Sunday, November 28, 2010

Good Table Manners Might Save Your Life

I want to know where Indiana Jones went to archaeology school - they teach you how to throw a punch, look great in tweed jackets and double-breasted suits, and kill your adversaries with flaming shish-kebobs, but not table manners. You never know when classy table manners will impress a Hong Kong mafia boss or like a sexy German occultist who it would be helpful to win over to your side.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Blake Griffin Has No Regard For Humanity

Blake Griffin, a rookie power forward on the Los Angeles Clippers, is one of the most exciting players to enter the league in years. In addition to be a very good player, he is tough as nails, and legitimately fun to watch. Once a game or so, he provides a highlight reel-caliber play that knocks me out of my chair. In Saturday's game against the Knicks, he provided three:

Some of these dunks could double as great moments in ownage.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Weekend Links (Monday Version)

In the New Yorker, Anthony Lane reviews The King's Speech and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Part 1.
The New York Times had an interesting article this week about "Unlearning to Tawk Like A New Yorker."

And, speaking of the AV Club, a comments thread last week linked to this old interview with David Foster Wallace, about his book Infinity and More.

The AV Club staff talks about the music, television shows, and movies they want to see one more installment of, but will never get to see, because the show was prematurely cancelled, the band broke up, somebody died, etc. Mine would be as follows: the rest of Season 1 and all of Season 2 of Freaks and Geeks, the rest of the first three seasons of Arrested Development, and the BBC adaptation of The Honourable Schoolboy, the middle installment of John le Carre's "Karla Trilogy."

Tina Fey recently received the Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize for humor, but PBS had to cut out the portion of her acceptance speech in which she discusses her imitations of Sarah Palin, which, I'm going to guess, are a significant reason why she won the award in the first place. But of course PBS is saying that they cut that portion due to time constraints.

The Basketball blog "48 Minutes of Hell" is reporting that the San Antonio Spurs are using their Development League team to test new sports nutrition and sports medicine plans. Interesting stuff, and it makes you wonder why more teams haven't tried stuff like this in the past.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Spike Jonze's New Music Video for "The Suburbs"

Arcade Fire's new video is directed by CSD favorite Spike Jonze.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Strange Carrot-Peeling Contests and Other Tuesday Links

Friend-of-the-blog and Kings County Assistant District Attorney David Kim got a conviction in a high-profile elder abuse case last week.

Well, that's one way to judge a carrot-peeling contest.

The AV Club's primer on the music of David Bowie is as good of a summary of a diverse career as you'll find.

"Uncomfortable Moments With Putin" is a hilarious. Who would take the time to put something like this together? And, is it possible to hang out with him?

Diesel shot some underwear advertisements in, of all places, the Brooklyn Law School library. Nothing like this ever happened while I was in law school. Um, if I went to law school.

Roger Sterling's book, Sterling's Gold, is now for sale. You know what they say - when God closes a door, he opens a dress.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Saturday Night Live's Funniest Sketch of the Season?

I really enjoyed Saturday Night Live's parody of the Unstoppable trailer. I'm game for any skit or short that gives Jay Pharaoh an opportunity to do impressions, but this skit really took it over the top, but his impression of Denzel as a walking, catch-phrase-spouting cliche ("chugga-chugga choo-choo, boom!"), and Johansson's running "the size of the Chrysluh Build-ing" joke were exceptionally well-executed. I just really enjoyed the way in which the skit starts out slow - with several lines taken directly from the original trailer - and that ratchets up the insanity ("it gets worse - that's enough flaming kids to hold hands . . . around the Chrysluh Build-ing!") until the final punch line kind of cornily wraps it up. Just an excellent job all around.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

. . . And It Was Good

NBC has already posted Arcade Fire's musical performances from last night. The band sounded good, not great, but definitely left me wanting more, which the studio audience presumably received - the last two times Arcade Fire played Saturday Night Live, they stayed after the show and put on a mini-concert of six or eight additional songs.

Just thinking out loud here, but I've always wondered why Saturday Night Live doesn't give its best musical acts more time - isn't that a better way to fill the ninety minutes, particularly during the weeks when they don't have a surplus of good sketches? In the past year, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, MGMT, Regina Spektor, Jay-Z, Rhianna, Lady Gaga, and Arcade Fire have played Saturday Night Live. Would you rather see any of those musical acts do an extra song or two than see the tenth Kristin Wiig sketch of the night, or another re-hashed skit from a previous season?

