"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." - Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, August 19, 2010


What the ƒµ©√ happened to Rap music?

Like most folks (and by 'folks,' I am referring to white, middle-class 80's teens living in the suburbs), my first real exposure to Rap music was Licensed To Ill (1986) by the Beastie Boys.  Sure, I'd heard Rap before then*, but it was something that was pretty much off my musical radar.  Think about it.  MTV never played music by black artists until Michael Jackson** broke through with Thriller (1984), so many kids back then weren't exposed to anything but the most sanitized of popular music.  This explains the popularity of artists like Duran Duran and Journey.

I dare you to buy this shirt and wear it in public.
It was easy in those days to dismiss Rap as some kind of novelty music fad like 'Disco' or 'Love Songs.'  It wasn't until much later that I began to appreciate the genuine talents of acts like Public Enemy, Cypress Hill, Onyx, Ice-T, Geto Boys, etc.  Sure, Sturgeon's Law dictates that most of it is garbage, *cough-Vanilla Ice-cough* but the good stuff is really, really good.
Above: Urban Carnivorous Mammal

Where was I going with this?  Oh, yeah...earlier, as I was getting my daughter ready for a fun-filled morning of getting sand all over herself at the park, a show came on Discovery Kids called Hip Hop Harry.  For those unfamiliar with this abomination, it's a show featuring someone in a yellow bear suit with baggy pants and a gold chain so big that it could sink both Mr. T and Flavor Flav at the bottom of the Hudson River.  Kinda like Barney's half-brother who lives wit his moms in da hood. Harry and his junior posse sing, dance and learn valuable life lessons.  I tell ya, there's nothing like watching 8 year-olds of indeterminate ethnic origin kickin' it grade skool-style.

Hmmm. I wonder what turned thi$ guy...
Yes, it's as inane as you think.  What's next?  The Notorious A.B.C. Variety Hour? Snoop Dog Pufnstuf?  It saddens me to see yet another authentic American art form marginalized, sanitized, packaged and spoon-fed to our kids just because it's there to be exploited.  What's even worse, even Rap's best of the best have grown up, sold out and cleaned up.  Yes, I am looking at you, Ice Cube!

...into thi$$$ guy?

Now, I realize I have no business faulting anyone for digging themselves out of a terrible situation and becoming successful. Especially when I can't relate in any meaningful way to being a part of that culture.  But to shamelessly exploit a genuinely powerful and endlessly fascinating art form by dressing a glorified teddy bear like a gangsta is the worst kind of cultural pandering.

Of course, my four year-old loved it.  Just wait until I let her listen to my copy of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.

Kurtis Blow Presents The History Of Rap

*Most likely Blondie's Rapture (1981) was the first Rap song I ever heard, but even thirty years later I'm still not sure that song actually counts.

**TRIVIA- Interestingly, the Late 'King of Pop' was born African-American, but was later converted to Caucasian!  He accomplished this amazing feat by sleeping in a specially-constructed 'whitening chamber' invented by Pat Boone.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

...Green Bean Amandine.

I hate weddings. Let me just get that out of the way up front. Hate them. Not the institution itself, mind you. Not even the actual matrimonial ceremony. Mostly, it's the wedding reception that irritates me to the point of physical nausea.

Before we begin our nightmarish journey together, Dear Reader, a brief disclaimer: The following blog contains scenes of extreme snarkiness. Any depections of living persons is meant for humorous intent only. In other words, it's all meant in good fun.

Like a snow globe, marriage is beautiful, fragile and requires periodic dusting.

My wife and I went to a wedding over the weekend. I barely know the bride, but my wife is friends/co-workers with the bride's mother. We got invited, so we just had to go.  I was able to convince my wife to skip the church ceremony and just head right to the reception because I have a severe allergic reaction to communion wafers.

This turned out to be a huge mistake because, as we found out later, the priest collapsed during the ceremony and had to be taken from the church in an ambulance. I totally missed my shot at future YouTube notoriety.*
"Look, Mommy! Douchebags!"

We get to the reception early, which is totally awesome because the few people who are already there are total strangers. So, we find a nice quiet spot to sit and make fun of what the other people are wearing. You know, like douchebaggy sunglasses or dresses that are way too tight to be considered appropriate. 

There were some pre-reception snacks available. I recall the store-bought crackers, the Bowl'O'Grapes and the cheese plate (actually a plate of kind of white-ish cheese cubes). I thought at first they might have been some kind of pepper cheese. Then, I noticed the flies that kept landing on the plate. Not pepper. Moving on...

There was a bar. Not an open bar, of course. That would be money better spent on the aforementioned elaborate hors d'oeuvres table. As more guests began to arrive, we entered the Generic Reception Hall.** We each received a smell token of appreciation from the happy couple; a CD of music from the festivities. If I had only known of the sonic horrors to come...

AHHH! Red vest! Kill it before it breeds!
The first clue that there was trouble afoot was when I noticed that the DJ was wearing a red vest. A. Red. Vest. Who wears red vests? As far as I can tell, only riverboat gamblers, Christmas elves and members of barbershop quartets. This guy was no mere DJ, however. He was also an V-O-C-A-L-I-S-T. Aside from his tone deaf versions of such timeless classics as Elton John's Your Song and Billy Joel's Always A Woman, he proceeded to play a litany of trite, cliché wedding songs that should be forever banned from all events, be it wedding-related or not.

These abominations to the human ear canal include:

Celebration - Kool and the Gang (This used to be a good song once. Once.)
We Are Family - Sister Sledge (Really? We are? Had no idea!)
I Will Survive - Gloria Gaynor (Hmmmm...a cheating song at a wedding. How odd.)
Macarena - Los Del Rio (When will this abomination against humanity finally die?)
YMCA - Village People (This is why Prop. 8 got voted down.)
Cha Cha Slide - Mr. C (The best way for people who can't dance to really show it.)

The food was standard wedding fare. Choices included a ham-based product or pressed turkey with faux-tatoes and yes, Green Bean Amandine. I choked down as much as my surgically-altered stomach could handle and washed it down with a $6.25 White Russian that was more watered-down than the Punjab province. About the time the bride and groom smashed wedding cake into each others' faces, I was ready to flee from the room like a Triathlete on fire.

Finally, I was able to convince my wife that it was time to leave. I made a good case, I felt, for exiting a little early. We had both been up pretty early that morning, and the following day promised to be quite busy as well. Oh, and I also held a pretty nasty-looking butter knife to my throat and threatened to give myself a Colombian Necktie if my demands were not met.

During the drive home, I found myself thinking about the old chestnut about your wedding day being the happiest day of your life. I hope for them, it was. They are a lovely couple and, as all newlyweds do, they deserve every chance to be happy.

FYI: My own wedding was pretty freakin' awesome. Just talk to anyone who was there. Ask them about the cool boat ride to the private island, the steel drums, the wild animal who ate the bouquet or the plentiful grilled lobsters they ate. Green beans, indeed!
I got married here. Your jaw may remain agape for 10 full seconds.

*As of this writing, I have no idea what happened to the priest in question. I certainly hope that he will be just fine and fully recovered in time for his trial. (just kidding!)

** Not it's real name. ;-)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

...Raster Screen.

Yeah, I've got a Nintendo Wii. Thought it would be cool to have and, for the most part, it is. But, I am not a hardcore gamer by any stretch of the imagination. Most of the games you see these days seem to require either an advanced degree in physics or a serious meth addiction to just get past the opening animation, much less play the damn things.

No, I am a child of a different age. The age of 'The Square vs. The Circle.'

State-of-the art tech back in 1975 when a pocket calculator weighed 80lbs. and was the size of a Buick Skylark.
One Christmas, back in the mid-70's, we got the Coleco Telstar home video game system. It was a pretty big deal back then. It played four or five different games...all of them Pong. It was a really great gift. Unless you were an only child and your parents had no time to sit with a hyper ADD child who moved the paddles with the accuracy and speed of a rabid mongoose.

Suck it, Atari! The Intellivision kicked you right in the joystick.
Most kids my age upgraded to the Atari 2600 by the end of the decade.  Somehow, I missed that train. Everyone I knew had an Atari, but it just seemed kinda lame to me.  The games sucked and when they tried to emulate an arcade game, the results were really underwhelming.  Now, when the Mattel Intellivision came out in 1979, I was pretty impressed.  The games looked great and I knew this was the game system for me.  So, I contacted my lobbyist inside Santa's Workshop and made a generous donation to the Elven Labor Union Local 119.  Lo and Behold, sitting under my tree that year was a brand new Intellivision.  It was awesome.  It came with a great Blackjack card game and I figured once I mastered that, look out Vegas!*

Pac-Man for the Atari 2600! Fun Not Included!
Having an Intellivision was cool, especially when most of my peers were stuck with their silly Atari units and crappy versions of Pac-Man and Defender.  Alas, it was still a pyrrhic victory, since no one ever came to my house to play games because I smelled bad, was short and bad at sports.**

Still, my thirst for a true arcade experience at home was not yet satiated.  Even the superior ColecoVision which came a few years later could not compare to the thrill of spending countless summer hours at the many arcades on the Boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ. Ah, the constant blaring of disco music perfectly synchronized with seizure-inducing strobe lights!  I must've pumped more quarters into that damn Dragon's Lair game to keep the economy of most third-world nations afloat.

Cry, Havoc!
My true obsession during the 80's arcade boom was an obscure game from Atari called Major Havoc.  I spent many an hour wasting my youth, health and eyesight on that goddam machine.  It was a vector graphics-based game where you control an astronaut through multiple mazes inside a space station, and setting off a reactor to destroy the robot-guarded facility.  Hardest. Game. Ever.  It made Tempest look like frickin' Frogger.

Major Havoc was my first real love/hate relationship.  I needed to play it. I couldn't stop. I got Carpal Tunnel Syndrome before they even had a name for it.  It took me a long time to get over that addiction.  Oh, sure there were other games... Bump'n'Jump, Venture, Mr. Do, BurgerTime, Tapper.  None could drive me as batshit insane as the Major.  However, as with all things, one day the machine was gone from the arcade and eventually, I got better.  The Great Video Game Crash of '83 came and with it, my obsession.  It would be another decade before I would own a home video game system.

As for the arcades themselves?  Well, the games got more complicated and the kids got more militant about playing them.  I found new and more interesting things to obsess over; Girls, comics, girls, movies, girls, music, girls, sci-fi, girls, the Internet...you get the idea.

You never forget that first love, however.  On August 10, I went to the American Classic Arcade Museum.  I felt a wave of nostalgia pass over me like a cool breeze.  For a little while, I was back on the boardwalk, not a care in the world except where my next roll of quarters was coming from.  As I looked around the old machines, a familiar sight caught my eye.  There it was...an original Major Havoc game, still in working order.  I got some tokens and took a little trip back to the 80's.  

F***ing game still pisses me off..


*Of course, I moved to Las Vegas a decade later and never once sat down at a Blackjack table.  Go figure.

**This information came from an article in my grade school newsletter, ironically titled Tommy Feeney Smells Bad, is Short and is Bad at Sports.