Thursday, April 30, 2009

Nick Hornby Recommends

I love Amazon as much as the next public-interest employee, which is to say a lot, because their prices are low. They just are. But that doesn't mean that the collapse of the brick-and-mortar bookstore doesn't depress me - I mean, who doesn't love wandering aimlessly through the aisles of a good book store, browsing, looking for bargains, trying to discover authors you've never read before? What would get people to buy more books, or people who already buy books to buy more? Waterstone, the big British bookseller, has come up with one of those brilliant ideas, like the post-it note, which should have been obvious all along, but, for some reason, wasn't. Waterstone has been designating large tables, prominently displayed at the front of the store, filled with a popular author's favorite books.

Lately, Waterstone picked Nick Hornby for one of these promotions, and he's just about the perfect choice - a good author, but also just engaging and interesting, like a smart friend of yours whose book recommendations you would take to heart. Hornby's selections included several CSD favorites like Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Kurt Vonnegut's The Sires of Titan, Dennis Lehane's Mystic River, Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, and Michael Lewis' The Blind Side, but also features a slew of books I've never heard of, as well as a few popular-in-the-U.K.-but-obscure-here types. Its as good of a summer reading list as you're going to find anywhere.

If Barnes & Noble (or Borders, who probably needs the help more than B&N) mimicked Waterstone's promotion in this country, which authors would you most like to seem them pick? Whose taste in literature would you guess is the most similar to your own? I for one would love to see what Michael Chabon, Jonathan Franzen and Don DeLillo recommend. Anyone else?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

With A Kindle, Can You Tell Its Proust?

I've long been on the record as favoring old-fashioned paper-and-glue books to their digital equivalents. I like the feel of a book in my hands, and the way I can, when I'm bored, go to my bookshelf and spend time with my friends, like Pennylane did with her record collection in Almost Famous. On Sunday, the New York Times ran a story about 'you are what you read' culture; the spectator sport of assigning personality traits to people based on what they're reading.

Remember the scene in Wonder Boys, when Grady Tripp and Terry Crabtree see a black guy with a pompadour hairdo, put their heads together and decide that the pompadoured man is the president of the James Brown Hair Club for men, that his name is Vernon Hardapple, he's addicted to painkillers, and has a younger brother named Claudelle and whose mother blames Vernon for Claudelle's death, because he was killed when a gangster named Freddy Nostrils killed his favorite horse, and Vernon was in on the hit? I do that all the time. Think, for instance, the characters you could make up for the douchey-looking beach muscle guy in Prospect Park sunbathing shirtless and reading One Hundred Years of Solitude or Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, or the teenage black kid sitting in Starbucks, reading a Star Trek novel, or the conservative dressed lady with a nose ring reading the Torah, who doesn't get off when the 2 train stops at Grand Army Plaza? You could spent hours coming up with backstories for these people. Its one of the best parts about living in New York.

In a literate city like New York where everybody commutes by public transportation and coffee houses flourish, this judging of books by their covers is probably unavoidable. Who is Amazon, maker of the Kindle, to deprive us of that pleasure? Sure, some people read certain books in public because they want to present a certain image - Nicholson Baker's story makes him sound like a total douchebag. One is reminded of the Augusten Burroughs story about showing up for a blind date, seeing that the guy was carrying Remembrance of Things Past and being so turned off by the gauche lack of subtlety that he immediately wrote the guy off as a romantic prospect - but I think that Nick Hornby's theory holds true for the most part - you can tell a lot about a person by what they read, what they watch, and what they listen to.

I've never been the subject of 'literary desire,' the mysterious phenomenon described by Michael Silverblatt, but, like true love and justice and the Easter Bunny, its something I'd like to believe exists. Book culture is on its way out - on that, I think we can all agree - and little things like this need to be preserved, even if they sound corny, or sort of pretentious.

Thanks to Ellen at Wormbook for getting the ball rolling on this one.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Neko Case on David Letterman

Neko Case rocks the Ed Sullivan Theater. They sound great, and you can tell that Letterman likes them, but the song's climactic line, "what will make you believe me," was muted compared to the barbaric yawp that she unleashed in her totally kick-ass show at the Nokia Theater two days earlier.

