Archives for January 2012

The Terrifying Sexual Menace of Rihanna

One of the downsides to working adjacent to the dance floor in a very busy bar every Friday night is the music. It’s loud; ear-shatteringly, clavicle-shakingly loud, yes; but even worse than that, Friday Night means an unbroken, beatmatched stream of contemporary (read: released no more than 18 months ago) dance music from 10 to 4. I have never had much enthusiasm for any dance music created after about 1975, but the stuff before 1975 is my favorite stuff ever (and I have the band to prove it).  So it is with disappointment and confusion that I can report straight from the front lines that the youth of today is not the least bit interested in hearing anything more recent than post-K-Fed Britney.

Even worse, the DJs that work my shift play pretty much the exact same 6 hours’ worth of material, in pretty much the exact same order, every week. On a certain level, this makes sense: the bar is packed every Friday, so it clearly ain’t broke and is thus in no need of fixing. But I suspect that I would quickly tire of the same playlist week after week even if I made it myself, so needless to say that even with $100 earplugs, I get pretty strangly by around 2am most Fridays.

I gradually lost touch with popular music sometime around my 30th birthday — not proud of it, but it is the truth — so for a long time I had no idea who was responsible for any of these irritating, repetitive, tuneless sonic abortions that all the kids were going nuts for. It didn’t take long for me to become familiar with the tunes, or to learn the words, or to notice that some of them were (relatively) better than others, but it all existed as a nameless, faceless, thumping that served as just one more aggravation in a room that often seems to have them coming in the windows.

Then one morning in the course of my official duties at work, I saw a five-minute capsule history on the life and career of Rihanna, the statuesque, usually well-oiled belter from Barbados, and a little quick math in my head determined that roughly 6 out of every 10 songs our annoying DJs play every Friday bear her name. Another 5 out of 10 are credited to the Black Eyed Peas, as I learned when I watched their awful trainwreck of a Super Bowl Halftime show last year, and Kanye, Ke$ha and Katy Perry — who I will resist the urge to call KKK despite their comparably destructive influence — fight for the table scraps. (Figures approximate.) Read More

Strip Searching Old Ladies At The Airport

I saw a very interesting/funny/sad story the other day: it seems that in three separate incidents, three little old ladies were strip-searched by TSA workers at JFK airport in New York City over the Thanksgiving holiday.

One of these ladies, a fearsome 88-year-old named Ruth Sherman of terrorist hotbed Sunrise, Florida, was forced to lower her pants by agents so they could examine her colostomy bag. Another, 85-year-old Lenore Zimmerman of Long Beach, NY, was asked to drop her pants, pull up her top, and remove the back brace from her imposing 110-pound frame, which was then run through the X-ray machine, while Ms. Zimmerman presumably muttered a jihadist mantra.

In a reaction befitting their ages, both women wrote strongly worded letters to their Senators in complaint, and the TSA has in turn apologized for the searches, saying that it is not standard procedure to strip search anyone or to examine their assistive medical accessories, and that all JFK agents will receive a refresher training course on how to search obviously unthreatening little old ladies without offending or undressing them. It’s unclear whether the workers in question will get any further punishment, though I would argue that first seeing and then handling an 88-year-old woman’s colostomy bag is its own punishment.

It so happens that I have had a couple of notable security-related experiences at that very same airport. Read More

Watch Dan Aykroyd Sodomize The Corpse of John Belushi

I can hardly think of a movie that holds a more sacred place in my heart than the first R-rated movie I ever saw: The Blues Brothers, which I caught on HBO when I was 10 or so. This movie had everything: car chases, great music, silly comedy, subtle comedy, about 267 endlessly quotable lines, and above all, attitude.
(Incidentally: why was The Blues Brothers rated R? There’s no sex, no nudity, no [on camera] drug use, no violence, and not even that much profanity. I saw much racier material on NBC’s execrable Whitney/Are You There, Chelsea? comedy block during the 8pm “family hour” last week.)

I don’t mean to say that The Blues Brothers is my favorite movie ever (though it is probably in the top ten), and it certainly isn’t anywhere near the “best.” But it is a perfect document of the time it was made (1980) by two comedians at the top of their game (John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd), and effortlessly straddles the worlds of comedy and music, while resuscitating a genre that had gone way out of style in the era of disco, punk, and new wave, as well as the careers of James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and all the other music legends that appear in the movie.

As silly as it sometimes gets, the movie never forgets that its two main characters are quiet, calm, and cool at all times, and lets all its comedy flow from that. It is also the rare film about musicians that seems to know what it’s talking about, and speaks that language fluently without explaining anything to the audience, letting the jazzbos in the audience get the in-jokes and leaving everyone else to figure it out. It understands that the life of an unfamous musician is far from glamorous, that it’s dirty and dingy and frequently humiliating, but it’s all worth it when you get in front of the right audience.

Every time I watch this movie, I notice something new, some little aside by one of the members of the band or one of the music legends brought in to cameo, and I fall in love with it all over again. I would also have to give a tip of the hat to John Belushi for demonstrating that a white guy that can’t really sing can stand in front of a killer funk band if he really, really wants to — that revelation has brought me quite a bit of happiness in my adult life.

In light of all that, it’s probably not hard to understand why I have never even considered watching the ill-conceived sequel, Blues Brothers 2000 (released two years early in 1998). This movie looks terrible in every last way that something can be terrible. First, most obvious and most importantly, the comic engine of the entire enterprise, John Belushi, had been dead for 16 years. That alone should have been enough to scuttle the idea faster than Aykroyd could finish his elevator pitch. But Blues Brothers 2000 tries to compensate by replacing Belushi with John Goodman (the only way for Aykroyd to keep his status as “the skinny one”), plus the black scientist from Terminator 2, plus a 10-year-old kid, all of whom — you guessed it! — wear the black suit, hat, and Ray-Bans! Isn’t that funny? Because four Blues Brothers is twice as funny as two, especially if one of them is (giggle) a little kid!

This poster alone positively screams big-budget, lowest-common-denominator filmmaking by committee, exploiting a beloved, known property and turning it into a market-tested, family-friendly monstrosity of the worst kind, and I have avoided the movie like the plague for the entire 14 years since it was released.

I would never watch Blues Brothers 2000 in a million years. I would not watch it if it were the last movie on Earth. If my choices were watching Blues Brothers 2000 or watching 2000 messy cattle births in IMAX, I would watch the cattle births.

But I happen to be short on blog ideas this week, so what do you say we take a look at it? Read More

Eddie Van Halen is the Darth Vader of Rock

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Last week Van Halen, in preparation for this year’s tour and their first album with David Lee Roth since 1984, reminded the assembled New York music press that it still has the goods by playing at Cafe Wha?, the 250-capacity Greenwich Village music club originally owned by Roth’s Uncle Manny. Sadly, I was not able to get in and see my favorite band — their publicist was unmoved by this blog’s weekly circulation of about 100.

In any case, fans like me have cause to rejoice: 27 years after their acrimonious breakup, Van Halen and David Lee Roth have consummated their reunion and made a new record, A Different Kind Of Truth (to be released February 7), pulling themselves up from the twin nadirs of Roth’s failed morning radio show and his former band’s seeming inability to do anything at all, due largely to Eddie Van Halen’s Gollumesque pursuit of cheap wine and whatever powdered party favor made his teeth fall out.

Though the pioneers of virtuosic fun-metal reached a new commercial height when they swapped Roth for Sammy Hagar in 1986, they also lost both the “fun” and the “metal,” throwing both overboard for a prepoderance of melancholy midtempo rock and synth-based songs with “Love” in the title. When the wheels came off Van Hagar in 1996, a Roth reunion seemed obvious, but it would take 11 more years, another ill-chosen singer, and a failed reunion with Hagar in 2004 before Van Halen finally reached a truce with Roth and hit the road for a massive U.S. tour in 2007 (which I was lucky enough to catch at Madison Square Garden).

