Artists Pay Back (The Blog)

November 8, 2015

Hopes (and fears) for Star Wars VII

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“Ugh, not another person blogging about the upcoming Star Wars movie. I suppose you have an opinion about it”

Well, of course I have an opinion on the new Star Wars movie. Like pretty much anyone else my age (let’s call it the Child of the 70s syndrome), Star Wars holds a special place in my life and that hasn’t really diminished with the passing years. I was six when I saw the first one. I still remember sitting in that California theater with my dad by my side as I constantly peppered him with questions (and him responding in curt, hushed tones always followed by a “now, shhh”). I may not have quite understood it all but I loved every minute of it. I stressed out for three years wondering what would become of Han Solo after seeing Empire. I attended a midnight screening for Return of the Jedi ON A SCHOOL NIGHT (unheard of). For years, I kept a newspaper article about how Lucas always envisioned Star Wars to be nine movie series (a plan which through the years he has alternately recanted, denied or revised) and waited for the dream to come to fruition. Which it did. Which, well, yeah…

Anyhow, now that Lucas has passed the reins to Disney (ugh) and more importantly given JJ Abrams the keys to drive episode VII (eh), I am cautiously optimistic that he will avoid the missteps of the second trilogy1 and return with a good movie.2 I’ve already got my tickets for opening night and I’m (mostly) excited about what I’ve seen in the trailers. I mean, if shots of the Falcon flying through the skeletal remains of a Star Destroyer don’t give you chills, then the issue is you my friend.

But, seeing as how massive an influence Star Wars had on my developmental years (even in the ways it slightly stunted them), I do have a certain “ownership” in the future iterations. Unlike other superfans, and this applies to fans of anything really, I don’t pretend to be the voice of all. I know what I think worked and what didn’t; and I know what I want to see and, more importantly, what I don’t.
  • DO NOT go back to Tatooine – At this point, I think I despise that planet more than Luke ever did. It was fine as an integral part of the original Star Wars movie (it was important to establishing Luke’s character), but they should have never gone back again. I get that Lucas’ thing was planets devised of entirely one ecosystem (with the exception of Naboo, every planet has pretty much stuck to this – ice planet, desert planet, swamp planet, forest moon, water planet, lava planet, so on). And it made for cool location shoots, and maybe having another desert planet would cause confusion, but it’s better than once again returning to a planet that was noted as being “the farthest thing from the center of the universe.” Yet, in was visited in five of the movies.3 No more.5
  • And on that note, DO NOT create single ecosystem planets. One, I think  they’ve all been covered, and, two it started getting a little silly.  Of course in addition to, “Tatooine, no.. this is Jakku. Totally different.” it appears we’ll also be getting a very Hoth, but totally-not-Hoth snow planet. And, what may or may not be a return to Yavin’s forest-y moon (which would be okay, because even though the Empire new of the base there, that would make some sense for them to reestablish that location.)
  • DO NOT create loads of new creatures – I think one of my big issue with the prequels was all of these alien races suddenly popping up. I know this also happened in the OT (original trilogy) but that was a view of a universe that was slowly expanding to the viewer. Why weren’t there any Gungans, Kaminoans, etc. in the OT? (Yeah, it’s rhetorical. I know the answer.) But the point really is that it was mostly unnecessary. You can thrown in a few new creatures, but don’t completely populate the movies with heretofore unseen races. Lucas set up a varied enough cast of creatures through the first three movies  – just Mos Eisley and Jabba’s palace alone had enough to choose from – that he could have just continued using those and expanding them. I know that part of this was Lucas’ infatuation with digital creature making which allowed him to go in more fantastical directions. But considering it led to characters like Dexter Jettster (um, a six-armed diner cook with a New York accent? Really? I would have preferred a return of Bea Arthur or creepy Uncle Itchy.) When it came to digital possibilities, Lucas clearly never heeded the classic advice – just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
  • DO NOT throw in jokey callbacks – As a culture, aren’t we at a saturation point with the whole wink-wink, “Easter Egg,” inside-reference/joke thing. (Maybe it’s just me.) It’s fun to a point but it has been severely overdone in movies and shows to the point where it needs to be let go at times. I particularly bring this up because of how much of a crutch Abrams has used it in the Star Trek movies. I fear he will continue to lean on it here. There’s hope that that was mostly due to the hacky influence of Orci and Kurtzman who will not be involved here, but I”m still really worried about this. I don’t want to see Jar Jar’s bones in the background, I don’t need yet another variation on “I love you.” “I know.” Humor is fine, lazy humor (especially the sort that violates the character and takes you out of the movie – see again, Star Trek) is not.
  • DO NOT make this about a Skywalker turning to the dark side and needing to be turned back/redeemed7 – I’m pretty sure this one is unavoidable at this point and the big reveal will probably be that Luke has turned (most likely as part of this Knights of Ren) to drive the narrative in “Part VIII – Attack of The Rehashed Plot Device.” I’m already not buying that the masked figure seen in the trailers and posters is necessarily Adam Driver, at least not always. That could easily be Luke (and would explain his conspicuous absence in posters and trailers) at least some of the time with Driver being his disciple. And everyone assumes that the “I will finish what you started” line is being spoken to Vader’s helmet (which to me seems an editing trick) but that could be Kylo (Driver) talking to Luke, or Luke speaking of Vader. Anyhow, for me the bottom line is it would be pretty lame for Luke to succumb to the dark side after originally struggling with it and ultimately rejecting that fate while also being the inspiring for his father’s redemption, only to give in later. To paraphrase Yoda, the writers “…would destroy all for which he had fought, and suffered.”
  • DO kill off some of the classic characters – I can actually see Chewie dying prior to or during one of the action set pieces late in the movie. It would set a deeper tone and to be honest, I’m not sure Peter Mayhew can physically hold up for more movies. So they either have to devise a way for Chewie to be hurt (sad) or set him up in a battle setting where he gets to pilot a ship or sacrifices himself getting killed heroically in action (as long as his ultimate fate is deserving of his prominence as a character.) Even better, kill off Han Solo. That’s exactly what needs to happen and I highly doubt that it will. This is coming from the greatest Han Solo fan in existence (verified) and someone who distinctly remembers feeling personally betrayed when hearing, back in 1983, that Harrison Ford lobbied to George Lucas to kill him off in the third act of Return of the Jedi to, as I remember the quote, “give this thing some weight.” Back then it would have been a terrible decision, but now it’s the exact right move. There’s likely no avoiding that this movie will focus on the rebuilding of the Jedi and the reemergence of the Sith8. And I’m sure there will be a young “Han Solo type” introduced rendering the original model expendable. Luke is needed for the teaching the ways of the force, Leia possibly too, leaving Han little to do (he’s not going to be running around too much playing action hero, at least I hope not). So his death will be a great way to, you know, give this thing some weight.
  • DO NOT feel the need to end each movie with a lightsaber battle – I love them, you love them. The film can (and, of course, will) feature a lightsaber duel or two, but it doesn’t have to end that way. Empire and Jedi used the final saber battles between Luke and Darth as a nice bit of symmetry and then, in the prequels, it started to feel like “okay, third act, that means lightsaber duel runs concurrently with a large scale battle where the characters are split up.” Only Star Wars9 and Revenge of the Sith avoided this (Star Wars had the battle but the saber duel was earlier, Sith only had a duel.) So, get it in early or use it to propel the third act if you must (a la Star Wars), but once it becomes formula, it’s time to abandon.

