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Where I write all things Justin. Call me a Daydream Belieber!
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Striking Burning Man


In years past, I would have felt a certain twinge of regret during this, the last week of August, because I am once again not at Burning Man, the annual desert arts festival that for half a decade became more or less the organizing principle of my life. I met some of my best friends there, had some of the greatest times I can remember, as well as a few that I can’t.

But that was a long time ago — the late ’90s and early ’00s, to be precise — and parenthood and geography and the rising costs of the objectively ridiculous particulars of surviving in an unambiguously hostile climate have combined to keep me away.

Whatever lingering desire I may have had to go out there again was strangled last year, when one of my best friends, with whom I attended all six of my burns back in the day, came back and reported that he’d waited in line in his car for eight hours to get into the event. That was pretty much a wrap on Burning Man for me, at least until I can afford to parachute in. (The soaking rain that closed the gate for a day earlier this week, and exacerbated the already ridiculous wait for Will Call tickets, was just the icing on the No Thank You cake.)

This week was also the week that we finally got our contractor to show up and do the job that we agreed on in the spring: removing our old backyard fence and replacing it with a nicer, taller one, fixing a piece of rusted-out crown molding at the edge of the roof, and taking away the four barrels full of dirt in the center of the yard. (The boy and I are playing a lot of catch these days and those barrels are in the way.)

Disposal of all this stuff required that we rent a dumpster and have it parked out front for a couple of days, which I saw as an opportunity to get rid of some of the considerable amount of clutter our basement and back yard have accumulated. The old AC unit, the scrap wood, the old paint cans… I asked my wife what else we should toss.

“The windows?” She said this tentatively, knowing I didn’t want to hear it, but also knowing that this was not the first time she had made this suggestion.

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Confronting Ferguson


Like everyone else, I’ve been sucked into the Internet rabbit hole that is Ferguson, Missouri over the last two weeks, watching with horror as a town just a couple of miles from the house my parents first brought me home to erupted in a series of clashes between protesters and police that would not seem out of place in 1960s Mississippi or even 2004 Iraq.

The inciting incident, the fatal shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old by a police officer, is tragic no matter how you look at it, but the fact that the officer was white, the kid was black, and this happened right after the NYPD strangled a guy on the street for no apparent reason, and while the Trayvon Martin debacle is so fresh in all our minds, charged the whole thing with a racial tension that quickly spiraled out of control, into a full fortnight of rioting and looting and arrests and tear gas.

As with so many hot-button issues these days, some clear battle lines have been drawn here, and everyone seems to be firmly on one side or the other: A racist cop killed an innocent, college-bound 18-year-old kid for no reason, or an upright police officer with a spotless record killed a thug who assaulted the cop and got what he asked for.

Why is everyone so certain it’s not a little bit of both?

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Forgetting Robin Williams

Robin Williams

I wasn’t going to write about Robin Williams in this space. When I heard the news about his death I didn’t really feel shock or sadness or anything. He’s a celebrity, not my uncle. With very few exceptions, celebrity deaths have never much moved me for reasons that are as unclear as they are uninteresting.

I was even kind of glib about it for a minute. Probably 15 minutes after I saw the news and digested the few but painfully ample details, I tweeted:

I chuckled to myself, I thought it was a good joke. Because instead of thinking about the man, I was thinking about this huge ridiculous Bullshit Machine that we’re all living in, and how it was going to take this sad news and use it to blot out the sun for at least a couple of cycles, help us forget the taste of Iraqi quicksand and domestic police rioting by wallowing in this man’s consummated pain. (I happened to be at a lake house with my folks when we heard the news. My dad’s reaction: “The good news is, the TV here is broken.”)

I was thinking about this insane Bullshit Machine that will poke and prod at every detail about how this man died, and pretend that they made it easy on him. I imagined all the same pop-culture bloggers (who I eagerly read on a daily basis) who have been shitting all over everything this man has done for the last 15 years lining up to lionize him and mourn the loss of an artistic voice they’d all long since quit paying attention to.

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The Greatest Worst Rock Show Ever


If you had a Rock Time Machine and you could go back in time to any show, what would it be? At one time I would have said the Monterey Pop Festival, the night Jimi Hendrix unfurled his massive talent for a credulous, acid-drenched crowd of rock royalty. At another time I’d have chosen Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys shows on New Year’s Eve 1969/70, memorialized on the Band of Gypsys album. Or maybe Stevie Wonder opening for the Stones on the 1972 tour. Or maybe XTC at Hammersmith Palace in 1980. Or Van Halen at the US Festival in 1982. Or the Replacements at 7th St. Entry in 1984. The list goes on and on.