"We Used To Wait"

"Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)"

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Tonight's Episode of Saturday Night Live Is Kind of a Big Deal

Tonight's episode of Saturday Night Live is being hosted by Scarlett Johansson and Arcade Fire. This is a very big deal at Common Sense Dancing Headquaters. The only way this could be more up our alley was if it was also co-hosted by Jennifer Connelly, The National, and Thurman Thomas. To get myself psyched up, I'm going to put on my black 3-piece suit from the 1920's, cut my hair with an axe, put on a football helmet, and post three bitchingly awesome Arcade Fire live performances.

"We Used To Wait"

"Rebellion (Lies)"

"Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)"

Their Noise

Even serious music fans rarely pay much attention to the labels that release their favorite music, so its easy to overlook the fact that a significant percentage of the indie rock canon has been released by little, Durham, North Carolina-based Merge Records. Founded by Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance of Superchunk, Merge has become a home for the off-beat musicians in bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, Spoon, Arcade Fire, Magnetic Fields, M. Ward, She & Him, Camera Obscura, Destroyer, and, of course, Superchunk itself. Merge Records Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label That Got Big and Stayed Small, an exhaustive oral history, tells the story of the label's fifteen-year rise to prominence.

Merge succeeded due to a variety of factors. McCaughan and Ballance possessed a rare combination of attributes: good taste in music, generosity, and ability to form long-term relationships with sometimes difficult, egotistical musicians. As musicians, McCaughan and Ballance were liked by critics, loved by other musicians, and followed by a small-but-dedicated community of students and big-city hipsters. They continued to work day jobs (at restaurants and at Kinko's) well after they founded Merge, and that income, in addition to what they earned through Superchunk, gave them the ability to create a unique profit-sharing structure, in which bands received 50% of the profits from their record sales, instead of the 10% or so that bands on major labels received. Merge valued good musicianship over marketability, and, over the years, developed such a good critical reputation that DJs and record store clerks began to play their new releases simply because they trusted Merge's judgment. Merge bands would tour by van instead of bus, or bus instead of airplane, and would often crash at fans' apartments instead of hotels, to save money.

Merge was conservative with its money - giving small advances so that more of their albums would "earn out," but willing to double-down on albums it believed in, allowing for elaborate artwork and occasionally self-indulgent records, such as when The Magnetic Fields released the sprawling 69 Love Songs, a triple-album that went on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies, despite the fact that, at a major label, it would never have seen the light of day.

Still, for all of their critical success, Merge was small-time, working out of its founders' homes for almost a decade. Their first break-through commercial success was Spoon, which came to them only after being dropped by Elektra after the commercial failure of A Series of Sneaks, which Elektra had foolishly marketed to a mainstream audience, instead of Spoon's traditional indie rock demographic. The oral history format serves the book well here, quoting a member of Spoon as saying that, for hm, the lowest point came when he was forced to take a day job as an executive assistant, and, while wearing a suit, ran into Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss on his lunch hour. His embarassment at being seen at his office job by an indie rock heroine motivated him to get back in touch with his bandmates and find a new label on which to record, and Merge was an obvious choice. Spoon went on to release four excellent albums on Merge. The appeal of indie labels increased as bands like Spoon cracked the charts against the backdrop of an across-the-board decline in major-label CD sales, and, eventually, singers like M. Ward and Win Butler, both big fans of the previous generation of Merge bands, signed up with them instead of any number of major-label suitors.

The oral history format serves the book well - there are a lot of telling anecdotes that would likely not have found their way into print otherwise, and it is fascinating to see how people can remember a single historical event so differently. The other side of the coin is that, in parts, it seems as if every member of the Merge universe gets to weigh in on every turn of events, and obscure bands like Polvo, Butterglory, and Seam get a hagiographic treatment that they don't entirely deserve. Its a good book, but one that probably only serious indie rock fans need to invest their time in reading.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Weekend Links

New York Magazine's wonderful "My Mother's Thanksgiving" feature will make you drool.

Keith Richards's memoir, Life, was released two weeks ago, to surprisingly favorable reviews. Rolling Stone magazine reports that Mick and Keith don't get along very well anymore, but Richards refuted that in a great interview with Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

Keith Phipps' "Triple Feature," about three "scary dog" movies, was very well-done.

A blogger calling herself Nerdy Applebottom posted a beautiful little story about her son who dressed as Scooby Doo's Daphne for Halloween. The title of the post? "My Son Is Gay."

Common Sense Dancing headquarters has been catching up on HBO's Bored To Death. We love its gorgeous Brooklyn locations! A couple of great reviews, by The New Yorker's Nancy Franklin and The AV Club's Nathan Rabin, really capture the spirit of the show.