1 – No, I’m not going to directly nitpick the second trilogy. I realize that it comes off as old guy not liking the new stuff and that there are plenty of people who consider The Phantom Menace their favorite. I support their right to be completely wrong. And besides, the entire new trilogy was already deconstructed to perfection.

2 – With the understanding that this may not ever truly be possible. And that is completely due to the bias nature of rosy, childhood memories and the crushing weight of expectations, and not really a reflection of the movie itself.

3 – The Empire Strikes Back being the lone anomaly. And taken that this is the best4 of the movies, is that a coincidence? Yes, but still.

4 – Not up for debate.

5 – Oh, and the very Tatooine-ish desert planet, Jakku, that has been featured prominently in the trailers and figures to be more than just a temporary location, does not make it better (sigh). It’s a cheat for people like me who would complain about going back to Tatooine (basically JJ is having his desert, and eating it, too.) And I wouldn’t be totally surprised if before the credits roll on either this movie or the new trilogy as a whole, that we don’t see those dual suns shining at some point.

6 – I think this starship may have already sailed based on some of the trailers and behind the scenes stuff, but I guess it’s inevitable.

7 – Either new, or old – see Skywalker, Luke. And yes, I know this is a bog part of the expanded universe of the books with the next generation of Solo/Skywalker’s doing the family redemption arc but it was lame there too. Find a new story to tell.

8 – Even if they aren’t necessarily referred to by those names.

9 – By the way, Star Wars is the name of the movie that came out in 1977. The first movie. I’ve heard talk of something called “A New Hope,” but I’m not familiar with that term.


July 11, 2011

5 Ridiculous Things I Get Excited About These Days

Filed under: lists,pop culture — artistspayback @ 8:53 pm
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For proper use: Peel off and attach to forehead.

It’s a given that your tastes change as you go through the years. To wit, things I used to love twenty years ago (Ice beer, Drakkar Noir, dance clubs, getting home at 4AM) just don’t get me as excited anymore. Not that pleasures are gone from my life. They’re just stranger sadder different now. And by different, I mean “what the hell is wrong with me?”

Yet even as I marvel at some of the things that bring me pleasure circa 2011, I can’t help but acknowledge how awesome these things are (even as lame as it sounds). For instance:

1. The Swiffer – Back in the day, I wasn’t much for the whole cleaning thing. Not that I was a complete slob. I generally took care of the dishes within 48 hours. The bathroom got a nice sparkle every ten or twelve days. I’d run the vacuum and knock out the dusting once or twice a month (okay, once). Clothes would accumulate hither and yon until I scooped them up for a little laundering. But mopping? Screw that. For starters, it’s generally understood that in order to mop one must, you know, own a mop. If there was an egregious amount of stickiness on the floor of the kitchen/bath (for instance: when I passed over said stickiness wearing a sock – I would continue, but the sock would remain in the area as a hostage), this would be handled one of two ways: 1) douse it with Clorox spray and foot-wipe it with a paper towel, or 2) go barefoot.

But now I have THE SWIFFER. God I loves me some Swiffin’. Everything about it is satisfying. From the way the spray formula locks into the chamber, to the motorized spraying sound it emits, the ease of gliding the velcro scruffy pad over the infected areas. Now that I live in a house, the tile ratio in the living space is massive, but who cares. I’ve got a spot-mopping, smooth-gliding, dirt-fighting motorized menace at my fingertips. And I love it.

2. Naps – I remember the one nap I took between the age of 5 and 20. I feel asleep one Sunday in the early afternoon and awoke just after nightfall. Upon waking, I was disoriented and irritated. I felt like a chunk of my life had been taken from me. It wasn’t a nap, it was a goddamn hypersleep and felt as though years had been lost. When I was about 21, I had a wholly different experience. After a long day at the bar (as a tender, not a drinker on this particular occasion), I visited a friend of mine at her parents house. It was early afternoon and  her mom had a nice lunch spread out. I ate and layed on the sofa. My friend was playing around on the piano and I went out. I woke up about three hours later and damned if I wasn’t refreshed. This planted a seed that would grow into a mighty oak of daytime sleepiness a decade or so later. Now, I savor that feeling of drifting off in the middle of the day. The sounds of the day around you slowly recede and you feel the heaviness as you sink into sweet, sweet slumber.

When you’re young, a nap feels like a prime chunk of your life being taken. As you get older, it feels like you cheated your way past a little bit of the waking misery known as life. Naps are energizing. Instead of waking up upset at what was missed while I slept, I now just calculate how soon it will be until I get to fall back to sleep for the rest of the night (alas, it’s never soon enough.)

3. The Weather Channel – When I was a lad, I remember my dad loved having The Weather Channel on and good lord did I despise it. I could always hear that stale Muzak playing in the background each morning as I got myself ready for school. I can still see the sweeping hand of the Dopplertron 5000 Weatherator from Local News Station Whatever as it went around the pixelated map of Tampa and the surrounding area. It always looked the same, some blocky blue areas and blocky red areas around the crooked lines denoting where land met sea. I didn’t quite get it and just knew that I no longer wanted to hear that cycled soundtrack. That pain is now my kids pain.

I get it, man. The Weather Channel is fan-damn-tastic. To be fair, the crap my dad watched was like pong compared to the technological beauty of the modern weather stations. I get to see the marine forecast, the daily forecast, the heat index, the tropical update, the storm tracker and the mighty seven-day forecast. I still get the sweeping Dopplertron hand and the horrible Muzak, but now I understand it (and that tune is quite the jaunty little day-starter.) I get excited each morning to crank on the TV and get the update. What’s my day going to be like and whether a massive thunderstorm will sweep in and wipe out the power so I can nap.

4. Party food – In my late teens to early twenties there were certain things about attending parties that I got excited about – hot girls, beer, tequila, rum, drunk girls, kegs, good music, vodka and hot girls – in that order. These days most of those don’t really matter to me because I don’t want to risk a DUI, suffer a hangover and I’m married (which means I bring my own hot girl – lova ya’honey!). I still like going to parties and I”ll enjoy a sensible amount of the alcohol, but I’m not all amped up like I used to be and elbow my way to the front of the keg line while slamming the beer in my hand. Now the enjoyment lies in the spread.

It’s something that happens after college. People start having actual food at parties. I don’t mean raiding the fridge for leftover takeout or the drunken 2 a.m. pizza order, I mean a table or counter filled with actual start-of-the-party food choices. With napkins! It’s the first thing I go for and it’s where I’ll set up camp for the night. Barring a little karaoke action, there’s really nothing that can tear me away. Chicken fingers, mini sandwiches, desserts, chips, dips, scachatta, – now THAT’s a goddamn party!

5. Cancellations – Of course, there is one thing even better than getting to a party loaded with awesome food. Never getting there at all. Making plans is part of life, both good and bad. Between work events and social outings, you have to make plans. I used to love plans. I mean, how can you not. It’s something to do, something to look forward to, a purpose beyond the drudgery of the work-a-day life. Things to see, people to meet, places to go.

Uh, I guess if I have to. Now when I see a blocked out portion of my schedule, I just wish for it to go away. Of course, I can’t be the canceler, but I’m fine being the cancelee. And this isn’t just about work meetings or seminars. This is also for birthday parties, special events, nights out with friends, movie plans – pretty much anything that takes me out of my home, especially at night or on the weekends. I just want to go bunker-mentality from Friday at 6PM until I have to drag my carcass out of bed again on Monday at 6:30AM. Weekend plans completely disrupt that. So when I get that glorious call, or when me and my wife look at each other and, with that unspoken bit of spousal mind-reading, nod in agreement that we just “don’t feel like going” a weight is lifted and the weekend has been reclaimed in the name of shut-ins everywhere. At this point, when it’s evident we’re not going to bother with the chore of ‘showering’ and ‘getting dressed’ it’s just a matter of deciding who’s “sick” and who gets to make the call.

(By the way, I can trace the genesis of this particular joy to modern phone calls. I remember the moment I went from calling people and hoping I would catch them instead of their voicemail to the moment where I hoped I would get their voicemail and not them – God bless call screeners. That was the acorn that became the oak of praying that in-person interactions would start falling apart.)

March 31, 2011

Tweet Reconciliation; Or How A Tweeter Got His Groove Back

Filed under: pop culture,Twitter,Writing — artistspayback @ 10:41 pm
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I recently reacquainted myself with a lost love.

We hadn’t been totally separated. I would check in now and then, you know, just to see how things were. But it was never enough to truly get me excited. And then it happened, as these things often do, with a change of heart and a moment of clarity. At that moment, I decided it was time to make a go of it again.

And this time I would do it so much better.

So, hi Twitter. I’m back.

Not that you really missed me. You’ve got your high-profile friends who clearly mean so much more to you. You say you don’t make special exceptions for them, but that means you either think I’m a fool or you’re just lying to yourself. Still, I’m not too proud to admit that I needed you more than you needed me. You can do so much for me and yet I had walked away. I was getting enough attention I suppose or it just seemed like too much work. That wasn’t your fault, those were my issues.

Not that I had forgotten the reasons I had parted before. You’re high maintenance, for one thing. You always throw so much at me that it quickly becomes noise. Badly misspelled and/or punctuated noise (which only makes it worse.) It’s not that you don’t have anything to say, it’s just that so much of it is about you, or just regurgitated nonsense, that it makes it hard sometimes to see that you do have a point of view. INteresting things are being said once you claw through the inanity.

I had forgotten about your arbitrary “following” rule. You know how 2000 is some magical cap number that you try to say has something to do with site performance or looking out for my best interests (which is it?). And how you couldn’t lift it if you wanted to (come on, babe, really?) If that were the case then why ever let any account go beyond this imaginary figure? You talk about these magical ratios, but won’t let us know what they are. Have you been hanging out with NFL owners? If there is a formula and it’s applied to everyone “without exception” that just make it public. You won’t, I know. Still a guy can hope. All I know is I’m stuck at 2001 even though I’ve gotten my followers up to over 550. That’s better than 4 – 1, yet still not good enough for your “ratio.” Please.

Still, I don’t want this to turn bad just as it’s starting to be good again. So I’ll play your games. I’ll work the angles and get in your good graces. I’ll try to focus on what’s good and what possibilities lie ahead and ignore the hypocrisy, the lies, the idiocy.

I’ll focus on the fun times. Hey, remember when I wrote this? Oh, that blog entry such a hit and we did it together. I’ll never forget that. Oh, and this one? See, we really were good together back in those days. Before I go jaded and frustrated.

Who knows how long we’ll last this time. I hope it sticks. Because even after all that, I think we can be good together.

(And I’m clearly so much better than that Kutcher clown you’re so infatuated with.)

Tweet dreams, mon ami…


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January 29, 2011

So, Ya Wanna Be A Pirate?

Filed under: Local info,pop culture — artistspayback @ 12:14 am
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This year marks the 107th Gasparilla celebration. In case you’ve never heard of this signature festival, it’s like Tampa’s version of Mardi Gras (which is to say the organizers have been desperate to have people call it “Tampa’s version of Mardi Gras” ever since they began calling it that). The comparison’s are staggering. It’s a parade where people get drunk and throw beads. See, staggering.

Now, I love Gasparilla. I’ve grown up with it and have seen it evolve (okay, to be fair, devolve) over the last few decades. We even used to get a day off from school every year for Gasparilla and I was in sixth grade before I realized it wasn’t a National holiday. It was eighth grade before I realized that there were actually people in town who didn’t like the idea of celebrating someone who was known for subjecting the city to murder, destruction and rape (some people can be such a buzzkill.)

"Arrggh, mateys. Hoist ye beads."

To be fair though, it’s all bogus. Depending on where you do your research, Jose Gaspar (the titular pirate of the event) was never even know to patrol the waters in and around Tampa Bay and that’s if he ever even existed at all. Gasparilla was begun more a less as a publicity stunt designed to bring some attention (and money) to Tampa. Technically, Gasparilla doesn’t even belong to the city, it’s the domain of Ye Mystic Krewe. This is a collective of the city’s “finest” (you know politicians, lawyers, trust-fund babies, and other self-important entitled types). Each year these middle-aged men slather on the makeup (think ‘dirt’ and ‘scars’), tie do-rags around their receding hairlines, have their girth ensconced in silken puffy shirts, kiss their trophy wives goodbye and revel in the cheers of a city while trying to get drunk coeds to take off their tops.

All was well and good with the festival until it hit snag in 1991. The Super Bowl was being played in Tampa that year and Gasparilla was scheduled the day before the big game. With the national media descending on the town, the Krewe wanted the exposure and recognition it would bring. And boy did they get it. The Krewe was pilloried for not allowing minorities or women in their ranks (and I know what you’re thinking, that is really out of character for old wealthy, mostly Republican, white guys). But, rather than correct this embarrassing policy and attempt to enter into a post-Civil War mindset, they cancelled the festival in a pouty huff. In its place, Bamboleo was born (rather, still-born).The following year, the Krewe happily (no, those aren’t gritted teeth, those are smiles) accepted enough minorities to appease people and Gasparilla was back on. (Women were still banned, but come on, if they start allowing women next thing they’ll have to let their wives in and who wants that?) A lot of other Krewe’s began popping up throughout the 90’s and the parade expanded exponentially as the Krewe (sometimes reluctantly) allowed them into their little party.

The wacky antics of the Ye Old Creepy White Guy Krewe aside, Gasparilla truly is a fun day. If you’ve never been and you’re not easily offended by public drunkenness (and occasionally, urination) and enjoy mostly good-natured revelry, I suggest you attend. Here are some tips to remember as you blend with the 400,000 in attendance. Well, 400,001 actually, I forgot to count myself.

1. Leave the kids at home – A few years back the created a kids parade on a separate day specifically because this had become a lousy environment for children. Seriously, this is not for them. Nothing dampens a nice day of drunken debauchery like little ones running between our legs. Plus, they slow you down and make a bad bathroom situation that much worse.

2. Brush up on the liquor laws – YouTube nearly killed Gasparilla a couple of years ago. The parade route winds runs through a mostly residential area and some of the residents were fed up with finding their yard covered with things like beer bottles, trash, vomit and blacked-out frat boys. They whined about it for years (I’m not too sympathetic, it kind of comes with the territory – literally – so I say embrace it and enjoy yourself or move to Westchase) and it wasn’t until videos started to surface online that the city decided to clamp down. The last couple of years have seen a steady attempt to tame things a bit. More port-a-lets were added, rolling coolers were banned, open-container laws were tightened and the police presence was increased. So make sure you’re up on the latest rules. (For what it’s worth, I’ve always thought the cops on-hand at Gasparilla were very cool. They always seem to be enjoying the nonsense and are willing to give you a lot of leeway. I get the sense that they really don’t want to arrest you unless you give them no choice.)

3. Pace yourself – If you do it right, Gasparilla is a 8 – 12 hour day. You want to get out there by 10 or 11AM to park and get settled. The parade begins around 2PM and after it ends, around 6, you can head downtown for the concerts or, even better, end up at the Hub. (Best. Bar. Ever.) Which means you need to be able to hang that long and be mobile. Don’t be the guy or girl that everyone has to carry around as the day drags on (or drag around as the day carries on, depending on how much your friends like you).

4. I hope you like walking – It’s theoretically possible not to travel several miles during the course of the day, but unlikely. And not nearly as fun. First you have to park, often far from the action. Then you’ll want to travel the parade route to find “your spot.” If all goes well, you’ll meet up with other friends or make new ones and travel with them to exciting destinations (bars). You want to take it all in so hit Bayshore, then go downtown, shoot over to Harbor Island. Do it right.

5. Backpacks are your friend – The “man” may have banned coolers, but you’ll need to have your provisions. So get a nice hiking backpack and load it up with your liquid refreshments, some snack foods, and cups to work around the container laws (also, if you’re traveling with some ladies, you might want to pack a roll of toilet paper, trust me).

That’s all it really takes for a fun and exhausting Gasparilla experience. Have fun, stay out of trouble, grab some beads and I’ll see you at the Hub around midnight.

January 23, 2011

NEW Cautionary Tales! (Now With 100% Less Caution!)

"Don't do as I did...unless you like fame and fortune."

As 2010 came to a close and 2011 was dawning with all its shiny newness, there were three seemingly disparate stories that all had a similar thread running through them. Though each of these were potentially niche stories (in the areas of football, trash TV, media) they all made their way into the general flow of conversation in the public consciousness. Representing football, you had Michael Vick’s journey from NFL superstar to convicted felon back to NFL Superstar (V2.0, now with pocket passing!). As for trash TV (in every sense of the word), you had all the subjects of 16 and Pregnant/Teen Mom in general and Amber Portwood specifically, the show’s de facto breakout star (for all the wrong reasons). Finally, there is media’s new “Golden Voice” Ted Williams, and his one-in-a-million (YouTube hits) journey from rags-to-Seacrest.

At first glance it wouldn’t seem like these stories had much in common aside from being discussed and debated in their own ways ad nauseam. Yet all three were incorrectly touted as being “cautionary tales” either by the subjects themselves or those responsible. Not only are none of them effective cautionary tales, they have the distinction of contradicting the very caution they purportedly offer.

There are a great many words you can use to describe Michael Vick depending on your point-of-view: amazing athlete, criminal, redeemed citizen, animal abuser, good teammate, etc. And all of these are fair and true in some way (again, depending on how you see his case overall), but the one thing he is not, is a cautionary tale. He has been hitting the talk circuit preaching to teens the dangers of falling in with the wrong crowd and professing a newfound respect for animals. But it’s really hard to listen to his message that “everything can be lost with bad decisions” now that he is on the verge of signing what should be a pretty lucrative contract after not only performing beyond anyone’s expectations, but better than he ever had pre-arrest (Prison! Better than training camp! Discuss!). Sure he’s still in a lot of debt, but it’s hard to imagine that in a few months from now, that last remaining concern will have faded. But cautionary? How so? He committed a crime and went to jail losing huge fortune, a (more or less) sterling reputation and a job that is the envy of millions. Then he got out of prison and struggled with a hostile public, crushing debt and a skeptical league. A cautionary tale ends there. You can find the moral where you want, depending on how much personal responsibility you want to take, it’s either “don’t torture and kill dogs for enjoyment because it’s highly illegal and makes you pretty disgusting human” or “don’t let peer pressure/the wrong crowd ruin your life” and the capper should be “just remember Michael Vick.” Except that he is on the verge of regaining everything he had before. Sure the prison time must have sucked, but that’s all in the past and now he is set up to be someone with a huge fortune, a (more or less) sterling reputation and a job that is the envy of millions. So really the lesson is, don’t commit the crime if you can’t back it up athletically after your prison sentence is over. Should he have gotten a second chance. Sure? The Eagles took a chance and it worked out for them. He served his time and the NFL decided to reinstate him. (Though it would have been perfectly fine and reasonable had they made the decision to not reinstate him. They didn’t “owe him another opportunity” as some had suggested upon his release. There was work for him elsewhere had they decided the PR hit wasn’t worth the potential upside.)

Then there is 16 and Pregnant. From the start, this show was touted for its gritty look at how hard life is for girls who become pregnant in high school. It was designed to show kids who have a hard time grasping the ramifications of such a colossal decision/mistake. The producers and network seemed so earnest in their hopes to open a dialogue and hopefully do their part to curtail probably the worst decision/mistake a teenager can make. And that was all well and good (and, for the most part, true). (By the way, yes, I do know that every now and then it works out and it doesn’t apply to everyone and I’m sure you were/had/knew a super-awesome teen mother. But, isolated incidents aside, it’s still far more likely to be a tremendous mistake for all involved than a good thing. And even when things turn out okay, it’s fair to say they would have been as good if not exponentially better had the parties involved waited. And yes, it is a worse decision than drug use. Drug use is bad and idiotic and so on, but at least it only has the potential to ruin one life. A pregnancy drags down two young people and, worst of all, the poor kid who had no choice in being raised by the knucklehead teens who aren’t smart enough to properly implement birth control.) The problem is the same producers/network then decided to cash in on the teens with the follow up series Teen Mom by bringing back the same girls and following their lives after the birth, not so much out of societal concern now but more out of ratings points. And, in the moment the girls went from “Documentary Subjects” to “Cast Members,” the caution went out the window with the bath water. These girls are now showing up on Access Hollywood, gracing the covers of People and living a life that most teens would kill for. Or at least, get pregnant on purpose for. Which brings us to Amber Portwood. She’s pretty much an awful person and horrible mother (shocking, I know), but none of that matters to some young girls because she is FAMOUS and has a six figure salary. (And, much like the Kate Gosselin’s and Octomom’s out there, she is more famous BECAUSE she is an awful person and horrible mother. Good job, society.) These girls are now just more of the MTV detritus that have more zeroes in their paychecks than brain cells in their heads. They are barely distinguishable from their channel mates at this point, really the only difference is that the Jersey Shore kids are payback for bad parenting, Amber Portwood is just a bad parent. The sad thing is that for many of these girls, the cautionary tale part is likely yet to come. Stay tuned.

And finally we have Ted Williams, who, until about a month ago, WAS a legitimate  cautionary tale. Here was a man who was gifted with a great radio voice and found some success in his field until his life was derailed by drugs and alcohol. He lost everything and wound up homeless for many years. Until one day, Ted met YouTube and, of course, went viral. Within days he was living the celebrity lifestyle. Agents! Morning shows! Ohio sports teams! Kraft! Oh and of course Rehab! The tricky (and oft overlooked) thing about Ted Williams isn’t that he was so much discovered, as he was rediscovered. He already had a career in radio and it derailed. He wasn’t fielding offers from the NFL and MTV fifteen years ago because, though his voice is really good, it’s not exactly rare. No, he is getting all of this attention because he was homeless. Homelessness actually became a good career move. So I’m not sure that’s a cautionary tale either (again, not yet anyway, if he has trouble adjusting to this skyrocketing fame trajectory – and he already has – the “cautionary” part could sadly kick in again.)

All of these stories share this common thread. The supposed “cautionary” part (getting pregnant, using drugs, killing dogs) arguably or explicitly benefitted the person in question. Though all of them aren’t guaranteed to be worse off had these events not occurred, they certainly wouldn’t be doing as well. Minus the fall from grace, Ted Williams would likely be just another voice talent living a modest life. Minus the babies, the Teen Mom girls would just be high school graduates in college or the workforce. And though Vick may not seem to fall into this, it could be debated that he fell upwards when he landed with the Eagles. Atlanta would most likely still be holding on to him without the arrest and he may not have received the coaching or teammates he needed to elevate his game. He certainly wouldn’t have been as big of a story and drawn as much attention if not for “the comeback.” In essence all of these so-called “cautionary tales” are really tales of bad situations where the subject ended up better off from having their fall, rather than learning (and, thereby, teaching others) from the terrible situation they all played a personal part in creating.

Are these tales intriguing?  Absolutely.

Are they enviable? Debatably.

But are they cautionary? No. Sorry.

January 15, 2011

Off-Key Songs of Obligation

When the new year started, I made four resolutions:

1. Write more

2. Write more

3. Write more

4. Use more redundancy-based humor

My original thought was to write at least an hour a day. That hasn’t worked out to plan exactly, though I did do a blog post last week so, you know, small steps. I decided that if nothing else, I would at least make a new blog post every weekend. I have very dedicated readers (hi, mom!) and I would like to reward them (her) by putting crappy stuff up more often.

So, even though I really have nothing insightful or humorous to say in particular, I thought, why should that stop me? It never has before. Besides, writers write, right?

Last weekend we made a trip to a nice little local place where they have karaoke on Saturdays. Now I love karaoke. That’s not to say I’m a good singer. I think I’m adequate and I’ve gotten compliments from time to time. I have a limited range that clearly does not include Peter Gabriel (this was found out recently when I Abu Ghraib’ed “In Your Eyes” – I am awaiting a trial on war crimes. I will plead guilty.) It’s more about stage presence (which is really about alcohol) and how comfortable you are belting “Love Shack” songs in front of strangers. See, there are certain rules. Like, don’t sing “Love Shack” songs. Ever. (More on that in a minute.)

Before I get into what’s important to know for singers, allow me to talk to the Karaoke DJ’s or hosts or KJ’s or whatever you call them, for a moment. I know it’s your equipment. I know you’re a fantastic singer (in the same way that toddler pageant mother’s are great parents). I know you want to play along. But you’re not allowed to sing UNLESS no one has the stones to sing and you’re trying to get the party going or you’re in a singer rotation of three or fewer people and want o break up the monotony. Otherwise just play the songs and let the paying customers live out their Carrie Underwood fantasies (I just realized that means something TOTALLY different for guys).

Karaoke nights generally run for 4 – 6 hours depending on the bar. This means you’ll get about 10 singers in an hour. You should not be one of them. In a typically crowded bar, 40 o-60 songs means that the people there will sing three or four songs for the night. You’re getting paid to be there, and though I know your interpretation of “Send In The Clowns” always kills, we don’t want to hear it. I’ve seen some KJ’s put themselves into the singer rotation which is astounding to me. It’s like the ride operator at Disney World taking a solo turn on Magic Mountain every hour. You’re there to run the show for us, not play along. If you must, give yourselves a couple of songs (early in the night) and then turn it over to rest of the people. I’m even okay with maybe doing the last song of the night.

Okay, and now on to you, the singer. Here are five things to remember the next time you’re ready to rock up on the mic (and subsequently wish to rock the mic right):

Rule #1 – Song selection – It’s important to note that song selection matters but only if you want to get the people involved. If you just want to sing your Toad The Wet Sprocket tunes and enjoy yourself, then don’t worry about what the rest of the bar thinks. Just do your thing. But if you really want the high fives (see rule #4) or just the fun of getting people singing along with you, then you’ve got to pick the right tune. There are some obvious choices that will almost always work (note that none of them are ballads, this is key):

Then there are the songs that should really be eliminated from every bar in the country. You’re guaranteed to hear at least one at least once in any bar yo go to and they are invariably shout-sung by the worst singers. They may seem like crowd-pleasers but they aren’t and they really just tell us all we need to know about you:

  • Love Shack – Yes, when it’s time for “tin roof – RUSTED!” everyone will sing it with you. This is not validation, but rather some sort of Pavlovian obligation. No one wants to hear this song sung by the shouting girl who managed to get her reluctant boyfriend/gay buddy onstage with her because it would be “SO AWESOME!”

    Rockin' the mic right

    Yes, You Will Survive. Us? Not so much.

  • Summer Lovin’ – This one usually results in 8 – 10 people crowding the stage with a bunch of bubbly co-eds “acting out” the lyrics while the guys play along with faces that read “this better get me laid.” Though there will be one guy who misses high school drama. He’s the one that holds the mike and really emotes those last few verses (falsetto!) while the rest of the guys lean away, teetering ever close to falling off the stage as the song progress.
  • I Will Survive – Though I’m sorry your marriage ended, I’m beginning to understand why.
  • Mony, Mony – Yes, yes, I know why you’re singing it and, we as a crowd, will oblige with the hidden refrain. But we’ll hate ourselves for it after.

Rule #2 – Know the lyrics – Okay, I know it’s starting to sound a little Simon Cowell-esque here  with the first two rules, but they are important. AI is after all just televised karaoke and these rules are universal.It never fails to amaze me how several people in any given karaoke bar will sing a song that they apparently have never heard before in their life. If you have to stare at the screen, you probably shouldn’t be singing. This is especially true if you want to rap. Rap opens up karaoke to people who won’t actually sing. Rap lyrics move fast and if you lose your place (or, often, have no rhythm at all – you know who you are) you just end up awkwardly shouting the last word in each line a second too late (much like the one guy in every rap group who awkwardly shouts the last word of each line a second too late and who is likely the lead rappers cousin).

Bad singers are fine and understandable in a karaoke bar, people who don’t know the words to the song that THEY CHOSE. Flubbing a line or two or missing a mark is fine, but if you’re staring at the screen like it’s scrolling Sanskrit while you laugh nervously and spread your hands at the audience you will get things thrown at you.

Rule #3 – Pander when necessary – This really just an extension of rule #1, but it applies to people who REALLY want the bar to notice them. The right pandering song will garner you some good will and, when you go to sing your next song, people will take notice. This allows you the chance to sing something that maybe won’t go over as well, but the vibes from the previous song will carry you through. This is sort of the same way that Matt Damon picks movies, mixing a crowd pleaser with a ‘prestige’ piece. For every Bourne Awesomeness he puts out a Syriana.

Rule #4 – Seriously, this isn’t American Idol – Most likely when you sing the rest of the bar will be doing any number of things, what they probably will not be doing is paying attention to you. If you can hit rule #2 and 3 successfully, you can probably get their attention, but otherwise, the crowd will be:

  • Talking
  • Picking their next song from the catalog
  • Drinking
  • Watching TV
  • Ordering more drinks
  • Eating
  • Playing pool/darts/foosball
  • Walking past you to go to the bathroom
  • Walking past you to ask the KJ how much longer till it’s their turn

Basically this is how dinner theater performers feel.

Don’t let this bother you and just go with it. You’re not there to be discovered (oh, and that guy is not a talent scout, I don’t care how nice his business card is). Unless you’re really good (you’re not) or really bad (a distinct possibility), no one cares other the people you came with and they only sort of care and want to make sure when it’s their turn that you sort of care too. You’ll get the applause at the end and, in the true sign of a good performance, high fives on the way back from strangers. When others are singing, just make sure you applaud at the end.

Rule #5 – Know your talent level – Really this means to not take yourself too seriously. Chances are you’re not as bad as you think…or as good. Most karaoke singers fall into a comfortable middle ground. You’ll circle around the right notes and pitch, though probably be a little flat. You’ve (hopefully) heard the song enough to stay on tempo and verse, and it’s time to just get up there and tear it up. You’ll always get your “if things had gone right, I’d be on tour” singers who will actually make you stop thinking about your next song or how many more shots it will take to get your boyfriend to duet with you on “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” (three, by the way) and take notice. And of course you’ll get the “my parents/guys who want to sleep with me, always tell me how great I am” singers who destroy some Britney Spears song and leave the stage to thundering applause from the single guys (ironically, Britney Spears herself is in this category.) For the rest of you, don’t take yourself so seriously. If you are closing your eyes from the power of the emotions, or making sweeping hand gestures, or (god help you) putting one hand to your ear, you better make it ironic. Smile when your voice cracks and throw your hands up in triumph at the end. Make sure we know that you know that we know.

January 8, 2011

The Ways in Which I Have or Have Not Loved A Woman

Filed under: Advice,Love,pop culture — artistspayback @ 1:22 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Stamp of (Love God) Approval

When I tell you to think of the great lovers of women, who comes to mind? Casanova? Sure. Don Juan? Fine, if you like swarthy. Fabio? Lindsay Lohan? All fine examples, but I’m talking about an absolute authority on the subject. Someone who not only has mastered the art of loving women but could teach a class on it to those not as adept at loving the fairer sex. You know who I mean, right? Think pasty, pock-marked Canadian. YES! Bryan Adams, he of the hit song Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman? (And make no mistake that the title is indeed a mocking indictment of your own prowess, I get the feeling he thinks you have not really, really loved a woman. Bryan is a cruel teacher.)

I myself was under the impression that I had loved a woman, maybe even more than once, until I went through Mr. Adam’s masters course on the subject. Herewith a detailed breakdown in the ways I have loved a woman (yay! me) and ways in which I have clearly missed the boat.

To really love a woman…

You gotta know her deep inside – Um, okay, uh, yeah. Deep, check, like the deepest, you know what I mean? MOVING ON!

Hear every thought – See, he says ‘hear’ which is important, because I have heard I think a passing percentage (let’s say 82%) of every thought. Now whether I ‘listened’ and obeyed/reacted/implemented said thoughts is another matter and one which Bry-man never covers. So I’d say another check goes here.

See every dream – I’ve heard about the dreams. Sometimes I’ve gotten in trouble for the way I’ve acted in her dreams. But actually seeing them. I’m not even sure that’s possible outside of Leonardo DiCaprio movies (and those weren’t even invented when this song came out) so either Bryan has future sight (quite possible), or he’s loving on a level we can barely even imagine (well, duh). Either way I have not really loved in this sense.

And give her wings, if she wants to fly – I bought her a Red Bull once or twice, so checkity-check.

You find yourself lyin’ helpless in her arms – Okay, yes, and I’m not proud of this. And though I hate to disagree with Master Bryan, I’m pretty sure this wasn’t a turn on for her either. Maybe it is integral to really loving her, but I don’t recommend going fetal in her lap while a ruffian hovers nearby and she laughs derisively. Um, allegedly.

Tell her that she’s really wanted – Yeah, I’ve done this. Nothing wrong with letting her know how important she is as a part of your life. I can get with that as a necessary part of a true loving relationship.

Then tell her that she’s the one ’cause she needs somebody to tell her that it’s gonna last forever – Okay, now you’re just being a pussy.

Let her hold you ’til you know how she needs to be touched – I’m not sure that I’ve done this. There seems to be something logistically amiss about the logic though I can’t put my finger on it. And I really don’t want her putting her finger on it.

You’ve gotta breathe her – Oh yes, at night while she sleeps. What? It’s romantic. Right?

Really taste her ’til you can feel her in your blood – Oh, Bryan. When have I not?

You can see your unborn children in her eyes – This one seems a little creepy to me. Not sure visions of floating ocular feti (er, fetuses) is something I really want to witness. And the fact that I might just reinforces my belief that I should never move my eyes above her breasts. Ever.

You got to give her some faith – Sweet Jesus. Religion. I’m in trouble on this one.

Hold her tight – Oh yes, Bryan, hold her tight I do. Very tight, so tight she will not escape. The real, manly-man-of-power kind of tight from which she can barely move. Tight, yes, and because it is so masculine it is with not even a hint of tenderness.

A little tenderness – Aw crap.

You gotta treat her right – Man, he really preloads the hard stuff doesn’t he.

And it’s just that simple. Quick and easy path to good old woman loving. If you’ve done all of this, Sir Bryan assures that ‘She will be there for you, takin’ good care of you’

Though I fall short in a couple of categories, I think I did okay. Sure I’ve got some things to work, but it feels good to know that I am on the path to hardcore loving. With tenderness. And babies in the eyes. Or maybe I should check with that other paragon of lady-lovin’ for a second opinion. Speaking of, where is Scott Baio these days, anyway?

August 1, 2010

Pop Culture Conversion Chart

I have a twelve year old daughter. Thank you. Her worldview is like that of any preteen which means that she is under the false impression that the experiences of her generation are completely original. Music, movies, fashion, personal tastes – the whole sphere of pop culture surrounding her demographic is like nothing no others have seen.

It is therefore my job to let her know that in reality her entire generation is ripping off my entire generation (who, incidentally, DID do everything original. Pipe down, mom.)

It always fun to deflate her arrogance with a “yeah, we did that first.” In her defense, the big reason that I can do this is because my generation is pretty much running the pop culture machine these days and if there’s one thing my generation excels at, it’s being narcissitic. So the people making movies, TV shows and music are regurgitating our childhoods to the people buying movies, TV shows and music. Because of this, the younger generation has no choice but to feed on our reheated leftovers. (A quick look at the multiplex confirms this, eh, B.A. and Perseus.)

Recently, she was throwing out what she deemed originals of her generation and I countered with the equivalent from mine. The following is a simple “Your generation’s THIS, was our generation’s THAT.” It’s a handy conversion chart for anyone who either needs to counter their own budding brainiac or for those who are a’scared of the new generation and think that you can’t relate. Come on now, we unleashed Boy George on the world, surely you can handle Adam Lambert.

And that’s as good a place as any to start:

1. Your Adam Lambert was our Boy George

2. Your Spongebob was our Flintstones

3. Your Jonas Brothers were our Bee Gees (or maybe Hanson for the slightly younger)

4. Your High School Musical was our Grease

5. Your Twitter was our AOL Chatroom

6. Your 3 month wait from movie theater to DVD was our 3 YEAR wait from movie theater to broadcast TV (edited with commercials, yay!)

7. Your Rob Thomas was our Peter Cetera

8. Your 24-hour Cartoon Network was our 8am-12pm Saturday Morning TV

9. Your Adult Swim was our Heavy Metal

10. Your American Idol was our Star Search

11. Your Lady Gaga (desperately wishes she) was our Madonna

12. Your Michael Jackson was our Elvis (oh, we had a Michael Jackson too, though you wouldn’t recognize him)

13. Your Eddie Murphy is (nothing AT ALL like) our Eddie Murphy (seriously, not even close)

14. Your Selena and Demi was our Tiffany and Debbie

15. Your Glee was our Fame

16. Your Kesha was our L’trimm

17. Your Mac was our Commodore 64

18. Your iPod Touch was our Walkman strapped to a Game boy mounted on a Commodore 64

19. Your Peyton Manning was our Joe Montana

20. Your Wii was our Atari

21. Your Seacrest was our Kasem

22. Your Silly Bandz were our Jelly Bracelets

23. Your So You Think You Can Dance was our Dance Fever

24. Your emo was our new wave

25. Your Sia was our Sade

26. Your texting was our passing notes

27. Your Wikipedia was our Cliff’s Notes

28. Your Nick At Night was our local UHF channel

29. Your Yo Gabba Gabba! was our The Electric Company

30. Your UFC was our WWF

31. Your Beyonce was our Janet Jackson

31. Your dance “Jerk” was our “Cabbage Patch”

32. Your Gossip Girl was our 90210

33. Your Pixar was our Disney


34. Your ‘beast’ was our ‘gnarly’

35. Your ‘meh’ was our ‘lame’

36. Your ‘hella’ was our ‘totally’

37. Your ‘tight’ was our ‘rad’

38. Your ‘OMG’ was our ‘no way’

39 – 41 submitted in comments below

42. Your Monster Energy Drink was our Jolt Cola

43. Your World of Warcraft was our Dungeons & Dragons

44. Your Annoying Orange was our Max Headroom


That’s the list off the top my my head. If there’s anything I missed (or perhaps got wrong), I’d love to hear it.

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