Sunday, January 31, 2010

Stephen Colbert Hosts the Grammys

Nobody gives a fuck about the Grammys, but Stephen Colbert is hosting them tonight, which means that everybody at Common Sense Dancing headquarters is hoping for another 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner, or, more media-appropriately, the 1999 MTV Music Video Awards, when Chris Rock tore everybody a new asshole and made so much fun of the event itself that they never invited him back. (Remember when he said that Fatboy Slim was "more like Whiteboy Retarded" and said of an obviously lip-synched Destiny's Child performance "Why'd they even turn on the microphones?" That night was awesome.) He's off to a good start, making fun of the the way that awards shows are little more than opportunities for celebrities to congratulate themselves on their success and ironically addressing Jay-Z as if they two of them are old buddies from the 'hood.

Any predictions?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

emo evening thoughts

SOTU, you are on my list of ugly beltway acronyms

I am amused that large news organizations and thinking persons waited with baited breath over a piece of consumer electronics.

How is greg oden like stuyvesant town? both are very large and seemed much more promising in 2007. (rimshot)

the part of Infinite Jest that discusses the video phone and the development of masks to create personal space in an overly intimate medium brilliantly prefigured social networking sites.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Grizzly Bear Is Going To Yah Mo Burn This Place To The Ground

Common Sense Dancing headquarters is split on the band Grizzly Bear, and anybody who has seen The 40 Year-Old Virgin probably has ironic thoughts dancing through their heads whenever they listen to Michael McDonald's music, but he contributes a terrific lead vocal to this version of Grizzly Bear's "While You Wait For The Others." When I first heard about it, I thought it was a joke, but it exists, and its pretty good - certainly far better than I would have expected.

Book Club Reminders

The Onion AV Club's Wrapped Up In Books begins its discussion of Joshua Ferris' Then We Came To The End - a CSD favorite - tomorrow, and will be discussing the book all week, culminating on Friday in a roundtable online discussion between the AV Club's critics and an interview with Ferris himself.

The Common Sense Dancing book club begins discussion of its second book, Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale, on Monday, February 1st.

Jonathan Lethem's Chronic City

Jonathan Lethem's new novel, Chronic City, is set in the near future in a slightly surrealist Upper East Side. Its protagonist Chase Insteadman, is a handsome, affable former child star, living comfortably off of the royalties generated by the reruns of a TGIF-style sitcom he starred in twenty-five years ago. While interviewing for a voiceover gig, he meets Perkus Tooth, a freelance cultural critic who captivated the city with his gonzo broadsides in the CBGB era and has been wasting away in a cloud of marijuana smoke and conspiracy theories every since. Chase soon becomes Perkus' permanent sounding board, through endless nights of greasy take-out food, expensive brands of pot, and viewings of obscure movies. They are joined by Richard, one of the major's fixers, who went to high school with Perkus and whose life of high-powered meetings and seductive socialites seems to have little in common with theirs.

Perkus, Richard, and seemingly all of their friends are obsessed with stories of the edgier, grittier New York of the Koch/Dinkins era. The bizarre romanticism they feel for this era confuses Chase, until a series of catastrophes beset the city that make it seem as if the city is regressing back to its pre-Guiliani form. A permanent, low-lying fog that envelops the financial district, strange smells permeate midtown, the upper east side is beset by a seemingly random series of violent attacks and imploded buildings that are rumored to be the work of a wild tiger, escaped from the zoo, and the parties of the rich and famous become more and more decadent.

Chronic City's Upper East Side is every bit as fascinating -and every bit as big of a character in its own right - as The Fortress of Solitude's Boerum Hill or Motherless Brooklyn's South Brooklyn, but, unlike his two superior previous novels, Lethem does do very much with the city-as-character he spent so much time meticulously developing. It is the setting of a much more ambitious novel, but Lethem's masterful scene-setting is wasted on a novel that consists of a series of digressive conversations between Chase, Perkus and Richard about Marlon Brando, The Muppets, and The Twilight Zone.

Chronic City contains many of the showy set-pieces for which Lethem is justifiably revered, but it is torn between being a small character study and an ambitious, Pynchonesque epic. Unfortunately for Chronic City's readers, that is an uncomfortable place to be.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

That Was Bitchin'

Last night, Conan O'Brien signed off from his final broadcast of The Tonight Show by playing rhythm guitar on a triumphant performance of "Freebird," with Beck, Ben Harper, Bily Gibbons, Max Weinberg and the Tonight Show Band, and Will Farrell and his cowbell.

