December 31, 2004

What separates man from the apes? Apes don't make lists of their favorite CDs.

As some of you will recall, I celebrate New Year's in the traditional fashion -- by compiling a year-end list of my favorite CDs.

First, my top 20:

1) Mission of Burma -- ONoffON
2) The Futureheads -- The Futureheads
3) Ted Leo and the Pharmacists -- Shake the Sheets
4) Mouse on Mars -- Radical Connector
5) Robyn Hitchcock -- Spooked
6) A.C. Newman -- The Slow Wonder
7) Brian Wilson -- Smile
8) The Arcade Fire -- Funeral
9) Bill Frisell -- Unspeakable
10) The Magnetic Fields -- i
11) Loretta Lynn -- Van Lear Rose
12) Bjork -- Medulla
13) Todd Rundgren -- Liars
14) Rjd2 -- Since We Last Spoke
15) Los Lobos -- The Ride
16) Frank Black -- Frank Black Francis
17) Brad Mehldau -- Live in Tokyo
18) Tom Waits -- Real Gone
19) The Beauty Pill -- The Unsustainable Lifestyle
20) Elvis Costello and the Imposters -- The Delivery Man

Comments on most of those follow.

1) I wasn't planning on buying the new album by the reunited Mission of Burma at all. I had heard most of their old material many years ago on a Ryko compilation (which I had bought on the basis of the overlap between the members of Mission of Burma and Birdsongs of the Mesozoic) and thought it was, you know -- fine. A little thin, abrasive, and uncatchy. Not so much my thing. But someone at the office had a copy of the new CD, so I borrowed it out of curiosity and was stunned at how much I loved it. It made me want to reexamine their entire oeuvre. Which is easy to do, since 99% of it is on that Ryko CD! And that CD is, in fact, much better than I remember, though the sound really is kind of crappy.

2) The Futureheads remind me of the Jam, XTC, and Wire, though not necessarily simultaneously. They are the band on this list that it seems like it would be the most fun to be in.

3) The new Ted Leo isn't as good as "Hearts of Oak", but it's still pretty great, and it fulfills my top 20 dictum, which is, can I stop listening to it? I cannot. So there you are.

5) Robyn Hitchcock shook off a string of pleasant if not especially memorable albums (Luxor, Robyn Sings) with "Spooked"; Gillian Welch and David Rawlings delicately flesh out the spare songs, producing arrangments that fairly twinkle in the distance.

7) "Smile" is possibly the best album of 1967, but still fares pretty well this year.

8) I've heard the Arcade Fire CD only once, but I can already tell it deserves a spot on the list. I'm ranking it conservatively because I haven't had enough time to really assimilate it.

9) Bill Frisell's new album is even further than his last from the Lake-Wobegon-friendly folky jazz he'd been stuck on for years. Yay! This time Hal Willner (compiler of the beloved collection of Disney covers "Stay Awake") is on board to weird things up, playing turntables.

10) Some people have griped about the new Magnetic Fields album sounding too slick. Come on, people. Hasn't Stephin Merritt paid his frickin' dues? Let him have his chamber orchestra.

11) I only liked the White Stripes' "Elephant" okay, but I'm glad its success gave Jack White the clout to produce the new Loretta Lynn album, which kicks ass.

12) Is Bjork, like, the most successful performer to ever be so totally uncommercial? "Medulla" is a freaking a cappella prog album. Sweet.

13) The new Todd Rundgren CD turned off a lot of fans who would rather he played guitar than synthesizer. But the songs are great, and I'd be saying that even if the big finale didn't call George W. Bush a big liar.

20) Elvis's "The Delivery Man" has one too many indistinguishable slow, pensive songs (not to be confused with the handful of quite good slow songs), but when it rocks, it does not fuck around.

CDs I considered for the top 20, but that didn't quite make the cut:
Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer -- Music for Two
Nellie McKay -- Get Away from Me
Laura Viers -- Carbon Glacier
Viktor Krauss -- Far From Enough
TV on the Radio -- Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (also receives a demerit for not spelling "Bloodthirsty" as one word, or at least hyphenating it)
Wilco -- A Ghost Is Born
They Might Be Giants -- The Spine
Morrissey -- You Are the Quarry
Sonic Youth -- Sonic Nurse
Fiery Furnaces -- Blueberry Boat
Beta Band -- Heroes to Zeros
Stereolab -- Margerine Eclipse

Albums I haven't heard yet that might very well retroactively make this list when I do hear them:
Green Day -- American Idiot
Ken Stringfellow -- Soft Commands

Best compilations:
The Cure -- Join the Dots (box set)
Crammed Global Soundclash 1980-89 Part One: World Fusion

Best expanded reissues:
Talking Heads -- The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads
Pavement -- Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
Elvis Costello -- Kojak Variety

Best CD I bought totally at random:
The Richard Leo Johnson Trio -- Poetry of Appliance

Best albums from a long time ago that I finally bought this year:
The Go-Betweens -- Spring Hill Fair
Wilco -- Summerteeth
Neil Young -- On the Beach
DJ Shadow -- Endtroducing...

