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Category Archives: The Lemming Mill – Popular Culture

Birth and Death of an NFL Loyalty

Birth and Death of an NFL Loyalty

When I moved to Chicago, the Buffalo Bills hadn’t yet reached irrelevance. In fact, despite their record for the previous year being 5-11, they still seemed like a fairly safe option to get behind. Drew Bledsoe had spent three years in Buffalo and led the Bills to the edge of contention in two of them. He was unceremoniously shoved out the door after the 2004 season to make room for 2004 Draft pick JP Losman, and the team had also dug up Lee Evans and Willis McGahee, respectively a receiver and running back. Both of them were oozing with talent. So if anything, 2005 could have been written off as a growing pain year. But it still panned out in what has since been acknowledged as typical Bills fashion: The Bills not looking bad early in the season, with a 3-3 start after the first six games, only to win just two of the remaining ten.

In Chicago, the Bears appeared to be undergoing the long-promised resurgence. Their record was the mirror opposite of the Bills’ record, and that 11-5 was enough for them to claim the division crown. Their offense wasn’t good, but as any follower of the Bears will tell you, proper Bears football was never about putting points on the board; its always been about keeping points off the board. In that respect, the Bears delivered, and their 202 total points against was enough to lead the NFL. The Bears had even gone the opposite of the Bills in delivering their record; with a 1-3 record after the first four games which looked like another one of the team’s endless post-1985 write-offs, the Bears tore off on an eight-game winning streak before a 2-2 split in their last four games. Rookie quarterback Kyle Orton (whom the Bills once yanked out of retirement to lead them to their second winning season this century) pulled just enough decent plays out of his ass to let the Bears fall back on their defense after slated starter Rex Grossman was injured. First round Draft pick Cedric Benson, a running back, suffered a similar fate and had a contract dispute which kept him away from training camp. He was replaced by journeyman Thomas Jones.

I expected to be spending much longer living in Chicago than I did, so I did what my mother did when she moved to Buffalo: I adopted the local teams but held on to my original loyalties. It seemed to be the natural thing to do, even though I didn’t feel a natural draw to most of the local teams. Most of them were pretty easy to talk myself into, though, because there’s little I respect more than a good history, and Chicago’s teams had those in spades. The Cubs and White Sox were both originals teams in the NL and AL for baseball; the Blackhawks were a member of the Original Six; and the Fire had been one of the most stable and consistent teams in MLS since the league was created. The Bulls were a relative baby – they were an expansion team from the late 60’s, some 20 years after the NBA’s formation and the failure of other professional basketball teams to take off in Chicago.

The Bears were one of the founding members of the NFL, and over the course of their history, they accumulated more wins than any other team any more titles than every team except the Green Bay Packers. Every amateur football historian knows that. Every football fan knows the Superfans and the Super Bowl Shuffle. I arrived in Chicago just weeks after the Steelers beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, which meant I got to spend the summer updating myself on Bears history, and there were some pretty cool things to learn: The 1940 NFL Championship, with the Bears winning a 73-0 squeaker over Washington. It set records for points and point differential. (Gee, ya think?) The Sneakers Game, the dynasty of the 1940’s. But my brain started telling me something was slightly amiss because all the Bears writings and paraphernalia emphasized one thing: 1985. I learned more about the 1985 Chicago Bears than I did about any other era in NFL history because it was the only thing Chicagoans seemed to care about.

I ignored that weird feeling, though, because in 2006, the Bears hit a high they hadn’t attained since 1985. They paced the league at 13-3 and finally made their return to the Super Bowl. Even though they were decisively waxed by the Colts, they won me over on account of the fact that they made football FUN again. The 2006 Bears were third in points against and – absolutely fucking incredibly – second in points scored. Rex Grossman was healthy the whole season. Thomas Jones set the tone on the ground. Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs made countless big plays on defense. Kick returner Devin Hester became the team’s secret weapon, running seemingly every other kick into the endzone. The Bears started the season by beating Green Bay 26-0; it was the first time Packers quarterback Brett Favre had been shut out since high school. In week six, they posted an incredible comeback win over the Cardinals, returning from a 20-0 deficit without scoring a single offensive touchdown. Eight of their players showed up in the Pro Bowl. After a 40-7 hammering of the Bills, the first thing I said to my mother was, “40-7?! Please explain that.”

Chicago fans have a national reputation for being rabid and knowledgeable, and during 2006, they were living up to it. In the buildup leading to the Super Bowl, it was impossible to not see anyone or anything decked out in their colors, but the excitement was still a bit restrained. The Bears were going to be facing the Colts, after all, and if there was one name away from 1985 that Chicago knew, it was that of Indianapolis star quarterback Peyton Manning. I developed a respect for the fans because even though they were hoping for the good outcome, they were still tempered with the realization that this was going to be Manning’s year. That should have done the trick.

The euphoria surrounding the Super Bowl didn’t even last through the offseason, and my perception of Bears “fans” was put to the test in the first regular season game of 2007. I asked a co-worker what he thought about the Bears’ odds of beating their first opponent, the San Diego Chargers, and his response was just, “Huh?! Oh, I dunno. DA BEARS.” The Bears lost the game 14-3. During the season, it became apparent that 2006 was an anomaly that came from hitting an early peak and playing two patsy divisions (the NFC West and AFC East) during a time when the NFC was going through a power void. The better AFC West and NFC East were both on the schedule in 2007, and while the Bears acquitted themselves well, they still lost too many key matchups against pushovers and finished 7-9.

2007 was the season that set the tone for my years failing to support the Bears. The team turned from a contender into an indifferent nonentity. Nothing symbolized that more than a running back controversy between Jones and Cedric Benson. While Benson was a first round pick, he wasn’t as good as Jones in any of the ways that matter in his position. The Bears dumped Jones anyway, and that lopping – which turned out to be as bad as every football fan said it would be – gave fans the excuse they needed to spend the year at lunch. The team was facing an uphill battle in the hearts of Chicagoans anyway; the Cubs had hired Lou Piniella as their manager that year and come out on the top of an exciting division race with the Milwaukee Brewers. For all intents and purposes, they looked ready to contend.

The 2007 season ran by inconspicuously. The Bears reversed their record to end the following year at 9-7, but good luck finding anyone who remembers anything that happened. Okay, well, fans knew two things: Rex Grossman sucked and needed to be replaced, and Matt Forte needed to be the new featured back. If we throw in the constant comparisons to the 1985 Bears, that makes three things. Basically, a Super Bowl euphoria was followed with two seasons of blah before the coming of Jay Cutler. The Bears had needed a good quarterback since Sid Luckman back in the 1940’s so badly that fans managed to talk themselves into thinking Jim McMahon was good. Cutler’s first season was maddening. After watching Rex Grossman’s power bombs from 2006 (he’ll always have that one year), Cutler played remedial football. It was routine for the Bears to hang 48 on the Lions in one game, then lose 10-6 to the 49ers in another. They lost 45-10 against Cincinnati but hammered Cleveland 30-6. As often as there were dazzling performances from Cutler, there were weeks when I could have outplayed him, and I can barely throw a football.

The Bears, in short, were not an endearing team to watch. Their style was as boring as it was outmoded. A bad team can still be fun, but a boring team commits the ultimate crime of sports. What really got to me, though, was the constant harkening back to 1985. Buffalo lost the closest Super Bowl in history because of a missed last-second field goal, but the fans managed to let it go. In Chicago, the Bears WON the fucking game 30 years before, and the fans were convinced that crew of brainless headhunters played the most modern version of football possible. They lionized Mike Ditka, a bad coach lucky enough to ride a good defensive coordinator with a load of talent, and one of the loudest stupid people in sports. 

It was in 2010 that I decided something was badly amiss. The 2010 Bears went 11-5 and won their division, but that didn’t necessarily mean they were, well, good. Racking up wins is one thing, but for a team to be legitimate, it has to be beating opponents in some very specific ways. The first game of 2010 was the famous Calvin Johnson Rule game, where Calvin Johnson was robbed of a touchdown because of an obscure and inexplicable rule about “completing the process.” (That was the official term used in the rules.) The touchdown happened right as time ran out, and it would have won the game for Detroit. That was the setting for a season in which the Bears somehow caught all the lucky bounces. A contender doesn’t win with luck; they beat bad teams decisively and take what they need from the good teams. That wasn’t the Bears of 2010. The Bears took very few chances while nature fell in their favor.

When the fans started endorsing the way the Bears were playing, I stopped trying to wrap my mind around them. The way the fans thought was that hey, the Bears were in first, they must be good! Never mind the fact that the Bears barely beat a 4-12 Bills team in Toronto by only three points, or that they got whomped by two teams with losing records, or that they couldn’t take a game from the eventual Super Bowl winner despite holding them to just ten points. When Green Bay exposed the Bears for what they were in the NFC Championship, fans were flabbergasted. Jay Cutler was removed during the game because his knee was visibly out of place, and every fan in Chicago told him to toughen up. Then they bitched about how much better the current backup was.

2010 was my last football season living in Chicago. Since m time in Chicago had been such a huge game-changer, I tried to remain loyal to my adopted teams, but ultimately the Blackhawks and White Sox were the only ones that made it out with me. I never took to the Cubs, and I dumped the Fire almost immediately. The Bulls held out a bit longer, but after some time being a Buffalo sports fan again, I realized that I was frequently finding solace in watching the New York Knicks rather than the Bulls, and the Knicks finally became my official team. As for the Bears, they proved to be my ultimate holdout, and my slip on them was gradual. As I got adjusted to watching the Bills every week again, I just got more into the games than I ever did following the Bears. In Chicago, I was always eager to learn the Bills scores. I never felt any pull to the Bears, and in one Monday Night Football game where they were dominating the other team, I realized that I just didn’t care. I should have been euphoric, but I didn’t feel much of anything aside from my brain telling me to jump up and down screaming my lungs out.

And that was pretty much it. The final nail in the coffin was coming out to Seattle and finding a huge pocket of raging football fans who knew their team and loved their sport. I chatted up a playoff game one night at work that the Seahawks lost, despite making a stirring near-comeback. When I told my co-worker that it would have been the second-greatest comeback in league history, he knew what the biggest one was. The fans were so good that they were the first thing I latched on to in order to find some semblance of familiarity. The Seahawks also offer a lot more than the Bears – a fleet young quarterback in Russell Wilson, a dynamic running back in Marshawn Lynch, and a dominant group of defensive backs known collectively as the Legion of Boom. Within a few months, I had embraced the Seahawks. The Bears were dead to me.

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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.

Lamenting the Loss of the Saturday Matinee B-Movie

As I laid in my bed recovering from a cold a couple of weeks ago, I entertained myself with the household Netflix account. When you’re all stuffed up, you don’t have much of a will to turn your brain on to watch walking and talking pictures, so my choice of movie for the day was The Eagle, one of those Roman Centurian movies I like so much. The Eagle was meant to be quick, cheapo entertainment – a popcorn flick. It was dropped into the theaters early in 2011 to be a quick studio cash-in, then disappear into obscurity.

The director of The Eagle, Kevin MacDonald, clearly didn’t get the idea. I’m not going to say he didn’t get the script; he had the script, alright. What he didn’t get was the studio notes. And the studio notes should have included the instructions to just get the damn thing filmed ahead of schedule and under budget. The damn movie is about two men from the ancient Roman times trying to recover a sacred eagle emblem. This doesn’t have an Oscar plot attached to it. Michael Bay would have said the plot wasn’t quite complex and elaborate enough to his high-class tastes. But MacDonald – and let’s not mince words, it’s entirely MacDonald’s fault – hammed the shit out of The Eagle, thinking it would vault him into the same directorial echelon occupied by Ridley Scott.

Yeah, that was never going to be the case. Ridley Scott is one of the greatest directors to ever sit in a cloth folding chair. He was the director of a very good ancient Roman popcorn flick called Gladiator. You may remember that one – it won a couple of major Oscars. But Scott was able to balance the ham with a sense of self-awareness that made Gladiator better than it should have been. MacDonald didn’t have that talent when he was making The Eagle, so it comes off as some kind of high-handed moral play.

We’ve lost the traditional Saturday Matinee B-movie. Replacing it has been a glot of movies that are just plain bad. The obvious counterpoint here is the fact that a lot of the legendary bad movie directors were trying to create dramatic morality plays – Ed Wood was famous for that, and that same element is what made The Room so much fun. But those were a little different because The Room was so clearly made on the fly while Wood had enough money in his budgets for a cheeseburger. (Which, arguably, was what he was delivering.)

Then There was Roger Corman. The Simpsons once featured a joke about the “thousand-dollar movie,” a version of Titanic created by Corman. It featured a cheesy-looking ship crashing into a clearly fake iceberg, the ship sinking instantly, and then an immediate shot of two survivors in a rowboat, one man, one woman… You get the idea.

Unfortunately, movies like that seem to have been lost strictly to the Syfy channel. Mostly they’re about sharks. Unfortunately, where the potential for a great bad movie exists, it’s likely to be ruined by someone doing it a bit too professionally. There are too many directors out there who think they’re making the next great philosophical statement or the next huge blockbuster. Sometimes, these can have hilarious consequences, but with budgets in the stratosphere, they come out more like statements. And not even fun ones.

Predicting Autobiographies by Peyton Manning and Tom Brady

Predicting Autobiographies by Peyton Manning and Tom Brady

Let’s have some fun today. Two things we know about football are that the greatest quarterbacks of all time are Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. That means after they’re both retired, they’ll inevitably release their autobiographies.

I’ve taken the liberty to predict those autobiographies. Here are a few excerpts from them on various subjects, written in the very style I believe they will both respectively employ.

Brady:“I was always smaller than the other kids, but naturally gifted. I would knock on the doors of the other kids and ask if they would please play football.”

Manning:“Whenever my Dad and brothers finished throwing around our durable Wilson footballs, we’d eat delicious Papa John’s for dinner.”

Brady:“I was awed to play in the biggest football stadium in the country for Michigan, the greatest college football team ever!”

Manning:“Tennessee, of course, was a popular team with a lot of merchandising.”

Brady:“I couldn’t believe it when I finally heard my name called. I was finally going to play in the NFL for one of its greatest teams!”

Manning:“I switched on my Sony radio just in time to hear my name get called on Sony’s crystal-clear airwaves.”

Brady:“In my first NFL season, I owned the bench. No one could own a bench like me. And I had the privilege of learning from Bill Belichick and Drew Bledsoe, who were great.”

Manning:“Although I led the Colts to only three wins, I had started something great, but it was the hard, uncomfortable Astroturf holding us back. The softer and firmer footing offered by the Gardenista brand allowed the Colts to play without fear of injury.”

Brady:“When I had to start for the rest of the 2001 season, I didn’t have any jitters. I had total confidence in my team.”

Manning:“In my second year, I was feeling much better about the Nike cleats I had to fill.”

Brady:“Accepting that first Vince Lombardi Trophy was the proudest moment of my life.”

Manning:“Accepting that smooth-riding Cadillac Escalade for being the MVP of my first Super Bowl was the proudest moment of my life.”

Brady:“I was nervous about my first commercial shoot, and I knew I couldn’t do it without the people who made me a success: My teammates.”

Manning:“I was never nervous about commercial shoots, but I knew I had to come up with something for the commercial for my reliable and rewarding Mastercard that people would remember at their banks. I was at the butcher shop waiting impatiently because I was late for the filming, and I suddenly yelled to the butcher, ‘Hey, you! Cut that meat!’”

Brady:“That perfect season was hollow without the ring. I let so many people down.”

Manning:“My neck injury wasn’t so bad, because my Covidien neckbrace gave my axis and atlas the support and alignment they needed.”

Brady:“I took the pay cut. Leave the greatest fans of the greatest team in the greatest city in America? That would be unthinkable.”

Manning:“After it became clear that I would no longer fill the comfortable Reebok hi-tops Johnny Unitas once wore, I hopped a Learjet and flew to Denver in first-class style.”

Brady:“After that second Super Bowl against the Giants, everyone said we were done. But I knew we had a great team, and we would return!”

Manning:“After heaving that interception to Tracy Porter, all I could do was stand on the sidelines in my perfectly stretched, one-size-fits-all New Era cap and watch my team fail on me.”

Brady:“With my team frantic, I knew I had to stay calm. I trusted Mr. Belichick to make all the right calls to get us out of this hole against that vicious Seahawks defense.”

Manning:“All the clear, high-definition footage from the Broncos’ Canon XA35 HD camera didn’t prepare me for Seattle’s defense. It wasn’t the camera’s fault because it has top shutter speed.”

Brady:“Even against Buffalo, we had to play our best. The Bills were one of the worst teams in the league, but they had still won a few games against us.”

Manning:“Visits to Buffalo always involved the moist, tender, crunchy chicken wings made by Duff’s.”

A Letter to the Grim Reaper

A Letter to the Grim Reaper

Dear Mr. Grim Reaper,

It’s time you and I had a little chat. We need to settle something: Among the famed and influential people you’ve taken from the world this year are David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, and now Muhammad Ali. Ali is the only one among them whose time had been seen coming for awhile. He was 74 – early old age, and a longtime sufferer of Parkinson’s Disease. But Bowie and Rickman – whom you killed within a week of each other – were both in their 60’s. Prince didn’t even get that far. None of them deserved to head off into the Grey Havens early. In fact, they were all champions of good causes who showed the world that it was okay to be different and stand out.

How the hell are you coming up with the names on your list this year, Mr. Reaper? You can’t be pulling them out of a hat – the odds of all four of those names being pulled from a hat that large are astronomical. They have to be in the billions. You need to start picking off some worse people to balance this out. Here is a list of names I’m practically leading the cheers to see go down:

Gwyneth Paltrow
Okay, I can admit that it’s not her fault that she’s the daughter of actress Blythe Danner and movie producer Bruce Paltrow. But damn if she doesn’t know how to ride the Daddy’s rich little girl routine to its most extreme end. She earned my sympathy at one point by performing an experiment to see if she could eat healthy for a week with the kind of money that poor people make. Turned out the answer was no – no shit, tell us something we don’t know – but her behavior both before and after that makes me wonder if she wasn’t trying to whip up some exotic French three-course meal during that experiment. For god’s sake, she just made news for recommending a solid gold dildo which cost more than most peoples’ cars – and if they live in certain parts of the Rust Belt, possibly even their houses. She puts out a list of Christmas gifts every year which are beyond expensive. If you’re trying to live like her, you’re going to be torn every month between buying her favored jumper or keeping your roof over your head. I’m halfway convinced Paltrow is a distant relative of the Solomon family from Third Rock from the Sun.

Tom Brady
You know, I thought there was progress being made in the eternal war against the image of the All-American Golden Boy. We were beginning to realize that good looks come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. We were starting to appreciate the incredible athleticism that goes with other sports, including more cult ones like lacrosse. We were finally realizing that being a good person who does the right thing can have nuanced circumstances. But then here came Tom Cruise Sports Edition, pretty much embodying everything Grandmas want their granddaughters to marry. Tom Brady was cast in the same mold that also created all those evil movie jocks from the 1980’s that we hate so much. That would be bad enough, but there are a couple more details which make Brady the most insufferable version of the trope: The first is that we’ll never get to see him receive his satisfying comeuppance. Even with Rex Ryan having coached two of his divisional rivals, he always seems to survive an onslaught which should have killed other quarterbacks. The other is that he has given credence to Boston sports fans, who are the worst people on Earth.

Kanye West
Kanye West gets all the credit in the world as a creative genius. Of course, that’s only because he IS a creative genius. Just ask him – he’ll be the first to tell you so. Yeah, Kanye West plays the role of one of the world’s biggest divas. He’s one of those kinds of people who gets pouty is everything doesn’t go exactly right. Furthermore, can you think of any other celebrity who would try to peddle an undershirt for $120? That’s not even getting into his well-known award show rants, where he waltzes up to the stage, takes the microphone from an award winner like he owns it, and spends ten minutes rambling on about who the real winner should have been. As you can guess, most of the time, it should have been Kanye West.

Jenny McCarthy
So, given the choice between having your kid autistic or dead, what do you do? According to the anti-vaxxers, you let them die. Jenny McCarthy was apparently once a very smart student, but I think it’s probably time she asked the University of Google for a refund. McCarthy is the face of the anti-vaxxer movement, a farce started with bad research by a doctor who was disbarred 20 years ago, has no evidence to back it up, and is arguably a belief that goes with privilege. But McCarthy’s brand of lunacy predates her involvement with the anti-vaxxers: Before latching onto that, she was an outspoken proponent of the Indigo Child movement, even running a blog that served as a meeting site for Indigo people and even more special Crystal people. In other words, she’s a person who might be better off joining Scientology.

Mel Gibson
Oh Mel, what happened? He was one of the greatest and highest-paid action heroes in the world, but I can count on my deformed hand the number of other stars who fell so hard so quickly and ruined themselves. First of all, you can’t decline to call out your Holocaust denier pop. You also have to keep your id in check by at least trying to say when if you decide to drink. Bitching about the Jews is not only going to alienate a significant chunk of your audience, it’s probably going to piss off a lot of executives in Hollywood; after all, there ARE a good number of Jews in those positions. And being a devout Catholic while cheating on your wife makes you a hypocrite. Even when trying to pull himself out of his downward spiral, Gibson just couldn’t stop his foot from leaping into his mouth. This is really more of a mercy killing plea – Mel Gibson used to be one of my favorite movie stars before all this happened. Lethal Weapon, Mad Max, Braveheart, the man made some quality pictures. It’s one thing to screw up, but Gibson has made it impossible to take his side.

Those aren’t even the only ones I can think of. They’re only the ones I feel like listing off the top of my head. We know about ubiquitous reality stars, people who are famous for being famous, and loudmouthed pundits and bigoted politicians. They’re legion, and they all deserve to be escorted from this planet too. I don’t even have to mention any of their names. See, Mr. Reaper, the planet sucks to live on enough as it is. The people you’re knocking off this year are some of the types of people who make living here more bearable.

What’s stunning is that there are so many more of the worse people – and the indifferent ones – than the good ones. Some are stupid, some are evil, right wingers are usually both. Hell, there are famous right wing pundits in the United States right now who are openly championing slavery. (Who was it that defended it by saying it was “a full-employment system?” Yeah, please go kill HIM.) Isn’t Charles Manson still alive?

I know you’re just trying to get your own job done, but your hit list this year makes you look like you’ve been taking bribes from the Angel Mafia. And I don’t want to believe you’ve been doing that. You’ve had a sterling track record over the past few years. Yes, you’ve taken the good. We all miss Nelson Mandela, but Mandela was well into his 90’s and had led a long, full, and very productive life. But you also knocked off Osama bin Laden, Fred Phelps, and Kim Jong Il.

We need to see the bad people die too. I know you’re smart enough to understand balance. If we’re not getting enough balance, certain types of people will start to see your hit list as evidence that the bad people are the ones who are right.

See you around,
Nicholas