I love Will Farrell and love the cowbell, which works both on its own terms and as a reference to one of the funniest SNL skits of the past twenty years, though I would have preferred it if they found a better singer (especially since Neil Young was already in the building) and then had Farrell come out of nowhere in the last two minutes of the song to bring things home with his cowbell. Wouldn't that have been awesome? It was pretty awesome anyway, and its celebratory, anything goes attitude is sort of what Conan's tenure at The Tonight Show has been all about.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Proximity to Conan Makes Robin Williams Funny Again

I probably hate Robin Williams as much as you hate Robin Williams, but he was surprisingly tolerable on The Tonight Show last night, and his visit ended with a hilarious off-the-cuff Irish jig that turned into a series of F-bombs and middle fingers that provided the second belly laugh of the night, proveing once again that the only thing funnier than an unexpected F-bomb is a bleeped out unexpected F-bomb.

Take It All, NBC

As part of Conan's glorious "let's tear NBC a new asshole while we still can" week, he has been coming up with subtle ways to waste NBC's money, like, for instance, having Max Weinberg and the Max Weinberg 7 cover Led Zeppelin songs. Then, there are some not-so-subtle ways, like the new Tonight Show 'character,' a Buggati sportscar wearing a mouse costume, whose theme song is the Rolling Stones' original master recording of "Satisfaction."

But Conan really outdid himself last night, when he introduced a new Tonight Show character; 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird wearing a mink snuggie and watching restricted NFL Super Bowl highlights on a television. I'm pretty thrifty in my ways, but the thought of NBC shelling out to make a mink snuggie big enough to fit a thoroughbred horse just kills me. Then, to top it off, Conan played the bit again during the closing credits.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"That's Why I Chose Yale"

The Yale University Development Office released this video as a way to sell Yale College to a generation of high school students raised on High School Musical and its sequels. Great. I kept waiting for it to turn into a Saturday Night Live or Triumph The Comic Dog sketch, but, sadly, it never happened.

Nobody will ever confuse me with Larry Csonka, but I grew up in a blue collar city, and have spent a significant amount of time over the past twelve years trying to convince my friends that Yale College consists of more than prancing little Lord Fauntleroy-types who juggle and sing a cappella and wear navy blazers and deck shoes, with modest success. But this video sends me back to square one. Its hopeless. Just kick our asses and get it over with.

A friend of mine has suggested that this video's earnestness and self-regard makes it seem more like something that Harvard would make; you would expect a video produced by Yale to be a little more ironic and self-deprecating. I have run this idea past a few people, and everybody agrees with her, but to somebody without an Ivy League background that probably sounds like a distinction without a difference.

Monday, January 18, 2010

emo evening thoughts

realizing i am generally too busy to write evening emo thoughts is the most emo-inducing thought of all

hell is other people['s weddings]

Having watched Maryland blow out BC over the weekend, I was surprised at the lack of atmosphere at BC basketball games. There was no student presence to speak of.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Then We Came To The End

Here at CSD headquarters, we are re-reading Joshua Ferris' 2007 novel Then We Came To The End as part of The Onion AV Club's book club, 'Wrapped Up in Books.' Though 8yearoldsdude disagrees with my evaluation of the novel, I think it is a perceptive look at how people behave at work, a Catch-22 for the contemporary office space. Whatever criticisms of the novel you may have, one has to admire Ferris' bravura set pieces, like this one:

We opened a few Quark document, or took out our penciles. Every once in a while a nicely sharpened pencil would crack on the page upon impact and we'd have to go in search of the one electric pencil sharpener. That was annoying. Back in our chairs we drummed the eraser between our teeth. If a stray paper clip happened to be lying around we were likely to bend it out of shape. Some of us knew how to turn a misshapen paper clip into a projectile that could hit the ceiling. If our attention was drawn to the ceiling, we usually recounted our tiles. When we returned to our computer screens, we erased whatever false starts we found there, suddenly embarassed by them. We had the feeling that our bad ideas were probably worse than the bad ideas of others. Those of us who worked on sketch pads were engaged by that point in the great unsung pastime of American corporate life, the wadded paper toss. This, more than anything, was what "billable hour" implied. It was always annoying when an eyelid started to twitch. We did some drag-and-drop. What was missing was an interesting color palette, so we leaned back in our chairs and gave it some thought. What Pantone would be perfect for a fund-raising event? No one ever admitted to it publicly, but there were days of extreme sexual frustration. The phone would ring. It was nothing. We checked our e-mail. We clicked back into Quark and established new snap-to guides. Sometimes our computers froze and we would have to call down to IT. Or we needed something from the supply room. Lately inventory in the supply room seemed half of what it used to be, and the woefully bereft drought and low crop production in the history of a foregone people. But usually we needed nothing from the supply room. We took out our bags of snacks from our desk drawers, or we chewed our fingernails. Suddenly a blinding flash of the obvious would strike, and a flurry of keyboard noise flittered out into the hall. We thought, "This is not a half-bad idea." That was all we needed, one little insight. Soon the roughest look, the crudest message, started to shape itself into coherence. Inevitably when we reached that point, we stopped to use the restroom.

An Acclaimed Rock Band From . . . France?

Despite having a couple of their albums and considering myself a fan of theirs, I had never seen Phoenix play live until I found this clip of their June 2009 performance on the Late Show with David Letterman. They look exactly what I expected them to look like - skinny and pretty and French; all that's missing are the dirty little cigarettes on which you just know they were puffed before going onstage. These guys are a lot of fun - I love how the singer drops the microphone at the end of the song, and how the drummer worked himself into such a frenzy that Letterman was moved to ask him afterwards if he was going to be allright. Good stuff.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


We at CSD headquarters are quickly getting hooked on Xx. Where were these people five years ago? Their debut album would have made great background noise for studying, though its much more than that.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

what do I know

Were the scissor sisters the avant garde of lady gaga's "avant-garde" pop?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Quick Thoughts on NBC's Late Night Programming

NBC is quickly programming itself into oblivion, and the recent stories about NBC taking The Tonight Show away from Conan O'Brien, or, even worse, giving Jay Leno a half-hour talk-show at 11:30 and Conan a half-hour show starting at midnight.

I'm not an expert, but it seems to me that, if NBC is concerned about losing young, educated, professional viewers to late-night programs like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, then it should not only be keeping Conan O'Brien on the air at 11:30pm, but it should be doing everything in its power to convince older audiences (and probably southern and midwestern audiences) of why they should be watching Conan O'Brien, instead of the cliche "Jaywalking" clips and corny jokes that Leno has been offering for so many years. Its been done before - Letterman started much like O'Brien, as an edgy, improvization-heavy performer who mocked television's conventions, and who people doubted would ever appeal to anybody beyond college kids and comedy nerds, before becoming the biggest star in broadcast television. The same could happen with O'Brien - I'm not saying that it will, but it could - and its hard to see how anybody else currently on network late night becoming a star on that scale.

Conan is a comedian's comedian, and in a perfect world that would make him popular at 11:30 pm, but if it doesn't, NBC should have the courage of its convictions and seek to build upon its reputation for quality. CBS and FOX already give audiences exactly what they demand to see. It would be nice to see a network support its investment in quality programming, then convince audiences that what they're offering is better.

And, in case you missed it, Conan's monologue jokes (see the two videos here) about his predicament were absolutely hilarious.

ADDED: Conan's written statement to his fans can be read here.

move to strike

Dear vast horde of lawyer readers/writers,

when did acronyms like POTUS and SCOTUS enter common written lexicon? I think it has to be within the last 8 years. I find them to be incredibly ugly words, and I wish their usage were stopped. Are they byproducts of blog/text-message language shift? Are they somehow byproducts of globalization of thought, now that authors feel they must acknowledge other presidents and supreme courts?


An Interesting Statistic

Over the past twenty-five years, the NFL has continually changed its rules to open up the passing game. As a result of that, and also of tactical and strategic advances initiated by Bill Walsh, passing statistics have been improving across the board. Most of the rule changes have goverened how much defensive backs can hit receivers down field. These rules were strengthened after the New England Patriots beat up the Indianapolis Colts' wide receivers in a 20-3 win at Gilette Stadium.

Everybody knows that several of the best individual statistical seasons for quarterbacks and wide receivers have occurred in the past five years or so. What I wasn't prepared for was this statistic on the NFL's all-time leaders in quarterback rating.

Green Bay Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the NFL's all-time leading passer, and eight of the top ten and 22 of the top 27 rated quarterbacks of all-time are currently active. Without question, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are two of the best quarterbacks every to play the game, but the greatness of this current crop of wide receivers and quarterbacks needs to be viewed in the context of the rules under which they played.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Now We're Cooking

As some recent posts have shown, we're getting increasingly into food here at Common Sense Dancing. Recently, Kitchen Window, NPR's food blog, recently posted a great article about cooking with whole grains. Buying whole grain bread or pasta is one thing, but how many people actually cook with whole grains? Certainly not me. We picked a recipe from the list - the polenta with leeks and chard - and went to Whole Foods to buy the ingredients.

At the risk of sounding like a yuppie, Whole Foods is really growing on me. I have previously blogged about its "Whole Paycheck" reputation, and it is entirely possible that New Yorkers don't get sticker shock in that store because we pay more for groceries are regular grocery stores than most people do. The prepared foods, obscure cheeses, out-of-season produce are expensive, but then, you sort of expect them to be, and a lot of the staples at Whole Foods - milk, bread and other bakery stuff like bagels and pastries - are priced the same, or cheaper, than they are at most regular grocery stores. While I was there, I thought a lot about the profile of Whole Foods' CEO John Mackey from last week's issue of The New Yorker. Its a big corporation, but I think its a good one - for instance, its bakery section is a real bakery, instead of just selling bland white bread shaped like a circle and calling it a bagel.

Back to the polenta. We poured ground, corn into boiling, salted water to make the polenta, then cooked the shard, leeks, rosemary and olive oil in a sauce pan. We grated gruyere and parmesean cheeses. We layered the bottom of the pan with polenta, then added the vegetables, then gruyere cheese, another layer of polenta, then topped it with parmesean cheese, salt and pepper. It took about an hour to prepare, but the final result was worth it. As we cooked, I was reminded, not for the first time in the past several months, that so much of the 'cooking' I've done in my life is really just the combining of ingredients - taking pasta out of a box and putting it into bioling water, heating up a can of Prego or Newman's Own pasta sauce, then combining the two. Both involve using the stove and making a mess, but one produces something new that is greater than the sum of its parts, while the other is exactly the sum of its parts. I certainly don't have time to prepare food in more than a "sum of its parts" kind of way more than once a twice or week, but now I recognize the difference, whereas I never did before.

in which i complain about middlebrow pop culture, much of which is liked by wade

1901 just makes me think of cadillacs.

I read Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris. It wasn't satisfying. I really enjoyed the first fifty pages; it was exciting to read an account of how strange, sad, and neurotic office workers are. but the book failed to deliver. his desire to show how isolated people are made it impossible to have any meaningful characters or make me continue to care what happened. The book wound up seeming gimmicky.

I saw avatar last night. (Maybe spoilers to follow) it was strangely both awesome and stupid at the same was odd to have a movie that so nakedly had no new ideas, but was able to rely strictly on technical expertise/expense to be awesome. the plot is a mishmash of star wars (the end of the air battle), the matrix, and fern gully. The idea that our best vision of outer space consists of shapes and concepts taken from the undersea is not a novel one. and the idea that all natural beings are plug and play hardware that can linked via USB is a little anthrocentric is not gamer-centric. however, the technology to create the movie is awesome enough that it is good fun.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Two Gentlemen of Lebowski

The Big Lebowski meets Shakespeare. I would see this play.

Wherefore silence? What impudence is this?
Thou art killing thy father, Laurence! O!
This hath no end; he never will speak word.
I take thy parchment back, and turn to plans
Of secondary contingence. Look well.
Behold thy car, the corvette, crimson-stain’d,
And see what befalls sinners evermore.
[He raises his sword, and smites the car]
This befalleth when thou firk’st a stranger ‘twixt the buttocks, Laurence! Understand’st thou? Dost thou attend me? Seest thou what happens, Laurence? Seest thou what happens, Laurence? Seest thou what happens, Laurence, when thou firk’st a stranger ‘twixt the buttocks?!
[Enter CLOWN]
This be what befalleth, Laurence! This be what befalleth, Laurence!"

The Xx is Pretty Rad

The band XX has been gaining popularity in music-nerd circles for their unique brand of minimalist cool, but the release of their self-titled major-label debut, and reviews like this one, indicate that they won't stay obscure for very much longer. This is their first video:

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

11th Dimension

Biff von Bert recommended Julian Casablancas' solo album, Phrazes For the Young, to me the other day. I didn't pay much attention to it when it came out, but it has some outstanding songs on it, especially "11th Dimension," which has a great Casablancas vocal without sounding like The Strokes, and sounds like a long-lost song from the circa 1980 Blondie/Talking Heads New York City New Wave scene.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Up In the Air

I saw Up In the Air on saturday night. It is well written, well acted, stylishly directed, and has some very funny jokes. George Clooney knocks his role out of the park, and Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga are rightfully receiving Oscar buzz for their supporting roles, and the movie has numerous scenes stolen by brief cameos from Zach Galifianikis, Danny McBride and J.K. Simmons. It is a very good movie - I didn't enjoy it very much.

I discussed the movie with my father last night. His basic take on it was that "people who call movies like Up In the Air and About Schmidt 'comedies' are full of bullshit." That's putting it bluntly, but I totally understand what he means. Ryan Bingham, the movie's main character is a consultant who is hired by companies to fire their employees for them. He spends less than forty days a year in the cheap one-bedroom apartment that he rents; he spends more than three hundred days travelling each year, and his biggest goal in life is to reach 10,000,000 frequent flyer miles. Bingham's two sisters are unhappy with the modest lives they lead in small-town northern Wisconsin. There is a plot twist in the second half of the movie that, without giving anything away, is as big of a stomach-punch as anything I've seen in a mainstream movie since Maggie Fitzgerald broke her neck in Million Dollar Baby. As if that wasn't depressing enough, the movie takes a break from the plot every so often to show a series of brief interviews with the employees that Ryan Bingham has fired, who talk about the depression and stress of getting laid off.

Perhaps those scenes just his a little too close to home for me, but those laid-off employees - some of whom are played by actors, but most of whom are real-life laid-off workers - cut me to the bone. A movie about a depressing subject does not become more enjoyable by dint of being well-made; it becomes more difficult to watch, and while Up In the Air is no Schindler's List or The Killing Fields, it isn't the free-wheeling, Bonfires of the Vanities-esque satire that its advertising campaign and many mainstream reviews have made it out to be. As a movie, it is brilliant. As an entertainment, it is a cold shower. A cold, depressing shower.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Autumn of Dick - Weeks 11 and 12

After thirteen weeks and twelve reading assignments, we are finished with Moby Dick! Pat yourself on the back - it is a long book, and not an easy one to get through.

We don't have to worry about spoilers, do we? Moby Dick strikes me as a book for which most people know the ending, from seeing movies, or parodies, or from English teachers. I learned a lot about Moby Dick from hearing a college English professor discuss Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. I'm going to discuss the plot developments in the last fifty pages or so, The novel's final fifty pages or so contain some of the most famous passages in all of American literature.

In previous chapters, the Pequod had met ships that had recently seen Moby Dick. Every successive ship seems to have seen Moby Dick more recently than the last, so Ahab seems to be getting closer to his quarry. The Pequod meets the Rachel, a ship that has seen Moby Dick very recently. The Rachel is missing one of its boats, and the captain's son is on the missing boat. The Rachel asks Ahab to assist in the search for the missing boat, but Ahab is too obsessed with finding the Whale to lend a hand. Starbuck realizes how dangerous Ahab's obsession has become, and eventually decides that the only way to stop Ahab from killing them all in his obsessive quest to kill Moby Dick. Starbuck goes to the door of Ahab's cabin with a rifle drawn, as if to kill him, but loses his nerve, and walks away. To a modern reader, that seems like such a turning point - it is clear now that Ahab is going to get everybody killed. The Pequod finds Moby Dick, and, over three days, has a series of violent encounters with the white whale, during which crew members die and the boats and its oars become increasingly damaged. On the third day, Moby Dick kills Ahab and destroys the Pequod. Ishmael survives by finding Queequeg's coffin/life buoy and holding on for a day and a night, avoiding the suction of the Pequod's sinking, before he is rescued by the Rachel.

If you found the first 550 pages to be boring, the last two selections should make you get it - Melville has some serious game as a prose stylist, and when he puts that great voice to use describing actual action instead of matter-of-factly discussing the finer points of the whaling trade, it is a sight to behold. The climactic three day fight with Moby Dick is surprisingly exciting - much thrillingly narrated than you would expect from a novel published 150 years ago.

What are your thoughts on the last two sections? I think that the first and last fifty pages of the novel are its two best sections, by far. The start of the novel is a masterpiece of character development and foreshadowing, and the last fifty pages is one of the more exciting sections of any classic novel that I've ever read. You just have to put up with a lot of non-fiction in order to get there.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year

In what is quickly becoming a Common Sense Dancing tradition, the kids from Sweden ring in New Year's day in an optimistically melancholy way:

Updated: The Onion A.V. Club posted this video this morning, too. I guess all bookworm hipster douchebags think alike.