Best singles:
Pixies -- Bam Thwok
Belle & Sebastian -- Your Cover's Blown

On second thought (CDs that should've been on my top 20 last year):
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists -- Hearts of Oak
Andrew Bird -- Weather Systems
The New Pornographers -- The Electric Version

I can be forgiven for "Hearts of Oak". I hadn't bought it yet. But Andrew Bird and the New Pornographers only on the honorable mention list? What was I thinking?

Well, the Andrew Bird was very quiet and atmospheric, and didn't stand out from the pack right off the bat, the way "The Swimming Hour" did. After seeing him perform some of the songs from "Weather Systems" in concert, the album just sort of clicked for me, and it's been in heavy rotation since. And I guess I downgraded the New Pornographers album for being too similar to their first album, but not as catchy. But even so, it still completely trounces the Fire Theft. I mean, come on.

So: Ted Leo in at #2, Andrew Bird at, oh, let's say after Belle and Sebastian, and the New Pornographers after Paul Weller. The Fire Theft (clearly overrated for having just been bought) and the Rapture are definitely bumped off the list, and who else shouldn't have been there? Hmm. I still like that Liz Phair CD unreasonably, and I'm thinking I might have underrated Yo La Tengo's "Summer Sun"...but I haven't listened to that Radiohead CD in ages. Away with it.

Ah. Much better.

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'Twas the season

Just in time for New Year's, it's Wesley Willis's "Merry Christmas", animated by Weebl (of "Badgers" fame).

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December 29, 2004

I [nose] New York

Well, huh. It's a series of fragrances "inspired by...New York". (I had seen one of these in the course of copyediting here at Cargo, but didn't know there was a whole set.) I see they left out Canal Street. A wise choice. Canal Street could inspire a dozen fragrances all by itself. I used to call it "Pavilion of Smells", because of the way the prevailing scent (fish, garbage, roast pork, etc.) would change every five yards.

Posted by Francis at 06:01 PM | TrackBack

Gladly making fools suffer

Just read a pair of discussions about religion by way of John Scalzi. The one in the comments thread is interesting, but the less-civil one linked to at the beginning of the blog entry is a true ripsnorter.

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December 28, 2004

Stocking stumpers

Generally the gifts that Rose and I exchange for the holidays include a few novelty items acquired at thrift and/or dollar stores. This year I bought a few cheapo DVDs: Master With Cracked Fingers (a very early, I-can-only-assume-very-bad Jackie Chan movie), Hi De Ho (a Cab Calloway movie which runs out of plot halfway through and turns into a Cab Calloway concert -- how can that be bad?), and one featuring two cartoons: Ilya and The War Between Mushrooms and Peas. Guess which one made me feel compelled to buy the DVD.

It was quite a show. The cartoon was old and foreign, and had been dubbed extra-poorly into English. See, there were these peas. And then there were these mushrooms. And the mushroom king's daughter (a white mushroom named Whitey) loved a commoner (a brown mushroom named Brownie). The king couldn't allow the princess to marry a commoner, so he decreed that the worthiest person in the kingdom would have her hand. Three main suitors appeared: a pretty one (voiced rather obviously by a woman), a smart one (or at least a talky one), and a rich one. Obviously subpar choices all. Somehow or other the king of the peas got it into his head to get in on this action, so he marched right over to the mushroom kingdom and demanded to marry the princess, or he would wage war on the mushrooms. Of course the mushroom king refused, so the pea king took on all the other suitors, defeating them all handily -- by, respectively, giving the pretty one a bad haircut, causing him to die of embarrassment; out-talking the "smart" one, intimidating him into walking backward over a cliff; and just shooting holes into the rich one's house until it exploded, ignoring his frequent offers of money to please go away and leave him alone.

Somewhere in all that, the naive Li'l Abner-type brown mushroom exclaims to the audience, "I love Whitey!", a phrase rarely uttered in American cinema. He is also shown to be a good samaritan, pouring water on the heads of undernourished mushrooms so they can grow.