The New Yorker's Sasha Frere-Jones has an interesting new article about Pavement, who are staging somewhat of a comeback.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Return of "Terrible Love"

The National just released a new studio version of "Terrible Love," and, where the album version deliberately muddied up the band's sounds, adding reverb to the guitars and taking the drums way down in the mix, the new version allows you to hear each instrument distinctly, so that the band's musicianship is more on display. It is an enormous upgrade.

Also, for the ladies, this video has a lot of footage of Matt Berninger being handsome and charming and drunk and skinny and sad, all of which I know you love.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Oh, How I Miss the Muppet Show!

AV Club TV editor Noel Murray's has a regular feature, "A Very Special Episode" is some of the best writing about television anywhere on the internet. Or just anywhere. This week's column, about an episode of The Muppet Show that Steve Martin hosted in 1977, is fantastic, and a must-read for fans of either Martin or the Muppets. As long-time readers of the blog will remember, the CSD staff are avid fans of both, so this was right up our alley.

Great quote: "if you need evidence that the ’70s were a confused time, entertainment-wise, you won’t find any much stronger than this: an ostensible family show featuring a subversive stand-up comic playing the theme song from an R-rated movie known for its graphic violence and forced sodomy."

The banjo scene reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from the Muppet Show, hosted by legendary jazz drummer Buddy Rich, which ends with Rich drum-battling Animal for the mantle of Muppet Show drummer supremacy. If you haven't seen it, its great stuff:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life

This past weekend, I read the first two volumes of the Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim series of graphic novels.

Scott Pilgrim is a twenty-three year-old Canadian, who can best be described as "ineffectual." Not so much a hipster as a "slacker," Scott spends his days playing classic video games, listening to indie rock, and playing bass guitar in a garage band called "The Sex Bob-omb." He is also a part-time ninja. Somehow, in the version of Toronto in which the story is set, that is not exceptional - all sorts of unassuming characters display impressive fighting skills when necessary. That's not the only thing unusual about the book's universe; captions and pop-up video-style explanations appear to give us the "statuses" and motivations of its characters. It is to the novels' credit that, after the first couple of chapters, this bizarre little world is so well developed that it actually makes sense to us.

At the beginning of the story, Scott meets cute with a pretty, insane, 17 year-old Chinese girl named Knives. Scott does not seem to worry about the fact that her name is Knives, probably because he hasn't dated in more than a year and willing to take what he can get. In relatively short order, he also meets Ramona Flowers, a beautiful American ex-patriate, living a similar slacker lifestyle and working as a rollerblading delivery girl for (In a clever piece of character development, Scott asks "that's the online bookstore or whatever, right? What's the website for that?") Then, two things happen - Knives decides that she is in love with Scott and needs to fight Ramona to get him back, and Scott learns that he has to fight each of Ramona's six "evil ex-boyfriends" in order to win her hand. These fights, which pop up out of nowhere, end, in true video game style, with the defeated party turning into a pile of coins, and, on occasion, they leave behind them "items," like skateboards, that Scott can use in future fights.

My favorite thing about the comics are the little, marginal comic details: characters wear t-shirts bearing the names of Neko Case and Calexico and a lot of obscure Canadian bands; the fight scenes, which play like crosses between Moral Kombat/Street Fighter II-style fights and Bollywood production numbers, the hilarious slacker dialogue ("I . . . but . . . it's . . . not . . . its totally . . . its . . . y . . . you're not the boss of me?" passes for a comeback), and the way in which none of the characters can keep a secret because they keep running into/overhearing each other at the same small handful of coffee shops and bars. They're wonderful graphic novels, and I'm looking forward to the next two.

Matt Taibbi and Vampire Squids

The AV Club has a fantastic interview with Matt Tiabi, whose new book Giftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and The Long Con That Is Breaking America, we are very much looknig forward to.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Weekday (?) Links

Roman's, one of CSD's favorite restaurants, gets three stars in New York Magazine. Lot 2, in every-gentrifying Greenwood Heights, got three stars, too.

The AV Club's Halloween-weekend podcast recommends some obscure horror films that sound like must-sees.

Bonus: Also at the AV Club, all-time short-list desert-island babe Connie Britton sat down for a Q & A.

ESPN's Rick Reilly asks the question to which every right-thinking college football fan wants to know the answer: What more can Boise State possibly do to get a spot in the national championship game?

Because every stupid bitch needs a Sassy Gay Friend, Second City's recurring character The Sassy Gay Friend is much-needed. And I'm a sucker for his literary references.

Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns tells gay teens that It Gets Better. Warning - This will make you cry:

P.S. The Sassy Gay Friend's "It Gets Better" video is pretty moving, too: