt at songwriting ever. Now, I tend to write a lot of dark stuff, and this song is set from the point of view of an older resident of Buffalo who believes that trying to make everything the way it was before the march of progress destroyed the city will restore it to greatness.

No one’s bothered by the cold                                                                                                   We’re a guard that’s fighty and old                                                                                      Shoving heads into frozen white sand                                                                                Though we were once a promised land                                                                                    Kids file out with degrees underarm                                                                                    They’re not as real as us

Everyone is wrong                                                                                                                            We know what we are                                                                                                                We’re the tough ones                                                                                                                       We know our past was right

Corporate steel killed our jobs                                                                                                       Made us into mindless pack mobs                                                                                              Back in the day, everything was right                                                                                            In our past, the city basked in light                                                                                    Progress must be pretty bad because                                                                                   Breaks don’t come for us

We know we’re strong                                                                                                                That’s just how we are                                                                                                                    We’re the hard ones                                                                                                                        The future can’t be bright

Now our home can’t clean its slate                                                                                              Our football team lost four straight                                                                                              Hot bird wings helped bring us fame                                                                                     Other places just think we’re lame

Being tough is all we’ve got                                                                                                         With our once-big city left to rot                                                                                             Being modern won’t cross our mind                                                                                        Being great means we must be blind                                                                                               It’s a price we pay                                                                                                                             For being real

We’re the old guard                                                                                                                         The old ways were best                                                                                                              We’re the real ones                                                                                                                          We don’t care for the rest

Perhaps the Worst Movie: The Room

Perhaps the Worst Movie: The Room

“I do not know just how to write about or describe this thing. I have never in my life seen such a horrific mishmash of elements which are very bad in and of themselves, very badly executed, very badly mixed up with each other, completely out of left field, nonsensical as hell, and ramped up to about 13 on the manic madcap scale to top all the rest of it off.”

I wrote that back in 2011, a couple of years after Netjak’s demise and before my short stint at Filmdumpster; back when I was still a critic who had some sort of clout. It was about Howard the Duck, the famous bomb that signified the start of George Lucas’s downward trajectory. Now, here I am in 2017, trying to finish off a degree and back to square one as a writer, and it once again applies to a movie I just saw: The Room. The Room doesn’t have the balls-to-the-wall mania Howard the Duck did, but Howard the Duck was about a sentient duck from a different dimension, so that’s not a trick you would want to see repeated.

There are movies about which the stories of all the chaos on the set are legendary: Steven Spielberg couldn’t get the robot shark to work for Jaws; George Lucas couldn’t get anything on the set of Star Wars to go right except the score… Those movies overcame the long odds to become beloved eternal classics anyway. Well, The Room didn’t overcome all the long odds. It was looking like a clunker at every stage in the process, and it’s a clunker. It became such a clunker that one of the stars of the movie, Greg Sestero, wrote a book about the making of the movie. (The book, for those wondering, is called The Disaster Artist, and it quickly became my favorite book about the movie industry ever.) Tommy Wiseau, the man who wrote, produced, directed, and starred in The Room, had a private toilet made up for him on the set; two film crews quit on him; Sestero had to serve in a variety of other positions…

The mootness of The Room is something to behold. Wiseau has earned comparisons to Ed Wood, but you get the feeling watching Wood’s movies that he was trying to make a tangible point. There are so many plot points in The Room that are ultimately of so little consequence that you would think Wiseau was a nihilist. The Room comes with a collective total of about 20 minutes of sex scenes in an hour-and-a-half running time. There are also a lot of scenes of the characters throwing around a football, at least three scenes of characters making “cheep” noises at each other after calling each other chicken, and two characters – one named Peter and one unnamed – who seem to pop up out of nowhere. And this is coming from a movie with an excess of unresolved plot threads: One character DEFINITELY (emphasis hers) has breast cancer. Another character owes money to a drug dealer. Two more randomly break into the main character’s apartment for quickies. All three of those threads are precisely one scene long.

In The Disaster Artist, Sestero confessed that at some point, most of the actors just stopped trying. Sestero, who invented a backstory for his character in an attempt to be able to play the random aspects of him, was convinced that The Room would never make it to the theaters. This is reflected in the performances of most of the other actors too, save Carolyn Minnott and Robyn Paris. (Paris plays her role as Michelle in a way that looks like she’s really enjoying herself. According to Sestero, she was possibly the most-liked person on the set.)

The thin strand of plot that exists in The Room revolves around Creep One, Queen of Evil, and Plain-O. Okay, their names are respectively Johnny, Lisa, and Mark. But Johnny has a creepy side, Lisa is evil, and Mark is so plain that the script projects features onto him almost at will. Johnny and Lisa are engaged. Lisa is bored and decides she doesn’t love Johnny anymore. Lisa starts having an affair with Mark. That sums up the movie. Yes, there are a lot of scenes in this movie that try to trick you into thinking it has depth, but since they’re the aforementioned no-go plot threads, you’re not going to buy it. Let’s call them what they are: Padding. The Room is padded because nothing about the main plot makes any sense.

Let’s meet Johnny. Johnny is the main character, and he’s a pretty great guy. We know he’s a great guy because everyone else in the movie is a walking billboard about how great he is. In fairness to everyone, though, they have reason to think he’s great: He treats Lisa like a princess. He has a great job with a future, he supports a sort of adopted little brother by the name of Creep Two (okay, his name is Denny, but holy SHIT is he creepy), bought Lisa a car, and is pretty much a saint. Lisa has decided she’s bored with him, even though she’s known him for five years. But since she has all the emotional maturity of a cheeto, instead of simply speaking up to Johnny, she talks to Mark, who is Johnny’s best friend. Lisa starts seducing Mark on a regular basis, and although Mark is initially reluctant, he decides at one point that he’s suddenly not. The affair gets revealed at a big birthday bash for Tommy, and Tommy, despite everything else that’s been going right with his life, decides that all the walking testaments to his greatness have turned against him. Since his emotional maturity isn’t much better than Lisa’s, he swallows a gun.

There are lies aplenty told by Lisa for… Well, attention, I guess? I don’t even know. I do know that Lisa tells some whoppers, like getting hit by Johnny to being pregnant, and she’s at it through everything. Out of pure boredom, apparently. Like Mark, she seems to be written with convenience to the writer rather than a full character in mind. Unlike Mark, though, she does come with a defining characteristic: She’s the Queen of the Harpies. Her mother, Claudette, also gets a lot of crap for being manipulative, but I didn’t get that out of her; I got that she’s probably the biggest Johnny cheerleader in the movie. She’s the one advising Lisa to stay with him because he’s just such an awesome dude. So here’s what we come down to: One character betrays Johnny, another kinda, sorta, mighta, but it’s difficult to tell whether or not he’s betraying Johnny. When Johnny has the grand “realization” that everyone is against him, really he’s just pissy about getting dumped. Denny still loves him. Claudette still loves him. Peter still loves him. Michelle still loves him. Mark has a last epiphany and decides he still loves him. The weird person who only came into the movie in the last 15 minutes and gave a great lecture on how much Mark and Lisa’s shenanigans would hurt him still loves him. And yes, that’s a thing that happens.

I’m convinced that all the go-nowhere threads were brought into the movie in an attempt to give it more depth, and that the reason they don’t go anywhere is partly because there are way too many of them, and partly because Wiseau didn’t have any idea what he was doing. Sestero wrote in The Disaster Artist about Wiseau’s attraction to Marlon Brando and James Dean, who are the vintage Method actors responsible for changing the way movie acting is done. Sestero believed that Brando and Dean were magnetic figures because they had an instinct for knowing when to go big and when to hold off. Wiseau seems to have missed that aspect of their performances. Sestero’s take is that Wiseau believed the best approach was to go big at every possible moment, and it’s hard to argue. (In Wiseau’s defense, that was the approach that worked for Charlton Heston.) Everything Wiseau does in The Room, he does with maximum intensity and enthusiasm, and this is one case where cooler heads didn’t prevail. So Wiseau created The Room trying to do his personal interpretation of what a movie should do, and not what a movie really does.

That means The Room is something that creates a lot of memorable scenes, even though they fail repeatedly as scenes. There’s a scene where Johnny visits a flower shop. That’s 20 seconds long, but it’s one of the defining scenes of the movie because the script seems to be written backwards. Yes, Denny owes money to a drug dealer named Chris-R, but that never goes anywhere. Yes, Claudette has breast cancer, but that’s hand-waved.

The Room is either awesomely bad or badly awesome. When it became an unexpected classic of midnight cinema, Wiseau got his ultimate wish – to make a classic movie that people would see and love and talk about – in the most perverse way possible. Everyone in this movie has seemingly been able to eke out a living based on it. Wiseau and Sestero have been making the rounds from it forever. Robyn Paris is working on a web mockumentary about what happened to the cast (which I can’t wait to see). People recognize everyone who was in the movie, and they’ve all spent time appearing at fan conventions and film screenings. No, The Room isn’t a work of bad movie genius – you’re thinking of Sharknado. The difference between Sharknado and The Room is that the people making Sharknado KNEW everything about their series was hackey. The Room is a bad movie made as a misguided attempt to be a good movie, and it’s the over-the-top sincerity of it combined with its master and commander’s lack of talent that sends it over the top. If you have any love for bad movies at all, you need to see this thing. It’s required viewing.

A Short List of New Classic Songs that Really Suck

A Short List of New Classic Songs that Really Suck

I guess it’s important to pick and choose the works of art our society decides to preserve because they set the bar that all future art is measured against. Well, sometimes society blows that call, and the bar ends up being set rather low.

This happens in every medium, but music is arguably the most egregious offender. Music has a sort of ubiquity that other popular mediums don’t, because it can be played and filtered into anything and everything. While you can simply flip off a bad bit of episodic television that pisses you off and avoid movies that you hated, when that shitty song wafts into your local coffee shop, you have to grit your teeth and stick it out. Usually, it’s not that big of a problem; songs are typically only a few minutes long. But then you have the super-epic classics like Don McLean, whose fucking “American Pie” is a highly regarded epic about loss of innocence on The Day the Music Died. Maybe I could put up with McLean’s warbling yern of nostalgic melodrama for a never-actually-existent time if it ran regular length, but there are over eight fucking minutes of McLean’s shit.

The following list isn’t a typical anti-classic list. This is a list of classics from my generation that blew up and are still in heavy radio rotation. I’m not sure myself if all of them will be declared classics, but the point is that people like them, so there’s a very real chance they will be one day. And my point with this list is to point out that none of them are worthy of being classics. If you claim to like them, you’re only lying to yourself. I know they suck, you know they suck, and I’m only writing out the things about them that you’re too afraid to point out: Namely, that they fucking suck and that all of them, plus their demos, remixes, and negatives should be on top of a garbage fire and not on FM radio. (PS: “From my generation” in this case means songs that I’m old enough to remember when they were new.)

“Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”

Green Day

Here is one of the prime examples of how the misuse of bad string power chords can totally destroy a song. “Good Riddance” starts out strong – it’s a more stripped-down sound than you expect to hear from Green Day. It has no bass or drums, and Billy Joe Armstrong sits, plucking away at an acoustic guitar, singing a song which is both written and performed well. Upon a listening, it sounds like it’s destined to go on to eternal life as one of Green Day’s greatest and quirkiest… Then those fucking strings chime in. Those chords are minors in a typical progression, and they add nothing to the song. What they do instead is wreck a pointed reflection of a relationship gone sour by turning it into a standard 90’s-era weeper. A unique pop-punk song ends up turning into a piece of personified melodrama, but you do have to admire what Armstrong accomplished with it: He created a terrible 90’s weeper through bad under-composition rather than bad over-composition. That’s a hell of a trick, especially coming out of a decade where the prevailing attitude was “fuck subtlety TO THE XTREME!!!”

