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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.

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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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It’s Just Not Gonna Happen Like That

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I don’t think anything has ever appeared in my Facebook feed as many times in such a short period as the video of the woman walking the streets of Manhattan, stonefaced and in plain clothes, while a hidden camera records all the dudes she passes who call out to her.

What’s been particularly odd to me, as with so many other Internet controversies, is what has unfolded in the various comment sections where this video is being discussed: so many guys seem to feel a need to defend their Constitutional right to start unprompted conversations with female passersby on the street, to insist that their intentions are noble and their hearts are pure, that all they want is to “brighten someone’s day” and that they are “just men being men” and that the “feminazis” spreading this “deceptively edited” video apparently want to make “being friendly illegal” because most of the interactions “aren’t even that bad” and “not all men do this.”

Not only was this video eye-opening in terms of the extent to which women have to deal with this — I knew it happened but had never considered how frequently — I had no idea how many guys out there felt so strongly about preserving their right to continue doing it. Maybe I’m just a coward, but when I was single way back in the 20th century, I never once, not ever, approached a female on the street, much less yelled something out at someone walking by, because it seems so face-slappingly obvious that it would never, ever get me anywhere. Does it ever work for anyone, ever?

I am not trying to pretend that I am above such base impulses. I live in New York City, the world capital of beautiful women walking around on the street. It’s one of the greatest things about living here. I’ve been happily and faithfully married for 14 years, but I still have eyes, and I can hardly walk two blocks without noticing someone whom I’d enjoy the opportunity to notice longer. I am a neanderthal scumbag between my ears just like everyone else.

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Zell To Pay


As the worldwide scandal of an actress appearing in public with a slightly different appearance than what the public remembered moved into its third electrifying day, the Internet was ablaze with speculation. What, specifically, had the actress done to herself to change her look so noticeably? How are we, as a society, responsible and complicit for moving her to commit such an atrocity?

The actress, Renee Zellweger, hasn’t been in any movies for a few years, or any good ones for even longer, and she does indeed look a little different than most of us remember: Her squinty little eyes are not so squinty anymore, her round, baby-fat cheeks are not so round, and her skin tone is not so flushed. Since the world demanded answers to this most baffling and important of mysteries, a host of plastic surgeons weighed in on various websites to opine about exactly what procedures she’d had done. Brow lift? Chemical Peel? Botox? Cheek injections? All of the above?

No one seemed to believe Zellweger’s own explanation, given to People Magazine in response to the outcry:

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The Techbros Are Our Future


This week a curious piece of video went viral: a real time dispute, shot on a cell phone, over the use of a soccer field in San Francisco. It seems that some dudes from Dropbox wanted to play some dudes from Airbnb so they went online and paid $34 to reserve a field. When they got there they were told by the local teenagers using the field that their permit was meaningless; The field had its own longstanding system, where if you want to play you challenge the team on the field, and if you win you get the field and take on the next challenger.

I clicked on this video because of the headline: “Dropbox Dudes Tried To Kick Kids Off A Soccer Field.” Those Dropbox Dudes sound like assholes, I thought to myself. I lived in San Francisco for six years, I still have a lot of friends there, and I left at least part of my heart there back in 2001. I care about the city and I’m interested in what happens to it. So I clicked and read on:

Tech bros will stop at nothing to get what they perceive to be theirs. In the latest example of unchecked hubris, we witness as a squad of adults in Dropbox jerseys argue with and cuss at children over a San Francisco soccer field.

The post concludes, “You couldn’t cast a more symbolic display of tech-fueled gentrification in San Francisco.”

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