But even with Roth back in the saddle—the saddle in this case bestriding a 12-foot inflatable microphone—a lot of fans aren’t satisfied. That’s because Eddie Van Halen threw long-suffering original bassist Michael Anthony under the bus in favor of his 20-year-old son Wolfgang. Longtime fans are baffled by the move; some boycotted the shows, others just complained about the boy’s lack of stage charisma.

But the people complaining about the nepotistic change at bass are missing the point: Without Wolfgang, this reunion, longed-for since Reagan’s second term, never would have happened. Without Wolfgang, Eddie Van Halen would still be sulking in his studio.

Wolfgang Van Halen is the Luke Skywalker of the Van Halen saga.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (1975, Pasadena, California), there came the Chosen One who would fulfill the prophecy and bring balance to the Force. His name was Edward Van Halen. The Force was strong in him — he quickly became known as the greatest pilot in the galaxy. His pants were tight, he could shred and do aerial splits at the same time; his midichlorians were off the charts. He was amazing.

His life changed when he met someone who could harness his power. David Lee Roth taught young Edward to shred at a frequency that wouldn’t send the ladies streaming out the exits, and to stick only to music that he, Roth, could dance to. Under Dave’s tutelage, Edward’s power grew, and so did his fortune: in 1983, a short five years after releasing their self-titled debut album, the band was paid $1 million to headline the US Festival, at that time the highest paycheck ever awarded to a band for a single concert.

But as Edward’s power grew, he began to turn. He began to see his greatest ally as his enemy; arguments and ego clashes made each album harder to finish than the last. Edward felt that his power wasn’t being fully appreciated, and that Dave was holding him back.

And maybe he was. In his 1998 memoir Crazy from the Heat, Roth says he told the band upon joining, “I will personally check every song for danceability. And we’ll play rock tunes, but ones that you can dance to.” This would become the Prime Directive of early Van Halen (to mix stupid sci-fi franchise metaphors) and it led directly to the band’s signature, exuberant sound, which led directly to fame, fortune, and Valerie Bertinelli.

But Edward felt stifled—cut off at the knees, if you will. Roth rejected some of his more melancholy material and famously hated what would become the band’s first #1 hit, “Jump,” deriding its synth foundation. “Nobody wants to hear you play keyboards, man.” Why is Obi-Wan holding me back?!?

And so, Edward struck down his friend, firing Roth in 1985, and his transformation was complete. He spent the next eleven years in an increasingly drunken stupor, and untethered from Roth’s Prime Directive, recorded all the cheesy keyboards and syrupy ballads he wanted. And as Edward embraced the Dark Side, he finally ruled the galaxy: all four Van Hagar albums entered the charts at #1, surpassing the Roth era commercially (if not artistically). It was a dark time for the rebellion.

But the Dark Side took its toll. In 1996 Van Halen fired Sammy Hagar, pretended Roth was coming back for a minute, and then took Extreme singer Gary Cherone out for an ill-fated spin. From there, it got ugly: Ian Christe’s 2007 biography of the band, Everybody Wants Some, details Edward’s sad decline blow by blow, but lowlights include his drunken demand to jam onstage with Nirvana (when told dismissively by Kurt Cobain that they didn’t have any more guitars, Edward gestured at touring guitarist Pat Smear: “Let me play the Mexican’s guitar! What is he, Mexican? Is he black?”); his drunken audition for Limp Bizkit (which ended with him threatening everyone present with a gun); and his teetering, drunken performances on a 2004 reunion tour with Sammy Hagar, when nobody seemed to even know what song the Chosen One was playing.

In 2005, Edward’s wife of 22 years, Valerie Bertinelli, filed for divorce and things got even weirder: Edward financed and scored a porn film shot in his house. To promote the film he gave a rambling, incoherent phone interview on The Howard Stern Show claiming to have cured cancer before announcing, “What’s going to happen now is, there’s a new Van Halen member involved, and that’s my son.”

How could the Van Halens fire their bassist after 30+ years of loyal service? It seems that after ten years or so of waiting around for the brothers to get their act together, he committed the unpardonable sin of playing in Sammy Hagar’s band, and so he was permanently excommunicated from the band.

A few months later, rumors started floating that the band was booking appearances with three Van Halens and one Roth, and after a six-month delay so Edward could go to rehab (missing the band’s induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) and do it right.  Despite the long-awaited reunion with Diamond Dave, fans went berserk: How can he drop Mike? Who’s gonna sing the high parts? Can this kid even play?

Of course the kid can play. Besides his likely genetic musical gifts, he’s been jamming with Edward and Alex Van Halen every day after school since he was 9. What would be weird is if he couldn’t play.

Van Halen fans should be on their knees thanking Wolfgang. Edward Van Halen went all the way to the Dark Side. He was the greatest guitar player alive for thirty years, and he knew it. His chemically enhanced ego would not allow him to do the most obvious thing in the world, the thing that would have saved his career in 1996: He would not swallow his pride and call David Lee Roth.

But then Wolfgang grew up. The Force was strong in him. His doting father bragged in interviews that the kid could do it all: sing, play drums, bass, guitar, whatever. “If I’m the speed of sound,” Edward told Howard Stern, “he’s the speed of light.”

So this 15-year-old kid is learning to play, and like any 15-year-old, he wants to rock. He’s practicing with his dad and his uncle every day, and he’s listening to their old records. And as this drunken egomaniac’s only son, following in his father’s musical footsteps, he is probably the only person in the Galaxy who could say to his father, “Uh, Dad? You know those first six records you made, with that other singer? Yeah, those are the good ones. How about we call that guy and play those tunes and make seven or eight hundred million dollars in the bargain?” There’s still good in you, I can feel it!

This is the only person who could ever get the helmet off, reunite his father with his former partner, and turn him away from the Dark Side. Wolfgang personally wrote the fans’-wet-dream setlist on the 2007 tour, and one assumes that, as a 20-year-old who wants to rock, he helped Roth to enforce the Prime Directive in the recording of the new album (which I anticipate and dread in nearly equal measure — watch this space for a review). He may not have a lot of charisma, but then again, neither did Mark Hamill. 

UPDATE: The album is out and I am shocked to find that I really like it. Here’s my review.

Wary Christmas

We had a very merry Christmas this year. Things came together beatifully, and we were able to get the whole family together for the first time in a long time, so it really felt like home. And it was over 50 degrees on Christmas Day, which was a little strange but certainly not unwelcome. I know global warming is a hoax, but it sure is an elaborate one!

Mom was able to use most of her many Christmas decorations, but having to confine our Yuletide celebrations to the basement put shelf and Santa space at a premium, so she had to be a little more choosy with which collectibles to display. It looks great, though — less is more! And if you ask me, the tinfoil covering the basement windows doesn’t just keep us out of sight, it makes things even more festive! The Christmas lights reflect against it, so it’s like we have twice as many. One strand is hardly festive by itself, but any more would raise our power bills to suspicious levels. You can’t be too careful this time of year!

Dad thought this was overkill, but Mom also thought to soundproof the basement walls with red and green blankets instead of plain old blue, so we’re doubly inspired to sing “Joy To The World” to our hearts’ content without worrying that the Christmas police will kick in our door.

It almost makes me nostalgic for the old days, when the Ban on Christmas was only being enforced by the left-wing extremists at Hallmark and Wal-Mart. I guess I was in elementary school when Dad told the lady at the Piggly Wiggly to have a good Christmas and she answered “You have a good holiday.” People said it was a sign of things to come, but I didn’t listen. Maybe you’re too young to remember when you could still say “Merry Christmas” on the phone — imagine that!  You can’t do that now, of course. Not unless you want to spend New Year’s Eve at some PC Re-education camp. I don’t know how this country got so weak. Read More