What’s Getting Shafted

Okay, I get it. The entire Nimrod album was a stylistic change for Green Day that everyone forgot about. But is that any excuse to forget the fun, stray cat stutter of “Hitchin’ a Ride?”  

 

“Iris”

Goo Goo Dolls

Here we have one of the big hits of 1998, a massive stomper of a single which is now the only thing anyone remembers about the time Nicolas Cage was a legitimate headliner. “Iris” was from a movie he made called City of Angels from those days. It  involves some weird time signature changes – the Dolls switch from 4/4 to 6/8 and back again on a few measures, and frontman John Rzeznik keeps most of his guitar strings tuned to D, which lends the instrument a chorus-like effect. Unfortunately for listeners everywhere, that chorus-like effect is what makes the song so overwrought and dripping in tearful sentiment that when listeners cry, their snot has the density of pancakes. What with Rzeznik’s wailing guitar, tantrum-like singing, and slow cadence, it’s tough to get the idea that the narrator of the song is HAPPY. It’s sad that it’s “Iris,” of all things, that finally got Rzeznik out of a dire case of writer’s block.

What’s Getting Shafted

A Boy Named Goo is where the band broke out, so it’s easy to forget how old they are. Before “Iris,” the Goos had a pair of hits off that album, “Name” and “Naked,” which sort of began their shift from an ordinary punk band to the mature adult themes that dominate their work today. Both songs are excellent works about lost time and aging and they both deserve as much airplay as “Iris.” But the bigger loss is their album previous to A Boy Named Goo, Superstar Car Wash, which brings out their maturity and combines that with a pop-rock catchiness. Superstar Car Wash was poised to be the breakout that A Boy Named Goo was, and there’s not a weak track on it. I want the singles from it to be heard.

 

“The Reason”

Hoobastank

Maybe you’re sensing a theme here – I can’t fucking stand overwrought love ballads. And this is not just an overwrought love ballad, it’s one with such a juvenile sense of what makes an effective love song that you would think a teenager wrote it. The lyrics include every staple of bad teenage love poetry ever written. Not being a perfect person? In there. Reason to change who the narrator used to be? The reason being the significant other? Yeah, stop me if you’ve never heard any of that before. Show a side the other person didn’t know, yada yada yada… There’s even a long shout at the end of the song, just when it starts to hit its peak. The production and instrumentation are both syrupy builders with a lot of flat, monotone power measures that of course go big during the choruses. Does that sound like every bad love song you’ve ever heard? Well, it should – that’s because “The Reason” is so trite and cliched in lyricism, instrumentals, and production that if the band playing it wasn’t so solemn and weighty, you would think they were Yankovic-ing a style parody.

What’s Getting Shafted

Literally anything at all that isn’t this fucking song.

 

“How You Remind Me”

Nickelback

Yeah yeah, we all know about how much Nickelback sucks, so you would figure it would be left off a list like this. It really goes without saying. If sales figures and acclaim are to be believed, though, “How You Remind Me” is apparently one of the best songs that came out in the later post-grunge years. Billboard and Kerrang! Both put it in top ten lists for its decade, and it’s the song responsible for giving Nickelback a career. So what sucks about it? Well, the trouble is that it grew to a point that it symbolizes what grunge turned into during the mid-90’s: The stripped-down elements which defined grunge are given a brand new polish and cleaned up. More than perhaps any other song of the era, “How You Remind Me” plays right into the expectations of grunge music better than any other band. One of the things that made grunge great was that the musicians kept playing flawed music, and so the message we get from Nickelback is that they don’t mean what they’re writing. They come off like the high school jock bad guys in an 80’s teen movie trying to be a grunge band.

What’s Getting Shafted

The Foo Fighters, for one thing. Nirvana’s former drummer is their frontman, and their music can easily be described as grunge without the anguish. The wave of post-grunge bands was led by Bush, who are also getting a raw deal from Nickelback’s continued popularity. I’m not sure they were any more authentic than Nickelback, but at least they tried to sound that way.

 

“Just Dance”

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga is a singer that I truly respect and love. When she first entered public consciousness in 2008, though, I wrote her off because “Just Dance” was her first single. Maybe this is because I don’t like or understand dance music, but the clipped marching beats, R and B-infused beats, and soaring electronics that comprise this song don’t make it sound like any major production breakthrough. In fact, it holds a resemblance to any dance club song where the deejay took a popular song from any other genre, scrubbed off the production and instrumentals, and ramped up the drum machine. Furthermore, Gaga’s interpretation of the song doesn’t help matters. Ostensibly a song about being drunk in a dance club, Gaga herself has said that “Just Dance” is there to speak for the joy in our hearts and about having a good time. Which makes it a dance version of “Don’t Worry, be Happy.”

What’s Getting Shafted

Well, we don’t hear a whole lot of the divine Lady G’s later singles on the radio right now. And some of her early singles are getting left on the curb as well. It would be nice to get an occasional “Telephone” call, you know?

 

“All the Small Things”

Blink-182

There’s only one reason people like this song, and it has nothing to do with the song. It has more to do with a clever video which jabbed and mocked every music video being made by the boy bands which took over the mainstream in the late 90’s. “All the Small Things” was recorded strictly for the point of giving the record company something basic, and in that, it succeeds; the chords run a normal progression through C, F, and G, all of which are overdubbed by extensions. Unfortunately, they all lend the song a tiny rhythm, accompanied by vocals which are just as tiny, and taken for what it is, it goes by in a sequence that feels longer than it lasts and doesn’t have any punch. The instrumentals and vocals sound like they’re fighting with each other and they take turns drowning each other out.

What’s Getting Shafted

Enema of the State wasn’t a good album, and I’ve never been a Blink-182 fan, but they did produce a gem: “What’s My Age Again.” Yes, it’s “All the Small Things” with a different chord progression, but it’s clever, has more prominent vocals, and the band doesn’t sound like it’s fighting with itself.

 

“I Will Always Love You”

Whitney Houston

This was the dawn of that weird era in the 90’s where every high-octane action movie on the planet had a powerful love theme to accompany it. And those love themes had one thing in common: They would progress and build to a sudden time signature change which the singer would then use to change octaves and blow your head inside out. “I Will Always Love You,” which came from The Bodyguard, is the point where that trend began. This isn’t so much a song as it is a tool for Whitney Houston to show off her voice. It begins with her singing in a soft a capella, and sounding pretty damn good. It might be worth listening to if it had stayed with that, but it builds into a vehicle that Houston uses to switch octaves numerous times and extend her notes. Houston wasn’t the only singer guilty of this back then – if anything, she managed to repeatedly restrict herself in many of her other songs while Mariah Carey and Celine Dion built brands on doing it. But Houston turned this kind of song from a novelty into a blight against good music, and “I Will Always Love You” was the trendsetting song as well as the most overplayed of the ones that did that. (Although Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” is a heavyweight contender in that department.)

What’s Getting Shafted

Women singers everywhere. There are a lot of versatile and talented singers who are women, but it’s rare enough that one breaks into the mainstream as it is. Now it’s even harder because this sort of cranial explosion is not just expected, but required for women. There’s some hope for the future with the success of pop stars like Taylor Swift, Tove Lo, and Carly Rae Jepson, who are all more restrained singers and who all contribute their own writing to their discographies. But if you’re looking for attention from casual music “fans” in suburbia, you still need to blow up a glass factory or three.

 

“All Summer Long”

Kid Rock

Leave it to the only rapper-rocker who was any good to pull a full Puff Daddy. Now, I’m not a fan of Kid Rock, but I do have a tremendous respect for him for two reasons: One, even with his native Detroit fighting for its life, he chooses to live there and try to return it to its former glory; and two, once the rap-rock trend was finished, he changed his entire style and emerged as a country artist with a set of pipes that’s legitimately good. That being said, “All Summer Long” ends up stealing from Warren Zevon, whose “Werewolves of London” is the musical base for “All Summer Long,” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” is so ingrained into the song that Kid Rock keeps shouting out to it. Why do we keep hearing it?

What’s Getting Shafted

Warren Zevon was one of the greatest songwriters who ever lived. I’m not keen on Lynyrd Skynyrd – if they weren’t out of my generational loop, “Free Bird” DEFINITELY would be on this list, and “Sweet Home Alabama” might have made it too – but they had their moments.

 

“I Gotta Feeling”

Black Eyed Peas

I don’t even have to get into the standard rant about how the presence of Fergie ruined this group. Before she came into the group, the Black Eyed Peas were one of the most exciting and innovative groups in rap. Fergie seemed to come with the addition of the autotuner, which in turn came with a willingness to sell out. “I Gotta Feeling” is the sound of the Peas saying fuck it, time to sell, Sell, SELL! Composed in G major, the bulk of the song is a throbbing dance beat with futuristic synthesizers and a tick-tock rhythm. The lyrics keep saying the Peas get the feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night, and for some reason, they spend a bulk of time saying Mazel Tov. This song is an exercise in how much hammering your skull can take.

What’s Getting Shafted

The early work of the Black Eyed Peas.

 

“Single Ladies (Put a Ring on it)”

Beyonce

I swear, this idea that Beyonce is some groundbreaker is one idea I’ll probably never come to understand. “Single Ladies” is another heavyset dance song, in which the apparent queen of female empowerment sings about how a guy she was once committed to never bothered to marry her, so she left him. That’s at least part of a narrative, but it gets drowned out by robotic sounds and echo chorus. The true narrative of the song gets lost by the only part of “Single Ladies” that people remember, which is the part that says if they liked it, they should have put a ring on it, and the fact that Beyonce’s voice is overshadowed by more layers of her own voice. For something that’s supposed to have depth, that’s hardly the point the listeners should be taking away from the song.

What’s Getting Shafted

Beyonce’s voice, which is incredible when taken for what it is. Since production seems to be the bulk of what makes Beyonce who she is, a stripped-down bit of work could show music aficionados that she really is more than a voice and some studio wizardry. As it is, I’m not seeing her as much more than a former girl group star.

 

The Radio Star was Never Killed

The Radio Star was Never Killed

Everyone knows the radio star was officially declared dead in August of 1981, and that the apparent cause of death was murder by video. It’s cliche now. In fact, it was cliche back then – they made a song about it which was turned into the first video showed on MTV. Eulogies were written, and the older generation of moralizers went crazy ranting about American innocence lost, and how an important art form was lost, and how blah blah blah…

I’m only two months older than MTV, so the music station and I grew up together. My parents often had it on if they wanted background noise, and I remember more than enough about the way it changed from the 80’s to the 90’s to the arguable worst network decay known to man. I remember that back then, there seemed to be legitimate reason that music video was the medium of the future and that radio was on life support and possibly terminal. Radio was supposed to die a quick and painless death, but it made a full recovery and fought its way back with a vengeance. Now if anything is in danger, it’s the video that allegedly killed radio.

Yes, that sounds pretty absurd. But think about it: When was the last time music videos were the dominant medium for discovering new music? Yes, they’re still around, and some of them are excellent. But unless you’re willing to pull yourself up from bed at some absurd hour of the day and flip on MTV while you make your morning eggs on toast, you’re not going to see them. Like every other medium, the idea of the music television station has evolved, but music stations have evolved in reverse. Whereas MTV was the trendsetting cultural juggernaut for two generations, it’s now the definition of network decay. VH1 is a glorified tabloid rag. The Box is… Well, god, I don’t even know what happened to The Box. The only stations that seem to play music videos these days are satellite spinoffs that were created to do the very thing their parent stations were first created for.

Yes, yes, there’s Youtube. Youtube is a wonderful resource full of entertaining videos, and it’s one of the most-used search engines on the internet. There’s a score of backlogged music videos on it, and a lot of live recordings of old favorite songs in case you wanted to hear those too. The problem with Youtube, though, is that all of your video hunts have to be done entirely by hand. You have to know what you want to listen to and watch, then type it into the search bar, and when it finishes playing, you’re back to square one. That means you can’t use it as background during spring cleaning unless you want to be surprised by 20 straight live versions of “Pour Some Sugar on Me” with an occasional Rascal Flatts song there to break up the monotony while you wonder how Rascal Flatts ended up on a hair band playlist.

You can see the problem there. Youtube isn’t a place where the new music rushes at you without strict command. You have to know what it is you want to hear, which can be a problem if you know the song only by the way it sounds. If you don’t know the song’s name and the artist, you have to type lyrics into Bing or Google to find those out before heading to Youtube. Basically, there’s nowhere to flip the TV to watch the videos as they get presented so you can see the video to learn the artist and the song.

When radio was forced to evolve to keep up with the times, it gave us Sirius XM. Sirius launched in 2002, and it now provides 69 channels of music and an additional 65 of talk radio about any subject you want to hear about. While the talk radio stations have commercials, the music stations don’t. They go through straight blasts of random music at all hours, and if you hear a song you like but you’ve never heard before, it’s easy to take note of the lyrics and type them into a search engine. Video stations don’t offer anything like that. Music videos can barely be considered a viable part of the mainstream now. No one anticipates new videos anymore, and when one comes out, you have to hear about it by accident.

So no, videos haven’t supplanted music the way older generations once feared they would. There are no theaters showing them, no workplaces have a TV showing random music videos, you don’t drive cars while trying to watch videos… Hell, you can’t really do much of anything while trying to watch music videos except for keeping your eyes glued to the TV set, appreciating the artistry of a well-directed video. And those aren’t coming along quite as often as they used to, either. This isn’t the 90’s anymore, where music videos that cost a million dollars so the artist could make a statement were everywhere. Most of them are just trying to to get a quick story across now. Even artists that play strong videos – Katy Perry is a notable example – aren’t as ostentatious as Madonna or Michael Jackson were.

What’s more, no one talks about the new videos they saw on whatever music video channel they preferred. Everything seems to be about whether or not you’ve heard something. There’s no controversy over music videos these days, and that’s saying something because of the sheer amount of unfiltered content from Tove Lo’s video for “Habits (Stay High),” which features the singer on a drug and sex binge which highlights the alienation she’s feeling as the narrator. The video builds to a lesbian orgy and would have caught flak in any era for that. Now it’s two years old and no one knows it’s there unless they’ve looked for Tove Lo’s video catalogue. In the meantime, artists are getting more attention when their work is played in TV commercials. (I’m looking at you, Passion Pit.)

I’m not saying music videos are done. Far from it. But the speculation that every radio artist is going to need a video presence in order to succeed is something we can now put to rest. Music videos assaulted TV for the 80’s and 90’s, and made the transition to the internet afterward. But radio came into vogue during the 1920’s and has survived everything thrown at it. The radio star is dead? Hell, that dead machine better be playing your work if you want to be a working musician.  

The Inevitable Post About Legal Weed

The Inevitable Post About Legal Weed

Now to keep the record straight, I’m not a regular weed smoker. Legalized weed had nothing to do with my motivations for moving to Washington. That’s not because of some terrible moral objection I have to weed, though; it’s mainly because I’ve tried weed, and every time I’ve tried it, it never seemed to have the effect it was supposed to have on me. I’m not averse to social weed, but I don’t run around actively seeking it out – it doesn’t ever do anything that can’t be done with good old alcohol.

I do live in a weed-legal state, though, so it’s something I deal with on a regular basis. It doesn’t bother me, and in fact I have friends who smoke weed. As for this idea of some sort of open weed culture that the moralizers in the rest of this country worry about, though, I have yet to see that. Seattleites don’t sit giggling maniacally on park benches, they don’t lay down in the middle of the sidewalk on a pot brownie binge, and if potheads are frequenting the local fast food joints with munchies, I’ve been underwhelmed by the crowds. (Except for Dick’s, but that’s more because Dick’s makes damn good burgers.) The addition of legal weed doesn’t seem to make the culture of Seattle much different from the culture of Buffalo or Chicago. In fact, it feels like it hasn’t done anything at all. Basically, legalizing weed had placed weed a peg higher on the taboo scale. Instead of being illegal, its reached roughly the same level as porn: Everyone knows people are doing it, it’s legal, but for the love of god stay away!!!

Seriously, the state is pretty adamant about making sure it doesn’t fall into the wrong curious hands. Like porn, weed is often sold in shady-looking little shacks with boarded windows and signs everywhere saying “21 ONLY!!!” If you happen to walk into one, some of them even have a fee just to browse. But like porn, it finds ways of trickling into the surrounding world no matter how much you try to control it.

One of the first things that struck me about legal weed is something I first heard on my night shift. So I was standing in the back room of my warehouse, trying desperately not to nod off, and one of those popular lawyer ads came onto the radio. You know the law firm ads vowing to defend you hook, line, and sinker if you get caught driving drunk? Well, in weed-legal Washington, they’re now making those same ads with an emphasis on being caught driving while high. And the agency that made the ad made a point to acknowledge all the common jokes and stereotypes about the difference between driving drunk and driving high. Then it made sure to point out that a DUI doesn’t differentiate between being drunk and being high; intoxication is intoxication, and it still impairs your senses and alters your consciousness one way or the other. If the cops think you’re driving funny and pull you over and you fail the test, your ass is getting hauled in.

It’s pretty scary that someone had to think to make a radio ad pointing that out. You would think it would be something that people instinctively realize, but the stupid truth is that if someone hadn’t thought it was okay, no one would have felt the urge to point it out. Weed smokers aren’t necessarily stupid people, but overlooking things like this don’t help nix that old stereotype.

My visits to weed stores have awakened me to the fact that weed is an expensive habit. I don’t think I’ve ever entered a weed shop where they sold single blunts – the cheapest things I’ve been able to find – for any amount of money that didn’t have two digits on the left side of the decimal point. No matter where you go, every time you see a reference to a weed dealer, the word “weed” is ALWAYS preceded by the word “legal.” The prices are probably a major reason for the distinction. The state government requires that the term “legal” be there in order to differentiate the recreational stuff from the medical or black market stuff. Yes, there’s still a black market for weed, because no one wants to pay $40 a week for their weed stock. Remember, wherever weed is legal, it was never legalized as a mercy or a stroke of common sense. It was done for revenue and as an effort to have some sort of control over who is getting it and how much people are using it. And it’s not going to prevent underage potheads from getting their hands on it. The rule applies here same as everywhere: If someone underage wants it and can’t get any, they’re not trying hard enough.