But that list is a thing of the past, because from the moment I first learned about it there is only one show I would want to go back in time for: a show featuring an artist I’m not very familiar with and even less fond of.

Rick Wakeman rose to fame as the keyboardist in Yes, the early-’70s math rock unit that everyone’s heard of but no one has listened to. Despite their success, Wakeman felt that the albums Yes had released during his tenure — Fragile, Close to the Edge, and Tales From Topgraphic Oceans — were getting increasingly pretentious, mired in weird lyrics, undercooked themes, and long, indulgent instrumental passages.

So he quit the band in 1973 and as a solo artist released a string of increasingly pretentious albums mired in weird lyrics, undercooked themes, and indulgent instrumental passages: The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1973); Journey to the Center of the Earth (1974); and The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (1975).

At first glance this might just seem an ill-considered concept album that you wouldn’t want to sit through at home, much less in concert, and you’d be right, except for the addition of two little words: The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table… ON ICE.

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@realDonaldTrump For President


This week Donald Trump is back in the news — his favorite place to be, with the possible exception of a (presumably) gold-plated tanning bed.  It seems the real estate magnate-turned-reality TV clown-turned-just plain clown built a building in Chicago a few years ago and recently made good on his promise to emblazon his name in 20-foot letters on the side of it, as is his custom. Through a spokesman, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the sign is “in very poor taste and scars what is otherwise an architecturally accomplished building,” setting off a local controversy.

Even though I don’t live in Chicago and don’t subscribe to any of the architectural journals (I just look them over in the waiting room when I go to see my architect), I was aware of this story before it hit the national media, because I belong to the select club of 2.6 million people that follows @realDonaldTrump on Twitter, one of the the greatest unintentionally funny feeds in the short history of the form.

Trump tweets about 150 times a day — note that nearly all the tweets below are from June 17, and I didn’t even use half of them. It’s amazing to me that someone who claims to be so busy with moving and shaking and importing and exporting and so forth has time to tweet so much. And it’s clear that he hasn’t hired a Social Media Strategist or just told one of his nieces to handle it — the tone is too authentically douchey to be anyone but, as the handle suggests, @realDonaldTrump.

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Let Donald Sterling Keep The Clippers


Last night the San Antonio Spurs scored a mindblowing 71 points in the first half of game 3 of the NBA Finals against the fearsome Miami Heat. At the intermission the Spurs had not missed a shot in ten minutes of play. It was an astonishing performance, one that would ordinarily have been dissected and celebrated by the in-studio team of analysts for the duration of the halftime break — but it wasn’t. Instead, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver took more questions on a topic we all thought was closed: Donald Sterling.

Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, had agreed to sell the team after his skeevy girlfriend secretly taped him on the phone saying a lot of horrifyingly racist things and the NBA swiftly banned him for life from the league and the other owners voted to strip him of ownership. Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer had an agreement to buy the team from Sterling for 2 billion (with a B) dollars, but this week Sterling abruptly changed his mind, announced he would not sell, and sued the NBA for a billion dollars.

I don’t expect Sterling’s lawsuit or his effort to keep the Clippers to succeed, and I am unclear on the legalities of owning an NBA franchise, but I wish they wouldn’t force him to sell.

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Will Smith Is Raising A Monster


The photo above is from the recent wedding of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, an affair that was by all accounts decadent beyond all measure. Jay-Z sent an oversized bottle of wine, dipped in gold and corked with a diamond. The groom apparently threw multiple bridezilla fits just before the ceremony, rejecting both the lighting system he’d chosen himself and the greatest sound system in Europe. He sawed the bar in half himself and danced alone with his bride to five songs, played by John Legend on a marble piano. (A MARBLE PIANO.) The guests relieved themselves in a 50-foot tall comfort station made of gold.

And yet, with all of that, Kanye West was not the most narcissistic, impulsive person at the event. That honor goes to 15-year-old Jaden Smith, spinoff project of Will Smith, who attended the wedding — as you can see at the far right of the photo — in an all-white Batman costume.

An all-white Batman costume.


I purposely paid no attention to any of the press around this wedding, because I am not a fan of either of the principals. But somehow this one detail slipped through my self-imposed media blackout and I feel I have to speak up.

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The Worst Bands Make The Best TV

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I am a stone-cold sucker for a good rock documentary. GIMME SHELTER; THE FILTH AND THE FURY; JIMI HENDRIX; RUNNIN’ DOWN A DREAM; THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION PART II: THE METAL YEARS; TOM DOWD AND THE LANGUAGE OF MUSIC; CROSSFIRE HURRICANE; THE BEATLES ANTHOLOGY; these are only a few of my favorites. But I’m also a sucker for a bad one; I don’t even have to like the band the documentary is about. No matter who it is, if I am flipping channels and I come to musicians talking self-importantly about their careers and the people they stepped on along the way, whether it’s just starting or five minutes from the end, I am powerless not to watch.

That’s why the arrival in the late ’90s of the VH1 series BEHIND THE MUSIC was simultaneously the best and worst thing that ever happened to me. Immediately, from the very first episode I saw, which if I recall correctly was the MC Hammer one — where Hammer revealed, among other things, that he spent a million dollars on marble tile for the entry to his $10 million house in Oakland, which also featured a solid gold, 8-person bathtub; $68,000 worth of mirrors; and $3 million worth of indoor and outdoor fountains, because as he put it, “Water represents power. Water represents freedom… so when I see that water flowing all through my house I feel free, spiritually free.”

The episode went on to mention that Hammer’s house was on the market, listed at $6 million, and I was hooked for life on this show.

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Stop Feeding My Kid Breakfast!


Everybody, it seems, is mad at the public school system in America for adopting the Common Core standard. My son is only in first grade, but judging by the small amount of math homework he gets, Common Core is spectacularly ill-advised and very poorly implemented. But that’s not why I’m mad at the public school system — at least not yet. I’m mad at the public school system for feeding my kid a free breakfast every day.

As I’ve written before, to say that Henry is a picky eater would be like saying Jimi Hendrix is a guitar player. We have been trying for his entire life to get him to try a vegetable, any vegetable, to try a piece of fruit, to try a piece of (unprocessed) meat, or fish, or chicken, and he just won’t do it. You can lead a child to healthy food, but you absolutely can’t make him eat it.

For the most part, we’ve actually given up on trying to get him to eat healthy — we just want him to eat. When he doesn’t, his blood-sugar drops and he turns into a spinning demon of mischief, shouting vulgar, unfunny jokes and scattering papers everywhere and bouncing off things that aren’t bouncy; then he collapses into an inconsolable sobbing heap as soon as something goes wrong, like the cardboard halfpipe he’s building not supporting his weight, or being told that there’s no such thing as “lunch dessert.” It’s bad enough when we have to deal with the Low Blood Sugar Monster ourselves, but now the boy is in first grade and getting sent to the principal’s office because the Low Blood Sugar Monster just can’t control himself.

So it’s important that he eats breakfast, and fortunately this is the only meal he can always be counted on to eat no matter what. The problem is that after he eats breakfast at home, they feed him another breakfast at school.

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The Fargo TV Show Is Pretty Darn Good


If you had told me six months ago that there would be a TV show based on the Coen brothers’ 1996 Best Picture Winner FARGO on the air, and not only that, that it would be really really good, one of the best shows of the year, I would not have agreed a hundred percent with your police work. I have a dim memory of a FARGO TV adaptation in the ’90s, when the movie was still a fresh memory, with a pre-Carmela Edie Falco in the Frances McDormand role — I guess the idea was a case-of-the-week kind of show, except with big, broad Minnesota accents. Would Chief Carmela have been perpetually pregnant? We never got to find out, because the show mercifully never made it past the pilot stage.

FARGO is a great movie, probably (arguably) the best movie the Coen brothers have made, full of memorable characters, pitch-perfect performances, and one of the best scripts the Coens have ever written (which makes it one of the best scripts ever written, full stop). This is a movie I am constitutionally incapable of flipping past when I come across it on cable; the final scene is one of the best endings to any movie I can think of; it makes me tear up every. Single. Time I watch it.

To just move the veneer (gray sky, snow, crime, you betcha yaa) onto an otherwise conventional procedural would cheapen its memory, and in the process cheapen the Coens’ reputation, whether they had anything to do with the project or not. But to my great surprise, four episodes in, it turns out that FARGO (the show) isn’t an adaptation of FARGO (the movie) — it’s an homage to the Coens’ entire career, set in the most vivid world of any of their movies, and neatly sidestepping the pitfalls that so often capsize film-to-TV adaptations.

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