Thursday, May 29, 2008

Further proof that Stevie Wonder is a genius and that I am an idiot

For years, I've loved listening to Stevie Wonder's song "Lately," a stunning ballad about a relationship falling apart before his eyes, which as many people know, can't see.

The power of his vocals, musicianship and songwriting on that song lulled me into such a trance that only last week was when I realized that when he sings, "Lately I've been staring in the mirror," I'm the one slowly picking him apart.

Why? Because Stevie Wonder staring in the mirror likely yields the same result as say, staring at a wall, or staring at a box of Corn Pops. Because, again, he is blind (but not, evidently, to the evidence of a philanderer).

But before you make fun of him for writing that line, make fun of me for glossing over it after listening to it literally hundreds of times. And credit him for writing lyrics that are so transcendent and ironic that even HE can see why this relationship is doomed.

Also, before you make fun of him, remember that he's FREAKIN' STEVIE WONDER and is a genius.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Shut Up and Take Me Out (Hey!)

Thank you, YouTube, for your telepathy.

I was thinking about how perfect a mash-up would be for The Ting Tings' "Shut Up and Let Me Go" (a.k.a. "Oh, yeah, that song from the latest non-Coldplay iPod commercial") and Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out."

Thankfully, someone else had the same idea (and the audio editing software I lack).

The result a little skimpy on the Franz Ferdinand side of things -- a full "Take Me Out" verse with the Ting Tings' instrumental would have balanced the mix out better -- but it still captures the essence of what I was hoping for:

Particularly nifty is the way the two songs work together lyrically as well: The Ting Tings' demand to "Shut up and let me go" is followed by Franz Ferdinand's admission, "I know I won't be leaving here with you."

And, for the record, The Ting Tings' similar-sounding song is original enough to be cool, unlike Finger Eleven's "Paralyzer," which is a lame "Take Me Out" rip-off.


Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Chicago Sun-Times dabbles in Basketweaving

Found this on the Chicago Sun-Times' Web site yesterday.

In fairness, unlike The New York Times piece that actually profiles Varsity Basketweaving, I think the Sun-Times reference was generated because that news service and VB subscribe to the BlogBurst network, which tries to pair blogs with news content. Here's the original VB post.

As a thank-you, though, I will say that Richard Roeper is one of my favorite movie critics. (But I would have said that anyway.)

Monday, May 19, 2008

AcipHex? No, seriously, though. What's the name of your prescription medication?

There's got to be a branding agent who was fed up with one of his clients to such a degree that he named the pharmaceutical company's product "AcipHex" (pronounced "ass effects").

Are you kidding me? To answer a rhetorical question, no. I watched this commercial during a recent Yankee game and was floored it wasn't a joke. See and hear for yourself:

I'm guessing possible side effects include diarrhea, constipation and people incessantly making fun of the name of your medication.

The stuff is allegedly for heartburn, but I'm not buying it (literally or figuratively). My thought is that with a name like that, it was meant to treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome but wound up being more effective halfway through the digestive system.

To retaliate, the people at EsophoFix are going to have to make prescription-strength hemorrhoid cream.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Yesterday, for the first time ever, $40 failed to fill my gas tank

May 2004: Regional gas prices top $2 per gallon -- "Jeez, this is inconvenient. I can barely fill my tank with Andrew Jackson's trading card. I feel like punching the passenger seat."

January 2006: Regional gas prices top $3 per gallon -- "Wow, suddenly this photo is more quaint than funny. I'm spending more money on gas than on some nights out in New York City. I feel like punching oil company execs in the face."

May 2008: Regional gas prices top $4 per gallon --
"[Expletive]! [Expletive]! [Expletive]! [Expletive]! [Expletive]! I feel like a [expletive gerund] punching bag."