I have never seen a TV ad for a pot shop, but advertising for various places is everywhere. Billboards are up, and they’re plastered all over the pages of The Stranger, Seattle’s most popular alt rag.

The most unusual thing about legal weed, though, is its relationship with a federal government that still outlaws the stuff. The feds are all-omnipotent, and they have a bad habit of overruling the locals where they can. I was surprised to find myself taking drug tests for three different jobs – there’s a wide abundance of employers around Washington that’s perfectly allowed to fire your ass if there’s any weed in your bloodstream. The state is basically powerless in those circumstances, so even though Washington has a weed industry boom, the general sentiment among the population is that you’re still not really allowed to use it.

It’s the kind of thing that can make you wonder what the whole point of legalizing pot is if the feds still get enough final say to make sure users fear for their usage of it. That’s not to say it’s actually discouraging people, but more than a few weed users are finding themselves in trouble for what’s supposed to be a legal habit.

So yeah, legal weed is a weird cross world which is likely going to stay weird until the government grows a brain.

Defeat of Bull Run: The Failed Division I Experiment

Defeat of Bull Run: The Failed Division I Experiment

This will always rank among the greatest mysteries of the universe: Why was Stonehenge built? What was Fermat’s Last Theorem and how did he come up with it? How on Earth was Danny White, former athletic director at the University of Buffalo, not fired once his plans for The New York Bulls Initiative came rolling out of his mouth? With White having departed Buffalo in 2015, we will probably never know.

I don’t want to decry Danny White completely. He did do a lot for UB Athletics: He improved the facilities, raised money, got the alumni association excited about UB sports for the first time in forever, and many of his coaching changes were upgrades. He can be credited as the guy who made the Bulls competitive. On the bad end, he also just plump dumped both Jeff Quinn and Bobby Hurley, and god only knows what he was thinking. And being one of those hotshot wunderkind executives, he was basically in and out. But we can deal with that; this is Buffalo, after all, and no matter what the sport or what level of said sport, we don’t expect anyone to stay very long. White came in and did his time on the bottom rung. We knew he wasn’t going to stick around.

You remember The New York Bulls Initiative. That was one of the two worst things he did to the university. The quick refresher is that White created a brand change which would have emphasized the “New York” over the “Buffalo” in the “State University of New York at Buffalo.” It was a victory for the school, but only in the most perverse way possible: The only people who approved of the change were a handful of treasonous alumni active on prominent digital media; the same people who graduated from UB, packed their degrees under their arms, and bolted. The students at UB were indifferent, and the residents of Buffalo rejected it with a capital R-E-J-E-C-T-E-D. The people of Buffalo are already pissed about having to qualify their home state with the phrase, “No, not THAT New York,” which packs an innate hatred of New York City. To see SUNY’s flagship – one of the very few things Buffalo can lay claim to that New York City can’t – try and attract attention by latching itself to a place no self-respecting Buffalonian can stand was maddening. It counted on the idea that potential recruits didn’t know geography, and one wonders how long it took for touring students to make it to downtown Buffalo and realize Times Square was eight hours away.

After White’s departure, UB relocated its brain and rediscovered is proper identity. The university mopped up the damage from The New York Bulls Initiative and rebooted its inherited call sign. But a week ago, we got to see the real damage left by White’s grandiose plans. Now, I don’t want to call White a bad guy for this: If anything, he was a visionary who saw the big-time potential for UB Athletics and tried to act on it. No one can complain about that. The problem is that White misread the sports interests of longtime Buffalo residents. He was from the south, in college football country, and was naturally inclined to think a Division I football team is the keystone of all college athletics. He convinced the university of that idea to such a point that, to keep $2 million in athletic subsidies for football, UB cut baseball, men’s soccer, women’s rowing, and men’s swimming and diving. All in the name of a bad football team with no local media coverage.

Buffalo is a professional sports city. I’m not saying the Bills and Bulls can’t coexist in harmony here. Following the sports in Seattle has shown me that football fans can be fanatical no matter what level the sport is being played at. Generations of football fans in the Puget Sound megalopolis were grandfathered into football fandom following the University of Washington Huskies. When the NFL finally popped into Seattle and introduced the Seahawks in 1975, all those Husky devotees took one look at this weird newcomer and… Decided they had enough room in their hearts for both teams. Every sports memorabilia store in Seattle has a couple of racks given to the Huskies. Come autumn in Seattle, you’re hard-pressed to find people NOT dressed in Husky purple on Saturdays. Sundays, blue and green light up the streets – and the Space Needle – for the Seahawks. And hell, fans of the Huskies’ primary rival, the Washington State Cougars, have a presence in Seattle too, even though the Cougs play way the hell over in Eastern Washington. (And not the close part of Eastern Washington, either; the university’s city, Pullman, is less than ten miles from the Idaho border.)

