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Where I write all things Justin. Call me a Daydream Belieber!
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Rolling Stone, Covered With Moss

1035x1407-Nicki_Cover_SML copyI’m going to give you a list of names, and I want you to see if you can guess what they have in common: Nicki Minaj, Marilyn Manson, Cat Stevens, Fall Out Boy, Sleater-Kinney.

Stumped? That’s okay, because it’s a trick question. None of these names have anything at all in common other than belonging to musicians that breathe oxygen, and the fact that they were all featured on the cover of Rolling Stone that somehow infiltrated my mail slot a couple of weeks ago.

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Stop Not Watching The Bachelor


I came terrifyingly close to making a huge mistake last week. No one would have been hurt or anything, but my quality of life would definitely have been affected, and I want to discuss it a little this week because I suspect that most of you are making this mistake on a regular basis.

Monday night came and went, and then Tuesday, then Wednesday. It wasn’t until Thursday that I found myself in front of my TV, scanning my DVR inventory, and saw the season premiere of THE BACHELOR waiting patiently. And I don’t know what got into me, but I very nearly didn’t watch it.

Although it has brought me great amusement in the past, the side of my brain that writes, and performs, and took more Shakespeare courses than were required in college said “Come on dude, can’t we do better than that bottom-feeding tripe?” And for a moment, I almost listened to that stupid, stupid voice.

But the other side of my brain, the one that has no shame or compunction about things like this, the one that dips graham crackers into Nutella and finishes with a spritz of whipped cream straight to the trap said “It’s not like there’s anything else on.”

So I did it: I watched the season premiere of THE BACHELOR, and it was the smartest dumb thing I did all week.

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Sarah Palin Is Right


It’s hard to think of any public figure I dislike more, or have less sympathy for, than Sarah Palin. Elevated in a weak moment by former Republican presidential nominee John McCain to become the most manifestly unqualified running mate this side of Tom Eagleton in 2008, after losing the election Palin then resigned as governor of Alaska and leveraged her name recognition, political experience, and cheekbones to move into the lucrative world of television punditry, appearing as a Fox News contributor and star of a couple of TLC reality shows.

Though she still pops up now and again to complain about “the lamestream media” (her favorite phrase), her star has fallen considerably: she has no influence on Republican Party policy, no one is clamoring for her endorsement, much less floating her name for any office above PTA secretary, and the only TV coverage she got last year was when her entire brood piled out of a stretch Hummer limo to start a yard brawl at a backyard barbecue. No longer pulling the big checks from Fox News or TLC, she’s been reduced to starting her own Internet channel, where she’s seldom heard from, which is just the way I like her.

But she’s back in the news this week because she posted a photo of her son using the family dog as a stepstool, and people are outraged, claiming animal abuse and poor parenting. Palin quickly fired back at her critics, pointing to a nearly identical photo Ellen Degeneres posted of a little girl standing on a Golden Retriever that won warm applause when Degeneres showed it on her talk show and calling PETA, who denounced Palin and had named Degeneres Woman of the Year in 2009, hypocrites along with everyone else who was piling on.

I strongly dislike everything about Sarah Palin, from her victim routine to her empty-headed demagoguery to her uninformed policy prescriptions to her ignorant fearmongering to the faux-folksy, condescending, snarky tone she uses for nearly everything, including her statement. Even her famously good looks are eroding much faster than can be blamed on Father Time; the hate and ugliness she so tirelessly pumps into the world seems to be reflected on her face, looking more and more like an involuntary, permanent scowl. This person is contributing nothing but negativity to our society and is provably, empirically wrong almost every time she opens her stupid yap.

Which is why it so pains me to say she’s absolutely right about this.

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Mark Wahlberg Is Human Garbage


It has been a pretty eventful couple of weeks, what with the Sony hacking scandal, the climate deal with China, the president’s executive action on immigration, the opening of Cuba, the fall of Bill Cosby, and the release of my Christmas song, so you can be forgiven if you missed the story where Mark Wahlberg outed himself as one of the worst human beings in public life.

The Artist Formerly Known As Marky Mark sent a formal request to outgoing Massachussetts governor Deval Patrick, asking for a formal pardon for a 1988 incident where he beat one man with a stick while robbing a convenience store and punched another while evading the police.

Wahlberg served 45 days in jail for this little adventure, and has obviously gone on to fame and fortune as one of our most ubiquitous movie stars. He paid his debt to society. But for some reason he wants the incident stricken entirely from the record, as though it never happened, maybe because his criminal record is interfering with his business interests as a restaurateur or whatever.

Ironically, I never heard about any of this before the pardon request went public, so Wahlberg’s effort to cleanse his record is having the opposite effect, at least with me.

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Relatively Merry

“Relatively Merry” — a drinking song for the holidays by Alex Castle.

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“We’ve Got A Couple Of Walkers”

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As the reaction (and the reaction to the reaction) to last week’s non-indictment in Ferguson ignited a new round of national conversation about race and racism and the police, a video that seemed to sum it all up in a tidy one minute and ten seconds lit up my social media feeds.

While nowhere near as appalling as the video of Eric Garner being choked to death by the NYPD — a crime whose aftermath I am still trying to process — this video, shot in Pontiac, Michigan, certainly looks bad, and it is very likely exactly what it looks like: crazy racism in action. Somebody called the cops on this kid just for walking around outside. Or maybe the cop is lying about that part and took it upon himself to stop the kid.

Either way, everybody pointed angrily to yet another example of the unfair way the police approach black people and the way they approach everybody else, which was my first reaction as well.

But it did remind me of something.

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Axl Rose Ruined The Movies

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This weekend the third movie based on “The Hunger Games” book trilogy arrives in theaters: MOCKINGJAY PART 1. It’s “PART 1″ because although the book it’s based upon, “Mockingjay,” isn’t any longer than “The Hunger Games” or “Catching Fire,” the books the first two movies were based on, someone decided it needed to be turned into two movies, the better to exploit the property and make more money, I guess. In a couple of weeks THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, the third movie in a trilogy based on a book half as long as any of the “Lord of the Rings” books that only required one movie each, hits theaters, and it was recently announced that Marvel’s third Avengers movie will also be two parts.

Where did it all start? Who decided that More Is More, always and no matter what? Was it when Quentin Tarantino decided that his 2003 kung fu B-movie tribute KILL BILL — a movie whose deepest thought was the idea that unlike Peter Parker or Bruce Wayne, who had to put on disguises to fight crime, Superman’s true identity was Superman, and Clark Kent was the disguise — was such a work of genius that it had to be four-plus hours long and had to be broken into two movies (rather than just cutting out Daryl Hannah)? That was definitely an important step, but I think it goes back much farther.

I have identified Patient Zero of our current epidemic of Entertainment Bloat: Guns N’ Roses 1991 albums Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II.

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Why Is Everyone Mad At Dave Grohl?

screen-shot-2014-08-10-at-10-11-31-pmI am not what you’d call a fan of the Foo Fighters. (Are they THE Foo Fighters or just Foo Fighters? Are they fighting against Foo or under its banner? What is this Foo, anyway? If I was a fan I guess I wouldn’t have to ask these kind of questions.) I don’t actively dislike them, I don’t find them annoying, I’ve just never been compelled by the sound of their music to seek out more of their music. I like that one song about if everything could ever be this good forever, but that’s about as deep as my knowledge of their almost 20-year career goes.

Even so, I have really been enjoying their show, FOO FIGHTERS: SONIC HIGHWAYS, which has been airing Friday nights on HBO, and which (judging by my social media feeds) is inspiring a rather acidic backlash against its creator, Foo Fighters majordomo Dave Grohl.

Grohl’s filmmaking career began a couple years ago when he directed the documentary SOUND CITY, about the Los Angeles recording studio where his old band, Nirvana, recorded the “Nevermind” album, Fleetwood Mac recorded its first album after absorbing Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham (the one with “Rhiannon” and “Landslide”), and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers recorded “Damn The Torpedoes.” The movie culminates in Grohl buying the iconic, one-of-a-kind Neve mixing desk from the studio as it permanently closes its doors, installing it in his house, and recording some new tracks with the Foo Fighters and some of the people featured in the film — Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty, Rick Springfield. The movie was very well received, particularly by music nerds like me.

Thus emboldened, Grohl created SONIC HIGHWAYS on the premise that (I’m paraphrasing) all music is influenced by the place where it’s recorded. One way or another, Grohl argues in voiceover, the history and the vibes of a place seep into the music that’s created there. So we watch each week as Grohl and the Foo Fighters set out to record each song for a new album (the just-released “Sonic Highways”) in a different city, and give a little music history lesson about that city along the way, complete with interviews with each city’s rock luminaries, with each episode ending with the Foo Fighters performing the song they recorded there.

Why is everyone so pissed off about that? Read More

Stevie Wonder Isn’t Charging Enough


This thing has been going on for the last several years, where a band does a concert performing one of their albums in its entirety. It’s a great idea and I am fully in favor of it; I saw Sonic Youth play all of “Daydream Nation” a few years back, and I saw the Melvins do “Houdini,” and they were both great shows.

But it was only a matter of time until someone took this idea and delivered something truly transcendent, and that’s what happened last week at Madison Square Garden when Stevie Wonder kicked off his “Songs In The Key Of Life” tour.

Even logging onto Ticketmaster at the exact moment tickets went on sale, the literal top row of the arena was the best I could do, for $99.50 a seat — $117 with service fees. This felt a little crazy. I had to confirm with the wife that we really wanted to spend this kind of money to just barely even be in the building, but that was a pretty easy decision. We saw him from the top row at MSG in 2007 and it was terrific — Stevie was in great voice, he had two great guest stars (Tony Bennett for a torch-song version of “For Once In My Life,” Prince on “Superstition”), the sound in the arena was surprisingly good, and he didn’t play anything he recorded after 1980. It was a great show all around, more than good enough to justify the price of these new tickets.

Not everyone saw it that way, though: a friend on the West Coast posted the tour announcement on his Facebook page and, noting the ticket price ($175 for floor seats), declared it a “Pass,” and a thread soon began poo-poohing the whole enterprise:

“I heard he has three keyboard players on stage with him (meaning he’s not the musician he used to be).”
“Good call. I saw Jordan when he was on the Wizards and felt dirty after.”
“Maybe if it was in a smaller place.”
“I’ve seen him and once was enough.”

I just want to take the opportunity to tell those skeptics that YOU COULDN’T POSSIBLY BE MORE WRONG.

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The United States of Obstruction


Election Day came and went this week, but you don’t need me to tell you that. Your Facebook feed was probably full of reminders and admonishments to get out and vote, as well as forwarded articles about the dire consequences of allowing the Republicans to take control of the Senate (or, if you’re a member of my family not typing this piece, the dire consquences of allowing the Democrats to retain control of the Senate). My Twitter feed was also full of predictions that polling suggested the GOP would soon have full command of the Congress unless Democrats showed up and voted in higher-than-usual numbers.

I had no reason to doubt these predictions; advance polling is usually correct about these things, at least in the broad strokes. And I certainly don’t share the Republicans’ vision of what constitutes a good government.

I still didn’t vote, though.

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