So yeah, I'm a little punchy.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Yes, your 38-pound, 64-year-old physique and girly voice are the very definition of macho

In the Rolling Stones' "Beast of Burden," does anyone else find it a little ironic that Mick Jagger's inquiries of "Ain't I rough enough?/Ain't I tough enough?" to the object of his affection are sung in the girliest of falsettos? Especially with the way he squeals "Ooh!" between those lyrics?

The falsetto's not exactly conveying tattoos, Harleys and a monster truck rally. And yet it still works. (I think.)

Judge for yourself. The part in question's at the 2:34 mark of this YouTube video:

More of my commentary about rock music and supposed masculinity here.

Monday, May 05, 2008

My future is broken

I opened a fortune cookie last night. Rather, the floor did it for me when the inedible novelty food fell and shattered.

"The skills you have gathered will one day come in handy," the fortune read, but motor skills probably won't be among them.

Does dropping a fortune cookie open negate its no-longer-concealed premonition? And must one actually eat the surrounding tooth-chipper for the fortune to come true? And why do I care so much about fortune cookies, anyway?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Spotted: Clive Owen in Grand Central Terminal

To be fair, Mr. Owen (in the suit, partially obscured by the man with the bald spot) was filming a scene this morning for the movie "Duplicity," so he wasn't exactly inconspicuous.

I've never been so content to wait 40 minutes for a train.

Security was tight but I was able to snag a peak at the monitors to see multiple takes of one uncut scene, slickly filmed with a crane: At first focused on the clock in the middle of the concourse, the crane's mounted camera swooped and zoomed in on Owen, who strode past the clock; as he came to a halt, the camera sank even lower to the ground and focused on his hand, which flicked a dangling trinket of some sort -- a pocket watch attached to a fob, maybe? -- into his palm. And ... scene!

Also in this movie's killer cast, but not seen by me on site: Julia Roberts, Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson, the last two of whom respectively played the title character and Ben Franklin in the HBO miniseries "John Adams."

Here's the "Duplicity" plot synopsis, according to "A pair of corporate spies (Owen and Roberts) who share a steamy past hook up to pull off the ultimate con job on their respective bosses." It's slated for a March 20 release. Count me in.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Musical Nuance, Part II: Radiohead's "How To Disappear Completely"

(Part I: Toad the Wet Sprocket's "Walk on the Ocean.")

I'm a generally happy person, and I've rarely used VB to delve into downers, but I've been meaning for months to blog about the brilliance of Radiohead's "How To Disappear Completely."

The fall of 2000 through the summer of 2002 were the roughest in my very fortunate life. In my regular album rotation was Radiohead's "Kid A," one that's still difficult for me to listen to without reliving the emotions I was feeling at the time.

The most cathartic and wrenching track from this album, "How To Disappear Completely," is a haunting six-minute anthem of loneliness, whose refrain of "I'm Not Here/This Isn't Happening" broods among a sullen, meandering baseline and dissonant strings.

Shortly after the five-minute mark, when the string section clashes in chaotic cacophony as Thom Yorke's falsetto repeatedly drops from A to F#. The strings are the musical equivalent of shrieking Valkyries or, to use another Scandinavian metaphor, Edvard Munch's "The Scream."

But just when the stringed siren reaches the peak of crescendo, Thom Yorke's vocal drops from the high A to resolve on G#, cuing the suddenly quiet strings to ascend and swell with heartbreaking harmonies; the moment showers me with goosebumps and often blurs my vision with its beauty. The strings and Yorke all but drop out of the mix for the last 20 seconds of the song, letting the guitars and drums finish the song with aching simplicity.

That moment of clarity after chaos is one of the reasons I find "How To Disappear Completely" so beautiful. The overwhelming sadness (the clashing string section) suddenly makes sense (harmony) and turns into a thing of beauty, bringing brutal closure -- but closure nonetheless.

Here's an unofficial corresponding music video that a YouTube user created. The Munchian strings start at around the 5:05 mark and their suddenly harmonic swell starts at 5:23: