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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Trip Advisory

Blogging will return next week as I will be out of town (and away from the Internet) for a few days. Between now and then, I'll be reading this hopefully final draft of Post, visiting friends and family, and missing the season finale of Lost.

Yes, due to prior commitments, I'll be missing the final two hours of this amazing season. But, I will see them sometime very soon, and thanks to a certain spoiler site, I know who's in the coffin. All I'll say is, "resurrection." Plus, I would not be surprised if people start using a certain pop culture phrase I really detest after the episode airs.

I'm not saying this is a bad sign for seasons five and six, but just knowing how impatient people are, it would be really easy to say the show has veered way off course. Then again, this wouldn't be the first time the show has been accused of such.

Painful memories that haunt you

A recent question in Ask the A.V. Club wondered why so many people want to know the name of some band, movie, T.V. show, or video game they vaguely remember from their childhood. Moreover, why do many of these (especially TV shows and movies) come with traumatic memories for the people that ask? Well, as someone who asked a question about a show (that didn't traumatize me, by the way) from my middle school years, I figured I'd offer the following.

In my case, Video Power was a show that, now looking back at it, seemed ahead of its time. Well before TechTV/G4 or video game awards on Spike TV, there was this little syndicated show in the early Nineties. Super Nintendo, Game Boy, Sega Genesis, and Turbo-Grafx 16 were the hot game systems at the time, and some producers figured merging these game systems with the game show format would work. It worked, and being very into video games at that time, I watched the show almost every day.

There was something cool and fun about the show. Kids my age would go on the show, play games, and answer trivia questions. Everything about the show was up my alley. After the show went off the air, I forgot about it for quite some time.

A few years ago, memories of the show randomly popped into my head. Maybe it was around the time of Green Day's American Idiot came out and Billie Joe Armstrong lost a very noticeable amount of weight, but my memory's hazy. Anyway, Billie Joe now looked a lot like the host of Video Power, Stivi "Johnny Arcade" Paskoski -- at least in my head. Since I completely drew a blank on what this show was called (and after asking a fellow former Houstonian), I posed the question to the knowledgeable A.V. Club folks.

With my question answered, and more memories of the show coming back to me thanks to YouTube, a nagging curiosity had been tended to. But as far as a majority of questions in regards to traumatic memories with T.V. shows or movies I vaguely remember, I don't believe I have a list of questions. Matter of fact, I don't think I have a list.

I distinctly remember seeing V on TV over at a friend's house and being really creeped out by the aliens' peeling off human skin. I distinctly remember being creeped out by a Murder, She Wrote episode in which a burglar snuck into a house. (Hey, I think I was five years old and my babysitter swore the show was not scary.) I distinctly remember being creeped out by Something Wicked This Way Comes when I watched it in fourth grade. The only thing I can think of off the top of my head is, I vaguely remember seeing either a TV show or movie on TV where a murderer dressed as Santa Claus and broke into a house in the opening scene. However, that never scared me away from Christmas, Santa Claus, or Christmas time. So, I really have no burning desire to learn what that was a clip from. (Maybe it was Silent Night, Deadly Night?)

So, I guess I should consider myself lucky that I never watched any Ray Bradbury TV adaptations or Tales from the Darkside episodes when I was really young.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Why it takes (me) years to finish something

Last week I received a very enthusiastic evaluation of the manuscript for Post from my publisher. The deal was, it was suggested there be another line edit. Whether or not I'd be the one to do the edit was up to me. Given the option of spending a certain percentage of my free time to do it or possibly spend hundreds (maybe thousands) of dollars to let someone else do it, I went with the former. I've had a handful of different people (people that I trust and who give honest feedback without being jerks) look at the book over the last year or so. I figured I had all the tools I needed to do this myself. Besides, isn't this a book about doing it yourself?

The frustrating thing about editing is learning new stuff while unlearning old stuff at the same time. In my case, a journalism instructor in college told me that lists in a sentence do not have a comma before the "and." (e.g. "NOFX, Lagwagon and Rocket from the Crypt.") Well, seeing a comma before the "and" in a number of books made me wonder. When I received my evaluation stating that I needed another comma in hundreds of sentences, I knew I had to make the change.

The crazy, endless thing about editing is that nothing ever seems to end. As Peter Jackson once put it, you're never really finished with something -- you just have a deadline of when to turn something in. You can tinker with something for your entire life, but if you've promised people a finished product, that tinkering has to stop sometime (just don't talk to George Lucas or Axl Rose about this).

I remember hearing Doug Pray say on the Hype! commentary that it took a year to edit his film. I thought that was an enormously long time to do, but I can't argue with how well that movie cuts together. Now I have a better understanding of where he's coming from.

Believe me, I wanted to be finished with this book four years ago, but as I've said before, I can't argue with something that really holds up and works. I highly doubt I would have had that four years ago.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Vacation?

So, with the Memorial Day weekend upon me and a trip to Houston and New Orleans next week, I have the following options with my free time:

1) watch movies, drum, blog a lot, read, skate here and there, and exercise.
2) do another line edit of Post myself with the advice of editors I know (instead of forking over three months salary for somebody else to do the whole thing), have the manuscript done before I drive down to Houston, watch movies, drum, skate here and there, read, blog a little, and exercise.

Guess which one I'm going with?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Hey Baby (They're Playing Our Song)

There was a time (about five years ago) when I was addicted to watching those 30-minute infomercials for Time Life CD sets. Usually falling in the late night hours, I watched the one with Davy Jones over and over again. Playing a number of hits from the Sixties I had never heard before, I was really intrigued by what I heard. Less than a year later I was working for a radio station whose playlist had most (if not all) of those songs in their library. I learned a lot then and still appreciate what Time Life does.

But I recently wondered about how downloading has affected Time Life's sales. Since one of their biggest (and strongest) selling points was how there's no filler (or depending on how you look at it, adventure in hearing songs you've never heard before) on them. These are just the popular hits, nothing more or less. So how can they compete in a downloading world?

There's a clear advantage in having a full CD of songs you really like instead of having to hunt down each individual track. Still, the convenience of downloading is nicer. If you just want "Young Girl" instead of "Young Girl," "This Magic Moment" and "Georgie Girl," well downloading is the way to go.

We hear enough from the RIAA about downloading, but what about the Time Life people, or even the BMG or Columbia House record clubs? How are they fairing? I'm just glad they're not suing their customers . . .

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Very Best Years

I recall an instance when a fellow co-worker at Best Buy vented to me about a customer asking for a song that he a) didn't remember any of the lyrics b) didn't remember if it was a guy or a girl singing it c) didn't remember where he heard it, and d) could only hum a few bars in a non-melodic way. Well, I must admit I've had that frustration of knowing a song merely by a guitar or piano line or just a drum fill. Still, asking someone for something specific while only telling the vaguest of traits doesn't go very far. And that's not just with music.

In a particular case of my own, ever since I saw this video on Beavis and Butt-head, I wondered who sang it. The only things I remembered were the heavy accents on every beat of the verse, in addition to a distinct climbing guitar riff (doubled with the vocal) leading into the chorus. All I remembered from the video was the band playing in what looked like a garden, and they were being filmed on a 360 dolly track. That's all I remembered.

Well, once again blogger friend Jeff Giles (former owner of jefitoblog and currently of Popdose) came to the rescue and didn't even know it. A recent posting of the long-out-of-print-and-highly-sought-after sole album by the Grays led me to realize it was their video for "Very Best Years." I must say, things were double-sweet that this video was from the Grays.

Before I ever heard it, I heard about how the Grays' Ro Sham Bo was one of the greatest long-lost power pop records from the Nineties. If anything, the reason why was because Jellyfish's Jason Falkner and Jon Brion (yes, the Jon Brion) were in the band. That alone had to be great, right? For me, it was a record that I wanted to track down in some form. Having somebody like Jeff post stuff from the Nineties that is more for the Big Takeover crowd than the Stereogum crowd is a reason why I reason Popdose everyday.

Now, let's see if I can track down that after-school special I saw in health class senior year where a band that looked a little like Dishwalla played at a party gone wrong.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Toss the cookies

Well, my attempt to bake those cookies didn't turn out like I hoped, but that's perfectly fine by me.

For whatever reason, the mix didn't rise in the oven -- it spread, thus making the entire baking sheet a thin, brownie-like crust. Alas, everything was still edible (albeit very rich-tasting right out of the oven) and I made due as I cut up what I had into smaller parts. Stacking everything I had onto a plate made it look like a nuked chocolate cake. So I put them into two small bowls and they looked surprisingly attractive.

The party went very well and plenty of food was consumed, but there's still plenty of leftovers. As a matter of fact, if it weren't for office breakrooms, I think we would have had enough desserts, beer and appetizers for two months.

Some thoughts came into my head about trying in general and not feeling shame or disgust because not everybody ate what I made. If I was hung up on approval and basing all the eating habit actions of the party attendees on me and me alone, I'd probably be royally pissed. But I'm not. I wasn't seeking approval -- I saw attempting to bake those cookies as a chance to do something else from what I normally do (which is not bake and just show up). It was something I might -- sarcastically gasp -- fail at, but I didn't care to be tied down by shame. Thinking about it now, I believe there's some mental headway here that goes beyond cooking . . .

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Cookies

Tomorrow afternoon, I will attempt something I haven't done in a long time: bake something from scratch! And moreover, for people other than me!

Usually there's some sort of occasion for doing something like this, and this is no different. As a way of celebrating one of our new-ish neighbors' birthday (and as a housewarming party of sorts), I will attempt to bake these: chocolate pudding cookies.

The reason why I'm attempting to bake these is another line in the whole, "it's a great idea, do it, and don't second-guess yourself" line of thinking. I've never baked these before, but I remember enough from my time of baking chocolate chip cookies with my mother and sister. If it's a total mess and failure on the first batch, I have enough time to either start again or just pick up a pre-packaged dessert from the grocery store. No harm, no foul, right?

Usually for parties like these, my attitude is to just show up. Well, given the circumstances, I want to do something a little more involved, doing something I want to do, for people that I'm just getting to know. I've lived in enough apartments where the use of getting to know the neighbors was as moot as getting to know fellow guests at hotels you stay at. Here's to new experiences, right?

This all kinda sounds like a "duh" sort of thing, but I think it's important to point out since this is completely out of my regular routine. I don't go to many housewarming parties like these, so it should be fun. Since the opportunity presented itself to me, I have an opportunity myself to do something like this. Nice how this all kinda plays out over time . . .

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I Am You Are

A few months ago, I wrote up a little piece for a new print/web zine called I Am You Are. Well, as a preview of what's to come, my write-up is currently online here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

So make up your mind and come to your senses

A lesson I still remember from college: on roadtrips, don't listen to CDs that only have a half-hour of music (or less) on them. The reason why is for time-filling reasons -- and a desire to not switch out discs that often while driving. I've never wanted a multi-disc changer as my mood is always subject to change, so it's been single-disc player all the way. (And don't get me started on plugging my iPod in my car.)

Well, as much as I might love a record by a band, I don't want to hear it continuously over and over again. For records that I sort of like, this can leave a bad impression in the long term.

I recall one trip going from Austin to Fort Worth where I decided to listen to face to face's self-titled album. Once I reached the Round Rock city limits, I had gone through all twelve songs. Since I had just begun my trip, I decided to let the album play again. And again. And again. I think I listened to the whole thing four times. As much as I like almost all of the songs, hearing them that many times was overkill.

It was on this trip that I realized how quick and simple most pop-punk songs are. "You mean the bridge is only fifteen seconds long? Three verses, three choruses and one bridge -- all under three minutes? Wow." For the same reasons that drew me to pop-punk, I became a believer that punk comps and mix CDs are the way to go for roadtrips years later.

On another trip from Austin to Fort Worth, I listened to my used, purchased-at-Sound-Exchange, copy of the Get Up Kids' Four Minute Mile about four times in a row. Though I think the record was really important for the band's career, for me as the listener, I was not blown away. The catchiest songs were great to hear again and again, but the thin mastering job and shoddy production made the record difficult to fully enjoy. Listening to the whole thing that many times was a test of endurance.

Since I have music going pretty much non-stop from the start of the car to when I reach my destination, half-hour CDs are great for the work commute and visits up to the suburbs. For anything longer than that, it's a choice from one of the many personal mix CDs I've made in the last few years, along with ones I've made for our seasonal theme parties.

Thinking about this all now, it's just another in a long line of bad experiences that I hope never experience anything slightly ever again. Man, this is a prevailing thought for most of my life since high school . . .

Monday, May 12, 2008

Touch of Gray

A little over two years ago, I did a rant on Just For Men. Finding their intent for men to be "real" by coloring their hair, I said plenty that I still agree with. Well, with a new ad campaign for a product that keeps some of the gray hair demands a new rant. However, Steve over at the A.V. Club wrote a pretty spot-on rant on it today. Read and enjoy the groan, especially after watching the commercial.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

In order to grow you have to be open to learn

Earlier this week, I was asked why I decided to publish Post through a print-on-demand outlet. As much as I would have liked for the book to be readily available in stores once it comes out, it's going to have to wait a bit. Since the book is non-returnable to the publisher (cause the publisher is technically me), bookstores are hesitant to carry such. Frankly, if you ask me, I'd personally give my home address to bookstores if they wanted to return unsold copies somewhere. But I don't think that will be the case.

Is this frustrating? Sure. But for me, I'd rather have the book I imagined (and made) in print and available in some capacity (even if Amazon and Barnes and Noble are the only ones that will carry it online). It was either that or have something readily available that I felt severely compromised over. I've been told that's the game of being published, but for me, this was a kind of compromise I was not up for making.

My experience with shopping around Post's manuscript generated a few interested editors at name publishing houses. The few that were interested liked the topic, but wanted me to drastically change the book. With one place, I got the sense they wanted a simple pop culture book. Another place wanted all the crucial music scenes be grouped together, sort of like the American Hardcore book. Basically what I heard was this: take out the human interest stuff (it's boring), give us something that's closer to our vision (but you and your name only appears on the book's cover), and then resubmit your book proposal. Well, that would have been easy had I not interviewed anybody for the book or done any research yet.

But at that point, I had three years worth of research and interviews under my belt. I pitched my book in a specific way to everyone I interviewed. I couldn't go back on my word by twisting the book into something else. Plus, I really believed in the story I wanted to tell (and how to tell it). I'm not against changes in general, but the changes suggested just did not jive with what I wanted Post to be.

The deal was, I had heard this kind of story before. Almost all of my all-time favorite movies could have become something completely safe, uninspired, and weak hadn't the screenwriters stuck to their guns. I thought about George Lucas and his trials and tribulations with hammering out the American Graffiti script. No major studio wanted to touch it -- and one rewrite of the script by another writer made it to be more like Two Lane Blacktop. Lucas stuck to what he wanted and luckily got it made the way he wanted.

The same went with Jon Favreau and the Swingers script. He was asked to change the setting of the film, make it more violent and other things that just didn't make it what he wanted. Deciding to film it independently and raising money for it in a unique way (holding live script readings for potential investors), Swingers is what Favreau wanted it to be.

And another example was when Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky were asked to take the therapy sessions out of Some Kind of Monster. Various circumstances occurred to where they were kept in, and the film speaks for itself as being a one of a kind documentary.

Now, I'm not comparing myself or Post to the caliber of these writer/directors. Rather, it's the sense of sticking to what you want and being unafraid to release it as you envisioned it. Post is not a hard read or an inside read, but it's not for everybody. It's something for people that were involved and weren't involved with this genre. It's not really a "music" book per se. It doesn't matter whether you've heard Hot Water Music's No Division or not. It's about life, struggle, friendship, expressing yourself, being creative, overcoming obstacles, and most importantly, learning.

Looking at what I've done with this project and where this could all go, the learning part is probably the most important part.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Print the legend

I'm aware that certain people like to hear the myth rather than the truth from the horse's mouth. I'm not one of those people.

In the case of movies, I've heard quite a few slightly exaggerated tales about the making of some of the greatest movies of all time. A number of these stories were told to me in a few film classes I took in college. Others came from articles I read in newspapers and magazines. Well, in my time of watching supplemental features on DVD and reading books on movies, I've come to learn a lot more clarification.

-No, there is no five-hour cut of Apocalypse Now. There was a five-hour assembly cut of the movie, but it was by no means a rough cut or director's cut.
-Star Wars Episode VI was originally called Return of the Jedi, but was asked to be changed to Revenge of the Jedi, and then changed back to Return of the Jedi. There was no fan letter sent to George Lucas reminding him of what Jedis do and don't do.
-Yes, there are a lot of metaphors in Psycho, but not as much as originally intended.

The list goes on, but I think you catch where I'm going. Film scholars can definitely make movies into way more than what they were intended. It can be a fascinating discussion, but since college, I've been unlearning a number of ways I've come to interpret artist expression in general.

I have to credit Davey von Bohlen and Ian MacKaye for helping me see things in a different way. Plenty of myths have followed around the bands they've played in, and are quick to point out what was intended over what was interpreted. I realized the same applies to making movies. They are complex, multi-faceted challenges from pre-production to post-production and release. Tall tales or big fish stories can come out of them, and they may seem interesting to tell, but they aren't for me these days.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

You had to be there

Given the industry I work in, and the kind of job I have, there seems to be at least one big, tense situation each year where things go absolutely nuts.