What do you make of Neko's look? Do you dig the hairspray and black tie (the "Miranda Hobbes"), or the retro/thrift store dress and untamed hair of her that we've all come to associate with her?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Something You Don't See Every Day

Boston Red Sox centerfielder and dreamy female fan-favorite Jacoby Ellsbury stole home against the Boston Red Sox on sunday night, driving a sold out Fenway Park crowd to near-delirium. The play came as such a complete surprise that none of the seven or eight cameras at the ballpark caught any of it, except for Ellsbury's last couple of strides.

It goes without saying that the Yankees should never have let this happen - the third baseman was playing deep in the hole, allowing Ellsbury to take a lead halfway down the third base line, Pettite never looked up, and Posada didn't react until Ellsbury was already on top of home plate. Regardless, the straight steal of home* was so exciting that I demand the return to prominence of all archaic baseball tactics, like the Baltimore chop, the screwball, and the three-inning save.

*A 'straight steal' of home - when a baserunner steals home while the a pitch is in the air - is enormously difficult to pull off, because a runner has to travel 90 feet while the pitch only has to travel 60 feet to beat him to home plate. Compare this to a an 'indirect' or 'double' steal, when a runner on first base runs towards second base, drawing a throw from the catcher, and buying the runner on third base more time to get to home plate, as a ball thrown from second base has to travel approximately 127 feet in order to beat the runner to home plate.

All You Mark-Ass Bustas Better Raise Up

Just when you thought we was slipping . . . boo yeah! Right back at you now. -Dr. Andre Romelle
The Economist and the New Yorker can run stories about the decline of America's cultural influence is the wake of the economic recession until they're blue in the face, but that don't matter because Los Angeles street culture is apparently thriving in Iraq, where obese street urchins dance the robot and beat on each other in the street like they're re-enacting Menace II Society. Just about everything in this video disturbs me, but its still hilarious - I haven't felt so guilty about laughing this hard since Big Bob's Used Car Lot. Shazam!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Common Sense Dancing Is Now On Facebook

From everything we hear, this 'facebook' thing is catching on. So, you can now become a fan of Common Sense Dancing on facebook. Add us as a friend the next time you're online!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Machete!

Robert Rodriguez is making a full-length feature film out of Machete, one of the joke-trailers from Grindhouse, the 2007 double feature he made with Quentin Tarantino. The preview itself is a work of art - a clever send-up of 70's action-movie cliches and too-good-to-be-true catch phrases like "they fucked with the wrong Mexican" and "when you hire Machete to kill the bad guy, you better make damn sure the bad guy . . . isn't you." CSD headquarters is very excited.

Here's the original, very NSFW trailer for Machete:

Point Seen, Money Gone

This past Saturday, ESPN counted down the ten best plays of the 2008-2009 basketball season. Just for fun, Snoop Dogg joined the 'best play' guys and offered his unique brand of marijuana-inspired commentary, during which he referred to Bryan Westbrook as his nephew, mispronounced the names of about 1/3 of the players in the league, imitated Larry the Cable Guy, went out of his way to insult Patrick Ewing, and went down in broadcasting history with the following call: "No-look to the left side to my main man Trey - Trevor Ariza . . . for shizza." Really, it was one of the more entertaining four minutes of television I've seen since The Simpsons was in its heyday. I don't really care that Snoop Dogg became a corny self-parody around the year 1999 and never looked back, because he's still one of the coolest guys in America.

Also, for the record, the best play of the 2008-2009 season was the #2 play on this list - Dwyane Wade's buzzer-beating steal/breakaway/running three-pointer against the Chicago Bulls. Taking nothing away from Devin Harris' 3/4-court shot, it was a fluke that should have been called for a travelling violation. Wade's play is about as good as it gets in the NBA. For shizza.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Paul Rudd and George Will Read From Harlequin Romance Novels

This video cracked me up. The line of romance novels aimed at fans of NASCAR was the funniest, and, in a way, the most depressing - thing I've seen in weeks.

For the Record

For the record, before you read any further Paul Smecker and I sent each other six or seven e-mails yesterday in which we discussed the Celtics-Bulls first-round playoff series in some depth. There was macho discussion of basketball tactics. There was macho discussion of the trades and personnel moves which made these rosters, as currently constituted, possible. There were macho one-liners and pop-culture references.

For serious.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Your communications with the Pentagon have not gone unnoticed

--If you are referring to you pitiful tank formations on the Amur, our scouts can tell me what they are serving for dinner tonight.

Matveevna, hurry! They are selling herring for 30 kopeks on the Primorniy!

--For God's sake, MaryaIvanna! If that herring wasn't caught in the 60s, I am Brezhnev's left testicle.

Behold, free peoples of the world!

Ever do the capitalist empires consume each other thus!

Comrades, we are woefully behind on the five year plan





















We must blame our failure on Zinovievite saboteurs!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Doom and Gloom. Mainly Gloom.

I've been away from Tyrone - my trusty Thinkpad with approximately 250,000 miles on the odometer - for a couple of days, at a wedding in rural Alabama. Please spare your My Cousin Vinny jokes.

Its a miserable, rainy day here in the better borough, nothing would fit the mood better than a Radiohead cover of a Smiths song. A song like "Headmaster Ritual," for instance:

The Quiet Storm

I absolutely love this new advertisement for the NBA playoffs. It looks great in black and white, and its one of the coolest plays in recent years - Manu weaves through the entire Suns' front line, makes a great pass, and there's something dignified about how Tim Duncan takes his time lining up a rare three-point shot, which absolutely killed the Suns in a way that few shots in recent memory have killed another team. But beyond that, I love how you see the entire play, from start to finish, and how Tim Duncan - who I've nicknamed 'The Quiet Storm' for his silent-but-deadly on-court demeanor - just explodes with emotion after the ball goes through the net. Its just a cool advertisement.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Wordy Shipmates

Author, voiceover-movie actress, and National Public Radio personality Sarah Vowell is beloved here at CSD headquarters. Unfortunately, her 2008 non-fiction bestseller The Wordy Shipmates - a close reading of texts written by the leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and its progeny as founding documents of American political culture, a parsing of the obscure doctrinal differences between rival sects of Puritanism, a brief history of the Pequot War, the founding of Rhode Island and Ann Hutchison's Portsmouth settlement - isn't particularly well-suited to her storytelling style. Vowell salts her thoughtful discussions of colonial history and Puritan theology with obscure tangents, clever asides, and travelogue-style personal anecdotes, and the result is a loose, baggy pastiche that never entirely satisfies.

Vowell is at her best when she explains how the writings of John Winthrop, Roger Williams, John Cotton, Cotton Mather, and Ann Hutchison shaped the American political consciousness fourteen decades before the Founding Fathers refined it into the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. Some readers would be surprised to know the extent to which these themes infiltrate modern political rhetoric; both Ronald Reagan and Governor Mario Cuomo referenced John Winthrop in their parties conventions in 1984, and, in the candidates in the 2004 Presidential campaign offered competing views of what it meant to be American that their lineal ancestors - John Winthrop in the case of John Kerry; Ann Hutchison in the case of George W. Bush - would have recognized.

Vowell's attempts to lighten the tone often just sound corny, and her oddly post-modern metaphors obscure her meaning more than they clarify it. After a lengthy discussion of the causes of the Pequot War, Vowell writes:

"The buildup to the Pequot War reminds me of what skateboarders call the frustration tha tmakes them occasionally break their own skateboards in half - "focusing your board." The Pequot War is just that - a destructive tantrum brought on by an accumulation of aggravation."


Or, consider the even more clanking:

"By March, good old Miantonomi (a chief from the Narragansett tribe) sends Boston a tribute of "forth fathom of wampum and a Pequot's hand," severed body parts being the seventeenth-century equivalent of a gift basket of mini-muffins."


Post-modern metaphors of this sort are all too common in The Wordy Shipmates, particularly since many of them simply restate a point that Vowell has already made. Its unfortunate, because otherwise Vowell is a fine - even an accomplished - stylist. But one-liners of this sort tend to work better on This American Life than they do in print.

In one of the travelogue sections of the book - which tend to pop up, without warning, in the middle of a sober discussion of historical events - Vowell and her sister watch a documentary about the Mystic massacre, when Puritan soldiers torched an Indian village in the middle of the night, then shot and stabbed the Indians who attempted to escape through the village's two main exits, killing 700 in the process. Vowell writes about returning to her hotel room at the Mohegan Sun Casino, which "looks like it was designed by Ralph Lauren, Bugsy Siegel, and Willy Wonka after a night of peyote. Which is to say that I kind of like it." That joke would fit better in a Tony Horowitz-style book about the Puritan's legacy and the ways in which modern society remembers and memorializes them than it does in the earnest 'Puritan political philosophy as American Literature' discussion Vowell apparently intends The Wordy Shipmates to be. With a solid day of cutting and pasting, The Wordy Shipmates would have made for five or six excellent essays. Unfortunately, as a book, its a mess.

How Good Is Roy Halladay?

Is Roy Halladay the best pitcher in baseball? He is 3-0 to start this season, and has been dominant in all three starts. He was the runaway Cy Young award winner in 2003 (going 23-7 and throwing a whopping 266 innings in the process), was the most dominant pitcher in the American League in 2005 (12-4, 0.96 WHIP) before a freak line drive up the middle broke his leg. In 2006 he led the American League in winning percentage (16-5) despite the fact that the rest of his team was so mediocre that they had a losing record in games in which Halladay did not get a decision. In 2007 he won 16 games for Blue Jays team on which nobody hit above .297, hit more than 26 home runs or stole more than 17 bases.

But perhaps most impressive was his 2008 season. Last year, Halladay went 20-11 on a Blue Jays team with a mediocre bullpen and a lineup that did not feature a single batter with an OBP above .354 or slugging percentage above .496. He led the league in innings pitched (246), WHIP (1.05), complete games (9) and shutouts (2). At one point, he threw four consecutive complete games, allowing a total of only 10 runs, and managed to lose three of them, because the offense behind him could not score. And he put up these numbers in the strongest division in baseball, in which his team had to play a total of 57 games against the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Tampa Bay Rays, who were arguably three of the five best teams in baseball last year.

I saw Roy Halladay pitch in person once, in Yankee Stadium near the end of the 2007 season. Halladay shut the Yankees down for eight innings - the Yankees hit one weak ground ball after another; almost nothing got out of the infield. Halladay left the field to a substantial ovation - the New York crowds had a real respect for him - only to see his bullpen squander a three-run lead in the ninth inning. That sort of thing happens in baseball, but it happens far more often on the Blue Jays than it does on the Yankees or Red Sox, and Halladay is underrated around the league (and probably in historical terms) because of it. But he's really, really good. Make some time to watch him the next time the Blue Jays play on national TV.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I'm Having Trouble Sitting Down Today Because Neko Case Rocked My Ass Off

Last night Neko Case had an intimate little concert at the Nokia Theater in Times Square for Laura Linney, Martha Plimpton and 5,000 other assorted hippies, lesbians and bookworm hipster douchebags like myself. The special lady friend and I got there early, and ended up standing less than five feet from the stage. If Neko had broken into a sweat, she would have been sweating on us. Seeing a singer you've been in love with for years from a distance of less than ten feet is a difficult experience to describe, so I will just say that it was awesome.

If you are a Neko Case fan, you've no doubt heard and read that her voice needs to be experienced in person in order to fully appreciate its greatness. I had always disregarded that sort of talk - after all, who doesn't say that about their favorite bands? Nonetheless, she is someone I've wanted to see in person for years - I've seen the New Pornographers several times, but always without Neko, and I always had a bad habit of being out of town for an interview or a vacation when she came to Madison on her solo tours, so I had never seen That Voice in person.

Let me tell you: even the siren-like calls of her live recordings do not prepare you to see Neko in person. Everyone knows her voice is beautiful, but the room-filling resonance of it is something that no live album, no matter how well mastered, could hope to capture. Once a song or so, she widens her stance, bends her knees, arches her back backwards and hits a note so high and loud and clean that its unlike anything you've heard before in your life. It never stops startling you, even fifteen or twenty songs into the concert. The first time she sang 'what will make you believe me?' at the end of "This Tornado Loves You," people in the audience made eye contact with each other with "did you hear that" expressions on their face. It was that good.

Last night's concert made clear to me that Middle Cyclone is by far her best album. She sang some deep cuts last night, but the songs off her newest album generated the biggest cheers (and, I would say, best showcase her voice), and all of them bear the marks of being Growers. After last night, I am now convinced that I'll still be playing this album ten years from now.