Now, I’m not saying this CAN’T be Buffalo. I’m pointing out there’s a million reasons why it WON’T be. Keeping with the Huskies as my reference point since their harmonious coexistence with their local NFL team is what the Bulls are shooting for, we can start with longevity. The Bulls don’t have any. Yes, the football team was founded in 1894, but they’ve had a rough and inconsistent go of it. The team was never very good, and it was actually suspended in 1970 because the student body didn’t want to use its fees to fund that sort of shoddiness. When it was reinstated seven years later, the Bulls were a Division III team. They moved up to Division I-AA in 1993, then took their big leap to Division I in 1999, and after that… Well, they’ve won a conference title and competed in two bowl games. Eight of their players were drafted since 2000, including Khalil Mack, the decorated linebacker who was taken fifth overall in 2014 and is being credited with the Raiders’ turnaround. It’s better than the first years of their Division I status, in which they were ranked dead last in a field of over 100-some odd teams. It’s really not fair to compare them to the Huskies, but since they’re playing at the same level of college football, we need to clarify what the Bulls are up against. The Huskies created their football program in 1889 and have always been playing in Division I. They’re established as one of college football’s legendary powers, a team you would not be ashamed to show to an Alabama or Michigan fan. Playing in the nasty Pac-12 since 1917, the Huskies have claimed a couple of National Championships, many conference titles, and played in a hell of a lot of bowl games. They’ve never had a Heisman winner, but seven of their players have finished in the Heisman voter top 10, and they’ve had players win a lot of other individual awards. Their alumni includes established NFL luminaries including Corey Dillon, Lawyer Milloy, and Warren Moon. Just this last season, they were ranked in the top five, won their conference, and played against Alabama in the Peach Bowl. Yes, they got hammered by an unstoppable Crimson Tide team which many thought would win the National Championship, but you can bet that Nick Saban planned every which way for the Huskies. Had Alabama played against Buffalo at all, the Bulls would have been written off as one of the Tide’s schedule creampuffs. Saban would have rested any players who weren’t trying to impress an NFL scout.

The likelihood of Buffalo playing for the National Championship here isn’t improbable – it’s impossible. The dirty little secret of the FBS is that it holds some conferences in higher esteem than others. The Huskies play in the Pac-12, the harsh conference which includes USC, Oregon, and Colorado. Alabama plays in the downright brutal SEC, that conference smack in the middle of college football country where LSU, Auburn, Florida, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and Georgia are in a constant state of almost-war. Buffalo plays in the MAC, which people serious about college football see as a cute little sideshow. The people in charge of the college football cabal threw the MAC into the Group of Five, better known as “oh, those OTHER conferences.” The college football teams people have heard of and, you know, follow, are in a group of conferences called The Power Five. Those are the teams that get automatic bids to big, cool bowl games like the Rose Bowl and the Orange Bowl. They’re the ones that are ranked in the national polls to visit the playoffs and ultimately compete for the National Championship. Members of the MAC don’t get to go to those or play for a national title. Buffalo is an MAC team, which means that International Bowl invitation from 2008 is as good as it gets. And the backhanded write-off is justifiable; the Bulls have played against nationally ranked teams 14 times since moving to the FBS, and their only victory came against Ball State. The other 13 teams they’ve faced obliterated them in short order. Their best showing was probably the nationally televised game against Ohio State in 2013 which unveiled Khalil Mack to the football world, and they lost 40-20.

You’re free to argue that Buffalo hasn’t turned up with an enormous fanbase because it hasn’t been playing top flight college football long enough. A fair point, but Buffalo is never going to find that non-alumni fanbase because there are other factors in play which help connect fans to their favorite teams. Let’s start with the location. UB has its north campus and its south campus. South campus is easily located right on the northern edge of the Buffalo city limits, between Main Street and Bailey Avenue. That’s a convenient location with seemingly half the bus lines in the city, plus the rail stopping and starting there. Although south campus is the more scenic of the two, it’s north campus where the crux of student activities happen. North campus is the home of The Spine, UB’s response to a common university quad. Most of the classrooms are there, more students live there than on south campus, and all the athletic facilities are there – including both UB Stadium and Alumni Arena. Now, at most universities, the campus offers an idyllic setting: Syracuse University is set on the peak of Syracuse’s University Hill neighborhood, where it’s conveniently between the Syracuse Business District and Westcott, the local bohemian enclave. The University of Washington is on the southern peak of a gorgeous bluff overlooking Lake Union, in close proximity to The Ave, a lively small business strip on University Way. It offers incredible views of downtown Seattle and Mount Rainier. UB North is… well, if there’s such a thing as an island on land, UB North is it. A major pain in the ass to get in and out of, UB North is locked up in the center of a set of thruway lanes and parking lots in Amherst. It offers nothing photogenic, and if you want to walk down to an off-campus chow joint, well… Good luck with that. You’ll need to take the shuttle to south campus first. Any take-out orders on north campus WILL be delivered. Lots of college football teams offer great tailgating. UB North makes tailgating more trouble than it’s worth. As for public transit to UB North? Forget it. The campus gets a couple of inconsistent lines, so if you plan to take public transit to Bulls games, it’s easier to enroll and jump the Stampede busses. As for the stadium itself, it’s a bleacher version of a tool shack which was knocked up in an hour by your suburban uncle who doesn’t know anything about construction. It’s a converted track field with around 30,000 seats, and even a sideline seat is far off enough to require a telescope. Husky Stadium, by comparison, has 70,000 seats in a football facility that keep selling out.

In short, UB is under the delusion that a football team that regularly gets hammered by the Army Black Knights (which they do, since they play each other most years) that plays in glorified bleacher seating in a spot longtime Buffalo residents barely know how to get to is going to turn into Notre Dame. And this is a win/lose gambit to boot – with Buffalo’s football loyalty sole property of the Bills, anything less than national contender status will leave the Bulls somewhere around The Yukon. THIS is what the UB suits are trying to make into a national power, the thing four other sports teams were cut for. It was a resort so they could get a subsidy for the football team. Subsidies are last resorts. They’re grants to prolong the suffering of already-dead programs. You don’t see universities from the Big 10 using subsidies, because they have revenue. FBS Bulls football is a failed experiment which could rescue its dignity by swallowing its pride and dropping back a couple of divisions.

How many scholarships got dumped so UB could keep itself convinced of this charade? The football Bulls already play like a Division III team, so why keep pretending? Why NOT get bumped back down to the lower divisions? Anyone who felt pressure would be removed of it, and everyone could go back to enjoying football for fun again. Four sports teams wouldn’t have been unceremoniously ditched. No, UB wouldn’t have any power to attract big-name high school prospects to their football team, but guess what? They’re not doing that anyway! Buffalo has never been the place where players with serious NFL ambitions wind up. People who want to play football while they learn things are the only players who play for the Bulls, and that’s always going to be the case no matter what division the Bulls are in.

This is frustrating because of what the university is ignoring in its attempts to boost its helpless football team: The basketball team turned legitimately good right under everyone’s noses. Basketball is a huge college sport with millions of fans too, and the basketball Bulls have emerged as a somewhat known and respected commodity. 351 schools play Division I basketball between 32 conferences. Since being admitted to the MAC in the late 90’s, the Bulls have won the conference tournament twice, been to the NIT once, and received ultimate validation in 2015 and 2016 when they played in the March Madness tournament. They’ve been the regular season champions twice and the division season champions three times. Now, Alumni Arena is on north campus, so it shares a few of the same problems as UB Stadium. But the basketball team has a few distinct advantages over the football team besides being good. The Bulls don’t have an NBA team to compete with, and they’re in ideal position to kick off rivalries. Canisius is is slightly more storied team which has also made a handful of March Madness appearances. The Canisius campus is also located right in Hamlin Park. Niagara and St. Bonaventure would also be big local rivals, but the big advantage is that Syracuse University and the mighty Orange are two hours down the road. The Orange is one of the greatest college basketball teams in the sport’s history, and they play in the ACC. The blood rivalry would write itself if the Bulls moved to the ACC – it would pit New York’s largest private university against New York’s largest public university.

Furthermore, the cartel that decided the Bulls are ineligible to compete for football’s national title isn’t nearly as omnipotent in basketball. The college basketball structure isn’t as convoluted. 351 teams compete in Division I. All 351 have a shot at the National Championship. Yes, the NCAA still plays favorites with conferences, but there are still Cinderella teams in March Madness every year which can make deep runs and spoil the giants’ hopes. That gives the Bulls opportunities in basketball to make waves in ways the football Bulls can only dream of.

The emphasis on football also has the effect of ignoring Western New York’s greatest athletic talent resource. Yes, when Buffalo sports fans talk about their teams, they tend to lead with the Bills, but that’s because football is the country’s everywhere reference. Buffalo’s true sports roots are in hockey. The culture of the city revolves around hockey. Hockey – and ice skating in general – are leading off Downtown Buffalo’s redevelopment. The city has hosted several important hockey tournaments, and an amateur ice hockey tournament is held every winter. The city is home to many NHL professionals. The extent of football’s culture in Buffalo is… Well, what? The Bills? The Bulls? The fact that chicken wings are now tailgate staples? Well, what? You think about that. I’ll wait… Okay, get the idea? Buffalo is a hockey city at its core, and for whatever bullshit reason, its most prized university doesn’t have a team. This is one of the biggest no-brainers we’ve ever seen in the city; more so than even the Chicken Wing Festival. With the insane reserve of hockey talent running around upstate New York, the Bulls would go from nonexistent to contender within a few years – and that’s the worst case scenario.

The University of Buffalo is writing this off as a result of economy. It doesn’t have to be. All it would require for UB to keep the four teams it’s cutting and football is a little thought. And the ability to swallow pride and admit that Division I football at UB is a failed experiment. Yes, the university will have to swallow its pride, but so does anyone with the misfortunate to have to root for them.

Car Search

Car Search

It’s hard to believe I had basically closed on a car way back in November. All that was left was to write out the check and drive the thing – a white 1992 Nissan which I hadn’t bothered to christen yet – back home. Unfortunately, a family tragedy closed that deal off when I had to spend my car proceeds on a trip to Buffalo. But here I am now back on the car market, wondering why the hell everything just can’t be as easy as it was last time.

Last time, I lucked out. It was my second or third viewing, and an immediate fit. I didn’t think I would end up getting that lucky again, but the whole process of searching for the right car is getting frustrating. I keep thinking of giving up, then the next day, I roll out of bed again, eat my breakfast, walk out the door three hours before I’m supposed to start my shift, and then remember why I need a car in the first place. Up, down, around trying to get back and forth and having my journey stretched out to an insane length…

See, I’m doing pretty much all of my searching on Craigslist, vis the recommendations of my Father and one of my housemates, two people who know. And their Craigslst methodology received an added boost by the fact that I visited a couple of used car lots and was told that if I ain’t buyin’, they ain’t sellin’, please get lost.

Craigslist, of course, limits my options. But then again, so do used car lots, and I’ve noticed that Craigslist tends to have better offerings than the standard used car lot choice of either paying a truckload or buying a fixer-upper. My housemate and my Father have both chimed in with their own two cents; the short list of cars they say I should be looking at includes the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, a type of Nissan I’m always forgetting the make of, and a couple of others. Long-term reliability is the name of the game here, and much to my surprise, I’m finding that Craigslist is pretty accommodating with the brands I want. I browse the car sales list every day and can usually find a couple on my desirables list.

After I find something I want, though, the hard part comes: I have to initiate some form of contact. Since a system of blinking is clearly out, that usually means I’m sending out a short email to the seller. Then the wait begins. Half the time, I don’t get a response. The times I do aren’t always a good response. One person told me he had already sold the car. Another kept sending me nearly dodgy, single-word responses to my questions. (Those were tough questions: Where is your address so I can view the car, how do I get there, you know, things no one would be expected to know about a car they were selling.) Finally, he got around to admitting that if I wanted to, you know, move the car I would have bought to my home, it would have to be towed there.

Creating appointments to look at those cars presents another problem. Since I don’t have a car, it’s tough for me to cover a wide-reaching area in search of someone selling one. My preferences tend to lean toward people in North Seattle or Snohomish County. Anywhere south of Downtown Seattle and I may be looking at a day trip. So my appointments have to be scheduled for weekend days, when the busses are being sent around less. Then we’re going into negotiation and debating over terms.

Yes, this is a process which would drive a lesser person insane. Hell, its got me halfway there myself. But between the labyrinth I have to navigate to get back and forth to work and the times I’m always getting up in the morning, I figure getting my hands on the car of my dreams – which, right now, is something I would describe as “something that runs reliably” – I think this will all pay off around the time I go shopping for my straightjacket.