A few years ago, an 18-wheeler filled with paint caught on fire on I-20 right under 45, shutting down the entire area, right at the beginning of afternoon rush hour. Last year it was a warehouse fire in downtown Dallas where canisters shot out of the place and landed onto the nearby freeways. Earlier this year was the death of a police officer riding in Hillary Clinton's motorcade near downtown Dallas.

Well, today an 18-wheeler slid down an embankment coming off of 35E northbound and onto 635 eastbound. Catching fire, it was a mess for hours. There were many road closures in the area, smoke flew across the highway, the trailer portion was stuck up in the air and split in half as the fire kept going. Quite a sight to see and report live, I must say.

Whenever this stuff happens, I tend to go into lockdown mode without going nuts. Covering breaking news can be a thrill, and frankly, one that's hard to translate to others after the fact. It's like being in the middle of a violent storm and trying to cover all the major developments.

But I find it a little deflating whenever I ask somebody I know about one of these big situations and they hadn't even heard about it -- making it seem like this wasn't a big deal at all. Hearing this doesn't make me want to do less of a job in the future. Rather, it's just understanding that not a lot of people are going to experience the whole rollercoaster ride -- or even want to know about the ride at all. The same can be said for so many other things in life.

Strange to say now, but I think it's hard to translate how big a movie like Star Wars was to a generation raised on the Matrix and Lord of the Rings trilogies. Same can be said with describing to a teenager raised on mall emo how life-changing seeing the Promise Ring back in the late Nineties was. Is my experience greater and the younger person's experience lesser? No, but I think there's a challenge in describing how big something is in the moment -- all while trying to make sense in hindsight. As easy as it would be to say, "Eh, you had to be there," I see this as a chance to dig deep and try to explain exactly the who, what, where, why and when.

Monday, May 05, 2008

And games that never amount to more than they're meant will play themselves out

If you've seen Once, you probably remember this pivotal scene. Guy teaches Girl "Falling Slowly" with a quick run-through of the chords and changes, along with the lyrics. They perform the song quite well, and for me, quite convincingly. Yet there is a degree of "come on, they can't pull off a song like that with such little rehearsal!" Well, though the actors were better at playing music than acting, I totally believe it because I've experienced that kind of fresh, exciting spontaneity plenty of times before while playing in bands.

I can firmly recall running through a song with my high school band only once and recording the next run-through. Maybe it was our ability to read each other's body language, or just understanding the simplicity of repeating a riff four times before a change, but we came up with something cool without much tinkering. Somehow we knew where the dynamics were and how long to stretch everything out. That's one of the really mesmerizing things about playing music with people.

Yet I'm reminded of when I saw this kind of spontaneous collaboration in other movies, as well as a certain play. Frankly, it seemed really fake and non-believable. I saw The Buddy Holly Story performed in London, and a rather memorable scene involved the recording of "Everyday." The deal was, the keyboard solo that seemed to be made up on the spot didn't appear to made up on the spot. It seemed rehearsed -- too rehearsed.

The same went for a scene in Oliver Stone's The Doors, where Ray Manzarek (played by the one and only Kyle MacLachlan) fumbled around for a keyboard part for what became "Light My Fire." Somehow and somewhere between the fumbling around the notes with no time signature and coming up with the signature line in perfect time, it seemed to happen instantly. Not to me.

A big, fun part about playing music is the sense of collaboration. But being in situations where people are told exactly what to play (and how to play) by one person are not "band" situations per se. Not everybody's heads are filled with streams of melodies, beats and harmonies, knowing exactly what they want fleshed out on record. The magical surprises that come from someone else's input can render something you never imagined. So seeing that captured in a film like Once, I add that to one of the many other things the filmmakers and actors got right in making that movie.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Notes from the Ballpark

So, after attending my first Texas Rangers game (and plan on seeing my second one today), I have some observations to share:

-The future Dallas Cowboys stadium looks like the space station in Contact.
-Dollar Hot Dog Night means all regular size hotdogs are $1 each. No strings attached. Now, how's about Dollar Bottled Water Night?
-Seeing a grand slam shortly into a game was very cool -- especially in a seat right behind home plate.
-Dollar Hot Dog Night + high winds = lots of hotdog wrappers flying around the outfield.
-Amount of time between leaving the game and getting back on I-30: ten minutes.