One last thing - no review of last night's concert would be complete without a mention of her backing band, four seasoned, career studio session-looking guys from her Middle Cyclone studio sessions who played with the utmost precision, showed the full range of their chops without stealing any of Neko's spotlight, and, as an added bonus, provided Neko with winning straight men for the goofy, self-effacing stories she told between songs. Those guys rocked.

Neko is going to be performing tonight on The Late Show with David Letterman. I highly recommend checking it out.

Porn and The Onion

Three contributors to this blog went to a Catholic school that actually taught that women are physiologically incapable of enjoying sexual intercourse. For serious - that actually happened, so to say that this video slayed us is an understatement.
Study: Children Exposed To Pornography May Expect Sex To Be Enjoyable

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Somewhere, David Cross Is Shitting In His Pants

The famous Brooklyn bagel chain La Bagel Delight recently issued a press release announcing that one of its two 7th Avenue locations is relocating to 7th avenue and 7th Street, across from Methodist Hospital. But that's not all. According to the press release:

there’s sandwich news, too — this marks the neighborhood institution’s first venture into the world of panini as well as "flagels," (flat bagels) and flavors such as Asiago and jalapeƱo.

This will be hilarious to David Cross fans, who remember his classic riff on "Squagels," Cosi/XandO's ill-fated breakfast starch:



Thanks for the words, New York Magazine.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Mark "the Bird" Fidrych, 1954-2009

Mark Fidrych, one of the most magnetic personalities in recent baseball history, died today, apparently after an accident on his farm in Northborough, Massachusetts. I always considered myself a fan of his, even though I am too young to have ever seen him play. Let me explain:

Baseball is still our national past time. Baseball is popular with men my age, but is far and away the most popular sport among children, women, and senior citizens. Mark Fidrych was the sort of 'regular guy' player who appeals so broadly to baseball fans. Tall and skinny, with a goofy mane of curly hair, bizarre mannerisms and an overabundance of enthusiasm, Fidrych had one of the best rookie years every had by a pitcher. As a 21 year old, he went 19-9 for the fifth-place Detroit Tigers, leading 2.34 ERA, and a mind-blowing 24 complete games, to go along with a WHIP of 1.079. Fidrych was able to throw so many complete games because of his pitching style: he rarely struck anybody out (only 97 strikeouts in 250 innings) but never walked anybody, either (only one walk every five innings, on average). He just threw strikes, and specialized in getting batters to hit ground balls. That way, even if the batters got the ball through the infield, they almost never got extra bases, and Fidrych got batters to hit into a great deal of double plays.

People liked him because he looked like the Sesame Street character Big Bird (hence the nickname), because he gave hilarious, candid interviews in a thick Boston accent, and because he loved the game of baseball. He would pump his fist after an outfielder caught a fly ball, and would run across the diamond to high-five an infielder who made a good play on a ground ball. He would fix the pitcher's mound by re-arranging the dirt before every inning he pitched, and he had a series of bizarre warm-ups and pitching motions that fan found endearing. He was an easy player to cheer for, like a character from Major League come to life.

Fidrych won the first six games of his second season, then tore his rotator cuff in two different places, lost his next four games, and couldn't play for the rest of the season. After an off-season of rest, he effective again in the three games he pitched in his third season (2 complete games with a 2.45 ERA and 1.00 WHIP) before his injured shoulder sidelined him for the rest of the year. He was out of the major leagues two years later, his career over at the age of 25, having thrown a grand total of 412.1 innings in the major leagues. He is still beloved in Detroit, where retro jerseys bearing his name are frequently spotted in crowd shots of Tigers games.

In recent years, the baseball statistician Bill James (a big fan of Fidrych's) has shown that, given statistical trends, a pitcher who struck out as few batters as Fidrych was unlikely to have a very long career in the major leagues. (Note: the same is said of the New York Yankees' Chen Ming Wang). Perhaps that's true, but its hard to imagine a player who made a bigger impression in fewer games than Mark Fidrych.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

That's How We Do

I know I'm late to the party on these guys, but I'm hooked. My Morning Jacket wails.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Steady Diet of Neko

NPR is streaming a Neko Case concert tomorrow night, live from the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. She's also playing at the Nokia Theatre on Broadway and 44th Street in Manhattan on April 13th and 14th.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I Can't Help Myself

I buy a lot of books; more than I have time to read, and I read a lot. I suspect that this gives me something in common with many readers of this blog, or, for that matter, with a lot of 20-somethings living where literary types tend to congregate, like Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, college towns, and all of New York City except for the Upper East Side.

This January, I decided to take a page from a couple of friends, I decided that I wouldn't buy anything other than food and dry cleaning in the month of January. I'm frugal to begin with, and a recession is on, and people are going out less and spending less money, so the project wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be. Then, February came around, and The Strand had a big sale on Kurt Vonnegut so I bought three I've been meaning to read for years: Breakfast of Champions, Cat's Cradle, and Galapagos. While I was there, I picked up a $6.95 copy of Gary Shteyngart's Absurdistan. He's one of the most exciting young novelists in America, and you can't pass that up, right?

Then, McSweeney's had a big online clearance sale, and $5 copies of The Better of McSweeney's, Michael Chabon's Maps and Legends, and Nick Hornby's The Polysyllabic Spree, Housekeeping vs. The Dirt, and Shakespeare Wrote For Money found their little way into my cart, opening the floodgates. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I picked up a used copy of the great Susan Orlean's My Kind of Place from am outdoor table in front of a Smith Street used bookstore for $1, turned a couple of Amazon.com gift certificate into Bob Dylan's Chronicles: Volume One and Rick Perlstein's Nixonland. Earlier this week, killing some time before a doctor's appointment in the village, I treated myself to a handful of birthday presents - Tobias Wolff's Old School, Nick Hornby's 31 Songs, E.L. Doctorow's The March and J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey.

So: A total of 14 books purchased, versus 10 books read. Since all of the books were used, on sale, or bought with gift certificates, they probably didn't cost more than $80 altogether, but still - I'm supposed to be saving money in a bad economy, right? What ever happened to that modest goal?

I guess it shows how reading leads to more reading - Hornby's winning books of literary criticism inspired me to pick up a couple of the books he recommended, and also to pick up his book of music criticism. Reading one great Vonnegut novel inspired me to buy three more once they reached a price point I felt that I could justify on my government salary. Dusting off a great Dylan bootleg I hadn't played in a couple of years inspired me to pick up Chronicles, and my belated viewing of Frost/Nixon did the same for Nixonland. Reading is tricky like that.

Of course, all of these books could have been checked out of the library, and in fact my most recent splurge (if you can call a $25 expenditure in New York City a splurge) led me to, finally, after months of struggling with its shitty website, to walk into a branch of the Brooklyn Public and ask a librarian to show me how to order books from its catalog online. (Why can't the Brooklyn public library's website be as easy to use as the New York public library's? I don't get it). Anyway, my next batch of books will be coming from the BPL. But not just because only because my bedroom is running out of shelving.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Middle Cyclone

'I'm a maneater' Neko Case sings on "People Got A Lotta Nerve," and fittingly so. Her previous solo album The Tigers Have Spoken was beautiful but sparse, and Challengers, her last album with CSD favorite The New Pornographers, sounded favored quiet, pretty songs over the sort of the sort of toe-tappers that made the band famous, and even Case's contributions to the bands upbeat 2005 record Twin Cinema tended to be of the campfire-singalong variety (think of "Streets of Fire".) Six years after "Electric Version," Case's fans needed a reminder that their favorite red head could still kick ass. And kick ass, she does.

Songs like "This Tornado Loves You," "People Got A Lotta Nerve," and "I'm An Animal" showcase Neko's brilliant, room-filling voice, backed by muscular arrangments of guitars, organs and drums. The rock is back. If the album has a weakness, it is the 31 minute album-closer "Marais La Nuit." One can see why Neko wanted to end her nature-inspired album with chirping crickets and singing birds, but, at 31 minutes, the track is half an hour longer than it probably needs to be. Even so, Middle Cyclone has all of the elements of a classic record - fourteen thematically linked tracks, a handful of great songs, no weak ones, and ambition to spare. We likey.

"People Gota A Lotta Nerve"

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Criticism, Hardly Criticism

The Onion A.V. Club has been on fire lately, and Friday's column on cultural experiences you wish you could experience again for the first time is a perfect example. Its fun and insightful, and their love of the subject matter really shines through.

The two characteristics of the A.V. Club that drew me to it initially were the consistent high quality of their writing and the fact that I share the sensibilities of their writers - I just happen to enjoy most of the same stuff they enjoy, which means that I inherently trust their opinions on stuff that I've never been exposed to before. That's true of this list as well, which mentions The Wire, Friday Night Lights, David Cross, Patton Oswalt, Robert Altman, and so forth. But even if you aren't predisposed to liking those things, their enthusiasm for the material wins you over.

Hipster Shopping Epic Fail

Having spent most of the first 27 years of my life in the middle west, my casual wardrobe largely consists of black t-shirts, university theme t-shirts, solid or pinstriped button downs, and Levi's jeans. There's nothing wrong with them, but their natural habitat is State Street in Madison, or Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo moreso than it is Smith Street or 5th Avenue in Brooklyn. So, for my birthday this year, I decided to treat myself to some cooler clothes.

Sadly, and perhaps inevitably, this proved to be a difficult proposition. I walked to the jeans rack in Brooklyn Industries and the first twenty or so pairs were size 28. This was a bad omen. The pair of jeans I ended up trying on was the single-largest pair in the store - a size 36 waist, straight-cut - and they were so small that I couldn't get them past my thighs. Secondly, all of their jeans come in size 32 length, unless you get the special extra-long pair which I tried on, which is only a 34. The guy at the store was surprised that I was larger than a 32 and told me that most of their customers have to get their jeans hemmed. This, to me, was entirely unacceptable. Where are all of these scrawny fucking hipsters coming from? Is nobody in Brooklyn more than six feet tall? Hasn't anybody ever played a sport? If so, they would have thighs with, you know, muscles in them, and that would make them too large for anything sold at Brooklyn Industries. I did find a very cool, and, in my eyes, pretty stylish white button down shirt in my size. It fits me like the shirt that John Travolta bought at the beginning of Saturday Night Fever - apparently this is the desired fit, the 'fitted' look - and I think it looks good, but if I ever tried to lift a heavy box in it I'm sure I would bust all of the buttons open at once. Why are all of you hipsters so fucking little?

This afternoon, I hit a series of second-hand stores along 5th Avenue in Brooklyn, looking to find jeans and a couple of casual shirts. Once again, everything was too small for me. Most thrift stores don't have anything - not a single shirt - larger than a size large, which, again, means that anybody taller than 6'1" or so is SOL. That was really a shame, because there was an absolutely bitchin' t-shirt with Andy Warhol banana painting used by the Velvet Underground, as well as a vintage Tom Waits t-shirt, both for less than $20.

Finding footgear was even worse. Some stores didn't carry shoes larger than a size eleven. A SIZE ELEVEN! THAT'S THE AVERAGE MEN'S SIZE! I wear a size 15, which is probably in the 98th percentile when it comes to men's shoes. I'm accustomed to having a difficult time finding shoes in my size. But not to carry anything larger than a size eleven is just ridiculous - that's like the 50th percentile for men's shoes. In other words, anybody larger than the average-sized man (5'10" or so) would likely be out of luck at these shoe stores.

Does anybody else have this problem? Where can you find cool clothes that you can actually fit into?

Friday, April 3, 2009

For Gay Couples, This Isn't Heaven - Its Iowa

The Supreme Court of Iowa struck down the state's ban on gay marriage today, ruling that it violated Constitutional equal protection guarantees.

Added: Its a unanimous decision!

Also added: Jake Taylor comes through like a champ with a bang-up summary of the Iowa Supreme Court's decision.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Bruno!!!

The trailer for the new Sasha Baron Cohen movie, Bruno, is now online. I'm excited. Who's with me?

Spring Brain Training

Baseball has more interesting trivia and statistics than any other sport - my personal favorite is that Stan Musial retired with 3,630 hits of which 1,815 came and home at 1,815 came on the road. That statistic and more appear in George Will's spring training pop-quiz in the latest issue of Newsweek - a great way to test your knowledge of baseball arcana.

Some of my favorites:

Who hit a triple but was called out for missing both first and second?

What pitcher won 363 games and got 363 hits

Who is the only player since Babe Ruth to lead the major leagues in RBI for three consecutive seasons?

Who is the only player to be a rookie of the year, MVP, and triple crown winner?

Which two players won the Rookie of the Year and the MVP award in the same season?

Who is the only player to win the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards in the same season?