I expect you can guess where this is headed. Brownie joins the peas in combat, and though things look like they're not going his way for a while, he defeats the peas and the king is so grateful blah blah blah. Eventually he and the princess emit spores and grow lots of little mushrooms together.

The package design was also memorable, referring to the cartoons as (and I am paraphrasing from memory here; I'll probably go back later to get this quote exactly) "timeless tales, many of which carry a moral message." I like the hedging there. Don't complain if your cartoon didn't have a moral message! We didn't guarantee they all would!

A director was credited before the cartoon, but given that the credits had that "font that comes with your video camera" look to them, I suspect that the name referred to someone involved in the redubbing process, and not the original cartoon. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the director's last name was not given -- only a first name and last initial.

The most unfortunate thing is that the animation was really rather attractive. The character's movements were a little choppy, but the backgrounds had a great watercolor-y look. It was probably a pretty good cartoon before David J or Malcolm X or Sheila E or whatever the director's name was got his hands on it.

Posted by Francis at 11:25 AM | TrackBack

December 24, 2004

Sherlock Heaney and the Case of the Irrelevant Search Query

I get a lot of hits (usually at least two a day) from people searching on the phrase "sonic nude", usually referred from AltaVista. I found this inexplicable on several levels. First of all, although my blog certainly includes both of those words, they never, to my knowledge, appear on the same page -- and neither word appears on the page that registers the hits.

Furthermore, these people are generally performing image searches, and there are no images on that page. And a brief examination of the images in the search results will show that none of them refer to my website. On top of that, "sonic nude"? What the hell? Are these people looking for nude pictures of Sonic the Hedgehog? Kim Gordon? What the, as we say, dilly-o?

Then I wised up. I took off the "family filter" at AltaVista and ran the search again, and realized that people were really trying to go to this page (renumbered after the great server migration). The Sonic reference is in the comments, and apparently the Movable Type search engine doesn't search comment text, so the page didn't come up on my searches. I'm unclear, though, why AltaVista thinks those images live here, since I did nothing but link to them. It's also amusing that they only come up on an "adult" search, since the images they have archived are not the salacious ones (but I guess any page that has the word "nude" on it is archived as being probably naughty).

So if this is indeed what they were searching for, then I can rest assured that they were not looking for pictures of Sonic the Hedgehog nude. They were looking for nude pictures of one of his cartoon friends. Whew.

Excerpts from two stories featuring this character live here (although the site doesn't accept outside links, so you'll just have to cut and paste):

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December 22, 2004

Another web comic for you

Lulu Eightball, by Emily Flake. Here are some highlights:

My Victims

Police Vehicles

Disappointments of the Afterlife

Posted by Francis at 07:46 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 21, 2004

It's in the public domain, after all

I received this advertisement in my spam folder the other day:


I can't deny that those are classic stories...that have been animated...and thus in some sense they are animated classics...but, oh, how I feel for any children who find those under their tree this year.

The set also contains The Adventures of Pocahontas, Jungle Book, Sleeping Beauty, Pinocchio, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, Hercules, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Leo the Lion -- King of the Jungle. They don't all coincidentally resemble Disney animated features, though. The other movies include Heidi (Disney, but not animated), The Nutcracker (only part of Fantasia involves the Nutcracker Suite), Thumbelina (animated, but not Disney), Black Beauty (barely Disney-related at all, though there was apparently a 1966 Disney read-along record, "The Story of Black Beauty"), and A Christmas Carol ("Mickey's Christmas Carol" was a short, not a feature).

So that all makes sense for a company hoping people will buy their DVDs by mistake. But then what are we to make of the other two movies: Magic Gift of the Snowman and The Toy Shop? I guess the first one could be a rip-off of the Frosty the Snowman television special, but I just have no clue what the other one is trying to copy. Suggestions are welcome.

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December 20, 2004


Come and share my short attention span.

SEE the candy bar that is too polite for America!

BUY a stuffed tampon doll. If you want to. (There are also other dolls. The toast looks a little like a small Totoro.)

READ some Kirk/Spock slash fanfic -- that includes no explicit sex! (And you can help me decide whether this one is a hoax or not.)

PERUSE Christmas letters to Christopher Walken.

TAKE IN WITH THE USE OF YOUR EYES this interview with the guitar solo from "Stairway to Heaven".

(Thanks to Debby [doll], Emily [K/S], and Incoming Signals [Walken])

Posted by Francis at 03:25 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 19, 2004

Stories from the underground

As I was heading home on the subway at about 2:30 this morning, my train paused at the Bergen Street station. We were given the usual vague "This train is being held in the station" announcement, to which my mental response is always, "Apparently." Suddenly a cop strode through our car and roused a fellow who had nodded off in the bank of seats next to mine.

"Off the train, buddy," he said.

The guy was clearly disoriented. He stood up, and sat back down immediately, either having attempted to fake out the cop or having seen that the train was not as his town. The cop came back and absolutely insisted that the guy get off the train. The guy, quite reasonably, pointed out that this was not his stop; Carroll Street, the next stop on the train, was his stop. But the cop was having none of it. Once the guy realized that he was really being forced off the train, the cop told him to please stand against the wall.

"You're giving me a ticket?"

"That's right?"

"What for? What did I do?"

"You were sprawled across three seats in there."

"So you're going to write me a ticket for that."


At this point a second cop appeared and the doors closed. I guess the train was waiting for the cops to find someone to ticket.

Now, mind you, I think people who take up too many seats on the train should get tickets...but not people who take up too many seats at two in the freakin' morning. I mean -- there was no shortage of seats on our train. He quite obviously wasn't a vagrant (the iPod was the tip-off there). Who cares? No, the people who need to be ticketed are the people who stake out massive claims of seat territory during rush hour. These are presumably people who live way out near Coney Island and thus have plenty of space when they get on the train to put down their coffee on the seat next to them and spread their legs real wide and let their big winter coats flop out around them and set the newspaper down by their side while they open up the front section as wide as it will go. And then they are invariably seem absolutely indignant when you ask them to make room for you. Those people are an honest-to-god public nuisance. Let's get some cops on that shit.

Another subway-related situation that I would have been delighted to see some cops breaking up happened as I was getting on the train in the first place, around 7:15 this evening. At the entrance to the subway was a man selling pocket knives. Not huge, but...big enough. Let me tell you, that is something I looove to see when I'm getting on the train: a guy going, "Weapons! Get your weapons here!" Criminy.

Posted by Francis at 03:16 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 18, 2004

I believe playing this game will void the warranty on your numeric keypad

Two words. Two simple words that will instill a combination of excitement, fear, anticipation, and an expectation of hours of lost productivity in a certain segment of my readership. Those words are: Tontie update. Hold on to your hats, people. It's craaaaazy.

Update: I have completed the dreaded level 20 (thanks to the new Tontie's liberal policy toward continuing games after dying).


(Thanks to Tyler for the tip.)

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December 17, 2004

Mine is not to question why, mine is but to provide a distraction for ten minutes or so

New York-based Heaneyland readers may wish to come to one (or both) of two events at which I will be performing this weekend. Tonight is Don Ralph's yearly Blowhole Theater Holiday Marathon at Barbes in Park Slope; it's free (although there may be periodic tip-jar passing) and runs from 6:00 to midnight. Much-beloved semi-local band Life in a Blender will be playing a set starting in the 10:00-10:30 range, and I will be reading some excerpts from my book and playing a couple songs sometime afterward.

On Saturday night, I will be performing as part of Dirty Lenin's holiday show at the Parkside Lounge somewhere along the disputed border between the East Village and the Lower East Side, giving much the same sort of performance as on the previous night, but with a slightly different selection of pieces. That show starts at 11:30 and costs $6. Did I mention that Dirty Lenin has go-go dancers? Six dollars doesn't sound so bad now, does it?

Both of my sets will run about ten minutes, but I will be packing a lot of entertainment in those ten minutes.

Posted by Francis at 10:24 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Concert coverage concluded

Tuesday's concert: Brian Bonz, Beauty Pill, Travis Morrison.

This concert was at Northsix in Williamsburg. En route, a young fellow passed us, paused, and turned to ask if we knew whether some street or other lay in the direction he was walking. I asked, "Are you going to Northsix?" He was. I told him to carry on walking straight ahead.

We arrived around 8:45 and made a beeline for Northsix's small bank of seats, nabbing a prime spot right in front of the sound board. (A tip I learned from my friend Jim: The best sound in a concert venue is always near the sound guy.)

Brian Bonz started pretty promptly, with a pretty good solo number that used one of those loop devices used to such fine effect by folks like Andrew Bird. Then he brought up a band, and while they were fine, they would have fit right in on any early-'90s top-40 radio station, which is not the best thing you can say about a band, really. Pleasant, and with a decent sense of melody, but innocuous. However, it is possible that bandleader Brian was only 15 years old, which would make such sins a bit more forgivable. Why do I describe his youth as "possible"? Well, he made a joke about being 15, and he sure as hell looked like he was in eighth grade (and, seriously, if you're not in eighth grade but you look like you are, you really shouldn't wear one of those mostly solid polo shirts with the thin stripes)...but then he was wearing an over-18 wristband.

The highlight of Brian's set, from an unintentional entertainment standpoint, began when he brought his band onstage and apologetically announced, "These next two songs are total cock rock." The next two songs, suffice to say, were not cock rock. I felt like Andre the Giant going up to Wallace Shawn and saying, "That phrase...I don't think it means what you think it means." Rose and I decided that two ways you can tell if you are not playing cock rock are if (1) your song prominently features a tambourine or (2) your song prominently features a triangle. The second highlight was when he announced, at the end of his set, "Stick around for Beauty Pill and Travis Morrison!" Thanks for the tip! I thought I'd seen all there was to see.

Still -- give him a few years. He's (probably) only 15.

Beauty Pill was up next, and I enjoyed their egalitarian feel. (They explained at one point that they tried to make all their songs be androgynous; that is, that they could be sung by the boy lead singer or the girl lead singer.) I liked all their songs pretty well, although the song that inspired me to go to the merch table and buy all their CDs was "The Western Prayer", which featured lots of clanky syncopated percussion and the lyric "I want to foul the nest forever...I don't like cleaning up." Excellent.

Later, looking up info about the band, I discovered that Beauty Pill arose from the ashes of a previous band, Smart Went Crazy, which I had vaguely heard of but never listened to. And every time I ran across their name, it made me vaguely confused, because it always reminded me of the name of a Pere Ubu song, "Small Was Fast". They both have that adjective-verb-adjective-but-it-makes-no-clear-sense structure.

The audience was pretty thin for the first two acts, and I expected it would get thicker for Travis, but it pretty much stayed at about the same level. I was surprised, considering that Travis's old band, the Dismemberment Plan, sold out Bowery Ballroom two nights in a row on their farewell tour, but I guess the D-Plan fans aren't necessarily all on board with Travis's new stuff. I do feel that some of the songs on his new album are produced unsympathetically ("Born in '72", invariably one of my favorite songs when I hear it live, labors under way too many sound effects, for instance), but we're not talking about some major drop-off in quality, and I'm pretty fond of his new band, which has no name yet. (My suggestion of "The Partial Reconstitution" was roundly dismissed by Rose.)

Two new songs made an appearance -- "I'm Not Supposed to Like You (But I Do)" and "As We Proceed" -- both of which sounded great. Most of the songs from his last album come off pretty well with the band, but the album was recorded before they came along, so the songs had to be rearranged for them. Sometimes this improves the songs ("Change") and sometimes it doesn't ("Any Open Door"). The new songs, though, were clearly written for the current lineup (and may have been cowritten with them; I don't know), so the arrangements fit perfectly. I'm looking forward to seeing what else they come up with.

And now you can all have a break from my constant yammering about music (until I compile my year-end top 20 list).

Posted by Francis at 12:38 AM | TrackBack

December 16, 2004

And you thought sweater girls were as sexy as knitting got

Rose examines the ins and outs of knitted body parts.

Posted by Francis at 10:09 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 15, 2004

Dubious company names briefly noted

De Ja Food: Firstly, "deja" is one word. Secondly, "repeating"? Not the sort of image you want to bring up when you're talking about food.

Hung Far Low: It has to be on purpose, doesn't it?

Posted by Francis at 03:15 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Concert wrap-up

My three-day concertathon is complete. Here are some brief recollections.

Monday (Mission of Burma, Pixies):

The Hammerstein Ballroom is one of those venues -- a tiny little huge piece of arena-rock-style grottiness in a formerly opulent hall. They searched my backpack at the door, but I think they were less concerned with whether I had any weapons than whether I had any bottled water...which I did, because it's thirsty work waiting for concerts to start. So, yeah, they made me get rid of my bottled water, because god forbid I not be forced to buy $3 waters at the bar.

Also, there was a bathroom attendant. When I was washing my hands at one of those press-the-faucet-and-get-water-for-a-limited-time sinks, he offered to hold down the faucet for me. I told him to please not. Tipped him anyway after he provided paper towels without commenting on my drinking from the faucet. Yes, that's right, I hydrated myself on the sly. So there, Hammerstein Ballroom. Maybe next time you'll think again before installing sinks!

Further adding to the low-rent atmosphere, the seats on the mezzanine were, basically, dinner chairs, and they were packed in as tightly as possible, affording an amount of leg room that was far below coach class airline standards.

One thing I particularly appreciated about this show after the previous night's Seconds-interrupted marathon was that it started promptly at 8:00, with only one opening act, and a really good one. Mission of Burma was excellent, hindered only by a muddy mix that robbed the drums and vocals in particular of all clarity. But I know all their new songs pretty well, and the old numbers they played were ones I knew better than others ("Academy Fight Song", "That's When I Reach for My Revolver"), so I was better equipped for riding out the not-so-great sound than the folks I went to the show with, many of whom were hearing Burma for the first time.

It was interesting that they were so noisy considering the reason they broke up in the first place was because guitarist Roger Miller was suffering hearing loss from playing so many loud shows. He played with a pair of presumably sound-killing headphones on, and with a screen between him and the drum kit.

The Pixies were also hella loud, but the mix was much, much better. Something was awry with the monitors, though, and after two songs, the bands drifted offstage after much interconsulting. We were a little unclear as to what was going on, but they came back a few minutes later, and Frank Black asked Kim Deal, "What do you think, should we play one more?" She laughed and nodded. They all seemed to be having a pretty swell time, honestly.

One thing I noticed is that if you're in a legendary band that decides to reunite after a decade, you can apparently afford really good lights. Or a really good lighting designer. Or something. I did feel, however, that they should have alerted any potential epileptics in the audience before going all stroby on our asses before that one song.

The set list leaned pretty heavily on the early part of the Pixies catalog, with only "Velouria", "Rock Music", and "U-Mass" venturing past the "Doolittle" years. I'm not going to run down the highlights, because they were all great. I mean -- they're the freakin' Pixies. Whatever song they play, I'm going to be all, oh yeah, I love this song! I did like that they played both the regular version of "Wave of Mutilation" and the mellow surf version (as a medley with "In Heaven"). The only song I was particularly hoping to hear that didn't get played was the new song, "Bam Thwok" (partly because I was wondering what they would do in place of that organ break in the middle). Still -- hard to complain. A great show.

Other amusing moments -- before their encore, instead of going offstage, the Pixies just milled around onstage, waving to the crowd and saying thanks. It seemed much more social than the usual band thing of going offstage and waiting an appropriate amount of time before reappearing. Also, David Byrne was in the audience, within spitballing distance of us. We refrained from hassling him with our fannishness, though.

Aaaand that about covers it. Travis Morrison report to follow.

Posted by Francis at 12:54 PM | TrackBack

December 14, 2004

As if we needed more proof how innocuous modern pop music is

Dick Clark is recovering from a stroke, so a replacement was needed to cover hostly duties for "New Year's Rockin' Eve". Naturally, they picked someone who rocks just as much as Dick Clark: Regis Philbin.

Posted by Francis at 04:16 PM | TrackBack

December 13, 2004

Counting down the hours until the headliner starts playing

Rose and I went to see Ted Leo last night at the Bowery Ballroom (and tonight I'm seeing the Pixies with Mission of Burma, and tomorrow night we'll be going to see Travis Morrison -- what am I, in college?) and he was sooper-awesome. His free show this summer was good, but this topped it by quite a bit. I was glad he pulled out his cover version of "Suspect Device" by Stiff Little Fingers, because that was a highlight of the previous show, which Rose had missed; also on the cover version front, he played Split Enz's "Six Months in a Leaky Boat", in a much harder-rocking style than on the Balgeary EP. So, yes. Awesome.

But let me talk a little bit about one of the opening acts.

First up was Mary Timony, formerly of Helium. She is not the act of whom I wish to speak. She was good. I enjoyed her performance more than her two solo albums, but still not as much as Helium's "The Magic City". Her set was an entirely enjoyable way to spend 40 minutes. And then came...the Seconds. Never have I loathed a band with such a fiery hate.

They opened with repetitive unstructured noise. Then the drummer and guitarist swapped positions and I thought, oh, they played some stupid in-joke song and now they're going to do the real songs. And then they played more repetitive noise.

Buried among the dreck were two decent songs with a sort of Fall/Gang of Four sound that I might have enjoyed if they hadn't spent the rest of their time trying my patience and losing every ounce of my goodwill with songs which repeated the same seven-syllable lyric 100 times. They were so bad, I would refuse to have sex with the cute Japanese-I-think girl who played bass. Do you understand how bad this is? Playing in bands traditionally makes women more attractive.

Also, the bass player got on our nerves with her constant requests to the sound man of "Could I get more bass in the monitor, please?" I replied, after the third time, "Could we get less sound in the audience, please?" (I wanted to go on, "And the sound man heard you the first time -- your band is just too loud for it to make a difference and too crappy for it to matter.")

Normally when a crap band opens for a great band, one assumes that the venue booked it. Oh no. These people are friends of Ted Leo. Ted Leo asked them to play. Why? What did we do to you, Ted Leo? Why do you have to treat us this way? Why? I didn't even correct your mispronunciation of "demurred" (said as if "demure" were a verb and this was its past tense) when you were sitting at the table next to ours at dinner before the show. And this is how you repay me. Oh Ted Leo. It is only because you rock so hard that I can forgive you. But next time your friends are in a crap band, show them some tough love and tell them to get their own gig.

Posted by Francis at 10:24 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 12, 2004

This was not the part of western culture we were hoping you would emulate

China is hosting the first beauty pageant to feature only contestants who have had plastic surgery. Still, I guess they're not as artificial as these pageant contestant in Italy.

Other pageant news: Hungary will host a Santa pageant. Also, a behind-the-scenes report from a Ugandan pageant.

Posted by Francis at 10:45 AM | TrackBack

Do you speak words that can be understood by your mother with that mouth?

If you like a capella music in theory, but wish it were know...fucked up, I have the solution. Dokaka (who performs vocal percussion on the recent [and also fucked up, which I mean in the good way, of course] Bjork album) has a huuuuge selection of songs you can download, including three by Steely Dan, three by King Crimson, a Stevie Wonder medley, and "Round Midnight", among many others. Go and be puzzled and/or delighted

(Thanks to Jenny for the heads-up.)

Posted by Francis at 02:09 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 10, 2004

Rejoice, fellow dorks

Every time I start getting frustrated about things taking longer than they should (like my book being published in late November instead of mid-October, or the Holy Tango Basement Tapes website scheduled to go live sometime next week instead of when the book was released), I think about J. Michael Straczynski, the creator of Babylon 5. I wouldn't call him unlucky, per se, since he did manage to get a five-year sci-fi story on TV the way he wanted to do it, and a good thing too, but things have been rough for B5 fans since then. His spin-off series, Crusade, was buried by TNT, and a massive fan effort to save the show failed, although several websites kept the flame burning for many years.

Anyway, I believe it was last December that JMS started dropping hints that he would be able to reveal an exciting new B5-related project soon after the turn of the year. Then he said, well, you know, we're in negotiations, so probably in February, no, I mean April. Then one important B5 cast member died unexpectedly, forcing rewrites. Anyway, nearly a year later, and god knows how many more frustrating behind-the-scenes delays, there has finally been a formal announcement of a B5 theatrical movie, filming in April. All righty.

Posted by Francis at 06:12 PM | TrackBack

December 09, 2004

I did drink a lot of Chardonnay, but I'm not exactly red-nosed

Today was Cargo's holiday party, and I helped represent the copy department by singing a little song to the tune of "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" (or, as it is more popularly known, "The Island of Misfit Toys"). It went over quite well. I don't know if I'll record a home demo of it, but here are the lyrics.

The Island of Misfit Products

We're on the island of misfit products;
Here we never get seen.
We want a thoroughly and conscientiously copyedited caption
In Cargo magazine.

In a store full of stuff, if you're not cool enough,
You'll sit on the shelf and attract bits of fluff
When Christmas time is here,
The spendiest time of the year.

Each review
Gives us less than two
Stars and says "P.U."
No, we won't go far with bad PR.

A web plug for iPod, a callout for Guess,
But nothing for us 'cause we failed to impress,
And Christmas time is here,
The cut-throatest time of the year.

How would you like to be an MP3 player...with no audio out jack?
Or an HDTV...with a 12-inch diagonal screen?
Or a Karl Lagerfeld jacket...with a Velcro closure?
We're all misfits!
How would you like to be a sport utility vehicle...with little pink bunnies painted all over it?
Or a moisturizer...that causes psychotic episodes?
Or a toothbrush sanitizer?
We're all misfits!

Yes, we're on the island of unwanted products;
We all got put here 'cause nobody bought us,
And Christmas time is here,
So we're deeply discounted this year.

Posted by Francis at 08:23 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Copyediting laffs

You'll note I use "laff" in its proper sense of "something that is meant to be funny, but is so not". Anyway, here are a bunch of cartoons about punctuation, misspelling (also here), and other topics dear to copy editors' hearts, all rendered in the most anonymous style imaginable.

You may also enjoy browsing Cartoon Stock's wide array of cartoon subjects, including such terms you are likely to search for as plimbco, staffordshire pottery, and ee bi gum.

Posted by Francis at 11:23 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 08, 2004

Weddings gone wild!

Having a non-traditional wedding and worried that your family won't like it? Direct them to this article about a "gibbon-style wedding" as proof that it could be worse.

(Via Monkeywire.)

Posted by Francis at 01:58 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 07, 2004

Dander! Dander, Will Robinson!

I became aware of another eggcorn today: "get one's gander up". I guess "dander" is a pretty obscure word if you don't have a cat. Perhaps people who make the mistake are equating "get one's gander" with "get one's attention (negatively)".

Update: Language Log takes on the question of "Whence dander?"

Posted by Francis at 03:58 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 06, 2004

Thank goodness there are other people to pick up my slack

I've been a bit too busy to get with the blogging today, but Jim Hanas is ripping it up over at Encyclopedia Hanasiana, with porn karaoke, personalized Shakespeare, and a museum where you can learn that "the latest images of the stars confirm an all powerful Creator, not a random bang!" The museum also features a walk-through exhibit of Noah's Ark, where "not only will you learn answers, but you’ll experience the historical accuracy of the Flood and life on the Ark."

Yes, they actually used the phrase "historical accuracy". The museum won't be completed until 2007, though, so you'll have to wait a while to learn about the early allegorical people of the Earth.

Posted by Francis at 06:48 PM | TrackBack

Blog fully back to normal (mostly)

Being lazy, I put off dealing with a number of blogkeeping issues that cropped up after we changed providers -- you know, images were broken, individual archive pages had all been renumbered, all sorts of things. Well, the image archive has been re-uploaded (so you can view roller derby and the mermaid parade in all their glory), although despite my best efforts, I could not get the archives back to their original numbering. (Like, my adaptation of Pericles used to be at this URL, but it got renumbered to this when we reinstalled Movable Type -- which is a problem because so many pages are linked to the original address.) Ah well. I did, however, finally deal with my underupdated MP3 menu; there are only three songs in it at the moment, but they are all actually downloadable, and they are accompanied by links to the blog entries in which they were originally posted. And a few other fiddly little things.

Why the sudden burst of tidiness? It's simple. My book mentions my website, so, with luck, there will be new readers along at some point. It's just like when I throw a party -- if I know people are coming over, I'll actually clean up.

Posted by Francis at 01:43 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 03, 2004

He very pointedly mentioned that he wasn't going to mention the note about the typeface. What is that about?

Hey! It took two weeks from when I got copies, but my book is finally available. (I presume if Amazon and Barnes & Noble are selling them online, that stores probably have their copies by now too -- although you can bet I'll be swinging by a few very soon to see for myself.) Anyway, I know at least two people have their copies, and one of them has posted a review which probably quite accurately predicts my book's potential for inducing great wealth in its author.

Posted by Francis at 03:31 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

#11: Richard Simmons Presents "Sweatin' to the Carols"

Emily pointed me to this John Scalzi piece summarizing the 10 worst holiday specials of all time. Even better is the fact that commenter Sternel seems not to have figured out the joke.

Posted by Francis at 02:00 PM | TrackBack

December 02, 2004

Maybe it's time we changed to the Gregorian calendar

Odd. I just noticed the carton of milk in the office refrigerator says "SELL BY DEC 12. IN NYC DEC 08." Why the discrepancy in the dates? Is New York stricter than the rest of the country about the freshness of its milk? Or do we just have crappy refrigeration in our stores? (I suspect the latter.)

Posted by Francis at 11:13 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 01, 2004

Oh yeah


Posted by Francis at 06:10 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Trouser pressed

I'm signed up to receive IMs when someone uses their "Ask the Audience" lifeline on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire", and someone just asked for help on the $100 question (I paraphrase, because I closed the IM window before I decided this needed blogging), "A normal person is said to 'put his pants on' how?" (The answer being, of course, "one leg at a time".)

If I hadn't been distracted with something else, thus missing my chance to answer, I would totally have chosen one of the other answers ("sucking in his gut", maybe) in hopes of skewing the results, because I'm just not sure anyone who can't answer that question has any business winning money on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire".

Tangentially, I'd love to read an interview with, say, Bill Gates in which he says, "I have recently designed a machine which will allow me to put my pants on two legs at a time. I am also starting litigation to have the phrase 'He puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone else' permanently changed to 'He puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone except Bill Gates.' "

Posted by Francis at 02:24 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack